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Reflections

Written by Ralph Fletcher

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Many youngsters wonder how books are created. There are many books on writing, but few are written for the fourth grade reading level. It is a real challenge to write a book that offers comprehension of such a complex subject for the fourth grade level, but Ralph Fletcher has done a masterful job of it without ever talking down to this young audience.

Reflections is really the story of Fletcher’s life’s journey to becoming a writer. He introduces the reader to some of the realities of being a working writer with the story about the manuscript for his first novel and what happened to it. It’s quite a story. His childhood is the foundation of his writing life. Growing up in a family with nine kids gives him plenty of grist for his writer’s mill, especially since his mother taught him to be a true observer of everything around him. And that observation ability became absolutely critical to his writing. Fletcher not only writes about his writer’s notebooks, what goes into them,  and what he gets out of them, but he includes photographs of his notebook pages so the young reader can really see the product. He discusses how he finds his ideas for a wide variety of projects. Youngsters will find hope for a writing future when they see how great ideas can come from the simplest things. Fletcher goes on to give a clear view of the writing process and how important the many steps are to successful writing. As any writer knows, revision is probably the most important and time consuming part of the process, and Fletcher spends some good time on that. This is a very realistic picture of writing as a career, and it is one fourth graders and up will find fascinating.

Fletcher is a prolific writer with many books on writing, and Reflections is not the only one for elementary students. Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and How to Write Your Life Story are two of his other books that will be of interest to budding writers. On his web site, kids can find Tips for Young Readers (http://www.ralphfletcher.com/tips.html), a wonderful resource. He offers teacher handouts (http://www.ralphfletcher.com/teacher.html) as well.

  • Title: Reflections
  • Author: Ralph Fletcher
  • Publisher: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • ISBN: 1-57274-858-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction

Fabulous Fashions of the 1960s

Written by Felicia Lowenstein Niven

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Go-go boots, beehive hair and bell-bottom pants!  The fashions of the 1960s were casual, breaking away from the formal looks of the older generation.  This book examines not only the fashions of the era, but some of the social conditions that contributed to styles.  The 60s were a time of change.  Designers experimented with advances in fabrics and other materials such as plastic, vinyl, and even paper.  They used bright colors and bold patterns.  Elements of Africa, Asia and India, as well Native Americans, appeared in clothing styles.  Some hairstyles were bigger than the bouffant of the 50s and some were straight even if a person’s hair was naturally curly.  Men’s fashions were more relaxed, too.  No more hats!  A man could wear a turtleneck sweater or a Nehru jacket and still be fashionable.  Designers got ideas from such things as the Beatles and Woodstock.  This was a time when small boutiques and individuals with artistic ideas could affect what was popular to wear.

An insightful look into how people looked in the 1960s and why.  A reading worksheet could be easily written using the table of contents and chapter subheadings as an outline to demonstrate the skill of writing from an outline as a literacy activity.  The photographs are a good representation of the time.  The book includes a timeline summarizing all the decades of the series, a glossary, a list of readings and internet addresses and an index.  Fun series.

  • Fabulous FashionsTITLE: Fabulous Fashions of the 1960s
  • AUTHOR: Felicia Lowenstein Niven
  • PUBLISHER: Enslow
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 48 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-279-2
  • GENRE: Non-fiction, fashion

Circus Galacticus

Written by Deva Fagan

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Life has never been easy for Trix.  An orphan and an outcast among privileged students in the boarding school where she lives as a charity case, Trix survives because she is stubborn and angry.  Suddenly everything changes.  It starts small.  She can read writing that no one else can on the poster for Circus Galacticus.  A strange man appears outside her dorm room window, climbing in her room and attacking her.  Then her hair turns pink.  She needs answers and thinks that the mysterious message on the circus poster may hold the key.  She meets the Ringmaster and he offers her a place at the circus.  This is no ordinary circus.  This is an intergalactic spaceship filled with outcasts who are searching for a way to survive against the repressive government of the Mandate.  Trix must find out what her talent is and if she fits into this complicated world of new creatures and new rules before she endangers herself and the entire circus.  She learns that the piece of meteorite that her astronaut parents left her is something much more important than she thought and gives her valuable clues to who she really is.

