Last in a Long Line of Rebels

Written by Lisa Lewis Tyre

   Lost Confederate gold?  Enough to save a house from being sold? What else would kids possibly need to get them excited about school being out for the summer?

Poor Lou is the junk man’s daughter. The house and yard are a mess and about to be taken over by the town as eminent domain. Friends in town slow the process down by trying to get the house, a remnant from the Civil War, on the National Registry of Historic Places.

In the meantime, suspicious people and happenings turn up all around the town. A researcher signs out and keeps the one book in the library than might answer some questions. Lou discovers a hidden room behind the bookcase where slaves may have been hidden as they traveled the Underground Railroad.

Adding to her worries about moving to a new house, new town, new school, is the embarrassment of learning her family actually owned slaves in the past. When Lou discovers an old diary written during the Civil War years, some questions begin to get answered.

Voice is the dominate strength of this book. It is so well established that a reader feels like an eavesdropper on Lou, her family and friends. Teachers should use this as a prime example of well-developed voice as they fulfill the core curriculum standards in literacy, English, and the American Civil War. While this is historical fiction, it is an excellent example of how the war was seen through the eyes of some townspeople, and how it changed their lives. It also illustrates how families even today are often still marked by the place their ancestors held in town.

Grade four, grade five, grade six and grade seven readers will giggle at Lou’s prayer for an exciting summer, and then see her hope the excitement calms down. Great friendship is reflected in Benzer’s loyalty to Lou through all the goings on, including sneaking into a hotel room and driving a dump truck into the fiction section of the public library.

This is just a perfect mix of intrigue, humor, and longing to belong. It is recommended for all school and public libraries, as well as for book clubs.

Buy on Amazon

  • Last in a Long LineTitle:  Last in a Long Line of Rebels
  • Author:  Lisa Lewis Tyre
  • Publisher:  Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 279 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16838-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade 4 to 7

Finder: Coal Mine Dog

Written by Alison Hart
Illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

Trapped by fire in an underground mine would be frightening beyond imagination. Yet it happened, not only to full grown men, but to boys as young as seven or eleven. Thomas and his uncle lied about his age to get him a “good paying” job in the mines in order to pay off his father’s debts.

Alison Hart has written an exciting, fast-paced story based in serious research. Her study of the Cherry Mine disaster in 1909, led her to imagine a boy and his dog helping with the rescue. Thomas and Finder are so real, readers will be cheering for them from page one on. It is a wonderful story that brings to light a particular way of life experienced by many of our ancestors.

The story is written from the standpoint of the dog. While it is not the usual viewpoint, it is easily recognized and accepted. Realistic sketches illustrate the story throughout, helping readers further immerse themselves in the story. Maps of the mine at the beginning of the book give readers an additional way to track the progress of the miners.

Teachers will fulfill the core curriculum standards in many subset areas of literacy and American history. In the end matter, the author clearly separates fictional material from real history. Librarians and parents can introduce the book by reading aloud beginning chapters to help encourage reluctant readers. Grade three, grade four and grade five readers will enjoy this volume and may want to continue reading this series, Dog Chronicles, to learn more about our history.

Buy on Amazon

  • FinderTitle:  Finder: Coal Mine Dog
  • Author:  Alison Hart
  • Illustrator:  Michael G. Montgomery
  • Publisher:  Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 176 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-5645-860-8
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 6
  • Extras: Mine maps, diagrams, extensive author notes, bibliography, related websites

Thérèse Makes a Tapestry

Written by Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs
Illustrated by Renée Graef

Rich illustrations highlight this delightful fictional tale of a seventeenth century French girl. Based on the work of real weavers and on the real king of France, Louis XIV, readers get to see real examples of portions of famous tapestries. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, tapestries were used to decorate and to provide additional insulation in otherwise cold rooms. The weavers who worked on these works of art were important members of society. Woman were generally excluded from this male occupation, so even girls who showed exceptional promise were only allowed to help if protected by a family member. The story of Thérèse shows her careful and painstaking work to give her weaver father. After the king notices her finished product, she goes to the factory to help.

This enjoyable book fulfills many of the Common Core requirements for history and for art. Kids will be cheering for Thérèse early on in the story.

