Archive for Nature

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

A Bird on Water Street plus an interview and a GIVEAWAY!

When my friend Elizabeth Dulemba (aka e) asked if I wanted to read her novel, I jumped at the chance. I knew it would be worthwhile because of her dedication to quality children’s literature. I did not know how much I would enjoy reading it.


Elizabeth Dulemba

These are the questions I had for her:

You mentioned this project occurred over ten years. Can you share why you never let it go?

I never let it go, partly because I never chose to write the story in the first place.

I was sitting in a meeting between miners and the Company about a potential scenic railway routed to go north from town around a rare switchback. They Company said it would fund the train by reopening the chemical plant and sending out one shipment of sulfuric acid per week. The miners stood up in denim and plaid flannel like old, gnarled oak trees. They told heart-wrenching stories about all their family and friends they’d lost to cancers they attributed to the mines. They made thinly veiled threats that the tracks would be sabotaged if the plans moved forward. I sat in shock, a recent transplant to the area, wondering what I’d stumbled into.

That was when the Muse took hold of me. I suppose it could have been any writer, but it happened to be me. I was needed to tell the story. It wasn’t about me, but it became my responsibility. After I interviewed dozens of townspeople about the history of growing up in the area, it became about them. I was the keeper of precious documentation. When I thought the book might never get published, my sense of failure was immense. I felt responsible to the citizens of the Copper Basin to get the story right and get it shared. Giving up was never a real option.


The emotions of Jack certainly ring true. How were you able to put yourself in his place?

I’m so glad you think so! I suppose I was a little like Jack. I was a nature lover, a reader, a curious kid reaching for things beyond my borders. I share his love of trees—the wonder and holy sensation he got from them, as if they were speaking to him. And I think everybody shares his feelings of connection and yet of not fitting in. They are universal emotions.


As I mention in my review, you are careful to show both sides of most issues. For example, Jack’s dad was proud to be a miner even though the mine was killing the land. Was this on purpose and how hard was it to find the good in some of the situations?

It was quite intentional. When I started researching the book, I thought everybody shared the negative reactions to the environmental destruction. But then I met people who preferred the Red Hills. They liked not having bugs and snakes and the less desirable aspects of nature. They resented the allergies they suffered when nature returned. I quickly realized that even the most seemingly obvious issues were riddles with ambiguous grey areas, which is where I love to swim as a creator anyhow. I also didn’t want to impress my views upon the reader. I wanted to present the issues and let the reader decide for him or herself. I’m sure my biases snuck through, but I tried to be nonjudgmental.


What one thing do you want kids to take away from this book?

That’s easy – hope. It’s so easy to see the environmental damage in Coppertown (framed on the very real Copperhill, Tennessee) as irreparable, too big for any one person to do anything about – certainly a young boy. And yet I’ve seen the reclamation first-hand. These days, it takes driving down abandoned dirt roads to find evidence of the once denuded landscape. Every person who planted a seed, a tree, or worked with the wetland efforts played a part in returning the land to its natural state. It’s taken years, decades, but it has happened. And in our world of climate change and global warming, I think the idea that one person can make a difference is an important lesson.


What are you reading?

Oh gosh. I have several books going on at any given time – hardcover, kindle, audio, etc. I help choose titles being considered for the Georgia Center for the Book’s “10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read” list, so I try to read books by regional (Georgia) writers. I read fantasy as my brain candy, hot new titles, and books by my talented friends. I also interview picture book creators on my blog each week, so I’m constantly reading picture books that publishers send. It would be lovely to have more time to read it all!


Lightning round. For you, is it:

Macaroni and cheese or burgers?

I used to claim mac-n-cheese as the base to my food pyramid before I went gluten free. So Jack eats a lot of it because I can’t anymore. (Biscuits too.)

Fairy crosses or frogs?

Fairy crosses!

Barefoot or shoes?

Fuzzy slippers or barefoot.

Quilting or sketching?

Sketching for sure. I did make a quilt once. It was embarrassingly bad.



