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Beautiful Ballerinas

Written by Elizabeth Dombey
Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

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Becoming a ballerina is the dream of many little girls and this book tells them exactly how to make it happen.

It is a charming combination of cartoon like watercolor paintings of little girls and boys inter-mixed with beautiful photographs of real ballerinas at practice and in performance.

The vocabulary of ballet is explained in text and illustrations. Readers are encouraged to try what they see in the pictures on their way to becoming ballerinas. There is a lengthy explanation of pointe shoes that includes their history, their manufacture, and the length of time that they last. Readers will be surprised to learn how many different pairs of pointe shoes a professional ballerina might go through in one year.

The history of the dance is told in the last section of the book.

The book has been designed and written for second grade readers and third grade readers in mind as well as the core curriculum. Children are interested in the arts and enjoy learning more about them.

It will be a wonderful read aloud for librarians, teachers, parents and ballet teachers, too.

  • Beautiful BallerinasTitle: Beautiful Ballerinas
  • Author: Elizabeth Dombey
  • Illustrator: Shelagh McNicholas
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, January 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: paperback/unpaged
  • ISBN:  978-0-448-46714-6
  • Genre: narrative nonfiction
  • Grades: K to 3

Fortunately, the Milk

Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Skottie Young

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Middle grade readers will giggle all the way through this silly tale through time and space. Supposedly, all these adventures and time travelers happened to father on his way home from the store with the milk. The children wondered what took him so long.

It is a typical kind of story that parents often try to make up for children using what they see about the kitchen as far as labels or character ideas.

One child is quite skeptical about father’s adventure tale, but the daughter just hopes that somewhere in the story there will be ponies. So, of course, father puts in some ponies.

The one constant in the whole silly escapade is the bottle of milk carefully protected in father’s coat pocket.

Teachers and librarians will use it successfully for read aloud time.

The cartoon type pencil sketched drawings add greatly to the fun and silliness. It would be of particular interest to low readability/ high interest students. The many drawings and large amounts of dialogue make for a great deal of white space in the book that will help to encourage newly independent readers.

  • Fortunately the MilkTitle: Fortunately, the Milk
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Illustrator: Skottie Young
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover,128 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-06-222407-1
  • Genre: Humorous Fiction/ Science Fiction
  • Grade level: Third up

Burton and the Christmas Tree

Written by V.A. Boeholt

Illustrated by Nathaniel P. Jensen

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Firry is an evergreen who is very proud of his appearance. In fact, he’s a little too proud.  He’s more interested in being beautiful than in bringing joy. When he’s among the first chosen to be sold as a Christmas tree, that means he’s unceremoniously thrown in the bottom of the truck. All the other trees piled on top of him and a bumpy road to market leave him in a terrible state. He’s left to rot by the side of the road. Only through the efforts of a friendly scarecrow named Burton, and his animal friends, is Firry repaired and restored to glory. Firry is set up in the town square and enjoyed by the entire town. It turns out the sap that dripped on top of Firry from the other trees looks like sparkling gems in the light. This warm parable about caring and helpful creatures is sure to delight the reader. The illustrations provide a lively backdrop and add to the story.

Fourth in a series “Friendship Tales from the Farm” for the third grade reading level, this volume is loaded with life lessons and reading activities. Themes to look for and a history of the decorated Christmas tree are the first two pages after the story ends. The author then includes tips and points for connecting with the story, many ideas for activities, online resources, a glossary and information about the author, illustrator, and publication team. In addition, the author’s website (www.scarecrowstories.com) has plenty of information and a blog for busy minds.

  • Burton and the Christmas TreeTITLE: Burton and the Christmas Tree
  • AUTHOR: V.A. Boeholt
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Nathaniel P. Jensen
  • PUBLISHER: Five Star Publications, Inc.
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-1-58985-206-8
  • GENRE: Paperback, Christmas, Self acceptance
  • LEXILE: 800

Anna Was Here

Written by Jane Kurtz

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Ten year old Anna Nickel is mad at her father for moving from Colorado back to Oakwood, Kansas to be a minister in a church that is having problems. There are lots of relatives here that Anna hasn’t ever had the chance to get to know before and she isn’t really anxious to meet them now.

Anna is also not happy about living in tornado alley. She is a very cautious young lady who always likes to be prepared. She has a safety club and keeps a notebook about things to do when a hurricane strikes or a rattlesnake bites you.