Throughout Trix’s journey of self-discovery, she remains stubborn and rebellious but she learns that she doesn’t have to always take on the whole universe by herself.  Her courage to do just that helps her win the day.  Lots of adventure and science fiction daring-do.  Students can make a chart as a reading worksheet of each choice that Trix has to make, what her options are and what she chooses to do as a way of examining her character.  There is a discussion guide on the author’s website: (http://devafagan.com/circus-galacticus-discussion-guide/).  Although there is also a book trailer on the author’s website, students could make their own as a literacy activity.

  • Circus GalacticusTITLE: Circus Galacticus
  • AUTHOR: Deva Fagan
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 291 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-85087-0
  • GENRE: Science fiction

Hottest Muscle Cars

Written by Bob Woods

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For the reader who likes cars, this is a must-read book. Beginning in 1901 with Henry Ford’s Sweepstakes car, automobile manufacturers have built some of their products mostly for speed. Until 1974, when the gasoline shortage became critical, many drivers sought increased speed, power, and sleek design. One of the best known of the muscle cars was the Pontiac GTO, built for fun as much as for racing. Ronnie and the Daytonas even sang about the GTO. In 1974, Pontiac downsized the GTO, but the style was revived in the 2000s. The 1964 Ford Mustang prompted the rise of the pony car. Powerful and light, it was an instant hit. It went through many changes, but the classic style made a comeback in 2005. Chevrolet has made both the heavy, strong Camaro and the small, light Corvette. Both have gone through many changes and have been popular over the years. The Dodge Charger led the pack for fastbacks. With huge engines and sleek designs, they did amazingly well in races. “General Lee” from The Dukes of Hazzard was a Charger.

Abundant photographs help the reader to know these truly unique vehicles. Useful and entertaining sidebars appear throughout the text.

This volume is part of the “Wild Wheels” series. It has a very good table of contents, glossary, and index. Fourth graders can learn more from the books and websites in the “Further Reading” section. The publisher’s website, www.enslow.com, has a free educator’s guide with numerous reading activities and reference for curriculum standards.

  • Hottest Muscle CarsTitle: Hottest Muscle Cars
  • Author: Bob Woods
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7660-3611-6
  • Genre: Middle grade, Automobiles.

When I Was Eight

Written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

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Her father teaches Olemaun how to do many things; however, he cannot teach the eight-year-old Inuit how to read because he does not read himself.  Hearing the books read to her by her older sister Rosie is no longer enough. To read them herself becomes Olemaun’s dream. All through the winter, she begs her father to let her go to school far from her Arctic home, but he refuses. He knows bad things about the school that she doesn’t. But Olemaun is nothing if not persistent. After all, her name means “the stubborn stone that sharpens the half-moon ulu knife.” Against his better judgment, he leaves her off at the school in spring when they make their long journey to trade with the outsiders.

When Olemaun first arrives, the nuns strip her of her beautiful hair, her warm clothes, and even her dignity. They call her Margaret and treat her as a slave. When she is finally called into the classroom by a kindly nun, she hopes to learn to read; but the actual teacher turns out to be the same nun who had cut her hair with such pleasure. Instead of teaching her to read, the nun makes fun of Olemaun and puts her in a corner. After that, she takes every opportunity to prove Olemaun’s inferiority, giving her extra chores until her muscles ache. But Olemaun learns as she goes, studying letters before she wipes them from the board and sounding out the words on cleaning supplies. Even being given red socks as punishment and being shut up in the cellar cannot thwart Olemaun from her quest to learn to read.

Readers at the fourth grade levels will treasure this book about Olemaun’s determination to read. The book has the feel of a fairy tale with a wicked stepmother, but it’s all the more powerful because it’s based on a true story. Although the prejudice underlying the nun’s cruelty will likely shock readers with fourth grade reading skills, Olemaun’s ultimate victory will make them cheer silently.

About the authors: http://www.annickpress.com/modules/books/author/356/Christy_Jordan-Fenton and http://www.annickpress.com/modules/books/author/357/Margaret_Pokiak-Fenton

  • When I Was EightTitle: When I Was Eight
  • Author: Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
  • Illustrator: Gabrielle Grimard
  • Publisher: Annick Press
  • Reviewer: Bonita Herold
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978—1-55451-490-8
  • Genre: Social Studies

Bumpy Ride Ahead! (Double Trouble)

