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The Year of the Book

 Written by Andrea Cheng

Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

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Anna is a real American girl. Or is she? In a lighthearted and fun way, third graders can learn about Anna’s world. Her mother was born in China. Her father is Chinese-American. Like most third graders, Anna is feeling a little out step with the world and is trying to figure out who her friends are. Anything that sets her apart also makes her feel vulnerable. She doesn’t want to learn Chinese. She doesn’t want her friends to know her mother cleans for a living. She doesn’t want to get too close to Laura, in case Laura’s using her to make Allison jealous. The two things she does love are reading and painting. Eventually she finds out that other people have problems too. Helping others makes her forget her own issues and moves her toward greater understand and acceptance. Laura’s parents are separating, causing Laura to lean on Anna for support. Anna’s friend, Ray the crossing guard, breaks his leg, and Anna finds a way to help him. And one of Anna’s mother’s clients, Mr. Shepherd, is a widower confined to a wheelchair. He’s one of Anna’s best friends. Anna also helps another Chinese-American girl who is struggling in school and shows kindness to her teacher.

Reading activities are built right into the book. Anna makes her own lunch bag, and the illustrator shows us how. The reader learns several Chinese words and characters. Lessons on won ton folding are also included.

This is a welcome addition to a world in which more and more families combine multiple backgrounds. It’s sure to make many reading lists. The author’s website, www.andreacheng.com, contains a teacher’s guide and numerous ideas for more reading activities.

  • Year of the BookTitle: The Year of the Book
  • Author: Andrea Cheng
  • Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
  • Publisher: Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback, 146 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-02263-8
  • Genre: Chapter Book, Chinese-American Culture

Hero Mom

Written by Melinda Hardin

Illustrated by Bryan Langdo

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When you were a kid, did you ever wonder what the adults in your life actually do all day? Figuring that out is even more difficult for children whose mothers are deployed in the military. In this amazing picture book, seven kids explain from their perspective what their mothers are doing for their country and the people of the world. All these moms are superheroes, though none of them wears tights and a cloak. Instead of leaping tall buildings, one mom builds them. One girl’s mom literally flies in to save the day – in a helicopter. One mom works with animals to help find missing people and dangerous objects. A boy’s mother is not a Transformer, but she does keep machines running. Delivering supplies where needed keeps one mother rolling at merely human speed. As a healer, one mom may actually have super powers. As a commander, a girl’s mom leads other heroes.

Seeing the variety of jobs women perform is important for all third graders. The illustrations show not only the variety of jobs, but the variety of moms. The illustrator helps keep the subject light, yet realistic. The author and illustrator also demonstrate how the kids keep in touch through computers, phone calls, letters, and pictures and how the moms eventually come home to hugs.

Military families rarely get enough support, but organizations do exist to help. One such organization is the National Military Family Association (www.militaryfamilies.org). A quick internet search will provide many more connections and provide nearly unlimited opportunities for reading activities.

  • Hero MomTitle: Hero Mom
  • Author: Melinda Hardin
  • Illustrator: Bryan Langdo
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1477816455
  • Genre: Picture book, Jobs, Women, Military

 

Columbus

Written and Illustrated by Demi 

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With a balanced and realistic approach, the author introduces third graders to the explorer, navigator, and entrepreneur. Columbus was not the altruistic explorer, as he has sometimes been painted. Nor was he the villain he was been named because of the treatment of Native Americans and the dismissal of the Viking landings. Despite the previous conventional wisdom, most people in the late 1400s realized that the world was round. What was unknown was the existence of the Americas and the distance across the ocean. Columbus was convinced the distance to Asia was much shorter than the actual distance to America. In fact, he never understood that he’d reached an entirely new world. He went for the riches and proved that many times by abandoning his crew so he could look for gold. He treated the Native Americans badly and basically managed to singlehandedly wipe out the Tainos. None of his four voyages to America went particularly well. And he definitely never found the palaces of Kublai Khan. But he did manage to draw a great deal of attention to the area and thus open up the Americas to European influence.

The real stars of the book are the elaborate illustrations. The intricate details show the world in which Columbus lived, including many of the creatures he encountered on his travels. The pictures practically tell the story and should enhance the reading skills of students.

As with any subject that is well-known to the general public, this is a good place to start. The publisher has innumerable books on the subject with which readers can continue.

