Category Archives: Reviews

Star Passage: Honor and Mercy by Clark Rich Burbidge

Middle readers looking for a series about time travel adventure will enjoy the third book in the series, Honor and Mercy. I would suggest the first two books in the series be read to fully appreciate the evil “trackers” who want to destroy the earth.

Check out this link to read more about the series.

The readers quickly gets pulled into the story as one of the main characters is skateboarding and is seriously injured. The story follows his rehab and introduces him to characters in the first two books who time travel and fight the trackers.

Themes of Christianity and history make this an interesting read as the characters try to do what is good to help the world in the past and the present.

Max Goes to Jupiter: A Science Adventure with Max the Dog by Jeffrey Bennett

Schema: space, rockets, explorers

Text-to-Self Connections: Studying the solar system

While looking for a good intermediate level read for 5th and 6th graders or a realistic fiction read aloud for 2nd and 3rd grade, I found this book about Max, a dog, who goes into an exploration of Jupiter and its moons. The story is for the younger and the “big kid” fact boxes share nonfiction information that will capture the interest of older young learners.

The captivating full color illustrations on glossy, large pages enhance the enjoyment of reading and sharing this book.

The series, Big Kid Science books aspire to educate, make connections with readers’ lives, and inspire further learning. Check out the website that accompanies the book.

School Tales by Sharon Myrick

Schema: high school, rite of passage, making decisions

Text-to-Self Connections: making hard choices, learning tolerance

Themes: learning to think for one’s self, rites of passage, respect for all people

Point of View: The book is divided into different sections to hear the main characters thoughts. The reader can see the maturing and growth of the students as the novel progresses.

Book Talk: The novel focuses on a group of very mature high school teens who decide they want to learn through deep discussions and project based learning. They convince their parents to allow them leave a private high school for the local college faculty’s kids and transfer to a local public school where the principal and teachers are open to their ideas to change the world. All of the characters are very intelligent. There’s a mystery involving a death, an older girl-younger boy sexual relationship, friendships, parent-child communication struggles, drug dealers, and other topics that would intrigue teen readers.

The author leans to the liberal side in the dialogue about world issues. Throughout the story the students tackle big food companies over farming  food co-ops. They have discussions about how colleges use different types of testing for admission, values about religion versus extremist, political leadership, how people treat and view immigrants, freedom, young love, bi-racial identification, gender identity, bullying, learning to listen and communicate effectively, and “living a life worth living.” 

The seniors decide to snap their fingers instead of clapping when they approve of something the teachers or principal says bringing back the memories of the very beatnik sixties.  The characters in this book are way cool.

Students age 16+ would enjoy the book. This might be the book to turn a nonreader into a reader if they run across this title and start reading it. It’s a good read and captures the interest of the reader quickly.

 

 

 

Home by Adam Leitman Bailey

Schema: Think about what is a home. List some places that are homes to people, animals, and things.

Text-to-Self Connections: Visiting different homes such as relatives, friends, and neighbors

Theme: The author is sharing the message that home is where a person feels happy and loved as opposed to a particular place.

In this full color picture book, the main character, a small boy, feels discontented with his home and sets out to explore the world and the way others live.  He visits many places and tells what he does there. He doesn’t make any judgements about each place. Readers may see their own home in the book. Homes include a farm in a rural area, mobile homes, large homes with swimming pools, a bird’s nest, and an igloo.

Synthesis: Ask students what the author is telling them with this story. I think they will be able to synthesize the boy’s experience into their own schema and apply it to where they live and why it’s the best home for them.

Drawing Conclusions: The boy drew the conclusion that his best home is where he is loved. Each place he visited, he was alone. What was missing? His family was missing.

I recommend this as a read aloud for grades 2-5 for a discussion about homes.

 

Counting Sea Life with the Little Seahorse by Sheri Fink and Derek Taylor Kent

Counting_Sea_Life_Awards_Hi-Res-483x600 To Purchase click here
There’s so much to talk about with your little listeners with this sweet book! First, is the obvious, it’s a wonderful counting book with the number word in text as well as numerically with the appropriate number of items. I think discerning eyes will be entertained as they have to seek and find the number on each page as it is camouflaged within the scene.

