Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher

Schema: sixth graders, school, substitutes, death

Point of View: Students share their feelings and thoughts about their personal lives and then join each other at school allowing the reader to have background knowledge on the characters that other characters in the story are not aware.

Summary: The sixth graders learn about themselves and all of them grow up a little in one school day as they share through their writing feelings about guilt and forgiveness for treating a classmate cruelly preceding his sudden death.

If you like this book, you would also enjoy Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Silly Shoes: Poems to make you smile by Lawson Gow

In this picture book formated poetry book, both readers and listeners will be smiling and laughing as the poems are read. Elements of poetry are illustrated throughout the selections. In “Expression Salad,” idioms such as “he went bananas” are used which could lead to a fun discussion about literary elements. In “My Chocolate Bunny,” a reference to Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is included which could lead to a reader to a chapter book. There are so many poems that children will enjoy such as “Backwards Land,” about candy such as Twizzlers, Snickers, Reese’s, and other name brand treats. Tasting these while reading, would indeed, be memorable for children. What a fun book for parents and teachers to use in poetry units, transitional times, or just a fun read aloud.

The illustrations are entertaining and support each poem well.

A copy of the review book was provided by the publisher.

A Wild Ride on the Water Cycle: A Jake and Alice Adventure by Anthony Yanez

Informational text is merged with literary text in this fun picture book about two water drops, Jake and Alice. The story begins with the two friends being swallowed by dinosaurs. The story shows readers how after millions of years, the same water drops cycle through the earth over and over.
Schema: rain,clouds, drinking water
Sequence: Sequence the cycle that Jake and Alice follow.
Vocabulary: a glossary is included featuring water cycle terms such as “evapotranspiration”
Illustrations of Jake and Alice show lots of action and cute situations, but graphics of the water flow cycle are also included.
Science curriculum: This book would be a great choice for elementary teachers needing to introduce the water cycle.

The author is a meteorologist.

A review copy of the book was provided by the publisher.



Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Sojourner Truth’s picture book biography tells of her remarkable life and her desire to make a difference for African Americans and women during the 1850’s.
Character Analysis: Sojourner has many traits that could be compared with Dr. Martin Luther King’s life as told in Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport.They were both determined to never give up. Both were ministers, and both were threatened because of their conviction to improve the life of those they sought to help.

In teaching with this wonderful book, I also taught the poem by Robert Frost, Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Both the books and the poem share the theme of never giving up.  The students could imagine both Sojourner Truth and Dr. King saying they had “promises to keep and many miles to go before I sleep.”

The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea: The Story of Annaliese Easterling & Throckmorton, Her Simply Remarkable Sock Monkey by Eileen Beha

Throckmorton S. Monkey, a great listener and narrator, tells the story about nine-year-old, Annaliese Easterling, whose mother ran away when she was only a baby. Her father is busy, and they are very wealthy, so she is cared for by a nanny. There is a secret about why Annaliese Easterling’s mother left, and Annaliese is determined to find out what it is. As the story begins, the sock monkey’s of the children and grandchildren of Grandmother Easterling receive a formal invitation inviting them and their owner to her 90th birthday party. Grandmother had made and named each of them a sock monkey when they were born. Talk begins throughout the family that if they do not have their sock monkey they might get excluded from Grandmother’s will. Annaliese and her eleven-year-old twin brothers,  take to the attic to find their castaway sock monkeys and discover a suitcase filled with clothes that once belonged to their mother. Annaliese takes the clothes and begins wearing them in her room as she thinks about her mother.

The monkeys observe the humans and although they can not talk, they are always great listeners who love them.  This story is like The Velveteen Rabbit, The Westingame, and Mary Poppins all rolled into one with a mystery and a surprise ending. I highly recommend it to readers of all ages who love a wholesome mystery with a happy ending.

Odette’s Secret by Maryann MacDonald

Historical fiction set during the holocaust is an old story that when told with the words of an innocent child brings the reader into the narrator’s world.  Every feeling of loss and fear is heightened when experiencing it from the child’s viewpoint. The theme of man vs. man dominates the story with Odette having to run from the Nazis, her mother working in the resistance, and her father fighting with France against the nazis. Odette also has an internal struggle in that when she finds the least bit of happiness and joy in her life with her godmother’s family, joy in a doll, a pet cat, new friends, and good food, these things are taken. In this story, the main character, Odette, is protected from physical harm, but she finds that her cousins are “gone” and never returning and she witnesses a man drowning kittens that are unwanted. In comparison to some holocaust stories, this one is very mild, but even the mildest of holocaust stories is filled with sorrow.  Odette does remain hopeful and is very resilient.

Point of View: first person

Schema: feeling of insecurity, loss of material possessions

Text-to-self connections: telling a lie out of fear


Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

I just finished reading Flora and Ulysses.  Can you imagine a squirrel being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, given CPR, and then having the ability to type and fly afterwards? I recently saw a real eve
nt on You Tube where 
a swimming pool repairman found a squirrel in a pool and saved him. Flora’s favorite book is a graphic novel about a superhero. The story reminds her of time she spent reading it with her father, and It is sort of a guide for how she lives her life.  Her parents are getting a divorce, and her mother mostly ignores her. Then one day she sees her next door neighbor vacuum up a squirrel in the backyard.  Flora rushes out to the neighbor’s house, and life is not boring any more!  

