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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

What’s in the Garden?

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Cris Arbo

Winner of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award (Children’s Picture Book)

2013 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award

2013 Mom’s Choice Gold Award

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Marianne Berkes has made a habit of writing wonderfully inspiring, ‘interactive’ books for children. The series Over In The….(Forest, Ocean, Jungle, Arctic, Australia) contained detailed information hidden in crisp rhymes. She has repeated the feat in her new book What’s in the Garden?

The book is written as easy-to-solve riddles. The short verse on the right-hand page poses a riddle, but you have to turn the page to find the answer. There is also an easy-to-make recipe associated with that fruit or vegetable. This is the first verse:
  Delicious, nutritious, what could it be?
  In spring there are blossoms all over the tree.
  Red, green, or yellow, with fruit that is round.
  If you don’t pick it, it plops to the ground.
The answer is apple — red, green or yellow. The accompanying recipe describes how to make applesauce. Each full page spread is an accurate, vibrantly colored illustration that draws the reader in. So detailed are the illustrations that you can almost feel the texture of a leaf, the fine hairs along the pumpkin stalk.

One fruit “has a long ear, but never an eye,” another “doesn’t have ears, but does have eyes.” Second grade readers will surely enjoy solving the riddles and making the accompanying dishes.

The back matter is rich with additional information. “Food For Thought” provides more information on the fruits and vegetables mentioned in the book. Older readers would benefit from this for their projects and term papers. “How Does Your Garden Grow?” describes how a plant starts and what it needs to prosper. Many projects and reading activities can be created from the book as children learn where their fruits and veggies come from. Here is an entertaining song (Dirt Made My Lunch) with the same idea:

  • Whats in the GardenTitle: What’s in the Garden?
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Cris Arbo
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-190-7
  • Genre: Picture Book/ Non-Fiction


Prairie Chicken Little

Written by Jackie Mims Hopkins
Illustrated by Henry Cole

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A delightful spin on a classic story, Prairie Chicken Little provides a fresh look at how panic starts on the wide open spaces of the grasslands when a nervous prairie chicken spreads rumor of a stampede. With no trees around, there are no acorns falling, but these animals fear a stampede more than the sky falling, so “a rumbling and a grumbling and a tumbling” is enough to cause quite a stir. When Mary McBlicken runs to tell her friends on the prairie about the imminent stampede, they are all aflutter until Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan come along to calm them down.

This brightly illustrated book would fit nicely in a unit about different ecosystems of North America or a unit about wild animals. There are also several nice lessons about how prepositions like, “over,” “through,” “around,” and “down” guide our imagination and the storyline. Students may even write and illustrate their own colorful story told with a dozen different prepositions. To test the readers’ comprehension after reading this story aloud, students may describe the problem, what Mary wanted to do about it, and how it was finally resolved.

With such a common story line, there are loads of extension activities for the classroom. For a generous collection of activities, visit This site offers activities for the language arts, science, character development, and critical thinking. It also links visitors to several audio versions of the classic tale of Chicken Little. Many may easily be adapted to use with Prairie Chicken Little. After reading this updated story, students may also be encouraged to write their own twist on a different classic tale.

  • Prairie Chicken LittleTitle: Prairie Chicken Little
  • Authors: Jackie Mims Hopkins
  • Illustrators: Henry Cole
  • Publisher: Peachtree
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
Hardback, 38 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-694-9
  • Genre: fiction/folk tale/Chicken Little

Noisy Bug Sing-Along

Written and Illustrated by John Himmelman

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Each little bug in this creative presentation has a fresh and intricate image and is identified by the noises it makes. The second grade reader will come away knowing exactly what field crickets look like and have a good idea what their “chirp”-ing sounds like. Colorful two-page spreads follow for tree crickets (reee-), mole crickets(dirt-dirt-dirt), click beetles (click), tiger moths (squeaka), dog-day cicadas (ZZZZ), bumble bees (zzzz), mosquitoes (mmmm), butterflies (…), true katydids (ch-ch-ch), bush katydids (tick-tick-tick zeezeezeezee), and grasshoppers (keraack). Last, the author brings all the sounds together in a vibrant chorus, decorated with sound waves.

The illustrations are at least as important to this book as the words. Most children of this age have probably never stopped to take a close look at or listen to different types of bugs. The detail is unbelievable, with each tiny dirt fragment accounted for in the mole cricket drawing. The bat hunting the tiger moth is very genuine. Even the ear into which the mosquito flies is realistic.

