Archive for April 29, 2013

Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City

Written by Hadley Dyer

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Mention farming and people usually think of vast fields in the country lined with rows of crops. But what about people who live in crowded cities or want to create gardens in their own backyards or even inside their own houses? Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City is an appealing look at the many innovative ways people are managing to grow food in untraditional ways.

Hadley Dyer was inspired to write the book after starting her own backyard garden. This book begins with some facts: By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, yet estimates say that in 30 years we’ll need 60 percent more food to feed everyone. Where will that food come from? How will food get to the people who live in cities? That’s what this book is all about.

Dyer takes us on an incredible journey through history, science, and economics. She explores gardens of the past, such as the “victory gardens” people started to provide food for themselves during wartime. She also explores community gardens, rooftop gardens, and futuristic greenhouses as ways urban populations can have access to freshly grown food. From there, Dyers explains how to plant, tend, and harvest your own garden. The book also includes information on composting, food safety, and keeping your garden safe from pests. Along the way, Dyer also discusses concepts such as alternative energy and the value of locally produced food as she takes a look at food production and land use all over the world.

Potatoes on Rooftops succeeds on many levels. Its lively writing style and colorful photographs will grab readers from the very first page. Dyer makes it easy to explain complex topics and allows readers to see how they impact their own lives. Most of all, Dyer helps young readers see how they can make a change and introduce locally grown food to their homes, no matter where they live. This is an incredibly empowering message!

I highly recommend this book for 5th-grade readers, as well as older students. For the younger age range, it could be a valuable classroom resource that could apply to units on science, social studies, history, and health. The design and writing style of the book make it appealing to these younger readers even though the Lexile level of the book is higher. Older readers can read the book independently and use it to create their own science projects or research reports. The book includes valuable resources, such as a glossary, a list of further reading, and websites to consult. Teachers and readers alike are sure to appreciate the lively text, fascinating subject matter, and can-do attitude of this valuable book that could open a whole new world for students in any classroom.

  • Potatoes on RooftopsTitle: Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City
  • Written by: Hadley Dyer
  • Publisher: Annick Press, 2012
  • Paperback: 84 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-55451-424-3
  • Genre: Science
  • Lexile: 1200L

Out of the Dark

Written by Nikki Grimes
Photography by Sherry Shahan

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“I had to beat back a lot of darkness in my life to find my way to the light. My pen was a secret weapon in that battle.”

In two simple sentences Nikki Grimes gives us the essence of her new book. The author graciously lets the readers into her life because, as she says, her journey out of the darkness may encourage others not to give in to despair: “…maybe somewhere in the story you will see yourself.” And an exhortation to write: “If you do, run and grab your pen and capture the moment on the pages of your own writer’s notebook.” The message of the book is to define your path and keep at it, no matter what comes your way.

The early years were hard. Her parents went through cycles of separation and reconciliation, and Nikki and her older sister Carol were shipped from one relative to another. Circumstances conspired to send the two sisters to foster homes. Finally, the author found stability: “… linger in the warm memories of that house, that home, those people who opened their hearts to me.” It was there that she began to write.

Through the darkest times there were mentors who stood by her. Her high school teacher encouraged her to survive and thrive; at James Baldwin’s feet she learned not only the craft of writing but also of being true to herself; and her father encouraged her to learn whatever caught her fancy. He believed that no learning was ever wasted. She took to the theatre and sees now that it helped her develop a keen ear for dialog as a means of imagining the character’s whole being.

Chapter 5 is an excellent writing primer for writing instructors and educators. “I approach books like a jigsaw puzzle,” she says, each chapter like a piece of the story with its own narrative arc: its beginning, middle and end. “The truth is, you can only write a book one word, one sentence, one page at a time.” Hearing a well established author say that gives weight to the words. Writers can adopt the ‘put together the puzzle pieces’ strategy to focus on the small task on hand. Write an essay sentence by sentence, a story paragraph by paragraph and a book chapter by chapter; small puzzle pieces prevent you from being overwhelmed.

This is a strategy that would benefit third through fifth grade readers, while showing the older students pathways to success not only in writing, but in life. A valuable addition to all libraries and classrooms and reading lists.

