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

The True Story of Sea Feather

Written by Lois Szymanski

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As a new reviewer, I was hesitant to start out with a fourth grade level book. However, having read both Misty of Chincoteague, and Stormy, Misty’s Foal, I felt a connection to this book and decided to jump in with both feet. Although this is a chapter book, the chapters are short enough to make this a quick read aloud book.

Shannon and her family had visited Chincoteague Island every year for the annual Pony Penning. This year she had saved nearly four hundred dollars in hopes that she could finally buy a pony of her own. When her sister Ashley added her own money to Shannon’s they had almost five hundred and fifty dollars. Their hopes were dashed when they not only did not win the raffle pony, but when they were not able to buy that pony from the winner. At the auction, pony after pony was sold for more than what they could pay. What an incredible gift they were given when a lady they did not know wanted to help them buy a pony. Miss Carollynn was a cancer survivor and because her life had been given back to her, she wanted to give back to others. With Miss Carollynn’s help, they were able to buy the pony that the girls had decided was the perfect horse for them. Shannon and Ashley learned a valuable lesson and were quick to start looking for ways that they themselves could help make another child’s dream come true.

This precious story connects the history of Chincoteague Island portrayed in the previous Chincoteague horse stories to modern times. The glossary and horse information at the back of the book makes comprehension easier for the reader who has little knowledge of horses. It teaches about working hard and saving for the things you want as well as working together to achieve a goal. This would be a good book to kick off a class project where students must work together and pool resources.

More books about the Chincoteague ponies can be found at http://www.schifferbooks.com/newschiffer/search_results.php.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge website offers further information about http://www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco/ponies.html.

  • Sea FeatherTitle: The True Story of Sea Feather
  • Author: Lois Szymanski
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Reviewer: Sandi Waymire
  • Paper back: 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-87033-595-2
  • Genre: realistic fiction

A Place for Turtles

Written by Melissa Stewart

Illustrated by Higgins Bond

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Beautifully painted and poetic, this picture book is part of “A Place For” series that follows different animals. In this case, Stewart and Bond focus on the eleven different species of turtles and they make the book work on several levels. It can be a read aloud for children who haven’t yet reached the fourth grade reading level, and it can be a resource for older children researching environmental issues.

At the top of each spread Stewart writes about a threat turtles are facing. Some turtles, for example, cannot make nests because invasive plants change their habitat. The facing page has the solution: “When people find ways to control new plants, turtles can live and grow.” The solution is very important because otherwise this becomes another depressing problem book. With the solution, the book empowers the readers.

If this were all Stewart wrote, it would be a short, albeit, pretty book. And for a kindergarten class, the top section might be all one reads  — students would soon join in on the refrain: “turtles can live and grow.” But each spread also has a short sidebar highlighting specific species from different parts of the continental United States.  Stewart explains how the Western Pond Turtle was near extinction, but with managed care, is coming back. She also tells about loggerheads, who died in fishing nets, but are doing better since Congress required fishing nets to have a turtle excluder device.

This type of specific information will work well for early-elementary reports. More specifics cover the front and back flyleaves, where each turtle’s habitat is shown in a colorful map. With that kind of information, parents and teachers could devise reading activities, asking, for example, which turtle lives close to us? The book closes with “Turtle Tidbits,” showing the bone and shell structure, as well as a bibliography and list of more resources.

Other Resources

Visit Melissa Stewart’s website: www.melissa-stewart.com

Visit Higgins Bond’s website: www.higginsbond.com

For another story of rescuing turtles look at the Smithsonian:

http://news.neaq.org/2010/04/smithsonian-look-at-sea-turtles.html

  • Place for TurtlesTitle: A Place for Turtles
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Higgins Bond
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-693-2
  • Genre: nonfiction: science, nature

 

 

 

Around One Log: Chipmunks, Spiders, and Creepy Insiders

Written by Anthony D. Fredricks

Illustrated by Jennifer DiRubbio

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Once a tree falls down it’s dead and gone, right?  Wrong!  It turns out that a fallen log can be a home, a hiding place, or even a tasty snack.

Using a variety of story telling devices, author and educator Tony Fredericks shows readers just how much can happen “Around One Log”.  The central narrative follows a class field trip, cleverly explaining why each new creature is introduced by “this is the…”  The field trip is only directly evident when a student appears at the very end to ask a question. This pushes the book out of strict non-fiction and into the category of creative non-fiction or informational fiction, while at the same time helping the reader connect to the action.

