The Terrible Two

Written by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

When Miles Murphy has to move from his home to an area with a lot of cows, it almost seems like the end of the world. If it weren’t for his pranks, it would be even worse. Then he finds out his new school already has a resident prankster, Niles. Let the prank war begin! Of course, Miles needs to figure out who the other prankster is. And he needs to come to terms with the idea that he might have to work with someone else. Miles invents a whole person, Cody, and has the entire school convinced of his existence. Cody figures prominently in the biggest prank of all. As do cows. The principal and his son are just terrible enough to deserve whatever they get.

This fun and frolicking book will hold the attention of fourth graders, especially boys. The occasional cow facts should help increase comprehension and literacy. The clever pranks will have readers guessing what comes next and challenge them to make up their own endings. The book comes complete with a certificate from the International Order of Disorder and a Terrible Two mug in an oversized milk carton.

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  • Terrible TwoTitle: The Terrible Two
  • Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
  • Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
  • Publisher: Amulet Books/Abrams, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Genre: Humor, friendship, pranks, cows
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1491-7
  • Extras: Website at www.abramsbooks.com/theterribletwo
  • Release date: January 13, 2015

The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Written by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Illustrated by Barry Moser

Take a famous author working on a masterpiece, an unusual cat and mouse, an injured Tower raven, and the best cheese in the realm and throw them all into one inn. Misadventures abound. In 1858 London, alley cat Skilley is looking for a home when he hears The Cheshire Cheese Inn is looking for a mouser. He’s great at catching mice, but he doesn’t eat them. His real love is cheese. The inn has cheese in abundance, plus mice. So, Skilley and Pip, a very smart mouse, strike up a bargain. Pip and the other mice provide Skilley with cheese. Skilley catches Pip over and over and releases him. Charles Dickens, working on A Tale of Two Cities in a corner of the inn, notices all this activity. Meanwhile, the mice are also helping a raven they rescued from another alley cat, Pinch. Maldwyn, the raven, is missing from the Tower of London. Even the queen shows up in the end. Seems that everyone at the inn has secrets. Pip helps Dickens with the beginning to his novel. The cheese cook uses the mice as taste testers.

The illustrations are realistic and beautiful and have the feel of the Victorian era. With a smattering of quaint language, the book promotes literacy skills. The reader also learns a lot about living in the era. A great website is available at www.cheshirecheesecat.com with many reading activities.

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  • Cheshire Cheese CatTitle: The Cheshire Cheese Cat
  • Author: Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
  • Illustrator: Barry Moser
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 234 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction, friendship, culture, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-810-3
  • Extras: Extensive glossary, website at www.cheshirecheesecat.com

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

Written by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Brian Biggs

Take a kid genius inventor, add a couple of talking robots, throw in a pint-sized villain with a sidekick chimp, and you’ve got the ingredients for the first book of John Scieszka’s new six-book series.

Frank Einstein loves to use household items to invent all kinds of things in his Grampa Al’s garage. He wants to build a SmartBot that can think and learn, but a power outage thwarts his efforts. Later that night, a bolt of lightning causes an electrical spark to bring not one, but two robots to life: Klink, the wisecracking brainiac, and Klank, the emotional hugger. Along with his trusted friend Watson, Frank enlists Klink and Klank to help him develop his greatest invention yet: an antimatter motor, which he knows is a shoo-in to win the upcoming Midville Science Fair. Winning this competition means a lot to Frank as he plans to use the prize money to help save Grampa Al’s repair shop.

Disaster strikes when Frank’s invention ends up in the hands of his arch-nemesis, T. Edison, who not only uses the antimatter idea to win the science prize, but also kidnaps Klink and Klank. Frank must use scientific knowledge and logic to save his robots, overcome the enemy, and save the world from destruction. All in a day’s work for this super genius hero!

Scieszka continues his mission to bolster the reading habits of children, especially reluctant boy readers, by adding a healthy helping of silliness to the real principles of science: observation, hypothesis, results, and conclusion. Facts and figures are presented at a fourth grade level with help from Biggs, who creates easy diagrams and illustrations in a cartooning style.

Fun to read and good for you, too. A winning combination.

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    • Frank EinsteinTitle: Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor
  • Author: John Scieszka
  • Illustrator: Brian Biggs
  • Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Paperback, 192 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1218-0
  • Genre: Fiction, Science fiction, Humor

 

A Hitch at the Fairmont

Written by Jim Averbeck
Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Combining a lot of conjecture with a lot of historical accuracy, author Jim Averbeck takes the reader on a romp around San Francisco of the 1950’s. When eleven-year-old Jack Fair is orphaned, he moves to the Fairmont Hotel with his Aunt Edith. Shortly after Jack encounters Alfred Hitchcock, in town to check out filming locations, his aunt disappears. The last thing Jack wants is for the police to get involved. He knows his life is better outside the system, even with a mean aunt. So he enlists Mr. Hitchcock’s help to find his aunt. Communication with the kidnappers takes place with carefully arranged chocolates, on laundry lists, and by words circled on a newspaper article. The search leads them to an old mission, to Chinatown, and to the docks. We get to see Hitch as a beatnik poet and as an Aunt Edith facsimile.

