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.
- TITLE: 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
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.
- Title: 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
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.
- Title: 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
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
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
- Title: 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
Written by Joyce Magnin
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
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Wilma Sue is wary of the world and she is only twelve. She has been in and out of foster homes since she was a baby. She can’t figure out why no one wants her. She longs to fly like a bird somewhere, anywhere to get away from this feeling. But for now she has to go where the home sends her and this time they send her to two sisters who have spent many years in Africa as missionaries. This is no ordinary place where Wilma Sue finds herself. Ruth is always working at one of her causes. Naomi is always baking cakes for people in the neighborhood who needs a special gift. And Penny, the little girl next door, says awful things to Wilma Sue for no good reason. Wilma Sue tries so hard to get along and do the right thing, but things go wrong so easily. For instance, there is the time that Wilma Sue’s garter snake gets away from her in church and makes a mess of the service. She loves taking care of the chickens and helping with the baking, but she just can’t make sense of why Penny seems to hate her. Then, the chicken coop catches fire. Penny goes so far as to say Wilma Sue did it. Wilma Sue may have to go back to the home after all, just when she was starting to love being with Naomi and Ruth.
The voice of this first-person narrative is charming, a rather modern day Anne of Green Gables. She has a big vocabulary and an almost encyclopedic way of expressing herself which is explained by the fact that she had no friends her age and spent her time reading. The sisters are eccentric but loving, the adult characters they visit have funny names and Penny is really unpleasant, which makes most wonder why Wilma Sue would even try to be friends with her.
One suggested literacy activity would be to make a list or a chart of the cake-recipients and explain the hidden meanings of their names, paired with the hidden meaning of the hymn that Naomi sings when she bakes that person’s cake. Penny’s name alone will get a lot of interesting discussion: Pigworthy. This would make a good book for a class read aloud or book discussion group in a private school, church group or a home school. There are discussion questions at the end of the book along with a glossary and a recipe.
- TITLE: Cake
- AUTHOR: Joyce Magnin
- ILLUSTRATOR: Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
- PUBLISHER: Zonderkidz, 2012
- REVIEWER: Risa Brown
- EDITION: Hardcover, 221 p.
- GENRE: Middle-grade fiction
Written by Naomi Kinsman
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Sadie Douglas is dealing with a lot of events, most of them beyond her control. How she reacts to those events are important factors in her growth and development. Her father works as a mediator. One of the participants in a dispute he’s mediating is so angry he’s determined to draw Sadie and her mother into the fray. So Sadie needs a nanny/bodyguard. The nanny keeps people away and protects her. Also, Sadie has taken a younger girl under her wing. The young girl has a twin who could die from cancer. And the girl’s father is the other party in the mediated dispute. Meanwhile, Sadie’s group of friends is engaging in activities Sadie finds distasteful and, in some ways, dishonest. What will happen if she refuses to participate or, worse, tells them what she thinks? Last, Sadie misses her friends in Michigan, where her family lived for a time. Her art continues to tie her to those friends. The reader gets to see her emails to those friends.
As a level headed young woman, Sadie tries to think before she speaks, and she uses her art to reflect her thoughts. In fact, she pours her whole heart into her drawings and paintings. This book, at a fourth grade level, shows how a religious girl can find answers within herself and her community, but it has life lessons for everyone. Obvious reading activities follow the text, with many possibilities for art and writing projects. As the fourth “Faithgirlz: From Sadie’s Sketchbook” volume, this links well to the www.faithgirlz.com website with tons of information and more activities.
- Title: Brilliant Hues
- By: Naomi Kinsman
- Publisher: ZonderKidz
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Paperback, 224 pages
- ISBN: 978-0-310-72668-5
- Genre: Chapter book, Religious, Christian, General
- Lexile Score: 940L
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?
- Title: 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
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 www.thetempletontwins.com, where kids can continue the fun with the narrator.
- Title: 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
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