Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

Written and Illustrated by Booki Vivat

Abbie Wu is having trouble with the Middles. She’s the middle child – with an impossibly cute younger sister and an overachieving older brother. She always gets the middle seat. She is, in some ways, the middle friend. She hears the Middle Ages weren’t so great. And she’s headed to middle school. Her mom assures her she will be fine in the new environment. Meanwhile, she can’t even decide what her Thing is so she can choose an elective. The only good part is her two best friends will be around, at least part of the time. When it turns out the good lunches are only available to the older kids, she accidentally finds her Thing in study hall, only to get in trouble for being so creative. Along the way, though, she learns what her real Thing is and learns that some of the monsters in her life might not be quite so monstrous after all.

The heavily cartoonish illustrations are a major part of the fun and of the story itself. Though this is not a graphic novel, per se, this would be a very different book without the illustrations.

Though this is a hilarious look at the situations all of us face, with change being the norm, there is a lot to get serious about too. Fourth and fifth graders would benefit from having this book available in the classroom so they can discuss with other kids, teachers, and parents what to expect in the coming years.

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  • FrazzledTitle: Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom
  • Author/Illustrator: Booki Vivat
  • Published: Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, September 27, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Humor, Dealing with change
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-239879-6

The Best Man

Written by Richard Peck

Who doesn’t love a humorous, modern look at family life? For that matter, who doesn’t love a Richard Peck novel? In the best tradition of Peck, James Thurber, and Mark Twain, the reader gets to know some of the most real characters ever to come along and genuinely care what happens to them.

Archer Magill, in true little kid fashion, understands everything in literal terms, but he’s learning. He tells of the first wedding he was in, when he was six and the ring bearer. This was where he met Lynette, soon to be his best friend and his only link with intuitive thought. Naturally, the wedding was a disaster, with Lynette helping him through the mud – mud that covered his bare behind when his white shorts ripped.

There was no seat in my pants now. Only me, muddy and open to the world.

As Archer and Lynette grow, they have many more adventures – among them, a fifth-grade teacher who is five months pregnant at the beginning of the school year and is determined to let the kids experience her third trimester with her. Lynette’s mother takes over the class though she’s never taught before. When their student teacher, Ed McLeod, arrives in his National Guard uniform, the school is alarmed by his sudden appearance. So, the SWAT team is called out and it becomes a media event. As it turns out, he’s a wonderful teacher and a wonderful guy. A bullying event prompts him to come out to the school.

Gay’s not a random word,” Mr. McLeod said. “It’s an identity.”

“Whatever,” Perry mumbled.

“It’s my identity,” Mr. McLeod said.

Silence fell. You could have heard breathing, but there wasn’t any.

Archer decides he wants to be like his dad, his grandpa, his Uncle Paul, and eventually Mr. McLeod. Archer starts to notice things, like Uncle Paul also being gay and the fact that that’s okay, if that’s what you are. He sees that Uncle Paul needs someone to love, but that it’s Uncle Paul’s decision. He accepts that his sister, Holly, is like their mother, just like he is like the men in his life.

Then Holly blew in. She was wearing her CONFORMITY KILLS T-shirt. She and Janie Clarkson always wear them on the same day.

Quirky, well-rounded characters and subtle humor appear throughout the story. Even though same sex marriage is a theme, Peck treats it with sensitivity and just a normal part of some people’s lives. In this day and age, The Best Man is well worth a read.

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  • the-best-manTitle: The Best Man
  • Illustrator: Richard Peck
  • Publisher: Dial Books/Random House, September 20, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 237 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 up
  • Genre: Coming of age, same sex marriage, LGBTQ, loss
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3839-3

Applesauce Weather

Written by Helen Frost
Illustrated by Amy June Bates

This sweet and nostalgic novel in verse recalls a history of an extended family as it relates to an apple tree. The author uses four voices to relate the story and show the connections between current and previous generations. When the first ripe apple of the season falls from the tree, young Faith awaits the arrival of her great uncle, by marriage. Uncle Arthur was married to Aunt Lucy, with whom he planted the tree many years ago. He is the best storyteller in the family. Aunt Lucy has passed away since the previous apple harvest, but the whole family still hears her voice in their thoughts. Faith’s brother, Peter, seems to be following in the footsteps of Uncle Arthur, at least partially. Through these four, the reader learns of Arthur and Lucy’s courtship and the growth of the apple tree. Faith and Peter insist on hearing more about Arthur and how he lost one of his fingers. Peter, meantime, is fascinated by their neighbor, Rose Timmons, and wants to learn to carve wood like Uncle Arthur.

