Tag Archive for fifth grade readers

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.

Outside In

Written by Sarah Ellis

Lynn was standing at the bus stop when the Werther’s original toffee got stuck in her throat and blocked any air from coming in or going out. People around her panicked, yelled for help, and dialed 911.  Only one quiet voice said, “I’m going to help you.” The skinny arms removed Lynn’s backpack and did the Heimlich maneuver. But before Lynn or her friends could say thank you, the stranger was gone.

So begins a most engaging story between the haves and the have nots, or the citizens and the Underlanders. It is a tale the causes readers to determine what constitutes a family, as well as what good are our material things.

The secret friendship between Lynn and Blossom causes many problems for both girls as their worlds begin to intersect and collide. A promise lightly given then broken causes fear, betrayal and heartbreak.

A truly wonderful thing about this story is that neither side presumes to save the other. Those that our world might label as the have-nots are able to continue their own lives though. They do have to move.

Subplots include an irresponsible mother who goes from boyfriend to boyfriend without ever growing up, a special needs boy, and a couple of batty professors.

Fifth grade readers and beyond will enjoy this story of discovery and friendship. Reading teachers and librarians will use this book to reinforce literacy skills and fulfill core curriculum standards. It would also be an excellent reader aloud for upper elementary or middle school classes.

  • Outside InTitle: Outside In
  • Author: Sarah Ellis
  • Publisher: Groundwood Books, Toronto, April 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 206 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-55498-367-4
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Grade Level: 5-8


The Water Castle

Written by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Illustrated by Jim Kay

Buy on Amazon

Ephraim’s father has suffered a stroke. In an attempt to help his recovery, his mother, a doctor herself, has taken the family to an old inherited mansion in Maine. Needless to say, it is full of mystery, intrigue and books.

In the past, the mansion had been the home of a “water baron.” He bottled and sold water, some said under false pretenses that it was water that could extend your life and health as long as you kept drinking it. Almost like the old tales of the fountain of youth. However, the bottling plant was destroyed in a massive fire decades ago and no one even knows the source of this fantastical water.

Ephraim decides this magical water must be found in order to cure his father. While he is a normally a failure at making friends, doing things right, and staying out of trouble his great desire to cure his father helps him overcome a great many fears and weaknesses.

He makes friends of children whose parents and grandparents hold grudges against the mansion and all it stands for, but as we come to see, friendship can be a powerful force for good.

Interspersed among the chapters are letters and diary entries from 1908, when the water discovery was in full swing. The different flow of language and vocabulary gives readers the feel of the long ago in those sections.

A subplot interwoven takes the shape of following the Peary expedition to the pole, in the diary entries, and doing a report on the explorer in the present day.

Fifth grade readers will enjoy the adventure of the present day as well as the mystery surrounding the old house. They will wonder if the water can really be making the students in this school so much stronger, smarter and bigger than they would normally be. Every reader and listener will be mourning for father, stuck inside his body and cheering for Ephraim to find a cure.

Literacy skills and core curriculum can be enhanced by including some classroom research dealing with the Peary expedition, the radiation of water, the distillation of water, the fountain of youth, and the geography of the town. An art project could be drawing the mansion, the hidden laboratory in the basement or a map of the town. Students could be asked to write what they would use such water for, if they were to discover it.

It is a fun read with lots of possibilities, especially that of reading it again!

  • Water CastleTitle: The Water Castle
  • Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
  • Illustrator: Jim Kay
  • Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers, an Imprint of Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8027-2839-5
  • Genre:  Realistic Fiction/ Science in Fiction
  • Grades:  4 to 8
  • Extras: Author’s note, bibliography for further reading, websites with related information

Wake Up Missing

Written by Kate Messner

Buy on Amazon

This includes a fascinating what-if idea. What if gene therapy were used for the scientists’ own purposes? Can they get away with it? This is a very exciting and often scary story. Fifth grade readers will be fascinated by what kids their age can do when necessary, providing them an opportunity to increase their literacy skills and learn a bit about genetics, neurology, and bird watching.

