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

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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 Travelallovertheplace.com Travel Hot Spot, Klank’s Turing Test (jokes), Mr. Chimp’s Word Search, Mr. Chimp’s Alphabet (American Sign Language)

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

In light of the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many books on the civil rights movement are being published. This book gives a personal face to the movement like no other. Set squarely in the events of the twentieth century, this is the story of one woman who had a profound effect on the world. The timeline is very helpful in letting the reader know what else is going on.

Fannie Lou Townsend was born to poor Mississippi sharecroppers in 1917, the last of twenty children. To say she had a rough childhood would be a severe understatement. She picked cotton alongside her family after suffering through polio. After her marriage to Pap Hamer, her doctor forced her sterilization, but she adopted two daughters. Partnering with white Freedom Riders, she learned of her right to vote and eventually ran for Congress. She was jailed and beaten into lingering injury. Any time she found herself at odds with a group seeking to give her limited help, she moved on to a more helpful group. The Democrats would not seat her group at convention, so she helped form a separate party. She also worked for women’s rights and for early education.

Weatherford’s use of language is striking, lyrical, and completely appropriate for the topic. Holmes’ use of collage for the backdrop adds immeasurably to the feel of the text and often lets the reader know about many of the events happening around Fannie Lou. Fourth graders will learn about literature, civil rights, history, and the biography of an individual. Parents and teachers may want to consider reading the text aloud to facilitate discussion.

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  • Fannie Lou HamerTitle: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
  • Published: Candlewick Press, August 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Civil rights
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6531-9
  • Extras: Author’s note, detailed timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, copyright acknowledgements

Stella by Starlight

Written by Sharon M. Draper

Inspired by her grandmother’s diary, Draper relates the realistic tale of Southern black family during the Depression. The author dives right in with a cross being burned near Stella’s home on page one. The eleven-year-old does well in school, except for a continuing struggle with her writing. She has great ideas. She just can’t seem to get them on paper. So she goes to the barn at night to practice. When the Klan becomes more active and the weather turns colder, her parents plead with her to stay indoors. The year is 1932, and Stella’s father is determined to vote in the general election. He takes Stella with him when he registers to vote, and she sees the bravery he and two other men must show in order to get registered. The family faces many other battles as Stella’s brother suffers through the flu and Stella’s mother is bitten by a poisonous snake. The black doctor is unavailable and the white doctor refuses to treat her. The Klan burns the house of one of the men who also registered to vote. A man with thirteen children. Stella is a heroine when she finds the hiding place of one of the younger children, frightened by the fire. She also witnesses white men beat up her friend for no reason and saves the life of the daughter of the white doctor.

This exciting book will give fourth graders a good feel for both the Depression and the consequences of discrimination. Stella is a wonderful, though not perfect, child who everyone will identify with. Highly recommended.

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  • StellaTitle: Stella by Starlight
  • Author: Sharon M. Draper
  • Published: Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 8
  • Genre: Fiction, History, Civil rights
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-9497-8


The Way to Stay in Destiny

Written by Augusta Scattergood

When Theo and Uncle Raymond arrive in Destiny, Florida, the sign says it is, The Town Time Forgot, and the weather is ridiculously hot. As they walk down the street looking for their rooming house, uncle has a big tool box and Theo has a lot of questions he keeps to himself. Only chapters later do we find out why they are together in this small town.

Theo was being raised by his grandparents after the death of his parents, but now the grandparents have died. An uncle Theo has never known is called home from his cabin in Alaska to raise the orphan.

Theo is a gifted pianist, but Uncle Raymond cannot tolerate the sound or thought of music. His attitude is a mystery for a long time, as are his nightmares. This is an interesting twist on the age-old story pattern of deceased parents.

The new friendships Theo makes both in school and the rooming house are really funny girls with very independent outlooks on life. They are great secondary characters.

The heroine of the story, though, is a surprise readers will enjoy. She brings humor, guidance and second chances for everyone. The story has a bit of a slow start, but the coming together of all the threads makes for a satisfying conclusion.

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  • Title: The Way to Stay in Destiny
  • Author:  Augusta Scattergood
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 197 pages
  • ISBN: 0545538246
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 6

The Madman of Piney Woods

Written by Christopher Paul Curtis

Piney Woods is the neighborhood of Elijah of Buxton, and it is wonderful to be invited back there again. The older folks in the town used tales of the madman of the woods to scare the children into behaving and staying out of the woods.

Then the same idea occurs to some of the older children. To make sure the little ones stay scared, they occasionally wear hoods over their heads and howl after dark. They just have to really careful to make sure the parents and grandparents don’t catch on to what they are up to, cause, boy oh boy that would be trouble.

Benji and Red have many adventures, and grow through them all. Christopher Paul Curtis continues to enthrall fifth grade readers as well as sixth grade readers and beyond with all the various things that can happen in the woods. Just as some are terribly terrifying, others are completely hilarious. Often within mere pages of each other.

While this is a historical fiction and will fulfill standards in literacy, it will also fulfill standards in history as it is a carefully researched novel that clearly portrays Irish immigration in Canada in early 1900. Librarians and teachers will want to include this companion novel in their collections right next to the Newberry Honor Book about Elijah of Buxton.

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  • Madman of Piney WoodsTitle: The Madman of Piney Woods
  • Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 364 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-15664-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 6


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