Sir Gawain the True

Written by Gerald Morris
Illustrated by Aaron Renier

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An entertaining adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this is the second book in the Knight’s Tales series. In this story, King Arthur’s court is struggling with how to behave. They have skills like bashing each other with long pointy sticks called lances. But more and more the knights are expected to be polite. Being courteous is an idea that doesn’t make sense to the men of action. When Gawain rescues a woman from a dragon and boasts about his feat, he is confused by her irritation. Then, when King Arthur is also annoyed, Gawain begins to examine his behavior for ways he could have reacted differently. Then a green giant crashes King Arthur’s New Year’s Eve party, although he is polite about it, and offers a strange game. Trade blows with his axe. He will take the first axe-strike and Gawain will get his turn this time next year. Gawain accepts the challenge and promptly chops off the giant’s head. The giant simply picks up his head and says, “See you this time next year.” Through a series of unexpected meetings, Gawain is able to redeem himself with the lady he first offended and trick the giant while still honoring his word and learning a few manners along the way.

Told with humor that will appeal to young readers, the story is accessible and can even teach a thing or two about the value of courtesy and friendship without being preachy. The black and white drawings pick up the humor to illustrate the story with the same sassiness that is found in the text. This is a good class read aloud or appropriate for a fourth grader to read to a younger reading buddy. The plot twists and turns are well-laid out. A possible literacy activity would be to make a chart of turning points and then pose the question, “What would change if Gawain made a different decision?” Students could write their own discussion questions for this one because of the great discussion potential.

  • Sir GawainTITLE: Sir Gawain the True
  • AUTHOR: Gerald Morris
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Aaron Renier
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin/Sandpiper
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 118 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-02264-5
  • GENRE: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Classic adaptations

Captain John Smith’s Big and Beautiful Bay

Written by Rebecca C. Jones
Illustrated by Linda Shute

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Beautiful illustrations, interesting callouts, excellent paper and getup make this a book an upper elementary and middle school reader would like to read again and again.

Captain John Smith was not like the other people who came over from the old land. They were in search of gold, so they could return to England rich men. Captain Smith was not interested in wealth gathering; he wanted to learn about the people, the crops and the animals of the New World. He explored the lands and woods around the river. The sparkling waters of the Chesapeake Bay beckoned, and finally he set off with a crew of fourteen, in a well provisioned shallop, to explore the bay.

Many adventures befell the crew. They weathered storms and extreme hunger; some people welcomed them, others tried to scare them away. But the lands were richly wooded; the skies teemed with birds, and the oceans were so filled with fish that John Smith said one could walk across the bay on their backs.

Captain Smith and his crew kept extensive journals. This story is based on those journals and is historically accurate. The back matter encourages young readers to go directly to the source material — telling them that the Captain was a lousy speller!

He was, however, an excellent map maker. So accurate are his maps that they were used for navigation for the next 300 years. As accurate as the maps are the illustrations in the book, especially the callouts that portray marine life. They provide information, made all the more memorable by the occasional flash of humor, and can provide hours of reading activities. This is a beautifully produced book.

John Smith returned to England, but never forget the rich and beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

Additional Information:

http://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/bayhistory/johnsmith

Chesapeake Bay: http://www.smithtrail.net/the-chesapeake/

Interactive Game: Captain John Smith: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/games/interactiveadventures/john-smith/

  • Captain John SmithTitle: Captain John Smith’s Big and Beautiful Bay
  • Author: Rebecca C. Jones
  • Illustrator: Linda Shute
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 9780764338694
  • Genre: Picture Book/ Non-Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 920

Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals

Written by Heather L. Montgomery

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Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals, written by Heather L. Montgomery, is one of the best science books I have ever read that offers budding scientists and animal lovers at the fourth grade reading level a look at a topic that is not often discussed: wacky new animals! Did you know that scientists have identified almost one million different animals on earth and that there may be as many as six million animals still waiting to be discovered?

Discoveries are happening every day at the rate of two per hour. In Wacky Animals Montgomery reveals those discoveries from a wide range of habitats such as: rain forests, oceans, islands, mountains, as well as wacky places such as a truck stop, a toxic-waste dump, and even a New York City park! Scientists are not the only ones making discoveries. Kids can find new species, too! Who knows? Maybe you will be the next person to discover a new species.

Montgomery weaves in fun facts, as well as colorful photos on every spread that are sure to appeal to kids at the 4th grade reading level. She begins with a concise Discovery 101 lesson to ground budding scientists on some key facts and terminology and then highlights how new discoveries are named. She groups a collection of recent animal discoveries by habitat and has also thrown in a couple of new non-animal discoveries because they were simply too cool to leave out. On each animal spread she provides the “scientific name” and the species’ “role in nature”. She closes with information on how kids can become active in making new discoveries, as well as an easy to read glossary.

Kids are sure to love this book and Montgomery’s approach in making the information lively and engaging. Be sure to include this in your library of books.

 

  • Wild DiscoveriesTitle: Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals
  • Author: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Illustrator: Assortment of photo credits from various photographers
  • Publisher: Scholastic
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-47767-3
  • Genre: Science, nonfiction
  • Lexile Score: IG840

Brilliant Hues

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.

  • Brilliant HuesTitle: 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

Yummy Soup and Salad Recipes

Written by Jennifer S. Larson
Illustrated by Brie Cohen

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Ready to cook? This book shows how! Recipes include Wonton Soup, Chili, Corn Chowder, Cucumber Soup, a fruit dessert soup, Salad Rollups, Taco Salad and others. The photographs are so mouth-watering that anyone will want to get in the kitchen and start cooking. The recipes use 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.

Even the youngest cook can follow the diagrams and recipes. The safety tips and advice about cooking are smart without talking down. There are definitions about everything a young cook needs to know: a informational graphic of cooking tools, a section of how-to diagrams of cooking techniques, and a glossary of special ingredients in case a young reader doesn’t know something like bok choy or egg roll skins. There is an index and a section of other reading and websites. 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/11663/9780761366331/yummy-soup-and-salad-recipes. The series has several other titles.

  • Yummy Soup and SaladTITLE: Yummy Soup and Salad Recipes
  • AUTHOR: Jennifer S. Larson
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Brie Cohen
  • PUBLISHER: Millbrook/Lerner, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-6633-1
  • GENRE: How-to,  Cooking
  • LEXILE: 870

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: https://www.lernerbooks.com/products/t/11693/9780761366195/something-to-prove. The author has baseball related activities on his website: http://www.robertskead.com/funstuff.php.

  • 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 www.thetempletontwins.com, 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

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