The Paper Cowboy

Written by Kristin Levine

Kristin Levine’s new book introduces readers to the damage done by rumors at any time and place. However, this story takes readers to small town America in the 1950’s. The rumor has to do with who might be a communist. But it isn’t the rumor that takes center stage. It is more about the damage caused by that, Tommy, the twelve year old main character. It is also about all the things that happen to Tommy.

The simple everyday task of burning the trash causes a tragedy in Tommy’s family. This accident pushes Tommy to mature very rapidly. He takes over an early morning paper route to help his parents earn enough money to pay the bills. But he is also covering up for other sins of the family.  His mother is suffering from depression and often beats him when she is angry. Other days she spends the whole day in bed, neglecting the needs of the little children and the house.

Levine seamlessly takes us into the life of this family and the heart of young Tommy who dreams of being a cowboy. While he daydreams about the heroes of the old West, he is busy saving his whole family. He isn’t an unrealistic hero though as he stumbles along his way getting into one scrape after another. Finally, he learns to ask for help and the most unusual people in the town come together to solve the problems.

Grade 5 readers and well beyond will enjoy traveling back into the 50’s to spend time with Tommy and his family. Teachers and librarians will be able to use this book to further develop literacy skills, American history, and social studies. Many of the people who come to Tommy’s aid are immigrants who had great careers in their home countries, but have nothing in their new land. Except the strength of their morals and education, both of which help solve the largest problems Tommy has to face.

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  • Paper CowboyTitle: The Paper Cowboy
  • Author: Kristin Levine
  • Publisher: G.P.Putman’s, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16328-9
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 and up
  • Extras: Author’s Note, photos

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Illustrated by Raul Colon

Twenty-One famous American heroes with Hispanic heritage are included in this beautiful biography collection. It is written by the Mexican-American Poet Laureate of California, who is himself the son of migrant workers.

The stunning portraits are paintings done by Raul Colon.

Each two – four page biography is skillfully written to include the education, dreams, goals, and quotes of those included. The heroes include those from sports, music, art, sciences, and politics. They span the past, as well as the present of American experience. Some of the biographies include: Roberto Clemente, Cesar Chavez, Desi Arnaz, Joan Baez, Ellen Ochoa and Sonia Sotomayor.

This volume will be a useful research tool in schools and libraries, but is also a pleasant straight-through read for any students interested in biographies. Literacy skills such as nonfiction reading, research skills, biographies, as well as the sciences and careers. Students can also use this as a starting point for studying about any one of these important people as there is a thorough source list as well as a related reading resource page in the back.

This is an important addition to broadening a library collection to include books about the diversity of the United States.

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  • Portraits of HispanicTitle: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
  • Author: Juan Felipe Herrera
  • Illustrator: Raul Colon
  • Publisher: Penguin, August, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3809-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Source notes, related reading list

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

 

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-web

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!

illo-birdsketch

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.

 

WINNER OF:

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, http://www.littlepicklepress.com/, provides support for the environmental message from the book’s pages. The author’s website, http://dulemba.blogspot.com, 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.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

Written by Sheila Turnage

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Miss Mo LoBeau and her (probably) world famous Desperado Detective Agency is back and they are determined to find out the mystery of the ghosts out at the old Inn that Miss Lana and Grandma Miss Lacy just bought. Readers who enjoyed Sheila Turnage’s last book, Three Times Lucky, will be thrilled to spend more time with the Colonel in his dinner and with Mo and all their friends.

All those wonderful characters from whole town of Tupelo Landing go out to the Inn for a catered picnic, but they are unaware of the treasure buried on the grounds. Of course, there is much more than just treasure and ghosts in the story. There are blueprints, annoying classmates, blackmail and a missing moonshine still.

This softly-told southern tale is perfectly told through clear dialogue and steady humor. The characters are very realistic and easy to cheer for in all of their adventures. Sheila Turnage has a wonderful command of language and a deep understanding of middle school aged kids. Her sense of adventure and daring comes through on every page.

At the end of many chapters, Mo writes a letter to her unknown, “Upstream Mother,” which always proves to be enlightening as well as heart wrenching.

Grade five readers will hide under the covers with a flashlight to finish study the map of Tupelo Landing on the front and back pages. They will probably read most of the night, just to stay with these great new friends.

Teachers and librarians can use this entertaining read aloud to fulfill core curriculum standards and teach literacy skills through the study of rhetorical questions, and figures of speech. These are two things Mo is always trying to clarify for her confused Desperado partner, Dale.

Read this book for the pure enjoyment it provides and then keep an eye on it. This book is going to be up for a lot of awards in the years ahead.

  • Ghosts of Tupelo LandingTitle: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
  • Author: Sheila Turnage
  • Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3671-9
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level 5 and up

The Water Castle

Written by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Illustrated by Jim Kay

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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

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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

Counting By 7s

Written by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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This beautifully written story of 12 year old Willow Chance is understandably an Amazon Best Book of the Year. It is filled with truth, hope, and love.

