Archive for May 31, 2013

Celebrating Florida

Written by Marion Dane Bauer

Illustrated by C. B. Canga

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Now young travelers in second grade or above do not need an airplane, train, or even a car to explore the enchanting state of Florida. They simply open the book, Celebrating Florida, to read aloud and learn about the wild life, including alligators and crocodiles and a fact that people may not know. They find out how people travel in swamps and where they must go to find sponges. This adventure even takes them to the beaches to make a sand sculpture or learn what a sand dollar looks like as they improve their reading skills. Don’t stop here! In the back of the book, they discover more facts like the state capital and important dates in history.

Colorful, and sometimes dramatic, illustrations provide a more in depth approach to seeing what someone can behold. For instance most people know about the orange trees, but what about grapefruits and strawberries. The state flower, orange blossoms, smells sweet, while the state animal, the panther, can be terrifying. Skip over to page 34 and find reading activities that extend the facts so they can be shared with others. Even though it has a glossary in the back, it would have helped to add accent marks to help sound out the unusual vocabulary words such as Seminole or Tobocaga. Due to the target 2nd grade reading level, the character, Mr. Geo may have been more effective as someone closer to their age instead of someone closer to their parent’s age. The book is part of the “50 States to Celebrate” series.

  • Celebrating FloridaTitle: Celebrating Florida
  • Author: Marion Dane Bauer
  • Illustrator: C. B. Canga
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Julia Beiker
  • Edition: Paperback
  • ISBN 978-0-547-89699-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, geography


The Meanest Birthday Girl

Written by Josh Schneider

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In Josh Schneider’s book, The Meanest Birthday Girl, Dana, the main character, celebrates her birthday “doing what she likes to do,” because, after all, it’s her special day.  Doing what she likes includes wearing her favorite birthday dress and eating her favorite breakfast. But, it also means calling Anthony names at the bus stop, pinching him, and stealing his dessert at lunchtime.

After school, Dana continues her celebration with a birthday party that includes all her friends. Later, just before bedtime, Anthony arrives at her door with a gift, leaving the reader to ponder if Anthony was not invited to the party.

His gift? A large, white elephant with bright tusks and toenails that just happen to be painted with Dana’s favorite color. Dana is elated with her wonderful gift and surprised that Anthony would present her with such a nice present after she’d treated him the way she did earlier in the day.

Though Dana enjoys showing off her pet in the neighborhood, her excitement is fleeting. Her pet elephant eats Dana’s breakfast, causing her stomach to rumble on the school bus. That noisy moment invites name-calling from Gertrude, who calls Dana “Grumble-Guts.” Dana’s white elephant pet sleeps in her bed, requires much exercise, eats too much, and even crushes Dana’s bike. And, meanwhile, Gertrude continues to taunt Dana with name-calling, mud ball throwing, and dessert stealing.

Remorsefully, Dana apologizes to Anthony for her actions. When Anthony reminds Dana that Gertrude is celebrating her birthday today, Dana, seemingly uninvited to Gertrude’s party, hatches a plan. Dana gives the white elephant a bath, paints its toenails Gertrude’s favorite color, shows up at Gertrude’s door, and presents her with the white elephant, admonishing her to “Take good care of it.”

Schneider’s humorous and a bit preposterous story about a white elephant gift read aloud to a second grade class opens the door for a discussion about bullying. Many children can relate to name calling and possibly, pinching or pushing and shoving, and maybe even snatching food or toys. Children might also relate to being excluded from a party or other play activity.

After reading the book aloud, the teacher could continue in a humorous bent, allowing the kids to come up with silly, ridiculous ways to end bullying. After a fun time of creativity, the teacher could direct the conversation to a serious one about bullying, encouraging the students to talk about bullying with a trusted adult, if the need arises. The teacher could also utilize teaching time to point out behaviors that might be considered “bullying.”

For an extension of the story, the teacher could incorporate a creative writing experience and have the students write and illustrate a story called, “The Best Birthday Present I Ever Received.”

Author Josh Schneider has written other books for children, including the 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Medal Winner, Tales for Very Picky Eaters. Interestingly, Josh is married to Dana, but says on the back flap of the book’s cover, that his wife is “much less terrible than the Dana in this book.”

  • Meanest Birthday GirlTITLE: The Meanest Birthday Girl
  • AUTHOR: Josh Schneider
  • PUBLISHER: Clarion Books-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • EDITION: Hard Cover, 48 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547838144
  • GENRE: Contemporary

The Missing Cuckoo Clock (Summer Camp Science Mysteries Series)

Written by Lynda Beauregard

Illustrated by Der-Shing Helmer

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It’s Megan’s first year at Camp Dakota. There are campers to meet and mysteries to solve. What happened to the cuckoo clock? Why can’t the campers stay on top of the beach ball in the water? How come Megan is taller in the morning than she is at night? Gravity rules in Book #5 of the Summer Camp Science Mysteries Series.