The “Listening to the Noisy Bugs” section provides a lot of possibilities for reading activities. For example, readers can go on the publisher’s website,, and listen to real bug noises. Then, the reader can test herself by guessing what bug she’s listening to. In “About the Noisy Bugs,” the author shares more about each type of bug. For example, dog-day cicadas have hollow abdomens, like drums. They tighten and loosen the muscles there to make the ZZZZ sound. The author’s website,, also has resources to use.

  • Noisy BugTitle: Noisy Bug Sing-Along
  • Author/Illustrator: John Himmelman
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-192-1
  • Genre: Picture book, Insects, Nature


The Matchbox Diary

Written by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

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Candlewick picture books never disappoint! The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, offers second grade readers and up a synergistic blend of old world charm and contemporary youthful innocence and curiosity through an immigration tale with illustrations that will appeal across generations. The Matchbox Diary reminds me of another classic picture book called One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II written and illustrated by Lita Judge.

Ibatoulline’s illustrations are so realistic they look like they could walk off the pages on which they are printed. Through his illustrations Ibatoulline not only captures the heart of the relationship between the little girl and her great grandfather in present day, but he also conveys the challenges and hardships that most immigrants faced when leaving their home country to enter a new one. Each spread consists of an illustration of the object on one side and on the other side is an illustration of an old photo that tells the story behind the object.

Fleischman utilizes a diary of objects versus a writing journal since his young protagonist (great grandfather) can not read or write in English or Italian when he first arrives into the United States. Because he wants to remember every detail of his journey, he collects small objects that represent his experiences and places them in a matchbox for safe-keeping and sharing with future generations.

Fleischman got the idea for The Matchbox Diary from New Hampshire artist, Gary Hamel who exhibited a matchbox diary of a recent trip he had made to Italy. Fleischman was so intrigued by the idea, he got Hamel’s blessing to borrow and reinvent his matchbox concept.

I see endless uses for The Matchbox Diary in the classroom where second grade teachers and up can tap into core subjects like language arts using this book as an aid. Parents and grandparents can use this book to open up a dialogue on their own immigration story. We all come from somewhere, right?

  • Matchbox DiaryTitle: The Matchbox Diary
  • Author: Paul Fleischman
  • Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Hard cover: 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-4601-1
  • Genre: picture book

Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring The Bell

By Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Arthur Howard

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This book is about an old man, Mr. Putter, and his cat, Tabby.  They are great companions and do everything together.  They especially like eating their next door neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry’s, rhubarb trifle, along with her dog, Zeke.

One day, while enjoying fall activities, Mr. Putter hears the ring of a school bell and decides that he misses school, pencils, and books.  He decides to go back to school just for a day.  He asks the first grade teacher at school if he can come to show and tell with Mrs. Teaberry, Tabby, and Zeke.  The teacher tells Mr. Putter that her class loves animals and she is led to believe that both Mr. Putter’s cat and Mrs. Teaberry’s dog, Zeke, can do tricks.  The story continues with lots of funny antics that second graders will love!

Students will love the illustrations depicting the moods of the animals and characters in the book, along with their funny behavior.

What a great story for teachers to use as a read aloud for second graders at the beginning of the year to introduce show and tell time to the class!  It would also be a great book to introduce new readers to chapter book formats.

This book is written by Cynthia Rylant and is one of numerous in a series of Mr. Putter and Tabby books.  The author also writes the popular Henry and Mudge books that most young readers are familiar with and love.

The illustrator is Arthur Howard, who also illustrates the rest of the Mr. Putter and Tabby books.

  • Mr. PutterTitle:  Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
  • Author:  Cynthia Rylant
  • Illustrator:  Arthur Howard
  • Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer:  Rebecca L. Wagner
  • Paperback:  43 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-547-85075-7
  • Genre:  Fiction/Animals/Old age/Autumn

Let’s Meet a Construction Worker

Written by Bridget Heos

Illustrated by Mike Mora

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Kids may not be able to visit a construction zone, but Let’s Meet a Construction Worker gives young readers a chance to learn about the different jobs that these community helpers have as they build a new, environmentally friendly school.

