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

Taylor Swift: Music Superstar

Written by Jeff Burlingame

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Taylor Swift proves that a young person can achieve big things.  In spite of all her accomplishments, she remains down-to-earth.  She believes she owes everything to her fans and she stays accessible to them by social media and talking with them one-on-one after performances.  Her life experiences are woven into all of her songs and her fans feel like her songs could be about their own experiences.  She began singing, acting and writing early in her life because she loved them.  She won a national poetry contest in the fourth grade which naturally led to songwriting.  She also showed business sense at a young age.  When she was eleven, she and her family traveled to Nashville where she took homemade CDs of her singing karaoke and she dropped them off at record label offices.  No one called, but she proved she was persistent.  When she was fourteen, Taylor was offered a contract with RCA.  She tried working with them for a year, but she felt they wanted to categorize her so she walked away from renewing her contract.  She played everywhere she could and after one performance, a man approached her.  He wanted to start a new record label and he wanted to sign her, promising her she could sing her own songs and follow her artistic vision.  It was a good collaboration.  She sold million of recordings, began winning awards and shooting up to the top.

This easy-to-read biography is full of quotes and personal stories, analyzing the different aspects of her successful career.  Readers will enjoy the many color photos.  The reading level makes this a good choice for a Powerpoint presentation or an audio book.  The publisher’s website has Core Curriculum literacy activities for another book in the series, but it could easily be adapted to use with this book: (http://www.enslow.com/product_images/worksheets/EducatorsGuide/9781598452853_tg.pdf).
Taylor Swift

  • TITLE: Taylor Swift: Music Superstar
  • AUTHOR: Jeff Burlingame
  • PUBLISHER: Enslow, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 48 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-286-0
  • GENRE: Biography, celebrity
  • LEXILE: 840

Look Up- Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard

Written and Illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate

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Bird watching is not the first sport that comes to mind with 5th grade level readers but after reading Look Up – Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard 5th grade readers will think again. This fun and informative book is written and illustrated like a comic book, yet it gives loads of fun facts and information for students and teachers.

Teachers who want to include bird watching into a science curriculum would do well to add this book to the classroom library. The fun graphic caricature illustrations will have even the reluctant 5th grade level reader looking up the little known facts about bird beaks and feet. The author does a bang up job of keeping the reader turning the page because she includes comment clouds that give the reader a sense of laughter and humor, not always found in nonfiction elementary level books allowing the birds to have their say. Students will appreciate the laugh making learning fun.

This book for the 5th grade level reader covers not only beaks and feet, but feathers, habitats, eating habits, and many other exciting facts about all kinds of birds. Feather coloring, mating, lifespans, and any number of other interesting but unknown facts about birds may keep kids interested but the 5th grade level reader will also gain skills in observation and documenting these in a bird watching journal.

This book assists teachers in offering many ideas for classroom activities and also homework assignments that will help students take what they are learning and go out and bird watch for fun. It is a rare gift to find a nonfiction book for the 5th grade level learner that not only teaches, but entertains. This is a definite addition to any classroom that teaches science and animal facts for the 5th grade reader.
Look Up

  • Title:Look Up- Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard
  • Author/ Illustrator: Annette LeBlanc Cate
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press 2013
  • Hardcover: 53 pages
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Nonfiction/Juvenile
  • Lexile: 1000

Desert Baths

Written by Darcy Pattison

Illustrated by Kathleen Rietz

Outstanding Science Trade Book 2013 by National Science Teacher’s Association and the Children’s Book Council (click for more info)

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We are so conditioned to the idea of bathing as a water activity, that the thought of a bath without water seems strange. But there are cultures where bathing with oil is commonplace, and the word water-bath is an accepted part of the vocabulary.

The book lists twelve different ways of bathing. While fifth grade readers would be intrigued by the concept of a dust bath, or an ant bath, the adults in their life can make a convincing argument for cleanliness by pointing out that even animals find ways to keep clean.

And what fascinating ways: bathing in the dewdrops (Anna’s hummingbirds), ant bathing (scaled quail), licking the eyeballs to keep them clear (western banded gecko) or just shedding old skin for a new clean covering (diamondback rattler)!

The book is richly illustrated with pictures that faithfully reflect the passing time: from the vulture silhouetted against the rosy dawn, through the bright skies of the daytime heat to the purpling of the night. Each double page spread creates a complete, and completely accurate desert, habitat. There is a haunting verity to the pictures that carries the readers right into the little-known desert world.

Back matter additions make this book a valuable addition to any reading list. Young readers will enjoy the fun facts and quizzes, and trying their hand at making their own sundial.

Additional Resources:

Online activities: www.SylvanDellPublishing.com

Deserts of the world: http://www.mbgnet.net/sets/desert/ofworld.htm

  • Desert BathsTitle: Desert Baths
  • Author: Darcy Pattison
  • Illustrator: Kathleen Rietz
  • Publisher: Sylvan Dell Publishing
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback: 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-60718-5345
  • Genre: Picture Book/ Non-Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 870
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