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

Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure

Written by Sally Isaacs
Illustrated by Iva Sasheva

When you go for a walk, do you usually have to worry about polar bears? Not as long as you’re not walking alone to the north pole. But that’s exactly what Helen Thayer did in 1988. Helen was a mountain climber and adventurer who was always looking for a new challenge. When she reached the drop off point – a small village in northern Canada – a hunter insisted she take one of his dogs, Charlie, with her. It was a good decision, as the dog provided some protection against a bear and added warmth during a blizzard. Winds blew away many of her supplies, but Helen and Charlie reached their destination and were able to radio for pick up.

Detailed and accurate illustrations help to make the story come to life and become accessible to students. Reading the story aloud with a class would stimulate discussion on the perils faced in an arctic environment. Reading activities could include imagining what supplies need to be taken on such an expedition and how much they would weigh.

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  • Helen ThayerTitle: Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure
  • Author: Sally Isaacs
  • Illustrator: Iva Sasheva
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-62370-607-4
  • Extras: Map, Note from Helen Thayer, More About Helen Thayer, More About Charlie, Glossary, Read More, Internet Sites, Discussion Questions, Index

The Terrible Two Get Worse

Written by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

An invincible principal? Just the challenge Miles and Niles need to keep the laugh-out-loud story going. Returning readers will pick up right where they left off with book one, but even those just getting introduced to this pair will recognize good clean fun right off the bat.

These boys take pranking so seriously they do pranking exercises and prank one another for practice. But their pranking ways get too much attention from the school board and result in getting the principal replaced by his father. Former Principal Barkin turns the school into a regular boot camp where no pranks will be tolerated.

However, in the midst of this story about friendship, are stories about the haves and the have nots. Barnett and John introduce theories of Robin Hood, Chekhov, Scoville and others through classroom activities, as well as the reading done by Niles and Miles themselves. These are well-read fellows who come to understand how power works in their own school as well as in the real world. A fun read that also opens the door for grander discussions about the benefits people who have power already possess over everyone else.

Cartoon sketches add delight to the story experience and will invite in readers who would shy away from text heavy books.

Core curriculum standards can be met in many areas of literacy, as well as in the areas of social studies as the activities of propaganda is discussed and can be tied directly into current events and/or history of our world. This would make a fantastic read-aloud or book club addition for the middle grade students.

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  • Terrible Two Get WorseTitle: The Terrible Two Get Worse
  • Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
  • Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
  • Publisher: Amulet Book, NY, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 224 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1419719257
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

Chloe in India

Written by Kate Darnton

This is a new-kid-in-class story with more than a couple of twists. The main character, one of the new kids, is an American girl in a Delhi, India school. Trying to fit into class five as only one of two blondes in the entire school, Chloe is confused by the somewhat subtle caste system still present in India. The Indian students are equally confused by her. Even her name is different. To Indian ears, Chloe sounds like chhole, a chickpea dish in Hindi. Chloe wants to be friends with the most popular girls but finds she has more in common with the EWS (economically weaker section) girl, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is not only a good and loyal friend but is clever and talented in ways Chloe can only guess at. On the other hand, the rich girl, Anvi, is jealous and vindictive. Chloe cannot quite bring herself to make her friendship with Lakshmi public, which causes bad feelings on many sides. Naturally, Chloe and Lakshmi to find a way

Fourth graders and up will get a chance to learn an awful lot about living in India and will learn a few words of Hindi along the way. This fascinating book has a lot to say about interpersonal relations as well as the effect social pressure has on lives. For this reason and for pure fun, we highly recommend it.

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  • ChloeTitle: Chloe in India
  • Author: Kate Darnton
  • Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, January 12, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Middle grade fiction, Culture, Interpersonal relations, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-0553535044

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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
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