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

Dead End in Norvelt

Written by Jack Gantos

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There’s a reason the Gantos boy won the Newbery Medal. He also won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Ficiton. The first book in the Norvelt series based on the author’s childhood is engaging and laugh out loud funny, though darkly funny in places. Miss Volker, Jack’s neighbor, is the elderly medical examiner and obituary writer for the town of Norvelt, established and named for EleaNOR RooseVELT. Miss Volker’s arthritis has gotten so bad, she must soak her hands in melted paraffin before they are of any use at all, so she enlists Jack’s help at every opportunity. Meanwhile Jack is in an extended grounding for accidentally shooting off his father’s Japanese rifle and for mowing down his mother’s corn at his father’s urging. His excitement grows as the old ladies of Norvelt start dropping like flies. After several deaths, the town newspaper publisher and the police begin to get suspicious. Is Miss Volker the culprit or is it the lone surviving original male Norvelter, adult tricycle rider Mr. Spizz? All the while, Jack is fighting constant nose bleeds, and Miss Volker is determined to help him with that.

And Jack’s father is building a runway for an airplane of questionable safety while Jack digs a bomb shelter by hand.

Fourth graders and up will enjoy the dry humor. The story will hold their attention to strengthen literacy and comprehension. Teachers, librarians, and parents will enjoy the fact that with each obituary comes a history lesson. A quick check of facts may be in order, though.

 

  • Dead End in NorveltTitle: Dead End in Norvelt
  • Author: Jack Gantor
  • Publisher: Square Fish/Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2011
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 384 pages
  • Genre: Middle grade historical fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-250-01023-0

 

Wonder

Written by R.J. Palacio

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Auggie is not normal. At least his appearance isn’t. But his emotions and his intelligence are. Due to a genetic anomaly, August Pullman is born with no jaw, no ears as we know them, and misplaced facial features. His appearance, coupled with multiple surgeries, means that he’s home schooled until he’s ready for fifth grade. He’s gotten very good at noticing the reaction to his unusual appearance and moving on, but it’s not always easy. When his parents get him into a private middle school, he’s faced with a whole new set of challenges. The author has mastered the art of showing the many sides of an issue. Although Auggie is the main focus, we get to hear how his sister and some of the other kids view the situation. There are no huge surprises in the plot, but what is surprising is the depth of the characters and the abilities they discover. Even the principal discovers his own compassion, with tears on his face at one point.

Fourth graders and up will love the humor and identify with the bullying that happens. Before Auggie even gets to the school, his parents have him laughing about the principal, Mr. Tuchman’s name by saying their professor, Miss Butt. Perfect fourth grade humor. Kids will learn a little about genetics and facial deformity while enhancing their literacy skills. Among other awards, this debut novel was named an Amazon Best Books of the Month for Kids, 2012.

  • WonderTitle: Wonder
  • Author: R.J. Palacio
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 316 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, friendship, physical challenges
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-86902-0
  • Lexile: 790L

Saucy and Bubba

Written by Darcy Pattison

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Billed as a modern Hansel and Gretel tale, this new novel explores some of the scarier aspects presented in fairy tales. Saucy, age eleven, and brother Bubba, seven, have lost their mother and are being cared for by Krissy, their daddy’s new wife. Daddy is out on the road, driving a big rig and trying to keep the bills paid. Krissy has a drinking problem, which Daddy refuses to see. When Krissy is drunk, Saucy hides. Krissy gets so drunk one night, she threatens to hit Saucy, which is the last straw. Saucy and Bubba board a cross-country bus in order to seek help from their Aunt Vivian. Of course, Bubba insists they leave a trail of white stones for Daddy to follow to them. After a terrifying trip, they arrive at Aunt Vivian’s house, but there’s no Aunt Vivian. Eventually, things get better, but not perfect, as in the real world.

Although written at a third to fourth grade reading level, the subject matter may be for the more mature members of this age group. Saucy’s ability to recognize Krissy’s very adult problems puts her squarely at her stated age of eleven. Also, she has an uncanny ability to keep Bubba safe against all odds on a long bus trip, at home with Krissy, and with a stranger/predator. But Saucy’s struggles are a good model for children who need to trust an adult in order to solve a problem, whether it’s abuse or bullying or another issue. In the scary, modern world, abuse and bullying know no age limits.

  • SaucyTitle: Saucy and Bubba
  • Author: Darcy Pattison
  • Publisher: Mims House, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 156 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fairy tale, running away, alcoholism
  • ISBN: 978-1-62944-008-8
  • Lexile: 590L

Steering Toward Normal

Written by Rebecca Petruck

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Competition is a part of life now for kids. And this is just as true in a rural setting as it is in the city. Where urban children learn to dance or do gymnastics or play soccer early, country kids might raise steers or sheep. This is the backdrop for this new novel for fourth graders and above. Another theme to which urban kids can also relate is that of family. Thirteen-year-old Diggy lives with his father, Pop, after his mother abandoned him as a baby. His mother never married Pop, but no one doubts Pop is his biological father. Diggy’s classmate, Wayne, loses his mother to cancer, and it’s revealed that Wayne’s dad may not be his biological father. Is Wayne Diggy’s half brother? Wayne ends up living with Pop and Diggy while Wayne’s dad works on his alcoholism. The two boys fight like brothers and raise steers together for the 4-H fair. Diggy is expected to win Grand Champion at the state fair. Wayne insists Diggy needs to find his own mother, though he really doesn’t want to.

Rural kids will identify with all the details about the steers, and urban kids will learn about animals and see how farm animals can be loved just like their own pets. There is plenty of information about 4-H and cattle at the end of the book. The pace is lively and light. Pop and Diggy love to play pranks, and April Fools’ Day is a major holiday at their house.

 

  • Steering toward normalTitle: Steering Toward Normal
  • Author: Rebecca Petruck
  • Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, rural life, family
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-0732-2
  • Publication date: May 13, 2014

The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa

Written by Phil Bildner
Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

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Every child wants to play. But the fences in our world, past and present cause pain to the youngest of our citizens, as is clearly illustrated in words and realistic illustrations, in this new book about the apartheid of South Africa’s past.

This story clearly explains to our children of today what the separation of the races meant in South Africa. It wasn’t a fence taken down easily or quickly. Readers will see the main character grow older and bigger while still being denied the opportunity to play soccer with the other boys of the town. While this is categorized as a fictional account of the struggle to open up the country, it will be a valuable addition to every school library and classroom. It can meet the needs of the core curriculum as it strives to educate our youth of the mistakes of our global past while strengthening all basic literacy skills.

The many-layered story includes early riots, Mandela’s release from prison and his winning of the presidential election as well as the unifying soccer match that brought South Africa’s struggle to the world stage.

It brings to mind Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful book, The Other Side, which tells of such separation between playing children in the past of our own country. These books could easily be introduced together to discuss parallels in the societal developments of world history.

Second grade, third grade and fourth grade readers will cheer for all sides whether reading the book individually or having it read to them by a teacher, parent or librarian.  However, this book should not be limited to use in the primary grades, as it has such a strong voice and important story to tell.

  • Soccer FenceTitle: The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa
  • Author: Phil Bildner
  • Illustrator: Jesse Joshua Watson
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-24790-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, South Africa
  • Grade level 1-4
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