The Garden of My Imaan

Written by Farhana Zia

Fitting in is always a struggle in school, but even more so in our American melting pot. As each new generation of immigrants moves into the mainstream, we all must learn to accept one another by seeing how alike we are in reality. Nothing is as successful at that as a middle school story with class elections, clicks, and recess taunts.

Aliya is a fifth grade Muslim girl struggling to find enough courage to talk to the boy she likes. At the same time, she struggles with how much of her Muslim identity she wants to portray at school. But combining the assignments given by her classroom teacher and her Sunday school teacher with the help of parents and grandmother, she comes out of her shell and begins to shine.

One of her projects is writing letters to Allah, in much the same tradition as Margaret wrote letters to God decades ago. It is a technique allowing the author to show the inner thoughts of the main character, as well as giving the reader a chance to notice inner growth over time. Writing unsent letters is much the same as writing a diary.

To Aliya, the hang-up for her classmates seems to be the hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women to show modesty. But when a new student, Marwa moves in and wears her hijab proudly instead of with shame, other students respect her. As she says, “what is in my head is more important that what is on top of it.” The introduction of Marwa is a bit contrived and seems “too” coincidental to a writer, but will seem just perfect to a fourth or fifth grade reader.

This book can help overcome misunderstandings between people unfamiliar with the Muslim faith.  Students outside the Muslim faith might begin to understand how much they have in common with their new friends. Students inside the Muslim faith will find comfort in this story, as they see they are not alone.

The inclusion of a Korean friend, Winnie, who is also from a part Jewish family, adds distinction and color to the fabric of the story. When their school project takes on the backgrounds, cultures, and religions of all the students, the stigma is removed from any one students.

Librarians, teachers and parents would do well to include this contemporary story of growing up in an American school in their collections. Especially now, when so many people have become afraid of a whole group of people, that clearly has as many good and bad apples as any other ethnic or religious group.  Core Curriculum standards in literature and geography can be met using this book. It would also make an excellent book club choice for grades 4, 5 or 6 for opening discussions about today’s world.

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  • Garden of My ImaamTitle: The Garden of My Imaan
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback/230
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-921-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary of Muslim terms, Glossary of Urdu terms

Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear

Written by Lauren Child

At times a little silly, this exciting new installment in the Ruby Redfort series will hold the attention of fifth graders and older by keeping them guessing until the end. The reader will be breaking codes right along with Ruby and possibly even trying out the martial arts described.

Thirteen-year-old Ruby is such a natural code breaker that she works for a super-secret organization dedicated to protecting the world. As is the case with most teenage secret agents, the badddies have no problem finding her and complicating her life. Set in fictional Twinford – resembling a cross between New York City and Los Angeles – the story follows the celebration of a film star’s career and of the release of her once-lost movie. All the while, people in high rise apartments report break-ins through impossibly high and small windows. Apparently, little of note is missing after the break-ins. When a seemingly blank business card is discovered at one of the scenes, Ruby is on the case. Of course, Ruby is constantly in trouble at work, with her parents, and with her loyal friend. Eventually, Ruby finds a connection between the film star and the break-ins. Meanwhile, she helps her friend solve a problem and foils the baddies.

The length of the book is daunting, but there’s a lot going on here, making it well worth the read.

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  • Feel the FearTitle: Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear
  • Author: Lauren Child
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 528 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Adventure, Espionage, Codes
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5470-2

 

 

Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself

Written by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrated by Scott Garrett

With a better-than-MacGyver talent, Nick and Tesla build gadgets that get them into and out of trouble with regularity. In this newest installment in the series, the twins face evil mastermind Bob and his group of flunkies, including two ninja-style grannies. The parents of twelve-year-old Nikola Copernicus and Tesla Nightingale Holt have been kidnapped, and they’re staying with their absentminded Uncle Newt. Government agents have told the kids nothing other than lies about their parents. So they set out to find out what’s really going on. Along the way, they build Uncle Newt’s Guaranteed-Not-to-Explode Frankfurter Heater-Upper, which they use to accidentally fry the pendants meant to keep track of them; Nick and Tesla and Uncle Newt’s Ping-Pong Ball Signal Cannon; Tesla’s (and Nick and Uncle Newt’s but mostly Tesla’s) Solar Spy Birdhouse; and Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Long-Range Rover. Bob wants to use the Holts’ research into solar power to kill the President and take over the world, but the kids have other plans.