In this humorous coming of age story, a family that takes God’s teachings to heart must struggle with a new house, new town, new school and all the challenges that come with it. On top of all that, her mother goes away to take care of Anna’s grandparents. Leaving her alone for a while with her preacher dad and some relatives she has never met.

This story is great fun and exciting, too. Third grade students will love the short chapters and wide margins on the pages, as will fourth and fifth grade readers. It will be a great read aloud story or can be a wonderful book club book. Readers of Katherine Paterson’s books will love this one, too.

Literacy classes can find many skills to study and reinforce throughout these pages that are all seasoned with laughter.

  • Anna Was HereTitle: Anna Was Here
  • Author: Jane Kurtz
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-06-056493-3
  • Genre: Realistic fiction

The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

Written by Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

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Dini, our young main character, is finally home from India and looking forward to spending time with her best friend Maddie. The book about her time there was called, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. Now, in the sequel, she is back in America but still a huge fan of Dolly Singh, the big star of Bollywood in India. So she goes completely wild about helping arrange a trip and tour for Dolly in America. Who could imagine all the problems involved with a lost passport? An escaped elephant? Finding a good rose petal milk shake in an American hotel?

Dini is confused by all the changes that happened while she is away. Like her best friend, getting another best friend. How is that supposed to work? She is also confused by jet lag.

This is a fun story about girlfriends trying their best to get along and make a parade, a milk shake and a cake for their favorite movie star. They also work out a dance routine for her grand opening that uses flowing ribbons and swaying dance steps. It illustrates their background as East Asian Americans and the beautiful blend of cultures that they experience.

It would make a great book club or read aloud for third graders. The literacy skills strengthened include: humor, cause and effect, dialogue and the differences between things that are real and those that are fiction. As Dini finds out, life is not always like the movies.

  • Slightly HeroicTitle: The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic
  • Author: Uma Krishnaswami
  • Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
  • Publisher: Atheneum, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Harcover, 274 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-2328-2
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade Level 3

Jeremy’s Dreidel

Written by Ellie Gellman

Illustrated by Maria Mola

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Young Jeremy sees a sign at the Jewish Community Center about a dreidel-making workshop in this informative, yet fiction, book written by Ellie Gellman, called Jeremy’s Dreidel. Jeremy and his friends come to the workshop with their creative ideas, as instructed by the poster. Jeremy wants to make a dreidel with Braille lettering so his blind father can enjoy the game; he comes with a lump of soft clay.

Gellman uses dialogue with the characters in the story to explain the use of a dreidel, the representation and meaning of the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, the history and celebration of Hanukkah, the slight difference between the dreidel game in Israel, Braille lettering, and blindness.

When the kids complete their hand-made dreidels, they vote on three for display in the lobby of the Community Center. When Jeremy’s unique dreidel is one of the three chosen, he is obviously sad about the decision. When asked by his friends about his disappointment, Jeremy expresses concern that if his dreidel is in a glass case, his father will not be able to actually use the dreidel, Jeremy’s purpose for making it.  Jeremy’s friends solve the dilemma by suggesting a dreidel game night at the center during the Hanukkah celebration. The idea is a hit, and grown-ups and kids celebrate Hanukkah, with dreidel games, a play about Judah Maccabee, songs, and latkes and jelly donuts.

Additional bonuses for the book are included in the back: instructions for making three dreidels, instructions for playing the dreidel game, and a picture of the Braille alphabet.

Jeremy’s Dreidel is a wonderful addition to a third grade library, especially during the Hanukkah season.  Children will want to read this book to gain a better understanding of diversity; two specific characteristics mentioned in this book include Jewish culture and visual-impairments.

Teachers will want to use this book in the classroom to encourage the appreciation of differences in people, also. And, this book is an excellent one to use to encourage compassion for others and a giving spirit. The main character, Jeremy, is focused throughout the story in creating something for his father that will bring joy to his dad. At the end of the story, when the climax arrives that doesn’t meet Jeremy’s goal, Jeremy’s friends step up with an idea that then extends joy and happiness to Jeremy, a kind of pay-it-forward moral ends the story.

