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Nikki and Deja: Substitute Trouble

Written by Karen English

Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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We are told in the first book of the Nikki and Deja series that they are the best of friends. As in all satisfying series we see their friendship ripening as they grow in understanding. Deja understands her friend’s love of words, she is going to be a journalist after all, and does not hesitate to ask for help when writing notes and letters.

This book is so suited to second and third graders, themselves living through the experience described in the stories. Substitute teachers are a fact of life. Teachers fall sick, or have other commitments, and have to take time off. Substitute teachers who cannot handle the classroom very well, and children taking advantage of their timidity are also a fact of life.

Mrs. Shelby-Ortiz has a broken ankle, and will be out for a few weeks. Mr. Willow substitutes. He writes his name on the blackboard in letters as small and timid as his teaching. Smart, worldly-wise Deja ticks off all the things he has done wrong, and the ways he could improve:

“Mistake Number One. Actually it’s Mistake Number Ten, Deja thinks. Mr. WIllow should have said very clearly, “You’re on the wrong paragraph. Go to paragraph two.” And then he should have looked at Carlos very sternly. But instead he starts off with “I think….” Deja shakes her head slowly.”

As the day progresses her count goes up:

“Mistake number zillion and three, according to Deja. Don’t ask. Tell.”

She proposes that they write Mr. Willow a note on how things are supposed to be, but make it “Anon..anon”

“Anonymously,” Nikki says easily. Deja asks her how to start the letter. “When my mother has me write letters to my great-aunt Nora, she tells me to start with ‘I hope this letter finds you well….’”

The story takes off from there. Deja and Nikki write the letter and succeed in getting it to Mr. Willow anonymously. Are they prepared for the consequences? Do they even imagine what one simple, helpful letter would lead to? The unknown adds an element of mystery that young readers would enjoy.

As would the teachers. The story gives an easy lead into talking about classroom behavior when there is a substitute.  This is a short chapter book that can lead to many reading activities and discussion points, a book and a series that would grace any classroom reading list.

  • Nikki and DejaTitle: Nikki and Deja: Substitute Trouble
  • Author: Karen English
  • Illustrator: Laura Freeman
  • Publisher: Clarion books
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  108 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-61565-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 700

Animal Tales

Written by Terry Jones

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

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Animal Tales is a lovely collection of short stories, perfect for reading aloud to the third grade crowd.  Each tale is filled with humor, absurdity, and lessons with a careful delivery that will appeal to readers of all ages.

“The Frog That Found A Fortune” is about a nervous little frog who finds what he believes to be a long lost diamond from the Crown of England.  Readers are taken on a wild ride as the frog imagines himself being rewarded for it’s return with barrow loads of slugs that lead him to become a virtual slug baron.  But then, as frog starts to worry about all the barriers that might stand in the way of getting the diamond back to Buckingham Palace, a magpie steals the precious jewel forcing the unusually sensible frog to realize that life is good in his lovely, damp hedge and that the magpie has just saved him a whole lot of trouble.

This is just one of the circus like tales that put animals in human like situation and unlikely partnerships.  There’s Bear and Skunk, who save each others lives through love and gratitude,  overcoming their differences to become the odd couple.  There’s Jack the Rabbit and Old Mr. Fox, Crocodile and Tiger…

Written as legends in a wonderful story-telling voice that often addresses the reader, these Animals Tales are made to be shared.  The morals and lessons presented in each story are multi-faceted and complex, lending themselves to vibrant post-read discussion.  Not all the endings are happy.  Not all the messages are direct.  But every story begs to be explored.

In addition to giving readers something to think about and enhancing comprehension, the stories help boost vocabulary with the seamless insertion of words such as IGNONIMY and  INSATIABLE.  North American readers will also be introduced to British expressions such as trousers and petrol.

The stories are dispersed with lovely anthropomorphic pictures.  My favorite is the image of badger (an old, misunderstood war hero) teetering on a ladder above his store with an array of groceries and bratty kids shown in delightful detail below.  Similar pictures accompany the paragraph long “Wonders of the Animal Kingdom” captions (The Transylvanian Limping Bat, Electric Wombats, Money Salamanders, The Fake Elk, Bendy Giraffes, The Mongolian Deep Fried Bat.. ) which read like news editorials, spoof ads and short entries from an animal encyclopedia of the absurd.