The illustrations have the same nostalgic and rustic feel of the story. The reader can almost taste the gingerbread with lemon sauce.

Fourth graders can learn a lot about poetry and practice literacy skills with this short novel. They can also learn about grief and family relations.

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  • Applesauce WeatherTitle: Applesauce Weather
  • Author: Helen Frost
  • Illustrator: Amy June Bates
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Chapter Book, Poetry, Grief, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7576-9

 

Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie

Written by Bruce Coville
Illustrated by Paul Kidby

If you’re not already familiar with Bruce Coville’s work, why not? This, one of his more recent books, is hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.

Angus Cairns is a one hundred fifty year old brownie, bound by the terms of a curse laid against his father by an elven queen. When his Scottish mistress dies, he must provide service to an eleven-year-old American girl, Alex Carhart. Angus first makes his way to America and figures out a way to keep his very messy and disorganized charge neat and organized. He also watches in horror as the second part of the curse plays out – the men of the family abandon everything except horrible poetry. A sister who befriends a goblin and her harsh kindergarten teacher complete most of the contributing cast of characters. How can they together save the family of a father who quits his job to write bad poetry?

Kidby’s illustrations are also hilarious and add a lot to the story. From diagrams of the Carharts’ house to labeled illustrations of magical folk to a family portrait of the Carharts, they pull the reader into the brownie world.

Told entirely in diary and journal entries, letters, and notes, this is a fun way for fourth graders to learn about journaling and about a few of the English words that are different in Scotland.

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  • Mad BrownieTitle: Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie
  • Author: Bruce Coville
  • Illustrator: Paul Kidby
  • Published: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-385-39247-1

At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems

Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Leslie Evans

The invitation is issued: “Let’s visit a habitat shallow and deep.” With that, this book takes off to help the reader learn about many ocean dwellers. The author chose many unique species, making this an even more fascinating book. Numerous sidebars help to make it a truly educational book.

patient reef shark waits

a cleaner wrasse dances in –

what’s for breakfast?

Within the pages, kids read about creatures as diverse as convict fish, bottlenose dolphins who us sponges as tools, sea spiders, krill, broody squid, and Osedax worms. Meanwhile, the author uses a large variety of poetry forms: kyrielle, haiku, cinquain, limerick, pantoum, etc.

Illustrations are linoleum block prints, realistically hand colored, providing a great background for the text.

This book could easily be included in a science class, a unit on poetry, an art class, or a cross-curriculum unit. Fourth graders should be able to handle the language and most of the science.

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  • At the Sea Floor CafeTitle: At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems
  • Author: Leslie Bulion
  • Illustrator: Leslie Evans
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Nature, Poetry
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-920-9
  • Extras: Glossary, Poetry Notes, Websites to Explore, Books You Might Enjoy

House Arrest

Written by K.A.Holt

Timothy stole a wallet. But even with a good reason, a broken law leads to arrest. In this case, house arrest for one year. He must meet with a probation officer once a week as well as a therapist. Timothy must also keep a journal. This novel in verse is his journal.

It starkly portrays the nightmare this boy is facing. His little brother is very ill with a trach that often needs to be cleaned or changed. Dad left, Mom has to work so part-time nurses come and go.   The story is all about strong sibling loyalty and making difficult choices.

The best format for telling this story is the novel in verse as it allows for short, strong thoughts and feelings to be jotted down as a 14 year old is most likely to write. It shows the frustration, pain, and humor Timothy experiences every day.

Teachers, parents, and librarians should latch onto this book for their collections. It should definitely be on book club and/or reading lists. While it is enlightening for readers to see what other families are dealing with, it is also comforting for readers with like challenges to realize they are not alone in their struggles.

Core curriculum standards will be in the area of literature as it is an excellent example of a novel in verse.

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  • House ArrestTitle: House Arrest
  • Author: K.A.Holt
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover. 304 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1452134772
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 9

 

 

Aliens from Earth: When Animals and Plants Invade Other Ecosystems

Written by Mary Batten
Illustrated by Beverly J. Doyle

This newly revised book was been recommended by both the National Science Teachers Association and by the Izaak Walton League of America in an earlier edition. Entertaining as well as educational, it cites many examples of introduction of plants and animals into ecosystems where they were not developed. In each and every case, the new plant or animal had a long-lasting, or even disastrous effect on the new ecosystem. Some of the examples are well-known, but some are more obscure and surprising. Background includes a discussion of how alien introduction has accelerated since the 1800s and more mobility for humans. A prime example is pigs in Hawaii. Well-meaning settlers brought the pigs. The pigs spread and created small ponds by rooting in the dirt. Sailors inadvertently released mosquito larvae. And the mosquitos wiped out several species of birds. Starlings, not native to North America, were released in New York’s Central Park and now compete for food and nesting with others throughout America. Other examples are gypsy moths, Africanized bees, fire ants, zebra mussels, brown tree snakes in Guam, kudzu, and cane toads in Australia. Many alien species are introduced inadvertently, but even the well-meaning introductions can be devastating.

