Archive for July 24, 2013

Martha Speaks: Summer Fun

Written by Susan Meddaugh

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What’s more fun than a talking dog? Martha, the talking dog, certainly has an amusing view of the world. She also has a sneaky way of teaching a lot, given that she doesn’t quite understand the human world. Based on the PBS series, this is a collection of three stories, each by a different author. First, one of Martha’s human friends mistakenly uses a self-tanning lotion instead of her usual sunscreen. When she uses it to excess, her skin turns embarrassingly orange. To make her feel better, Martha talks all the other kids into adopting the same orange glow. And the friend feels better. Next, Martha learns of her lupine heritage and decides to become a pack animal. Her canine friends opt out when they find that comfort comes first: food, bed, and television. Martha returns to her pack, the other members of which are human. Last, Martha does her best to be endearing to her human grandmother, only to take several missteps. Martha can’t quite figure out an appropriate birthday gift. But Grandma recognizes her efforts and rewards her. Not only are the stories fun and informative, the illustrations are winners too. The reader can feel like part of the action.

Not surprisingly, Martha Speaks books have tons of added value for second grade readers. In addition to the popular television show, Martha Speaks, the show has an excellent website,, which is loaded with information for parents and teachers and reading activities. Martha also has her own website,; and the publisher’s website ( is useful to help increase reading skills and comprehension.

  • Martha SpeaksTITLE: Martha Speaks: Summer Fun 
  • AUTHORS: Susan Meddaugh
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-97025-7
  • GENRE: Paperback, Animals, Humor
  • LEXILE: 480

The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Shifty Business

Written by Greg Trine

Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer

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Go Jo Schmo! Second and third graders will root for this intrepid fourth grader who fights crime in her bathroom breaks. Who wouldn’t to take time off from class to perform super heroic deeds?

The first book in the series explains how Jo got her superpowers. However, each book is a stand alone story — all that the reader needs is to believe that Jo and her trusty sidekick, Raymond, have superpowers, and use it to fight crime.

The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Shifty Business is about shifty business indeed. The ‘shifty business’ refers mainly to Jo Schmo’s shape shifting. Grandpa Joe asks her what superpower she would acquire next. Jo ponders a bit, then says that shape shifting would be useful to a superhero. But Numb Skull and his pals are also up to ‘shifty’ (evasive or deceitful) business. This could be an interesting reading activity in classrooms. Teachers could help students make lists of all the puns in the story.

A great part of the fun of the books is the clever word play the author indulges in. We have all heard of crime waves. In Jo Schmo’s world there is the crime ripple, which is what you get before you get a crime wave. Ripple, wave, tsunami — that’s the way it works in the crime world.   Even a second grader could see that that is a perfectly logical progression of crime!

Shape-shifting Jo goes head-to-head with shifty Numb Skull in a race to save her town from the biggest crime-tsunami ever. Sharks and whales and a drooling dog with a swishing tale spice up the story. Who wins? Read to the end to find out.

  • Shifty BusinessTitle: The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Shifty Business
  • Author: Greg Trine
  • Illustrator: Frank W. Dormer
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  106 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-80796-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 600


Written by Janet Lawler

Illustrated by Amanda Haley

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It snowed without stopping

For week after week.

When it ended at last,

Cami Lou took a peek.


Thus begins the story of Snowzilla — a simply told tale-in-verse that pre-schoolers to second graders would enjoy. Cami Lou bundles up her brother against the cold and they step out to “build a huge snowman, unlike any other!”

Well, the snowman is like no other. It keeps growing and growing; so big, that they need Dad’s rig to place the head on the top. So big, that busloads of tourists come to see it. So big, that the neighbors protest, and the case goes to court! But Cami Lou knows how to drum up support. She emails, and texts, and blogs, with just one message: Save Our Snowzilla.

The colorful illustrations perfectly match the tone of the story. The giant snowman contrasts with the tiny dots that are the people crowding around. Even the yellow busses seem small beside him. The protesters parade with placards that read “melt the snowman!” and  “SNOWMAN NO MAN!” and the savers hold up “SOS: Save Our Snowman.”

