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William and the Lost Spirit

Written by Gwen de Bonneval 

Illustrated by Matthieu Bonhomme

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Welcome to medieval France, land of chivalry, monsters, and unexplained events. Translated from the French, this beautifully drawn graphic novel gives fourth graders a glimpse into that world, represented by realistic characters. William has recently lost his father, but the father’s spirit continues to call to William. His sister, Helise, also disappears, so he sets off in search of clues. Brigands run rampant in the area, making it difficult to know who to trust. Monsters William encounters include those with no head and a face below their arms, anthropomorphic dolphins, talking plants, and dog-headed men. He crosses the ocean and the desert and catches a glimpse of his father’s hand. He gets help from a variety of characters, including his aunt, a knight, a troubadour, one of the monsters, and a young girl. The girl is required to call herself the only son of a king, just one of the “truths” of that kingdom. On his return, William faces his mother and possible future stepfather who are suspicious at best. His sister turns into a goat. Mom is sometimes a cat.

As with most graphic novels, the illustrations are very important, and these do not disappoint. Faces and animals are true-to-life and even the monsters are believable. The battle scenes may be overly realistic.

The extensive section about roles in the medieval world, mythological creatures, and gender roles provides added value and should aid students in comprehension. There is also a very good discussion section. The publisher provides materials and information on reading activities through their website: www.lernerbooks.com.

  • William and the Lost SpiritTitle: William and the Lost Spirit
  • Authors: Gwen de Bonneval and Matthieu Bonhomme
  • Publisher: Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback, 152 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0807-4
  • Genre: Middle grade, Chivalry, Myth.
  • Lexile Score: 610GN

Below

Written by Meg McKinlay

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On the day that Cassie was born, her hometown ceased to be. The mayor flipped a switch and Old Grange filled up with water. Cassie spent her first 11 years in New Grange, hearing stories about a town she never walked through. Then, as she and the town rush toward their birthdays, Cassie starts swimming in the lake that buried the town. Her friend Liam joins her and they start exploring. Both of them want to walk the streets visit the buildings and understand the sense of place that their parents take for granted. Their fascination is understandable. It is the centennial year of Grange and everyone is focused on its history. The mayor is preparing for a town celebration, Cassie’s sister has the job of writing the official town book, and Cassie and Liam look. But all of it is just a reach into watery history, until the lake shows Cassie and Liam more.

This book is equal parts character and plot driven. Cassie is a lovely, albeit lonely kid, with a strong sense of not belonging, though she is perhaps not the outsider she sees herself as. Liam has similar issues. Their developing friendship gives us room to savor their time together even as we want to rush to the end and find out what happens. The beautiful imagery would make a good read aloud for older classes, though most fourth grade readers will simply want to slurp it up.

While this is mostly just a fun book, there is room to discuss broader issues within a class. Cassie’s town was moved so a dam could be built. Are those personal costs figured into the budget? Is it worth moving a town for the benefit of many others even at a high cost to a few? The book won’t provide direct answers to these questions, but may set the reader wondering.

  • BelowTITLE: Below
  • AUTHOR: Meg McKinlay
  • PUBLISHER: Candlewick Press
  • REVIEWER: Amy S. Hansen
  • EDITION: first, hardcover, 218 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6126-7
  • GENRE: Fiction, mystery
  • LEXILE: 810

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero

Written by Cheryl Harness

Illustrated by Carlo Molinari

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I’m writing this review wearing pants, no shorts. My freedom to wear these “outrageous,” “positively sinful,” “scandalous” clothes is due, in part, to Mary Walker and other brave, stubborn women like her. Mary Walker Wears the Pants is a read-aloud biography that tells the story of a mid-nineteenth century woman who became one of the world’s first women doctors. She persistently helped soldiers and civilians during the Civil War, even when no one acknowledged her or requested her help. Walker was a prisoner of war (for her probable role as a spy for the Union), yet after the Civil War, she labored on as a doctor and was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor. Walker also travelled the U.S. and abroad as a paid speaker about her service, imprisonment, and pants!