The illustrations are clear and accurate, adding to the educational value. There’s even a key for native species, endangered or extinct species, and aliens.

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  • Aliens from EarthTitle: Aliens from Earth: When Animals and Plants Invade Other Ecosystems
  • Author: Mary Batten
  • Illustrator: Beverly J. Doyle
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Environment
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-903-2
  • Extras: Glossary, For Further Reading, Websites, Author’s Note

Raymie Nightingale

Written by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Clarke has to learn to twirl a baton because she has to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 title so her father will see her picture in the paper and return home after he ran off with a dental hygienist named Lee Anne Dickerson. Raymie’s fellow students, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski, lead similarly crazy lives and make Raymie’s life even more crazy. Meanwhile, their baton twirling teacher, Ida Nee, has her own problems, including not being a very good teacher. Raymie is trying to do good deeds for the contest application, including reading a Florence Nightingale biography to the uncooperative and unimpressed elderly. Louisiana tells long, complicated stories about her family. And Beverly wants to sabotage everything and is very good at picking locks. Raymie does hear from her dad, but for an accomplishment other than winning the contest. Louisiana helps her family, if not her cat. Eventually, Louisiana learns that Raymie is not a Nightingale. And Beverly gains friends and a more relaxed perspective. Minor characters add a lot to the fun. Louisiana’s grandmother drives an old clunker much too fast and has Louisiana steal cans of tuna fish. The elderly ladies are unpredictable.

Fourth graders and above will get a kick out of their antics and get a chance to practice literacy skills. They will also learn a lot about friendship and about the value of looking at things from the other person’s perspective.

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  • Raymie NightingaleTitle: Raymie Nightingale
  • Author: Kate DiCamillo
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Friendship, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8117-3

 

Pax

Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Holding on and letting go are strong desires, flowing under all the plots and subplots of this beautiful story about a boy and his pet fox.  When Peter’s father enlists to go off to war, he forces his son to set the fox loose in the wild and go live with a grandfather. It doesn’t take long to realize Peter isn’t wanted by the grandfather.

Within days, Peter realizes he needs to rescue Pax before he starves in the wild. So, he sets off on his own across miles of unknown territory. Without realizing it, he is heading toward the war zone. He encounters many problems, and a very strange woman.

Meanwhile, Pax waits patiently for his boy to come back for him. Finally, unbearable thirst sends him off searching for water. Real wild foxes growl warnings to stay out of their area. Will they accept him?

The adventure with challenges thrown in provides just the right pace of tension and intrigue to the story and will keep the readers flipping pages to find out what happens.

The language of the fox is put into italic font to separate it for young readers.

Black and white sketches by Jon Klassen add to the realities of the starkness of war and separation.

Teachers, librarians and parents will enjoy this novel as a read aloud or book club selection to share with their children.

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  • PaxTitle: Pax
  • Author: Sara Pennypacker
  • Illustrator: Jon Klassen
  • Publisher: Balzer& Bray/HarperCollins, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 276 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

Hour of the Bees

Written by Lindsay Eagar

In this excellent debut novel, the author shows us a world that is familiar and, at the same time, unfamiliar to most of her readers. When the dementia of Carol’s grandfather reaches a critical point, she and her entire family spend the summer packing up his ranch and getting him ready to move to a protected facility. Carol – or Carolina (Caro-leeen-a) as Grandpa calls her – is slowly sucked into his fantasies. So much so that the reader is never sure what’s real, what’s a dream, and what’s just part of the story. Grandpa, or Sergio (Serge), tells the story of the desert ranch in installments centered around a magical tree and bees that took off with the water from a now-dry lake. Is Carol really seeing bees in the desert and does the tree really grow back overnight? Did Grandma Rosa really travel all over the world while Serge waited for her? Why don’t Serge and her dad speak? Through it all, Carol learns to deal with her teenage half-sister and with starting middle school as she goes through changes of her own.

Fourth graders will recognize some of their own confusion in coming to grips with the world and with people who don’t always act the way they expect. Coming of age is not always easy for anyone in the room.

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  • Hour of the BeesTitle: Hour of the Bees
  • Author: Lindsay Eagar
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Family, Fantasy, Dementia
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7922-4
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