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

Zoe Kravitz : X-Men’s Amazing Angel

Written by Sandy Donovan

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Fans of Zoe Kravitz, a.k.a. Angel Salvadore, will be thrilled with this addition to the Pop Culture Bios – Action Movie Stars series. Kravitz is included here because of her role in the 2011, X-Men: First Class addition to the popular X-Men movie series. If readers haven’t been paying attention, they will be surprised to discover Kravitz has been leading a busy acting, singing and modeling career since her senior year in high school. Her famous parents (Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet known for her role in “The Cosby Show”) haven’t hindered her quick rise to the top. She is presented as a strong role model for young teens and as the book makes clear, Kravitz is on her own path to success which includes studying acting at the State University of New York.

She continuously challenges herself by looking for roles that stretch her comfort zone and then keeps herself grounded with strong ties to her extended family with whom she talks daily. “I can literally tell them everything, which is great.” Peppered with quotes, photos and sidebars packed with related information, this title pulls scattered information about the star’s life into one neat package. Upcoming projects are mentioned and current boyfriends are listed. Readers at the seventh grade level will digest this title easily and many fifth grade and sixth grade readers and fans will be interested as well. A list of related websites are included in the book.

  • Zoe KravitzTitle: Zoe Kravitz : X-Men’s Amazing Angel
  • Author: Sandy Donovan
  • Publisher: Lerner Publications
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0747-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
  • Lexile Score: 890

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Written by Ian Fleming

Illustrated by Joe Berger

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A splendid adventure story in the best British tradition! After four opening paragraphs explaining that not all cars are mere conglomerations of steel and wire and rubber and plastic (thus priming even the youngest first and second graders to expect a tale of a very special car) the real story begins, as all fairy tales have begun since times immemorial: “Once upon a time….

There was a family called Pott. There was father Caractacus, mother Mimsie, and twins, Jeremy and Jemima, and they lived together perfectly happily in a house in the woods beside a big lake, with the main motorway running all the way to the sea on the other side of the lake. So they could travel to far away places. But, they do not own a car, nor have the money to buy one.

How they get Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and how the car gets that name, are interesting stories in themselves. Suffice to say, broken down wreck (splendid, magical) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arrives in their lives, and soon becomes a member of the family. They are off on wondrous adventures for as Papa Potts says, “ Never say no to adventures. Always say yes. Otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a car with a heart (willingly given to the family that saved her from the wrecker’s yard). She is now responsible for her family and races to their rescue whenever she perceives them in danger, whether they recognize they are in danger or not. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the book is a classic that belongs on all reading lists.

Additional Resources: 

http://www.chittybangbang.com/chittybangbang-book.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTTzcXSLjhI

  • Chitty Chitty Bang BangTitle: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Author: Ian Fleming
  • Illustrator: Joe Berger
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6666-8
  • Genre: Novels
  • Lexile Score: NR

A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X

Written by Matt Doeden

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Aimed at readers at the fifth grade reading level and up, A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X written by Matt Doeden is a well researched and thorough account of the contributions and controversy surrounding the life of Malcolm X, the civil rights activist born Malcolm Little.

Coupled with photos of historical significance and laid out in colors of black, white, and blood red, A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X begins with a concise introduction of Malcolm’s assassination and closes with an epilogue that highlights his legacy. Sandwiched between the introduction and epilogue is the meat of Doeden’s research. It consists of five chapters that detail how Malcolm became the man he was and why his life ended tragically: The Making of a Leader, A Racist Nation, Violent Opposition, Gunned Down, and The Aftermath.

For fifth grade readers and up preparing reports and presentations on Malcolm’s life, Doeden provides additional useful information that includes: a relevant timeline, comprehensive source notes, a glossary of key words and phrases, a selected bibliography, a list of organizations for further information, an index, as well as some short biographies of other key people relevant to Malcolm’s life, existence, and what he stood for.

Every school, public, and private library should carry A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X by Matt Doeden. Although geared for children, Doeden has presented the facts in a balanced manner that will not only appeal to young adults, but will also inform them of the courage some had to fight and die for the civil rights that exist today.

  • Marked ManTitle: A Marked Man: The Assassination of Malcolm X
  • Author: Matt Doeden
  • Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-5484-0
  • Genre: nonfiction, history, biography
  • Lexile Score: 960

You’ve Got Spirit: Cheers, Chants, Tips and Tricks Every Cheerleader Needs to Know

Written by Sara R. Hunt
Illustrated by Lisa Perrett

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A guide to what you need to become a successful cheerleader. Beginning with a history of cheerleading, this book shows cheer gear, different motions and stunts, and includes traditional cheers and chants. It also emphasizes good habits for succeeding in cheerleading and life: eating healthy, building team spirit, hair and nail care, both on and off the field, even tips on having a successful tryout. Skills that are valuable in cheering include enthusiasm, commitment, even listening. So even if your young reader does not make the squad, she will gain some insight into how to succeed.

This is an accessible introduction to the world of cheerleading. There is a constant emphasis on safety and reminders to get a coach for specific instructions for doing the stunts, letting the reader know that athleticism is expected of a cheerleader. There is also a section on how to put hair into the perfect ponytail and making cheer bows, so this is definitely a girl book.

The photographs are lively and the whimsical diagrams act as a picture dictionary of cheer terminology. The book includes a glossary, a bibliography of both fiction and non-fiction titles, a list of websites and an index.

Even though this book has a reading level of 6.2, its general information will appeal to a younger reader and makes it a good choice to read to a younger book buddy. Because of its clear table of contents, a student could easily make an outline of the book’s content as a literacy activity. There are downloadable activities at the publisher’s website: (https://www.lernerbooks.com/products/t/12456/9780761386346/youve-got-spirit).
Youve Got Spirit

  • TITLE: You’ve Got Spirit: Cheers, Chants, Tips and Tricks Every Cheerleader Needs to Know
  • AUTHOR: Sara R. Hunt
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Lisa Perrett
  • PUBLISHER: Millbrook/Lerner, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 48 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-8634-6
  • GENRE: Non-fiction, sports
  • LEXILE: 1000
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