I Am Amelia Earhart

Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

An excellent addition to the series “Ordinary People Change the World” is this new biography about Amelia Earhart. Written in the first person, it is like a comfortable conversation between two kids.

It is exciting to read about Amelia’s early experiments with ramps and roller coaster carts in her grandmother’s back yard. She tells about her first ride aboard an airplane at a county fair which is something many young readers will have seen or experienced.

She talks about all the different jobs she had to do while trying to raise enough money for her flight lessons. The illustrations are great fun as we see the small cartoon version of Amelia driving a huge truck, taking stenography notes and posing as a photographer.

The text is sparse and accessible for beginning readers. It will invite them in and encourage them to keep reading this book as well as many others in the set.

Her recollection about the flight lessons is valuable as she tells her readers that she never was the best or fastest. Instead she was the one who worked longest and hardest at her lessons.

This is an excellent inspirational book for all young readers, but especially for young girls who might think their options are limited.

Core curriculum standards in the area of history, biography and literacy can be practiced and strengthened with this book. Readers will love being able to see real photographs of Amelia at the end of the book. It adds realism to the biography experience and shows what the early airplanes looked like. These photographs may provide a springboard for further research and perhaps even career dreams.

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  • Amelia EarhartTitle: I Am Amelia Earhart
  • Author: Brad Meltzer
  • Illustrator: Christopher Eliopoulos
  • Publisher: Dial Book for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-4082-2
  • Genre: Biography, history, nonfiction
  • Grade level: K to 3
  • Extras: photographs

As An Oak Tree Grows

Written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Seasons and generations all pass by as the acorn planted by a supposed Native American child grows. While the text is clear and sparse, the illustrations are full of detail that will delight kindergarten readers as well as third grade readers.

The oak tree grows while people clear the land around it and begin to build houses and families. A timeline across the bottom of the pages lets readers correctly interpret the historical changes in transportation, architecture and clothing shown in the pictures.

For the youngest readers, it is enough to see the tree grow and the seasons change. Older readers will quickly notice the more subtle changes in lifestyle recorded in the illustrations.

This book will satisfy the common core standards for science, history, nature, and literature in several of the elementary grades. It is a beautiful springboard into studies of community development.

Readers will get attached to the tree and feel some sadness at its passing, but hope wins out as a new little acorn sprouts right next to where the old tree stood.

The poster that is in a pocket in the back of the book is full sized and has the stump of the tree enlarged. The rings of the tree are marked with historical markers to show how each ring of the tree represents a complete year. It will make it more understandable for young readers to see how this one tree was present for two hundred years of America’s history.

On the back of the poster are several activity sheets that go along with the book and only help to enhance the information included. This would be an excellent addition to any classroom, school or home library.

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  • As An Oak Tree GrowsTitle: As An Oak Tree Grows
  • Author/Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-25233-4
  • Genre: Historical fiction, realistic
  • Grade Level: K-3
  • Extras: Poster of the tree trunk, with historical labels on various rings, worksheets that go with the book are on the back of the poster.

Maddi’s Fridge

Written by Lois Brandt
Illustrated by Vin Vogel

After an afternoon of playing in the park, Sofia opens her friend Maddi’s fridge to look for a snack only to discover that it’s practically empty. Embarrassed, Maddi explains that her family doesn’t have much money for food. She begs Sofia not to tell anyone. Sofia promises she won’t.

Back home, Sofia sees her own fridge in a different light, stocked with all kinds of delicious things like milk, eggs, tortillas, salsa, carrots, and even a can of food for their dog. She wishes she could tell her mom about Maddi, but she made a promise. That night, she sneaks some of her fish dinner to give to her friend the next day. However:

Fish may be good for kids,
But fish is not good for backpacks.

This setback doesn’t keep the girls from their afternoon routine at the park. Maddi’s still the only one who can master the climbing wall, and she encourages Sofia to keep trying. She does – that night she tries again to bring Maddi some of her dinner.

Eggs may be good for kids,
But eggs are not good for backpacks.

On the third try, Sofia succeeds in bringing her friend something to eat. She also succeeds in making it to the top of the climbing wall, thanks to Maddi’s help all the way. And because friends help each other, Sofia decides she must break her promise. She tells her mother and together they buy groceries for Maddi’s family.

“A promise is important,” Maddi said.
“You’re more important,” Sofia said.

Kudos to Brandt for turning a serious social issue into a warm tale infused with humor and loads of heart. Second grade readers will love Vogel’s cheery illustrations, created with digital pen and ink and rich with detail. This book would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library – a perfect read aloud opportunity to discuss what it means to be a friend, how to help someone in need, and how some secrets should be shared with a trusted adult. The back page lists things kids can do to get involved plus a link to www.MaddisFridge.com, which offers activity pages, a curriculum guide for teachers and parents, and links to hunger organizations.

