Tag Archive for literacy skills

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

Fire! Fire in the White House! Run away, run away, but Dolley Madison didn’t run away. She stopped to save the famous portrait of George Washington. It wasn’t a quick trick, either because the frame was too heavy to manage. She instructed some workmen to cut the portrait out of the frame and carry it to safety.

Don Brown’s biography begins with information about Dolley, including her charm, her ability to hostess wonderful parties, and her remodeling of the White House. He also tells readers how Dolley was actually related to George Washington by marriage.

The muted colors used in the illustrations are representative of the time. However, children will enjoy the great amount of action depicted in the story and the pictures. Teachers and librarians can use this biography to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy and American history. The author’s note also includes an interesting discussion about the many spellings of Dolley’s name. Students might use this as a springboard to studying other names with multiple meanings.

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  • DolleyTitle: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-58244-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Bibliography

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

Written by Will Mabbitt
Illustrated by Ross Collins

Blimey! Don’t pick your nose or you could get captured by pirates! No matter how many times some children are warned, they still do it, Mabel Jones is one guilty girl. One minute she is wearing her pajamas and in her own bedroom. Then silence. Captured and plopped aboard a pirate ship, she is required to help find some missing treasure before the comet flies over if she has any desire of getting back home.

This mismatched batch of pirates are hilarious. First, they are completely disgusted to realize their new crewmate is a girl. Until they realize she can read. Now they know she is brainy and can be of help to them. Even the strange creature who captured her ends up loving her, because she is kind to him.

Everything about this adventure is entertaining and fun. Even the varying sizes of fonts make it a fun read and give the appearance of fewer words than might be expected in this long a book. Good readers will devour this story and reluctant readers will stick with it all the way to the end. Pen and ink sketches help the characters and story come alive, though, the text does that extremely well.

While there are some misspelled words, as one might expect of pirates, the spellings are phonetic so children readers will translate them happily.

Teachers and librarians can introduce this in read aloud form. Literacy skills dealing with fantasy, world building, context clues and character development will all be met within the core curriculum. English teachers can easily use these stories to propel their students’ own writing into the world of the future.

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  • Mabel JonesTitle: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones
  • Author: Will Mabbitt
  • Illustrator: Ross Collins
  • Publisher: Viking/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 290 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-451-47196-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 6

Horrible Harry and the Wedding Spies

Written by Suzy Kline
Illustrated by Amy Wummer

How very exciting it is to have your teacher getting married! And it couldn’t happen to anyone better than our long- time friend, Horrible Harry.   Of course, that in itself would cause many to worry. Things don’t always go well when Harry is involved.

His class finds out about her wedding day during a show and tell class but then realize they haven’t been invited. None of them! They do what any reader attached to this series will enjoy. They figure out a way to spy on the wedding from the balcony and then the belfry of the church.

Suzy Kline has again written an entertaining and true to life story that young, but independent readers will enjoy. Her gentle inclusion of everyday struggles in a classroom, like not getting invited to a birthday part, will be familiar to students, but she handles all the incidents with respect and humor.

Teachers, parents, or librarians can introduce this book by reading only a portion of it aloud. Literacy skills will be strengthened while children enjoy a fun read. It is also a great book to use for a family couch activity like, you read a page and I’ll read a page. Another way to enjoy it would be to have an older child read it to, or with a younger sibling.

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  • Horrible HarryTitle: Horrible Harry and the Wedding Spies
  • Author: Suzy Kline
  • Illustrator: Amy Wummer
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 70 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01552-8
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 2 to 5

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived

Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares

Sports heroes are often colorful and have an interesting story to tell. Ted Williams falls into that category.

As a child, Ted Williams was skinny and not very muscular, but he wanted to be the best hitter in baseball. Through determination, he practiced every chance he got, swinging the bat long after the other kids had gone home for supper. He swung until his hands bled. He ate to gain weight and exercised to build muscles. His career was first interrupted by World War II and later by the Korean War. He was a very good fighter pilot. But, when he returned, his baseball skills always seemed to pick up where he left off. He led the Red Sox to the World Series and is commemorated in many ways at Fenway Park. In the author’s note, the author points out the conflict Williams had with the media and often with the fans, but those conflicts didn’t lessen his skill on the ball field. And he was dedicated to helping others, especially children.

