A Hitch at the Fairmont

Written by Jim Averbeck
Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Combining a lot of conjecture with a lot of historical accuracy, author Jim Averbeck takes the reader on a romp around San Francisco of the 1950’s. When eleven-year-old Jack Fair is orphaned, he moves to the Fairmont Hotel with his Aunt Edith. Shortly after Jack encounters Alfred Hitchcock, in town to check out filming locations, his aunt disappears. The last thing Jack wants is for the police to get involved. He knows his life is better outside the system, even with a mean aunt. So he enlists Mr. Hitchcock’s help to find his aunt. Communication with the kidnappers takes place with carefully arranged chocolates, on laundry lists, and by words circled on a newspaper article. The search leads them to an old mission, to Chinatown, and to the docks. We get to see Hitch as a beatnik poet and as an Aunt Edith facsimile.

Averbeck follows the smoking gun rule carefully, where anything mentioned more than a couple of times has more significance to the story than suspected at first. Each chapter is tied to and titled after one of Hitchcock’s films. And each chapter begins with a short graphic depiction of what happens in that chapter, helping to increase comprehension.

Readers will learn about film history, as well as about the books that inspired many of Hitch’s films. They will also learn about the history of San Francisco and some of its most famous landmarks.

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  • HitchAuthor: Jim Averbeck
  • Illustrator: Nick Bertozzi
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-9447-3
  • Genre: Historical fiction, mystery
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Author’s note setting historical perspective, extensive appendix describing many Hitchcock films, fun video on Amazon and Simon and Schuster Kids modeled on the famous scene from The Birds

The Badger Knight

Written by Kathryn Erskine

Adrian is small for his age and suffers from albinism. Medieval England didn’t understand his condition so many feared he was either an angel or a devil. Either way, he was shunned.  Bullies called him, Badger, because of the mud he would smear under his eyes to block out the bright sun. He was often alone, but had dreams of being a hero.

No matter what others thought about him, Adrian practiced his archery in secret in the woods. He had confidence in his skill to drive an arrow through a leaf hanging on a distant tree, and longed to head off to war against the Scots. Never mind everyone said he was too young, too scrawny, and lazy.

His mother was dead. His father was overworked as the only bow maker in a village preparing for invaders and his grandmother was just plain mean to him. Even when he showed real skill at identifying and gathering herbs in the forest and the ability to write out the recipes required for healing. Few people could write in his village. Perhaps that was one reason his mother insisted on him learning his letters. She didn’t want him to grow up to be a bower, but she was gone now and no one else believed in him.

So Adrian followed Hugh into battle. Shock and sorrow gripped him immediately as he got his first glimpse of true war. There was no glory on this field, only blood, pain, and death. His story continues as he cares for a wounded, “enemy” and tries to decide what that label really means.

Kathryn Erskine has done a tremendous amount of research to bring this taste of medieval war to life. Her details show us the rudimentary architecture of Roman ruins, the food of the poor and the misuse of power by officers as well as clergy. She uses the language of today to make this unfamiliar time in history accessible to third grade readers and above.

Her book will fulfill core curriculum standards in world history, geography and literature. Literacy skills can be strengthened by reading the book in clubs, classrooms, or aloud. This will become a new favorite of readers who like swords, knights, and cheering for the underdog.

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  • Badger KnightTitle: The Badger Knight
  • Author: Kathryn Erskine
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 252 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-46442-0
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade Level: 3-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Glossary

Nest

Written by Esther Ehrlich

This is a great addition to recent literature for fourth graders and up. Chirp is a happy fifth grader who loves her dancer mother and is trying to figure out her psychiatrist father. Her home is shattered when her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Mom doesn’t react well. Chirp tries to keep a positive attitude, but Mom goes into a deep depression and needs to be hospitalized. All is seemingly better when, three months later, Mom returns home. Mom can’t handle all the changes and commits suicide. Chirp and her neighbor, Joey, who is suffering abuse at the hands of his father, take off from Cape Cod to Boston. Chirp has known happier times in Boston, riding the swan boats with Mom.

Though Nest is set in 1972, it deals with a lot of issues that may be confronting kids these days. The author does a great job of dealing with the issues from the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old without losing the fact that those around her also have feelings. An added bonus is Chirp’s ornithological knowledge. She often identifies birds by their song or by the way they build their nests. When her mother dies, she builds her own little nest in her bedroom. Through much of the book, the reader can’t help but be drawn in by Chirp’s optimistic outlook.

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  • NestTitle: Nest
  • Author: Esther Ehrlich
  • Publisher: Random House Children’s Books, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Genre: Historical istorical Fiction, Loss, Social issues
  • ISBN: 978-0-385-38608-8
  • Grade level: 4 to 6

The Kite that Bridged Two Nations

Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Terry Widener

When it became time to build a bridge across the enormous Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada, the best way to begin seemed to include a single string. But how could anyone get a string between the two nations?

