Showing posts from October, 2015

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Schlitz, L., & Byrd, R. (2011). Good masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a medieval village (2nd pbk. ed.). Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
This collection of vignettes is a rendition of stories from every member of the village, from the lord's daughter, to the miller's son, to the village tanner.  They are all beautifully written, but none are exempt from the details that display the rash reality that each character lives during the Medieval Ages.  There is also a variety in style as each tale is written.  Some are told in a more friendly tone, whether it's through poetry or with a partner.  Others are told in a more complicated verse for older readers.  Schlitz also incorporates background information to clarify and expand on certain stories.
Teachers, this is a dream come true! I thought of English IV, which focuses on English literature, but it can easily be introduced to students in elementary and middle school as well.  You can create activities like dramatic re…


Lord, C. (2006). Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Catherine has an autistic brother named David.  In order to help him assimilate into the world as naturally as possible, she creates rules for her brother.  Unbeknownst to her, it isn't David who needs the rules; it may just be her and the rest of the society.  Catherine learns through her brother David, and her blossoming friendship with a boy named Jason, that being different isn't bad or wrong.  Catherine learns that appearances aren't everything, and that people who seem like they're one thing, don't always deliver.
Teachers can use this book to expose students to the opposite idea asOut of My Mind. Instead of analyzing the plot, characters, and theme from the point of view of the disabled character, teachers can analyze what is happening in the world from the opposing side.  In addition, both of these books can be used to juxtapose events and their effects on the characters.
Parents can also use these nove…

Bridge To Terabithia

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to Terabithia. New York, NY: T.Y. Crowell. 

Jess comes from a poor family, and his father isn't very supportive. But his dream of being the fastest runner in her class gives him something to shoot for. Then Leslie, a girl, comes in and outruns everyone. They become good friends and create a magical world for themselves in the woods by their town.  Leslie show's Jess that the world doesn't have to be so awful, destitute of hope, and tumultuous.  She shows him how to have confidence in himself.  When Jess finally takes this leap of faith, Leslie suffers a tragic accident. Living without her will be the true test of his transcendence.

This touching story can be read at any level. Teachers can use this novel to teach theme, expose students to dealing with hardship and adversity, and allow students to explore the powerful plot of a story that blends a world of fantasy with the cruelty of reality.

A Crooked Kind Of Perfect

Urban, L. (2007). A crooked kind of perfect. Orlando, FL: Harcourt. 
This story is about Zoe.  She's going to play the piano someday, but she doesn't realize that it isn't the piano she's been fantasizing about since she was born.  Her father, who's afraid to go outside, will get her an organ.  And with this organ, she will find out that you don't have to be perfect to be awesome.  This story unfolds the many layers of an imperfect family, but it also praises what a young girl can do in the midst of that adversity.  She pushes the envelope and becomes perfect in her newly modified dream. In her pursuit of this dream, she shows others how to get out of their comfort zones and enjoy life a little more.

There are many things that make us different and keep us from obtaining the things we think make us happy.This storyline presents a teachable moment in learning to take our lives for what they are and be grateful for them. Teachers can focus on developing characte…

Out Of Mind

Draper, S. (2010). Out of my mind. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 
Melody is a child whose disability keeps her from speaking.  And all she has is words to share.  This is definitely an eye opener.  It's a first-hand look into the world of a quadriplegic. Melody is aching to talk to the world, but when she has an opportunity to do so with a new machine, she's deathly afraid that people may not want to know what she says.  This machine opens everyone else's world to experience her thoughts and aspirations.  She competes in school and ultimately saves her little sister's life. This is an incredibly touching story and a must read.
Teachers can introduce a graphic novel project for students to do in a group and then do a collaborative learning event with their special education students.  Teachers can also help create adapted versions of this novel to present to students in these units as well.

Parents, this is an excellent novel to read with your children…

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Pastis, S. (2013). Timmy Failure: Mistakes were made. London: Walker.

