The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard

Written by Tracy Barrett

Aside from the fact that so much Western thought originated in and around Greece, making it important to explore as many Greek stories as possible, it’s just plain fun to tell stories that may have been forgotten. Then there’s the popularity of Percy Jackson, 300, and other related stories. Those who enjoy these ancient tales inevitably want more, and here they are.

Barrett cleverly approaches the multitude of myths by introducing a narrator who must tell a number of previously unheard tales to be reunited with his love after 3,000 years. The narrator, Orpheus, was turned into a rock and thus separated from Eurydice.

He begins with his own background, then quickly moves on to sixteen other stories about a variety of subjects. First is the Greek version of the big bang. How does Zeus reward two brothers for being amusing? Gods granting wishes, but in unexpected ways. Statues without feet. The life of the first bee-keeper, cheese maker, and olive oil maker. Gods tricking people out of love. People casting spells for love. Fixed chariot races. And so on.

Well-researched and well-organized, this is a great supplement for social studies or literature.

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  • Song of OrpheusTitle: The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard
  • Author: Tracy Barrett
  • Published: Tracy Barrett, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: eBook, 140 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 7
  • Genre: Folk tales, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-1535144506
  • Extras: A Note About Spelling, A Note About Pronunciation, Extensive glossary of Greek terms: Immortals, Other Mythological Creatures, and Places

 

Child of Spring

Written by Farhana Zia

Bastana is a typical child. The only difference between her and the kids reading about her is, she lives in an Indian busti (small community) during the 1960s. In this, Zia’s second novel, the reader explores the lives of the poor in a culture very different from our own.

Bastana and her mother (Amma) cook and clean for a rich family. Bastana has reached the age where she is jealous of her young mistress’ (Little Bibi) wealth. For a time, she even feels justified not returning a lost-then-found ring. Meanwhile, Bastana is dealing with the troubles of her best friend, Lali, and of another friend, who among the poorest in the basti. Bastana is also confronted daily by two very mischievous boys. In addition, she wants to see an older girl pick the right life mate. Through it all, Bastana grows and learns the ways of the world. There is some hope for the characters to rise out of poverty. Little Bibi promises to help Bastana learn to read, and she promises to do the same for Lali. And Bastana learns that generosity is a much better approach than selfishness.

As with Zia’s previous novel, the reader learns a lot about the culture in which the story is set. Indian terms are sprinkled liberally throughout the text, enhancing the feel of being right in Bastana’s world and expanding literacy skills. This would be an excellent book to include in studies of India or Hinduism.

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  • Child of SpringTitle: Child of Spring
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Culture, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-904-9
  • Extras: Extensive glossary of Indian terms

The Mage of Trelian

Written by Michelle Knudsen

The third book in the Mage trilogy is fun, exciting, and a quick read. Highly recommended for summer reading.

The story opens on Calen, an apprentice mage or wizard, who has been coerced into living and working with the evil Mage Krelig. Krelig has foreseen that Calen will be more powerful than he realizes and will make a valuable tool. Calen’s goal, other than survival, is returning to his former home and friends in Trelian. Krelig is insane and unpredictable, punishing those around him harshly and for seemingly minor infractions.

Chapters featuring Calen are alternated with those featuring Princess Meg, otherwise known as the Dragon Princess. She is the princess-heir of Trelian and has been linked telepathically with a dragon, Jakl. The citizens of Trelian no longer fear Jakl, but have only just begun to discover his usefulness. Together with Calen’s former master and with Calen himself, Meg devises a plan to release Calen from Krelig’s clutches while also fighting a rival kingdom.

Naturally, everything works out in the end, but the path is often unexpected and painful.

Readers can learn a lot about the value of cooperation and the ways that friendship evolves over time and distance. Because the world of Trelian is skillfully constructed, readers can also practice literacy skills without distraction. And they may also want to learn more about medieval times or attempt to create their own worlds as extra reading activities.

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  • Mage of TrelianTitle: The Mage of Trelian
  • Author: Michelle Knudsen
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7436-6

 

 

The Garden of My Imaan

Written by Farhana Zia

Fitting in is always a struggle in school, but even more so in our American melting pot. As each new generation of immigrants moves into the mainstream, we all must learn to accept one another by seeing how alike we are in reality. Nothing is as successful at that as a middle school story with class elections, clicks, and recess taunts.

Aliya is a fifth grade Muslim girl struggling to find enough courage to talk to the boy she likes. At the same time, she struggles with how much of her Muslim identity she wants to portray at school. But combining the assignments given by her classroom teacher and her Sunday school teacher with the help of parents and grandmother, she comes out of her shell and begins to shine.

