Archive for Reading Level

Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City

Written by Hadley Dyer

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Mention farming and people usually think of vast fields in the country lined with rows of crops. But what about people who live in crowded cities or want to create gardens in their own backyards or even inside their own houses? Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City is an appealing look at the many innovative ways people are managing to grow food in untraditional ways.

Hadley Dyer was inspired to write the book after starting her own backyard garden. This book begins with some facts: By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, yet estimates say that in 30 years we’ll need 60 percent more food to feed everyone. Where will that food come from? How will food get to the people who live in cities? That’s what this book is all about.

Dyer takes us on an incredible journey through history, science, and economics. She explores gardens of the past, such as the “victory gardens” people started to provide food for themselves during wartime. She also explores community gardens, rooftop gardens, and futuristic greenhouses as ways urban populations can have access to freshly grown food. From there, Dyers explains how to plant, tend, and harvest your own garden. The book also includes information on composting, food safety, and keeping your garden safe from pests. Along the way, Dyer also discusses concepts such as alternative energy and the value of locally produced food as she takes a look at food production and land use all over the world.

Potatoes on Rooftops succeeds on many levels. Its lively writing style and colorful photographs will grab readers from the very first page. Dyer makes it easy to explain complex topics and allows readers to see how they impact their own lives. Most of all, Dyer helps young readers see how they can make a change and introduce locally grown food to their homes, no matter where they live. This is an incredibly empowering message!

I highly recommend this book for 5th-grade readers, as well as older students. For the younger age range, it could be a valuable classroom resource that could apply to units on science, social studies, history, and health. The design and writing style of the book make it appealing to these younger readers even though the Lexile level of the book is higher. Older readers can read the book independently and use it to create their own science projects or research reports. The book includes valuable resources, such as a glossary, a list of further reading, and websites to consult. Teachers and readers alike are sure to appreciate the lively text, fascinating subject matter, and can-do attitude of this valuable book that could open a whole new world for students in any classroom.

  • Potatoes on RooftopsTitle: Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City
  • Written by: Hadley Dyer
  • Publisher: Annick Press, 2012
  • Paperback: 84 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-55451-424-3
  • Genre: Science
  • Lexile: 1200L

Out of the Dark

Written by Nikki Grimes
Photography by Sherry Shahan

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“I had to beat back a lot of darkness in my life to find my way to the light. My pen was a secret weapon in that battle.”

In two simple sentences Nikki Grimes gives us the essence of her new book. The author graciously lets the readers into her life because, as she says, her journey out of the darkness may encourage others not to give in to despair: “…maybe somewhere in the story you will see yourself.” And an exhortation to write: “If you do, run and grab your pen and capture the moment on the pages of your own writer’s notebook.” The message of the book is to define your path and keep at it, no matter what comes your way.

The early years were hard. Her parents went through cycles of separation and reconciliation, and Nikki and her older sister Carol were shipped from one relative to another. Circumstances conspired to send the two sisters to foster homes. Finally, the author found stability: “… linger in the warm memories of that house, that home, those people who opened their hearts to me.” It was there that she began to write.

Through the darkest times there were mentors who stood by her. Her high school teacher encouraged her to survive and thrive; at James Baldwin’s feet she learned not only the craft of writing but also of being true to herself; and her father encouraged her to learn whatever caught her fancy. He believed that no learning was ever wasted. She took to the theatre and sees now that it helped her develop a keen ear for dialog as a means of imagining the character’s whole being.

Chapter 5 is an excellent writing primer for writing instructors and educators. “I approach books like a jigsaw puzzle,” she says, each chapter like a piece of the story with its own narrative arc: its beginning, middle and end. “The truth is, you can only write a book one word, one sentence, one page at a time.” Hearing a well established author say that gives weight to the words. Writers can adopt the ‘put together the puzzle pieces’ strategy to focus on the small task on hand. Write an essay sentence by sentence, a story paragraph by paragraph and a book chapter by chapter; small puzzle pieces prevent you from being overwhelmed.

This is a strategy that would benefit third through fifth grade readers, while showing the older students pathways to success not only in writing, but in life. A valuable addition to all libraries and classrooms and reading lists.

Additional Resources:
Teacher Tips:
Reading Rockets Video Interview:
IRA Favorite Teacher Breakfast:

Title: Out of the Dark
Author: Nikki Grimes
Photos by: Sherry Shahan
Publisher: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
Reviewer: Anjali Amit
Paperback: 56 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57274-977-1
Genre: Nonfiction
Lexile Score: 960

I am Helen Keller

Written by Grace Norwich
Illustrated by Mark Elliott

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I am Helen Keller by Grace Norwich is a fun, yet informative look into the life of Helen Keller. The language, font size, and layout of text accompanied by illustrations on nearly every page make this book completely accessible to readers at the fourth to fifth grade reading level and up. Because I am Helen Keller is written from a kid-like first person point-of-view and voice, readers are planted in Helen Keller’s shoes and drawn into learning why Helen Keller continues to be one of the most famous children throughout the world.

Norwich has done a superb job of researching Helen Keller’s life and pairing down both the key facts, as well as those that would most appeal to fourth and fifth grade readers. She has also organized and streamlined the information such that it is pleasing to the eye and easy to read. Norwich begins with an introduction of the important people in Helen Keller’s life through a graphic portrait and succinct bio of each person. She continues with a timeline of relevant events to ground readers in time and place. In fourteen short chapters Norwich covers Helen’s life from birth to death and complements her text with great visuals to keep readers engaged. Norwich sums up with a list of ten things you should know about Helen Keller and a second list of ten more things that are pretty cool to know about her. Kids, parents, and teachers will also find a useful glossary of words related to Helen Keller, as well as a list of places to visit, a bibliography, and an index to easily refer back to areas of interest.

