Archive for March 29, 2013

Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio

Written by Robert Skead
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

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Imagine being a rookie baseball player and the coaches put you up against the best pitcher in the sport. That actually happened in 1936. Joe DiMaggio was a hot-shot player who wanted to be in the New York Yankees. To see if he was ready for the big leagues, the owners decided to test him. They asked him to play on a team called Dick Bartell’s All Stars, a team that would go where ever they could set up a game. They also called the Satchel Paige All Stars, a team of African Americans who could not play in the all-white National Baseball League. Joe DiMaggio, a rookie who hadn’t even been hired, going up again Satchel Paige, perhaps the best pitcher of all time, had to be scary for the young man especially as the hype around the game grew. Paige’s very first pitch hit DiMaggio and was meant to undermine his confidence. For much of the game, the score was tied. DiMaggio really wanted to hit one of those pitches. In the tenth inning, with a runner on first, DiMaggio’s savvy playing and base hit allowed the runner to score and won the game.

Great story for boys. The message here is to keep your confidence no matter how much the odds are against you. Boys can’t hear this too much and it is all the more powerful because “sports” is a language they understand. This is an inspiring class read aloud. For top readers, this would make an excellent script for a DIY audio book or PowerPoint presentation as a literacy activity. It could be used as part of a biography or history unit, even an example of sports stories in a genre unit. The illustrations are muted and create a sense of a by-gone era by award winning illustrator Floyd Cooper.

There are activities on the publisher’s website with a log-in: The author has baseball related activities on his website:

  • Something to ProveTITLE: Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio
  • AUTHOR: Robert Skead
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Floyd Cooper
  • PUBLISHER: Carolrhoda, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-6619-5
  • GENRE: Sports
  • LEXILE: 890

The Boy in the Box

Written by Cary Fagan

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Sullivan Mintz is the most ordinary eleven-year-old at Beanfield Middle School. In fact, the class bully calls him Mr. Average. Sullivan and his little sister, Jinny, help his parents run a home for the elderly. The only time he’s truly happy is when he’s practicing his juggling. When a he learns of a medicine show parked in a nearby field, he’s drawn to Master Melville’s Medicine Show three nights in a row. He is kidnapped by the owners of the show and told his parents can’t support him anymore. Sullivan slowly learns to fit into the medicine show. He befriends the other kids, all of whom were also kidnapped from their homes. The Melvilles have scary ways of keeping the kids in line. The rest of the story is about Sullivan developing an act for the show and about his parents and friends dealing with his supposed death. The people of Beanfield never give up on him. Given the plot devices of abduction and grief, it is recommended for children at least as old as the fourth grade. This is listed as book one of a series about “Master Melville’s Medicine Show,” so the reader is left to wonder what adventures the author has in mind next.

Because much of the plot revolves around an old fashioned medicine show, comprehension would be helped tremendously by reading activities such as learning about the age of medicine wagons and how they led into vaudeville. Perhaps classes could even prepare a vaudeville type show for parents. What if medicine shows did exist in the twenty-first century?

  • Boy in the BoxTitle: The Boy in the Box 
  • Author: Cary Fagan
  • Publisher: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hardcover: 283 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-75268-6
  • Genre: Chapter book, Action, Friendship, Family
  • Lexile Score: 1130L

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea

Written by Ellis Weiner
Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

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How often do you get to read a book where the end and the beginning are on the same page? That’s just the crazy devices fourth graders will enjoy in this romp through the lives of Abigail and John Templeton.

As a read aloud book, it’s also appropriate for younger kids. Despite the humor, there are a lot of emotions shown and lessons to be learned. The twelve-year-old twins have lost their mother. Their father, a professor and inventor, is having trouble dealing with the loss of his wife. Getting a “ridiculous dog” helps a little because he has to go outside to walk the dog, Cassie. But he decides that moving to a new university is the answer. When father and kids show up at “Tick-Tock Tech,” the kids’ nickname for the new school, father is confronted by villainous Dean D. Dean, who claims the professor stole his invention. Dean D. Dean kidnaps the twins in order to get the professor to sign over rights to the invention, but the kids, of course, outsmart him and his twin, Dan. For one thing, the twins each have a hobby that proves useful in thwarting the Deans. Plus they are smarter than the Deans. The invention, the Personal One-Man Helicopter or POMH, turns out to still have a few bugs.

The author and illustrator make such a great team, you would think they were of the same humorous mind. The illustrator seems to understand each and every crazy invention Professor Templeton comes up with. Throughout the text, the author speaks directly to the reader through the narrator, adding to the silliness. This is planned as the first in a series about the Templetons. The book and eventual series have their own website at, where kids can continue the fun with the narrator.

  • Templeton TwinsTitle: The Templeton Twins Have an Idea
  • By: Ellis Weiner
  • Illustrated by: Jeremy Holmes
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8118-6679-8
  • Genre: Chapter book, Humor, Family
  • Lexile Score: 850L

Lemonade Wars: The Candy Smash

Written by Jacqueline Davies
Illustrated by Cara Llewellyn

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Valentine candy hearts mysteriously appear at each desk in Room 4-0. Day is hard enough between decorating their boxes and all the mushy stuff. Top it off with Mrs. Overton’s poetry study and weirdness is the order of the day. Evan finds that he actually likes the poetry and looks forward to the Poem of the Day. Jessie, his sister, would rather write top-notch newspaper stories like their reporter father. She has started a fourth grade newspaper and is looking for her front-page story. Then the candy hearts show up and she decides that solving the mystery will be the blockbuster lead story she is looking for. The hearts seem to be the only clue to who has a crush on who. While Evan is busy writing poems and hiding them, Jessie is investigating (some might call it sneaking around). She decides to do a survey since the “crush” angle is the only one she has. Jessie seems to be on a collision course to embarrassing everyone in Room 4-0, especially her own brother. » Read more