  • ColumbusTitle: Columbus
  • Written and Illustrated By: Demi
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover, 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0761461678
  • Genre: Picture book, Biography.

 

Deadly! The Truth About the Most Dangerous Creatures on Earth

Written by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Neal Layton

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Isn’t it amazing how different words, a different word order or even a punctuation can change the focus and often the meaning of the same bit of information? Take the two sentences: “Call me, Ishmael”, and “Call me Ishmael”. Same words, same word order. Just one comma totally changes the meaning.

Deadly! presents scientifically accurate facts about both predators and prey, and how they are equipped for survival in the natural world. Nature is not tame, and the book can be a good way of introducing second and third-grade readers to the food chain. However, the very first spread contains the sentence, “In fact, when you look around the animal world, its clear that animals have been almost as good at finding different ways to hurt and murder one another as humans have,” which is a pity, because it distorts the purpose and focus of a worthwhile book.

The book is neatly organized, with information on one animal handing off to the next through a connected fact. Cheetahs, for example are superb runners, but they overheat in about 60 seconds, and have to give up. This segues into the section on dogs because “unlike cats, dogs can run and keep running.” Big animals give way to the small and tiny. Each creature has its own method of obtaining its meals.

There are many little-known facts sure to fascinate the readers: a mantis shrimp (about the size of a pencil case) creates a shock wave that can stun its prey. The trap-jaw ant “can snap its pincer-like jaws shut 2300 times faster than you can blink your eye.” The electric eel can generate 500 volts of electricity. Each interesting fact can lead to classroom discussions and more reading activities.

Towards the end of the book the author makes the case for living with these deadly predators, because they can be very useful to humans. The last page, Living With Deadly reminds us that animals “……..even the armed and deadly ones, have just as much right to their place on the planet as we do.” Another great discussion point. “When we enter a wild animal’s world, we shouldn’t expect it to be either a monster or a best friend. It is just itself…”

Additional Resources:
Bio: http://www.nicola-davies.com/about.php
About predators and prey: http://www.brooklynkids.org/attachments/Predators&Prey_FIN_HR.pdf

  • DeadlyTitle: Deadly! The Truth About the Most Dangerous Creatures on Earth
  • Author: Nicola Davies
  • Illustrator: Neal Layton
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback: 61 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6321-8
  • Genre: Nonfiction/Science

On the Move: Mass Migrations

Written by Scotti Cohn

Illustrated by Susan Detwiler

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Most youngsters are fascinated by animals of all kinds, and that fascination is fed by wonderful books as children become proficient readers at the third grade reading level. On the Move: Mass Migrations should become a staple for students’ reading lists, although it certainly can be a read aloud book for younger children as well.

On the Move: Mass Migrations has sections discussing the migrations of spotted salamanders, sandhill cranes, horseshoe crabs, caribou, chimney swifts, Brazilian free-tail bats, monarch butterflies, polar bears, snakes, elephant seals, salmon, and gray whales. These represent animals from a wide variety of places on the North American continent. Some move in order to find food, some to find mates, some need to go from a cold climate to a warmer one, some to find an appropriate or safe place to give birth or lay their eggs. Some sections discuss more than one season’s migrations for an animal. The section on horseshoe crabs even tells about red knot birds and common green darner dragonflies which both have a relationship to the crabs and the crabs’ habitat, but have their own migration patterns as well. Every section (or spread) has a lush, detailed illustration to give youngsters a true picture of the animals in their natural habitat. Everything in this beautiful book will delight youngsters and whet their curiosity and start their interest flowing. It will surely lead to further questioning and learning.

Four pages in the back of the book add some information and have some learning activities, but the real gift with this book is the 42-page teaching activity guide which can be downloaded at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/documents/TeachingActivities/OnTheMove_TA.pdf  contains everything from comprehension questions to writing prompts to a wide variety of activities such as word searches, a science journal, vocabulary activities, animal charts, and much more. This book will be a great addition to any classroom library.