Order on Amazon

  • ThereseTitle: Thérèse Makes a Tapestry
  • Author: Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs
  • Illustrator: Renée Graef
  • Published: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 6
  • Genre: History, Art
  • ISBN: 978-1-60606-473-3
  • Extras: Note to the Reader, Glossary, French Words and Phrases

Out of Bounds

Written by Fred Bowen

Bowen came up with another gem in this novel about Nate, an eighth grade soccer player. Nate is a forward on the Strikers, a U14 team playing in a fall league at the local SoccerPlex. Last year, his team came in second, so they’re all determined to be better. The problem is, the first place team, the Monarchs, also appears to be better. Nate has a side rivalry with his young aunt, Lizzie, who plays in a women’s adult league. Bowen follows Nate through the entire season, noting the highlights and lowlights of each encounter, on and off the field. Nate learns from Lizzie that real sportsmen don’t like to win by treating others badly. So, he refuses to follow through on a goal in a crucial game when his opponent appears to be injured. Of course, one of his teammates gives him a hard time when they lose the game. Eventually, he finds that Lizzie was right all along. Good sportsmanship is highly valued by the elite.

Many of the game situations used in the book are straight from famous games played in the past several years. Fourth graders will learn about the history and rules of the game. It’s a fun and exciting way to see human relations in practice.

Buy on Amazon

  • Out of BoundsTitle: Out of Bounds
  • Author: Fred Bowen
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Sports, Family, Sportsmanship
  • ISBN: 978-1561458455
  • Extras: The Real Story, an author’s note

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World

Written by Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez

In this biography, re-published as part of the “Candlewick Biographies,” fourth graders learn about one of the dynamic personalities of the turn of the twentieth century. They also learn a little physics.

From the age of three, Nikola Tesla noticed things about electricity that no one else did. As a teen, he dreamed of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. In college, he was unable to convince his professor that alternating current was a viable alternative to direct current. He had the same problem when seeking funding for projects, so he took many odd jobs before immigrating to the US. Thomas Edison refused to see his vision and even tried to sabotage his efforts. But he managed to convince Westinghouse of the practicability of AC and ended up lighting up the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. After that, he partnered with Westinghouse to build turbines at Niagara Falls and power Buffalo, NY.

A brief explanation of the difference between direct and alternating current and a more complete explanation of the workings of AC should help spark a student’s interest in this field. The wonderful illustrations help make that happen. Of course, a discussion of the dangers of electricity is also included.

Buy on Amazon

  • Electrical WizardTitle: Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World
  • Author: Elizabeth Rusch
  • Illustrator: Oliver Dominguez
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Biography, History, Science
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7978-1
  • Extras: Scientific Notes, Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography, Index, and more

Fuzzy Mud

Written by Louis Sachar

Chad is a bully. No reason, he just is. So when he challenges Marshall to a fight after school, Marshall has no choice but to find a different way home. Every day he and Tamaya walk to and from school together, not causing anyone any trouble. They follow the sidewalk until the day they are threatened. Then they cut through the woods.

Readers will be spell-bound by this mystery-thriller that tests the strength of friendship as well as the price for doing the right thing.

Their encounter with foul smelling, fuzzy mud twists the plot into the larger realm of bio-disaster. Factory runoff causing swelling, rashes and who knows what all, opens discussions of ecology, but not until this story is concluded.

Teachers, parents and librarians will enjoy reading this book and discussing it with classes from grade three readers beyond for months to come. The book will fulfill core curriculum standards in the areas of literature, science, and social studies. More importantly, it will give everyone a chance to think about friendships, bullies, doing the right thing, and taking ecology seriously. Be very careful about stepping into any fuzzy mud, my friends, very careful.

Buyon Amazon

  • Fuzzy MudTitle: Fuzzy Mud
  • Author: Louis Sachar
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 192 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-385-74378-5
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 up
  • Extras: area map

Dolls of Hope

Written by Shirley Parenteau

This delightful book is a charming example of the kind of goodwill that can be engendered by simply getting to know what you have in common with another culture.

In 1926, Dr. Sidney Gulick, a missionary, began the Friendship Dolls project. In an effort to cool tensions and avert the coming war, the group arranged for an exchange of dolls between the children of Japan and the USA. Of course, the project did not stop the war, but the it lives on and still engenders goodwill.

The story follows a country girl as she struggles to keep one foot in tradition and the other foot in the future. Eleven-year-old Chiyo is sent to a girls’ school to learn from the shining example of a general’s daughter, Hoshi. Her benefactor is her future brother-in-law, a wealthy landowner. Hoshi is completely jealous of Chiyo and tries to make her life miserable. Both are chosen to represent the school in a welcoming ceremony in Tokyo. While there, Chiyo manages to become the sweetheart of the city, getting her picture in the paper and befriending the master doll maker. Of course, Chiyo’s notoriety only adds to Hoshi’s jealousy. Chiyo ends up taking some dangerous risks in order to protect the American doll placed in her care. Not everyone is happy with her solution, but it does make very exciting reading.