This hilarious book, which reminds younger readers of Diary of A Wimpy Kid and their parents of Inspector Gadget, follows Timmy Failure and his quest to rid the world of unsolved mysteries with is sidekick Total.  It’s a story full of action and hilarity.  What's really ailing Timmy is that his real life is changing.  His mother is trying to make ends meet, starts dating again, and Timmy is suffering in school because of how involved he is in his alternate reality. Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made is part of a series that beckons for a read.  The plot engages, the characters are memorable, and the incorporation of opportune sketches enhances the author's style of storytelling.  This is definitely a great read for young and old.
Students can create their own "graphic-style stories and model after this one.  This is an excellent group project or individual journal project as well.  Teachers can introduce…

The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963

Curtis, C. (1995). The watsons go to Birmingham - 1963. New York, NY: Delacorte Books for Young Readers. 
Kenny's story transports us to 1963, where a family that shares a wonderful dynamic, loving memories, and funny exchanges has to travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to readjust the eldest's character.  Kenny, the middle child, tells the story of how he gets along with his siblings, life in Flint, Michigan, the family's trip to Alabama, and finally seeing their grandma again.  Curtis includes factual events without embellishing the times. Young readers can appreciate the plot through the author's style of writing and storytelling.  Unfortunately, the dangers of living in the south come to the Watson on a Sunday morning, and they get a brush with death that Kenny must deal with.
Parents, this is an excellent novel to read with your children.  You will enjoy the humor in the relationship of the siblings, parents, and their lives in Flint.  It's also a learning tool to e…

Dr. Mr. Henshaw

Cleary, B. (1983). Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York: W. Morrow. Dear Mr. Henshaw brings a boy who'sexperiencing a difficult change at home.  His parents have recently separated and are in the process of divorce.  He longs for a relationship with his father and to fit in school as his school lunch is constantly stolen.We're exposed to Leigh's thoughts through the letters he writes to Mr. Henshaw, the author of his favorite books. When Mr. Henshaw finally replies with a series of questions for Leigh, Leigh is forced to look into him and respond with his thoughts about some things in his life.  These letters help him overcome the changes in his life and the things he won't be able to change.
This book is perfect for the fourth or fifth grader.  Teachers can use this as a pre-cursor to student researching authors of some books they really like, explore writing topics in letter writing, and open the lines of communication in a similar project.

Parents can use this book to explore d…


Ottaviani, J. (2013). Primates: The fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. New York, New York: First Second.
This graphic novel/ comic book – like story is superb! Along with Jane Goodall, animal activists Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas join the ranks to pave their way to the awesome women they became.  Ottaviani divided their stories into three different sections included panels and dialogue bubbles to make it more dynamic and engaging.  It’s a truly riveting story because of how factual and true to life.  What makes it even more appealing is that it’s organized in chronological order.  The author also overlaps the stories to show how the same archeologist found these women, and how they interact in each other’s lives.  It’s a story full of action and facts.
What a great way to expose students to environmentalists and what power they can have to change the world for those that can’t change it for themselves.Science teachers can use this to go over project…

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends Of The Awfully Famous

Bragg, G., & O'Malley, K. (2011). How they croaked: The awful ends of the awfully famous. New York, NY: Walker &. Co.
Death. It's taboo. But knowing about it is incredibly enticing.  Georgia Bragg's unique style in the retelling of how the famous cease to exist fills the pages with facts, quotes, and additional details about the individuals in this book. Kevin O'Malley's illustrations add to the spooky, informal versions of these informative tales. They compliment how Bragg describes how these prominent people in history died. She also follows with additional tidbits of information about diseases that plagued at the time, medical procedures that were practiced in the day, scientific information about disorders, timelines of important events, and much more. It’s like history books within a huge history book.  Bragg's choice of words creates an environment that resembles those moments around the campfire.
Teachers can use these compilations of stories in a …

Me... Jane

McDonnell, P. (2011). Me... Jane. New York: Little, Brown.
The younger reader will definitely take to this factual story about Jane Goodall and the way she gives her dreams of going to Africa and working with chimpanzees flight.  The illustrations and simply written inserts cater to the simple development of the story.  The images convey the dreams of a young Jane.  McDonnell’s composition of the short facts and meaningful images portray a story that gives hope to the young readers. The final images bring Jane’s seemingly fictitious dreams into reality.  McDonnell includes a photograph of Jane as an adult with chimpanzees.  It’s the story of a dream that comes full circle for younger readers.  This story incites the dreams of youngsters.
Teachers can use this as a biographical piece or to introduce a unit on career goals.  It can also be used to teach caring for animals or to work on the most basic of research skills on a mobile device.
Parents can also use this to cultivate the idea of …

