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Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana

Written by Patti Wheeler & Keith Hemstreet

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Ever dreamt of going on an African Safari?  Well, now you don’t have too thanks to this 5th grade book by Pattie Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet.  Listed in some places as non-fiction, the first offering in the Travels with Gannon and Wyatt series takes readers to the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  Their journey is presented through the alternating journal entries of twin 15-year-old boys with black and white snapshots interspersed within the text.

The book provides enough detail about the animals, people, wildlife, and flora/fauna of Botswana to satisfy the most hungry travelers and wannabe adventurers.  It is highly recommended for lovers of nature and geography who like a small dose of danger and excitement mixed into their discovery.  Near the beginning, Wyatt and Gannon’s mother is nearly attacked by a Rhino protecting her babies.  The middle of the book finds the twins accompanying an adventure guide and an elder bushman on a search for a lioness who’s been shot by a poacher.  Along the way they encounter vultures, a sleepy croc, black mambas, a cobra, cape buffalo and the rest of the big five… all while battling fevers, lack of food (thanks to an opportunistic baboon)  and unfavorable weather conditions.   The pacing is good and there is enough going on to keep the most reluctant of readers turning the page.

Those seeking a solid story line with a plot arc and character development may be disappointed, however.  Although Gannon and Wyatt are described as stereotypical opposites – Wyatt is an introvert with a love of science, while Gannon is much more outgoing and interested in people – it is often hard to tell, within the text, whose journal entry you are reading.  The author guides us through this by identifying the writer at the start of each entry along with the date and a description of their location and the weather conditions (with Wyatt’s being more detailed than Gannon’s.)  But the amount of information they provide and the advanced age at which they write is essentially the same.  Apart from Gannon’s inconsistently casual voice and occasional use of slang, it is hard to image the astute observations and precious commentary on human nature coming from the journal of an average middle grader.

Gannon and Wyatt are real 15-year-olds, however, who liken their journals to the work of historic explorers such as Lewis and Clark, Dr. David Livingstone, and Captain James Cook.  Based very loosely on the “research missions” of these home schooled teens (who visited Botswana along with mother and co-author, Patti Wheeler, and collaborated with Keith Hemstreet to create the adventure tales over fireside chats) the book definitely delivers on it’s promise to provide travelogue mixed with educational material that you can’t get in textbooks.  It would work well as a classroom read aloud or book assignment in conjunction with a topic specific geography or social studies unit.  Other destinations in the planned book series include Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, Egypt, Greenland, and Iceland.

With book trailers and short “episodes” (http://www.youtube.com/user/gannonandwyatt), a blog of field notes on their website (http://www.travelswithgannonandwyatt.com/blog), plus an invitation for readers to join the Youth Exploration Society (YES) the authors have succeeded in providing something for every student – from those who crave information to those more interested in exploring the visual parts of Gannon and Wyatt’s travels.  The reading activities teachers can apply to these books are endless, especially as the series continues to expand.

  • Travels with GannonTitle: Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: BOTSWANA
  • Author: Patti Wheeler & Keith Hemstreet
  • Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length: 76 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-60832-585-6
  • Genre: Nature, Adventure

 

Chincoteague Ponies: Untold Tails

Written by Lois Szymanski with Pam Emge

Illustrated by Linda Kantjas

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Fifth grade readers who are enthralled with horses will be captivated by this photo essay of the “wild” horses of Assateague Island. Chincoteague Ponies: Untold Tails pairs over 200 photos, oil paintings and brief stories of individual ponies to illustrate their life in a scenic yet rugged environment.

While the specific vocabulary and sentence structure of this book indicate a much higher reading level, readers on the fifth grade level will grasp most of the concepts presented. The design and non-sequential nature of the book lends itself to browsing and many readers will become so engrossed in the photos that they skip the text and lengthy introduction altogether. If read straight through, the text presents a loose narrative by presenting an overview of the history and culture surrounding the ponies and round-ups, then introducing the stallions and the mares, followed by the action of the round-ups, and concluding with hints of fall and winter.

Both full page and full spread photographs of individuals and groups of ponies with an array of scenery are included as well as full-page oil paintings of individual horses. The pairing of a photograph and an oil painting of the same pony will allow teachers to help students compare and contrast and consider the advantages of each medium. In some cases, the photo is stronger, in others, the painting. Kantjas’ love of the ponies is obvious and the time and dedication put forth are evident by the vast number and diversity of illustrations.

The text includes snippets of information about the ecosystem and history of the island but focuses on individual stories. It names and renames individual ponies, tracing their lineage. It chronicles the efforts of the Chincoteague Fire Department to care for and maintain the herd. This book provides insight into people who support the effort and purchase the ponies through buy-back program. It would be a wonderful accompaniment to any trip to the island.

