Archive for June 24, 2015

The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)

Written and illustrated by Neil Swaab

Well, at least I think this is fiction, but the author seems to have an awfully firm grasp of middle school and all the nuances of life there. Young Max Corrigan has taken it upon himself to help new students adjust to life in William H. Taft Middle School. He’s even devised a packet illustrating his methods and appointed himself head of the welcoming committee. After Max introduces himself to the new student, he outlines the plan, which consists of trying to fit into many of the known cliques in the school. He begins by teaching him to use humor to try and fit in with the Class Clowns. He then moves on to how to look like an Artist, what Band Geeks are really like, fitting in at lunch, how to deal with the principal, and how to talk to Preps. On the second day, he learns how to raise money and how to avoid the Jocks and the Tough Kids. By Wednesday, the new kid is in trouble and needs advice on how to lie effectively. Much of Thursday is spent trying to hack into phones and learning to ditch class. By Friday, the new kid and Max are the heroes of the school and can go to the Saturday birthday party in style.

Swaab is an excellent illustrator and that is a major strength of this book. Crowd scenes are especially entertaining – in a “Where’s Waldo” sort of way. With the right approach, this book can be very humorous and stress-relieving for fifth graders about to enter a new world. Teachers and parents need to be aware of some of the more subversive elements, though, such as the recipe for fake vomit.

Order on Amazon

  • Ruling SchoolTitle: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)
  • Author/Illustrator: Neil Swaab
  • Published: Amulet Books/Abrams, August, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1221-0



Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Written by Eve Yohalem

Mutiny aboard ship, would you be with the captain or against? Petra and Bram would each have to decide. They didn’t care about the gold the mutineers were stealing from the hold. They were each trying to find a place and way to live free from danger in the world.

Petra’s father would likely kill her if she were forced to return to Amsterdam. Bram would never find a place he truly belonged in the world because of being a mixed race boy.

This story of life aboard the ship, The Golden Lion, in the year 1663 is a fast paced tale of pretending to be a boy while surviving a long journey at sea. It involves bad weather, an attack by pirates and mutiny at sea.

The diagram of a ship of this sort is accurate. Much research went into writing this book with as much accuracy as possible. The author’s note explains the amount of research, but it would have been helpful, from an educational viewpoint, to have included some of the sources.

The book will still fulfill literacy requirements, as well as, core curriculum standards for geography, history. The world map showing the journey is great, but an added timeline as to how this story fits into world history would be a good thing to have students create as they enjoy this exciting swashbuckling adventure.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers will enjoy reading this ocean journey late into the night, maybe with a flashlight under the covers!

Buy on Amazon

Cast OffTitle: Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Author: Eve Yohalem

Publisher:  Dial/Penguin, 2015

Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages

ISBN: 978-0-525-42856-5

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grade level: 5 up

Extras: Diagram of Ship, Map of Journey, Author’s Note