Tag Archive for reading skills

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, www.pbskids.org/martha, which is loaded with information for parents and teachers and reading activities. Martha also has her own website, www.marthathetalkingdog.com; and the publisher’s website (www.hmhbooks.com) 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

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 (http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/).  Illustrator Cece Bell is both an illustrator and author.  Her website (http://cecebell.wordpress.com/) 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

Lazy Daisy, Cranky Frankie

Written by Mary Ellen Jordan and Andrew Weldon

Illustrated by  Andrew Weldon and Bruno Herfst

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Funny farm animals and silly antics is what you will find in the book Lazy Daisy, Cranky Frankie.  Imagine a farm full of animals doing nothing that animals should do.  Cows eating jelly, rather than grass.  Pigs pruning in a mirror, rather than rolling in the mud, and a dog, watching TV with attitude.   Young children will find the story comical and reading out loud will be fun because of the rhyming nature of the book as well.

Children will begin to expand their understanding of rhyming words and with some encouragement could explore other words that rhyme along with the story.  The illustrations will also be enjoyed by children, as well as being quite comical and funny to younger kids.  Looking at the pictures, children could come up with their own rhymes or create new and funny twists to the story.  Short and easy to read this is a good book for children with early reading skills or it could be used for slightly older children as a spring board to creating a new story or expanding on what is already written.  Then what fun it would be to have children read aloud and share their new creation.

  • Lazy DaisyTitle: Lazy Daisy, Cranky Frankie
  • Author: Mary Ellen Jordan and Andrew Weldon
  • Illustration:  Andrew Weldon and Bruno Herfst
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company
  • Reviewer: Cheri Liddy
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-4400-6
  • Genre:  fiction, stories in rhyme

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



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