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Maddis FridgeTitle: Maddi’s Fridge
Author: Lois Brandt
Illustrator: Vin Vogel
Publisher: Flashlight Press, 2014
Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-9362612-9-1
Genre: Picture Book / Fiction / Social Issues

About Parrots: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

Brightly colored feathers draw young children to watch parrots in pet stores. This book for beginning readers will draw them in much the same way with its beautiful, full color illustrations. Various types of parrots are shown in diverse habitats. Each plate clearly shows the information stated on the text pages right down to the details like putting food in their mouths with their feet. Children and adults alike will enjoy studying the pictures.

The large, bold black font makes the one sentence of text at a time, non-threatening for young readers. Also on each page in much smaller print is the number and name of the illustration plate. For more detailed information, a higher functioning reader can turn to the back of the book and find more in-depth information. This section offers background information for teachers, librarians and parents to use when sharing this book with children. There is also a list of books for further reading and some current web-sites for use in further research.

Second grade readers as well as independent first grade readers will be able to enjoy this book on their own.

This volume is a new addition to the About…Series from the Sills. Each of these books could be used to fulfill core curriculum standards in the area of science and nature. They would give children enough information and interest in the subject to continue to study animals.

Extras: Afterword contains detailed explanations of each illustration plate that are on a much higher reading level. This section would be helpful for research projects.

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  • About ParrotsTitle: About Parrots: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: hardcover
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-795-3
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Lexile: 640L  / GrdK-3

 

What’s New? The Zoo! A Zippy History of Zoos

Written by Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Marcellus Hall

 

Children love zoos and wondering how they got started is sure to amaze young readers.

Not surprisingly, it became the sport of the very rich and powerful. Kathleen Krull has done her research. The scant text tells of zoos from 4,400 years ago, in what is now Iraq to one 3,000 years ago in China, and one in 2009 in San Diego, California. Many others in between are included. She clearly explains that while zoos used to be mainly for showing off wealth or power, they are now used to protect animals. They are no longer placed in cages, but specific habitats are built to resemble their natural environments as much as possible.

Large colorful, watercolor illustrations enhance this brief history and development of zoos in the world. Children will be able to recognize the animals, parts of the world and approximate times in history from these carefully prepared images.

Teachers and librarians will be able to fulfill educational standards in the areas of science, history, literacy, geography, cultures, and art using this one text.

After reading this book, children will be ready and anxious to visit the zoo either online or in person. The list of sources in the back of the book provides many great zoo sites to visit.

  • Title: What’s New? The Zoo? A Zippy History of Zoos
  • What's New The ZooAuthor: Kathleen Krull
  • Illustrator: Marcellus Hall
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, July 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-13571-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction picture book
  • Grade level: Preschool to 3
  • Extras: Bibliographic Sources

Fly Away

Written by Patricia MacLachlan

Patricia MacLachlan continues to provide emergent readers with wonderful stories. This latest book is based on the words from a children’s song that was adapted from an Engelbert Humperdinck song. It tells of the birdies who fly away, but come back home.

Her main character, Lucy, is a young girl whose family is traveling back to the mother’s home in a poor, old overused, but much loved Volkswagen van with a pop-up top. Like many poor families, the children are unaware of their poverty because of the way the parents handle life with jokes and songs.

During the visit home to see the stubborn aunt who doesn’t want help, the river floods. While it rises, neighbors come to help move things and memories of the past flood into conversations.

The relationships between the young siblings is perfectly described. They share secrets as well as quiet strength with one another. One secret has to be shared publicly, though, when the littlest boy comes up missing.

Not surprisingly, it is a well-written book that children just beginning to delve into chapter books will enjoy greatly. They will be able to recognize themselves and their relationships to others within its pages. They will learn that we, like the birdies, often fly away, but then come back home.

Literacy teachers, second grade and third grade readers, librarians and parents will enjoy this book as they practice all their literacy skills, but more importantly just love reading.

  • Fly AwayTitle: Fly Away
  • Author: Patricia MacLachlan
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 128 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-6008-9
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade Level: Grade 2 and above

 

The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream

Written by Joseph Anthony
Illustrated by Cris Arbo

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Call it “the little seed that could.”

A dandelion seed floats in the air and rides the wind, patiently waiting to be deposited onto the rich soil below. But in an unfortunate landing, the seed finds itself stuck in an open Styrofoam container. Many seasons pass, but the lonely seed never gives up its dream of becoming a flower. Then one day, the seed’s luck changes. It falls out of the container and is pushed into the ground. It grows into the golden yellow flower it has been wishing for all this time.