There is truly something for everyone in this wonderful collection, with laugh out loud outrageousness that will have kids rolling with laughter to clever humor that adults will find difficult to explain.  “The Amazing Terry Jones Presents…” includes two other titles, Fairy Tales and Fantastic Stories, that are also available in hardback and ebook – equally perfect for the classroom or sitting around the campfire.

  • Animal TalesTitle: Animal Tales
  • Author: Terry Jones
  • Illustrator: Michael Foreman
  • Publisher: Pavilion Children’s Books (Anova Books Groups)
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length:  87 pages
  • ISBN: 9781843651635 (hardback)
  • Genre: Fantasy, animal legends

Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days

Edited By Michael Oren Fitzgerald

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A book of photos and quotes, the superb layout allows you to sneak into the camp with the Native American’s shown. We see mothers and babies, women working on beading, children playing with dolls and small bow and arrows. Children will be rightly fascinated by children of another era and another culture — children who had to learn to hunt and fish, and yet played with familiar toys of dolls and balls.

With each double-page spread divided into natural categories of mothers, fathers, children at play, etc., the writing comes from interviews with members of many different tribes. Some of these quotes are broad and philosophic “When you see a new trail you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.” Others are specific recollections, paired with a photo of the toy in question, in this case a buffalo-rib snow sled: “In the summer we played lacrosse. In the winter we coasted upon the ribs of animals and buffalo robes.”

These are snippets from many individuals in many tribes about many different topics and  Fitzgerald points out that the individual talking represents only him or herself. Students might need to be reminded to be careful about generalization from one quote, but this is a minor quibble for a powerful and charming book.

Since most of the power comes from the pictures, the book is appropriate for pre-kindergarten, kindergarteners, and first graders. Second and third graders can probably read it for themselves. It is also a lovely book for fourth grade and above to page through and read, especially when students study their home state and learn about local Native Americans.

  • Children of the TipiTitle: Children of the Tipi: Life in Buffalo Days
  • Edited By Michael Oren Fitzgerald
  • Publisher: Wisdom Tales
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Paperback/hardcover/ebook: 42 pages
  • ISBN:978-1-937786-09-0
  • Genre:  nonfiction (history, science, nature, environmental, math, etc.), fiction (historical, fantasy, mystery, etc.)
  • Lexile Score: 680

 

Mister and Lady Day, Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her

Written by Amy Novesky

Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

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Getting third grade children interested in history is not always easy.  Mister and Lady Day has done an excellent job of grabbing the attention of young animal lovers and teaching them a little bit about the history of jazz.

Billie Holiday, or Lady Day, had many dogs, big ones and little ones, pure bred and “mutt”.  She loved her dogs.  But she did have a favorite.  Mister, her favorite, was with her almost all of the time.  She cooked for him and even made sweaters for him.  He loved her and protected her.  Lady Day “had to leave home for a year and a day”.  She did not sing for that entire time because she was so sad to be away from Mister.  She worried that he would not remember her.  But he did!  She began to sing again and on the night of her biggest show Mister was right where he always was when she was on stage, waiting in the wings.

What a wonderful way to integrate music and history into literacy.  This sweet story of the bond between Lady and Mister is an easy read.  The lovely illustrations help with comprehension for words such as “Chihuahuas”.  A picture walk for younger children would be a walk in the park with this book.

Learning about history and music is great.  However, there are social/family aspects that are much more subtle.  The text of the book does not tell why Lady Day “had to leave home for a year and a day”.  An author’s note at the end of the book tell that this time away was due to a prison stay for drug possession.  When teaching about the problems associated with drugs, children can more easily relate to being separated from a beloved pet than to the seemingly abstract notion that they might go to prison.  Then there is the reality that some children have parents (or siblings) who are away for a variety of reasons; military service, divorce, prison.  This book can help them understand that even though their loved one is gone, they are still much loved and not forgotten.

Amy Novesky (http://www.amynovesky.com/Amy_Novesky/author.html) and Vanessa Brantley Newton (http://oohlaladesignstudio.blogspot.com/) have done a masterful job of blending their talents to create this precious story of the loving bond between Lady Day and Mister.  Be sure to visit their websites to learn more about these talented women and their other works.