Written by Wanda Brunstetter

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Readers at the fourth and fifth grade levels will love to read about nine-year-old twins, Mattie and Mark Miller. Because of their selfishness, the twins often get into trouble—make that double trouble. When scene after scene in their Holmes County, Ohio, Amish community presents yet another opportunity to get into trouble, the twins do not disappoint. Whether it’s trying to avoid work—as Mark does when he’s expected to help man the fruit stand—or trying to avoid putting extra thought into a writing assignment—as Mattie does when she asks Mark for an idea—the result is disastrous and well-deserved. It’s bad enough when the twin’s selfishness leads to hurt feelings—Mattie abruptly leaves her grandmother with sad eyes after delivering flour and Mark abandons his friend when he doesn’t get the pony ride he expects—but the selfishness reaches an all-time high when it results in injuries to both their little brother and their horse. Will these two ever learn to avoid the bumpy ride and simply share?

Since the twins are Amish, unfamiliar words will strengthen fourth and fifth grade reading skills. The words alone are fun and may even cause the more advanced reader to read aloud to their younger siblings. The glossary at the front of the book could be the basis for a reading worksheet, which would no doubt lead to increased reading comprehension. In addition, the Amish Fiction for Kids website provides ideas for crafts, games, and other fun stuff. Wanda Brunstetter’s Bumpy Ride Ahead! (Double Trouble) should be on any value-based reading list that covers the topic of selfishness.

Author’s website: http://amishfictionforkids.com/

Additional website: http://www.wandabrunstetter.com/

Double Trouble Series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jumCQOeQKvM

  • Bumpy Ride AheadTitle: Bumpy Ride Ahead! (Double Trouble)
  • Author: Wanda Brunstetter
  • Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Bonita Herold
  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-61626-790-2
  • Genre: Social Studies

Frogged

Written by Vivian Vande Velde

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Another unique and fun fairy tale from the princess of fractured tales, Vivian Vande Velde.  Princess Imogene is almost thirteen, a time when she should embrace her princess-ness and her princess duties.  But she is gangly where most princesses are beautiful, prone to clumsiness and loud outbursts.  As she studies the book, The Art of Being a Princess, she finds that she doesn’t seem to be the kind of princess who is ‘as good as she is beautiful.’  She tries very hard to be good, but she seems to be missing part of the formula.  Trying to escape reading the irritating book, Imogene walks to mill pond.  To her surprise, a frog talks to her.  He convinces her that he is a prince under a magic spell.  Trying to be kind and good, Imogene kisses him to remove the spell.  Too late, Imogene discovers that he has tricked her.  The spell jumps on her, the “prince” is really the wainwright’s son and the only way she can turn back into her human form is to get someone to kiss her.  She has a problem with this solution.  She simply can’t bring herself to trick someone else.  It is so un-princess-like.  So Imogene begins quite an adventure trying to find a way to remove the spell and hoping to get home in time for her birthday.  She becomes part of a traveling band of actors, some she wouldn’t mind turning into a frog, but she stays true to her good heart.  Still the road back to the castle is twisted and long (especially for a frog), but she finds her way home where family helps her find the perfect solution.

Imogene may not be a perfect princess, but she is one that young readers can understand.  She encounters quirky characters from farmers to actors to royalty, but she is always herself.  She talks a lot about not being perfect, but her moral compass is firm.  Lots of humor, interesting plot twists and surprises, this would make a great class read aloud.  Have the students make a chart of all the lies that are told to Imogene and her reaction to them as a literacy activity.

  • FroggedTITLE: Frogged
  • AUTHOR: Vivian Vande Velde
  • PUBLISHER: Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 198 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-94215-5
  • GENRE: Fantasy, adventure

 

Arctic Aesop’s Fables: Twelve Retold Tales

Written by Susi Gregg Fowler
Illustrated by Jim Fowler

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These fables vary from tales of understanding our self-perceived importance, to selfishness and greed. The reader will learn how working together we can accomplish what we can’t do on our own. Another tale tells how a problem was solved; while yet another reminds us not to expect from others what we are unable to do ourselves. You will also be reminded that sometimes slow and steady will get you farther in the long run. These are just some of the wonderful fables to experience in this book.

Aesop’s Fables have always been excellent tales to help children learn important morals and “rules” of life without realizing they are actually learning anything. This book is an excellent adaption of twelve of the hundreds of fables attributed to Aesop. By using native animals from the Great Northern Tundra, and the Arctic landscape and culture, you not only to get to enjoy the tale, but you can experience a little of what Alaska is like.

The illustrations are excellent renderings that bring the landscape to life and help to visualize the story.