One of her projects is writing letters to Allah, in much the same tradition as Margaret wrote letters to God decades ago. It is a technique allowing the author to show the inner thoughts of the main character, as well as giving the reader a chance to notice inner growth over time. Writing unsent letters is much the same as writing a diary.

To Aliya, the hang-up for her classmates seems to be the hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women to show modesty. But when a new student, Marwa moves in and wears her hijab proudly instead of with shame, other students respect her. As she says, “what is in my head is more important that what is on top of it.” The introduction of Marwa is a bit contrived and seems “too” coincidental to a writer, but will seem just perfect to a fourth or fifth grade reader.

This book can help overcome misunderstandings between people unfamiliar with the Muslim faith.  Students outside the Muslim faith might begin to understand how much they have in common with their new friends. Students inside the Muslim faith will find comfort in this story, as they see they are not alone.

The inclusion of a Korean friend, Winnie, who is also from a part Jewish family, adds distinction and color to the fabric of the story. When their school project takes on the backgrounds, cultures, and religions of all the students, the stigma is removed from any one students.

Librarians, teachers and parents would do well to include this contemporary story of growing up in an American school in their collections. Especially now, when so many people have become afraid of a whole group of people, that clearly has as many good and bad apples as any other ethnic or religious group.  Core Curriculum standards in literature and geography can be met using this book. It would also make an excellent book club choice for grades 4, 5 or 6 for opening discussions about today’s world.

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  • Garden of My ImaamTitle: The Garden of My Imaan
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback/230
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-921-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary of Muslim terms, Glossary of Urdu terms

Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear

Written by Lauren Child

At times a little silly, this exciting new installment in the Ruby Redfort series will hold the attention of fifth graders and older by keeping them guessing until the end. The reader will be breaking codes right along with Ruby and possibly even trying out the martial arts described.

Thirteen-year-old Ruby is such a natural code breaker that she works for a super-secret organization dedicated to protecting the world. As is the case with most teenage secret agents, the badddies have no problem finding her and complicating her life. Set in fictional Twinford – resembling a cross between New York City and Los Angeles – the story follows the celebration of a film star’s career and of the release of her once-lost movie. All the while, people in high rise apartments report break-ins through impossibly high and small windows. Apparently, little of note is missing after the break-ins. When a seemingly blank business card is discovered at one of the scenes, Ruby is on the case. Of course, Ruby is constantly in trouble at work, with her parents, and with her loyal friend. Eventually, Ruby finds a connection between the film star and the break-ins. Meanwhile, she helps her friend solve a problem and foils the baddies.

The length of the book is daunting, but there’s a lot going on here, making it well worth the read.

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  • Feel the FearTitle: Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear
  • Author: Lauren Child
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 528 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Adventure, Espionage, Codes
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5470-2

 

 

Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself

Written by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrated by Scott Garrett

With a better-than-MacGyver talent, Nick and Tesla build gadgets that get them into and out of trouble with regularity. In this newest installment in the series, the twins face evil mastermind Bob and his group of flunkies, including two ninja-style grannies. The parents of twelve-year-old Nikola Copernicus and Tesla Nightingale Holt have been kidnapped, and they’re staying with their absentminded Uncle Newt. Government agents have told the kids nothing other than lies about their parents. So they set out to find out what’s really going on. Along the way, they build Uncle Newt’s Guaranteed-Not-to-Explode Frankfurter Heater-Upper, which they use to accidentally fry the pendants meant to keep track of them; Nick and Tesla and Uncle Newt’s Ping-Pong Ball Signal Cannon; Tesla’s (and Nick and Uncle Newt’s but mostly Tesla’s) Solar Spy Birdhouse; and Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Long-Range Rover. Bob wants to use the Holts’ research into solar power to kill the President and take over the world, but the kids have other plans.

The gadgets in the book require adult supervision and some special equipment, so it’s best to read this with a teacher or parent. But the directions and diagrams are explicit and easy to follow. Kids and adults will learn a lot.

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  • Nick and TeslaTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
  • Author: Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
  • Illustrator: by Scott Garrett
  • Published: Quirk Productions, May 10, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 264 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, science, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-59474-866-0

This Side of Wild

Written by Gary Paulson
Illustrated by Tim Jessell

Gary Paulson once again takes readers into his spellbinding experiences of the natural world. His newest book, This Side of Wild, focuses mainly on his many experiences with dogs, and occasionally birds. Are we training them or are they training us? Are you sure?

After writing over 200 books for children and young people, he still has fresh insight into where he has been and what he has learned. His smooth, elegant writing style and down home good humor make this an enjoyable read for all ages.

He takes us along on adventures of his past with some repetition, then explains what he means about who is doing the training with such explicit details as to allow us to watch our own dog a little closer. We will also take a more serious note of that birdfeeder out back and the ruckus we used to think pointless.