  • On the MoveTitle: On the Move: Mass Migrations
  • Author: Scotti Cohn
  • Illustrator: Susan Detwiler
  • Publisher: Sylvan Dell Publishing
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-60718-6251
  • Genre: Nature

Python

Written by Christopher Cheng

Illustrated by Mark Jackson

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Pythons are beautiful. Who knew? In this lyrical, non-fiction book, Cheng uses a duel narration technique. First and foremost, we follow a specific python in the bush. She suns. She hunts and misses a beautiful bird. She hunts and captures a rat. Then she prepares her food by squeezing it.  Eventually, after she has digested, she will lay eggs and take care of them. The eggs hatch and small pythons appear. This is the main narrative, told with both poetry and accuracy. On most spreads, however, is another presentation of interesting facts about pythons and how their bodies work. For example: “Pythons, like all reptiles, are ectothermic. That means they acquire heat from their environment.” These factoids are set in a different font, but not a pull-out box. This choice means the book appears as a lovely single unit, with two types of text and wonderful paintings working together.

Python as a topic will instantly appeal to many kids. Snakes have always been cool to some and scary to others. Their coolness isn’t just the fact that they scare younger siblings, but also in their differentness. Snakes move differently. They’re covered in scales instead of skin or fur. They need the sun. And yet, this book emphasizes the similarities as well. Without anthropomorphizing Python, we see that when she is hungry she hunts, when she is cold and she finds a way to get warm, and when she lays her eggs, she cares for them. What she thinks about all of this, we don’t know, but we can see actions parallel to other animals and to us.

This book will fit in well to studies of reptiles in second or third grade and will make a wonderful read aloud, helping to diversify the science curriculum that often focuses on animals with fur and feathers.

Additional Information:

Smithsonian has wonderful pictures of reptiles, including pythons:

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/photogallery/reptilesamphibians/default.cfm

National Geographic has links to videos of pythons and other reptiles:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/burmese-python/

  • PythonTitle: Python
  • Author: Christopher Cheng
  • Illustrator: Mark Jackson
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: 32
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6396-4
  • Genre: nonfiction, nature

 

Meet Caroline: An American Girl

Written by Kathleen Ernst

Illustrated by Robert and Lisa Papp

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Meet ten-year-old Caroline Abbott, a girl growing up in Sackets Harbor, New York, across the lake from the British Colony of Upper Canada. In the summer of 1812, as she’s sailing with her father and cousins, Oliver and Lydia, she imagines someday being the captain of her own ship despite the fact that people think girls should grow up to become mothers who sew, cook, clean, and take care of babies. In the meantime, though, she has to learn everything she can so that she earns her father’s trust. That could be difficult, especially when she grabs for her toy after Oliver shouts, “Prepare to jibe! Trim the sheet!” Caroline knows better; yet, she lets go of the rail at a crucial time and goes skittering across the deck along with her top. She sees the disappointment in her father’s eyes when he admonishes her, but understands it. She could have been killed. This mishap soon becomes secondary, though, as three longboats bearing the British flag approach rapidly. Those on board find out the hard way that war has just been declared. The British soldiers claim the boat as their own, take the men as prisoners, and deliver the girls to their rightful homes. But Caroline, worried sick about her father, finds a way to help the war effort.

Putting themselves in her shoes, girls at the second to third grade levels will love to read about Caroline’s bravery and her plans to succeed in a men’s world. Being as exciting as it gets, the content will encourage reading comprehension for those readers possessing second to third grade reading skills. And, of course, teachers will love the Learning Guide. Meet Caroline, award-winning historical fiction at its very best, should be at the top of the second and third grade reading list.

Additional Resources:

Author’s Website: http://kathleenernst.com/index.php

Learning Guide: http://kathleenernst.com/cms-assets/documents/106243-235746.carolineonlinecurric.pdf

Meet historical characters by American Girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxzlJl9JNWs&playnext=1&list=PL4D2C82641321C06D

  • Meet CarolineTitle: Meet Caroline: An American Girl
  • Author: Kathleen Ernst
  • Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
  • Publisher: American Girl Publishing
  • Reviewer: Bonita Herold
  • Paperback: 91 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59369-882-9
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

Tallulah’s Toe Shoes

Written by Marilyn Singer

Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

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In ballet, and most pursuits, there is always another level to strive for. Tallulah is a good, but young, ballet dancer. When her teachers tell her she is not yet ready to dance on her toes, she knows they are wrong. Tallulah finds an old pair of toe shoes, stuffs them with tissues, and tries to dance. She imagines herself as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Then she looks in the mirror and sees herself as a rat. Tallulah must accept that she is not yet ready. Just as her teachers said, her body, her feet, and her skills cannot yet dance on pointe. But equally important, the level she is at is good.

