Tag Archives: 4th

Buried Alive

Buried Alive! by Jacqueline Wilson

A short read about Tim and Biscuits, two best friends who have quite an adventurous little vacation by a Welsh seashore. Although the main characters are boys, Tim, the narrator, shares a lot of traits with many of Wilson’s girl main characters: outcast, somewhat of a cowardly weakling with no self-confidence, but eventually finds inner strengths and come out on top. Plenty of funny scenes and slightly unsettling personality traits of the “best friend” of the main character.

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The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch

Revenge of the Witch (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, Book 1) by Joseph Delaney

Thoroughly enjoyable read: loved the tone of narrative, folky and wise, and never condescending. I would say it is highly young reader friendly — as long as the young reader is not squeamish or easily frightened. There are genuinely scary moments which for certain readers will be highly satisfying. Such fun!

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Peace, Locomotion

Peace, Locomotionby Jacqueline Woodson

It’s nice to have a chance to know more about Lonnie (Locomotion) and the next chapter in his life. It is a moving account and one can’t help but admire every single person (well, maybe not Ms Cooper) in the story for their tenacity and compassion.

 

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The Last Shot

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery (Final Four Mysteries (Paperback)) by John Feinstein

I can see why young sports-fan readers would like this book and others in the series. The mixture of many real-life details of the sports and sports journalism world and a mild mystery (with a surprising, heavier twist toward the end) is just right to keep these readers’ interest up.

However, for someone who seeks more intense mystery or actions and cares less about the sporting aspects, this title will fall short in sustaining their attention.

I do appreciate that there are two young sleuths, one boy and one girl, and that they are smart and mature, but still rely on some help from the adults.  It lends realism and credibility to the story.

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A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts

A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts: A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales by Ying Chang Compestine

The publisher did not oversell this title when they decided on “A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales” as the subtitle of Compestine’s newest offering. Eight nightmare inducing stories are great for reading alone and sharing at any haunting hour.

It is truly rare to read stories set in modern day China for children and I appreciate the authenticity in Compestine’s writing, backed up by researches and her own life experience. It must be noted, however, that since these are stories mainly about greedy and corrupt people, the pieced-together large picture shows a fairly unsavory angle of China, old or new. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Compestine has an agenda, but I would say that matter like organ harvesting, cooking and eating endangered animals, and government corruption and bribery are serious topics that, might make a Chinese reader feel uncomfortable or even ashamed: especially when the author includes notes after each “course.” On the other hand, these are human rights and animal rights issues that the Chinese and the Chinese Government should address. In this way, this book serves as a political treaty, exposing atrocities for the world (and young readers) to examine. I will recommend this to many of my students and their teachers who are always on the lookout for something really scary to read!

The recipes are authentic and wonderful — but I can’t bring myself to try or make these dishes after reading the stories and remembering how they are tied to the stories.

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The Day of the Pelican

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to put it on the shelf of “Historical Fiction” and then realized that, hmm… it is really a book of more or less current events in the world that the young readers are still living. 9/11 happened when the current 5th graders were 2 or 3. So, the “historical” part is recent, so recent that I wonder how we can best discuss the story with young readers.

Paterson did a fabulous job turning such complex political and national picture into something easy to understand and identify with for its intended audience: 10-12-year-olds. I admire the main character Meli’s tenacity and her struggle to remain a decent human being and yet acknowledging the existence of hatred in her heart. Her brother is another amazingly realized character — although seemingly not a main character, this is really HIS story. Even the title refers to the day that brought all the changes upon him. The more I think about it, the more I marvel at the hardship he had to endure and survive and at the final positive change within.

This is an important book of our time and I wish many children will read it with their adults.