Secondly, the rhyming text is very clever and will capture the attention of the listener. The alliteration throughout the text is playful to the ear and eye as the illustrations support the text so well.

Third, the types of sea life and the characterization of them appeal to all types of interest. There’s a ninja narwhal and a tuna in a tutu along with hungry sharks and a dancing dolphin! The way the authors and illustrator, Lynx Animation Studios, bring the sea life to the page will completely entertain young listeners and as the adult reader, I would certainly never get tired of reading this one.

This book would be an excellent addition to a unit on sea life for young students.

Solve for Happy: Engineer You Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat

Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to JoySolve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mo has some great ideas to help others focus on the happy and joy in our lives. He uses a lot of graphics which makes it easy to read and find the parts that pertain to you. He touches on all aspects of our thoughts about being happy and searching for joy that make us unable to let go and Live In Peace. Live in peace everyday, let go of the negative, give, express gratitude, love, love, and love! Do not fear death because God has planned this wonderful universe with an afterlife in mind. Our loved ones who have passed on are still near and we will see them again. Throughout the book, Mo uses logic and mathematics to frame his thinking. This logical presentation was much more interesting than I expected. After some passages Mo tells the reader to think about what he has just said for a while before reading on. In some parts Mo tells the reader to get a pencil and some paper and make a list of things such as what truly makes you happy. He gets down to simplifying things and to reflect more on our current state of being. Toward the end Mo writes about belief in a higher power. He talks about evolution and intelligent design and doesn’t want to commit to one or the other, but he does say he knows he will see his son, Ali, again, and that he believes there’s too much to our universe for it to be unplanned by a brilliant designer. For me, I take away that he does believe God is our creator and gives us the promise of living on after our time on this old world is over. I really enjoyed his book, and I do think reading it has made me happier. In times when I’m not happy, I will remember what Mo has written and search for my default state of joy. Thank you for this great book, Mo Gawdat!

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such a thought-provoking book and I couldn’t put it down. He talks about “Adverse Childhood Experiences” that kids cannot overcome without a stable home and an adult that they know who puts them first and cares for them. I recommend this book to all teachers and admins looking for ways to reach some of the tough kids we deal with. I don’t think as a school teacher that we can make the difference these kids need, but it does give understanding. We have to protect our children from these adverse experiences because it changes the way they process their own lives, making some have a give up attitude which means that they think no matter what they do, they’ll never make it. Life is too against them. But for JD Vance, his grandmother saved him. He had a few teachers he connected with, and most importantly, he was lucky in that he was very intelligent. He says he was very lucky with some of the connections he made throughout his life. He has a great TED talk if you are interested. His story just resonated with my own hillbilly roots.

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Old Wolf by Avi

Schema: hunting, playing video games
Text-to-text Connections: other books where the main characters are animals and the story is told from their point of view such as Charlotte’s Web.
Old Wolf, Nashoba, is challenged as pack leader to find food for his hungry pack.

Casey, a thirteen-year-old boy, loves his video game where he kills animals, and is so excited to receive a bow for his birthday.

The two characters’ stories run parallel to each other and converge at the end of the book.

Merla, a raven, is old like Nashoba, and tries to help him find a herd of elk, and ultimately gives her life to save him from Casey’s bow. When Casey sees that he hit Merla, it changes his way of thinking about killing. He is so changed that afterwards, he never played his animal kill game again. The reader concludes that his bow will be used as a sport in target shooting.

Avi tells the story in a very Zen fashion. Merla asks questions of Nashoba to get him to think about his goals. Merla tells Nashoba, “The bigger you think you are, the smaller you are.” p. 107 Then Nashoba shares with Merla, “There’s a old wolf expression: the smaller you think you are, the bigger you are.” p. 113 Both quotes would lend to an interesting expository paragraph assignment.

Characterization: Nashoba goes through such pain and pushes forward to serve his pack and to save his pride. We read that he is eight years old which is toward the end of his life expectancy. At the end, after he is helped by both Merla and Casey, he is able to push on and to accept what he is, an old wolf.