Averbeck follows the smoking gun rule carefully, where anything mentioned more than a couple of times has more significance to the story than suspected at first. Each chapter is tied to and titled after one of Hitchcock’s films. And each chapter begins with a short graphic depiction of what happens in that chapter, helping to increase comprehension.

Readers will learn about film history, as well as about the books that inspired many of Hitch’s films. They will also learn about the history of San Francisco and some of its most famous landmarks.

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  • HitchAuthor: Jim Averbeck
  • Illustrator: Nick Bertozzi
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-9447-3
  • Genre: Historical fiction, mystery
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Author’s note setting historical perspective, extensive appendix describing many Hitchcock films, fun video on Amazon and Simon and Schuster Kids modeled on the famous scene from The Birds

The Badger Knight

Written by Kathryn Erskine

Adrian is small for his age and suffers from albinism. Medieval England didn’t understand his condition so many feared he was either an angel or a devil. Either way, he was shunned.  Bullies called him, Badger, because of the mud he would smear under his eyes to block out the bright sun. He was often alone, but had dreams of being a hero.

No matter what others thought about him, Adrian practiced his archery in secret in the woods. He had confidence in his skill to drive an arrow through a leaf hanging on a distant tree, and longed to head off to war against the Scots. Never mind everyone said he was too young, too scrawny, and lazy.

His mother was dead. His father was overworked as the only bow maker in a village preparing for invaders and his grandmother was just plain mean to him. Even when he showed real skill at identifying and gathering herbs in the forest and the ability to write out the recipes required for healing. Few people could write in his village. Perhaps that was one reason his mother insisted on him learning his letters. She didn’t want him to grow up to be a bower, but she was gone now and no one else believed in him.

So Adrian followed Hugh into battle. Shock and sorrow gripped him immediately as he got his first glimpse of true war. There was no glory on this field, only blood, pain, and death. His story continues as he cares for a wounded, “enemy” and tries to decide what that label really means.

Kathryn Erskine has done a tremendous amount of research to bring this taste of medieval war to life. Her details show us the rudimentary architecture of Roman ruins, the food of the poor and the misuse of power by officers as well as clergy. She uses the language of today to make this unfamiliar time in history accessible to third grade readers and above.

Her book will fulfill core curriculum standards in world history, geography and literature. Literacy skills can be strengthened by reading the book in clubs, classrooms, or aloud. This will become a new favorite of readers who like swords, knights, and cheering for the underdog.

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  • Badger KnightTitle: The Badger Knight
  • Author: Kathryn Erskine
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 252 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-46442-0
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade Level: 3-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Glossary

Nest

Written by Esther Ehrlich

This is a great addition to recent literature for fourth graders and up. Chirp is a happy fifth grader who loves her dancer mother and is trying to figure out her psychiatrist father. Her home is shattered when her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Mom doesn’t react well. Chirp tries to keep a positive attitude, but Mom goes into a deep depression and needs to be hospitalized. All is seemingly better when, three months later, Mom returns home. Mom can’t handle all the changes and commits suicide. Chirp and her neighbor, Joey, who is suffering abuse at the hands of his father, take off from Cape Cod to Boston. Chirp has known happier times in Boston, riding the swan boats with Mom.

Though Nest is set in 1972, it deals with a lot of issues that may be confronting kids these days. The author does a great job of dealing with the issues from the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old without losing the fact that those around her also have feelings. An added bonus is Chirp’s ornithological knowledge. She often identifies birds by their song or by the way they build their nests. When her mother dies, she builds her own little nest in her bedroom. Through much of the book, the reader can’t help but be drawn in by Chirp’s optimistic outlook.

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  • NestTitle: Nest
  • Author: Esther Ehrlich
  • Publisher: Random House Children’s Books, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Genre: Historical istorical Fiction, Loss, Social issues
  • ISBN: 978-0-385-38608-8
  • Grade level: 4 to 6

The Kite that Bridged Two Nations

Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Terry Widener

When it became time to build a bridge across the enormous Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada, the best way to begin seemed to include a single string. But how could anyone get a string between the two nations?

Charles Ellet, Jr. decided to sponsor a kite flying contest, with a reward for anyone who could span the chasm with a kite string. That was exactly what a young Irish immigrant boy named Homan Walsh loved to do more than anything else. Fly kites.

This is his story. It is written sparingly, like exquisite poetry. But it tells details. How he designed his kite, built it, named it, tested it. This story tells of his hardship of getting stranded by a huge winter storm.

