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.

Buy on Amazon

  • 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

The Great Greene Heist

Written by Varian Johnson

Jackson Greene, middle schooler, is way too smart for his own good. He’s a budding con man who rarely gets caught, but he does take big risks. Then again, his heart is in the right place. The one time he did get caught earned him a bad reputation with the principal and alienated the love of his life, Gaby. When Gaby ends up running for student body president against Jackson’s sworn enemy and cheater, Keith, Jackson decides to help Gaby. Without her knowledge. Jackson and Gaby’s twin brother, Charlie, devise an elaborate plan, partly Star Trek and partly Ocean’s Eleven inspired, to make sure Keith doesn’t steal the election. With a few surprises, the team, sometimes referred to as Gang Greene, get the job done.

Kids, especially middle schoolers, will love the hilarious adventure and recognize people they know in the characters. From the geeks and nerds who speak Klingon to the jocks and rich kids who feel entitled. Teachers and parents will like the fact that each transgression carries consequences.

This is a chance for kids to practice their literacy skills while being entertained.

Buy on Amazon

  • Great Greene HeistTitle: The Great Greene Heist
  • Author: Varian Johnson
  • Published: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Friendship, Honesty
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-52553-4

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Mary was a great cook, but she was a carrier of the deadly typhoid disease. It was likely she unknowingly put germs in food of people who later became very ill and died. But Mary never understood what it meant to be a carrier and couldn’t accept help from the medical community. They were trying to save the people of New York City.

Once again, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done extensive primary and secondary source research in support of the story. This biography is filled with details and each one is verified by its source.

Readers get a glimpse of the frustration felt by Mary, but then in later chapters can relate to the frustration of the health officials. They really weren’t targeting Mary, but trying to do what was best for everyone.

Students will learn about this particular event and also how to do a solid, non-fiction report of their own. Core curriculum standards in literacy, as well as American history and health/science can be fulfilled. Among the story of what happened to Mary, readers will notice a story of how the science of health was developing in this era. Anyone involved in women’s studies might also find it interesting that even while Mary was quarantined, several men also identified as carriers were treated and/or observed, but never quarantined on a far away island.

Buy on Amazon

  • Typhoid MaryTitle: Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 229 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-31367-5
  • Genre: Biography, history
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Afterward, Photo Album, Chapter Footnotes, Extensive Bibliography, Index

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Written by Erin Hagar

Julia Child was passionate and friendly, as is this new biography about her life and work. The text is conversational as well as informative.

Like many grown-ups, even Julia Child sometimes wondered what her real life’s work might turn out to be as she moved all over the world. Finally, one day while having lunch in a restaurant in Paris, France stirred up her passion for good food.

Grade three readers, or grade six readers and any others who pick up this biography will be amazed at how this girl from Pasadena, California grows up to become one of the most successful and famous chefs in history. Her cookbooks and television shows were followed by thousands. People still roast a chicken the same way Julia taught them, all while laughing and visiting with them and the TV filming crew.

Each chapter includes several full-page sketches depicting various events of Julia’s life. Readers will love how these sketches help transport them into her world.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will applaud how much this book can be a comfortable read, and also provide a bridge to research-based reading and writing. It fulfills many core curriculum standards in the areas of literacy, geography, history and culture. Students can use the index, glossary, bibliography and timeline while completing their own research into the life of this famous woman. This would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school, and public library collection. Also, a fun birthday or Christmas surprise for any third to seventh grader who loves to read and cook.

Buy on Amazon

  • Julia ChildTitle: Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures
  • Author: Erin Hagar
  • Illustrator: Joanna Gorham
  • Publisher: Duopress, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-938093-34-0
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary, Index, Time-line, Bibliography, Illustrations of Julia Child Historic Kitchen in Washington, D. C.

The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)

Written and illustrated by Neil Swaab

Well, at least I think this is fiction, but the author seems to have an awfully firm grasp of middle school and all the nuances of life there. Young Max Corrigan has taken it upon himself to help new students adjust to life in William H. Taft Middle School. He’s even devised a packet illustrating his methods and appointed himself head of the welcoming committee. After Max introduces himself to the new student, he outlines the plan, which consists of trying to fit into many of the known cliques in the school. He begins by teaching him to use humor to try and fit in with the Class Clowns. He then moves on to how to look like an Artist, what Band Geeks are really like, fitting in at lunch, how to deal with the principal, and how to talk to Preps. On the second day, he learns how to raise money and how to avoid the Jocks and the Tough Kids. By Wednesday, the new kid is in trouble and needs advice on how to lie effectively. Much of Thursday is spent trying to hack into phones and learning to ditch class. By Friday, the new kid and Max are the heroes of the school and can go to the Saturday birthday party in style.

Swaab is an excellent illustrator and that is a major strength of this book. Crowd scenes are especially entertaining – in a “Where’s Waldo” sort of way. With the right approach, this book can be very humorous and stress-relieving for fifth graders about to enter a new world. Teachers and parents need to be aware of some of the more subversive elements, though, such as the recipe for fake vomit.

Order on Amazon

  • Ruling SchoolTitle: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)
  • Author/Illustrator: Neil Swaab
  • Published: Amulet Books/Abrams, August, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1221-0

 

 

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Written by Eve Yohalem

Mutiny aboard ship, would you be with the captain or against? Petra and Bram would each have to decide. They didn’t care about the gold the mutineers were stealing from the hold. They were each trying to find a place and way to live free from danger in the world.