Twelve-year-old Cat is trying to recover from a head injury suffered in a fall from a bird watching platform. She is constantly dizzy, headache-y, and irritable. Not at all like her former self. In desperation, her parents send her to clinic in Florida, which specializes in her type of injury. At first, everything seems normal, but Cat soon smells a rat. One girl hasn’t been seen for days, and Cat overhears bits of conversations between the doctors that make her suspicious. A boy has been seen, but his entire personality has been changed. Together with three other patients, Cat figures out they’re part of a horrible experiment to change their brains. The kids plot to escape just as the doctors plan to tell their parents they’re dead and move the experiments to Russia. Airboats, wildfires, and alligators all play a role.

The Author’s Note discusses the science behind the idea, including the Manhattan Project team and ongoing gene research. The author’s website (www.katemessner.com) gives more details and contains a blog. The publisher’s website (www.bloomsbury.com) provides more information on the author and the book itself.

  • Wake Up MissingTITLE: Wake Up Missing
  • AUTHOR: Kate Messner
  • PUBLISHER: Walker Books for Young Readers/Bloomsbury, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-0-8027-2314-7
  • FORMAT: Hard cover, 255 pages
  • GENRE: Contemporary Fiction, Science Fiction

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Written by Steve Sheinkin

Buy on Amazon

This true crime thriller will amaze fifth grade readers interested in American history. It tells about the conspirators as they plan how to steal Lincoln’s body out from under the Lincoln monument in Springfield, Illinois, as well as when and why they would even try such a thing.

On the other side of the story are the Secret Service agents following their trail but wanting to catch them in the act rather than just prevent the theft. They have placed an undercover double agent in the middle of the works that causes the tension to rise as readers expect him to get caught many different times.

These are the very earliest days of the Secret Service and readers will be interested to read how much of their decision making in catching criminals was left up to each individual detective.

Beside the main crime at hand, these conspirators are also involved with counterfeiting plates of American currency. When one of their main leaders gets sent to prison the rest first try to think of a way to get him out; then devise a plan for keeping up the counterfeiting ring without him.

As a diversion, they plan the theft for election night of 1876 to be sure all the neighbors are off the roads and in town.

Several different literacy skills can be strengthened by use of this book including, reading for details, sequencing, comprehension, vocabulary, context clues, plot and cause and effect.

Boys and girls in the third grade and beyond would benefit from having this book read aloud or assigned in a book club setting where it can be discussed and enjoyed with others.

The story is smoothly written and moves the plot along at a brisk pace keeping young readers interested. It contains several photographs from the time as well as diagrams of the Lincoln Monument and maps of the surrounding grounds to help readers get drawn into the tale.

Author information: This book is written by the same author that wrote the nonfiction Newberry Honor Book, BOMB. BOMB also received the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.  http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibertmedal

Extras: Glossary, Source Notes, Index, Authenic Photos from the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Monument Site, maps of the site and diagrams of the Lincoln Monument in Springfield, Illinois.

  • Grave RobbersTitle: Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
  • Author:  Steve Sheinkin
  • Publisher: Scholastic, NY, January 1, 2013.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/ 207 p
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-40572-0
  • Genre: American History 1875, true crime thriller
  • Lexile: 930


Falcon in the Glass

Written by: Susan Fletcher

Buy on Amazon

Renzo is an apprentice learning to blow glass and earn his own place among the best glass makers in mediaeval Venice. But he only has two weeks to prove that he can do all of the required steps or be left as a drudge waiting on others in the shop for the rest of his life. What he doesn’t know is that there are things, and people more important than blowing glass into a beautiful goblet or bowl. While trying to save himself and his family, he must decide whether or  to save others. His understanding of the problem will make readers ask if they would take such chances for strangers.

Fifth grade readers will enjoy this look into the dark and mysterious canals of Venice. They will also be enthralled by the early process for making glass and the hard work and extreme heat required.

The story shows what happened to people who lived on the fringes of society at that time. It is a most sobering look at how orphans were left to fend for themselves as outcasts in an earlier time.

The dialogue and action make the story fast paced and engaging for grade 5 readers, as well as those younger and older. For classroom or home use, this book makes a fantastic read aloud option for children from grades 3 – 9.

Extras: End pages give information for readers wanting more information about blowing glass, old Venice during the Renaissance or the annual Carnivale that continues even today. Readers can also meet the author and get more extras by going to: KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

  • Falcon in the GlassTITLE: Falcon in the Glass
  • AUTHOR: Susan Fletcher
  • PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Elizabeth Swartz
  • FORMAT: Hardcover/300p
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-2990-1
  • GENRE: Historical Fiction
  • LEXILE: 660