Vivid illustrations make the story come alive, from the fields where he practiced in San Diego to Fenway Park to the airplanes he flew.

Third grade readers will learn about Ted Williams, history, World War II and the Korean War, sports, and following one’s dreams and talents. This volume of Candlewick Biographies will promote literacy skills and comprehension.

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  • there goes ted williamsTitle: There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7655-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, bibliography, Ted’s baseball statistics, index

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse


Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Mike Lowery

This crazy little book would go well with either a unit on the science of anatomy, health, poetry, or all three. From the stomach to the brain to the inner ear, each major body part is discussed in poetry form, then in a detailed sidebar. Blood’s tribute begins:

Three boats sail
Along the river of life –
A sticky situation

At the end, the author outlines what poetic forms and devices she uses and where her inspiration came from. Her love for Shakespeare is obvious. The author even encourages composition on those subjects the book doesn’t cover – sort of a “you try it now.” She is very careful to use correct terminology and not to oversimplify for third graders, so literacy skills and comprehension are more important than ever.

Throughout both the riddles and the back matter, humorous illustrations aim to keep the readers’ attention and have them looking for more. Students may want to try their hands at drawing their favorite body parts – within reason. Very cute, very educational, and very fun.

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Random Body Parts

      • Title: Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse
      • Author: Leslie Bulion
      • Illustrator: Mike Lowery
      • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
      • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
      • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
      • Grade Level: 3 to 5
      • Genre: Nonfiction, science, health, poetry
      • ISBN: 978-1-56145-737-3
      • Extras: Glossary, body diagram, poetry notes, and resources for further study


Growing Up Pedro

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares

More than Pedro’s story, this is the story of two brothers and how they helped each other become two of the best pitchers in the major leagues. As a child, Pedro always looked up to his older brother, Ramón. Pedro wanted to play baseball with Ramón and his friends, but Ramón didn’t want Pedro to get hurt. Instead, the older brother instructed the younger brother to throw rocks at the ripe mangoes on the trees. A scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers spots sixteen-year-old Ramón on the Dominican national team and watches him at training camp. At seventeen, Ramón paves the way by reporting to the Dodgers. At every turn, he shares what he learns with Pedro, who takes his advice to heart. Pedro works on English as well as his fast ball. In 1990, Pedro is also drafted to the Dodgers. Ramón is still the pitching star of the family. The brothers work together on the major league team for little more than a season before Pedro is traded to Montreal in 1994. By 1996, Pedro has proven himself and starts pitching for the Boston Red Sox. He leads Boston to many great seasons. Meanwhile, he helps his family back in the Dominican Republic and also helps build up the village where he grew up. The illustrations are lively and realistic, with a definite feel for being at the ballpark.

All third graders will find the story heart-warming, helping them to work on literacy skills and comprehension. They will also learn something of recent history and about math with baseball statistics. This book is well-researched and well-told.

As a Baltimore Orioles fan, this almost made me like Pedro.

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  • Growing Up PedroTitle: Growing Up Pedro
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6824-2
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Pedro Martinez’ major league statistics, Bibliography

Over On A Mountain

Written by  Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

Marianne Berkes continues her great series with this book that introduces 20 different animals that live on ten different mountain ranges on seven different continents of the world. This book will make teaching geography fun and easily fulfills the core curriculum standards for elementary literacy skills, math, and geography. It will be a wonderful addition to your school, classroom or home library.

Readers can count the animal babies, and read the numeral on the page, or vice versa. Likewise, they will enjoy the natural rhymes of the story and sing a song they already know with different words. Besides all that, they can identify the continents and animals that live on each. The cut paper illustrations are realistic enough to jump right into. Readers of all ages will be tempted to make their own cut paper illustrations.

This is a book that just keeps on giving.  The end pages have tips from the author as well as tips from the illustrator so readers can try out the techniques on their own. That is on top of all the added detailed information about the animals included in the book.

A particularly helpful section in the end pages deals with what parts of the book are facts and which fiction. These are decisions always difficult for young readers to distinguish on their own.

Facts about mountains and suggestions about how to compare and contrast are added benefits as well as suggestions for further reading.

