Archive for 2012

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

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,, 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


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.


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:

Learning Guide:

Meet historical characters by American Girl:

  • 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

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,, provides reading activities for parents and educators, as does Theo’s own website,

  • 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.

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Unicorn’s Tale

Written by R. L. LaFevers

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

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Nathaniel misses his parents so much that he can’t think about anything else; even the fact that he is getting to travel around the world helping his Aunt Phil, a beastologist, takes a backseat to his fears. Nathaniel is even willing to give up the ancient Book of the Beasts if it will help his cause.

Aunt Phil pilots an old plane around the world to tend to the beasts, accompanied by her friend Cornelius, who is a dodo bird, and now Nate and his pet gremlin, Greasle. Greasle and Cornelius don’t get along at all, and that creates several complications as they travel together.

Aunt Phil has heard that a unicorn is acting strangely, and may be ill, and this is a very serious issue that must be taken care of immediately, as there are very few unicorns left after the terrible destruction in Europe from the Great War. Nate must solve a mystery, and save them all from a kidnapper, who will do anything to get his hands on the Book of the Beasts. Can Nate set aside his fears about his parents disappearance long enough to help Aunt Phil? What takes priority for right now? Will they be able to outsmart Obediah?

This is book four in the Beastologist series, and each book takes Nate and Aunt Phil a little closer to discovering what might have happened to Nate’s parents. While this book can be read as a stand-alone book, to fully comprehend all that is happening you really need to read the first three.

This is a fun chapter book for third graders that introduces many myths mixed with adventure. Do unicorns really exist? Where might have the story of unicorns originated? Readers from the third grade thru fifth will totally enjoy this book, brought to life by the many pen and ink illustrations.

The Unicorn’s Tale received an A+ rating from the Junior Library Guild and an award by the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles for the cover art.

The author’s website ( to see drawings of Nate and the beasts sent in from their readers, and promises to post them in their reader’s gallery, they can be sent to

  • Title: Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Unicorn’s Tale
  • Author: R. L. LaFevers
  • Illustrated by: Kelly Murphy
  • Publisher: Sandpiper, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin
  • Reviewer: Carole Robishaw
  • Paperback; 160 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547850795
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

True Tales of the Wild West: American Cowboys

Written by Jeff Savage

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The wild west is wild no longer. The cowboys who defined life in the wild west have all but disappeared. Today’s grade schoolers and middle graders may not even know the stories of how the west was won. Jeff Savage’s book American Cowboys performs the important function of presenting this information in easily comprehensible prose. His book both describes the life of the unsung cowboys and gives the reasons why they disappeared.

The last chapter — Trail’s End — describes how the change came about. “The Homestead Act….made public land in the West available to settlers on payment of a small fee. In return, the settlers had to live on and cultivate the land for a minimum of five years.” Little by little the open ranges gave way to settlements. Barbed wire fences went up. The heroic cowboys became fence-riders and patrolmen, but no longer were they, and the cattle, lords of the open grasslands.

The first chapter sets the scene. Young James McCauley is on night watch. An unexpected rainstorm starts a stampede that separates James from his watchman buddy and the large herd of cattle. Roundups were dangerous.

The daily rigors and hardships of a cowboy’s life are well described, but there was an allure to life in the open plains. People from the East ran away to become cowboys. Young men from as far away as Europe came because they had “heard tales about the exciting west.”

The information is complete and very well organized. We learn of the tools of the cowboy’s trade. A good horse was an absolute necessity, as was the multipurpose lasso. Every item of his clothing had a specific purpose: from the bandana to the oversize Stetson. We picture the cowboy as a heroic character. “As much as the cowboys didn’t mind bragging, they hated complaining….There was no sympathy for a whining cowboy.”

As food habits changed the demand for beef grew. Cattle had to be driven to distant markets. “Cattle worth four dollars a head in Texas might be worth more than forty dollars a head in Kansas and Missouri and places north.”

The map of the major trails that the cowboys used for cattle drives is an effective reminder of how the country was settled. There is much in the book that lends itself to discussions and reading activities. The glossary explains terms that have also almost disappeared from daily usage. Indeed an attractive addition to a reading list.

Additional Information:

The Chisholm Trail:

The American Cowboy:

photos of the Old West:

  • American CowboysTitle: True Tales of the Wild West: American Cowboys
  • Author: Jeff Savage
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4644-0027-8
  • Genre: Non-Fiction/Social Studies

Bound for Snow (Innerstar University)

Written by Alison Hart

Illustrated by Arcana Studios
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Get ready for an adventure in the snow. This edition of the “Innerstar University” series has the girls playing in the white stuff in all kinds of fun and exciting ways. As with the other volumes in this series, the text is written in second person, making the reader one of the team, participating in all the activities. This approach works well for third grade readers, especially girls.  The reader is part of the story.

The girls plan a weekend at a mountain resort. The reader is invited to decide to how to prepare for the weekend. Should you pick dogsledding? Your decisions will lead you through choosing and training a dog. You will learn to navigate a trail and how to take care of your dogs. Would snowboarding be more fun? What do the boards look like? You’ll find out what a lesson is like and pick a different trail for that activity. Does skijoring sound like fun? What is skijoring? The reader’s decisions lead to twenty possible endings, none of which are right or wrong.

