Archive for 2015


Written by Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova

Beginning with enchantment and a spell, this book seems like a fantasy. But it continues on to become a kind of historical fiction. There are three main sections of the book, however, the character that bridges these sections is not a person, but a harmonica.

The story is very well written, as one would expect from Pam Munoz Ryan, an award-winning author. Each section of the book is a well-developed story in itself. In each case, the importance of music to our everyday lives is illustrated. The rhythm and rhyme of life are totally intertwined with the music we hear and make.

The spell set forth at the beginning of the book can only be broken when the harmonica is used to save someone’s life, as does happen in the last episode in the book.

Besides many literacy skills that can be taught using this book, there is a great deal of American history, German history, music history, as well as the history of the harmonic itself as an instrument, all that qualifies as material for fulfilling the core curriculum standards. While librarians and teachers will probably not use the entire book, due to its length, it can be introduced by sectional readings. Still it would make a great present for a middle grade student who loves to read about adventures of the past. It also opens the door for great discussions about how our lives might intertwine with others through the medium of music and/or shared possessions.

It is an interesting and thought provoking book.

Buy on Amazon

  • EchoTitle: Echo
  • Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 587 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

Fish in a Tree

Written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ally is a smart girl, but she has moved around among a lot of different schools. Her inability to read stays hidden behind her many ways of causing classroom distractions.  She is tired of being called, “dumb” and “slow”.  But reading words on a page makes about as much sense as a fish in a tree.

Her current school, especially the principal, is getting equally tired of her. Ally is sent to the office practically every day. The worst being the day she gave her pregnant teacher a sympathy card during the class baby shower. Ally didn’t intend to be mean, she just didn’t know what the words on the card said. She bought it because of the pretty yellow flowers she thought her teacher would love.

Luckily, the substitute teacher is more attune to Ally’s reading problems. He is gentle and affirming. He highlights Ally’s amazing ability to draw in expressive detail. Eventually she admits how the letters move about the page when she tries to read.

This carefully woven novel is about more than just dyslexia. Ally has a father serving overseas in the military and a hard-working mother struggling to make ends meet. There is also an older brother who cannot read, but is a fantastic mechanic. Before the book’s conclusion Ally recognizes her brother has the same learning problem and gets him help. It is a book full of hope and possibilities.

Lynda Hunt also tackles the ever-present issue of bullying in this book.  She approaches it in funny and satisfying ways that relieve the problems rather than escalate them. Ally makes friends slowly with two other students who are also seen as being “different” from the popular crowd. Readers will recognize them as great friends. All the characters are developed thoroughly and become completely recognizable. Adult readers will enjoy recognizing character “types” they have known throughout life.

Chapters are short and contain a lot of dialogue, so this is a fast-moving, entertaining book for fifth grade readers and beyond. It could be used for a book club to open discussion about acceptance of others. Librarians, teachers and counselors can recommend this book to students who may be experiencing dyslexia, a parent in the military or any particular kind of bullying. This text can be used to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy as well as in the social studies content of learning about others with needs as well as how to deal with bullies in the classroom or the school at large.

After reading this book, students may want to look for Lynda’s previous book, One for the Murphys.

Buy on Amazon

  • Fish in a TreeTitle: Fish in a Tree
  • Author:  Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Publisher: Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 276 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16259-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Letter from the author to the reader that explains how Lynda Mullaly Hunt understands these problems. She had them herself in school and finally realized the actual problem was one of perception. She became able to perceive herself and others in a new light.  Her heart felt letter will bring a sigh of relief to young struggling readers.
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