The Missing Cuckoo Clock is a graphic novel that will delight reluctant readers in the second grade level. Multi-cultural campers are depicted in a bold graphic style. The text is entertaining and educational. With more educational material than an average comic book, it will also be appreciated by teachers.

The storyline acts as a pegboard on which to hang real-life examples of gravity in action. Blue fact boxes scattered through the cartoon panels offer explanations about how gravity works. Camp Dakota campers watch as lifeguard J.D. demonstrates centre of gravity. They giggle as they try to stand against a wall with heels together and try to pick up a quarter on the floor. They make a gravity clock with water. Each of the mini-experiments found throughout the story can be easily be duplicated by teachers and students.

A glossary and gravity fact list are found at the back of the novel. There are also two official experiments for second grade students to perform. In “Uphill Battle”, they can see how gravity makes a round object roll uphill. In “Making a Pendulum”, students test changes in weight and length against the swing rate.

This is a fun book liberally sprinkled with serious science!

  • Missing Cuckoo ClockTitle: The Missing Cuckoo Clock
  • Author: Lynda Beauregard
  • Illustrator: Der-Shing Helmer
  • Publisher: Graphic Universe
  • Reviewer: Megan Kopp
  • Paperback: 48 Pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0733-6
  • Genre: Mystery / Science / Graphic Novel

Gooney Bird on the Map

Written by Lois Lowry

Illustrated by Middy Thomas

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Mrs. Pidgeon’s second grade class is counting the days until February vacation. With just ten days until the school vacation begins, Mrs. Pidgeon’s class celebrates  Valentine’s Day, a couple of Presidents’ birthdays, practices math facts, studies geography, and tromps around in the snow during recess.

Some of the students in Gooney Bird’s class are taking exciting vacations – to Vermont, Hawaii, and Florida. But most of the classmates will be staying home in Watertower.

When the vacationers begin to brag constantly about their vacations, Gooney Bird hatches a plan to show them just how it feels when others gloat, and it involves a very large “frozen” map of the United States that the class, with the help of the school custodian, Mr. Furillo, outlines in the snow-covered playground.

By the end of the story, everyone is happy about the map project, and the gloaters tone down their vacation bragging. The book culminates with Mrs. Pidgeon’s class presenting a program to the entire school about the various states they’ve studied, using their outdoor map in the snow.

Author Lois Lowry uses this story of Gooney Bird, which is one of several Gooney Bird installations, to teach geography concepts in an interesting, yet subtle way. She makes Mrs. Pidgeon’s classroom seem like a happy place to be, where much learning – and fun – takes place.

A fun reading activity to continue the geography concepts introduced or taught by author Lowry might be to place a large United States map on the wall and encourage the children to place sticker-flags on the states they have visited.

  • Gooney BirdTITLE: Gooney Bird on the Map
  • AUTHOR: Lois Lowry
  • ILLUSTRATIOR: Middy Thomas
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • EDITION: Paperback, 125 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-85088-7
  • GENRE: Contemporary

The Long, Long Journey

Written by Sandra Markle

Illustrated by Mia Posada

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Crackle! Crackle! Crunch! The Long, Long Journey paints a picture of one amazing little bird. The story tracks the life of a female bar-tailed godwit. It starts with her hatching and follows her early life in Alaska. It lets readers watch as she gobbles insects to put on weight. Second grade readers will enjoy seeing how she avoids animals like the Arctic fox that wants to eat her for dinner. It joins the godwit and her flock as they fly thousands of miles, day after day, to cross the ocean.

Mia Posada’s accompanying artwork is a wonderful mixture of collage and watercolor. Readers can see the soft down of the chicks. They can feel the woody branches of the arctic plants. They can almost touch the crisp feathers of the adult birds.

Godwits are amazing! The number-crunching bulleted list of facts at the end of the story adds the details. Godwits hatch in only twenty-one days. They are able to walk and feed themselves right away. They eat so much that half of their body weight is fat. They need this fat to fuel the journey. One godwit flew 7,270 miles (11,700 kilometers) nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand.

The Long, Long Journey is a perfect read-aloud book for the second grade level. It gently introduces the subject of migration as a true story. It expands this knowledge with a list of websites, books, and videos. Using these resources readers can learn more about the godwit and other bird’s migration.

Sandra Markle lives near Christchurch, New Zealand. Her author’s note at the very end describes the godwit festival. People from around the country celebrate the godwit’s arrival in the spring and its departure to Alaska every fall. Fall in New Zealand is spring in Alaska. Teachers can use the information to create a variety of reading and writing activities and maybe even create their own migratory bird celebration.