The gadgets in the book require adult supervision and some special equipment, so it’s best to read this with a teacher or parent. But the directions and diagrams are explicit and easy to follow. Kids and adults will learn a lot.

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  • Nick and TeslaTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
  • Author: Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
  • Illustrator: by Scott Garrett
  • Published: Quirk Productions, May 10, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 264 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, science, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-59474-866-0

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

Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities

Written by Corinne Hosfeld Smith

Chicago Review Press continues to produce quality biographies with a purpose for children with this informative volume about the nineteenth century essayist, teacher, botanist, and political activist. With tons of pictures and maps, his story unfolds to reveal the many reasons he endures as an influential force throughout the world. Among the people whose life he affected, in addition to his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ellery Channing, were Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. His surveys and collections are still studied today, 150 years after his death. He was not the recluse that people seem to think he was, which the author quickly points out, but he did have specific ideas on how to live and did not worry about whether others would join him in every activity. He lived in a time when many diseases were known but not well-understood, so died at age 44 of tuberculosis, a disease that’s much more treatable today.

Thoreau’s methods and approaches were so straightforward that they lend themselves easily to adaption for children. Fifth graders can keep a daily journal, record animal behavior, measure the depth of water, or do one of 18 other activities carefully outlined. This is a great resource.

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  • ThoreauTitle: Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
  • Author: Corinne Hosfeld Smith
  • Published: Chicago Review Press, February 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 up
  • Genre: Biography, history, science
  • ISBN: 978-1-61373-146-8
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Time Line, Resources, Notes, Bibliography, Index, 21 Activities

Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron

Written by Eric Braun

Imagine being young and eager to help the wounded and sick during a war. Imagine flying into the unknown and crashing far from where you were supposed to be. That’s what happened to a group of nurses, medics, and their flight crew during World War II. The group were helped by partisans, hunted by Nazi sympathizers and Nazis, and rescued by a coalition of Americans and the British. They endured fleas, lice, starvation, dysentery, blizzards, and hundreds of miles of walking and climbing mountains. While their families worried for them, many quietly celebrated birthdays hiding from the enemy. Eventually, all of the Americans were rescued, but some were stranded in Albania for four and a half months.

From the “Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Stories,” this is a very exciting account of a little-known slice of human experience from an event that affected most of the world. Readers get to see the interaction of cultures and the sacrifices people throughout the world are willing to make, even when they don’t know the people who are suffering.

Highly recommended.

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  • Trapped Behind Enemy LinesTitle: Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron
  • Author: Eric Braun
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-6732-0605-0
  • Extras: Maps, Numerous photographs, Timeline, Quotation Source Notes, About the Author, Glossary, Read More, Critical Thinking Using Common Core, Selected Bibliography, Internet Sites, Index

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof

Written by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Very feline hijinks are the theme of this recently-translated and great fantasy.

Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, Annie M.G. Schmidt died in 1995. Her books are loved throughout Europe, but especially in her home, the Netherlands. This translation stands as a delightful addition to children’s literature available in the USA.

Minou is very cattish, but she doesn’t look like a cat. And she’s not sure why. She climbs a tree when a dog chases her, and thus begins her association with Tibble, a reporter with the Killenthorn Courier and sometimes rescuer of cats in trees. Killenthorn is full of cats, and Minou finds she is able to communicate with all of them. She helps Tibble gather news and keep his job at the paper. His editor hates cat stories, but they’re able to give him news about humans from what they overhear. Mr. Ellmore is a businessman who has the entire town convinced he is a nice, compassionate man, but he’s really very nasty. Plus, he owns the meanest dog in town. Through Minou’s efforts, Tibble is able to expose Ellmore. The reader also finds out how Minou ended up in her predicament and can cheer for her to find peace in her life.

