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

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxanne Orgill
Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Nothing goes better with jazz music than poetry. The author chose poetic form to tell the amazing story of how Art Kane, a graphic designer at Esquire magazine, gathered fifty eight of the best jazz musicians and took their picture.

Kane spent an entire day scouting a typical brownstone for the shoot. He sent the word out through the musicians’ union for all to show up on August 12 without their instruments. Despite the early hour (for musicians), all showed up in their Sunday best. Was it curiosity or for love of their craft? No one knows for sure. The photograph was so famous, it was featured in the movie The Terminal. The main character was trying to get a copy autographed while the musicians were still alive.

Mary Lou Williams, pianist and composer, arrived in her Cadillac and fashionable dressed. Thelonius Monk, pianist, was late because he had to try on all his jackets. Willie “the Lion” Smith, another pianist, wasn’t in the final picture because he was on the stoop next door. He couldn’t stand up for long. Neighborhood children buzzed around and helped where they could.

Any fourth grader with interest in music or history will treasure this peek into a historic gathering. The details are amazing.

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  • Jazz DayTitle: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
  • Author: Roxanne Orgill
  • Illustrator: Francis Vallejo
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 66 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Music, Jazz, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6954-6
  • Extras: Table of Contents, The photograph with key, Author’s Note, Source notes, Biographies of selected musicians, Harlem 1958: Beyond Esquire, Extensive bibliography

Saving Wonder

Written by Mary Knight

Curley is a young man who’s been learning to use his words. In fact, Papaw, his grandfather and legal guardian, gives him a word each week to contemplate and get comfortable with. They live in Kentucky coal country, and Curley lost his entire family because of coal mining. Investigating the mountain wildlife for a school science project, Curley and his two friends are drawn deeper into the life of the mountain itself, trying to save the mountain for an increasing number of reasons. They discover elk that were never meant to live in Kentucky, the type of destruction their mountain is due to experience, and a connection to the Native Americans from the area. With the story set in the present day, the young people also learn of the power one person can have with the help of social media. Life goes on, though it may not go the direction you hope or expect.

The characters ring true to life and the story is fun and exciting.

This story will fit in nicely to a unit on environmental impact or just as an exercise in the power of vocabulary. Many reading activities are suggested by the report the characters assemble and by the other actions they take, including creating videos and posting them on the internet.

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  • Saving WonderTitle: Saving Wonder
  • Author: Mary Knight
  • Published: Scholastic Press, February 23, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, science, environment
  • ISBN: 978-0545828932

 

 

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat

Written by Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Thierry Lafontaine

Red Death Tea Society, giant invisible cats, and talking dogs are some of the less outrageous elements to this raucous story of a sixth grade genius, Nate, and his new friend, Delphine. Delphine is welcomed as a friend partially because Bosper, Nate’s talking dog, decides she smells like a friend. Occasionally, Nate does stupid things just to shake up his world. One of his stupid things was to make his mother’s cat, Proton, invisible and giant. Nate hid the formula for returning to normalcy throughout the city, and he needs Delphine’s help to retrieve him. Meanwhile, his archenemies, the Red Death Tea Society try to clock his efforts. Encounters with toads, hippos, and skydivers are orders of the day.

With a smattering of real science and a whole lot of fantasy, this is a great read for fourth graders, especially with a teacher or parent to help separate the fact from the fantasy. The wild humor is sure to hold attention and propel Proton back where she belongs. Because Nate and Delphine have a unique friendship, readers will learn about the possibilities among friends who don’t necessarily spend every day together.

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  • Genius FactorTitle: The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat
  • Author: Paul Tobin
  • Illustrator: Thierry Lafontaine
  • Published: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, March 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 6
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy, science, friendship
  • ISBN: 978-1619638402
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