Fourth graders can practice their literacy skills while learning about Friendship Dolls, Japan, and a few words of Japanese. They will also fulfill requirements in history learning about an era not always thought about.

Buy on Amazon

  • Dolls of HopeTitle: Dolls of Hope
  • Author: Shirley Parenteau
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7752-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Glossary

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Written by Sally Derby
Illustrated by Sean Qualls

In this engaging biography, Sally Derby gets right to the heart of Paul Laurence Dunbar and his poetry. She chose to write directly to the reader and did an amazing job of drawing in that reader. The illustrations match the feel of the story perfectly.

Living only thirty-three short years, Dunbar made a huge impression on the world. As a poet, he was unusual. He was well-educated and knew how to write in “proper” English, but he chose to do much of his work in dialect. He demonstrated how real Negroes (as they were then called) spoke. Of course, his mother and his wife both preferred him to write in standard English. This was when they were most proud of him.

Dunbar’s parents and a half-brother were all born into slavery, and he felt the effects of not only that but also of the Jim Crow era. He grew up and went to high school in Dayton, being the only Negro in the school. One of his friends was Orville Wright. Upon graduation, he learned he didn’t have the same opportunities as his friend. His poetry career took off quickly, with early encouragement of such people as James Whitcomb Riley and Frederick Douglass. He became world famous and traveled extensively to share his work. Sadly, Dunbar died young of a not uncommon malady of the time, tuberculosis.

Fourth graders and up will learn a lot about history and civil rights and about the flexibility of poetry for expressing your feelings. They can practice their literacy skills reading the many poems included in this wonderful book.

Order on Amazon

  • Jump Back PaulTitle: Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • Author: Sally Derby
  • Illustrator: Sean Qualls
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Poetry, History, Civil Rights
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6070-3
  • Extras: Extensive notes, timeline, bibliography, index


Written and Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

While you might not have heard of the NATO Phonetic alphabet or the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet you have probably heard someone use it. The military members use it, as do emergency workers, airline pilots and sometimes even confused sales people on the other end of the phone.

C stands for Charlie and Z is Zulu. But it isn’t that easy to figure out in this book. On each left side page grade three readers will find one word with the first letter a different color than the rest of the word. The different colored letters help keep the alphabet in order and offer clues to the reader.

Some of the clues will still leave readers without much help due to their age. However, this does provide an introduction to a code used by emergency responders to clarify communication over radios and walkie-talkies of the past.

Librarians and teachers will want to use this book to fill a niche left open in the past. Normally, this alphabet is taught on a need to know basis for adults. But it is good for students to become familiar with something they will hear from time to time.

Buy on Amazon

  • AlphaTitle: Alpha
  • Author/Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7852-4
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 Up
  • Extras: The author’s note at the end of the book explains this emergency code.

Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo

Written by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Brian Biggs


The third book in the Frank Einstein series is just as silly and just as wonderful as the first two. The names alone make the book worth reading, but the great illustrations also add to the mood. Lots of robots with interesting parts and diagrams of human body systems.

Frank Einstein, kid-genius, is flanked by robots Klink and Klank as he invents a machine to boost brain power for pitcher Janegoodall and the rest of the team, including Watson. Meanwhile, T. Edison and Mr. Chimp hatch an evil plot to foil them

Of course, the science should be taken with a grain of salt and used only as a jumping off place. The science of the plot sort of falls apart with the mind control aspect. And there are a few minor errors in the real science. (The muscles are biceps and triceps. These are singular words.) Kids may be inspired to work with the real science, though. The extras at the end add to the fun. Fourth graders, particularly, will strengthen their literacy skills with this hilarious gem.

Buy on Amazon

  • Frank EinsteinTitle: Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo
  • Author: Jon Scieszka
  • Illustrator: Brian Biggs
  • Published: Amulet Books/Abrams, August 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 192 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Science
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1643-0
  • Extras: Frank Einstein’s Human-Body Notes, Pitching with Janegoodall, Watson’s Inventor’s Corner, Bob and Mary Einstein’s Travel Hot Spot, Klank’s Turing Test (jokes), Mr. Chimp’s Word Search, Mr. Chimp’s Alphabet (American Sign Language)
« Older Entries