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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

Book: My Autobiography

Written by John Agard
Illustrated by Neil Parker

If a book could talk, what would it say about its past?

It would tell you about the farmers of Mesopotamia doodling with sticks on clay, but even before that type of writing, story was told with breath.

This fun look at the development of the book is entertaining as well as educational. Teachers and librarians will use it to fulfill core curriculum standards in areas of history and several literacy skills. Young readers will need to be prepared for how the author uses the inanimate book to tell the story in words normally used by people.

A fun activity to engage in while reading this book aloud to a class would be the creation of a time line illustrating each evolution of print. Students can discuss their opinions of digital versus print books when they come to the section in this text where we are assured that story will always be present.

The inclusion of poems, and quotes from around the world about the importance of books to the world add depth and beauty.

Students who become interested in the development of the book will want to research beyond this simple, but fun introduction.

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  • BookTitle: Book: My Autobiography
  • Author: John Agard
  • Illustrator: Neil Parker
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 132 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7236-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Written by Jacqueline Kelly

“Why can’t I go to college, too?” A heartfelt question asked by many a girl at the turn of the century when she first realized only the brothers would get the education they desired.

We first met the vivacious and wonderful, Calpurnia Tate, in Jacqueline Kelly’s Newberry Honor Book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Now her story continues into the season of spring with many new science experiments with Grandfather, sibling fights with all those brothers and facing a world trying to put her into a “homemaker” box.

Kelly builds the realistic plot with impeccable research from both time and place. Readers learn of the devastation of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the tragedy it caused for family members far away as many hurried to help.

The character development is spot on as Callie relates to each of her brother’s whims. She is always helping out Travis with whatever new animal he has brought home to rescue. Worry, humor and resourcefulness are often involved in taking care of these animals.

Teachers and librarians will fulfill many core curriculum standards in literature, history, geography and science using this text. Many will want to introduce it in read aloud time. Parents would find this a great gift giving book. Both of these books should be in every school and public library.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers as well as those far beyond will begin this book and keep turning pages for hours without stopping. When it does end, they will be sad to part with these great new friends in this wonderful new place. And then what will we do?  Wait impatiently while hoping Jacqueline Kelly is writing the next book about Calpurnia and her family.

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  • Curious World of CalpurniaTitle: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
  • Author: Jacqueline Kelly
  • Publisher: Henry Holt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 309 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8050-9744-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6

A Night Divided

Written by Jennifer A. Nielsen

There was no warning. It happened in the middle of the night. A city was cut in two. Gerta’s family was cut in two. Many families in Berlin were cut in two.

Gerta’s father and middle brother had gone to West Berlin to look for jobs and an apartment for the rest of the family one September day in 1961. That night, East Berlin border guards were ordered to build a barbed wire fence. No one was allowed to cross the fence. Within days, a wall was built with barbed wire atop it. East Berlin was shut off from the rest of the world. Food shortages, work shortages, and brutal interrogations of citizens followed.

One day, on her way to school Gerta saw her father on the other side of the wall pantomiming a song about digging a garden. Later, it occurred to her he might be suggesting she build a tunnel under the wall.

The story is tense, fast-paced and very accurate. Grade five and grade six readers will get a realistic, if frightening, look at part of the past. Teachers and librarians will fulfill the core curriculum standards in history and literature by including this book in their reading lists. It will open discussions of freedom as well as open doors to further research. Some of the students may be able to find family members or neighbors who lived through the experience. Students will be awestruck at how many people did not live through it.

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  • A Night DividedTitle: A Night Divided
  • Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 317 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-68242-8
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: historical photographs

The Great Greene Heist

Written by Varian Johnson

Jackson Greene, middle schooler, is way too smart for his own good. He’s a budding con man who rarely gets caught, but he does take big risks. Then again, his heart is in the right place. The one time he did get caught earned him a bad reputation with the principal and alienated the love of his life, Gaby. When Gaby ends up running for student body president against Jackson’s sworn enemy and cheater, Keith, Jackson decides to help Gaby. Without her knowledge. Jackson and Gaby’s twin brother, Charlie, devise an elaborate plan, partly Star Trek and partly Ocean’s Eleven inspired, to make sure Keith doesn’t steal the election. With a few surprises, the team, sometimes referred to as Gang Greene, get the job done.

Kids, especially middle schoolers, will love the hilarious adventure and recognize people they know in the characters. From the geeks and nerds who speak Klingon to the jocks and rich kids who feel entitled. Teachers and parents will like the fact that each transgression carries consequences.

This is a chance for kids to practice their literacy skills while being entertained.

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  • Great Greene HeistTitle: The Great Greene Heist
  • Author: Varian Johnson
  • Published: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Friendship, Honesty
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-52553-4

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Mary was a great cook, but she was a carrier of the deadly typhoid disease. It was likely she unknowingly put germs in food of people who later became very ill and died. But Mary never understood what it meant to be a carrier and couldn’t accept help from the medical community. They were trying to save the people of New York City.

Once again, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done extensive primary and secondary source research in support of the story. This biography is filled with details and each one is verified by its source.

Readers get a glimpse of the frustration felt by Mary, but then in later chapters can relate to the frustration of the health officials. They really weren’t targeting Mary, but trying to do what was best for everyone.

Students will learn about this particular event and also how to do a solid, non-fiction report of their own. Core curriculum standards in literacy, as well as American history and health/science can be fulfilled. Among the story of what happened to Mary, readers will notice a story of how the science of health was developing in this era. Anyone involved in women’s studies might also find it interesting that even while Mary was quarantined, several men also identified as carriers were treated and/or observed, but never quarantined on a far away island.

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  • Typhoid MaryTitle: Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 229 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-31367-5
  • Genre: Biography, history
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Afterward, Photo Album, Chapter Footnotes, Extensive Bibliography, Index

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Written by Erin Hagar

Julia Child was passionate and friendly, as is this new biography about her life and work. The text is conversational as well as informative.

Like many grown-ups, even Julia Child sometimes wondered what her real life’s work might turn out to be as she moved all over the world. Finally, one day while having lunch in a restaurant in Paris, France stirred up her passion for good food.

Grade three readers, or grade six readers and any others who pick up this biography will be amazed at how this girl from Pasadena, California grows up to become one of the most successful and famous chefs in history. Her cookbooks and television shows were followed by thousands. People still roast a chicken the same way Julia taught them, all while laughing and visiting with them and the TV filming crew.

Each chapter includes several full-page sketches depicting various events of Julia’s life. Readers will love how these sketches help transport them into her world.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will applaud how much this book can be a comfortable read, and also provide a bridge to research-based reading and writing. It fulfills many core curriculum standards in the areas of literacy, geography, history and culture. Students can use the index, glossary, bibliography and timeline while completing their own research into the life of this famous woman. This would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school, and public library collection. Also, a fun birthday or Christmas surprise for any third to seventh grader who loves to read and cook.

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  • Julia ChildTitle: Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures
  • Author: Erin Hagar
  • Illustrator: Joanna Gorham
  • Publisher: Duopress, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-938093-34-0
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary, Index, Time-line, Bibliography, Illustrations of Julia Child Historic Kitchen in Washington, D. C.
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