For teachers interested in supporting the Common Core State Standards in Language Arts, this book provides an ideal informational text to pair with the fictional Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Avid fans of the ponies can find more information at (http://www.chincoteague.com/ponies-by-name.html) and (http://www.pony-chincoteague.com/).

  • Chincoteague PoniesTITLE: Chincoteague Ponies: Untold Tails
  • AUTHOR: Lois Szymanski with Pam Emge
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Linda Kantjas
  • PUBLISHER: Schiffer
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • EDITION: Paperback, 144 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0764340857
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, Nature
  • LEXILE: 1220

Being Henry David

Written by Cal Armistead 

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Many books are about finding yourself, but what if you really had no idea at all who you are? What if you wake up in New York’s Penn Station with a copy of Thoreau’s Walden as your only possession? No name. Nothing. You can only guess you’re about seventeen years old. Using Thoreau as his guide, “Hank” gets back to essentials. He doesn’t want to go to the police in case he’s running from them. He ends up accepting help from another kid, who introduces him to his sister and shows him a spot to sleep in an alley. Then he really gets into trouble. He’s injured in a knife fight and uses his opponent’s cash to leave town and work his way to Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau’s home. In Concord, he follows Thoreau’s footsteps and befriends a Thoreau impersonator and a local girl. Slowly, his memory returns, but he’s still not sure why he’s running. The word sister means something to him. He knows how to play a guitar, but he doesn’t realize he’s playing a Beatles song. Eventually, he decides he needs to follow through on Thoreau’s plan to climb Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This also means something to him outside the reference to Thoreau.

Kids as young as fifth grade can get a lot out of this adventure. It has a few scary moments, but the rewards outweigh the trauma in the end. An excellent guide for discussion and reading activities appears on the publisher’s website (www.albertwhitman.com). This book has already received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and is recommended by The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

  • Being Henry DavidTitle: Being Henry David
  • Written By: Cal Armistead
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover: 304 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-0615-8
  • Genre: Young adult, self-discovery
  • Lexile Score: 780

Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod

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How did King Tut die? Who was the man in the Iron Mask? Who killed the Mayan royal family? Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries probes into these mysteries and more through the lens of forensic analysis. This book, aimed at the fifth grade level, builds on the intrigue of ancient murder, disappearing royalty, sabotage, and other crimes. It will appeal to history enthusiasts as well as those with an analytical mind who enjoy solving puzzles.

Seven historical puzzles are presented in separate chapters. Each begins with a “Crime-Solver’s Arsenal” blurb that addresses one forensic tool or technique (such as DNA analysis, deductive reasoning, medical imagery) used by modern investigators to delve into age old conundrums. The mystery itself is presented in a you-are-there voice and includes sensory details that bring the story to life but make this section feel fictionalized. Historical information is presented in two sections of varying length, followed by sections on clues, suspects/speculation, and verdict.

Bones Never Lie hooks readers with the gruesome deaths of the past and allows them to see the value of deductive reasoning, analyzing all the evidence, questioning the source of information and the use of technology in a historical context. As is true with many crimes, a number of the mysteries in the book are unresolved. This may disappoint readers, but has the advantage of exposing readers to the many historical questions which remain to be solved.

Upon first reading, readers may be confused by the non-chronological presentation of the mysteries. This approach allows MacLeod to sequence the book by forensic technique, building conceptually from the more well-known archeological techniques to the more complex DNA analysis.

The text is visually supported by historical photographs (portraits of individuals, photos of letters, etc.), images of modern technology (CT scans, models of DNA, etc), spot art in the margins, and eye-catching chapter openers (an ashen foot with a tag attached,  a hand holding a pistol, etc). Although the spot art of a microscope, test tubes, latex gloves, an evidence bag and more works well in the first chapter, it is repeated throughout the book with no obvious connection to the text it accompanies. It loses its positive effect. Informative sidebars are placed within the frame of an electronic device such as a tablet, a graphic probably intended to appeal to readers interest in current technology, but this technique seemed forced at times.

Teachers might choose to use the book to support curriculum on the fifth grade level and higher as the concepts, vocabulary, reading level and comprehension will challenge upper elementary and some middle school students. Bones Never Lie could also used as for teaching the usefulness of a timeline, index, glossary, and other components found in informational texts. The concept of using grim riddles from the past, combined with intriguing crime-solving tools of the present is the strength of the book and may be just the hook for students entranced by recent forensic shows on television.