Additional Resources:
Teacher Tips:
Reading Rockets Video Interview:
IRA Favorite Teacher Breakfast:

Title: Out of the Dark
Author: Nikki Grimes
Photos by: Sherry Shahan
Publisher: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
Reviewer: Anjali Amit
Paperback: 56 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57274-977-1
Genre: Nonfiction
Lexile Score: 960

I am Helen Keller

Written by Grace Norwich
Illustrated by Mark Elliott

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I am Helen Keller by Grace Norwich is a fun, yet informative look into the life of Helen Keller. The language, font size, and layout of text accompanied by illustrations on nearly every page make this book completely accessible to readers at the fourth to fifth grade reading level and up. Because I am Helen Keller is written from a kid-like first person point-of-view and voice, readers are planted in Helen Keller’s shoes and drawn into learning why Helen Keller continues to be one of the most famous children throughout the world.

Norwich has done a superb job of researching Helen Keller’s life and pairing down both the key facts, as well as those that would most appeal to fourth and fifth grade readers. She has also organized and streamlined the information such that it is pleasing to the eye and easy to read. Norwich begins with an introduction of the important people in Helen Keller’s life through a graphic portrait and succinct bio of each person. She continues with a timeline of relevant events to ground readers in time and place. In fourteen short chapters Norwich covers Helen’s life from birth to death and complements her text with great visuals to keep readers engaged. Norwich sums up with a list of ten things you should know about Helen Keller and a second list of ten more things that are pretty cool to know about her. Kids, parents, and teachers will also find a useful glossary of words related to Helen Keller, as well as a list of places to visit, a bibliography, and an index to easily refer back to areas of interest.

I am Helen Keller is a new title in the I am Series and joins other interesting titles such as: I am Sacagawea, I am Albert Einstein, I am Martin Luther King, Jr., I am George Washington, and I am Harriet Tubman.

Every fourth and fifth grade reading list should include books from the I am Series. I cannot think of a better source of biographies that would make learning about key historical figures more entertaining.

  • I Am Helen KellerTitle: I am Helen Keller
  • Author: Grace Norwich
  • Illustrator: Mark Elliott
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 127 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-44779-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, series
  • Lexile Score: 1120

Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness

Written by Bruce and Carol L. Malnor
Illustrated by Anisa Claire Hoveman

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Aimed at the fifth grade reading level and up, Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness celebrates the lives of the most famous naturalists from their youth to the years where they made a lasting and significant impact on the world. The profiles detailed in Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness have been carefully researched and are sure to inspire the youth of today to model the heroes of yesterday in how they approach, handle, and respect the environment. My favorite section of the book is titled, “Become a Hero!” and it offers a list of things readers can do to learn more about their environment, as well as games and websites that point wannabe naturalists to walk in the shoes of their favorite heroes.

The eight heroes young readers will learn about include: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Richard, St. Barbe Baker, Mardy Murie, David Suzuki, and Wangari Maathai. To complement the text, there are vivid black and white photos and dramatic illustrations, along with a list of fast facts and a timeline of events related to each hero profiled that readers can easily digest and comprehend and that teachers and librarians can readily use to demonstrate in the classroom. Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness is a must have for the reading lists of fifth grade teachers and elementary to middle school librarians.

Other titles in the Earth Heroes series include: Earth Heroes: Champions of Wild Animals. For more information about the Earth Heroes series, please go to:

To expand learning beyond the printed book, feel free to download complementary educational resources at:

  • Title: Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness
  • Author: Bruce and Carol L. Malnor
  • Illustrator: Anisa Claire Hoveman
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 143 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-116-7
  • Genre: biography, science
  • Lexile Score: 960

Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean

Written by Fran Hodgkins
Illustrated by Chris Arbo

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“Sometimes we forget to be curious” says author, Fran Hodgkins, in her introduction.

In this book, she traces the lives of eight pioneers of ocean research who did not let the routine of everyday life take them away from their quest for knowledge about the vast ocean and its denizens. Each of the “oceanauts” mentioned in the book started their research to satisfy the curiosity burning within.

Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean features all eight researchers in order by their birthdate, which enables the readers to “begin at the beginning”. Ocean study was not a very advanced field. More scientists studied the earth than paid attention to the vast blue waters surrounding. Even William Beebe, the first researcher mentioned, began with terrestrial studies, and later developed a fascination for the ocean.

Fifth grade readers will learn how new fields of study develop. Even as a geologist needs to go down the mine to study rocks, so an ocean researcher would benefit by immersing himself in the environment he wants to study. But there were not many tools available to the early researcher to actually enter the water. We can trace the progress of diving devices and vessels from the clunky diving helmet of Beebe’s time to the Jim Suit that Sylvia Earle donned to dive to a depth of 1250 feet, carrying her environment with her.

