Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries

Written by Elizabeth MacLeod

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How did King Tut die? Who was the man in the Iron Mask? Who killed the Mayan royal family? Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries probes into these mysteries and more through the lens of forensic analysis. This book, aimed at the fifth grade level, builds on the intrigue of ancient murder, disappearing royalty, sabotage, and other crimes. It will appeal to history enthusiasts as well as those with an analytical mind who enjoy solving puzzles.

Seven historical puzzles are presented in separate chapters. Each begins with a “Crime-Solver’s Arsenal” blurb that addresses one forensic tool or technique (such as DNA analysis, deductive reasoning, medical imagery) used by modern investigators to delve into age old conundrums. The mystery itself is presented in a you-are-there voice and includes sensory details that bring the story to life but make this section feel fictionalized. Historical information is presented in two sections of varying length, followed by sections on clues, suspects/speculation, and verdict.

Bones Never Lie hooks readers with the gruesome deaths of the past and allows them to see the value of deductive reasoning, analyzing all the evidence, questioning the source of information and the use of technology in a historical context. As is true with many crimes, a number of the mysteries in the book are unresolved. This may disappoint readers, but has the advantage of exposing readers to the many historical questions which remain to be solved.

Upon first reading, readers may be confused by the non-chronological presentation of the mysteries. This approach allows MacLeod to sequence the book by forensic technique, building conceptually from the more well-known archeological techniques to the more complex DNA analysis.

The text is visually supported by historical photographs (portraits of individuals, photos of letters, etc.), images of modern technology (CT scans, models of DNA, etc), spot art in the margins, and eye-catching chapter openers (an ashen foot with a tag attached,  a hand holding a pistol, etc). Although the spot art of a microscope, test tubes, latex gloves, an evidence bag and more works well in the first chapter, it is repeated throughout the book with no obvious connection to the text it accompanies. It loses its positive effect. Informative sidebars are placed within the frame of an electronic device such as a tablet, a graphic probably intended to appeal to readers interest in current technology, but this technique seemed forced at times.

Teachers might choose to use the book to support curriculum on the fifth grade level and higher as the concepts, vocabulary, reading level and comprehension will challenge upper elementary and some middle school students. Bones Never Lie could also used as for teaching the usefulness of a timeline, index, glossary, and other components found in informational texts. The concept of using grim riddles from the past, combined with intriguing crime-solving tools of the present is the strength of the book and may be just the hook for students entranced by recent forensic shows on television.

  • Bones Never LieTitle:  Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries
  • Author:  Elizabeth MacLeod
  • Publisher: Annick Press
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Paperback: 156 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-482-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, history, forensics

 

The True Story of Miracle Man

Written by Lois Szymanski

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Miracle Man didn’t start out with his stars in alignment. If he hadn’t been discovered, apparently abandoned on Assateague Island, and then captured and taken to the Leonard family’s ranch, this book wouldn’t be a testament to his legacy. Fifth and sixth grade horse lovers will be drawn to this story based on true events of a Chincoteague pony’s return to health after weeks of fever from an infection in his leg. The ‘miracle’ in his name refers to his unlikely survival after all the standard medical measures have been taken and nature is left to take its course. His young care-taker, Cynthia Leonard, dubs his recovery a miracle and re-names him accordingly.  An interesting afterword includes a newspaper clipping of the original story along with a recounting of another of Miracle Man’s legendary accomplishments years later.

Although the book’s overall size is more like a picture book, inside the text is dense, presented in double columns with a small font. This may be off-putting to younger readers. Dedicated horse fans and fans of Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteque series won’t be put off however. The color photos, all showing the main character as a full-grown horse are nice.  A glossary is included.

The author is a longtime horse lover. You can read about her here; http://loisszymanski.weebly.com/author-bio.html

To learn more about Assateague Island where Miracle Man now lives you can look here:http://www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/horses.htm

If you want to read more about the Chincoteague ponies from Assateague Island with their names, look here:http://www.chincoteague.com/ponies-by-name.html

  • True Story of Miracle ManTitle: The True Story of Miracle Man
  • Author: Lois Szymanski
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hardcover: 47 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4420-6
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, Animals

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice

Written by Chris Moriarty

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The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a fun, complex, and delightful mystery chapter book for fifth grade level readers and above. The story involves early twentieth-century New York atmosphere and history fictionalized to keep the reader engaged in the activities of the main character, Sacha Kessler, who has the keen ability to see witches and witness magic. These skills are of utmost importance to the police department’s star inquisitor, Maximillian Wolf.

