Pax

Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Holding on and letting go are strong desires, flowing under all the plots and subplots of this beautiful story about a boy and his pet fox.  When Peter’s father enlists to go off to war, he forces his son to set the fox loose in the wild and go live with a grandfather. It doesn’t take long to realize Peter isn’t wanted by the grandfather.

Within days, Peter realizes he needs to rescue Pax before he starves in the wild. So, he sets off on his own across miles of unknown territory. Without realizing it, he is heading toward the war zone. He encounters many problems, and a very strange woman.

Meanwhile, Pax waits patiently for his boy to come back for him. Finally, unbearable thirst sends him off searching for water. Real wild foxes growl warnings to stay out of their area. Will they accept him?

The adventure with challenges thrown in provides just the right pace of tension and intrigue to the story and will keep the readers flipping pages to find out what happens.

The language of the fox is put into italic font to separate it for young readers.

Black and white sketches by Jon Klassen add to the realities of the starkness of war and separation.

Teachers, librarians and parents will enjoy this novel as a read aloud or book club selection to share with their children.

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  • PaxTitle: Pax
  • Author: Sara Pennypacker
  • Illustrator: Jon Klassen
  • Publisher: Balzer& Bray/HarperCollins, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 276 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

Hour of the Bees

Written by Lindsay Eagar

In this excellent debut novel, the author shows us a world that is familiar and, at the same time, unfamiliar to most of her readers. When the dementia of Carol’s grandfather reaches a critical point, she and her entire family spend the summer packing up his ranch and getting him ready to move to a protected facility. Carol – or Carolina (Caro-leeen-a) as Grandpa calls her – is slowly sucked into his fantasies. So much so that the reader is never sure what’s real, what’s a dream, and what’s just part of the story. Grandpa, or Sergio (Serge), tells the story of the desert ranch in installments centered around a magical tree and bees that took off with the water from a now-dry lake. Is Carol really seeing bees in the desert and does the tree really grow back overnight? Did Grandma Rosa really travel all over the world while Serge waited for her? Why don’t Serge and her dad speak? Through it all, Carol learns to deal with her teenage half-sister and with starting middle school as she goes through changes of her own.

Fourth graders will recognize some of their own confusion in coming to grips with the world and with people who don’t always act the way they expect. Coming of age is not always easy for anyone in the room.

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  • Hour of the BeesTitle: Hour of the Bees
  • Author: Lindsay Eagar
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Family, Fantasy, Dementia
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7922-4

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxanne Orgill
Illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Nothing goes better with jazz music than poetry. The author chose poetic form to tell the amazing story of how Art Kane, a graphic designer at Esquire magazine, gathered fifty eight of the best jazz musicians and took their picture.

Kane spent an entire day scouting a typical brownstone for the shoot. He sent the word out through the musicians’ union for all to show up on August 12 without their instruments. Despite the early hour (for musicians), all showed up in their Sunday best. Was it curiosity or for love of their craft? No one knows for sure. The photograph was so famous, it was featured in the movie The Terminal. The main character was trying to get a copy autographed while the musicians were still alive.

Mary Lou Williams, pianist and composer, arrived in her Cadillac and fashionable dressed. Thelonius Monk, pianist, was late because he had to try on all his jackets. Willie “the Lion” Smith, another pianist, wasn’t in the final picture because he was on the stoop next door. He couldn’t stand up for long. Neighborhood children buzzed around and helped where they could.

Any fourth grader with interest in music or history will treasure this peek into a historic gathering. The details are amazing.

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  • Jazz DayTitle: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
  • Author: Roxanne Orgill
  • Illustrator: Francis Vallejo
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 66 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Music, Jazz, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6954-6
  • Extras: Table of Contents, The photograph with key, Author’s Note, Source notes, Biographies of selected musicians, Harlem 1958: Beyond Esquire, Extensive bibliography

Saving Wonder

Written by Mary Knight

Curley is a young man who’s been learning to use his words. In fact, Papaw, his grandfather and legal guardian, gives him a word each week to contemplate and get comfortable with. They live in Kentucky coal country, and Curley lost his entire family because of coal mining. Investigating the mountain wildlife for a school science project, Curley and his two friends are drawn deeper into the life of the mountain itself, trying to save the mountain for an increasing number of reasons. They discover elk that were never meant to live in Kentucky, the type of destruction their mountain is due to experience, and a connection to the Native Americans from the area. With the story set in the present day, the young people also learn of the power one person can have with the help of social media. Life goes on, though it may not go the direction you hope or expect.