Interestingly, there is (or was) a real Snowzilla, whose story parallels this tale. The average snowfall in Anchorage, Alaska, is 57 inches, so temptation to go build a snowmen is huge. That is what Billy Ray Powers and his children did in 2005 (see ). The snowman was so big that they used up all the snow in their yard, and had to borrow snow from the neighboring yards, bucket by bucket, pulled in on sleds. What do you think this mammoth snowman was called? Why Snowzilla of course.

The rhymes are simple enough to learn. Many reading activities can be built around them — snowy day or not!

  • SnowzillaTitle: Snowzilla
  • Author: Janet Lawler
  • Illustrator: Amanda Haley
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0761461883
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 690


Crankee Doodle

Written by Tom Angleberger

Illustrated by Cece Bell

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Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony.  Why?  Well, read the book and find out!  Just kidding.  Apparently, he was bored.  His pony suggested a trip to town and the story begins.  Why go to town?  Well, maybe to buy a feather for his hat.  Call it macaroni?  Really?  Apparently “’macaroni’ is just another word for ‘fancy’”.  Hmmmm, isn’t that interesting?  This book is full of ‘interesting’ information.

This graphic novel was written on a second grade reading level, but older children would enjoy it.  There are so many classroom applications for this book that I am not sure where to begin.  Writing sequence is an important lesson.  Crankee Doodle starts with “first” and moves on to “second” when asking his pony why he would want to call his hat macaroni.  Teaching social skills may be as important as teaching reading skills.  When Crankee Doodle tells his pony that he smells bad, the pony has a bit of a meltdown.  This is an excellent opportunity to teach children about appropriate communication and how our words can hurt.  It is also a chance to teach children how to deal with hurtful words.  The word choices can make comprehension a little tough for struggling readers sometimes.  However, the format makes it interesting enough to keep their attention.

Crankee Doodle is short enough so that most readers would be able to push through, even if a little frustrated.  It has just enough complexity in its storyline to keep even advanced readers interested, but not too much to confuse struggling readers.  The graphic novel style will appeal to a wide audience, young and old.

Author Tom Angleberger is also the author of the Origami Yoda books.  All kinds of fun stuff, as well as other books, can be found at his website (  Illustrator Cece Bell is both an illustrator and author.  Her website ( has information about her other works, as well as her blog.

  • Crankee DoodleTitle:  Crankee Doodle
  • Author:  Tom Angleberger
  • Illustrator:  Cece Bell
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  unpaged
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-81854-2
  • Genre:  contemporary fiction
  • Lexile score:  450

Queenie: One Elephant’s Story

Written by Corinne Fenton

Illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe

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Many zoos have an animal that has caught the hearts of its community. Queenie is that animal at the Melbourne Zoo. She was the highlight of every child’s and many adults’ zoo visit from 1905 until 1944 and lives on in Melbourne’s collective memory – at least, that’s the author’s goal in writing this book.

Queenie is described as a gentle Asian elephant with likes and dislikes. Her personality is rounded-out as incidents both humorous and celebratory are described. There is no anthropomorphism as she is taken from the jungles of India to a zoo in Australia and eventually put to work carrying visitors on her back. Queenie often carries up to 500 visitors a day, six days a week. She does this from the age of nine until the age of almost fifty when she is removed from service.

The author has done extensive research on Queenie’s story, interviewing former employees, and zoo goers from the era.  The story is told lovingly but without unnecessary description, allowing the illustrations to fill in many of the details. The illustrations by one of Australia’s premiere artists have a period-photo-look using color ingeniously to focus reader’s attention. The images go from a ‘just-sketched’ surround to a photo-realistic center.

Reader alert: although the reading level is accessible to upper elementary readers, the content is mature. Young animal and elephant lovers may find the book’s conclusion heart-wrenching and difficult to understand without an adult’s guidance. This title may be best used as a read aloud or read together.

Readers’ may enjoy seeing the Melbourne Zoo’s Asian elephants as they appear today:

Here’s an interview with the author. You can also link to her webpage and blog from here:

The illustrator is from Tasmania. Find out more about him here:

Teachers’ may find these curriculum guides helpful:

  • QueenieTitle: Queenie: One Elephant’s Story
  • Author:  Corinne Fenton
  • Illustrator: Peter Gouldthorpe
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Hard cover: ISBN: 978-0-7636-6375-9
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, Animals
  • Lexile Score: 890