Even though Willow is a genius, it still totally destroys her world when her parents are unexpectedly killed in an automobile accident, as it would for any of us.

For a time, her obsession with the number 7, and all things about plants help her to keep things in focus as she descends inside her personal shell.

An acquaintance that she met in the school counselor’s office takes Willow home with her when she hears about the accident. Only then does Willow realize that some people live in conditions very different from her own. Mai has taken her home to live with them in the garage.

Through many interesting and interconnected events an assortment of people become friends and rely upon one another as family members often do. The extra steps they all take to help care for Willow brings out strengths and qualities they didn’t know they had.

It is a heart breaking story for a while, but then the tiny roots and shoots of hope spring out as this unusual assortment of people save a community garden as well as a young girl.

The short sentences, compact scenes and brief dialogue make this a strong independent read for grade five students. The multi-cultural make-up of the supporting characters would help in meeting core curriculum standards as would the realistic societal differences between them. It is a wonderful story that would hold meaning for readers far beyond grade five.

  • Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
  • Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • ISBN: 978-0803738553
  • Publisher: Dial, August 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover, 384 pages

A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World

Edited by Catherine Schuon and Michael Fitzgerald
Illustrated by Catherine Schuon

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A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World is the story of Jesus Christ that is divided into three parts: his birth, his childhood, and his teachings. [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/193778603X/nosim?tag=5thgrade-20″] Buy on Amazon [/button] For Schuon and Fitzgerald this book comes from their own passion and represents many years of dedicated, selfless devotion to creating a work of art that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas that is intended for the whole family from the pre-schooler, to the second grader reader through teens to adults.

What makes this book universal for Christian readers all over the world is the selection of art that comes far and wide from Russia, Italy, England, Germany, China, the Netherlands, Macedonia, and even from the hands of Catherine Schuon. A list of the illustrations, the time they were painted and by whom, as well as the location where they hang can be found at the back of the book.

A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World is an heirloom book you will want to read aloud with your family every Christmas and pass down to future generations. Every detail from the tiniest of considerations is thoughtfully executed from the selection of artwork to the large font and insertion of more common expressions to ensure that readers of all ages will understand some of the archaic text taken directly from the King James bible, written and completed in the year 1611.

To learn more about Catherine Schuon, please go to: www.worldwisdom.com/public/authors/Catherine-Schuon.aspx

To learn more about Michael Fitzgerald, please go to:
www.worldwisdom.com/public/authors/Michael-Fitzgerald.aspx

To view sample pages of A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World, please go to: www.wisdomtalespress.com/books/childrens_books/978-1-937786-03-8-A_King_James_Christmas.shtml
[learn_more caption=”Bibliographic Information”]

  • A King James ChristmasTitle: A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World
  • Author: from the King James bible
  • Edited by: Catherine Schuon and Michael Oren Fitzgerald
  • Illustrator: Various including paintings by Catherine Schuon
  • Publisher: Wisdom Tales
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 68 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-937786-03-8
  • Genre: Christian, holiday, Christmas
  • Lexile Score: 1020

[/learn_more]

The Thing about Luck

Written by Cynthia Kadohata
Illustrated by Julio Kuo

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Summer is a believer in the old saying, “If I Didn’t Have Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck At All.” She has had malaria, her parents have been called back to Japan to care for ill, elderly  grandparents and there isn’t enough money to pay the mortgage. So now she has to leave school to work at harvesting crops with her grandparents.

Summer and her little brother, who seemingly suffers from some form of autism, go along with Obaachan and Jichan (Grandmother and Grandfather) to help harvest wheat in the Midwest of America for the late summer months. Grandfather drives a combine while Grandmother and Summer cook meals for the workers. They all work for twelve, fourteen and sixteen hour days.

This is a story of immigrant workers in the Midwest and gives readers a flavor for that almost migratory life style. It is also a multicultural story as the family is Japanese American and that combination of cultures shows through in language, habits and foods.

Grandmother and Grandfather are getting too old to work such long hard hours, but if the work isn’t done before the rains come, they won’t get paid. In the middle of one night when Grandfather is worn out with work and Grandmother is overwhelmed by pain, Summer realizes it is up to her to save the day. She needs to do something that scares her, but she finds her courage, follows through and succeeds.

This is a good book for crossing core curriculum with social studies and science. In social studies to study crops, parts of the country and growing seasons. In science to study mosquitoes, the spread of disease and the moisture level of grains.

Literacy skills enhanced include reading for information as students learn how a combine works, where mosquitoes live and breed as well as which ones carry malaria. Students will also enjoy the inclusion of Japanese words, names and terms.

Summer works at overcoming her fear of mosquitoes by drawing detailed sketches of them in order to tell apart the males and females. The book includes beautiful detailed sketches of mosquitoes. It is an interesting coping strategy that could be discussed in book clubs or classes.

  • Thing about LuckTitle: The Thing about Luck
  • Author: Cynthia Kadohata
  • Illustrator: Julio Kuo
  • Publisher: Atheneum, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 290 pages
  • ISBN:  1416918825
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade Level 5
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