Archive for Fiction

Zoe’s Room (No Sisters Allowed)

Written and Illustrated by Bethanie Deendy Murgia

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This wonderful read aloud explores family dynamics as the little sister, still in a crib, is moved into Zoe’s room. Now Zoe cannot turn on the light and continue to play after she is sent to bed. At the same time it is listened to, it will be modeling voice inflection, fluency and dialogue.

Her play is wildly imaginative as she is the queen of the universe, explores uncharted territory and sets the table for morning royal tea. Until the sister arrives and every little thing wakes her up and sends Mom and Dad running into the room.

Finally, it is during a scary thunderstorm when the queen hops into the crib for safety and comfort. It is a good example of a main character solving her own problems, and in this case, it is with the help of an unwitting sibling.

Literacy skills such as picture clues, context clues and dialogue can be taught and strengthened for first grade readers, second grade readers and third grade readers just starting to enjoy books independently.

  • Zoes RoomTitle:  Zoe’s Room
  • Author/Illustrator: Bethanie Deendy Murgia
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc. 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-45781-1
  • Genre: Fiction, family

Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods

Written by Mary Quattlebaum

Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant

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This delightful picture book uses a favorite children’s song to accompany a little girl and her grandfather on a hike through the woods. Each time they come upon a new animal, the song’s repetitive E-I-E-I-O ends with a fun twist related to the animal. For instance, the chipmunk ends the verse with chomp, chomp.

The active verbs in the story are related to different actions or sounds that people and animals can make, for example, walk, pad or shuffle, shuffle. A fun reading activity would be to have students “hike” around the classroom changing their steps to match their new vocabulary words.

Many literacy skills can be strengthened and practiced with this story. Rhyming words, sequencing, rhythm and reading for details are just a few.

The illustrations are correct so students will learn about the animal habitats and habits from the picture clues.  In-depth information about each of the animals can be found in the end notes and read aloud with explanations for the younger students.

Second grade readers will greatly enjoy reading this book on their own. Young readers will enjoy hearing it read aloud over and over as they sing the song along with you. Reading games will be fun to create using the information Mary included in the back of the book. There are nine animals included in the books and three of them are nocturnal. There is a great opportunity here for cross curricular activities and to meet the core curriculum science and nature requirements.

The information in the back, meant for grown-ups, provide activities related to science, being a naturalist, and being a courteous hiker.

This is the third in a series of books about Jo MacDonald. Her first two adventures included: Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond and Jo MacDonald Had a Garden.

Extras:  End pages provide multiple activities, more are available for downloading at

  • jo mcdonald hikedTitle: Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods
  • Author: Mary Quattlebaum
  • Illustrator: Laura J. Bryant
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, Nevada City, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback/32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-58469-335-2
  • Genre: Creative Non-fiction
  • Lexile: NA

Dodsworth in Tokyo

Written by Tim Egan

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Dodsworth in Tokyo is the newest installment in Tim Egan’s series about two characters, Dodsworth and a duck, traveling around the globe. Egan introduced readers to Dodsworth in The Pink Refrigerator, and though many fans consider the character of Dodsworth to be a mouse, the author himself is unsure. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly that can be found online, Tim Egan said, “I think he’s a mouse. I’ll never declare it.”

Whatever animal Dodsworth happens to be, he’s a delight in each of his books as he travels with his companion, a misbehaving duck. Prior to traveling to Tokyo, Dodsworth and the duck visited New York, Paris, London, and Rome in other books of similar names.

In the adventure in Tokyo, late first grade or second grade readers will delight and giggle as the duck bumps into a rickshaw while busily looking at the signs along the crowded street, and falls into a koi pond. The duck has to be rescued by Dodsworth. Who knew a duck couldn’t swim? This in turn, causes a lady to send a tray of wagashi (Japanese desserts) flying through the air. But the duck redeems himself by returning a little girl’s favorite toy, a kendama.

Author Tim Egan succeeds effortlessly in teaching readers about Japanese culture and introducing Japanese words, like, arigato, rickshaw, bonsai trees, karate, kendama, wagashi, sumi-e paintings, Zen temple, Taiko drummers, and sushi.

Because some of the words do not follow phonetic rules, this book would be best for skilled first or second grade readers if the children are reading the book alone. Even skilled readers may need pronunciation help with many of the words. However, this book would make an excellent addition to a geography lesson about Japan, as a read aloud by the teacher. A class might enjoy reading the Dodsworth books in order of completion, with a world map displayed on a board. Place flags on the map of the various places Dodsworth visits and encourage the kids to learn to recognize the cities and countries Dodsworth and his misbehaving duck visit.