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Cancer fighters, Hazel Grace, and Augustus, sixteen and seventeen years old, meet in a cancer support group in this coming of age novel. The characters, both adult and young adult, grow as they learn how to live and how to die knowing the “fault in our stars” was something over which they have no control. They all struggle to lean into good, to make caring choices by being responsible with their freedom to choose their paths rather than letting that free choice lead them to self-destruction. The stars have already made that choice for them, and it is out of their control. Augustus tells Grace that cancer “is a civil war with a predetermined winner.” p.216

Hazel Grace narrates the story with an insight that touches any aged reader. As a parent, she touched my heart by noticing the way Augustus’s parents looked at him, “watching him, never looking away, like they just wanted to enjoy the The Gus Waters Show while it was still in town.” p.235 I must say I adore listening to my children talk with their comical thoughts and deep emotions, and John Green conveyed the feeling so well.

I often ponder the idea of not knowing when something is the last. Hazel Grace reflects that “there’s no way of knowing that your last good day is your Last Good Day.” p.253 Sometimes I know that something special is happening, and I know it’s a moment I will never see happen again, the birth of a child, graduations, special ceremonies, a long visit with your son before he marries, but what about those wonderful afternoons when you share the best time ever with your child, a friend, or your pets not knowing it will be your last. You look back and wish for one more moment. I take from this book that life is precious and precarious, and we have but one chance to walk through this world as Augustus sums up for his friend, knowing that “you are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”p.272, and understanding that these are all part of life and to make each moment count.

In some ways this book connects with another of my very old favorites, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. The book begins with one of the characters looking back on his youth and his regrets, thinking, “It’s time to come in out of the rain.” Augustus is good-looking, witty, athletic, and charismatic like Phineas in A Separate Peace, but Augustus’s friend, Isaac, did not resent Augustus’s ease with living as Gene did with Phineas.

The characters in The Fault in Our Stars are mature beyond their years, like so many young adults who are dealing with cancer and trying to protect the hearts of those they love. The perspectives that John Green shares through Hazel, Augustus, Hazel’s mother, and Van Houten resonate innocence, love, protection, bitterness, selfishness, and forgiveness. Augustus says we have choices in this life. We choose who we love, who we hurt, who we let hurt us, and whether to hang on to things or let them go. Green brilliantly writes a book that a reader can use throughout his or her life to help get through what our stars hold for us.

Things to ponder: If authors of fiction include some truths in their tales, could the Tulip Man in AIA be Van Houten, himself? How did cancer change Van Houten? Who are the brave ones in this story?

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Lucy and Owen, high school teens, find themselves and each other stuck in an elevator during a blackout in NYC.  They spend the night talking, looking at the stars, sharing wishes and melting ice cream, and the night is magical to them.  When the sun comes up the next morning, it’s back to reality.  Owen’s mother’s untimely death, his father’s struggle to find happiness, and Lucy’s family making a move to Europe are distractions to them as they keep in touch by postcards, “wishing you were here.”

Smith revolves the story around particular phrases, common hopes, and settings to keep the reader entwined in Owen’s and Lucy’s lives. Each of them knew something special connected them that one night, and even though their “somewheres” are in different places, the “home” is with each other “because that’s what happened when you were with someone like that: the world shrank to just the right size. It molded itself to fit only the two of you, and nothing more.” p. 110

Each of them have profound thoughts throughout the book as Owen, on his way to the house where he grew up to pack it up for selling sums it up with “everything new arrives on the heels of something old, and every beginning comes a the cost of an ending,” as he thinks on his future.  Sometimes we know when it’s an end, and sometimes we know when it’s the last time for something, and those moments are the most bittersweet as we run to our future knowing we can not hold on to our past.

The theme of stars is used throughout the story as Owen loved them and shared that love with his mother. During the blackout, he and Lucy share the constellations as the east coast is completely dark making the night seem magical.  Lucy longs to stand on the star outside of Notre Dame because it’s the center of  Paris, and Owen plans to study astronomy in college.  As the story ends, Owen and Lucy agree that where they are right then is exactly the place she wished to be while standing on the star in Paris, and  the geography of the two of them couldn’t be more perfect.

Jennifer E. Smith tells the story of Owen and Lucy with such honesty and tenderness while keeping the book completely “G” rated for even a middle school aged reader.

The Word Burglar by Chris Cander

The illustrations by Katherine Tramonte add a dimension of humor to the story that makes it a great read for any age.  Reading books upside down, kids fighting, and gamers gaming depict how a family could possibly overlook a needy child who needs a little more attention with reading help.

A boy known as the “Word Burglar” decides to steal the interesting words from books by cutting them out and pasting them in his own private dictionary until he could learn to read them.  Since he couldn’t read, his self-esteem begins to shrink.  He sees himself smaller and smaller as the book continues.  At one point he “eats his words,” which could be turned into a lesson on idioms.  Throughout the books, the author finds the most interesting words for him to steal.