Tag Archive for literacy skills

Four Famous Faces

Written by Jean L.S. Patrick
Illustrated by Renee Graef

Four beautiful Native American animals are pictured on the cover as a group of friends off on a hike. The story begins as a prairie dog pup sets off to find the “four famous faces” that all the tourists traveling past in their cars and campers are going to see. For so much traffic, they must be very important faces.

Young readers will giggle as the prairie pup asks first bison, elk, then bats and finally mountain goats if they are the four famous faces before finally reaching the welcome center to the real famous faces of Mount Rushmore. Along the journey, third grade readers will visit several fantastic National and State parks. At the back of the book, an in-depth section is presented for each of the parks as well as for each of the animals. This makes the book of particular value for teachers and librarians. The information section will fulfill the core curriculum and literacy skills of any school system.

The readers will be able to distinguish easily between the fiction and non-fiction sections of the books and can use this as an example when they are doing their own classroom writing. It is a great addition to the study of geography as well as a neat travel guide for families preparing to take their vacation in this region of our country. Otherwise, it would be a great reminder of a trip taken a couple of years ago. The story ends on a very satisfying note, as does every trip away from home.

Extras: Several non-fiction pages in the back of the book that each focus on a particular park: Devil’s Tower National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Park, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park. Each of these pages also include a non-fiction fact box about each of the animals who starred in the picture book story at the beginning of the book. (bison, prairie dog, elk, and big-eared bat)

A lengthy list of books for further reading and web sites.

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  • Four Famous FacesTitle: Four Famous Faces
  • Author: Jean L.S. Patrick
  • Illustrator: Renee Graef
  • Publisher: Stories in Stone, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-9798823-8-8
  • Genre: Fiction

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Written by Jennifer L. Holm

What if your grandfather found the Fountain of Youth and ended up a teenager barely older than you? Would you let him go to your middle school despite his two PhD’s? These questions and more are answered in Holm’s delightful new book.

Eleven-year-old Ellie comes home one day to find her mother with a thirteen-year-old boy in tow. Turns out the boy is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin, who tested his anti-aging potion on himself. Ellie has to help him complete his research and adjust to middle school. When the potion works, Melvin is kicked out of his own lab by an enthusiastic guard. Denied access to his research, Melvin enlists Ellie’s help plus the help of Ellie’s friend. Absurd details such as Melvin wearing “old man” clothes, or whatever is clean, and using Ellie’s hair bands on his pony tail give the book kid-appeal. Ellie’s mom and grandfather experience a sort of incomplete role reversal, where she grounds him and he tells her to be in by a certain hour.

Although this book is pure fiction, the author manages to sneak in many scientific and historic facts and philosophical questions. Who was Robert Oppenheimer? Are scientific advancements inherently good or do they often carry elements of good and evil? What is the responsibility of the scientist to recognize those elements? Isn’t it important to maintain the circle of life? Third graders and above will enjoy the outrageous ideas in this story and gain literacy skills. Reading activities include research of the many topics introduced and discussion of other topics that might be explored.

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  • Fourteenth GoldfishTitle: The Fourteenth Goldfish
  • Author: Jennifer L. Holm
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-87064-4
  • Grade level: 3 to 6

Words with Wings

Written by Nikki Grimes

This uplifting novel in verse focuses on a girl who loves to daydream. One word can carry her away to a memory or a place. Nikki Grimes does a wonderful job of illustrating how this is a child who does care deeply about her surroundings, lessons and chores, but also needs the release of daydreaming.

It is also a story with hints of divorce, missing the past, but accepting the present. The light touch makes it realistic without becoming dark or overbearing.

The seeming simplicity of the poetry makes the story approachable for readers, but was undoubtedly difficult to construct. Third grade readers and sixth grade readers alike will slide into this story and recognize themselves and other classmates.

What a wonderful teacher Nikki Grimes has put in her book. He is a real teacher from her past that was important in supporting her writing. Instead of daydreaming being forbidden in his classroom, Mr. Spicer recognizes its importance to the children and appoints it a special time. While this can’t and won’t happen in every classroom, it might be an idea that children will adopt on their own.

Literacy skills abound in this book as it emphases how just one word has the ability to transform and transport a person. The poetic form of free verse is part of the core curriculum and can be met through this book. As well as writing standards by having students study any one poem, or group of poems before writing poetry of their own.