The characters ring true to life and the story is fun and exciting.

This story will fit in nicely to a unit on environmental impact or just as an exercise in the power of vocabulary. Many reading activities are suggested by the report the characters assemble and by the other actions they take, including creating videos and posting them on the internet.

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  • Saving WonderTitle: Saving Wonder
  • Author: Mary Knight
  • Published: Scholastic Press, February 23, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, science, environment
  • ISBN: 978-0545828932

 

 

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat

Written by Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Thierry Lafontaine

Red Death Tea Society, giant invisible cats, and talking dogs are some of the less outrageous elements to this raucous story of a sixth grade genius, Nate, and his new friend, Delphine. Delphine is welcomed as a friend partially because Bosper, Nate’s talking dog, decides she smells like a friend. Occasionally, Nate does stupid things just to shake up his world. One of his stupid things was to make his mother’s cat, Proton, invisible and giant. Nate hid the formula for returning to normalcy throughout the city, and he needs Delphine’s help to retrieve him. Meanwhile, his archenemies, the Red Death Tea Society try to clock his efforts. Encounters with toads, hippos, and skydivers are orders of the day.

With a smattering of real science and a whole lot of fantasy, this is a great read for fourth graders, especially with a teacher or parent to help separate the fact from the fantasy. The wild humor is sure to hold attention and propel Proton back where she belongs. Because Nate and Delphine have a unique friendship, readers will learn about the possibilities among friends who don’t necessarily spend every day together.

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  • Genius FactorTitle: The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat
  • Author: Paul Tobin
  • Illustrator: Thierry Lafontaine
  • Published: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, March 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 6
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy, science, friendship
  • ISBN: 978-1619638402

Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure

Written by Sally Isaacs
Illustrated by Iva Sasheva

When you go for a walk, do you usually have to worry about polar bears? Not as long as you’re not walking alone to the north pole. But that’s exactly what Helen Thayer did in 1988. Helen was a mountain climber and adventurer who was always looking for a new challenge. When she reached the drop off point – a small village in northern Canada – a hunter insisted she take one of his dogs, Charlie, with her. It was a good decision, as the dog provided some protection against a bear and added warmth during a blizzard. Winds blew away many of her supplies, but Helen and Charlie reached their destination and were able to radio for pick up.

Detailed and accurate illustrations help to make the story come to life and become accessible to students. Reading the story aloud with a class would stimulate discussion on the perils faced in an arctic environment. Reading activities could include imagining what supplies need to be taken on such an expedition and how much they would weigh.

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  • Helen ThayerTitle: Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure
  • Author: Sally Isaacs
  • Illustrator: Iva Sasheva
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-62370-607-4
  • Extras: Map, Note from Helen Thayer, More About Helen Thayer, More About Charlie, Glossary, Read More, Internet Sites, Discussion Questions, Index

The Terrible Two Get Worse

Written by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

An invincible principal? Just the challenge Miles and Niles need to keep the laugh-out-loud story going. Returning readers will pick up right where they left off with book one, but even those just getting introduced to this pair will recognize good clean fun right off the bat.

These boys take pranking so seriously they do pranking exercises and prank one another for practice. But their pranking ways get too much attention from the school board and result in getting the principal replaced by his father. Former Principal Barkin turns the school into a regular boot camp where no pranks will be tolerated.

However, in the midst of this story about friendship, are stories about the haves and the have nots. Barnett and John introduce theories of Robin Hood, Chekhov, Scoville and others through classroom activities, as well as the reading done by Niles and Miles themselves. These are well-read fellows who come to understand how power works in their own school as well as in the real world. A fun read that also opens the door for grander discussions about the benefits people who have power already possess over everyone else.

Cartoon sketches add delight to the story experience and will invite in readers who would shy away from text heavy books.

Core curriculum standards can be met in many areas of literacy, as well as in the areas of social studies as the activities of propaganda is discussed and can be tied directly into current events and/or history of our world. This would make a fantastic read-aloud or book club addition for the middle grade students.

