Written by Josanne La Valley
Buy on Amazon
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.
- Title: 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
Written by Elaine Landau
Buy on Amazon
This collection of twelve short biographies highlights a cast of historical characters notorious for their hostile actions against the United States. The high-interest content written for pre-teens and early teens is sure to interest casual and curious readers of all sorts. It’s written for just that purpose, although most of the names will likely be unfamiliar to the intended audience. The author does an excellent job of pulling readers in with relevant questions and a snappy tone.
The choices are varied, ranging from a Southern teenaged girl, who spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War, to a young American man who joined the Taliban. The brief biographies stay focused on the specific event and are organized chronologically beginning during the Revolutionary war with Benedict Arnold and stretching into this century with the likes of John Walker Lindh, Anna Chapman, and Robert Hanssen. (The most sinister mass murders are not included.) Some of the biographees are either FBI or CIA agents who played roles as both traitor and spy.
Each spread includes several photos (color when available) with captions and occasional insets that define a word or add extra information. The double-paged treatments are light on details and written to engage readers at about the fifth grade level. Older readers at a lower reading level and slightly younger readers will find this title intriguing as well. The introductory coverage may trigger further reading on the topic or individuals. A list of ‘Further Reading’ will head readers in the right direction.
The author has written hundreds of other books. You can learn more about her and her books at her website: http://www.elainelandau.com
This website gives more information on the CIA: https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/index.html
This website “Mrs. Covert’s Spy Lessons and Spy Links”has lots of links on all different aspects of spying: http://www.simegen.com/writers/rabbit/spying_lessons.htm
- Title: Assassins, Traitors, and Spies
- Author: Elaine Landau
- Publisher: Lerner Publications
- Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- ISBN: 978-1-4677-0608-7
- Genre: Nonfiction, U.S. History, Biography
- Lexile Score: 600
Written by Matt Doeden
Buy on Amazon
Aimed at readers at the fifth grade reading level and up, A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X written by Matt Doeden is a well researched and thorough account of the contributions and controversy surrounding the life of Malcolm X, the civil rights activist born Malcolm Little.
Coupled with photos of historical significance and laid out in colors of black, white, and blood red, A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X begins with a concise introduction of Malcolm’s assassination and closes with an epilogue that highlights his legacy. Sandwiched between the introduction and epilogue is the meat of Doeden’s research. It consists of five chapters that detail how Malcolm became the man he was and why his life ended tragically: The Making of a Leader, A Racist Nation, Violent Opposition, Gunned Down, and The Aftermath.
For fifth grade readers and up preparing reports and presentations on Malcolm’s life, Doeden provides additional useful information that includes: a relevant timeline, comprehensive source notes, a glossary of key words and phrases, a selected bibliography, a list of organizations for further information, an index, as well as some short biographies of other key people relevant to Malcolm’s life, existence, and what he stood for.
Every school, public, and private library should carry A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X by Matt Doeden. Although geared for children, Doeden has presented the facts in a balanced manner that will not only appeal to young adults, but will also inform them of the courage some had to fight and die for the civil rights that exist today.
- Title: A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X
- Author: Matt Doeden
- Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
- Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
- Paperback: 88 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-7613-5484-0
- Genre: nonfiction, history, biography
- Lexile Score: 960
Written by Russell Freedman Illustrated by Peter Malone
Buy on Amazon
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.
- Title: 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
Written and Illustrated by Paul Goble
Buy on Amazon
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
Written by Amie Jane Leavitt
Buy on Amazon
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.
- Title: 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