  • Mister and Lady DayTitle:  Mister and Lady Day, Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her
  • Author:  Amy Novesky
  • Illustrator:  Vanessa Brantley Newton
  • Publisher:  Harcourt Children’s Books
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  unpaged
  • ISBN: 978-0-15-205806-7
  • Genre:  History (biography)
  • Lexile score:  580

Emma Dilemma, the Nanny, and the Wedding

Written by Patricia Hermes

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Emma’s family had the very best nanny ever!  Emma and her four siblings adored Annie.  What a shock when they found out, at almost the same time, that not only was Mom having another baby, but Annie was getting married.  Whatever would Emma do?  Where would she and her older brother Tim go when they were worried or scared?  Annie had always welcomed them into her upstairs apartment at such times.  Because Emma’s parents had offered to have Annie’s wedding in their home, Emma had to wait to paint her room the wonderful, electric blue color she had picked out.  Two days before Annie’s family was due to arrive from Ireland, Emma decided to turn her closet into a “safe place”, somewhere to go when she was scared or worried.  The first step was to paint it.  Her parents had said she could not paint her room, but did not say anything about her closet.  The next morning Mom and Dad found out about Emma’s middle of the night paint job when they found puppy paw prints all over the new floor in the entryway.  What a horrible dilemma!  The wedding was just two days away.  It was going to cost thousands of dollars to fix the floors, but they could not be fixed before the wedding.  Emma finally remembered the paint remover the vet had used to get the paint off of Woof’s feet when they took Woof and Marmaduke, Emma’s pet ferret, to the vet.  She tried that on the floor and it worked!  Now the house would look perfect for the wedding.  Ah, the wedding.  It was glorious.  When Emma saw how happy Annie was she knew that “everything was going to be all, all right”.

This sweet story would make a wonderful read aloud in a third grade classroom.  There are many prediction, problem solving, and vocabulary possibilities.  What will the family do if Annie moves out of their home?  Will Mom and Dad be able to handle SIX children without a live-in nanny?  What is a nanny?  Why would you need a nanny?  What would you do someone you loved might move away so that you could not see them every day?  What does it mean that “Emma screwed up her face”?

Teaching children to talk to adults about their feelings is not always so easy.  Had Emma talked to her parents about her feelings, maybe they would have helped her create a safe place in her closet.  This would have prevented many problems and headaches.  Emma’s dilemma helps children see what can happen when they (and sometimes even adults) try to handle things on their own.

Patricia Hermes (http://www.patriciahermes.com/) has written a series of Emma Dilemma books.  Although Emma is different from Junie B. Jones and Agnes from The Secret Knock Club, readers will see many similarities.  Emma’s relationship with her brother Tim and their adventures will appeal to both girls and boys.  Even parents might learn a thing or two.

  • Emma DilemmaTitle:  Emma Dilemma, the Nanny, and the Wedding
  • Author:  Patricia Hermes
  • Publisher:  Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  137 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0761462101
  • Genre:  fiction-novel
  • Lexile score:  580

The Sleepwalkers

Written and Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

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A unique graphic novel for the younger set.  If you are plagued by nightmares, write a letter, put it under your pillow and help will come.  Three fluffy sheep will rescue the sleeper from their dream and turn it into something the dreamer can handle, maybe even enjoy.  A little girl dreams about lots and lots of mice, but she is rescued by the sheep and taken to a safe house.  They give her an inflatable catamaran to float over the sea of mice and send her home.  Yet, the sheep are getting old and these nightly adventures are taking their toll.  They decide to train the next generation of rescuers.  The first new rescuer is concocted out of a well-loved quilt into a plump, rather timid bear named Bonifacius or Bonno for short.  The sheep take Bonno out the very next night for his rescue-in-training. This time the dream is a falling one.  They land on a plane that looks like a pterodactyl that the dreamer learns to fly.  The next day, the sheep make a sock monkey to be his teammate.  Bonno is sure that Amali the sock monkey is a better rescuer because she seems to do everything right.  Next, they conjure up their final rescue helper, Sophia, a crow with a writing quill for a head.  Just in time because they have someone with a Naked in Public dream.  They all get clothes to wear and Bonno adopts his signature costume, a Mexican wrestler’s mask.  Through all of these challenges, the new team learns to solve the scary dreams with their own inimitable style.