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  • Terrible Two Get WorseTitle: The Terrible Two Get Worse
  • Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
  • Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
  • Publisher: Amulet Book, NY, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 224 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1419719257
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

Chloe in India

Written by Kate Darnton

This is a new-kid-in-class story with more than a couple of twists. The main character, one of the new kids, is an American girl in a Delhi, India school. Trying to fit into class five as only one of two blondes in the entire school, Chloe is confused by the somewhat subtle caste system still present in India. The Indian students are equally confused by her. Even her name is different. To Indian ears, Chloe sounds like chhole, a chickpea dish in Hindi. Chloe wants to be friends with the most popular girls but finds she has more in common with the EWS (economically weaker section) girl, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is not only a good and loyal friend but is clever and talented in ways Chloe can only guess at. On the other hand, the rich girl, Anvi, is jealous and vindictive. Chloe cannot quite bring herself to make her friendship with Lakshmi public, which causes bad feelings on many sides. Naturally, Chloe and Lakshmi to find a way

Fourth graders and up will get a chance to learn an awful lot about living in India and will learn a few words of Hindi along the way. This fascinating book has a lot to say about interpersonal relations as well as the effect social pressure has on lives. For this reason and for pure fun, we highly recommend it.

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  • ChloeTitle: Chloe in India
  • Author: Kate Darnton
  • Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, January 12, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Middle grade fiction, Culture, Interpersonal relations, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-0553535044

Last in a Long Line of Rebels

Written by Lisa Lewis Tyre

   Lost Confederate gold?  Enough to save a house from being sold? What else would kids possibly need to get them excited about school being out for the summer?

Poor Lou is the junk man’s daughter. The house and yard are a mess and about to be taken over by the town as eminent domain. Friends in town slow the process down by trying to get the house, a remnant from the Civil War, on the National Registry of Historic Places.

In the meantime, suspicious people and happenings turn up all around the town. A researcher signs out and keeps the one book in the library than might answer some questions. Lou discovers a hidden room behind the bookcase where slaves may have been hidden as they traveled the Underground Railroad.

Adding to her worries about moving to a new house, new town, new school, is the embarrassment of learning her family actually owned slaves in the past. When Lou discovers an old diary written during the Civil War years, some questions begin to get answered.

Voice is the dominate strength of this book. It is so well established that a reader feels like an eavesdropper on Lou, her family and friends. Teachers should use this as a prime example of well-developed voice as they fulfill the core curriculum standards in literacy, English, and the American Civil War. While this is historical fiction, it is an excellent example of how the war was seen through the eyes of some townspeople, and how it changed their lives. It also illustrates how families even today are often still marked by the place their ancestors held in town.

Grade four, grade five, grade six and grade seven readers will giggle at Lou’s prayer for an exciting summer, and then see her hope the excitement calms down. Great friendship is reflected in Benzer’s loyalty to Lou through all the goings on, including sneaking into a hotel room and driving a dump truck into the fiction section of the public library.

This is just a perfect mix of intrigue, humor, and longing to belong. It is recommended for all school and public libraries, as well as for book clubs.

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  • Last in a Long LineTitle:  Last in a Long Line of Rebels
  • Author:  Lisa Lewis Tyre
  • Publisher:  Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 279 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16838-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade 4 to 7

Finder: Coal Mine Dog

Written by Alison Hart
Illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

Trapped by fire in an underground mine would be frightening beyond imagination. Yet it happened, not only to full grown men, but to boys as young as seven or eleven. Thomas and his uncle lied about his age to get him a “good paying” job in the mines in order to pay off his father’s debts.

Alison Hart has written an exciting, fast-paced story based in serious research. Her study of the Cherry Mine disaster in 1909, led her to imagine a boy and his dog helping with the rescue. Thomas and Finder are so real, readers will be cheering for them from page one on. It is a wonderful story that brings to light a particular way of life experienced by many of our ancestors.

The story is written from the standpoint of the dog. While it is not the usual viewpoint, it is easily recognized and accepted. Realistic sketches illustrate the story throughout, helping readers further immerse themselves in the story. Maps of the mine at the beginning of the book give readers an additional way to track the progress of the miners.

Teachers will fulfill the core curriculum standards in many subset areas of literacy and American history. In the end matter, the author clearly separates fictional material from real history. Librarians and parents can introduce the book by reading aloud beginning chapters to help encourage reluctant readers. Grade three, grade four and grade five readers will enjoy this volume and may want to continue reading this series, Dog Chronicles, to learn more about our history.

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  • FinderTitle:  Finder: Coal Mine Dog
  • Author:  Alison Hart
  • Illustrator:  Michael G. Montgomery
  • Publisher:  Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 176 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-5645-860-8
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 3 to 6
  • Extras: Mine maps, diagrams, extensive author notes, bibliography, related websites
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