This thin chapter book would be a nice addition to a second grade class as a book for individual reading for research during a unit about community helpers or careers. The information within is leveled: there is the main text of the book, but also there are offset notes for further facts on various words and ideas throughout the book, and in the appendix, there is a list of resources for online investigation and other books for digging deeper. Though this book is probably best suited for individual reading, the text is captivating for reading aloud. Students may demonstrate their comprehension by jotting down five main ideas from the book. Since this book follows Mr. Moore, the foreman of the construction site, students may further demonstrate their comprehension by detailing a few aspects of his job.

This book is a Cloverleaf Book, which means that there are several books in a series about Community Helpers, including books about dentists, doctors, firefighters, librarians, police officers, teachers, and veterinarians. Also, this book is supported by Lerner Source, a website for downloading free educational resources at I would highly recommend this series of books for any elementary classroom.

  • Lets Meet a Construction WorkerTitle: Let’s Meet a Construction Worker
  • Author: Bridget Heos
  • Illustrator: Mike Moran
  • Publisher: Millbrook
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Hardback, 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-9023-7
  • Genre: non-fiction/community helpers/construction

The Man From The Land of Fandango

By Margaret Mahy
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

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The Man from the land of Fandango is a magical story. In the story, the children create a whimsical man by drawing him with paints on canvas and then bringing their picture to life. The Man from the Land of Fandango wears bright colored pants, jacket, and tie. He is able to transform himself into whatever he wishes, such as a bird or a ball, and loves to share treats with his amazing friends whether they are animals or children. » Read more

Elmer and the Birthday Quake

Written and illustrated by David McKee

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Happy Birthday ONE! STOMP! Elmer the patchwork elephant and his cousin Wilbur search the jungle to discover the cause of a distant noise while Rose and a whole herd of elephants gather to celebrate Old’s hundredth birthday. The little birthday gathering, though, causes Old and the other elephants some big trouble. Lucky for all of the elephants involved, Super El is nearby to save the day!

David McKee’s beloved Elmer stars in another sweet book perfect for a class birthday party or for second or third grade class’ one hundredth day of school celebration. The colorful illustrations and sweet story are well-suited for a class wide read aloud, and as a kinesthetic activity, students could finish the birthday chant started by the pink herd of elephants…without the earthquake!

Elmer and the Birthday Quake introduces the idea of an earthquake brought on by the elephant’s thunderous stomping. Students are fascinated by science in action, and it would be really neat to hold a series of experiments on vibration and gravity. There are several easy ideas for elementary experiments on gravity at

Elmer is widely known and appreciated; it would be easy to incorporate Elmer and the Birthday Quake within an entire Elmer unit. For numerous Elmer the Elephant activities for every subject in an elementary classroom, visit This book and the entire Elmer series are fantastic books for connecting literacy with all the disciplines.

  • ElmerTitle: Elmer and the Birthday Quake
  • Authors/Illustrators: David McKee
  • Publisher: Anderson Press
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Hardback, 28 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-1117-3
  • Genre: fiction/birthday

Alligator or Crocodile? How Do You Know?

Written by Melissa Stewart

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Seems like nothing is more fascinating to a second grader than crocodiles and other semi-monsters. Usually, kids wonder about the difference between alligators and crocodiles. This book, part of the “Which Animal is Which?” series, gives definitive answers for that difference in a way that second graders can understand.

Alligators live in fresh water. Crocodiles can live in salt water. The reptiles’ snouts are shaped differently. Alligators have a wider jaw and are a darker color. Only a few of an alligator’s top teeth show when its mouth is closed. Crocodiles show most of their teeth with their mouths closed. Alligator mothers make mounds for their eggs. Crocodile mothers dig holes. Alligator mothers stay with the babies for up to a year. Crocodiles leave the young once they reach the water. All these ideas are easily accessible and memorable for kids.

The photographs included provide wonderful illustrations of the concepts discussed. Who can resist the smile of a crocodile? And it’s amazing how, even in a photograph, the reptiles disappear in the water. The “Words to Know” section at the beginning of the book is especially helpful for comprehension as it relates to the National Science Education Standards for K-4 and Common Core Standards. The websites mentioned are all reputable, though they are at much higher reading levels than this book. The table of contents, books section, and index are also very helpful to learning. Especially useful, is the world map of where these creatures live. The publisher’s website,, is good for searching out other titles about this and other subjects. And the publisher has a free pdf educator’s guide available, including many reading activities and reading worksheets.

  • AlligatorTitle: Alligator or Crocodile? How Do You Know?
  • Written By: Melissa Stewart
  • Publisher: Enslow Elementary/Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback: 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-234-1
  • Genre: Nature, Reptiles
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