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

Seeing Red

Written by Kathryn Erskine

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After his father dies, Red, a twelve-year-old boy is tries to find a way to get his mother to let the family stay in Stony Gap and run his father’s auto shop. Of course, his motivation goes beyond the business itself. This is the only place Red has ever known and all of his friends are here, as is his great grandfather’s desk with his very own name carved on it.

Woven throughout this coming-of-age story is the story of America’s coming of age through civil rights. Red becomes embroiled with the wrong gang and finds himself stuck gagged and bound watching his friend of a different race beaten and nearly lynched. Red cannot believe that the separation between the races is still a problem in the 70’s.

He learns a lot about himself, his family and his country while learning to become his own man. Book clubs, fifth grade reading classes and older classes studying the Civil Right movements will find this a spellbinding read.

Teachers and librarians, as well as parents, can use this as an excellent read aloud to lead to discussions about tracing family trees and maybe not liking everything found in that past. Ideas like courage, truthfulness, honor and knowledge will be topics of conversation involving this story, individual families and contemporary life. Readers might give thought to what they would be willing to do in standing up for friends and/or strangers of other races.

Literacy skills strengthened throughout this text include, but are not limited to: inferential details, comprehension, main idea, supporting details, plot development, character development, dialogue and setting.

This book could also be used successfully for a readers’ theater by appointing a different reader for each speaking part within a chapter.

  • Seeing RedTitle: Seeing Red
  • Author: Kathryn Erskine
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-46440-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel

Written by Deborah Hopkinson

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Eel is an orphaned boy on the streets of London with a precious secret to keep and a vile-tempered criminal stepfather searching for him. He sleeping under bridges and works as a “mudlark,” foraging what he can out of the filthy Thames River to sell.

In August of 1854, Mr. Griggs, a local tailor who treats Eel kindly and lets him do odd jobs for pence, gets ill suddenly. Only days later, he becomes more ill, turning his face and lips a blue hue just before he dies. Neighbors know it is the cholera, known as blue death, that has come to the hot, humid city. Most people of the time period believe that sickness is caused by the bad air.

Not Dr. John Snow (a real physician), he believes the deadly disease is carried in the water. He gets Eel to help him interrogate the neighbors who have lost family members, draw maps of the city and try to convince the town leaders to disable one centrally located water pump before the whole city dies.

The story is filled with intrigue, excitement and the scientific method put to work. Eel and his friends are instrumental in solving the life threatening riddle.

Literacy skills required to enjoy this novel are cause and effect, parts to whole relationships, main ideas with supporting details and separating fact from fiction. This book will work well for science book clubs as well as history and English classes. Librarians will want to include it in middle grade book clubs to discuss how science had to deal with myths and legends to help people realize that some illnesses were within their power to avoid and contain.

Extras: Endpages contain the timeline of the Broad Street Cholera Epidemic, Author’s Note, Related Reading Resources

  • Great TroubleTitle: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel
  • Author: Deborah Hopkinson
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 249 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-375-84818-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Other Side of Free

Written by Krista Russell

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The year is 1739, the location northern Florida near the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Thirteen- year-old fugitive slave Jem has just arrived from Charles Town in the Carolinas with Phaedra, a feisty black runaway woman, who has been “paid” by Jem’s caregiver, conjure woman Aunt Winnie, to escort Jem to Florida and look after him.
Why would Jem and Phaedra want to go to Florida?  Florida was controlled by the Spanish government. Spain had offered freedom to English colonial slaves if they fled the British colonies, swore to assist the Spanish in defeating the British, and converted to Catholicism. A group of fugitives lived at Fort Mose, just outside the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. About the same time, a slave uprising occurred along the Stono River near the Florida-Georgia border. The British colonists slaughtered or sold many rebels.

