Archive for Contemporary

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

Skateboarding Street

Writtten by Patrick G. Cain

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This book splendidly fulfills its responsibility to its young readers. Skateboarding street can be a dangerous sport, as the author states in the very first chapter, and in an extensive sidebar, he emphasizes the safety precautions that are necessary. “Even though you might not always see the skaters on TV wearing helmets and pads, this safety gear is very important to avoid injury.”

The target readership is pre-teens and teens – grades 4-8 – an age when requests to ‘wear a helmet’ may not always go down smoothly. Wisely, the author backs up his precautions with irrefutable reasons, “For a pro, a bad fall can mean the end of a career. For an amateur skater, a rough fall can mean giving up a favorite hobby.” Skateboarding Street can be a good read aloud with interesting discussions on the incredible tricks that the skaters can perform and the need for safety.

The story traces the development of the sport from its early days to its acceptance as a mainstream sport. It profiles the heroes, both past and present, boys and girls. The history of skateboading is outlined, along with a two page spread showing the elements of today’s skateboard. We also learn that the right safety gear should include a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

The last chapter talks about going pro. “Most skaters will never have the opportunity to go pro.” However, most skaters skate for enjoyment, and there are plenty of local competitions to participate in. Many skaters videotape their moves and post the video online.

Skateboarding Street contains many action shots that give a feel for fluid movement and tricks of the sport. A definite recommendation for all libraries and reading lists.

  • Skateboarding StreetTitle: Skateboarding Street
  • Author: Patrick G. Cain
  • Publisher: Lerner Publications Company
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0749-7
  • Genre: Non-Fiction/Sports
  • Lexile Score: 950

Ancient Athens (Explore Ancient Worlds)

Written by Amie Jane Leavitt

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Pack your robe and sandals! We’re going to ancient Greece. We begin with detailed impressions of a festival during The Golden Age, which kids can locate on the timeline. The reader gets a wonderful overview of what a festival would look like through a kid’s eyes and great sensory descriptions of all the activities, right down to what the food was like. From parades to sporting events to theater, the Athenians knew how to celebrate.

The next chapter reveals the geography of the region and the formation of 1,500 different city-states. Athens was one of the largest and most productive of the city-states. Chapter three gives more details of what everyday life in ancient Athens, including the structures of homes and clothing. The Golden Age is again highlighted in chapter four, with emphasis on trade, architecture, and art. The final chapter points out the structures that survive to modern day. Each chapter in turn provides more information as sidebars on topics such as Athena, the great philosophers, sculpture, and the Greek alphabet. Finally, the author provides information on making masks and several recipes so that children can experience ancient Athens first hand, with a little help.

This is a very good reference for fifth grade. The glossary is complete and specific enough to help comprehension. The references provide multiple opportunities for further study. Also, included are a table of contents, timeline, chapter notes, and index. The many photos, drawings, and maps allow the reader to form a thorough impression of Greek life. Reading activities could include organizing a Greek festival or further study of the various topics presented.

  • Ancient AthensTitle: Ancient Athens
  • Author: Amie Jane Leavitt
  • Publisher: Mitchell Lane, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 9781612282756
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Culture of ancient Greece
  • Lexile Score: 990L

Whatever: A 90-day Devotional for Livin’ the True, Noble, and Totally Excellent Life!

Written by Allia Zobel Nolan

Whatever: A 90-day Devotional for Llivin’ the True, Noble, and Totally Excellent Life! is another trustworthy book in the faithGirlz series from ZonderKIDS.

The word “whatever!” has a new meaning for tween-age girls. It usually means something like “I don’t care. Do what you want.” The author, reminds girls that the word, “whatever” was used in scripture long before it became a slang term and it had quite the opposite meaning. Geared for tween girls, this devotional is based on Philippians 4:8; “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (NIV)

This devotional is focused around the point that our thought life counts and if we want to live as Christ wants us, we must focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent, just as Philippians 4:8 says. Whatever is divided into sections each focusing on these points. The author, Allia Zobel Nolan writes in a way not only easy to read, but that draws girl’s attention right from the start. She uses language tween girls understand like “ROL” (Roll on Floor Laughing) or “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) to relax girls and help them feel as they are having a conversation. She also uses examples in nearly everyday’s devotion that relate to a young girls modern life. She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics and gives gentle warnings about things like boys, alcohol, mean girls and even the snare of gossip. Nolan takes modern day situations our girls face and guides them to what God’s Word has to say about it. She tackles other topics like modesty, generosity, pride, humility, kindness, choosing good friends, media and much more. She has a wonderful way of drawing other scripture into each day and giving girls ideas to think about later in the day. She also includes prayer suggestions each day. Its obvious Nolan has a deep desire to draw young girls to the Lord and that God has gifted her with a knack for speaking their language. Don’t be fooled by the tween-language. Every devotion is full of scriptural meat!

Whatever would be a great devotional for any tween girl in her personal devotional time. While it’s written at about the 5th grade reading level, some topics might be a little too mature for girls of that age. It would be a wonderful devotion for mother and daughter to read aloud, bringing up topics that might otherwise have been overlooked or that might be difficult to address. Camp Counselors or other leaders of girls could also use Whatever in lessons or quiet time.

faithGirlz has a terrific website ( that offers similar content, but in much greater detail and lots of fun too! It would be a meaningful addition for any tween girl. Whatever: A 90-day Devotional for Llivin’ the True, Noble, and Totally Excellent Life! would make a special gift for any tween-age girl.

Bibliographic Information

  • Title: Whatever: A 90-day Devotional for Llivin’ the True, Noble, and Totally Excellent Life!
  • Author: Allia Zobel Nolan
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Reviewer: Pamela Wagner
  • Softcover: 295 pgs
  • ISBN# not listed
  • Genre: Contemporary, Christian
  • Lexile Score: 910
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