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The Islands of the Blessed

The Islands of the Blessedby Nancy Farmer

The pacing isn’t fast, but it is just right. The actions aren’t created to merely thrill the readers, but they are thrilling and serve as bench marks of the characters’ growth — everything moves their understanding of the world along. I so appreciate Farmer’s ability to create highly imaginative and imaginable (for a not very visual reader) landscapes. It is wonderful to encounter fresh new details of your staple fantasy elements, such as the power of the bell Fair Lamenting and how it is truly magical due to the artistic achievement of the maker of the clapper and how Mermaids crave good combs because barnacles find their hair the best place to grow and without combs, they will be weighed down by the barnacles on their heads and can never swim.

So much sympathy is given to all the characters, including the villains – lots of gray and never strictly black and white. And the last page made me happy, too — what a nice way to end a popular trilogy.

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Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Al Capone Shines My ShoesAuthor: Gennifer Choldenko
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 7th Grade


Publisher: Dial
Edition: Hardcover, 2009 (galley)

I am completely delighted by this book. I really enjoyed the first one and this one holds up, well and strong, and I think it works even better. Maybe because I thought, “What can she come up with that can top the first book?” before starting to read this one.. and Choldenko absolutely pulled it off. There is humor and tension all throughout the book, not to mention some hard-to-sort-out moral dilemmas. Over the years, my students have loved the first book — from really strong readers to really reluctant ones – and both girls and boys do, too. I can see this one achieves the same effects: not a book that gets everyone super-excited, but one that gets talked up by young peers and gets passed around without making too big a wave. Its “beloved-ness” will last quite a while, I believe.

I also really appreciate the author’s notes. This will make for a good historical-fiction writing assignment starter book. (I can see a whole class reading the book, discussing the facts and fiction aspects of the story, and doing some sort of historical research and writing a short story. <– with my librarian's hat on, of course.)

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Tiny Tyrant: Vol. 1 – The Ethelbertosaurus

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The EthelbertosaurusAuthor: Lewis Trondheim; illus. by Fabrice Parme
Rating:
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade

Pages: 62
Publisher: Frist Second
Edition:Paperback, 2009

Most excellent and fun short skit-like tales. This volume contains six stories. King Ethelbert is extremely spoiled and self-centered and yet one simply can’t help but adoring him (probably because more often than not, he gets his just-desserts: a spanking, or being blown out of the palace window!) A French import.

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The Burning Bridge

The Burning Bridge (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 2)Author: Flanagan, John
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 7th

Pages: 262
Publisher: Philomel
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

A solid follow-up to the really fun first Ranger’s Apprentice title. Although the world is quite fantastic with monsters and some magical elements, most of the plot evolves around military tactics and your basic adventures (sword fights, archery, etc.) The main characters do not possess magical abilities. The pacing is tight and there are some surprises that will keep even a seasoned fantasy reader focused.

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The Last Olympian

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5)Author: Rick Riordan
Rating:
Reading Level: 3rd to 7th

Pages: 381
Publisher: Hyperion
Edition:Hardcover, 2009

Pure adrenaline inducing 381 pages of fun. I’m so glad that the level of action and humor is maintained throughout the entire series — that the last book did not suddenly become some deep philosophical revelation. (I definitely did not get into these books for their messages or meanings.) It’s been quite a craze here at the school and the waiting list of eager readers is mighty long, deservingly so.

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Scat

ScatAuthor: Carl Hiaasen
Rating:
Reading Level:

Pages: 304
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)
Edition: Hardcover, 2009

This is definitely a fun book and many of my young readers already told me that they enjoyed reading the third offering from Hiaasen. Everything does hang together nicely and the punishment of the evil doers satisfying. Hiaasen did not shy away from super contemporary things: facebook, CNN/Anderson Cooper, and of course, the father who is injured in Iraq. This makes the volume a “timely” book for current readers and only time will tell if in a decade or two, young readers still will appreciate the story, despite the references to matters that can easily date the book.

Scat, however, does not offer much more than either Hoot, or Flush — much of the same thing to young readers who like mysteries, who like to read stories about older kids (High School students as protagonists) but who do not necessarily wish to decipher complex sentence structures or figures of speech and who still enjoy jokes on fairly basic/bodily function levels.