Sacha’s abilities earn him the apprenticeship to the police department and he becomes one of the main investigators to find who wants to kill Thomas Edison. This investigation leads the fifth grade reader on a wild adventure through New York City’s finest neighborhoods where magic prevails in most interesting and secret ways. The story weaves Jewish history and language into the plot, making this a spring board for further lessons on Jewish culture and history, always a great plus for teachers of 5th grade level students.

Although the author includes additional information regarding the parts of New York history that has been fictionalized, the 5th grade level reader will come away with a feeling of knowing more about New York and it’s famous Jewish neighborhoods. And even those students who don’t like reading about witches and magic will enjoy the overall mystery and detective work that the main character encounters.

The book has a twist at the end, and the 5th grade reader will come away with more experience in reading and comprehension of a complex plot, reading fictionalized and interesting history, and how magic and superstition plays an important part in the lives of many. The fifth grade reader will also come away  wanting more of the main character and his inquisitor apprenticeship activities. Kudos to the author for writing what this grade level wants to read. This book is a great addition to the 5th grade level classroom library.

  • Inquisitors ApprenticeTitle: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
  • Author: Chris Moriarty
  • Illustrations: Mark Edward Geyer
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-5813-4
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Edition: Hardback, 345 pages
  • Genre: Juvenile fiction, mystery, magic

Samphire Song

Written by Jill Hucklesby 

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The summary for Samphire Song doesn’t begin to tell teachers and parents or students the heartfelt emotional story Ms. Hucklesby tells within the pages of this novel. Fourteen year old Jodie has many family issues she keeps inside and working with the horses is where she best fits in. From the very first page the author sucks the reader in with all five senses and a realistic feel for being nose to nose with the horses.

What 5th grade level reader doesn’t love horses and wouldn’t be able to relate to having at least one issue with their personal family situations? Samphire Song is an excellent example of fiction where fifth graders and higher level readers will be totally engaged in the story from beginning to end.

The book is written with a complexity of emotions yet with easy to comprehend clear sentences and paragraphs making this a good book to use when teaching 5th grade readers the skill of writing too. Characters are well rounded and realistic, the plot is one that students can relate to, and the crisp writing is excellent examples of the use language.

Samphire Song is well worth adding to a home, school, or fifth grade classroom and is suitable for girls or boys even though the main character is female. The experiences and emotions so cleverly described  for the 5th grade reader are clearly understood by either gender.  The family issues within the plot also make a great opportunity for teachers or parents to discuss feelings and choices within the classroom setting.

The publisher website offers more information about this and other fine books for 5th grade level readers at www.albertwhitman.com

  • Samphire SongTitle: Samphire Song
  • Author: Jill Hucklesby
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer:  Terri Forehand
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-7224-5
  • Edition: Hardback, 287 pgs
  • Genre: Juvenile-Fiction, Horses, Family problems

 

 

Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer

Written and Photographed by  Mary Holland

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The photos will draw you in. A fox kit, that is a baby fox, has to be one of the cutest animals on Earth. In this picture essay, we follow a baby fox, named Ferdinand, through the spring and summer romps — including playing with siblings, and foraging for food. The writing is good, but it is really the pictures that will turn the pages. We see Ferdinand start as a ball of fluff and progress to a competent young fox, ready to hunt on his own and wrestle his meal to the ground.

The subject matter will appeal to young readers, but the writing is a little high for them. I’m sure the lexile system blanched at the three-syllable name. However, Mary Holland also wrote in long sentences, some with multiple clauses. While this will work when the book is read aloud, as a book for newly independent readers it may be challenging. At the same time, it will be a lovely choice for young children who are advanced readers in younger grades, and as well as a good read-at-your-desk book for kids in fifth and sixth grade.

Besides following young Ferdinand, we learn the growth pattern of foxes and why their ears, nose, whiskers, etc. are important. Holland easily mixes information about the specific fox named Ferdinand and the more general information about foxes. She writes carefully about their motivation, and does not anthropomorphize (with the obvious exception of the name Ferdinand). The foxes’ motives are attributed to basic needs, such as hunger and warmth. At the same time, the images present us with a playful kit who has joy rippling through his body. Mary Holland doesn’t say Ferdinand is happy, his picture, however does.

See extra activities online at  www.SylvandellPublishing.com

and visit Mary Holland’s blog naturallycuriouswithMaryHolland.wordpress.com.