  • Long Long JourneyTitle: The Long, Long Journey
  • Author: Sandra Markle
  • Illustrator: Mia Posada
  • Publisher: Millbrook Press
  • Reviewer: Megan Kopp
  • Hardcover: 32 Pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-5623-3
  • Genre: Nature

The Pets You Get!


Written by Thomas Taylor

Illustrated by  Adrian Reynolds

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A guinea pig may be soft and cuddly but nowhere near as exciting as a dog.  Dogs can do so many fun things.  Too bad big sisters think they are not as clean or quiet as guinea pigs.  But then there are bears.  Who wouldn’t want a bear as a pet?  They would be great company when watching the sunset.  But big sister thinks they are too big to snuggle up with at night.  Why would you ever want a boring pet that sleeps most of the time when you can have a dragon?  A dragon that breathes fire from his nose?  Totally awesome!  That sister!  She says dragons are make-believe and then she, gasp, kisses her guinea pig!  YUCK!  Why would you settle for a boring guinea pig when there are so many exciting pet possibilities?  You could choose a panther, rhino, dinosaur or a snake.  But no, sister still thinks guinea pigs are the best pets and she puts her pet guinea pig on brother’s knee.  Hey!  This guinea pig is not quite as boring as he thought.  It jumps and runs.  It plays chase, well more like catch although it is not so easy to catch.  That guinea pig is really, really good at hide and seek.  What a great sister!  She is sharing her guinea pig with brother….although he still thinks a dragon would be a great pet.

The wonderful illustrations in this fun book would make decoding easy for any second grade child as picture cues are very clear (CCSS 2.RL.7).  As a read aloud, this book would be fun for both the reader and the listener.  The changes from boring pet guinea pig to wildly exciting, fire breathing dragon make expressive reading almost as easy as breathing.

Although Thomas Taylor authored The Pet’s You Get, he is also an illustrator.  You may have seen his first commissioned work, the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. That tidbit alone makes it worth picking up this book to see what other sorts of creativity are rolling around in this imaginative mind.

  • Pets You GetTitle:  The Pets You Get!
  • Author:  Thomas Taylor
  • Illustrator:  Adrian Reynolds
  • Publisher: Andersen Press USA
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  unpaged
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-1143-2
  • Genre:  fantasy

It’s a Mitzvah, Grover!

Written by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer

Illustrated by Tom Leigh

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Hello, everybodeee!  Grover is in Israel and learning all kinds of things.  He struggles a little with Hebrew words, but not with the idea of finding ways to make the world a better place.  Grover and his new friends will be doing a mitzvah, which is doing something nice for others.  Brosh, Avigail and Mahboub along with Grover work in their neighborhood park after a storm left it a mess.  The local grouch, Moishe doesn’t want any part of a mitzvah.  Too much time, too much trouble!  So the kids get to work without him, even mixing paint and having a little lesson on colors, Sesame Street style.  The playground is beautiful with the freshly painted equipment and the trash gathered into bags.  Moishe can’t stay out of the trash.  When he separates the trash from the non-trash, Grover points out that recycling is a mitzvah.  Moishe’s day gets even worse.  Grover and his friends aren’t grouches.  They know it’s time to wash up.

The power of Sesame Street is put to work presenting Jewish concepts and Hebrew words as well as using familiar characters to show the universal truths of the Jewish faith.  It is a good read aloud for either a lapsit or for a class.  It would fit into a unit on Israel or for Character Counts.  Have students list the kinds of mitzvahs they could do in their school or neighborhood as a literacy activity.  The solid second grade reading level makes this suitable for second graders to read to either younger reading buddies or to make their own audio book.  The publisher’s website has many activities on their blog, which could give educators ideas for how to use this books in the Shalom Sesame series (

  • Its a MitzvahTITLE: It’s a Mitzvah, Grover!
  • AUTHOR: Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Tom Leigh
  • PUBLISHER: Kar-Ben
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-7562-3
  • GENRE: Picture book, Judaism

Claude in the City

Written and Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

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Claude and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock, a very bobbly sock indeed, set out on an adventure and make a splash in the city. Claude, a dog with a long face and a beret, lives with Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes, who leave Claude and Bobblysock alone every day. After the humans take off for work, Claude blocks traffic because he doesn’t understand  horn blowing. He examines groups of pigeons. He finds a shop with many kinds and colors of berets and buys every possible combination. He goes to an art gallery and foils an art thief. He is the hero of the day and is recognized by the mayor, though Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes don’t understand how. Next, Claude takes a trip to the hospital in an effort to find out what’s wrong with Sir Bobblysock. At the hospital, Claude is recruited to help a group of wrestlers suffering from a mysterious illness. Of course, all is well at the end.