Charles Ellet, Jr. decided to sponsor a kite flying contest, with a reward for anyone who could span the chasm with a kite string. That was exactly what a young Irish immigrant boy named Homan Walsh loved to do more than anything else. Fly kites.

This is his story. It is written sparingly, like exquisite poetry. But it tells details. How he designed his kite, built it, named it, tested it. This story tells of his hardship of getting stranded by a huge winter storm.

Readers will cheer for Homan. Readers will be amazed and want to read about Niagara Falls. They will want to build kites and go outside to fly them. Fourth grade readers will dream big dreams and go forth to follow those big dreams.

Teachers and librarians can use this book in the core curriculum to teach geography, biography, history and research in a really entertaining way.

 

  • KiteTitle: The Kite that Bridged Two Nations
  • Author: Alexis O’Neill
  • Illustrator: Terry Widener
  • Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-938-4
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade Level: 3-6
  • Extras: Extensive author’s note/ timeline/resources/ sources for further research

First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low

Written by Ginger Wadsworth

This engaging biography of Juliette Gordon Low will have special meaning for all current and former Girl Scouts, but it is well worth the time of all students. Daisy, as she was called, lived during a fascinating time in history, and she really did live life to the fullest. The author vividly depicts the living conditions and concerns throughout Daisy’s life. The reader learns a lot about her personality and some of her motivations.

Daisy was born shortly before the beginning of the Civil War in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother was from the North. Both families were prominent, so frequent guests at the home included General Sherman and President Taft. Daisy was well-educated, nearly deaf, and married to an Englishman. She knew royalty and had close encounters with danger due to her frequent travels during war and peace. She met Lord Robert Baden-Powell through friends in London. He was forming a group called Boy Scouts, and Daisy thought that sounded great for girls too. She would form a group of girl guides then promptly tell someone else to take over. But she stuck with the idea and started the movement in the US. At her death from breast cancer, there were millions of Girl Scouts worldwide.

Named to the 2013 Amelia Bloomer List by the American Library Association, this well-research and well-presented biography is perfect for fourth graders learning about research or about this period of history. The author’s excellent website, www.gingerwadsworth.com, has an eight-page teacher’s guide with many reading activities. This is also a great source to increase reading comprehension and literacy skills.

  •  First Girl ScoutTitle: First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low
  • Author: Ginger Wadsworth
  • Publisher: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Genre: Biography, Civil War, First World War
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-24394-8
  • Extras: Table of contents, timeline, source notes, bibliography, list of places to visit, index

Discover More: Ancient Egypt

Written by Penelope Arlon

Once again Scholastic has produced a breath takingly beautiful book about ancient Egypt full of mummies and gold.

The diagrams are clearly marked and everything is easy to read. Pages are full, and yet, not busy. Fourth grade readers will enjoy learning the names for ancient symbols and names for seasons of the year. Of course, the pharaohs still command much attention and interest. Timelines help keep the succession in order. Homelife, board games, personal beauty secrets are shared here as well as information about food, drink and the Rosetta stone.

Teachers and librarians can use this accessible research book to meet literacy and common core standards both for the confident elementary reader and the reluctant, struggling older reader.

Students will spend hours enjoying the beauty of the artifacts and will be able to read the short passages of text printed in a slightly larger font than has been typical of nonfiction of the past.

This is an excellent addition to the set of Discover More books put out by Scholastic.

  • Ancient EgyptTitle: Ancient Egypt
  • Author: Penelope Arlon
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 80 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-62739-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, social studies, history
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Extras: Photographs, glossary, index and special code to download Amazing Mummy Tales

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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This new addition to the Dear America series written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a whirlwind of adventure and survival. There is no need for dystopian when we take into account the true stories from our own past.

Pringle Rose is a fourteen girl who has been raised in every comfort in the coal rich city of Scranton, PA in 1871. Her father owns one of the large collieries and is not about to be pushed around by some new labor union threats.

Unfortunately, he and his wife are killed in a tragic carriage accident leaving Pringle and her brother Gideon alone in the world with a greedy uncle and a mean aunt. In order to save her Down Syndrome brother from being institutionalized, Pringle and Gideon run away.

While these two children are made up characters, the struggles between mine owners and mine workers was very real. Bartoletti skillfully tells both sides of the story in very personal ways that will lead to thoughts and discussions about how difficult life was at that time.

The children travel half way across the country on a train by themselves in search of an old family friend. They end up living in Chicago and experience, dramatically the great fire.

It is a masterfully written story that will grip fourth, fifth and sixth grade readers as well as anyone who picks it up. The core curriculum and literacy skills can be met on practically every page as the author’s research is so thorough. She has included the transportation of the time, the medical misunderstandings of Down Syndrome, boarding schools, mine owners, mine labor unions, the Chicago fire and a trust fund that requires a person to be twenty one years old to inherit from parents.