  • Ferdinand FoxTitle: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer
  • Author: Mary Holland
  • Illustrator: Photos by Mary Holland
  • Publisher: Sylvan Dell
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-60718-6267
  • Genre: nonfiction: picture book

 

 

 

The Zebra Forest

Written by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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The zebra forest outside of eleven-year old Annie’s house begs for stories. The zebra stripes are white birch trees and dark oaks, making a cozy setting for Annie and her younger brother Rew to tell each other stories. They retell the books they’ve read, and then Annie makes up new ones, putting their father into the plot. In the stories, their father is a hero that they’d like to meet. But they know that is impossible because Gran told them the one thing they know about their father: he was killed by an angry man who was sent away. That is all the children ever asked since that much information sent Gran into a two-day brooding fit. But then a prison break changes their lives. With an escapee invading the house, Annie and Rew have to re-think everything they thought they knew —their stories, their relationships, and what makes up right and wrong. Even in a zebra-striped forest, nothing is as black and white as they originally thought.

While the vocabulary makes the book accessible to younger children, the storyline requires a more mature reading level. It will be enjoyable and useful for fifth-graders and up who are starting to understand subtlety instead of absolutes in rights and wrongs. This is Adina Rishe Gewirtz’s debut novel, yet it fits in well with the genre of work epitomized by Lois Lowry’s Gossamer and Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, where resilient children figure out how to grow stronger in less then perfect homes.
Zebra Forest

  • Title: Zebra Forest
  • Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6041-3
  • Genre: Realistic fiction

The Vine Basket

Written by Josanne La Valley

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Appropriate for those on a fifth grade reading level, The Vine Basket will appeal to those interested in learning about cultures in exotic lands. The unique setting – a rural community on the fringe of the Taklamaken Desert in East Turkestan (i.e., a little known region in China) – of this novel will expand the world view of just about any reader. It could be a useful addition to fifth grade social studies curriculum.

After her older brother fled the family after involvement in a protest against oppressive Chinese government, young Mehrigul is pulled from school to labor on her family farm. She dreams of returning to school, studying hard and getting a job in a museum to tell the story of her people, the Uyghur (pronounced wee gur). Deeply steeped in Uyghur culture, her family is trapped between the demands of the Chinese cadre and their basic needs. Fourteen-year-old Mehrigul shoulders the everyday burdens that her depressed ana (mother) and bitter ata (father) refuse to take responsibility for.

Mehrigul’s deepest fear is that she will be sent off to the factories to work, far from her family and her people. Her motivation is to protect her younger sister and to spare her from a hard life.  When one of Mehrigul’s  baskets is noticed and purchased by an American tourist, she gains hope. Her grandfather can be her mentor and teacher her the family tradition of basketry, but her father stands in her way. His refusal to allow her to work on or sell baskets feels like tyranny and, with much guilt, Mehrigul weaves baskets in secret.

This is the story of a young girl striving to prove herself to her family and herself. Although it presents universal concepts, The Vine Basket will be best for readers whose comprehension will not be challenged by foreign words and foreign concepts. This book, La Valley’s debut novel, portrays a little known ethnic struggle through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old.  It successfully provides a window into the Uyghur culture and illustrates how a challenging situation can bring a family together.

  • Vine BasketTitle: The Vine Basket
  • Author: Josanne La Valley
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Hardcover/ 256 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547848013
  • Genre: Novel, contemporary
  • Lexile Score: 950

Malcolm at Midnight

Written by W.H. Beck

Illustrated by Brian Lies

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Any child who has dreamed of communing with the animals will be entranced by Malcolm at Midnight, a charming novel which will find its way onto many fifth grade reading lists. This first novel by W. H. Beck portrays a world full of talking animals (class pets who leave their cages at night) who form the Midnight Academy to protect the humans at their school.

The hero of the story, Malcolm, is a rat. He’s the most personable rat you have ever met, and a clever one at that; Malcolm knows how to read. Endearing illustrations by Brian Lies will make you love him even more. As Malcolm settles into his new life at school, he faces the usual challenges – a nasty stereotype, a bully, a club into which he strives to be accepted – and the not so usual – the ghost of McKenna School.

When the club leader, a wise iguana who wears red reading glasses, disappears and Malcolm becomes the main suspect, he is forced to turn to “nutters” (children) for help. But Malcolm has grander problems than a hulking cat and an angry gang of pets on the loose. This tender-heart cringes whenever someone refers to his kind as “skuzzy rat finks.” You see, under-sized Malcolm has been mistaken for a cute mouse, and he has not yet owned up to his own rattiness. In order to become the “rat of valor and merit” of his dreams, Malcolm must prove the value of his own kind, first to himself and then to others.