A Smart Girl’s Guide to Liking Herself—Even on the Bad Days: the secrets to trusting yourself, being your best and never letting the bad days bring you down

Written by Dr. Laurie Zelinger

Illustrated by Jennifer Kalis

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Positive and upbeat, this guide to boosting self-esteem is helpful to girls who must navigate through so many issues in today’s world. The contents include self-esteem basics, knowing yourself, knowing the effects of others, how to be your best and things to do to build self-esteem.  Never talking down to girls, this book reassures them that growing up is not easy and every day is different.  But what is constant is doing the best you can.  Being true to yourself is the best way to get through even those bad days.  Each chapter has quizzes, activities, games and lists of things to do and try. » Read more

I Am Sacagawea

Written by Grace Norwich

Illustrated by Anthony VanArsdale

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The remarkable story of Sacagawea, a teenage girl guiding Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, is an accessible one for middle grades in this slim book. The introduction is written as if Sacagawea herself is speaking to the reader, summing up her amazing life by saying “my story is proof that anything can happen.” » Read more

Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Written and photographed by Jan Reynolds

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What is it like to grow up in a culture that is radically different than your own? Children are fascinated by other ways of life, and introducing them to books and other representations of different cultures at a young age is a vital way to broaden their worldview and make them more accepting of other ways of life.

In Only the Mountains Do Not Move, author and photographer Jan Reynolds provides a vivid glimpse in the culture of the Maasai tribe of East Africa. Reynolds introduces readers to several members of the tribe and describes what their typical days are like. The Maasai are nomads whose life revolves around grazing cattle. However, as the amount of grazing land shrinks and the landscape becomes more barren, these people have been forced to change their way of life in order to survive. Reynolds looks not only at the people of the Maasai and their lives, but also at how their environment is changing and how they are also changing in order to keep their traditions alive.

I think Only the Mountains Do Not Move is a good choice for a fourth grade library. Although the reading level is likely to be above the average fourth grade student, the topic is fascinating and the photos are eye-catching. These elements make this a great book for a classroom read aloud. Reynolds does a wonderful job of bringing the Maasai people to life and showing the value of their culture. The book is sprinkled with Maasai proverbs, which could lead to an interesting classroom project or creative reading worksheets. A glossary, pronunciation guide, and source notes add to the value of the book. There is even a link to a website where students can connect with Maasai children and help build schools for them! Although the comprehension level of this book is advanced for fourth graders, the beautiful presentation, excellent writing, and appealing message make it a great addition to a classroom library.

  • Only the MountainsTitle: Only the Mountains Do Not Move
  • Author and photographer:  Jan Reynolds
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, 2011
  • Hardback: 40 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-60060-844-5
  • Genre: Social Studies, World Cultures
  • Lexile: 990L

Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom

Written and illustrated by Marty Kelley

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Simon takes life seriously, very seriously. When he decides that he and his friends will achieve fame and, more importantly, fortune by winning the school talent show, he goes about it seriously.None of them can sing, dance or play a musical instrument, but those are simply problems to solve. Simon is sure he can come up with a solution as long as Mike McAlpine and his minion-friends leave Simon alone. They don’t.

Then there is Stacy, a girl who would be cute if she would quit interrupting Simon. Even Simon’s friends do not see what he is trying to do and start fooling around. Silence, he tells them. It is always up to Simon to keep everyone on track. Then Mrs. Annand yells at them when they try to rehearse and even throws hard bran muffins, interrupting and possibly causing a concussion. In spite of all these problems, Simon gets the group on stage with an act of sorts.

This is perfect for the core curriculum mission of challenging students to read at a higher grade level, although it has a 2nd grade Lexile measure. The situations seem better suited for the 4th grade audience. Simon and all the characters are extremes. Simon is the smart kid who uses big words and bosses everyone around. The story is in first-person from Simon’s point of view so be ready for a lot of bossing around. Munch is the gross kid who will eat anything, so he is really gross. Ralph is the sickest sick kid of all time. Mike is the stupidest bully and his minions are even more stupid. Mrs. Douglass has checked out far more than the usual retired-in-place teacher. The only “normal” person is Stacy and she’s amused by the whole crowd. Even with all this silliness, the story comes together with a satisfying ending. Good fare for the Captain Underpants devotee, but readers might learn some words along the way. There’s a Simon glossary at the end which bumps up the reading level substantially. It would be a good class read aloud since a teacher will be more able to read most of the big words without stopping. There are a few challenging ones even for grown-ups. Check out Simon’s plans: ( where you can play a game or check up on his latest schemes.
Fame Fortune and Bran Muffins

  • TITLE: Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom
  • AUTHOR: Marty Kelley
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Marty Kelley
  • PUBLISHER: Holiday House, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 154 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-8234-2606-5
  • LEXILE: 660

A Rock Is Lively

Written by Diana Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

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How is a rock lively? Until this book was published, it wasn’t clear how that was possible.But Aston finds a way. She makes rocks lyrical, almost poetic. Rocks are lively when they are molten or when they are part of a lively setting. They are mixed up because they are made from a recipe of many materials, like a cake. They are galactic because they can be parts of meteors, comets, or asteroids. They are as old as the earth. They can be as huge as a mountain or as tiny as a grain of sand. » Read more

The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure

Written and illustrated by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini

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A young girl from Sweden helps her grade school class raise funds to save a forest in Costa Rica. Years later, she returns to the rainforest with her son. Peter, Anna’s son, is fascinated by the rainforest and all of the life within it. As they spend time with their hosts and explore the forest, Peter and the readers learn about the animals that live in this habitat. » Read more

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