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Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

Author: John Flannagan
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 6th grade

Pages: 249
Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1) I finally got around to read this first book in the ever-more popular series that my students have loved for the last few years. I know now why they like the stories and characters so much. The world is easy to understand — since in this first book, the young people are “in schools.” They are being trained in their various trades with cool skills like tracking, archery, sword play, and cooking. One of the main characters gets bullied and eventually those bullies get their just deserts! I can hear the cheering from the young readers! I will from now on describe the book (or the series) as Fantasy Spy Story, a blend of Alex Rider and Lord of the Rings. (Prob. a bit exaggerated but I think that will help interest the next reader!)

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond

Christo and Jeanne Claude: Through the Gates and BeyondAuthor: Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 6th grade

Pages: 50
Publisher: Roaring Brook/Neal Porter
Edition: Har
dcover, 2008

I am speechless and teary-eyed, reading and having finished reading this thrilling little biography of Christo and Jeanne Claude and of their art. Greenberg and Jordan did not disappoint — as always, their words are as vivacious and artistic as the artists they chronicle. One cannot help but being completely infected by the passion from all of those involved: the artists and the biographers.

And to this one, since it is something I deeply experienced, with friends, students, and family, my emotional reaction is even stronger. Between me and my husband, we took about 500 photos — both under a bright blue sky and in the snow, with the gates winding around and the fabric flapping wildly in the wind. In fact, when it was time for my then-kindergarten daughter to do her “hundred day” project, she chose to draw a tree with branches and then glue 100 miniature pictures from our collection as leaves — a Fall Tree, as she called it, because these were orange leaves. The artwork is still hung next to my desk at work.

(Hmm… I was slightly perturbed why there have not been more pictures of the Gates in this book, especially of the Gates when they were “in action and in motion”?)

The meticulous and artistic design of the book itself also echoes the free and playful spirit of Christo and Jeanne Claude. I applaud all who worked on this book! Thank you for a precious gift.

And I simply cannot help but posting a couple of the snowy pictures (the blue sky ones are on a DVD somewhere else…) — to commemorate a fabulous time in New York City:

And of course, my friend Monica Edinger had her class document the process on a web page. Go HERE to see!

And here’s a link to many more Central Park Gates Pictures by searching google images of simple: Central Park Gates.

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Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears

Little Mouse's Big Book of FearsAuthor: Emily Gravett
Rating:
Reading Level: K to 4

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is a fantastic offer from a truly creative mind, and I believe also, from a team of designers and editors who put in so much in carrying out all the ideas: from the nibbled cover and pages, to the flip-the-flap effects, to the completely black page (yes, I was fooled in thinking, ‘huh? this is the end of the book? No way…’ and found out, to my great delight, that there is still half of the book to go and plenty more of information to come!) And of course, Gravett’s talent in illustration is unparalleled! I just love that pencil, getting gnawed to a stub bit by bit.

It will appeal to those children who love words and love to collect the names of so many phobias. It will appeal to those children who love poring over pages with extra words and details quite a few times over. It will appeal to those who enjoy visual jokes (“I worry about having accidents.” page has Little Mouse … um… accidentally leaves something on the bottom of the page… — opposing the picture of a toilet.)

I love the page where all the feathers “have eyes” and “sharp teeth.” I love the page with the newspaper clipping about the farmer’s wife and the three mouse tails. I love the page with the fold-out map of the Isle of Fright. Actually.. I think I simply love all the pages, each for a different reason.

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The Unnameables

The UnnameablesAuthor: Ellen Booraem
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 318
Publisher: Harcourt
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is an allegory that works on many levels, made rich with well-portrayed and multi-faceted characters. Which, I guess, renders it not a true allegory since the characters are not all confined to single traits or symbolic equivalents. At the very beginning, I was dubious: thinking that the symbolism and “names” are all too transparent and too easy to predict. And yet, with the blusterous arrival of the Goatman and then all the tangential but significant side trails and events, the story drew me in and kept me highly interested and entertained. I bated my breath, hoping for a satisfying and well paced ending, and was not let down.