Young readers want to jump on the graphic novel bandwagon like their older peers but often the stories are not appropriate for them.  This one is written with them in mind concerning a struggle many of them face: bad dreams.  The characters grow and mature as they gain the confidence required to do their “job”, as well as helping the dreamers solve their sleep problems.  The graphic novel format is really difficult to read aloud unless you do it one-on-one.  This has a fairly easy reading level, so a third grader could read this to a younger reader such as a Reading Buddy and both would have the time to examine each frame.

  • SleepwalkersTITLE: The Sleepwalkers
  • AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR: Viviane Schwarz
  • PUBLISHER: Candlewick, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 94 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6230-1
  • GENRE: Graphic novel, fantasy
  • LEXILE:  350GN

Celebrating California

Written by Marion Dane Bauer

Illustrated by  C. B. Canga

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A new approach to state books in an easy-to-read format.  Mr. Geo is a hip geography teacher who explores new places and takes his young readers along.  In this volume, he is learning about California.  He goes to destinations such as a studio where a television show is being filmed, the San Diego zoo, a Spanish mission, Disneyland, Los Angeles, the Santa Monica pier, Silicon Valley and San Francisco.  He introduces readers to the diverse land forms such as Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the state, and the Mojave Desert with its dry Death Valley.  He even takes readers through, literally, a redwood tree in the famed forest.  He shows farm products grown in California and the wildlife that resides in the state.  He even touches on issues facing modern-day Californians as well as some of the state’s colorful history.

For such a short format, many things are covered in the text, making this a good book for an introduction to research.  Even though it lacks an index and a table of contents, the information is presented logically.  Back matter includes Fast Facts, a timeline of dates in California history, a glossary and a literacy activities section.  Mr. Geo is a fun and entertaining tour guide, making the book a possible class read aloud or a good book for a third-grade produced audio book.  The illustrations capture a whimsical side of Mr. Geo, driving around in his red convertible, as well as capturing the wonder of California sights.  There is a discussion guide at the publisher’s website: (http://www.scribd.com/doc/132313055/50-States-to-Celebrate-by-Marion-Dane-Bauer-Discussion-Guide).

  • Celebrating CaliforniaTITLE: Celebrating California
  • AUTHOR: Marion Dane Bauer
  • ILLUSTRATOR: C. B. Canga
  • PUBLISHER: Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 36 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-89697-7
  • GENRE: Geography, Readers
  • LEXILE: 530

Dozens of Cousins

Written by Shutta Crum

Illustrated by  David Catrow

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“We fill up on beastie delights – on catching frogs and crawdads, on double-dog dares crossing balancing logs, and on talks the water mumbles as it tumbles along.”  Most of us have experienced a family reunion where the adults enjoy each other’s company while the children are allowed a bit of freedom to run and roam and have “beastie delights”.  At least until the neighbors complain.  Fortunately for the children in this story, Grandma and Grandpa still remember the joys of childhood.  They smooth things over with the neighbors and then join the grandkids for a soak in the creek.

The wonderful illustrations by David Catrow (http://www.catrow.com/ ) bring back memories of those family get-togethers with such clarity that you almost feel like you are there again.  The subtle changes in the sky as the story progresses take you from early morning to late night where, “Oh, we are happy ogres, my cousins and I – our hearts full, our tummies plump, and our heads stuffed with dreams of next year’s beastie family reunion”.

The ‘AD’ notation with the lexile score indicates that this book is ‘Adult Directed’ which just means it should be read to children around third grade age.  This would be a great read aloud as it provides many opportunities for mini-lessons  on topics such as adjectives, synonyms and possibly even literary license (“When big brothers wrestle us down and drag us to the pump to wash for dinner, we eat them up – They’re yummy beastie food, too!”).  The increased vocabulary and opportunities to determine meaning from context and pictures put this book high on the list of must haves for teachers who understand the importance of improving both reading skills and comprehension.

As a storyteller (and librarian), Shutta Crum understands the importance of gaining and maintaining children’s attention.  She does a fabulous job with that in this book.  A list of her other books, as well as contact/speaking information, can be found on her website ( http://blog.shutta.com/ ).