  • Bones Never LieTitle:  Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries
  • Author:  Elizabeth MacLeod
  • Publisher: Annick Press
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Paperback: 156 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-482-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, history, forensics

 

The True Story of Miracle Man

Written by Lois Szymanski

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Miracle Man didn’t start out with his stars in alignment. If he hadn’t been discovered, apparently abandoned on Assateague Island, and then captured and taken to the Leonard family’s ranch, this book wouldn’t be a testament to his legacy. Fifth and sixth grade horse lovers will be drawn to this story based on true events of a Chincoteague pony’s return to health after weeks of fever from an infection in his leg. The ‘miracle’ in his name refers to his unlikely survival after all the standard medical measures have been taken and nature is left to take its course. His young care-taker, Cynthia Leonard, dubs his recovery a miracle and re-names him accordingly.  An interesting afterword includes a newspaper clipping of the original story along with a recounting of another of Miracle Man’s legendary accomplishments years later.

Although the book’s overall size is more like a picture book, inside the text is dense, presented in double columns with a small font. This may be off-putting to younger readers. Dedicated horse fans and fans of Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteque series won’t be put off however. The color photos, all showing the main character as a full-grown horse are nice.  A glossary is included.

The author is a longtime horse lover. You can read about her here; http://loisszymanski.weebly.com/author-bio.html

To learn more about Assateague Island where Miracle Man now lives you can look here:http://www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/horses.htm

If you want to read more about the Chincoteague ponies from Assateague Island with their names, look here:http://www.chincoteague.com/ponies-by-name.html

  • True Story of Miracle ManTitle: The True Story of Miracle Man
  • Author: Lois Szymanski
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hardcover: 47 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4420-6
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, Animals

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice

Written by Chris Moriarty

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The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a fun, complex, and delightful mystery chapter book for fifth grade level readers and above. The story involves early twentieth-century New York atmosphere and history fictionalized to keep the reader engaged in the activities of the main character, Sacha Kessler, who has the keen ability to see witches and witness magic. These skills are of utmost importance to the police department’s star inquisitor, Maximillian Wolf.

Sacha’s abilities earn him the apprenticeship to the police department and he becomes one of the main investigators to find who wants to kill Thomas Edison. This investigation leads the fifth grade reader on a wild adventure through New York City’s finest neighborhoods where magic prevails in most interesting and secret ways. The story weaves Jewish history and language into the plot, making this a spring board for further lessons on Jewish culture and history, always a great plus for teachers of 5th grade level students.

Although the author includes additional information regarding the parts of New York history that has been fictionalized, the 5th grade level reader will come away with a feeling of knowing more about New York and it’s famous Jewish neighborhoods. And even those students who don’t like reading about witches and magic will enjoy the overall mystery and detective work that the main character encounters.

The book has a twist at the end, and the 5th grade reader will come away with more experience in reading and comprehension of a complex plot, reading fictionalized and interesting history, and how magic and superstition plays an important part in the lives of many. The fifth grade reader will also come away  wanting more of the main character and his inquisitor apprenticeship activities. Kudos to the author for writing what this grade level wants to read. This book is a great addition to the 5th grade level classroom library.

  • Inquisitors ApprenticeTitle: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
  • Author: Chris Moriarty
  • Illustrations: Mark Edward Geyer
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-5813-4
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Edition: Hardback, 345 pages
  • Genre: Juvenile fiction, mystery, magic

Samphire Song

Written by Jill Hucklesby 

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The summary for Samphire Song doesn’t begin to tell teachers and parents or students the heartfelt emotional story Ms. Hucklesby tells within the pages of this novel. Fourteen year old Jodie has many family issues she keeps inside and working with the horses is where she best fits in. From the very first page the author sucks the reader in with all five senses and a realistic feel for being nose to nose with the horses.

What 5th grade level reader doesn’t love horses and wouldn’t be able to relate to having at least one issue with their personal family situations? Samphire Song is an excellent example of fiction where fifth graders and higher level readers will be totally engaged in the story from beginning to end.

The book is written with a complexity of emotions yet with easy to comprehend clear sentences and paragraphs making this a good book to use when teaching 5th grade readers the skill of writing too. Characters are well rounded and realistic, the plot is one that students can relate to, and the crisp writing is excellent examples of the use language.

Samphire Song is well worth adding to a home, school, or fifth grade classroom and is suitable for girls or boys even though the main character is female. The experiences and emotions so cleverly described  for the 5th grade reader are clearly understood by either gender.  The family issues within the plot also make a great opportunity for teachers or parents to discuss feelings and choices within the classroom setting.

The publisher website offers more information about this and other fine books for 5th grade level readers at www.albertwhitman.com

  • Samphire SongTitle: Samphire Song
  • Author: Jill Hucklesby
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer:  Terri Forehand
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-7224-5
  • Edition: Hardback, 287 pgs
  • Genre: Juvenile-Fiction, Horses, Family problems

 

 

Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer

Written and Photographed by  Mary Holland

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The photos will draw you in. A fox kit, that is a baby fox, has to be one of the cutest animals on Earth. In this picture essay, we follow a baby fox, named Ferdinand, through the spring and summer romps — including playing with siblings, and foraging for food. The writing is good, but it is really the pictures that will turn the pages. We see Ferdinand start as a ball of fluff and progress to a competent young fox, ready to hunt on his own and wrestle his meal to the ground.

