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

 

A Handful of Stars

Written by Cynthia Lord

In this heartwarming and fun story, Lord’s characters ring true to life, informing development without hitting kids over the head with what they’re learning.

Lily lives in wild blueberry country, also known as Maine. She works hard, helping her Mémère and Pépère (grandmother and grandfather) run the only grocery in a small town. As the wild blueberry harvest progresses and the blueberry festival approach, Lily worries about her dog, who is going blind.  Two elements of blueberry growth that figure in the story are the migrants who work the harvest and the mason bees that pollinate the bushes. The new – very good – friend Lily makes is a migrant named Salma. Lily gets Salma started painting bee houses, the blocks of wood in whose holes the bees live. Lily plans to use the cash from selling the houses to help her dog. Meanwhile, Lily is dealing with her changing relationship with her best friend, Hannah, and with missing her dead mother. Hannah is the defending Blueberry Queen, Lily’s mother won the crown three years running, and Salma wants to enter the contest. So her emotions are extremely conflicted.

Lord packs a lot into this story. Fourth graders will find a lot to relate to regarding friendship and differences (and similarities) in culture. They will learn about the history of blueberries plus a bit about both Latino migrants and French Canadians. And they will also learn about helping their pets and mason bees. As with Rules, Lord handles all these issues with great sensitivity.

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  • Handful of StarsTitle: A Handful of Stars
  • Author: Cynthia Lord
  • Published: Scholastic Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 192 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, culture, friendship, pets
  • ISBN: 978-0-454-70029-0

 

 

Rescue on the Oregon Trail

Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Kelley McMorris

Dogs are always a great way to interest young readers in a story, maybe this dog can help interest them in history. In this new series by Kate Messner, Ranger is the dog who travels in time.  The first adventure takes Ranger and his readers on the Oregon Trail. Amid the dangers of rattlesnakes and flooding streams, readers also get an authentic feeling for the endless days of walking beside the wagon. It was hard to realize that friends, family and everything you have ever known is getting farther and farther behind you.  Meantime up ahead is land, weather and people you know nothing about. There is hope, but no sure things ahead nor on the trail.

The portal that allows for Ranger’s travel abilities is a metal first aid box that seems to hum and vibrate when a trip is about to begin. While a grown up reader might question the red cross on the metal box, young readers will suspend their disbelief and set off on the next adventure.

Full page illustrations are full of action as well as historically accurate.

Kate Messner makes the characters real. They feel like friends you have known for a long time before the story ends.

Historical fiction, even with a touch of time travel, can help teachers and librarians meet the standards of the core curriculum in geography, American history, cultural beliefs, literacy and math. This story includes a fascinating explanation of how people used to measure the distance traveled during a day on the wagon trail. Parents might want to read this book aloud to children before taking a vacation to a place related to the Oregon Trail, or just to enjoy a good story together chapter by chapter.

Readers will enjoy collecting this new series and taking other trips with Ranger. His next adventure will take him to ancient Rome.

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  • Rescue on the Oregon TrailTitle: Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail
  • Author: Kate Messner
  • Illustrator: Kelley McMorris
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 125 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-63914-9
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level 4
  • Extras: An extensive author note that explains Kate Messner’s research, shows a picture of a diary written by a traveler on the Oregon Trail and describes how the author got some ideas for characters.  Further Reading list, Sources

Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schoz of Doom

Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Dan Santat

Evil bunnies from outer space attack Earth … again!  That pretty well sums it up. Of course, the bunnies can’t just run rampant, so there must be humans who try to stop them. But how?

As usual, Dan Santat captures the action of the Foofs (Fluffy, Obnoxious, Odoriferous Furballs) and of twins Kevin and Joules as they protect the world from the fluffies. This book is part graphic novel and part charts of the characteristics of Birds and Others (birds being anything – at all – that flies). With the help of the Lunch Lady, will the twins prevail?

The main themes of this tale are stink and goo, so fourth graders, especially boys, will love it from page one. It will hold their interest and further their literacy skills. Very silly and highly recommended.