Fifth graders will enjoy the gentle humor and ridiculous situations. Meanwhile, they’ll learn about a slightly different culture and definitely a different fantasy world.

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  • Cat Who Came in off the RoomTitle: The Cat Who Came In off the Roof
  • Author: Annie M.G. Schmidt
  • Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers/Random House, January, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: Fantasy, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-553-53501-3

Book: My Autobiography

Written by John Agard
Illustrated by Neil Parker

If a book could talk, what would it say about its past?

It would tell you about the farmers of Mesopotamia doodling with sticks on clay, but even before that type of writing, story was told with breath.

This fun look at the development of the book is entertaining as well as educational. Teachers and librarians will use it to fulfill core curriculum standards in areas of history and several literacy skills. Young readers will need to be prepared for how the author uses the inanimate book to tell the story in words normally used by people.

A fun activity to engage in while reading this book aloud to a class would be the creation of a time line illustrating each evolution of print. Students can discuss their opinions of digital versus print books when they come to the section in this text where we are assured that story will always be present.

The inclusion of poems, and quotes from around the world about the importance of books to the world add depth and beauty.

Students who become interested in the development of the book will want to research beyond this simple, but fun introduction.

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  • BookTitle: Book: My Autobiography
  • Author: John Agard
  • Illustrator: Neil Parker
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 132 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7236-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Written by Jacqueline Kelly

“Why can’t I go to college, too?” A heartfelt question asked by many a girl at the turn of the century when she first realized only the brothers would get the education they desired.

We first met the vivacious and wonderful, Calpurnia Tate, in Jacqueline Kelly’s Newberry Honor Book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Now her story continues into the season of spring with many new science experiments with Grandfather, sibling fights with all those brothers and facing a world trying to put her into a “homemaker” box.

Kelly builds the realistic plot with impeccable research from both time and place. Readers learn of the devastation of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the tragedy it caused for family members far away as many hurried to help.

The character development is spot on as Callie relates to each of her brother’s whims. She is always helping out Travis with whatever new animal he has brought home to rescue. Worry, humor and resourcefulness are often involved in taking care of these animals.

Teachers and librarians will fulfill many core curriculum standards in literature, history, geography and science using this text. Many will want to introduce it in read aloud time. Parents would find this a great gift giving book. Both of these books should be in every school and public library.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers as well as those far beyond will begin this book and keep turning pages for hours without stopping. When it does end, they will be sad to part with these great new friends in this wonderful new place. And then what will we do?  Wait impatiently while hoping Jacqueline Kelly is writing the next book about Calpurnia and her family.

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  • Curious World of CalpurniaTitle: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
  • Author: Jacqueline Kelly
  • Publisher: Henry Holt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 309 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8050-9744-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6

A Night Divided

Written by Jennifer A. Nielsen

There was no warning. It happened in the middle of the night. A city was cut in two. Gerta’s family was cut in two. Many families in Berlin were cut in two.

Gerta’s father and middle brother had gone to West Berlin to look for jobs and an apartment for the rest of the family one September day in 1961. That night, East Berlin border guards were ordered to build a barbed wire fence. No one was allowed to cross the fence. Within days, a wall was built with barbed wire atop it. East Berlin was shut off from the rest of the world. Food shortages, work shortages, and brutal interrogations of citizens followed.

One day, on her way to school Gerta saw her father on the other side of the wall pantomiming a song about digging a garden. Later, it occurred to her he might be suggesting she build a tunnel under the wall.

The story is tense, fast-paced and very accurate. Grade five and grade six readers will get a realistic, if frightening, look at part of the past. Teachers and librarians will fulfill the core curriculum standards in history and literature by including this book in their reading lists. It will open discussions of freedom as well as open doors to further research. Some of the students may be able to find family members or neighbors who lived through the experience. Students will be awestruck at how many people did not live through it.

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  • A Night DividedTitle: A Night Divided
  • Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 317 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-68242-8
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: historical photographs
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