Everyone who has ever enjoyed looking at a ballet, will enjoy the pictures. They dance off the page, but do not take themselves too seriously. We see how Tallulah imagines herself— but then, in a style reminiscent of Hilary Knight of Eloise fame—we see what the young ballet dancer really looks like as well. Tallulah’s younger brother offers a low- key counterpart to the intensity of Tallulah’s drive.

While this book will appeal to the second and third grade ballet enthusiasts, its message — enjoy the journey— is good for many kids (and adults for that matter). Tallulah doesn’t need to be in such a hurry to get into toe shoes. They will wait for her, and she has plenty more to explore right where she is. The book will also make a fine read aloud for younger children. The reader can ask for the children’s help in following the dancers across the page, learning sequencing of images as well as words.

Additional Resources:

Tallulah’s website: www.hmhbooks.com/tallulah

Marilyn Singer’s website: www.marilynsinger.net

Alexandra Boiger’s website: www.alexandraboiger.com

  • Tallulahs Toe ShoesTitle: Tallulah’s Toe Shoes
  • Author: Marilyn Singer
  • Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: number of pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-48223-1
  • Genre: fiction: picture book

 

Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh

Written by R.L. LaFevers

Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

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Theodosia tries to be obedient and not peculiar, but the circumstances are just beyond her control. When she and her mother return to Luxor to catalog the contents of a newly discovered temple, Theo seizes the opportunity to return a couple of magical objects to their rightful owners. Naturally, there are bad people, the Serpents of Chaos, who want to use the objects to their own ends. Then there are the good people, the Wedjardeen, who don’t believe Theo’s heart is pure. Theo is also in the midst of a nationalist craze that wants the Inglaize to leave Egypt and her treasures. A British former military man provides much-needed help. She befriends a young donkey boy who reminds her of her brother and who turns out to be surprising himself. Because Theo herself possesses some magical attributes, she is able to weather all the threats and save the day. Unpredictable, entertaining, and enormously enjoyable, Theodosia keeps the reader on her toes. The illustrations are pleasant diversions.

Set in the early 1900s, this volume gives third graders a taste of the era in which Egyptology gained great favor with British museums. This is the fourth volume in the Theodosia series, providing a good incentive to read the first three books also. Each volume has appeared on at least one reading list, such as the Junior Library Guild Selections and the Today Show Holiday Picks. Each has also been nominated for several awards. The author’s website, www.rllafevers.com, provides reading activities for parents and educators, as does Theo’s own website, www.theodosiathrockmorton.com.

  • TheodosiaTitle: Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh
  • Author: R.L. LaFevers
  • Illustrated by: Yoko Tanaka
  • Publisher: Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback, 394 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-85086-3
  • Genre: Middle grade, Egyptian Myth.

What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day

Written by Martha Simpson

Illustrated by Jana Christy

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Ah, those wonderful parent days are quickly approaching, yet again this year.  Yes, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Each year children of all ages across the country struggle with what to get their parents on those days.  What is the perfect gift that sums up a years or lifetimes worth of love?

In What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day, this little boy is no different.  Rather than telling ideas of what to give, this little boy shares some past experiences of what NOT to give.  Charming and well written, this book is well suited for second to third grade level reading.  These children should easily be able to comprehend the story.  Children will walk away with a comical sense of what not to give your mom.  The little boy in this story has stayed away from the social convention of flowers or candy for gifts, and has opted for the unconventional. For example, most moms will not enjoy a tub of fat worms, nor chewed up shoes.  There is however, a contrast/comparison of some mothers who might rather enjoy these ideas.

What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day, is illustrated with bright colors and whimsy, that children will enjoying looking at.  In the end the little boy does come up with the perfect gift.  A gift any mom would cherish from her young or old children. What is it?  Pick up What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day and find out.

  • What Not to Give Your MomTitle:  What Not to Give Your Mom on Mother’s Day
  • Author:  Martha Simpson
  • Illustrator:  Jana Christy
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing
  • Reviewer: Cheri Liddy
  • ISBN: 9781477816479
  • Genre: fiction
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