Several helpful online sites will enhance reading comprehension and reading skills. Follow the directions for games, activities like building a menorah, recipes like potato latkes, songs, and stories at this site http://www.chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/354748/jewish/Chanukah.htm and  http://www.akhlah.com/jewish-holidays/hanukkah/.

Kids might also be interested to know that author Ellie Gellman, though she grew up in the United States (in Minneapolis), now resides in Jerusalem. Illustrator Maria Mola, however, grew up outside the United States, in Barcelona, Spain, but now resides within the U.S., in Philadelphia.

  • Jeremys DreidelTITLE: Jeremy’s Dreidel
  • AUTHOR: Ellie Gellman
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Maria Mola
  • PUBLISHER: Kar-Ben Publishing
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • EDITION: Paperback, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-7508-1
  • GENRE: Contemporary/History
  • LEXILE: 510

The ABC’s of Cancer “According to Lilly Isabella Lane”

Written by Terri Forehand
Illustrated by Dawn Phillips

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Lilly Isabella Lane is nine years old. Lilly is a composite of the children for whom the author, also a registered nurse, has given care. A short time ago Lilly was a normal nine year old doing normal nine year old activities. Then she got a fever and only wanted to sleep. She was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Rather than be depressed about her illness, Lilly decides to learn about it and educate other kids. She wants to be as active and positive as possible. In the process of telling others, she selects words that describe the pros, cons, and neutrals of leukemia and its treatment. At least one word is chosen for each letter of the alphabet. The words for each letter are woven into a prose narrative about treatment, cure, and favorite things.

Lilly begins with A is for “attitude,” the positive spunky outlook on life needed to fight cancer. She ends with Z is for “zoo” and “zebra” her favorite place to visit and her favorite animal next to a brown horse. In between are concrete and abstract and subjective words such as B is for “bald,” D is for “dying,” I is for “intravenous lines,” M is for “Make a Wish,” S is for “soup” and “sorry about that,” and T is for “tests.” Two soup recipes and a group of ideas to share with a patient conclude the text.

The result is an upbeat info-fiction story filled with easily accessible information about a dreaded disease. One needs to read the whole book to get a full picture and then there are many unanswered questions. Those questions could be used for further discussion, additional research or a visit to or by an oncologist.

Illustrator Dawn Phillips has brought a spunky, colorful Lilly to life. Though bald, Lilly often is depicted wearing quirky and colorful headgear. It is her eyes and mouth, however, which leave an impression; they appear to be emphasized with bright make-up outlined with pen and ink. The eye is drawn to Lilly’s lovely face and away from her baldness.

Other books that appear in standard review sources feature a parent who has cancer, and the narrative is based on that parent-child relationship during the illness.

 

Extras: Grade level lesson plans about cancer, helping others, and taking action are available at Scholastic Livestrong at School http://www.scholastic.com/livestrong/

 

  • ABCs of CancerTitle: The ABC’s of Cancer “According to Lilly Isabella Lane”
  • Author: Terri Forehand
  • Illustrator: Dawn Phillips
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Paperback picture book
  • ISBN: 9781492334644
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile score: 1000

The Christmas Tugboat

Written by George Matterson and Adele Ursone
Illustrated by James E. Ransome

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When George Matteson got the job of towing the barge that carried the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, he saw it as the perfect time to take his wife and daughter to work with him. It was his wife’s suggestion that the story of this trip would be perfect for a children’s book. So, they wrote the story from their daughter’s point of view.

It takes almost a whole day to get from New York to where the barge with the Christmas tree is waiting for them. After making sure the barge and the tree are secure, they start back downriver toward New York. Before they get to the old dock where they will spend the night, Dad explains that the lights in the pilothouse are kept off at night to preserve the tugboat captain’s night sight.
The next morning the sunlight hits the frost on the tree and makes it look like it has already been decorated with hundreds of tiny diamonds. As they get closer to New York City they are greeted by news helicopters, police boats, and tour boat full of school kids. Dad lets his daughter steer the barge for a short time before they reach their destination. Just before the big tree is taken away one of the workers finds a pinecone for the daughter. She decides to plant the seeds so that she can have her own New York City Christmas tree.

This book would be a great addition to any third grade social studies shelf. It could be used with a lesson about holiday traditions. It could also be used in a study about transportation. It would make a great text to text connection for a study about how products get to the store shelves. This would also be a great book for a parent to read with a child who needs help improving reading skills.
As a text to text connection, this book has infinite uses. A science unit on eyes could be connected to the pages about night vision. A geography lesson about New York, a science lesson about big trees growing from little seeds, you would not have to look hard to find many other possibilities.