Burton the Kind Scarecrow

Written by V. A. Boeholt

Illustrated by Nathaniel P. Jensen

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Burton the scarecrow wants to help everyone.  His job is to protect the crops in Farmer Green’s garden.  Even though the near-by animals and birds could damage the growing things, Burton finds a way to help them stay warm during the cold winter months.  Instead of a pumpkin for the mice, Burton gives them his hat.  Instead of the bean vines for the crows, Burton gives them his overalls.  Instead of rhubarb leaves for the bunnies, Burton gives them his jacket.  Then the fields are harvested and, as winter arrives, Burton is alone.  Without his clothes and most of his straw, he falls from the wooden frame and lies in the snow.  When spring comes, Farmer Greene sees Burton in disrepair and decides that he has to replace the old scarecrow.  The animals overhear and they are moved to help the fellow who helped them so much.  Not only do they bring clean clothes and straw for Burton, but they bring enough clothes and straw to make a scarecrow friend.  Burton has a lady friend to keep him company.  Farmer Greene is quite surprised at this turn of events and feels that he can begin the spring planting with such good scarecrows to keep an eye on things.

A sweet story about how kindness given comes back to the giver.  The colorful, cheerful illustrations complement the text especially with the characters’ facial expressions.  There is a history of scarecrows section, as well as a resource guide for parents, teachers, and librarians including story concepts, reader and listener tips, connecting points, ideas for literacy activities, glossary and a list of suggested websites.  A good selection for a Character Counts read aloud.  While not obviously religious, it could also be used in a Sunday School class or parochial school.

  • Burton Kind ScarecrowTITLE: Burton the Kind Scarecrow
  • AUTHOR: V. A. Boeholt
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Nathaniel P. Jensen
  • PUBLISHER: Little Five Star
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-58985-202-0
  • GENRE: Picture book
  • LEXILE: 740

When We Go Walking

Written by Cari Best

Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

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With integration being such an important concept in education today, this book is a must have.  What better way to interest your second grade children in taking a walk around the neighborhood or school than to follow Wendy and her family on their walk?  Walking, stretching, bending, and twisting, sight words, new vocabulary, and new ideas.  Literacy and PE all from one book.  But wait, there’s more!  Recycling and repurposing equals science.  Wendy and her family find all sorts of fun stuff to put into her collecting bag.  They see birds and trains, old clocks and old signs.  The illustrations are colorful, detailed, and have added dimension due to the creative collage work of the illustrator.   There is a wonderful “I spy” quality of this book as the text and pictures match perfectly.

Although this would be a great book to read aloud to first grade children, the vocabulary and more complex language make it more appropriate for second grade.  “Then I muscle my legs like Wonder Girl’s and lug it up the hill.”  The authors use of words in this way, paired with the illustrator’s sweet pictures help the reader expand vocabularies, learn different ways to say things, and gain comprehension from pictures.  PE, art, and even some science can be integrated into literacy lessons with this book.  It might even be possible to squeeze out a lesson on being environmentally friendly out of this book as Wendy and her brother find trash that does not belong on their Rambling Road.

Whether a child has memories of family walks or is looking forward to making them, all children (and adults) will find something fun and interesting here.

  • When We Go WalkingTitle:  When We Go Walking
  • Author:  Cari Best
  • Illustrator:  Kyrsten Brooker
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Hardcover:  unpaged
  • ISBN: 9781477816486
  • Genre:  contemporary fiction
  • Lexile score:  480

All Kinds Of Friends

Written by Norma Simon
Illustrated by Cherie Zamazing

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It’s a picture book extravaganza about friends. Staying just this side of too sweet, author Norma Simon and illustrator Cherie Zamazing explore a child’s world of friends. Children think about friends everyday and their ability to make and keep friends is a critical skill. But friendship is also something many of take for granted. Which is to say this picture book fills a need in the literature: a discussion of friends. Written in free verse, each section looks at different pieces of friendship. Friends do things together. Friends sometimes fight, but learn to apologize. While most of the sections are just skimming the surface of friendship, Simon spends several pages addressing how kids can remain friends with someone who moves away, including suggestions of writing, calling and Skype. She also talks about making friends in a new place. The whole book uses the second person “you” to address the audience, as in “When you go to a new place, where you don’t know anybody, and nobody knows you, it’s a hard time.” Fortunately, the writing is broad enough to include most readers — most of us have gone to a new place at some point. And, the pictures show kids of every skin color.