The subject matter will appeal to young readers, but the writing is a little high for them. I’m sure the lexile system blanched at the three-syllable name. However, Mary Holland also wrote in long sentences, some with multiple clauses. While this will work when the book is read aloud, as a book for newly independent readers it may be challenging. At the same time, it will be a lovely choice for young children who are advanced readers in younger grades, and as well as a good read-at-your-desk book for kids in fifth and sixth grade.

Besides following young Ferdinand, we learn the growth pattern of foxes and why their ears, nose, whiskers, etc. are important. Holland easily mixes information about the specific fox named Ferdinand and the more general information about foxes. She writes carefully about their motivation, and does not anthropomorphize (with the obvious exception of the name Ferdinand). The foxes’ motives are attributed to basic needs, such as hunger and warmth. At the same time, the images present us with a playful kit who has joy rippling through his body. Mary Holland doesn’t say Ferdinand is happy, his picture, however does.

See extra activities online at  www.SylvandellPublishing.com

and visit Mary Holland’s blog naturallycuriouswithMaryHolland.wordpress.com.

  • Ferdinand FoxTitle: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer
  • Author: Mary Holland
  • Illustrator: Photos by Mary Holland
  • Publisher: Sylvan Dell
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-60718-6267
  • Genre: nonfiction: picture book

 

 

 

The Zebra Forest

Written by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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The zebra forest outside of eleven-year old Annie’s house begs for stories. The zebra stripes are white birch trees and dark oaks, making a cozy setting for Annie and her younger brother Rew to tell each other stories. They retell the books they’ve read, and then Annie makes up new ones, putting their father into the plot. In the stories, their father is a hero that they’d like to meet. But they know that is impossible because Gran told them the one thing they know about their father: he was killed by an angry man who was sent away. That is all the children ever asked since that much information sent Gran into a two-day brooding fit. But then a prison break changes their lives. With an escapee invading the house, Annie and Rew have to re-think everything they thought they knew —their stories, their relationships, and what makes up right and wrong. Even in a zebra-striped forest, nothing is as black and white as they originally thought.

While the vocabulary makes the book accessible to younger children, the storyline requires a more mature reading level. It will be enjoyable and useful for fifth-graders and up who are starting to understand subtlety instead of absolutes in rights and wrongs. This is Adina Rishe Gewirtz’s debut novel, yet it fits in well with the genre of work epitomized by Lois Lowry’s Gossamer and Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, where resilient children figure out how to grow stronger in less then perfect homes.
Zebra Forest

  • Title: Zebra Forest
  • Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6041-3
  • Genre: Realistic fiction

The Vine Basket

Written by Josanne La Valley

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Appropriate for those on a fifth grade reading level, The Vine Basket will appeal to those interested in learning about cultures in exotic lands. The unique setting – a rural community on the fringe of the Taklamaken Desert in East Turkestan (i.e., a little known region in China) – of this novel will expand the world view of just about any reader. It could be a useful addition to fifth grade social studies curriculum.

After her older brother fled the family after involvement in a protest against oppressive Chinese government, young Mehrigul is pulled from school to labor on her family farm. She dreams of returning to school, studying hard and getting a job in a museum to tell the story of her people, the Uyghur (pronounced wee gur). Deeply steeped in Uyghur culture, her family is trapped between the demands of the Chinese cadre and their basic needs. Fourteen-year-old Mehrigul shoulders the everyday burdens that her depressed ana (mother) and bitter ata (father) refuse to take responsibility for.

Mehrigul’s deepest fear is that she will be sent off to the factories to work, far from her family and her people. Her motivation is to protect her younger sister and to spare her from a hard life.  When one of Mehrigul’s  baskets is noticed and purchased by an American tourist, she gains hope. Her grandfather can be her mentor and teacher her the family tradition of basketry, but her father stands in her way. His refusal to allow her to work on or sell baskets feels like tyranny and, with much guilt, Mehrigul weaves baskets in secret.

This is the story of a young girl striving to prove herself to her family and herself. Although it presents universal concepts, The Vine Basket will be best for readers whose comprehension will not be challenged by foreign words and foreign concepts. This book, La Valley’s debut novel, portrays a little known ethnic struggle through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old.  It successfully provides a window into the Uyghur culture and illustrates how a challenging situation can bring a family together.

  • Vine BasketTitle: The Vine Basket
  • Author: Josanne La Valley
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Hardcover/ 256 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547848013
  • Genre: Novel, contemporary
  • Lexile Score: 950
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