Mr. Matteson’s wife, Adele Ursone, is an artist who finds inspiration for new art while on the tugboat with her husband. Information about her can be found at http://adeleursone.com/pgs/statement.php.

James Ransome has illustrated many books including this one. For this book he based his illustrations on pictures the Matteson family took while on their trip. More information about him and other books he has illustrated can be found at http://jamesransome.com/about.html.

More information about Rockefeller Center can be found at http://www.rockefellercenter.com/plan-a-trip/.

  • Christmas TugboatTitle: The Christmas Tugboat
  • Author: George Matterson and Adele Ursone
  • Illustrator: James E. Ransome
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer: Sandi Waymire
  • hardback: 39 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-618-99215-7
  • Genre: realistic fiction

Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)

Written by Lisa Yee
Illustrated by Dan Santat

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Bobby Ellis-Chan has fourth grade down—except when he has to go to PE, or explain why he wears his shirt backward on picture day, or compete against his older sister, or face the neighborhood scary cat. His biggest fear is that someone – anyone – will compare him to his famous father, a former professional football player. Bobby has asthma and is just not good in football. Meanwhile his sister is a great high school quarterback. And Bobby is almost always chosen last for any team. When his PE teacher finds out about Bobby’s father, he wants to meet him and expects Bobby to show the class how to play football. Bobby’s little sister is a wonderful character, insisting on renaming everything from Wormy Worm Worm to Gnomey Gnome Gnome. She has her own princess view of the world. Bobby’s class is working on a production of Annie, adding to the tension at school. And Bobby’s father wants to learn to sew and make Bobby’s Sandy the Dog costume. Santat’s hilarious illustrations add a lot to the story.

Third grade readers will find a lot to identify with. Bobby’s class talks about fears and how to overcome some of them. Another day, they discuss asthma and other conditions that draw unwanted attention. But, mostly, Bobby is looking for a way to connect to his father, while his father wants to connect to him. A very universal theme. Many reading activities are suggested by the text. School musicals, more discussion of fears, Halloween costumes, and football games all could result. Literacy skills will be sharpened though enjoyment of the story.

Bobby appears in a number of books in the “Bobby Vs Girls” series. Check out the websites: www.lisayee.com and www.dantat.com. In them, Bobby lives on.

  • Bobby the BraveTitle: Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)
  • Author: Lisa Yee
  • Illustrator: Dan Santat
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine, Inc./Scholastic, 2010
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 153 pages
  • Genre: Chapter book
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-05594-9

Halloween Sleepwalker

Written by Thomas Freese
Illustrated by Fran Riddell

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On Halloween night, Shelby Sherman Sanford and his family chat about what spooks them the most. His mom hates ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns creep out his dad, and his older sister never wants to meet a real witch. But Shelby, who is only eight, feels brave. Nothing scares him – he’d walk outside in the middle of the night if he could. After his parents put him to bed, he has a dream so vivid that it feels like he is walking alone through the cornfields near his home. He stumbles upon five witches waiting for him. The youngest gives him an enchanted apple and dares him to take a bite. When he does, he gains a “second sight” and can see the spirit world.
He glanced down at the cauldron and saw the spirits of the potion, reaching out with ghastly green hands, wanting to escape from the bubbling brew.

Ghosts fly about and the dead reach for him from their graves. The oldest witch sticks Shelby on her broomstick and he goes on a wild ride before crash-landing into a pile of leaves. He runs home, covered in bits of straw and twigs. When Shelby wakes in the morning, he shares his weird dream with his family. His sister notices the twigs stuck to his pajamas. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all…

This spooky tale with its Twilight Zone-like ending is gentle enough for third graders to enjoy and could work as a classroom read aloud. Freese’s writing style is that of a good-natured, sit-around-the-campfire storyteller, and potentially scary images are tempered by Riddell’s folksy artwork – a mix of cartooning and scrapbook paper cutouts.

 

  • Halloween SleepwalkerTitle: Halloween Sleepwalker
  • Author: Thomas Freese
  • Illustrator: Fran Riddell
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4399-5
  • Genre: Picture Book / Fiction
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