  • Dodsworth in TokyoTITLE: Dodsworth in Tokyo
  • AUTHOR: Tim Egan
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • FORMAT: Hard Cover, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-87745-7
  • GENRE: Humor
  • LEXILE: 400

My Crocodile Does Not Bite

Written and Illustrated by Joe Kukla

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My Crocodile Does Not Bite is a fun picture book for children ages 5-9 and second grade readers should be able to master reading the story independently with some practice on the difficult words like “obviously” and “disagreement”. Although not all the words are on the list for second grade readers, the text is easy to sound out and second grade readers will be successful because the plot will keep them engaged.

The book offers many types of discussions when read in the classroom setting. The conflict resulting in bringing a crocodile to school is funny yet can be compared to other activities where students experience conflict and emotions offering many subjects to discuss.

The story also allows teachers and parents who homeschool the second grade reader a great opportunity to discuss fiction versus nonfiction, make believe and truths, and what is silly and what is dangerous. Putting your head in the mouth of a real crocodile for instance is dangerous but in the story it is part of the truth that the pet doesn’t bite; the crocodile swallows Cindy Lou whole instead.  And the story can encourage second graders to dream big when writing their own story, another activity that can enhance reading a book like this.

The illustrations are wonderful and give the second grade reader information on the page to encourage reading the text. They also add additional comprehension for the second grade reader who may get caught up in the words and forget the rest of what was just recently read.  My Crocodile Does Not Bite is a fun book to add to any second grade classroom library or elementary school library shelf. It will keep kids reading.

Overall the book is entertaining for the second grade reader and will help to encourage them to use imagination and comprehension skills when talking about the story.

  • my crocodileTitle: My Crocodile Does Not Bite
  • Author/Illustrator: Joe Kulka
  • Publisher: Carolrhoda Books 2013
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Juvenile fiction ages 5-9/Picture Book
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-8937-8
  • Lexile: 360




King of the Zoo

Written by Erica S. Perl

Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic

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Everyone wants to be king of the zoo, but no one more that Carlos the chameleon. The funny cartoon animals are visited by a young girl and her grandmother following the map at the front of the zoo. Many of the animals claim to be king, making Carlos get more and more upset.

It never says so in words, but diligent observers will see their friend changing colors on page after page. They will feel sorry for him and then cheer for him. Carlos has wonderful facial expressions that children will be anxious to copy.  The beautiful watercolors are stunning as well as entertaining.

The animals might not be able to agree on exactly who is King of the Zoo but the zoo guest and her grandmother know by the end of the story. This story is on a second grade reading level. Picture clues will add to their comprehension of what is going on and what special gift makes Carlos a very special animal.

Literacy skills of dialogue and narration can be identified in the text as well as sequencing in discussing which animals were visited first, next and last. Preschoolers as well as first and second grades will enjoy having this story read aloud.

Extras: visit the author at and meet the illustrator at

  • king of the zooTITLE: King of the Zoo
  • AUTHOR: Erica S. Perl
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Jackie Urbanovic
  • PUBLISHER: Orchard Books, Scholastic, 2013.
  • REVIEWER: Elizabeth Swartz
  • FORMAT:  Hardcover/32p.
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-46182-5
  • GENRE: Fiction, Zoo Animals, Chameleons



Written by Susan Pearson

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Slugger is a fun book for second grade level readers. It appeals to both girls and boys and tells a great story about baseball. The twist is the characters are bugs and slugs making it even more fun for the second grade reader.

The benefit for the second grade reader is that the story also tells about teamwork in a fun way. This makes Slugger a great addition to the second grade classroom library. The book makes an extra fun way to add team work into the curriculum when talking about character education.

Teamwork is one of the goals of Slugger but the book also shows the characters are not perfect and some of them want to quit. The story does a great job of showing how practice helps the bugs to improve at baseball and that quitting is not an option, another great way to open discussion with readers about character development.

Slugger is an excellent book to include in the classroom or school library. The language is written to be mastered by the second grade reader but it is also written to be read aloud to younger readers. The illustrations are so fun and the bugs and slugs are shown in all kinds of interesting baseball situations that the reader can’t help but laugh and enjoy reading the book over again.

Any book that challenges the reader while also entertaining is a plus for second grade readers. Even reluctant readers will love the story, illustrations, and the characters from Coach Roach to Locust Lou. Second grade level readers will benefit from this book in the classroom.

  • SluggerTITLE: Slugger
  • AUTHOR: Susan Pearson
  • ILLUSTRATOR: David Slonim
  • PUBLISHER: Amazon Publishing
  • ISBN: 978147816417
  • REVIEWER: Terri Forehand
  • GENRE: Juvenile/Picture Book
  • LEXILE: 290

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
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