It is written for ease of comprehension and the author brings out how each scientist, despite having their own interest and focus, built on the discoveries of the predecessor. We “journey through their lives”, learn about the people, their discoveries, and the ocean they are so passionately devoted to. If even a few readers become stewards of the oceans and its inhabitants the book would have succeeded in its purpose.

Additional Resources:
About the Author:
About the Illustrator:
Nasa Oceanography:
Careers in Oceanography:

  • Earth Heroes Champions of the OceanTitle: Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean
  • Author: Fran Hodgkins
  • Illustrator: Chris Arbo
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-119-8
  • Genre: Non-Fiction/Science
  • Lexile Score: 1060

The Boston Tea Party

Written by Russell Freedman Illustrated by Peter Malone

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All these years I never knew the colonists who dumped the tea into the harbor dressed as “Mohawks” to disguise themselves during their late-night escapades! How did I make it through all those years in school without learning this fascinating fact?

Peter Malone’s illustrations are detailed and bring history alive, while Russell Freedman weaves together some of the most relevant and interesting facts of the historic Boston Tea Party. Freedman seamlessly pulls together first-hand resources without overwhelming students in the primary grades with too much information. The Boston Tea Party is a good read aloud, and it would be an obvious pick for a unit about the American Revolution for a fourth grade or fifth grade class. It would also be a good book to read in mid-December, since the Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773.

Students should be encouraged to write down words while they read this book that they need to look up and to record the definitions. Also, after reading this book, students could write a quick journal entry about what they would do if they had been in the streets the night they saw “Mohawks” going quietly to the harbor in Boston the night of the Boston Tea Party.

At the end of this book, there are several great resources for further information, including a map from the eighteenth century, insights into why tea was so culturally relevant (and why it caused such a commotion!), and a time line of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War. As a follow-up activity, students should be encouraged to create either a diorama or a poster about the events of The Boston Tea Party. An older class could create a Bostonian newspaper – complete with ads, letters to the editor, comics, and editorials – set on December 17, 1773. Working on compiling a newspaper as a class encourages comprehension and research skills for every person in the class. The Boston Tea Party is an attention-grabbing children’s non-fiction book, and demonstrates clearly how intriguing our history really can be to any reader.

  • Boston Tea PartyTitle: The Boston Tea Party
  • Author: Russell Freedman
  • Illustrator: Peter Malone
  • Publisher: Holiday House
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Hardback, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8234-2266-1
  • Genre: non-fiction/history
Lexile: 1090

Make a Splash!: A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands

Written by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau

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Do you know a student who really wants to be a marine biologist? Make a Splash is the perfect book for him/her! This book is loaded with information about one of our planet’s most important resource: water.

World-renowned ocean explorer Captain Jaques-Yves Cousteau’s grandson, Phillipe, teamed up with Cathryn Berger Kaye to show the majesty of water, but also how abused it is. The photography in this book makes it a great book to flip through for a casual read, but the captions and text are incredibly informative. The authors have given visual cues to indicate what kind of information is on each page: whether a definition in a caption bubble, fluid fact and figures, or information about how critical it is for each person to play a part in protecting water. Also, sprinkled throughout this book are anecdotes about students who researched various aspects of protecting water and its inhabitants. It is up to the individual reader to choose how to use this book; it is not meant to be read aloud from front to back, but a teacher could certainly read excerpts aloud during a unit on water.

Though this book is on a fourth or fifth grade reading level, if taken from cover to cover, the ideas within this book are for any aged learner. It should be used to inspire readers about how they can make a difference in this planet’s care, no matter how young. There are simple ideas about how even first grade students can be water-wise by using reusable water bottles. It would be excellent for an elementary with a buddy system between first graders and fifth graders to take an idea and implement a plan to encourage water protection within the walls of the school or beyond!

Before starting a unit on water conservation, students should watch the YouTube video of Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau Their excitement is contagious and can inspire students to make great changes! Make a Splash is an excellent book to include in a class or home library as a resource for any learner.

Sometimes to inspire great change, it just takes making students aware, and Make a Splash certainly inspires students to be difference makers!