Southern Independent Book Sellers (SIBA) Okra Pick

Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner

The 2014 National Book Festival (Washington DC) Featured Title for the state of Georgia


And now for my review:

Written by Elizabeth Dulemba

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With heartfelt passion, Dulemba takes the reader into a world few people knew. Set in 1986 in the Copper Basin, at the intersection of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, the story follows a bright thirteen-year-old boy as his family and his town struggle to survive. Jack’s father is understandably proud to be a copper miner. He’s good at it and it provides a good living for his family. Plus, it’s a family tradition. But Jack sees the other side. Dad is always in danger, he’s always at risk for disease, and the chemicals from the mine have killed all the trees, animals, and birds. Dulemba’s approach isn’t completely balanced, but she does a great job of bringing in alternative issues. With each event, she is able to show the good and the bad. A cave in kills some miners, but not Jack’s dad. The union strikes. The family has tough times, but Jack’s dad is no longer underground. Christmas is sparse, but the family becomes closer. The area floods, but that allows frogs to hatch at a pond. The mine may close permanently, but a sparrow is spotted on Water Street. Is Mother Nature making a come back?


By taking the reader directly into the lives of the beautifully crafted characters, the author shows how the environment impacts everyone involved. Fifth graders, especially, will learn about life after copper mining and the resilience of nature, if given half a chance. Literacy skills and comprehension are furthered when the reader cares about Jack and his community. Many reading activities are suggested, including clean-up of a local area, establishment of a community garden or terrarium, and learning about trees, insects, and frogs. The publisher’s website,, provides support for the environmental message from the book’s pages. The author’s website,, is also fantastic.

  • Bird on Water StreetTitle: A Bird on Water Street
  • Author: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
  • Publisher: Little Pickle Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 270 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction, nature, environment, mining
  • ISBN: 978-0545035330



Elizabeth will provide an autographed and dedicated copy of A Bird on Water Street to one lucky reader. Leave a comment, complete with your name and email address. I will pick a winner at random on Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

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” (, a blog of field notes on their website (, 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 ( and (

  • 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

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;

To learn more about Assateague Island where Miracle Man now lives you can look here:

If you want to read more about the Chincoteague ponies from Assateague Island with their names, look here:

  • 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

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

  • 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

and visit Mary Holland’s blog

  • 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




Look Up- Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard

Written and Illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate

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Bird watching is not the first sport that comes to mind with 5th grade level readers but after reading Look Up – Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard 5th grade readers will think again. This fun and informative book is written and illustrated like a comic book, yet it gives loads of fun facts and information for students and teachers.

Teachers who want to include bird watching into a science curriculum would do well to add this book to the classroom library. The fun graphic caricature illustrations will have even the reluctant 5th grade level reader looking up the little known facts about bird beaks and feet. The author does a bang up job of keeping the reader turning the page because she includes comment clouds that give the reader a sense of laughter and humor, not always found in nonfiction elementary level books allowing the birds to have their say. Students will appreciate the laugh making learning fun.

This book for the 5th grade level reader covers not only beaks and feet, but feathers, habitats, eating habits, and many other exciting facts about all kinds of birds. Feather coloring, mating, lifespans, and any number of other interesting but unknown facts about birds may keep kids interested but the 5th grade level reader will also gain skills in observation and documenting these in a bird watching journal.

This book assists teachers in offering many ideas for classroom activities and also homework assignments that will help students take what they are learning and go out and bird watch for fun. It is a rare gift to find a nonfiction book for the 5th grade level learner that not only teaches, but entertains. This is a definite addition to any classroom that teaches science and animal facts for the 5th grade reader.
Look Up

  • Title:Look Up- Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard
  • Author/ Illustrator: Annette LeBlanc Cate
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press 2013
  • Hardcover: 53 pages
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Nonfiction/Juvenile
  • Lexile: 1000

Earth Heroes: Champions of Wild Animals

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 and a “Mom’s Choice Awards Honoring Excellence”, Earth Heroes: Champions of Wild Animals celebrates the lives of eight Earth Heroes who dedicated their efforts and energy to studying and protecting their favorite animals, and in so doing, made a lasting and significant impact on the world. Bison, birds, chimps, seals, wolves, and elephants all owe their survival to the people profiled in Earth Heroes: Champions of Wild Animals.

What I enjoyed most was that I felt like I was not only getting good, solid facts presented in a clear format, but I also got a personal look into their lives and how they came to protect their animal. It became more engaging for me and I just could not put the book down and had to read from start to finish. » Read more

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
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