  • Words with WingsTitle: Words with Wings
  • Author: Nikki Grimes
  • Publisher: Wordsong
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 83 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-985-8
  • Genre: Fiction, Novel in verse
  • Grade Level: 3 and above


Double Reverse

Written by Fred Bowen

Jesse and his brother, Jay, are both freshmen – Jesse in high school and Jay in college. Jesse is looking forward to being a wide receiver on the JV squad. Jay, star quarterback in high school, assumes he’ll be quarterback at Dartmouth too. The brothers spend the summer running football patterns. When practice starts, their dreams are quickly changed by reality. Jesse is a better quarterback than anyone else on the team, though he’s a bit small for the position. Jay is just an okay quarterback compared to his teammates. Jesse’s best friends also find hidden talents as the football season progresses. Without a decent kicker, the team flounders until the boys decide the best kicker they know is a girl named Savannah, who also joins the team. Both Jesse and Jay have found their niche, but not without some soul searching.

Third graders just learning about team sports will love the exciting games Bowen describes. The author presents great examples of real football plays. The reader doesn’t have to understand every play in order to enjoy the story, though studying the plays will increase comprehension and literacy skills. Reading activities include practicing the plays presented. This story of realizing one’s potential should speak to everyone. A Junior Library Guild Selection, it is fast-paced and thrilling.


  • Double ReverseTitle: Double Reverse
  • Author: Fred Bowen
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 125 pages
  • Genre: Sports
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-814-1
  • Extras: “The Real Story,” where the author discusses accomplished athletes who went beyond their apparent talents.
  • Release date: August 2014

The Prairie that Nature Built

Written by Marybeth Lorbiecki
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

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The inner workings of the wild prairie are on display in this engaging picture book. Written as a cumulative poem, it’s a celebration of a unique habitat.


This is the prairie that nature built.
These are the critters
That worm and squirm
Alive in the dirt so dark and thick
Under the prairie that nature built.


Young readers will gaze upon prairie dogs, ferrets, and snakes hiding safely in their burrows. They’ll see plant roots stretching deep underground to hold water long after the rains have gone. And they’ll learn how flowers, insects, birds and various mammals intermingle and benefit from each other. But on the prairie, there are dangers, too. Lightning can spark a fire, setting the ground ablaze and chasing the animals away. A pounding rain quenches the fire, leaving the blackened reeds to mix with the soil. Months later, from out from the ashes a green shoot sprouts upward. Life renewed once again.


Lorbiecki’s use of rhyme, cumulative verse, and repetition will enhance the literacy skills of young readers. Dramatic text and images capture the beauty and vulnerability of this disappearing habitat. Morrison’s artwork is full of fine detail, which allows third graders to find something new with each reading. Back matter includes in-depth information on prairies, vocabulary and terminology, reading activities and additional resources. This book is also available as an interactive book app.


  • PrairieTitle: The Prairie that Nature Built
  • Author: Marybeth Lorbiecki
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-491-5
  • Genre: Picture Book / Creative Nonfiction / Science / Nature
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2014

Jesper Jinx

Written and illustrated by Marko Kitti

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Jesper may not be a jinx, but he sure has a difficult time making things come out the way he envisions them. The first several pages of the book provide an introduction to eleven-year-old Jesper and all his quirks. The author tells the readers they are sworn to secrecy about the fact that this book even exists. Jesper wouldn’t want his antic shared so widely. Then the reader hears two short stories about the workings of Jesper’s world. In the first story, Jesper and his snow white cat tangle over a water glass containing the leavings from a water color brush. A load of red laundry and yellow towel are also involved. (The cat wins the battle. Jesper is no longer bored.) Then the reader gets to hear from the cat. In the second story, Jesper and his friend plan and carry out tricks on their teacher. Turns out they are sharing their secrets with the wrong person. Reminding the reader things are not always as they seem.

The author does a lot of asides, speaking directly to the reader and thus drawing them into the conspiracy that is Jesper. This is a great device, especially for third graders, who are still getting comfortable with the chapter book concept. The silly and hilarious adventures are enough to keep kids engaged and will remind them to be kind and think about their actions before carrying them out. The familiar themes and quick pace should help with literacy skills and comprehension.

Find out more at www.jesperjinx.co.uk.