  • Make a SplashTitle: Make a Splash
  • Authors: Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau
  • Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Hardback, 124 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-57542-417-0
  • Genre: non-fiction/conservation
  • Lexile: 910

Alone Yet Not Alone

Written by Tracy Leininger Craven

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Conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers began early in the settlement of this country. Even before there was a United States of America, Europeans pitted Indians against other Europeans, setting up horrifying massacres, such as the one in this book: the Penn’s Creek massacre. During the French and Indian War, Indians rose up against peaceful farmstead builders such as the Leininger family. Knowing this novel is based on events that happened to the author’s ancestors makes for a more gripping read. The story’s main character is Barbara Leininger. She and her sister, Regina, survived the massacre and are carried off as captives. Later, they are separated. Barbara relies on her faith and her memories of her now dead father, who trained her to put her trust in the Lord to deal with each new grueling test. Some of the Indians of the raiding party are angry, bitter and out for revenge. Some are compassionate and kind, such as the young warrior who falls in love with Barbara. She spends three years in the Indian village, constantly looking for escape and trying to hold on to her identity. Then, the war turns and most of the warriors leave the village to rejoin the battle. Barbara knows that this may be her only chance to escape. Then the test really begins.

The tone is a bit didactic to use in a public school setting, but could be useful in a church or private school. One suggested literacy activity would be to make a timeline of the events in the book to get a feel for how long Barbara and Regina’s capture lasted. This could be a book club selection if there is a church reading group in the fifth or sixth grade. Reading skills could be bolstered by discussing the questions included in the book. There is a movie scheduled for release later in 2013 and pictures from the film are included in this edition.

  • Alone Yet Not AloneTITLE: Alone Yet Not Alone
  • AUTHOR: Tracy Leininger Craven
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Photographs
  • PUBLISHER: Zondervan, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 160 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-73053-8
  • GENRE: Historical fiction
  • LEXILE: 900

The Adventures of Titch & Mitch: The King of the Castle

Written by Garth Edwards
Illustrated by Max Stasyuk

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Garth Edwards’ amusing and whimsical story follows the exploits of two pixies who can’t help but get themselves into hilarious trouble. The characters are funny and charming, and totally engaging for young readers. The beautifully illustrated book captivates the reader and pulls him into the magical story.King of the Castle is the third book in the series, The Adventures of Titch & Mitch. In this book, Titch and Mitch are at it again! But this time, they are kidnapped by the King of the Castle to make pixie stew.

The grammar and vocabulary levels of this book are appropriate for the 5th grade reader to promote reading comprehension. Students will be captivated by the witty, off the wall story and they will not want to put this book down. The King of the Castle fosters children’s imaginations through magic and adventure.
This book is a real page turner! It makes a wonderful addition to any classroom, school or home library. The Adventures of Titch & Mitch: The King of the Castle should be included in any school’s fifth grade reading list.

It would be great to include The King of the Castle in a unit about adventure stories. Students will be learning writing techniques and literary genres and would benefit from having this book on their reading list.

Check out the author’s website,, where you can meet the characters from the books, read about the author, and download pictures for coloring!

  • King of the CastleTitle: The Adventures of Titch & Mitch, The King of the Castle
  • Author: Garth Edwards
  • Illustrator: Max Stasyuk
  • Publisher: Inside Pocket Publishing
  • Reviewer: Alessandra Oliveira
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-9567449-7-5
  • Genre: Action Adventure
  • Lexile Score: 1140

The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs

Written and Illustrated by Paul Goble

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A lively collection of stories that celebrate the connectedness of life.  Native Americans respect this connectedness. These are stories in which humans struggle with huge problems, often life threatening ones, and they receive help from a special “something” unseen or unexplainable.  Sometimes animals talk to the person or sometimes a message comes in a dream.  In the title story from the Blackfoot tribe, a man dreams of finding horses which ultimately will make life easier for his people.  He doesn’t know what to call these creatures that are as large as elk and as friendly as dogs.  Paul Goble includes notes with each story that express his thoughts about the story or sheds light on the research reflected in his illustrations, just as a storyteller would in a telling session.  One story is about a man who lets mosquitoes feed on him and from this he attains great wisdom.  Often stories reflect this theme that surrender to a higher power can result in great good.  There are also stories of great love and the feeling that love never dies.  Because the collection is a reflection of Paul Goble and his life’s work, these stories provide a personal connection to him.

These lyrical stories are meant to be heard.  During a unit on Native Americans, these little stories could be a good two to three minute class read aloud.  Each one deserves some thought time because each is filled with wisdom.  The reading level is easy enough that teams of fifth graders could each take a story a make a narrated slide show as a literacy activity, illustrated with Goble’s signature images and/or supplementing with photographs or Native American art.

  • TITLE: The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs and other stories from the Tipi
  • AUTHOR: Paul Goble
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Paul Goble
  • PUBLISHER: Wisdom Tales, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 48 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-937786-00-7
  • LEXILE: 930
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