Krista Russell, according to her website, writes “stories of adventure that bring history to life.” She has succeeded in this case. Once Jem and Phaedra arrive at Fort Mose, the adventures begin: rescuing an owl, meeting the trader Reynard, learning to fish and hunt the Indian way from Domingo, arrival of other fugitives, encounters in the forest, threats from the British, scarce supplies, preparing for battle, and the battle.
The story line drags a bit at the beginning, but reaches a flashpoint and firepower speed when Jem spies several British soldiers, and British ships blockade the St. Augustine harbor. All the fugitives gather in the Castillo for safety, but supplies are low. Jem learns about what the British have done to Fort Mose. Consequently, the Spanish authorities develop a plan to defeat the British soldiers at Fort Mose based on Jem’s reports.

The characters are many and diverse, each having his own story to enrich the general narrative. Jem is an immature and naïve thirteen, resentful of strong willed Phaedra and missing Aunt Winnie. Jem’s and Phaedra’s strong stubborn wills clash. Phaedra’s history remains a mystery until the final chapters. Reynard, the trader, adds the historical details about the importance of trading with the Indians and the British and American colonists, not only providing goods but also news. Big Sunday is the leader of the slaves and connection to the Native Americans via his son Domingo and connection to the Spanish governor and general who live in St. Augustine. General Rooster is what the slaves have nicknamed General Rojas who trains the fugitives to help fight off the British. Shadrack is the old conjure man who is the fort charcoal maker.

Interspersed throughout is the owl, Omen, that Jem rescues from his nest when he observes crows attacking the owlet. Phaedra dislikes and resents the owlet and the time Jem  spends feeding it, mending it, teaching it how to fly, and, finally, hunting for itself. However, Omen teaches Jem about the forest and the ways of the forest that help Jem provide information during the siege

Several strands of the narrative seem extraneous.  While Jem thinks about his Aunt Winnie, he remembers her stories, the stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and tells them to Omen. General Rojas propositions Phaedra, who rebuffs him. Why is that short episode needed in a story for middle grade readers?  Could other descriptions, examples, information have been used to establish the personalities of Rojas and Phaedra? Neither does the element of conjuring, while providing additional richness to the African-American culture, seem to be necessary to the forward movement of the general thesis.

Few books have been written for upper elementary/middle school readers about this period and location in America history. Most emphasis has been on the British colonies and the use of slaves on the southern plantations. Historians now consider the Fort Mose site and the flight of the slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia as the precursor of the Underground Railroad that took many slaves to safety in the north or to Canada. Russell’s previous book Chasing the Nightbird was a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2012; Other Side of Free will probably also be included in that honor listing.

Extras: Author website kristarussell.com
Fort Mose Historic State Park: www.floridastateparks.org/fortmose
Castillo De San Marcos:  www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm;
Stono River Slave Rebellion Site: www.discoversouthcarolina.com/products/3566.aspx

  • Other Side of FreeTitle: The Other Side of Free
  • Author: Krista Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-710-6
  • Reading level: 4.9

Prettiest Doll

Written by Gina Willner-Pardo

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A coming-of age story and a story of self-acceptance and acceptance of the world are all packed into this novel. Teens and preteens will appreciate its ease of comprehension.

Liv, Olivia Jean to her Mom, has grown up in the world of beauty pageants. She entered her first pageant when she was three years old. She is thirteen now, a ten-year veteran of the pageant universe, and tired already of its incessant demands and restrictions. This is not how she wants to spend her life.:

 

Then I stared at the mirror some more. It was the weirdest thing. I wasn’t there. I had disappeared. Suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath. It was like being underwater or buried in the ground, the feeling I had — that I was invisible, that I could scream and no one would hear.

 

She recognizes her mother’s struggles, but does not want to live her mother’s dreams. Into this world comes Danny, a seventeen year old who looks like he is ten. Danny’s mother also has dreams for her son’s life, whether he shares those dreams or not. He leaves home, hoping to make his way in the world.

Liv sees that as a way to escape her mother’s demands. She leaves a note for her mother and joins Danny on his journey. But running away is not the only answer. What the two learn about the world, and about their own strengths and capabilities is what gives this book its depth.  Sure to bolster the reading skills of young readers.

Additional information:

Author Bio: http://ginawillnerpardo.com/bio.shtml

  • Prettiest DollTitle: Prettiest Doll
  • Author: Gina Willner-Pardo
  • Publisher: Clarion Books, 2012
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  240 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-68170-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 680
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