This book will work particularly well as a read aloud at the beginning of new school years, or new camp sessions, when students are feeling insecure. Or it can be read alone by students at or above the second grade reading level. Younger students will enjoy finding pictures of kids doing the activities they do every day. Parents and teachers can ask them, do you ride the bus like these kids? Do you ride a bike? Have you ever talked with a new kid at school? Did you make a friend?

  • all kinds of friendsTITLE: All Kinds Of Friends
  • AUTHOR: Norma Simon
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Cherie Zamazing
  • PUBLISHER: Albert Whitman and Company
  • REVIEWER: Amy S. Hansen
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-0283-9
  • GENRE: Picture book
  • LEXILE: 530

The Dyno-Mite Dog Show

Written by Louise Bonnett Rampersaud

Illustrated by Adam McHeffey

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In the tradition of Amber Brown, Clementine, and Junie B. Jones, we now have Agnes. She’s a good-hearted, run-amuck third grader who runs The Secret Knock Club with an iron fist, certain that she knows what the club should do and how they should do it. For a school service project, the Secret Knock Club has chosen to throw a dog show at the local retirement village. Unfortunately for Agnes, school projects cannot exclude anyone, so when her former best friend —now worst enemy—Heather asks to join in, she is allowed. With fun word play, and energy that won’t quit, Agnes somehow gets the club and the home-made dog bones to the dog show, where the dogs are provided by the staff. It might be a smooth show, except that Agnes’ principal (whose mother lives in the retirement village) shows up with her own dog. Will the dogs perform? Will Agnes and Heather get along? Will they manage the doggie wedding? Will there be any ice cream left? Not every twist of the story of the story is believable, but it doesn’t really matter. Second and third grade level readers will turn the page to see what Agnes does and how she might make the situation worse, and to learn why is Agnes’ former best friend her enemy anyhow.

While longer than the original than many early chapter books, this new “The Secret Knock Club” chapter book series will work as a read-aloud for younger kids. They will appreciate the boy who misspells everything and always wears a cape, as well as the dogs, the grandma, and the champion bubble-blowing pal. This may also work as a good read for kids who are not quite on grade-level, but ready for chapter books, as the vocabulary and the sentence length are short and snappy, matching Agnes’ energy level.

  • Dynomite Dog ShowTitle: The Dyno-Mite Dog Show
  • Author: Louise Bonnett Rampersaud
  • Illustrator: Adam McHeffey
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover: 106
  • ISBN: 978-0767462132
  • Genre: fiction, early chapter book.
  • Lexile Score: 450


Celebrating Texas

Written by Marion Dane Bauer

Illustrated by C. B. Canga

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Readers at the second grade reading level don’t need to get on a bus or a train to see the great state of Texas. They can read this latest in the 50 States to Celebrate Series, Celebrating Texas. It will be a great addition to students’ reading lists, although it certainly can be a read aloud book for children with lower reading comprehension.

Celebrating Texas is a guided tour through the state led by a pleasant character named Mr. Geo. He starts with a couple of nice maps. One is a map of Texas showing some cities and important sites. The second map places the state for the readers according to its relationship to other states and the country of Mexico. Mr. Geo guides the reader through pages about rodeos, what famous sites are in various cities, and the kinds of foods and dancing for which the state is famous. Animals are always of interest to youngsters, so Mr. Geo hikes to different areas of the state to introduce some of the animals native to Texas. The Caddo, who lived in bee-hive shaped grass houses, were a tribe of Native-Americans who first farmed the vast lands of Texas. Their word for “friends” is the origin of the name of the state. Famous Texans Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston also are introduced to readers along with a bit of information about how they helped build Texas. Crops, sports, industries, and natural resources are also part of the state’s story, and Mr. Geo doesn’t forget those. Fun facts are found along the bottom of many pages.

Four pages in the back of the book add some information and have some learning activities. A reading guide with summary, discussion questions for read aloud, teaching ideas, and a lesson can be found at The author’s website address is The illustrator’s portfolio can be viewed by going to Early readers will enjoy learning from this colorful book.

  • Celebrating TexasTitle: Celebrating Texas
  • Author: Marion Dane Bauer
  • Illustrator: C. B. Canga
  • Publisher: Sandpiper
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-89786-8
  • Genre: Non-Fiction, Geography
  • Lexile Score: 600


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