  • Dozens of CousinsTitle:  Dozens of Cousins
  • Author:  Shutta Crum
  • Illustrator:  David Catrow
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • hardcover:  32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-618-15874-4
  • Genre:  contemporary fiction
  • Lexile score:  1090 AD

 

The Spring Un-Fair (The Secret Knock Club #2)

Written by Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud

Illustrated by Adam McHeffey

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This adorable, easy to read book is like a third grade level combination of a Junie B. Jones and Amelia Bedelia.  There are the same type friendships as in Junie B. and similar misunderstandings like you find with Amelia Bedelia.  Sometimes you can understand how she could misunderstand words like Mrs. Carrot instead of Mrs. Carrick.  Of course, other times, it seems that she just likes to be different, calling yoga class yogurt class.

This is a great problem solving book as Agnes and her friends must come up with a way to raise money to provide a dunk booth for their school’s spring fair.  They decide to give a concert and Agnes names herself the lead singer for their rock band.  She and Fudgy must overcome a pretty serious case of stage fright.  Fortunately, they have the help of their music teacher, Mrs. Roman.  Unfortunately, the day of the concert Agnes comes down with a very bad case of laryngitis.  But, Fudgy’s older brother has a band of his own and with a little bit of pleading, Agnes and her friends are able to convince Reggie and his band to perform so the concert can go on.  It was a great show!  Agnes and her friends, with a little help from Reggie and his friends, were able to raise enough money to turn the spring un-fair into a spring fair.

Problem solving, overcoming fears, and working together are just a few of the social lessons to be learned.  Using this book as a read aloud would give the teacher numerous opportunities to help students gain valuable inference skills.  There are plenty of possibilities for creative writing prompts.  “What would you do if you needed to raise money for your school?”  And then there are the math possibilities.  “If a dunk tank costs $150, how much could you charge and how many tickets would you need to sell to raise enough money?”  Other great uses for this book include guided reading groups and literature circles.

Any child who loves Junie B. Jones will also love Agnes.  They are two peas in a pod.  The Secret Knock Club and the rock band will appeal to both boys and girls.  But, parents beware.  You may end up with a rock band in your garage.

  • Spring UnfairTitle:  The Spring Un-Fair (The Secret Knock Club #2)
  • Author:  Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud
  • Illustrator:  Adam McHeffey
  • Publisher:  Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  111 pages
  • ISBN: 9780761462156
  • Genre:  contemporary fiction
  • Lexile score:  530

Mr. Flux

Written by Kyo Maclear

Illustrated by  Matte Stephens

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First meet Martin, a boy so averse to change that he rides his old red bicycle because his new red bicycle is too new and scary to ride.  Next meet Mr. Flux, an artist who embraces change and loves to mix things up.  And now watch what happens when Mr. Flux gives Charlie a box full of change…

At first Charlie tries to return it, “because change is upsetting and we like things just the way they are.”  But Mr. Flux insists “…everything changes.  Look around you.  A dewdrop, a bubble, a cloud.  What stays the same?”

Soon Charlie is making some teensy-weensy changes.  And before you know it, as he spends more and more time with Mr. Flux, Charlie is not only making change but encouraging his family and neighbors to change too.

But the biggest change comes when Mr. Flux moves away, forcing Charlie to wonder “what if…nothing ever changed again?”

The lesson in this story is heavy handed at times, with a full spread of quotes in support of change.  But the whimsical illustrations and absurd behavior of the book’s characters coat the lesson with the type of sugar that third grade readers will love.

The message also comes in layers, addressing everything from art appreciation to friendship between people who confuse and puzzle each other.  And a surprising twist at the end increases reading comprehension with a fun play on words.

In a note from the author at the end of the book, readers are introduced to “Fluxus” an art movement that started in the 1960s and “brought together artists, filmmakers and musicians from all over the world who shared a love of humor and playfulness and change.”  In this sense, the author and illustrators have done a great job of showing Fluxus in action and encouraging readers to look at the world around them in a new way.

  • Mr. FluxTitle: Mr. Flux
  • Author: Kyo Maclear
  • Illustrator:  Matte Stephens
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length:  36 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-137-2 (hardback)
  • Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Art
  • Lexile Score: 840

 

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