I am Helen Keller is a new title in the I am Series and joins other interesting titles such as: I am Sacagawea, I am Albert Einstein, I am Martin Luther King, Jr., I am George Washington, and I am Harriet Tubman.

Every fourth and fifth grade reading list should include books from the I am Series. I cannot think of a better source of biographies that would make learning about key historical figures more entertaining.

  • I Am Helen KellerTitle: I am Helen Keller
  • Author: Grace Norwich
  • Illustrator: Mark Elliott
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 127 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-44779-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, series
  • Lexile Score: 1120

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

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

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

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

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

Written by Susan Goldman Rubin

Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

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A moving account of a woman compelled to help. This heroic story of a young woman who smuggled Jewish children out of World War II Warsaw was not known until after 1989 when Poland became a democratic republic. Irena worked as a Catholic social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland. When Jews were targeted, she worried about her Jewish friends especially when they were forced to go to a ghetto with horrible living conditions and build a wall. Irena disguised herself as a nurse to gain access to the neighborhood. She organized help on the outside and, with a secret network, began to help children escape. It was dangerous and Irena had to constantly change her escape routes to avoid being caught. She couldn’t guarantee a child’s safety or even that the child would survive, but Irena promised to do her best. Even if a child escaped, people would turn in the child to authorities for money. Irena dreamed of someday reuniting parents and children, but keeping records was risky. She managed to devise a system that survived her capture without being discovered. She was taken to prison, tortured and scheduled to be executed, but her friends helped her as she had helped so many others. When the war was finally over, Irena turned her records over to the Jewish Committee, an organization that located orphans and reunited families.

A thrilling class read aloud for older grades, this book could be used with either a heroes or a biography unit. One suggested literacy activity is for students to write a timeline of the dramatic events of Irena’s life and compare it to the events in Poland during World War II. An impressive bibliography and notes section is included along with an index. An educator’s guide is available on the publisher’s website:

  • Irena SendlerTITLE: Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto
  • AUTHOR: Susan Goldman Rubin
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Bill Farnsworth
  • PUBLISHER: Holiday House, 2011
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 40 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-8234-2251-7
  • Lexile: 1150

Blue Banner Biographies: Tim Tebow

Written by John A. Torres

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“Nothing seemed to come easy for Tim Tebow, including being born.” This is the story of how he overcame difficulties to become one of the most successful college football players. As part of the Blue Banner Biographies brought out by Mitchell Lane Publishers, these books have a standard format of five well organized chapters with plenty of additional information provided in the back matter. The print is easy to read, and the photographs are sure to attract fifth grade sports fans.

Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines, the youngest of five children. His parents moved back to the United States when he was three years old. Five year old Tim told his parents he wanted to play sports. This was nearly a problem for Tebow being a homeschooled child, but  luckily the law changed in 1996, allowing homeschooled children to play for their local high school.

Tebow’s toughness keeps him going in the face of adversity. While in high school he played nearly an entire game with a broken leg bone. His success in high school football made him a sought-after college recruit, eventually choosing to play   the Florida Gators. With Tebow’s talent, the team gained its second national title in three seasons. He was the first sophomore in NCAA history to win the coveted Heisman Trophy.

We learn that there is more to Tim Tebow than just being a great football player. Even while in college, he went on mission trips around the world. Currently, to give back to the world, Tebow started the WISH Program to grant wishes to sick children, as well as, “Timmy’s Playroom” for children with a terminal disease.

Tebow now plays forthe New York Jets. What’s next for this amazing athlete?

The book is written for ease of comprehension and gives young sports enthusiasts a reason to read and find out.

Additional Resources

The Official Website of Tim Tebow:

NFL Beginner’s Guide to Football:

Bibliographic Information



  • Tim Tebow  Title: Tim Tebow
  •   Author: John A. Torres
  •   Publisher: Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc.
  •   Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  •   Hardback:  32 pages
  •   ISBN: 9781612283173
  •   Genre: Nonfiction/Sports
  •   Lexile Score: 1000

Squirrel Rescue

Written by Jennifer Keats Curtis

Illustrated by Laura Jacques

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Andy quite unexpectedly becomes an animal rescuer one afternoon when he and his friend Matt are tossing the football around. A baby squirrel climbs up his pants and keeps climbing until he is perched on Andy’s shoulder.  The boys think the baby could have been blown out of its nest in a thunderstorm.  When they look around, they find another juvenile.  Fortunately, Matt knows what to do.  He gets a box, an old blanket and heavy gloves.  The boys carefully make a temporary nest for the babies and then go in the house, so the mama squirrel will feel safe.  They watch the mama through binoculars while she repairs her nest and carries her babies to the fixed nest.

This book provides a model for how to handle injured animal.  There are cautions and warnings in the text such as ‘Matt knows squirrels don’t make good pets.’  Coming from a young character, rather than an adult, this warning is more likely to make an impression on a young reader.

The paintings that illustrate this book are beautiful and capture the personalities of boys and animals.

It is an effective class read aloud with its cute baby pictures and could be especially helpful if a group is going to visit a rescue center or doing an environment unit.  A good reading activity or discussion starter is to list all the things the boys do to help the squirrel family.  If a field trip is out of the question, check out the link in the back of the book to Chris’ Squirrels and More.  She has a video tour of her squirrel rehab clinic: (
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  • Squirrel RescueTITLE: Squirrel Rescue
  • AUTHOR: Jennifer Keats Curtis
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Laura Jacques
  • PUBLISHER: Schiffer, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4246-2
  • LEXILE: 1010
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