Mary Walker Wears the Pants is well-suited for reading aloud in a fourth grade class as a part of a Civil War or Women’s History unit. It is also a perfect biography for a fourth grader to read for a biography book report. Carlo Molinari’s illustrations distinctly demonstrate the contrast of what women traditionally wore to what Mary Walker’s pants suits were like.  Girls today take for granted the freedom they have to express themselves any way they want, and Cheryl Harness provides a fresh perspective about how fortunate we are to have such stubborn women like Mary Walker in our rich history.

  • Mary WalkerTitle: Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
  • Author: Cheryl Harness
  • Illustrator: Carlo Molinari
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-4990-2
  • Genre: non-fiction/biography/women physicians/Civil War/history
  • Lexile: – AD910

17 Women Who Shook the World

Written by Preethi Burkholder

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Today it’s hard to imagine a society that was so misogynist as it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but recalling the odds that many women overcame to gain the rights to get an education, vote, and run for a political office helps us to appreciate these rights that we consider basic. In 17 Women Who Shook the World, Preethi Burkholder gives an overview of the lives of obvious impactful women like Susan B. Anthony, Mother Theresa, and Oprah Winfrey, but readers also learn about the lives of Emmeline Pankhurst, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Meryl Streep whose lives each “shook the world” in their own, unique ways. This book does not delve deeply into the lives of these women, but it does give a great outline of these women’s lives and how their efforts affected the world. At the end of each of the seventeen chapters, Burkholder writes a summarization paragraph titled, “The Strides She Made,” which gives readers a quick sketch of each woman’s life.

This book is obviously too long to read aloud in one sitting, but it would be a fantastic chapter-by-chapter read aloud for an older elementary class such as second, third, or fourth grades during March, which is Women’s History Month. Burkholder is not only passionate about women’s history, but she also passionately works at motivating and helping women and children. The first portion of 17 Women Who Shook the World has two of Burkholder’s brief motivational writings entitled, “Learn the Secrets for Embracing Highly Effective Lives” and “A 24-step Program for Achieving Your Dreams.” These two essays combined with the main text create an incredibly motivational and informative book. It’s a must-have for any older elementary classroom.

  • 17 WomenTitle: 17 Women Who Shook the World
  • Author: Preethi Burkholder
  • Publisher: Schiffer
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Paperback, 192 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4141-0
  • Genre: non-fiction/biography/women leaders/history

Thrice Upon a Marigold

Written by Jean Ferris

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Happily-ever-after isn’t as easy as it sounds.  King Christian and Queen Marigold are as much in love as ever.  They are thrilled with their new baby girl, Poppy.  Marigold thinks the only thing she has to worry about is what gifts the fairies might give at Poppy’s Welcome Party.  Then, the unthinkable happens.  Princess Poppy is kidnapped by the ex-torturer-in-chief and the ex-poisoner-in-chief as revenge for losing their jobs when the evil Queen Olympia was removed from the throne.  That was in the prior books of the Marigold trilogy.  This book brings in Phoebe and Sebastian, the children of the Terrible Twos, Boris and Vlad, the torturer and poisoner in question.  They are ashamed of their heritage and keep as low a profile as possible.  Phoebe is the librarian and Sebastian is a blacksmith.  Phoebe intercepts a message about the kidnapping and, with Sebastian’s help, tries to alert the castle that a plot is brewing, but they are not in time.  They ask if they can go along on the rescue mission because they know Boris and Vlad better than anyone.  They each have the secret desire to make up for the bad things their fathers have done.  It seems, too, that Phoebe and Sebastian understand one another better than anyone else ever has.  The madcap rescue has all the elements of an epic adventure: royal guards, a retired wizard, an elephant and a fire-breathing dragon as well as a dramatic rescue of both baby and mother.  There could even be love in the works, too.

With a delightful, tongue-in-cheek voice and zany plot twists, this would be a great class read aloud.  Students might demand to hear all three books in the series!  Jean Ferris says on her website (http://www.jeanferris.com/) that she had no intention of writing a sequel to Once Upon a Marigold,  but, in that story, she wanted to give her readers the message to be ready for whatever comes along in life.  She now has written two more Marigold books and introduces readers to Phoebe and Sebastian.  These two characters have not had an easy life.  A Venn diagram could be the perfect way to compare Phoebe and Sebastian’s character traits as a literacy activity.  Thrice Upon a Marigold would make a fun book trailer, too.