We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Nelson, K. (2008). We are the ship: The story of negro league baseball. New York, NY: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children.
Nelson uses his paintings to tell the story of Negro League baseball.  He also uses first person to tell the story, which shows how much he identifies with the birth, progression, and eventual disbanding of the league.  Stories of the great ball players that made up the league provide engaging vignettes that propel the plot, show an appreciation for the style and most importantly, show the beautiful pieces of art that Nelson shares.
These stories and the art can be used in nonfiction analytical exercises.  Elementary teachers can use these as informational excerpts and create visual prompts as well. 
Parents can use this book for older children and young adults.  It fosters an appreciation for the past, humble beginnings in the midst of disdain and being ostracized by the sport in the professional world. This story can be use to teach the value of appreciatio…

Hitler Youth

Bartoletti, S. (2005). Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's shadow. New York: Scholastic Nonfiction.
Susan Campbell Bartlett brings to light the children that Hitler recruited to further his empire.  And although it can be very off-putting at first, the accuracy in which these stories are compiled and told can't help to pull at the heartstrings of all who read it. Susan Campbell Bartlett shares the lives of the children who sincerely believed in Hitler's new world of opportunity and power.  She describes how these children fought for Hitler's cause and died for it.  These children also fought against the Russians in Germany.  Campbell's research isn't complete with accounts of children whose eyes were unveiled to the violence Hitler subjected them to and show their regret.

For the older reader, teachers can use excerpts of this as a precursor to Anne Frank or Night.


Giovanni, N., & Collier, B. (2005). Rosa. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
Rosa is a rendition of what activist Rosa Parks went through in her famous stance against that bus driver so many years ago.  Giovanni's style along with Collier's masterful artwork brings this story to light for young readers.  Although it may be for the slightly older reader, this book can convey the same ideas through the vivid illustrations and the style in which Giovanni describes these events. Not only does he include the iconic scene in the bus, but he also follows Rosa Parks through to her time in prison, the bus strikes, and the court trials. It's a well-rounded story of these actual events.
In the classroom, this can be used a precursor to a social studies lesson on the civil rights movement or powerful women leaders.
At home, parents can use this story to focus on how prejudice and discrimination can hurt and worry those around you as well as the victim and his or her family.  It's a story…

It's So Amazing

Harris, R., & Emberley, M. (1999). It's so amazing!: a book about eggs, sperm, birth, babies, and families. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
This may be the answer to every parent's nightmare.  How do you tell your child about how a baby is born? About the birds and the bees? Oh the dreaded talk! Well, fear no more. It's So Amazing is the answer to your prayers.  Harris and Emberley work together to include factual information on this sensitive subject for younger readers.  There are graphics in this book that some parents would be hesitant for their children to see; however, the way the information is displayed makes it more child-friendly.  Harris personifies a bird and a bee and they travel from pane to pane explaining the events from conception to birth and beyond in this book.  It really is amazing.
Teachers may need to get clearance if using this book for health purposes or to explain the different family dynamics that have now integrated into society.  Parents wi…


Bishop, N. (2007). Spiders. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Spiders is every nature-loving child’s dream inside a book. Nic Bishops is able to demonstrate the anatomy of spiders and their distinctive characteristics.  He does this with photography and even includes a centerfold depicting the trajectory of a jumping spider.  This is definitely the way to get young readers interested, and most importantly, educated on the critters that terrify adults the most. The specimens are carefully placed on the page and there is information about these everywhere!
Science teachers can use this book as an introductory piece; it includes basic spider anatomy and behavior. Students can also learn about the differences between insects and spiders.  

Parents can use this book to talk to their children about safety.  It can foster and differentiate a feeling of fear and safety.

Balloons Over Broadway

Sweet, M. (2011). Balloons over broadway: the true story of the puppeteer of Macy's parade. Boston, Ma: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
This wonderful rendition of how the famous parade came to be by author Melissa Sweet does an incredible job of detailing its history.  The illustrations and images bring this story to life, from the beginnings of Tony Sarge’s dream of beginning marionettes to the public, to the grandiose display of balloons now known as the Macy’s Day Parade. In addition to the illustrations, Sweet includes various newspaper clippings of the time displaying pertinent information to solidify her research.
This story is excellent for young readers searching for accurate information presented in a way they can understand.  It also will be a perfect book to introduce creativity, symbolism, or a show and tell project. 
Parents could also introduce these topics and home and create a family arts and crafts event.