These are excellent tales for young and old readers alike, however, it may require at least a fourth grade level of maturity to fathom the morals behind the fables.

  • Arctic Aesops FablesTitle: Arctic Aesop’s Fables: Twelve Retold Tales
  • Author: Susi Gregg Fowler
  • Illustrated by: Jim Fowler
  • Publisher: PAWS IV, Sasquatch Books
  • Reviewer: Carole Robishaw
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1570618615
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570618611
  • Genre: Fables, Literature, Fiction, Culture

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of

Written by J. Patrick Lewis

Illustrated by  Anna Raff

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What is your favorite holiday?  Christmas?  Independence Day?  National Skunk Day?  What?  You have never heard of National Skunk Day?  Why, it comes around every year on June 14.  To commemorate this momentous day, J. Patrick Lewis wrote this poem.  “If the skunk did not exist, then the skunk would not be mist.”

National Skunk Day not your cup of tea?  What about Dragon Appreciation Day on January 16?  “At every meal, bow your head, fold your wings, and say ‘Graze’.”  Still not ringing your bell?  What about National Hippo Day or Bulldogs are Beautiful Day?

Whichever new holiday you find to your fancy, you will certainly find many, many uses for this hootin’,  hollerin’ book in your classroom library.  Children can connect what they read with their own lives.  For instance, cats on Happy Mew Year for Cats Day may eat Mice Crispies while the children eat rice crispies.    What about when they play “mewsic”?  Pulling several of these out would provide loads of fun reading activities.

Our language can be a little frustrating to fourth grade children.  Good and food should rhyme.  Why don’t they?  Well, before you get too frustrated, turn to page ten and read about World Rat Day.  “The Rat Is…the mous-tache in the trache, the wrong-doer in the soer.”

Too often creative writing is stifled due to fears of breaking grammar rules.  Reading this book to your children should give them more confidence in writing what is in their heads without worrying about grammar mistakes.  We have textbooks to help with that part.

The illustrations are adorable and appealing to readers of all ages.  But beware.  This is a book that should be read by the teacher before being read to the class.  All kinds of hysteria might erupt if the teacher were to celebrate Limerick Day (May 15) by reading, “A mother baboon is a beauty, her baby baboon is a cutie and the whole baboon troop starts to whistle and whoop when the baby starts shaking her booty”.  Oh so much fun.  Pump some poetry into your day with this book.  You won’t be sorry.

J. Patrick Lewis attempts to visit 50 elementary schools each year.  For more information about both him and his schedule visit http://www.jpatricklewis.com/ .

More illustrations by Anna Raff can be found at http://www.annaraff.com/World-Rat-Day .  Her blog (http://annaraff.blogspot.com/ ) is full of fun stuff and information.

  • World Rat DayTitle:  World Rat Day:  Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of
  • Author:  J. Patrick Lewis
  • Illustrator:  Anna Raff
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  36 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5402-3
  • Genre:  Humor

Angelina Jolie

Written by Michael A. Schuman

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Most people know of Angelina Jolie from tabloid reports, but the tabloids often don’t even get the basic facts correct. So, anyone who wants to know her at all needs to read this wonderful biography, part of the “Celebrities with a Heart” series. Jolie is the daughter of two actors, Marcheline Bertrand and John Voight. Her parents split shortly after her birth, though she did spend time with each of them during her childhood. She was a troubled teenager, experimenting with drugs and self-cutting. Even when she ended that phase of her life, Jolie had a tendency toward self-destruction. For example, she would fall in love with a co-star then lose interest after the project ended. Her acting career has also had its ups and downs. But she is genuinely interested in helping refugees and others less fortunate than she is. Working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), she has made more than thirty trips to refugee camps throughout the world, shining a light on the refugee situation and helping out where she can. She’s also contributed a great deal of money to this cause and adopted three children from refugee camps.

Fourth graders will enjoy this biography, though some of the details are harsh enough that parents will want to discuss them with the readers. In particular, the conditions, including genocide and rape, in some of the locations Jolie visits may need further explanation. But the author in no way dwells on these subjects. To aid in comprehension and giving added value, the author includes a table of contents, excellent chronology, a filmography, a list of Jolie’s goodwill trips, chapter notes, a comprehensive list for further reading, and an index.

  • Angelina JolieTitle: Angelina Jolie
  • Author: Michael A. Schuman
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-203-7
  • Genre: Middle grade, Biography
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