I very much appreciate the rich imagery, the successful world-building, and the economy of the text — also its gentle humor in the friendly way these simple folks behave. I’m also so pleased that the Unnameable acts (what one might easily interpret as “art” or “craft”) are given a made-up name of “runyuin” (which has the word “ruin” embedded — I wonder if this is even intentional) so that the interpretations can be surprising from minds not as set as mine. I can see how this book might be of great use in a 4th-6th grade classroom since it is both well-crafted and can generate good conversations!

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Swords: An Artist’s Devotion

Swords: An Artist's DevotionAuthor: Ben Boos
Rating:
Reading Level: for all readers

Pages: 96
Publisher: Candlewick
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

I couldn’t believe my eyes, flipping through page after page of beautifully rendered swords from many time periods and many cultures, how visually perfect this book is! No matter whom I showed this book to (HS students, MS kids, other adults) – the reaction was the same: an astounded delight at this Feast of the Artistry of Beautiful and Elegant Swords. I’m glad the inclusion of Asian and African swords and their histories (although would have like a more balanced proportion in treatment…)

This makes a great holiday gift for any child who enjoys this topic. The general and specific notes on various types, their usages, their histories, and those who used such and such swords are easy to read and absorb. But one definitely doesn’t need to read all the text to enjoy the book.

I am so happy of this book’s existence!

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The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookAuthor: Neil Gaiman
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th grade and up

Pages: 320
Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This one definitely reached deeply into my heart. Love the world building. The Graveyard became a “residence” for my soul for the duration of reading/listening to the book — a real place where my mind can wander. I could picture the sights, the light, the details, both described in the book and not described, undefined. My mind filled in all the corners and expanses and turned that world into a tangible space. Even after the storytelling is over, The Graveyard remains in my heart. Now it’s as real and as cozy (if a cold graveyard can be cozy) a place as my Library’ Reading Room.

I think the short story format works really well. Each “story” has a satisfying conclusion. Each advances the larger tale forward, too. Bod’s maturation is expertly handled. And then, the conclusion of the entire tale is bittersweet, and yet not disappointing. (Oh, I guess I was sad that Bod might lose all the ghostly skills he possessed as a child and slightly mad of Gaiman for that — why can’t he still straddle the two worlds, even when he chooses to venture out into the world? My mind does not wish to accept that conclusion so I am making up other adventures for Bod that requires him to go into the other realms, to fade, and to haunt!)

I was shocked but really appreciated how Gaiman handles Bod and Scarlet’s necessary parting. Keeping us readers on our toes, always. (And that little scene where Scarlet hugs Bod… so achingly revealing: since the age of two, he has not really been hugged, by real flesh and bone.)

And there is the rich imagination, the host of distinctive and adoring characters, a most chilling villain, and all that witty humor. How could I not love the book to pieces?

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Thoreau at Walden

Thoreau at WaldenAuthor: John Porcellino (illus.)
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th and up

Pages: 112
Publisher: Hyperion
Edition: Paperback, 2008

To say the least, this book is “interesting” — presenting some of Thoreau’s writing and ideas in cartoon format — there is not much innovative panel design but the color scheme, the panel progression, the choices of images all work harmoniously together — which fit very nicely with Thoreau’s sentiments. I especially appreciate those wordless panels — the one that he and the owl looked at each other and then went back to do their “own businesses” without further disturbance. So peaceful and effectively illustrating the essence of his existence at the time.

The extensive back matter will make this deceptively simple book “useful” for an older audience (middle school? early high school?)

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A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos WilliamsAuthor: Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Rating:
Reading Level: pre-k to 5th grade (depending on how the book is to be used)

Publisher: Eerdmans
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

Oh, how I absolutely
love this book
adore it
for its simple
informative text
admire it
for the collage and
water color illustrations

showing the time
the world and
the spirit of the poet
who was a doctor,
healed wounds,
delivered babies,
and soothed
our souls

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