Isaac, The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d

Written by Mary Losure

            Alone in the attic of an Apothecary’s Shop, an unwanted little boy wrote down his notes in a tiny notebook. He watched things like the progression of the sun across the floor. From that he designed sun dials to tell the time, sun dials the grown-ups could use.

            This excellently researched biography leans on primary resources and a keen understanding of a young person left on his own in the world. The story of Isaac as a boy, and then a man, who follows his own interests intensely, leads us through the worlds of science, physics and the smoky world of alchemy. During Isaac’s time in history, science and mystery were still so intertwined people weren’t sure exactly which was which. The concoctions men put to steaming and smoking over open fires often made poisonous smoke instead of gold, but still they persisted.

            Teachers, librarians and parents all will be impressed with the quality of writing as well as the depth of research. Use this as an example of source notes, and photo credits. Students will be enthralled to see actual pages from Isaac’s tiny notebook. This is a must have book for all elementary, middle school, and public library biography sections. Beyond that, it is simply a spell-binding read showing what one person can accomplish on his own through persistence.

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  • Isaac.jpgTitle:  Isaac, The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d
  • Author:  Mary Losure
  • Publisher:  Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 176 pages
  • Genre: Non- Fiction/Biography
  • Grade Level: 4 to 8
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-7063-4
  • Extras: Index, Bibliography, Source Notes, Photo Credits

Outside Shot

Written by Fred Bowen

Swish goes the net, time after time for Richie Mallon.  Because when he moved into a new neighborhood at eight years old, the basketball hoop in the driveway was his best friend. It took a lot of practice with the regulation ten-foot basket to get many baskets, but he practiced and practiced a lot. Soon even the neighbor noticed how good he was and called him, “the shooter.”

Unfortunately, his middle school basketball team needs a good all-around player, not just a shooter to win games. Richie was slow to pick up on the necessity of a complete skill set, but once he figured it out, the whole team won.

This realistic new addition to Fred Bowen’s Sports Series is well-written and accessible to readers across many age levels. Players and fans alike will enjoy their trip through the season cheering for Richie. Parents, teachers and librarians can use the non-fiction section in the back as a comparison with the fictional front section in teaching reading skills. Math skills are strengthened by the score keeping techniques and percentages of baskets referred to in this story as well as in real basketball. Students may decide to keep their own stats after reading this book.

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  • Outside Shot.jpgTitle:   Outside Shot
  • Author:   Fred Bowen
  • Publisher:  Peachtree Publishing, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Genre:  Sports Fiction
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • ISBN:  978-1561459568
  • Extras: “The Real Story: Great Shooters” includes several non-fiction pages briefly describing the invention of basketball, particularly the development of the jump shot.  Select famous shooters are discussed. Players from the 2015-16 are include

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

Written by Laura Shovan

The accolades just keep coming for Shovan’s debut novel, and it’s easy to see why. She combines a compelling story with the novel-in-verse form skillfully and with a lot of feeling. Each of the eighteen classmates tells a view of the impending school closing and what the school means to them. They do this through assigned poems written during the fictional school year. From the boy suffering with the looming loss of his beloved grandfather to the girl who prefers to write in Spanish, each kid has a personal story to tell. Katie likes green toenails. Norah likes her blue hijab. But not all of the kids want the school to stay open. And all express themselves eloquently in their poems.

As an educator, Shovan outlines all the poetic forms used by the students and gives a brief look at how to use poetry. She also gives lots of advice on how to write your own poetry. A valuable resource for exploring the forms, this book should have an honored place in classrooms. While this is certainly not the first novel-in-verse, it does a lot to promote the form and show its flexibility. Kids will want to see how the story plays out and whether they can save the school. 

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  • fifth-gradeTitle: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary  
  • Author: Laura Shovan
  • Published: Wendy Lamb Books, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Middle grade, Fiction, Poetry
  • ISBN: 978-0-553-52137-5
  • Extras: A Closer Look at the Poems in this Book, From the Fifth Grade Prompt Jar, Glossary

The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes, and Ferrets!

Written by Marcia Williams

England in the fifteenth century was a turbulent world, with many people feeling they needed to rule the country. During the Wars of the Roses, the Lancasters, under Richard III, were fighting the Yorks, under Henry Tudor, to keep the throne of England. Even Richard’s soldiers weren’t thrilled with him, so he was defeated and killed at Bosworth Field. Henry assumed the throne and called himself Henry VII. He and his wife had eight children. Only two sons and two daughters survived to adulthood. The older son, Arthur, died before he could assume the throne. So, Henry, the younger son became king and also inherited his sister-in-law as wife. Williams walks the reader through each of Henry’s six wives, then through the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary Tudor. She devotes many pages to Elizabeth I, with Mary Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare.

Formatted like a picture book, but more like a graphic novel, the pages of this book are packed with information for kids just beginning to learn about this era. Richly illustrated and detailed with the quality of life in that era, this is a fun way to learn about history. Given the perpetual stories about the Tudors, this is a great opportunity to clue the kids in.   

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  • the-tudorsTitle: The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes, and Ferrets!
  • Author: Marcia Williams
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Picture book, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8122-7

 

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

 

 

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