While the youngest readers might not grasp everything in the end pages, older students will soak up everything this book has to offer.

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  • Over on a mountainTitle: Over On A Mountain
  • Author:  Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, March 1, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: paperback/32pgs
  • ISBN:  978-1584695196
  • Genre: picture book
  • Grade level: Preschool to 4
  • Extras: Tips from the author, tips from the illustrator, fact or fiction, mountain facts, compare and contrast. More books related

Henry Aaron’s Dream

Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares

Nearly everyone who knows anything about baseball knows about Hank Aaron. He did, in fact, break the all-time home run record set by Babe Ruth. But do fans know about his youth? Drawing a picture of a hard-playing youth, Tavares makes the hero even more accessible to young readers. Young Henry Aaron loved baseball so much, he would swing any stick to make any object to make it fly. He began with a broom handle and bottle caps. He started playing with real baseball diamonds, bats, and balls when he was twelve. He grew up in a Mobile that was strictly segregated. So, when he began his career, only the Negro Leagues were available to him despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Dodgers. Eventually, he was invited to play for a farm team for the Braves. He proved himself through his willingness to listen and learn, his perseverance, and his natural talent. He was one of the best players ever and one of the most respected men in sports.

Vivid illustrations make the story come alive.

The third grade reader hears about Henry Aaron, history, civil rights, sports, and following one’s dreams and talents. This volume of Candlewick Biographies will promote literacy skills and comprehension.

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  • Henry Aarons DreamTitle: Henry Aaron’s Dream
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0763658205


Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Charlie Bumpers is a typical fourth grader who is afraid of scary movies, but certainly doesn’t want any of his friends to know it. His brother tries to help prepare him for a Halloween sleep over by telling him a scary story every night before bed. Each night the “practice story” becomes a little scarier.

Of course, Charlie had another purpose for wanting to go to this particular sleep over on Halloween night, too. It was so he didn’t have to take his little sister out trick or treating! Lots of young readers will relate to that problem.

So, he gets to the sleep over and goes trick or treating in a new neighborhood with really big houses and rich people. They all expect to get lots of extra candy at such big houses, but instead find themselves getting only one piece at each house. And the houses are so far apart they only get enough candy to fill the bottom of the bag.

While the story is somewhat predictable to adults, it will provide fresh excitement for the grade three readers and even the strong grade two readers. Bill Harley is able to capture the realistic voice of the fourth graders as well as of their parents. The black and white sketches by Adam Gustavson also help get the reader into the story. The pacing and vocabulary is spot on for developing independent readers. They will have great fun getting to know these characters and will enjoy reading more stories in this series.

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  • Charlie Bumpers Squeaking SkullTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 164 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1056145-808-0
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile: 490L
  • Extras: Blurbs about other books in the series

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
America was preparing for the Chicago World’s Fair for 1893, and anxious to surpass France’s Eiffel Tower. But what could possibly do that? A contest was announced and engineers began sketching all manner of tower’s and novelties.
George Ferris won the contest with his idea of a giant wheel that people would ride in closed rooms furnished with velvet chairs. While the contest sponsors liked his magnificent idea, they never thought it would work. In fact, they refused to help finance the project. They seemed to sit on the sidelines watching for it to fail. However, at the conclusion of the fair, they were so amazed by its overwhelming success, they decided to name the magnificence wheel after its creator.

Kathryn Gibbs Davis has written a fascinating account of this episode in American history, including quotes and facts. The illustrations by Gilbert Ford are realistic and magical at the same time capturing the environment that was the 1893 World’s Fair. The illustration of the fair at night is especially meaningful when readers learn that this introduction of electric lights at night gave L. Frank Baum his idea for the Emerald City in his Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Grade three readers, as well as those younger and older, will be interested in the first Ferris Wheel and amazed by its size.

Core curriculum standards of American history, science, geography, and literacy skills will be met by use of this book. It is an excellent example of combining a narrative with factual paragraphs. This book is an excellent addition to every nonfiction library.

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  • Mr. FerrisTitle: Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
  • Author: Kathryn Gibbs Davis
  • Illustrator: Gilbert Ford
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-95922-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade level: K-3
  • Extras: Endpapers include a Selected Bibliography, Quote Sources and related websites.
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