Told in cumulative verse, the near perfect rhyme and rhythm makes this part of the book an easy read aloud.  Unfortunately, the most often repeated lines are the weakest;

              From top to bottom, inside and out,

              Both friend and foe all ramble about.

This part of the book is a bit too simplistic for the average 4th grade reader who is more likely to appreciate the introduction – a letter from a roly poly which draws the reader into the animal’s world. There are also “Field Notes” at the end to provide more detail, including a “fantastic fact” about each critter.  Complicated words are defined in parentheses within the text, making the entire package accessible (and perhaps more appropriate) for children in the earlier grades.

Similarly, the section “Activities, Projects, and Lots of Cool Ideas” can be adapted by teachers and parents to suit the needs of both younger and older students.  Three additional activities are available to educators as a PDF download from the publishers website (http://www.dawnpub.com/downloadable_activities_book/)  Primarily writing exercises, they also include key concepts and additional resources.

Beautiful watercolor pictures accompany the text.  The log really does come to life with the art of Jennifer DiRubbio who makes great use of both texture and color, no small feat given that the setting is brown.  One word of caution – viewing the ebook version on my iPad separated the two page spreads.  This resulted in text heavy pages interspersed with image only pages and the  unfortunate decapitation of a salamander.

Fredericks and DiRubbio have collaborated on other books about communities of animals in various natural habitats.  With titles such as “Under One Rock” and “On One Flower” these books most certainly follow the same formula that has earned “Around One Log” an award winning reputation.  This book provides wonderful imagery and multiple approaches to learning, offering something different to students of all ages.

  • Around One LogTitle: Around One Log: Chipmunks, Spiders, and Creepy Insiders
  • Author: Anthony D. Fredricks
  • Illustrator: Jennifer DiRubbio
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • ebook: 36 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-137-2 (hardback)
  • Genre: Nature

 

Cake

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.

  • CakeTITLE: Cake
  • AUTHOR: Joyce Magnin
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
  • PUBLISHER: Zonderkidz, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 221 p.
  • ISBN:
  • GENRE: Middle-grade fiction

Deadly Bloody Battles

Written by Madeline Donaldson

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Deadly Bloody Battles by Madeline Donaldson is aimed at the fourth grade reading level and up. It covers twelve of history’s deadliest battles including: Thermopylae and Salamis, Battle of Watling Street, Battle of Baghdad, Taking Down Tenochtitlan, Battle of Saratoga, Battle of Borodino, Battle of Antietam, Verdun and the Somme, Battle of Stalingrad, and the Battle of the Bulge.

Each spread provides key details and facts, as well as pictures, photos, and art that represent the battles mentioned above in some unique manner. Readers will feel planted in each battle as if they were transported back in time to witness the facts and bloody gore for themselves. Donaldson also provides an index, as well as a detailed list of sources and websites for readers to dig more deeply for further information. Deadly Bloody Battles will appeal most to fourth grade boys and up and will likely inspire imaginative play. What better way to reinforce the facts as kids act out what they have just learned? Be sure to keep sharp, pointy objects out of reach.

Deadly Bloody Battles is part of the series called Shock Zone: Deadly and Dangerous. Other books in this series are: Deadly Adorable Animals, Deadly Venomous Animals, Deadly Danger Zones, Deadly High-Risk Zones, and Deadly Hard-Hitting Sports. Teachers and librarians would be remiss not to include Deadly Bloody Battles in their nonfiction titles of their library. Parents with active boys with inquiring minds, Deadly Bloody Battles could be the book that turns your child into a more active reader.

  • Deadly Bloody BattlesTitle: Deadly Bloody Battles
  • Author: Madeline Donaldson
  • Publisher: Lerner
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0601-8
  • Genre: nonfiction, history

A Smidgen of Sky

Written by Dianna Dorisi Winget

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A Smidgen of Sky is Dianna Dorisi Winget’s debut middle grade novel and it shines on many levels. Readers at the fourth grade reading level and up will fall in love with the protagonist, ten-year-old Piper Lee because of her spunk and voice. She puts her soul into all of her worries as she actively sets off to eliminate each and every one of them.