  • Jesper JinxTitle: Jesper Jinx
  • Author/Illustrator: Marko Kitti
  • Publisher: CreativeSpace Publishing, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 150 pages
  • Genre: Chapter book, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4974-5822-2



Wind Dancer

Written by Chris Platt

If you like horsey books, or even if you don’t, this short book has a lot to offer. Ali is a well-behaved thirteen-year-old who lost her beloved horse in an accident and whose brother, Danny, comes home from Afghanistan minus one leg. Meanwhile, she is keeping an eye on a possibly senile neighbor whose two horses are obviously neglected. When her friend, Cara, talks her into sneaking out to check on the horses, they discover the horses are in very bad shape. The girls report the neglect anonymously, but Ali’s parents still figure out she sneaked out. So Ali ends up with the responsibility of nursing the horses back to health. The author includes a lot of information about the problems sick horses face. Danny and the sicker horse form a special bond, helping them both.


The author does a great job of showing the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder from a young family member’s perspective. Ali knows her brother is not the same as when he went to war, but she’s not able to put a name to it right away. The reader will also see all the difficulties in trying to help abused and neglected animals. Where do you draw the line between being a good neighbor and interfering? Third graders who are just learning of some of the problems in the world will love to read about how Ali works out all her problems. The fascinating story will provide a lot of reinforcement for literacy skills.


  • Wind DancerTitle: Wind Dancer
  • Author: Chris Platt
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 126 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, horses, PTSD
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-736-6
  • Extras: Multiple resources about PTSD

Voices from the Oregon Trail

Written by Kay Winters
Illustrated by Larry Day

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The poetry created by Kay Winters breathes life into the story of the Oregon Trail and the many emigrants who traveled there in the thirty years of its use. Between 1830 and 1860 overlanders made the trek in farm wagons pulled by horses, mules or cows. Most people sought free land and riches to be made on their own terms.

They sent letters back home that helped to preserve their adventures; good and bad. People were born and died along the trail. They were married, injured or became sick or lost.

Each poem in this collection is written from the perspective of a particular individual. Women, men, children, Native Americans, and even the captain of a wagon train all have their say and give the story the feel of realism.

Third grade readers will be enthralled by the journey and the chance to think about and pretend they are along for the trip. The illustrations are colorful, active and realistic enough for readers to feel part of the square dance, the river crossing, or the hail storm.

Teachers and librarians can use this text in the core curriculum for literacy skill development in reading as well as in the areas of writing poetry and/or memoir. It would be a valuable addition to any library.

  • Voices from the Oregon TrailTitle: Voices from the Oregon Trail
  • Author: Kay Winters
  • Illustrator: Larry Day
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3775-4
  • Genre: Historical Fiction in Poetry/Oregon National Historic Trail
  • Extras: Historical Notes/Further Reading Lists

A Home for Mr. Emerson

Written by Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

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Ralph Waldo Emerson loved his home in Concord, Massachusetts. Perhaps more than most people love a home. And yet, this book is not only about the home, but the man who lived there.

He was a little boy in Boston who wanted to go to the country and be outdoors. As a young man his family moved about a lot, but they did end up in the country. He collected books and friends. He married a woman who loved chickens and rosebushes.

Reading this biography feels like getting to know a good friend. The narration is smooth and inviting while also being full of quotes from Mr. Emerson’s writings.

The illustrations are large and draw the reader right into his office filled with books and papers and a favorite rocking chair.

Fire strikes late in the night when Mr. Emerson is sixty-nine years old. The whole town comes to help save books, papers, clothes and furniture. But it is his spirit that is hurt the most. Finally, weeks later his friends convince him to go away on a trip to rest and recover. Only while away in England and then Egypt he missed his favorite people and home more than ever. When he returned to the Concord train station the whole town was waiting to greet him. The biggest surprise was how beautifully the town had rebuilt and refurnished his beloved home.

Third grade readers will enjoy this well-told biography and learn their literacy skills of using primary sources when doing their own reports.  They will also see how possible it is to include read quotations in a new narrative.

Librarians and teachers can use this as a wonderful read aloud and satisfy the core curriculum in the areas of biography as well as American literature. Art teachers can use the variations in illustrations to highlight usage of color to distinguish distance as well as personal attributes showing emotion along with many other well done techniques.

This biography is a joy to read again and again. It is a well done transition from real life facts to real life story.  The great team work of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham also created the books, What To Do About Alice? The Extraordinary Mark Twain, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. It is a very talented duo!

  • Home for Mr. EmersonTitle: A Home for Mr. Emerson
  • Author: Barbara Kerley
  • Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-35088-4
  • Genre: Biography, nonfiction, community
  • Level: Grades 3-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, list of primary sources and source list for original quotations

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
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