Archive for 2012

Nature Recycles How About You?

Written by Michelle Lord

Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

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The title describes the story and makes the book immediately attractive to parents, teachers and librarians looking for interesting ways to teach young readers to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. First and second graders (the book targets the 4-8 age group) will enjoy learning these little known facts. The decorator sea-urchin, what an apt name, lives in the Atlantic Ocean. “The water is warm, but he covers up.” Why? To protect himself from the rough waves and the sun’s strong rays. Maybe even to hide from predators. He decorates himself with colorful algae, rocks, corals and other ocean refuse. This is clearly REuse of easily available material. The facing page poses the question: Urchin recycles. How about you?

The Carolina wren uses spider webs, dog hair and snakeskin among other things to make her nest warm. The veined octopus takes discarded coconut shells to hide in when danger threatens. An Asian elephant’s ears are not large enough to keep away flies. He uses a fallen banana leaf as a fly swatter, and then  makes a meal of it! Each animal description can lead to interesting classroom discussions and many reading activities.

Consecutive two-page spreads — description of the animal on the left and gorgeous, full-color illustration on the right carry the story along. The question asked on the illustration page “(name of animal) recycles. How about you?” becomes a refrain that the youngest readers will look forward to, making the book an interesting read aloud. The earth also recycles. “The earth recycles water over and over.” The story ends with showing how children recycle, and the benefits of recycling.

One of the strong suits of the publisher, Sylvan Dell, is providing extensive follow-up information in the back matter that can be utilized to enrich the lessons. This book has a map activity, a quiz, and an explanation of why animals recycle. There is additional material online ( Click on the book cover to go to the relevant page.

  • Nature RecyclesTitle:  Nature Recycles How About You?
  • Author: Michelle Lord
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Publisher: Sylvan Dell Publishing
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-60718-6274
  • Genre: Non-fiction/Science

Spider Stampede (S.W.I.T.C.H.)

Written by: Ali Sparkes

Illustrated by: Ross Collins

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Josh and Danny are twins – but they’re far from identical. Josh loves creepy-crawlies (as Danny would call them). Danny could “win the Under Nine Dancing Competition” for his bust-out moves when a spider lands on his shorts. That’s all about to change when the boys follow their dog Piddles under a hole in the fence into their mysterious neighbour’s back yard and they end up in Petty Potts’s lab.

Accidentally covered in S.W.I.T.C.H. (Serum Which Initiates Total Cellular Hijack) set out for Piddles, the boys escape and run back home. They climb into the bathtub to wash off the yellow goop clinging to their legs, but they’re too late. The bathtub grows huge as they shrink to spider status. The adventure grows even larger when their sister Jenny flushes them down the drain and a pair of surprisingly wise and friendly rats come to the rescue.

Spider Stampede, the first of six S.W.I.T.C.H. titles (originally published by Oxford University Press in 2011), is a captivating blend of science and fiction. The author effortlessly weaves scientific detail into the story. Simple black-and-white line illustrations add humor and interest.

The first in a series, this chapter book introduces the cast of characters and sets up the motivation for the seemingly mad scientist that is Petty Potts. At the end of the story – once the boys are safely transformed back into eight-year-old humans – Petty Potts’s diary entry fills in a few more storyline details. Readers will quickly realize the story is far from finished! Second grade readers will be hooked.  There’s also a two-page glossary of scientific terms used throughout the book and recommended reading pages including both books and websites to expand reading skills.

Spider Stampede is fun, fascinating, and full of fantastic science facts. It’s a clever second grade level chapter book that promises to be a thoroughly entertaining series!

  • Spider StampedeTitle: Spider Stampede
  • Author: Ali Sparkes
  • Illustrator: Ross Collins
  • Publisher: Darby Creek
  • Reviewer: Megan Kopp
  • Hardcover: 104  Pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-9199-9
  • Genre: Science Fiction



Lulu and the Dog from the Sea

Written by Hilary McKay

Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

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Cousins Lulu and Mellie return for book number two in this delightful and entertaining series. Like the first book in the series, Lulu and the Duck in the Park, this is destined to appear on many reading lists and receive many awards. The publisher’s website has a Common Core Teacher’s Guide for the series, providing many reading activities (

Lulu’s family is going on a week-long beach vacation, and Mellie is going along. The house they rent is comically inadequate, complete with a potholed road and only three glasses in the kitchen. The locals have been fighting a battle with a stray dog which seemingly came from the sea. Lulu gets the full story about the dog’s mother and sisters and how they were eventually captured by the dogcatcher. Predictably, Lulu ignores all the warnings and befriends the dog from the sea. He remains wary of other humans, but that doesn’t stop him from saving the day. The author uses gentle humor and a little self-deprecation to show how things can sometimes go awry. Delightful illustrations show much of the action and are wonderful additions.

Second grade readers will learn, in a fun way, about many issues facing young vacationers. They will learn that rocks on the beach belong to everyone and should not be appropriated by individuals. Trash must be protected from critters, even if humans don’t think the critters are clever enough to access the cans. Craft projects, such as kite building, often require some instruction. Even thieving dogs require attention and water.

A thoroughly enjoyable early reader.

  • Lulu and the DogTitle: Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
  • Author: Hilary McKay
  • Illustrated by: Priscilla Lamont
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Paperback, 108 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-4820-2
  • Genre: Chapter book, Animals.

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

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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