Petra’s father would likely kill her if she were forced to return to Amsterdam. Bram would never find a place he truly belonged in the world because of being a mixed race boy.

This story of life aboard the ship, The Golden Lion, in the year 1663 is a fast paced tale of pretending to be a boy while surviving a long journey at sea. It involves bad weather, an attack by pirates and mutiny at sea.

The diagram of a ship of this sort is accurate. Much research went into writing this book with as much accuracy as possible. The author’s note explains the amount of research, but it would have been helpful, from an educational viewpoint, to have included some of the sources.

The book will still fulfill literacy requirements, as well as, core curriculum standards for geography, history. The world map showing the journey is great, but an added timeline as to how this story fits into world history would be a good thing to have students create as they enjoy this exciting swashbuckling adventure.

Grade four, grade five and grade six readers will enjoy reading this ocean journey late into the night, maybe with a flashlight under the covers!

Buy on Amazon

Cast OffTitle: Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen

Author: Eve Yohalem

Publisher:  Dial/Penguin, 2015

Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages

ISBN: 978-0-525-42856-5

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grade level: 5 up

Extras: Diagram of Ship, Map of Journey, Author’s Note

Circus Mirandus

Written by Cassie Beasley
Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

Can you see it? The tents, animals and acrobats of the circus. Can you hear the music?  If not, then you probably don’t believe enough in the magic.

Micah believes and so does Grandpa Ephraim, but Jenny, well, some, maybe, sometimes. She tries, but then, she is almost eleven.

Circus Mirandus is a special kind of circus. It has been going on without interruption since 500 BC. It can move without being seen and is capable of opening portals between our world and its.

Magic and miracles are things we all need in life from time to time. But is it always available when we really need it? Do we know how to recognize it? Do we dare ask? These are some of the questions Micah faces throughout the story and our readers will wonder, too.

Cassie Beasley’s debut novel will take you from the doldrums of everyday life and open your eyes to the possibilities around you. Hope, humor and optimism carry the story along from one adventure to another.

Micah lives with his Grandpa, but is now face to face with Grandpa’s failing health and imminent death. Aunt Gertrudis has come to help take care of them and she has no time for the nonsense of magic.

This is a marvelous tale of unexpected friendship and ingenious planning to accomplish dreams.   Fifth grade readers and sixth grade readers will enjoy reading it on their own while fulfilling literacy skills. Librarians and teachers will want to include it in their collections for students to have a chance to read it before the movie comes out.

Buy on Amazon

  • Circus MirandusTitle: Circus Mirandus
  • Author: Cassie Beasley
  • Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
  • Publisher: Dial Books/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 292 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-525-42843-5
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy
  • Grade level: 4 to 7

Echo

Written by Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova

Beginning with enchantment and a spell, this book seems like a fantasy. But it continues on to become a kind of historical fiction. There are three main sections of the book, however, the character that bridges these sections is not a person, but a harmonica.

The story is very well written, as one would expect from Pam Munoz Ryan, an award-winning author. Each section of the book is a well-developed story in itself. In each case, the importance of music to our everyday lives is illustrated. The rhythm and rhyme of life are totally intertwined with the music we hear and make.

The spell set forth at the beginning of the book can only be broken when the harmonica is used to save someone’s life, as does happen in the last episode in the book.

Besides many literacy skills that can be taught using this book, there is a great deal of American history, German history, music history, as well as the history of the harmonic itself as an instrument, all that qualifies as material for fulfilling the core curriculum standards. While librarians and teachers will probably not use the entire book, due to its length, it can be introduced by sectional readings. Still it would make a great present for a middle grade student who loves to read about adventures of the past. It also opens the door for great discussions about how our lives might intertwine with others through the medium of music and/or shared possessions.

It is an interesting and thought provoking book.

Buy on Amazon

  • EchoTitle: Echo
  • Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Illustrator: Dinara Mirtalipova
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 587 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

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.

The Terror of the Southland

Written by Caroline Carlson
Illustrated by Dave Phillips

Hilary Westfield is the pirate readers met in the first book, Magic Marks the Spot. It was in that book that she earned the name, Terror of the Southland. In this second book in the series, “The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates,” follows Hilary on another adventure where she goes off to save the Enchantress.

Readers from grades three well beyond grade seven will enjoy this swashbuckling tale of bumbling pirates and magic coins. Among the kidnapping and spying, Hilary shows her strong character of loyalty to friends as well as her fairness in all things. These traits cause a problem between her and the league, as most pirates are neither loyal nor fair. During the entertainment young readers will find themselves thinking about these issues in their own characters.

Exaggeration and sarcasm are two literary elements students will identify and enjoy. Of course, the comic fellow everyone loves is Hilary’s gargoyle. He has a healthy self-esteem and has time in this book to begin dictating his memoirs to Hilary.

The book includes fictional newspaper articles, posters, announcements, invitations and even the kidnappers’ note. It provides students with an opportunity to distinguish between different types of writing and will be a fun way for teachers to illustrate them in literacy classes.

These books will be a tease for reluctant readers and just might draw them in for more than one adventure. Arrrgh!

Buy on Amazon

  • Terror of the SouthlandTitle: The Terror of the Southlands
  • Author: Caroline Carlson
  • Illustrator: Dave Phillips
  • Publisher: Harper, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-219436-7
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: An excerpt of the next book in the series.
« Older Entries Recent Entries »