Beck’s clever use of footnotes keeps the reader guessing about who the narrator actually is while also offering definitions of unknown words disguised as classroom vocabulary. Students will particularly enjoy the similes and metaphors referencing universal challenges (dealing with a hyper classmate), tough issues (letting down your teacher) and familiar settings (the smell of the lunch room). This nearly seemless portrayal of school life makes sense when you learn that the author is a school librarian. A true educator, Beck provides a number of resources to enhance school curriculum, including a school floor plan, a trailer, author interviews and a teaching guide on her website (http://www.whbeck.com/).

Because it addresses self-worth and standard school issues, Malcolm at Midnight is a great read for those on the fifth grade reading level, including younger readers who are not ready for heavier content. This book will also work well as a classroom or family read aloud.

  • Malcolm at MidnightTitle: Malcolm at Midnight
  • Written by W.H. Beck
  • Illustrated by Brian Lies
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Hardcover/ 272 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547681009
  • Genre: Novel, contemporary, mystery, humor
  • Lexile Score: 700

The Center of Everything

Written by Linda Urban

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Ruby Pepperdine stands in the center of a chalk-drawn circle at the Bunning Day parade and waits to read her winning essay in front of the whole town. Today may be the celebration of the late Captain Bunning (town founder and inventor of the donut hole), but Ruby’s more preoccupied with the hole in her heart. She’s supposed to be the girl everyone can count on, the one who figures things out. But now everything is messed up. Her best friend, Lucy, is mad at her. She has insulted Nero, the inquisitive boy who only wanted to help. And, worst of all, she still grieves for her grandmother, Gigi, and feels guilty because she didn’t listen to her when she had the chance.

Ruby would do anything to travel back in time and fix her mistakes. That’s why she’s pinning her hopes on this essay and the wish she made on her twelfth birthday. Flashbacks explain the events that led up to this moment, and now, as Ruby waits for the parade to reach her, she feels this is her last chance make herself whole again.

This warm, intelligent book offers more reflection than action and is just right for fifth graders who are beginning to make connections between themselves and the world around them. The story’s non-linear plot and alternate points-of-view will strengthen their reading skills. Urban creates realistic characters that middle-grade readers can relate to and nails the small-town feel of (fictional) Bunning, New Hampshire. With themes of friendship, family, destiny, and its circular imagery (from donuts to color wheels and concentric pond ripples), this is a recommended choice for a book club or classroom reading groups. (www.lindaurbanbooks.com)

  • Center of EverythingTitle: The Center of Everything
  • Author: Linda Urban
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 197 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-76348-4
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 670

Assassins, Traitors, and Spies

Written by Elaine Landau

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This collection of twelve short biographies highlights a cast of historical characters notorious for their hostile actions against the United States. The high-interest content written for pre-teens and early teens is sure to interest casual and curious readers of all sorts. It’s written for just that purpose, although most of the names will likely be unfamiliar to the intended audience. The author does an excellent job of pulling readers in with relevant questions and a snappy tone.

The choices are varied, ranging from a Southern teenaged girl, who spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War, to a young American man who joined the Taliban. The brief biographies stay focused on the specific event and  are organized chronologically beginning during the Revolutionary war with Benedict Arnold and stretching into this century with the likes of John Walker Lindh, Anna Chapman, and Robert Hanssen. (The most sinister mass murders are not included.)  Some of the biographees are either FBI or CIA agents who played roles as both traitor and spy.

Each spread includes several photos (color when available) with captions and occasional insets that define a word or add extra information.  The double-paged treatments are light on details and written to engage readers at about the fifth grade level. Older readers at a lower reading level and slightly younger readers will find this title intriguing as well. The introductory coverage may trigger further reading on the topic or individuals. A list of ‘Further Reading’ will head readers in the right direction.

The author has written hundreds of other books. You can learn more about her and her books at her website: http://www.elainelandau.com

This website gives more information on the CIA: https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/index.html

This website “Mrs. Covert’s Spy Lessons and Spy Links”has lots of links on all different aspects of spying: http://www.simegen.com/writers/rabbit/spying_lessons.htm

  • Assassins Traitors and SpiesTitle: Assassins, Traitors, and Spies
  • Author: Elaine Landau
  • Publisher: Lerner Publications
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0608-7
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, U.S. History,  Biography
  • Lexile Score: 600
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