Reading activities are important to this book series. The reader is invited to make a decision on most pages for the direction of the plot, giving the reader practice with decision trees and logic. The characters, most of which are used throughout the series, are well-defined and each shows desirable traits. A companion website,, has plenty more to learn. The book comes with a special access code for better site usage.

The illustrations are generic, with all the girls have similar features and physical build, but they do show the action in an understandable way. They should enable any girl to become the one in the story.

  • Bound for SnowTitle: Bound for Snow
  • Author: Alison Hart
  • Illustrator: Arcana Studios
  • Publisher: American Girl Publishing, Inc., 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hardcover: 119 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-60958-088-9
  • Genre: Contemporary sports, friendship

Change the World Before Bedtime

A Collaboration by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers and Karen Good

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Ever wonder just what would happen if everyone in the world lived to do good deeds? Had adults read Change the World Before Bedtime as they were growing up, maybe the world would look a lot kinder today.

Teaching our children that change is possible is our responsibility. The very first page, sums up the main point, “Change the world before bedtime. Its easy. You’ll see! Sharing a part of your heart is the key.” Readers then learn how to start the train of change by learning to eat healthy foods and to do ”random good deeds” throughout the day. Continuing on, the kids in the book go forward to visit the sick and elderly. They learn to collect items for the less fortunate, be kind to the earth, and to have happy thoughts to lead them to happy words. “There’ll be laughter and flowers and rainbows above, cause happy things happen when hearts shine with love.”

One of the greatest features of Change the World Before Bedtime is the illustrations. Every page has colorful kids, in a colorful world, all together for the common good. The drawings support the idea of the page perfectly, adding so much more depth to the comprehension of the story. I can definitely see reading this, and discussing each picture in full detail, every single night to my own children because it is a book that the kids will treasure in years to come.

The beauty of this book is that it can be used as a read aloud easily. Asking the children about what they could do that day to change the world would make for an enlightening discussion. Another use for the book is to have the children practice saying nice things to one another. If you were doing a lesson on health, the book would be great to show how taking care of your body is the start to caring for the rest of the world.

The pages in Change the World Before Bedtime are printed on solid paper in the hardback version that will hold up to many readings, making it a great investment for the  third grade classroom. (I might still by two, one for my class and one for my home.) The last page of the book has an area for “Your Bright Ideas…To Change the World Before Bedtime“. And, the back and front inside cover has lined notebook-like paper for even more ideas. What a wonderful use of space!

Change the World Before Bedtime has won The Mom’s Choice Award for Best in Family-Friendly Products and received a Gold Medal.  It’s surely to win many more awards.

Author Mark Kimball Moulton has a wonderful site where you can even schedule a school appearance:

Earth2 is a site that calls into action the theme of the book and can be found at You can watch a video of author Josh Chalmers talking  about his views on making changes.

  • Change the WorldTitle:  Change the World Before Bedtime
  • Authors and Illustrators:  Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, Karen Good
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
  • Reviewer:  Ann Norris
  • Hardback:  32 pages
  • ISBN: 076434238X
  • Genre:  Citizenship, recycling, environmental

Spies and Lies: Famous and Infamous Spies

Written By: Susan K. Mitchell

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Who hasn’t dreamed of being a spy? Spies and Lies: Famous and Infamous Spies, part of “The Secret World of Spies” series, shows both the rewards and perils of espionage and reminds the reader that the best spies were never discovered.

The reality of spying may seem mundane to some readers when compared to Hollywood’s version of this profession, but the author manages to get some of the thrilling moments in her narrative. Third graders, who are starting to develop their own talents, will see how working with what you have is always best.

Women often make good spies because they don’t seem threatening. Belle Boyd, a charming and beautiful woman, was a very successful spy for the South during the Civil War. She charmed information from Union troops and helped win battles for Stonewall Jackson. Legend says that, at one point, she ran across a battlefield to deliver information. Josephine Baker, Julia Child, and Marlene Dietrich are mentioned as other women with beneficial talents.

Espionage has sometimes become a family business because then you don’t have to pretend with everyone. The Kuehns spied for Nazi Germany in Hawaii. They were only discovered because someone noticed they were flashing signals to the Japanese. The Walkers spied for the Soviet Union in U.S. And sisters, Ginnie and Lottie Moon, were two more Civil War spies.

Sometimes, even children have been spies. Agnes Daluge was a very small thirteen-year-old when she began helping Jews leave Nazi Germany. Dicey Langston was a fifteen-year-old spy during the American Revolution. Information is still coming to light about Romanian children spying for the government during the Cold War.

Even animals have been spies – birds, cats, and literal bugs.

The table of contents, index, glossary, and “To Find Out More” section are valuable for comprehension of the concepts. The author included a short section about becoming a modern-day spy. The publisher’s website,, shows the other titles in this series and has a free pdf educator’s guide available, including many reading activities and reading worksheets.

  • Spies and LiesTitle: Spies and Lies: Famous and Infamous Spies
  • Author: Susan K. Mitchell
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-349-2
  • Genre: History, Espionage
  • Lexile Score: 740L
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