Theme: Respect life at all times and in all forms, both human and animal. The world is one and kindness can be found in the least likely places.

I enjoyed Avi’s book so much. The feelings that Nashoba feels are shared by leaders everywhere as our time to lead comes to an end.

Philip & Phoebe by Anne Brandt


Schema: Brothers and Sisters

Text-to-Text Connections: wishing

Concept: In this story Philip has a new baby sister. As he feels the focus shift from himself to his new sibling, Philip begins to wish Phoebe would be something else. He wishes she were a horse, an ice cream cone, and a fire truck, but none fulfill his wish. Finally, he wishes she were herself again. In the illustration, Phoebe is missing in her bed while Philip is wishing her to be the other things. The idea that wishing makes things come true can be frightening to some children. This book could begin a great discussion with a four or five-year old about what happens when we wish. Does wishing make things come true? What was Philip really wishing for about his new sister?

Parents expecting a second child would enjoy reading and discussing this book with their current children. Sibling rivalry can last for years so anything to prepare a child for a brother or a sister that could help them cope with this big change in their lives would be very beneficial. I don’t think we give enough time and attention to this topic at a young age, and if not handled correctly, sibling rivalry can last a lifetime!

Annie Poon has done a marvelous job of creating happy illustrations with black, gray, and red. The illustrations are interesting. The floor plan of the room is pictured from an aerial view. The idea of a map could be discussed with these views. An unmentioned character, a cat, is included in the illustrations and adds humor to the story.

The size of the book is appropriate for little hands at 7.25″ X 7.25″.

Literary Nonfiction texts

Biographies, autobiographies, journals, memoirs, articles or picture books about true events, and diaries written in the form of a fictional story are part of the genre, literary nonfiction. The text should include story elements such as rising action, reaching a goal or high point and falling action. Years ago, I remember the librarians were told to update their biography sections by weeding all the biographies with dialogue that the author created to make the story seem more interesting. Now, in Texas, one of the genres on the STAAR is “Literary Nonfiction,” and we are having to hunt for elementary texts to fill this genre that are very much like the old style of biographies that were written in the form of a story.
Karen Barbour knew Mr. Williams as one of her grandmother’s friends. She interviewed him about what his life was like growing up on a farm in Arcadia, Louisana and has written his story in first person narrative as if he were telling it. This book is a good selection for African American History month as well as Mr. Williams is African American. He was born in 1929 and died in 2000.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
The author includes a historical note about the real Chinese-African-Cuban girl from Cuba, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who at the age of ten-years-old, was the first female to play drums publicly in a band. Before, the drums had been an instrument only for boys. An author’s note explains the history behind this story.

The Book Itch Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This book is based on the life of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976). He opened the first African-American book store in Harlem in the late 1930’s. The action in the story takes place in the 1960’s. His story not told as a true biography is a good one to use as literary nonfiction since the story has elements of a fiction story. Michaux had the grit and drive to sell books from a cart until he had enough to open a book store. The bank told him that they would loan him money for a food service business, but not for a book store because black people didn’t read. Micheaux believed knowledge is power and made his dream come true. One of his visitors to the store was Muhammad Ali. Michaux made up lots of verses and rhymes similar to the ones Ali was known for creating but they were all about reading and the power of words. Another of his visitors was Malcolm X. In the story, Malcolm X was planned to speak, and Michaux was supposed to sit right beside him. He was late and was not there when Malcolm X was shot and killed. This is a very good historical fiction picture book and a great read aloud. An author’s note explains the nonfiction inspiration of the story.

In this true book, we see a great plot, rising action, climax, and falling action. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg in Canada, rescues a bear cub from a hunter who has killed it’s mother. As he tames the bear, he lovingly decides he can no longer safely care for her while he is in the military service in WWI. It’s written in picture book format and works great as a read aloud.

Here’s another true story with the elements of literary nonfiction. The details are not provided about exactly how it came about, but an accountant discovered gum that would make bubbles.

In this story about how a school was built in a remote village of Pakistan The procedures are mentioned in the form of paragraphs. The story does have a beginning, middle, and end and fits the characteristics of literary nonfiction.