Piper Lee has meaningful problems that feel as real as the character Winget has created on the page. Several years prior to where Winget starts Piper’s story, we learn that her father’s plane crashed out at sea as he tried to rescue some friends during a bad storm. Because nobody has found his body Piper Lee has not given up on him and believes with all her heart that he will return. But her mother does not share Piper’s opinion that her father will return and has moved on with her life. In fact, her mother’s about to get married and is encouraging Piper Lee to move on with her life, too!

But Piper can’t. Her loyalty toward her father is too strong. So she is determined to find her father and break up her mother’s relationship with Ben, her future step-dad. Because she will stop at nothing, she takes dangerous risks to realize her dream. But is it what she really wants?

A Smidgen of Sky will give fourth grade readers a close look at how challenging it is for kids to lose a parent and gain a step-parent, as well as the good things that come from a blended family. Best of all, Winget’s story offers hope to those going through a similar situation.

  • Smidgen of SkyTitle: A Smidgen of Sky
  • Author: Dianna Dorisi Winget
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6459-6
  • Genre: fiction, family, contemporary

Grandfather’s Secret

Written by Lois Szymanski

Illustrated by Kelli Nash

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Life along the Chesapeake is different than the life most other children experience. Fourth grade readers will learn a lot about Chesapeake life in a fun and exciting way in this family-style mystery.

As soon as Charley sees the houseboat his deceased grandfather left, he knows he has to restore it to its former glory. Charley’s father is a tough sell because he feels Grandfather let the family down by squandering money and the boat is just a piece of junk. But he comes around when he realizes Charley can be trusted. Charley and his friend Evan begin tearing up the floor inside the cabin. Suddenly, Charley hears and voice and feels his grandfather’s touch. Evan can also see the ghostly shape of Grandfather, who then tells the boys he needs them to retrieve some items that belong on the boat. The boys also encounter a ghostly lady who is guarding one of the items. And they learn of a third ghost. When the apparitions achieve their goals, they are able to pass on. Nash’s cover art is the perfect accompaniment to this enjoyable tale.

Throughout the narrative, the boys are shown using good safety techniques, adding to comprehension of the perils of life on the water. The boys use goggles and masks when working with chemicals. They always wear life vests on the water. When a storm hits unexpectedly, they wait it out like Charley’s father instructed him.

A number of excellent websites exist, which would aid in developing reading activities related to Szymanski’s story. http://www.kentislandheritagesociety.org/ and    http://www.smithisland.org/ are two such sites.

  • Grandfathers SecretTitle: Grandfather’s Secret
  • Written By: Lois Szymanski
  • Illustrated By: Kelli Nash
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-3535-8
  • Genre: Life on the Chesapeake, Ghost Mystery

Ivy Takes Care

Written by Rosemary Wells
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche

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Despite some incredibly exciting passages, this book was written about a quieter time and place. It has a lot to say about responsibility and following your dreams.

Ivy lives on a 1949 Nevada ranch, where the guests are all people awaiting divorce decrees. Her one true love is animals. Her best friend is away for the entire summer vacation at a fancy camp in the East, so Ivy’s only companion is the incredibly annoying and irresponsible Billy Joe, son of the ranch’s maid. When the local vet encourages her to work toward becoming a vet herself, Ivy realizes she’ll have to save for college. She starts looking for jobs taking care of animals. Her first assignment is to care for a horse while the owner vacations. She discovers a mother fox in the barn and attempts to help her. Of course, Billy Joe learns about the fox and wants to kill her for her pelt. Next, Ivy and Billy Joe help a ranch resident train a puppy. Billy Joe lets out the prized German shepherd, who is attracted to a porcupine. Last, Ivy encounters a blind former jockey and a thoroughbred at a local ranch. Written as three short stories which could be read separately, the text nevertheless holds together well. LaMarche’s gorgeous and realistic drawings of Ivy and her animal friends help make this a winner.

The fourth grade reader will particularly enjoy the excitement caused by Billy Joe’s rattlesnake hunting. The text would fit in well with reading activities related to the American West and the era following World War II or even pet care.

  • Ivy Takes CareTitle: Ivy Takes Care
  • Written By: Rosemary Wells
  • Illustrated By: Jim LaMarche
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press,
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard Cover: 200 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5352-1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Animals, American West
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