The writing is clear and precise. Included are many actual places and dates. Librarians and teachers will be able to use this text to begin or conclude studies about the coal region, railroads in America or the Chicago fire that brought about serious changes in building codes all across the country.

  • Down the Rabbit HoleTitle: Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-29701-1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level 4 to 7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Photographs at the back, Nonfiction Section on Life in America in 1871, recipes from the time

Dead End in Norvelt

Written by Jack Gantos

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There’s a reason the Gantos boy won the Newbery Medal. He also won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Ficiton. The first book in the Norvelt series based on the author’s childhood is engaging and laugh out loud funny, though darkly funny in places. Miss Volker, Jack’s neighbor, is the elderly medical examiner and obituary writer for the town of Norvelt, established and named for EleaNOR RooseVELT. Miss Volker’s arthritis has gotten so bad, she must soak her hands in melted paraffin before they are of any use at all, so she enlists Jack’s help at every opportunity. Meanwhile Jack is in an extended grounding for accidentally shooting off his father’s Japanese rifle and for mowing down his mother’s corn at his father’s urging. His excitement grows as the old ladies of Norvelt start dropping like flies. After several deaths, the town newspaper publisher and the police begin to get suspicious. Is Miss Volker the culprit or is it the lone surviving original male Norvelter, adult tricycle rider Mr. Spizz? All the while, Jack is fighting constant nose bleeds, and Miss Volker is determined to help him with that.

And Jack’s father is building a runway for an airplane of questionable safety while Jack digs a bomb shelter by hand.

Fourth graders and up will enjoy the dry humor. The story will hold their attention to strengthen literacy and comprehension. Teachers, librarians, and parents will enjoy the fact that with each obituary comes a history lesson. A quick check of facts may be in order, though.

 

  • Dead End in NorveltTitle: Dead End in Norvelt
  • Author: Jack Gantor
  • Publisher: Square Fish/Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2011
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 384 pages
  • Genre: Middle grade historical fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-250-01023-0

 

Wonder

Written by R.J. Palacio

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Auggie is not normal. At least his appearance isn’t. But his emotions and his intelligence are. Due to a genetic anomaly, August Pullman is born with no jaw, no ears as we know them, and misplaced facial features. His appearance, coupled with multiple surgeries, means that he’s home schooled until he’s ready for fifth grade. He’s gotten very good at noticing the reaction to his unusual appearance and moving on, but it’s not always easy. When his parents get him into a private middle school, he’s faced with a whole new set of challenges. The author has mastered the art of showing the many sides of an issue. Although Auggie is the main focus, we get to hear how his sister and some of the other kids view the situation. There are no huge surprises in the plot, but what is surprising is the depth of the characters and the abilities they discover. Even the principal discovers his own compassion, with tears on his face at one point.

Fourth graders and up will love the humor and identify with the bullying that happens. Before Auggie even gets to the school, his parents have him laughing about the principal, Mr. Tuchman’s name by saying their professor, Miss Butt. Perfect fourth grade humor. Kids will learn a little about genetics and facial deformity while enhancing their literacy skills. Among other awards, this debut novel was named an Amazon Best Books of the Month for Kids, 2012.

  • WonderTitle: Wonder
  • Author: R.J. Palacio
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 316 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, friendship, physical challenges
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-86902-0
  • Lexile: 790L

Saucy and Bubba

Written by Darcy Pattison

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Billed as a modern Hansel and Gretel tale, this new novel explores some of the scarier aspects presented in fairy tales. Saucy, age eleven, and brother Bubba, seven, have lost their mother and are being cared for by Krissy, their daddy’s new wife. Daddy is out on the road, driving a big rig and trying to keep the bills paid. Krissy has a drinking problem, which Daddy refuses to see. When Krissy is drunk, Saucy hides. Krissy gets so drunk one night, she threatens to hit Saucy, which is the last straw. Saucy and Bubba board a cross-country bus in order to seek help from their Aunt Vivian. Of course, Bubba insists they leave a trail of white stones for Daddy to follow to them. After a terrifying trip, they arrive at Aunt Vivian’s house, but there’s no Aunt Vivian. Eventually, things get better, but not perfect, as in the real world.

Although written at a third to fourth grade reading level, the subject matter may be for the more mature members of this age group. Saucy’s ability to recognize Krissy’s very adult problems puts her squarely at her stated age of eleven. Also, she has an uncanny ability to keep Bubba safe against all odds on a long bus trip, at home with Krissy, and with a stranger/predator. But Saucy’s struggles are a good model for children who need to trust an adult in order to solve a problem, whether it’s abuse or bullying or another issue. In the scary, modern world, abuse and bullying know no age limits.

  • SaucyTitle: Saucy and Bubba
  • Author: Darcy Pattison
  • Publisher: Mims House, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 156 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fairy tale, running away, alcoholism
  • ISBN: 978-1-62944-008-8
  • Lexile: 590L
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