In what could otherwise be a basic introduction to the plant cycle, Anthony uses anthropomorphism, giving the seed feelings and desires, to spruce up this tale. Readers and listeners will find themselves routing for the little seed and will feel satisfied with its happy ending. Arbo’s realistic artwork is rich with detail for children of all ages to examine and enjoy.

If used as a classroom read aloud, there are many opportunities for discussion and comprehension: Why are some plants considered flowers while others are called weeds? How does littering interfere with nature? Themes of courage, patience, and perseverance will allow second and third graders to make connections to their own lives. Back pages include a diagram of a dandelion and its different life stages, as well as related DIY activities to do with children. More classroom resources can be found on the publishers website: www.dawnpub.com.

  • Dandelion SeedTitle: The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream
  • Author: Joseph Anthony
  • Illustrator: Cris Arbo
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-496-0
  • Genre: Picture Book / Nonfiction / Science / Nature
  • Publication date: September 1, 2014

About Habitats: Forests

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

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What are forests and why are they important? What kind of wildlife lives in a forest? These questions and more are answered in the latest offering from the About Habitats series.

Cathryn and John Sill have created a wonderful beginner’s guide, presented in a clean, organized fashion. On the left-hand side of the page spread, a simple sentence with easy language appears over a white background. To the right, readers are treated to a painting, vivid with color and detail. With clear labeling for easy cross-reference, different levels of information are available for different reader levels. A kindergartener may pore over the picture of the cute chipmunk, while a second or third grader can expand their knowledge and literacy skills from the plant and animal identifiers (e.g., an Eastern Chipmunk in a deciduous forest, surrounded by morel mushrooms and Christmas ferns).

Young readers will learn about the different types of forests like deciduous, tropical, or boreal and how each has their own distinct characteristics. The illustrations show animals and plants thriving within each habitat: a snowshoe hare blends into the snowy landscape of the boreal forest; an orangutan finds shelter in the tropical forest canopy; a black bear, broad-winged hawk, and box turtle live side by side in the deciduous forest.

Extras include a global map of the major forest areas of the world, a glossary, bibliography, and additional websites for further information. For more titles in the About Habitats series, visit the publishers website: www.peachtree-online.com.

  • ForestsTitle: About Habitats: Forests
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-734-2
  • Genre: Picture Book, Nature, Wildlife, Ecology

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash

Written and illustrated by Frank Cammuso

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In this delightful graphic novel, young witch Salem Hyde and her cat companion Whammy prepare for their friend Edgar’s birthday party. Meanwhile, they are also battling their archenemy, Shelly. First, the reader gets to know Salem and her magic a little bit. She makes herself bigger and then runs out of magic before she can shrink back. Next, Salem has to get past Shelly and the fact that she’s hidden Salem’s invitation to the party. On an excursion to buy Edgar’s present, their misadventures continue with major brain freeze from slushees and Shelly confronting them at the toy store. Plus, they have no money. When they finally get to the party, Salem does her best to make it a great day for Edgar. Of course, her spells backfire and she has to correct for some of them. She tries to make the party big but ends up shrinking the attendees instead. Whammy is almost served up as dinner to some baby birds.

The lively and exciting panels pull the reader in and should hold their attention. They also provide a great backdrop to increase comprehension for second graders and up. Friendship and getting along are strong and subtle themes of this work. The author’s website, www.cammuso.com, provides information on author visits and about all his books.

  • Big Birthday BashTitle: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash
  • Author/Illustrator: Frank Cammuso
  • Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 94 pages
  • Genre: Graphic novel, fiction, fantasy, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1025-4

Claude at the Beach

Written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith

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Claude, the small plump dog, and Sir Bobblysock return in this entertaining account of a vacation at the beach. The author begins with Claude’s background, making this a good stand-alone book, but don’t miss Claude’s other adventures. He lives with Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes and reserves his antics for when they are at work. Claude packs his suitcase with useful items, such as underpants, a lampshade, sunscreen, whipped cream, and sticky tape. He and Sir Bobblysock set off for the beach, where Bobblysock promptly falls asleep. Claude rescues a swimmer from a shark while the lifeguard helps a woman with her beach balls. After a snack, Claude and Bobblysock meet a family of pirates. They all go to hunt for buried treasure on Skull Island, which they eventually find. They also find the pirates who buried the treasure. Of course, the second group of pirates is very interested in the useful items Claude packed in his suitcase. Claude and Sir Bobblysock return home, dragging in sand, treasure, and seaweed smells.

Second grade readers will enjoy the silliness and wry humor. Read aloud is recommended, but only because sharing the jokes will make them even more fun. In any case, the story will hold kids’ attention and literacy skills will be enhanced.

  • Claude at the BeachTitle: Claude at the Beach
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2011
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-703-5
  • Extras: Author blog at www.alextsmith.blogspot.com
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