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  • Fluffy BunniesTitle: Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schnoz of Doom
  • Author: Andrea Beaty
  • Illustrator: Dan Santat
  • Publisher: Amulet Books/Abrams, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 192 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 6
  • Genre: Fiction, humor, fluffy bunnies
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1051-3

 

The Terrible Two

Written by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

When Miles Murphy has to move from his home to an area with a lot of cows, it almost seems like the end of the world. If it weren’t for his pranks, it would be even worse. Then he finds out his new school already has a resident prankster, Niles. Let the prank war begin! Of course, Miles needs to figure out who the other prankster is. And he needs to come to terms with the idea that he might have to work with someone else. Miles invents a whole person, Cody, and has the entire school convinced of his existence. Cody figures prominently in the biggest prank of all. As do cows. The principal and his son are just terrible enough to deserve whatever they get.

This fun and frolicking book will hold the attention of fourth graders, especially boys. The occasional cow facts should help increase comprehension and literacy. The clever pranks will have readers guessing what comes next and challenge them to make up their own endings. The book comes complete with a certificate from the International Order of Disorder and a Terrible Two mug in an oversized milk carton.

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  • Terrible TwoTitle: The Terrible Two
  • Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
  • Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
  • Publisher: Amulet Books/Abrams, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Genre: Humor, friendship, pranks, cows
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1491-7
  • Extras: Website at www.abramsbooks.com/theterribletwo
  • Release date: January 13, 2015

The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Written by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Illustrated by Barry Moser

Take a famous author working on a masterpiece, an unusual cat and mouse, an injured Tower raven, and the best cheese in the realm and throw them all into one inn. Misadventures abound. In 1858 London, alley cat Skilley is looking for a home when he hears The Cheshire Cheese Inn is looking for a mouser. He’s great at catching mice, but he doesn’t eat them. His real love is cheese. The inn has cheese in abundance, plus mice. So, Skilley and Pip, a very smart mouse, strike up a bargain. Pip and the other mice provide Skilley with cheese. Skilley catches Pip over and over and releases him. Charles Dickens, working on A Tale of Two Cities in a corner of the inn, notices all this activity. Meanwhile, the mice are also helping a raven they rescued from another alley cat, Pinch. Maldwyn, the raven, is missing from the Tower of London. Even the queen shows up in the end. Seems that everyone at the inn has secrets. Pip helps Dickens with the beginning to his novel. The cheese cook uses the mice as taste testers.

The illustrations are realistic and beautiful and have the feel of the Victorian era. With a smattering of quaint language, the book promotes literacy skills. The reader also learns a lot about living in the era. A great website is available at www.cheshirecheesecat.com with many reading activities.

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  • Cheshire Cheese CatTitle: The Cheshire Cheese Cat
  • Author: Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
  • Illustrator: Barry Moser
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 234 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction, friendship, culture, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-810-3
  • Extras: Extensive glossary, website at www.cheshirecheesecat.com

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

Written by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Brian Biggs

Take a kid genius inventor, add a couple of talking robots, throw in a pint-sized villain with a sidekick chimp, and you’ve got the ingredients for the first book of John Scieszka’s new six-book series.

Frank Einstein loves to use household items to invent all kinds of things in his Grampa Al’s garage. He wants to build a SmartBot that can think and learn, but a power outage thwarts his efforts. Later that night, a bolt of lightning causes an electrical spark to bring not one, but two robots to life: Klink, the wisecracking brainiac, and Klank, the emotional hugger. Along with his trusted friend Watson, Frank enlists Klink and Klank to help him develop his greatest invention yet: an antimatter motor, which he knows is a shoo-in to win the upcoming Midville Science Fair. Winning this competition means a lot to Frank as he plans to use the prize money to help save Grampa Al’s repair shop.

Disaster strikes when Frank’s invention ends up in the hands of his arch-nemesis, T. Edison, who not only uses the antimatter idea to win the science prize, but also kidnaps Klink and Klank. Frank must use scientific knowledge and logic to save his robots, overcome the enemy, and save the world from destruction. All in a day’s work for this super genius hero!

Scieszka continues his mission to bolster the reading habits of children, especially reluctant boy readers, by adding a healthy helping of silliness to the real principles of science: observation, hypothesis, results, and conclusion. Facts and figures are presented at a fourth grade level with help from Biggs, who creates easy diagrams and illustrations in a cartooning style.

Fun to read and good for you, too. A winning combination.

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    • Frank EinsteinTitle: Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor
  • Author: John Scieszka
  • Illustrator: Brian Biggs
  • Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Paperback, 192 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1218-0
  • Genre: Fiction, Science fiction, Humor

 

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
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