  • Thrice Upon a MarigoldTITLE: Thrice Upon a Marigold
  • AUTHOR: Jean Ferris
  • PUBLISHER: Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 250 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-73846-8
  • GENRE: Fairy tales, fantasy
  • LEXILE: 890, Reading level 4.7

Taming of the Shrew

Written by Cass Foster

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Why does Shakespeare endure after over 400 years? It’s not the stories told. Everyone agrees that his stories are mostly borrowed from other sources. Although most of the stories are very appealing. It really doesn’t even matter whether he was the blue-collar bard from Stratford-upon-Avon or some nobleman looking to hide his body of work. He endures because of the language. If there wasn’t a word to express his thoughts, he made one up. As a means of introducing this language to fifth graders and above, Foster created a series of works called “Sixty-Minute Shakespeare.” This is the seventh in the series. In these volumes, he condenses some very long plays for those with short attention spans. All of the language is Shakespeare. He tries very hard to preserve that language. Remember: even the bard was constantly tinkering and cutting scenes, so condensing has a long tradition.

As a play, the work is meant to be performed. The stage directions and blank space for notes are useful toward that end. Foster even includes a section on how to perform what he calls stage combat, including slaps. Of course, this makes the book itself the ultimate reading activity. Just perform the play.

The author’s page on the publisher’s website, www.getshakespeare.com, also provides a lot of information for teachers and the merely curious.

As a story, Taming of the Shrew is firmly entrenched in the world of sixteenth century England. A younger sister cannot marry until her older sister finds a husband. The older sister refuses to be obedient and demure as women of good breeding were expected to be. But the themes of social status and the roles of women are universal. The scheming and interactions make the play exciting and fun. The treatment of women is not politically correct for today, but the play is very funny if you can ignore that.

  • Taming of the ShrewTITLE: Taming of the Shrew
  • AUTHOR: Cass Foster
  • PUBLISHER: Five Star Publications, Inc.
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-58985-220-4
  • GENRE: Paperback, Shakespeare
  • LEXILE: 950

Delicious Vegetarian Main Dishes

Written by Jennifer S. Larson

Illustrated by Brie Cohen

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Ready to cook?  Here is another book in the “You’re the Chef” series.  Recipes include Eggxtra Tasty Bake, Simple Black Bean Salad, Tortilla Tower, Crispy Tofu Sticks, Curried Potatoes and Rice, Who Needs Meat Sloppy Joes and others.  The recipes are vegetarian but not vegan.  The photographs are so mouth-watering that anyone will want to get in the kitchen and start cooking.  The recipes use mostly fresh ingredients and, even though there is an allergy alert in the opening, the recipes are mostly free of those allergy foods.  The author developed these recipes with her boys, so they are plenty kid-friendly.

Every step in each recipe has a diagram of the mentioned cooking technique.  The safety tips and advice about cooking are smart, without talking down.  There are definitions about everything a young cook needs to know: an informational graphic of cooking tools, a diagram with each recipe for the appliance needed to prepare it and a glossary of special ingredients in case a young reader doesn’t know something like cilantro or couscous.  There is an index and a section of other readings and websites.  The reading level is 4.7 making this a very accessible how-to book.  A solid recommendation for those “how-to” units especially if the literacy activity is to make or do the thing described in the book.  The publisher has an additional recipe and other downloads on their website with a log-in: (https://www.lernerbooks.com/products/t/11665/9780761366355/delicious-vegetarian-main-dishes).   The series has several other titles.

  • Delicious Vegetarian Main DishesTITLE: Delicious Vegetarian Main Dishes
  • AUTHOR: Jennifer S. Larson
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Brie Cohen
  • PUBLISHER: Millbrook/Lerner
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-6633-1
  • GENRE: How-to, Cooking
  • LEXILE: 790, Reading level 4.7

Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire

Written by Roxane Orgill

Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

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Most youngsters are interested in show business and the movies, but few reading at the fourth grade reading level are familiar with vaudeville or one of the most famous movie dancers of all time, Fred Astaire or his sister, Adele, his dancing partner for three decades. This rich biography, beautifully illustrated, can be a good read aloud book as well as good for children with comprehension at the fourth grade level to read on their own.

Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire is a fascinating biography of people who began their professions at such a young age, readers will find it hard to believe. At a time when child labor laws were nearly non-existent, young Fred and Adele traveled by train with their mother from Omaha to New York City. After more training in the art of dance, they donned costumes and began their careers singing and dancing on stage. They were only five and eight, Adele being the older. Times were so different then. No radios or television existed, and although there were movies, the movies had no sound. People went to the theatre to see live performances by all kinds of artists – jugglers, singers, talking dogs, trick bicyclists and more. That was vaudeville. Fred and Adele were right in the middle of it. They did two shows every day. At the end of each week, they would pack up and travel with their mother to another town to do it all over again. The only friends they had were each other. They couldn’t go to school, but their mother taught them their subjects. Things were not always easy and their careers stuttered when Adele grew into a young lady and Fred, small for his age, was left behind. However, they persevered and went on to be big stars. Adele hung up her dancing shoes when she was still relatively young, and that was when Fred changed gears and moved on to even greater fame.

The back of the book contains further readings, as well as suggestions for listening to recordings of Fred and Adele and a website (www.AlsoDances.net) that is a dedicated Fred Astaire site. There is also a good list of suggested videos. Candlewick Press, the publisher, offers a short author interview at http://www.candlewick.com/authill.asp?b=Author&pg=1&m=actlist&a=&id=0&pix=n&dlisbn=0763621218. The author has a webpage (http://www.roxaneorgill.com/) with some tips on becoming a writer.

  • FootworkTitle: Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire
  • Author: Roxane Orgill
  • Illustrator: Stéphane Jorisch
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6440-2
  • Genre: Biography, Picture Book, Non-fiction
  • Lexile Score: 1040

Saige (American Girl Today)

Written by Jessie Haas

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Saige is about to start fourth grade. Everything should be great yet she and her best friend seem to be growing apart. Add to that budget cuts and her favorite subject, art, is being canceled. Her grandma suggests that Saige can do something to stop that, but then she gets hurt.

This is an excellent story involving realistic conflicts that young 4th grade level readers, particularly girls, face every school year. The language is sometimes challenging, but the plot is easy for the reader to comprehend and the characters are easy to relate to for this level. And what fourth grade reader doesn’t love horses or stories about horses?

Budget cuts are something that most everyone understands. Saige faces the possibility of giving up art and current fourth grade teachers must decide on the most appropriate books for the classroom. Saige is an excellent book for free reading and reading for pleasure. Teachers should encourage students to choose this as a fun and enjoyable book as a personal choice, but it may not be worth the price for the classroom. It is not necessarily a book that works for boys, nor does this book offer the historical references that may work in a general classroom setting.

That being said, this is well written and covers many aspects of family life, the emotions of a fourth grade reader, and the relationship of a grandmother and granddaughter. If money for the classroom library is not a problem, this is a great choice to promote reading for pleasure and wholesome family relationships. It also does well to encourage students to use critical thinking skills to solve real life problems.

  • Title: Saige (American Girl Today)
  • Author: Jessie Haas
  • Publisher: American Girl Publishing
  • Website: www.americangirl.com
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Juvenile fiction/girls/horses

Celebrating New York

Written by Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrated by C. B. Canga

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Mr. Geo is on the move again in Celebrating New York. This time he is taking a trip to the state of New York. On this visit, he goes to Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls, just to mention a few places. He even goes to the 86th floor, which happens to be the top, of the Empire State building. Many people think of New York City as just a bunch of buildings and skyscrapers, but Mr. Geo shows us that is not the case with Central Park being right the middle of Manhattan. This park takes up several city blocks with carousels, horseback riding, museums and even a zoo. How’s that for city living? Even the site of the World Trade Center is mentioned, along with the new construction of the One World Trade Center.

Celebrating New York is loaded with fun facts and illustrations of not only New York City, but other parts of the state, too.

While written for fourth grade reading, other elementary grades would also enjoy this book. There is also a page of activities, at the end of the book as well. Geography, history and fun trivia facts about the state of New York are all covered in this one book. The author has also included a glossary page as well. Students will develop further reading skills by using Mr. Geo’s trip as a jump start to some further research and discovery of the state.

  • Celebrating New YorkTitle: Celebrating New York
  • Author: Marion Dane Bauer
  • Illustrator: C. B. Canga
  • Publisher: Sandpiper Publishing
  • Reviewer: Cheri Liddy
  • Paperback: 36 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-89781-3
  • Genre: geography, history
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