Readers will cheer for Homan. Readers will be amazed and want to read about Niagara Falls. They will want to build kites and go outside to fly them. Fourth grade readers will dream big dreams and go forth to follow those big dreams.

Teachers and librarians can use this book in the core curriculum to teach geography, biography, history and research in a really entertaining way.

 

  • KiteTitle: The Kite that Bridged Two Nations
  • Author: Alexis O’Neill
  • Illustrator: Terry Widener
  • Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-938-4
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade Level: 3-6
  • Extras: Extensive author’s note/ timeline/resources/ sources for further research

First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low

Written by Ginger Wadsworth

This engaging biography of Juliette Gordon Low will have special meaning for all current and former Girl Scouts, but it is well worth the time of all students. Daisy, as she was called, lived during a fascinating time in history, and she really did live life to the fullest. The author vividly depicts the living conditions and concerns throughout Daisy’s life. The reader learns a lot about her personality and some of her motivations.

Daisy was born shortly before the beginning of the Civil War in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother was from the North. Both families were prominent, so frequent guests at the home included General Sherman and President Taft. Daisy was well-educated, nearly deaf, and married to an Englishman. She knew royalty and had close encounters with danger due to her frequent travels during war and peace. She met Lord Robert Baden-Powell through friends in London. He was forming a group called Boy Scouts, and Daisy thought that sounded great for girls too. She would form a group of girl guides then promptly tell someone else to take over. But she stuck with the idea and started the movement in the US. At her death from breast cancer, there were millions of Girl Scouts worldwide.

Named to the 2013 Amelia Bloomer List by the American Library Association, this well-research and well-presented biography is perfect for fourth graders learning about research or about this period of history. The author’s excellent website, www.gingerwadsworth.com, has an eight-page teacher’s guide with many reading activities. This is also a great source to increase reading comprehension and literacy skills.

  •  First Girl ScoutTitle: First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low
  • Author: Ginger Wadsworth
  • Publisher: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Genre: Biography, Civil War, First World War
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-24394-8
  • Extras: Table of contents, timeline, source notes, bibliography, list of places to visit, index

Discover More: Ancient Egypt

Written by Penelope Arlon

Once again Scholastic has produced a breath takingly beautiful book about ancient Egypt full of mummies and gold.

The diagrams are clearly marked and everything is easy to read. Pages are full, and yet, not busy. Fourth grade readers will enjoy learning the names for ancient symbols and names for seasons of the year. Of course, the pharaohs still command much attention and interest. Timelines help keep the succession in order. Homelife, board games, personal beauty secrets are shared here as well as information about food, drink and the Rosetta stone.

Teachers and librarians can use this accessible research book to meet literacy and common core standards both for the confident elementary reader and the reluctant, struggling older reader.

Students will spend hours enjoying the beauty of the artifacts and will be able to read the short passages of text printed in a slightly larger font than has been typical of nonfiction of the past.

This is an excellent addition to the set of Discover More books put out by Scholastic.

  • Ancient EgyptTitle: Ancient Egypt
  • Author: Penelope Arlon
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 80 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-62739-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, social studies, history
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Extras: Photographs, glossary, index and special code to download Amazing Mummy Tales

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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This new addition to the Dear America series written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a whirlwind of adventure and survival. There is no need for dystopian when we take into account the true stories from our own past.

Pringle Rose is a fourteen girl who has been raised in every comfort in the coal rich city of Scranton, PA in 1871. Her father owns one of the large collieries and is not about to be pushed around by some new labor union threats.

Unfortunately, he and his wife are killed in a tragic carriage accident leaving Pringle and her brother Gideon alone in the world with a greedy uncle and a mean aunt. In order to save her Down Syndrome brother from being institutionalized, Pringle and Gideon run away.

While these two children are made up characters, the struggles between mine owners and mine workers was very real. Bartoletti skillfully tells both sides of the story in very personal ways that will lead to thoughts and discussions about how difficult life was at that time.

The children travel half way across the country on a train by themselves in search of an old family friend. They end up living in Chicago and experience, dramatically the great fire.

It is a masterfully written story that will grip fourth, fifth and sixth grade readers as well as anyone who picks it up. The core curriculum and literacy skills can be met on practically every page as the author’s research is so thorough. She has included the transportation of the time, the medical misunderstandings of Down Syndrome, boarding schools, mine owners, mine labor unions, the Chicago fire and a trust fund that requires a person to be twenty one years old to inherit from parents.

The writing is clear and precise. Included are many actual places and dates. Librarians and teachers will be able to use this text to begin or conclude studies about the coal region, railroads in America or the Chicago fire that brought about serious changes in building codes all across the country.

  • Down the Rabbit HoleTitle: Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-29701-1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level 4 to 7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Photographs at the back, Nonfiction Section on Life in America in 1871, recipes from the time
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