Teachers and librarians can use this as an introductory book for reluctant readers who may not have met Gary Paulson yet. It is shorter than many of his, but quickly engages the reader. Especially if the reader is very interested in the outdoors and/or dogs.

Literacy skills within the core curriculum standards are definitely strengthen and fulfilled as are science and geography standards at the middle grade level. Students could use a map of the United States to track the adventures in this book between Minnesota, Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.  Various lifestyles, climates and wildlife patterns are explained. Parents might wish to use the book as an evening read aloud, or for the enjoyable activity of you read a page, and I’ll read a page. It isn’t just for reluctant readers, folks, it is a fun evening project for everyone.

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  • This Side of WildTitle: This Side of Wild
  • Author: Gary Paulson
  • Illustrator: Tim Jessell
  • Publisher: Simon& Schuster for Young Readers, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 120 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5150-5
  • Genre: Autobiography, Human/Animals Relations, Animal Behavior
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities

Written by Corinne Hosfeld Smith

Chicago Review Press continues to produce quality biographies with a purpose for children with this informative volume about the nineteenth century essayist, teacher, botanist, and political activist. With tons of pictures and maps, his story unfolds to reveal the many reasons he endures as an influential force throughout the world. Among the people whose life he affected, in addition to his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ellery Channing, were Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. His surveys and collections are still studied today, 150 years after his death. He was not the recluse that people seem to think he was, which the author quickly points out, but he did have specific ideas on how to live and did not worry about whether others would join him in every activity. He lived in a time when many diseases were known but not well-understood, so died at age 44 of tuberculosis, a disease that’s much more treatable today.

Thoreau’s methods and approaches were so straightforward that they lend themselves easily to adaption for children. Fifth graders can keep a daily journal, record animal behavior, measure the depth of water, or do one of 18 other activities carefully outlined. This is a great resource.

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  • ThoreauTitle: Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
  • Author: Corinne Hosfeld Smith
  • Published: Chicago Review Press, February 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 up
  • Genre: Biography, history, science
  • ISBN: 978-1-61373-146-8
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Time Line, Resources, Notes, Bibliography, Index, 21 Activities

Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron

Written by Eric Braun

Imagine being young and eager to help the wounded and sick during a war. Imagine flying into the unknown and crashing far from where you were supposed to be. That’s what happened to a group of nurses, medics, and their flight crew during World War II. The group were helped by partisans, hunted by Nazi sympathizers and Nazis, and rescued by a coalition of Americans and the British. They endured fleas, lice, starvation, dysentery, blizzards, and hundreds of miles of walking and climbing mountains. While their families worried for them, many quietly celebrated birthdays hiding from the enemy. Eventually, all of the Americans were rescued, but some were stranded in Albania for four and a half months.

From the “Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Stories,” this is a very exciting account of a little-known slice of human experience from an event that affected most of the world. Readers get to see the interaction of cultures and the sacrifices people throughout the world are willing to make, even when they don’t know the people who are suffering.

Highly recommended.

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  • Trapped Behind Enemy LinesTitle: Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron
  • Author: Eric Braun
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-6732-0605-0
  • Extras: Maps, Numerous photographs, Timeline, Quotation Source Notes, About the Author, Glossary, Read More, Critical Thinking Using Common Core, Selected Bibliography, Internet Sites, Index

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof

Written by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Very feline hijinks are the theme of this recently-translated and great fantasy.

Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, Annie M.G. Schmidt died in 1995. Her books are loved throughout Europe, but especially in her home, the Netherlands. This translation stands as a delightful addition to children’s literature available in the USA.

Minou is very cattish, but she doesn’t look like a cat. And she’s not sure why. She climbs a tree when a dog chases her, and thus begins her association with Tibble, a reporter with the Killenthorn Courier and sometimes rescuer of cats in trees. Killenthorn is full of cats, and Minou finds she is able to communicate with all of them. She helps Tibble gather news and keep his job at the paper. His editor hates cat stories, but they’re able to give him news about humans from what they overhear. Mr. Ellmore is a businessman who has the entire town convinced he is a nice, compassionate man, but he’s really very nasty. Plus, he owns the meanest dog in town. Through Minou’s efforts, Tibble is able to expose Ellmore. The reader also finds out how Minou ended up in her predicament and can cheer for her to find peace in her life.

Fifth graders will enjoy the gentle humor and ridiculous situations. Meanwhile, they’ll learn about a slightly different culture and definitely a different fantasy world.

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  • Cat Who Came in off the RoomTitle: The Cat Who Came In off the Roof
  • Author: Annie M.G. Schmidt
  • Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers/Random House, January, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: Fantasy, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-553-53501-3
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