Imaginative and exciting illustrations are important parts of this story. As a dog, Claude doesn’t talk much, but he has many expressions. The themes of pure silliness, humor, and striking out on your own fit in well with the second grade reading level. There is enough repetition to aid in comprehension, but not enough to get tedious. For more fun and reading activities, check out Smith’s blog at, which includes his sketchbook, or Claude and Bobblysock’s own blog at Apparently, Claude’s fans like to dress like Claude and have their own Sir Bobblysock.

  • Claude in the CityTitle: Claude in the City
  • Author and Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Hard cover: 94 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-697-0
  • Genre: Middle grade, Humor


The Little Prince: The Planet of the Night Globes

Adapted by Guillaume Dorison

Artistic Direction by Didier Poli

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Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s beloved masterpiece gets updated. The Little Prince ( is one of the most loved books on the planet. Five years ago the author’s estate decided to revive the story with a series of new adventures presented in a graphic novel format.

What is a graphic novel? Will Eisner describes it as “sequential art, ….a series of illustrations which, when viewed in order, tell a story.” A graphic novel is story and art tied together. Educators, parents,and  librarians are realizing the readability factor that a graphic novel has. Readers as young as first and second graders are drawn to the wonderfully drawn illustrations and stay to read the words.

The format has changed, but the characters stay true to the original. There the Little Prince was responsible only for his tiny planet — Asteroid B612. Now he feels himself responsible for other stars and planets too. In The Planet of the Night Globes the Little Prince comes up against the Globes — strange creatures who seek food in the dark of the night. When Laudion, the lamp maker, lights up the city night and day, the Globes cannot get to their food. The townspeople perceive the Globes as a threat.

The Little Prince and Fox get to the bottom of that mystery. Laudion is shown for what he is, and also shown what he can be. “You’re not my enemy, Laudion. My real enemy is the snake, who took advantage of the fear that was eating at you and making you so miserable.” Laudion performs the last heroic deed that saves the planet.

“We’re always afraid of what we don’t understand. Courage doesn’t mean getting rid of our fear, but finding a way to rise above it.” The philosophy of the original continues in the new graphic stories. A worthwhile addition to all reading lists.


Additional Resources:


The Little Prince turns 70:

  • Little Prince Planet of Night GlobesTitle: The Little Prince: The Planet of the Night Globes
  • Adapted by: Guillaume Dorison
  • Artistic Director: Didier Poli
  • Publisher: Graphic Universe a Division of Lerner Publishing
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  56 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0738-1
  • Genre: Fantasy

I Came from the Water: One Haitian Boy’s Incredible Tale of Survival

Written by Vanita Oelschlager

Illustrated by Mike Blanc

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Haiti is beautiful island in the Caribbean Ocean. But it is not an easy place to live. I Came from the Water follows the hardships of 8-year-old Moses, who lost his family as a baby when a small river next to his home flooded. Moses’ own life was saved thanks to a basket that floated him to the safety of a children’s village.

The children’s village is an orphanage that provides shelter, care, and schooling for the multitude of children in Haiti who have lost their parents. And though day to day life is good for Moses, he continues to live through upheaval as Haiti gets hit by an earthquake, more strong rains and a Cholera outbreak.

This book takes an unflinching look at life in Haiti, including the reality that some kids in the children’s village go to Heaven.  But the overall message of I Came From The Water is one of survival.  Moses is strong.  He helps aid workers rebuild Haiti and takes care of the other children in the village.  When he grows up, Moses wants to continue helping people by driving a tap-tap – a type of bus.

The beautiful, bright pictures that accompany the simple text support the positive message of Moses’ story.  As do the quotes by Father Rick Frechette, who runs a pediatric hospital, orphanage and other schools in Haiti, and Sister Judy Dohner, who knew Moses personally.

The last two pages provide extra information about the author’s relationship with Moses, Haiti, and the Gonaives flood of 2004.  Photographs highlight the destruction caused by recent floods and earthquakes, show the beauty of everyday life in Haiti, and introduce readers to people who are there to help.

I Came From the Water should be on the reading list of every second grade student.  Learning about Haiti through the eyes of Moses is both humbling and encouraging, and gives teachers an opportunity to introduce students to the lives of children beyond their own borders.

  • I Came from the WaterTitle: I Came From the Water: One Haitian Boy’s Incredible Tale of Survival
  • Author: Vanita Oelschlager
  • Illustrator: Mike Blanc
  • Publisher: Vanitabooks, LLC
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • ebook: 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-9832904-4-5 (hardback)
  • Genre: contemporary, social studies
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