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


Ralph Tells a Story

Written and Illustrated by Abby Hanlon

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Ever had writer’s block? Did you ever feel like what you had to write about just wasn’t very exciting? Well, that is exactly how Ralph feels in this charming metafiction tale. While everyone else in class seems to be able to produce volumes at writing time, Ralph doesn’t know how to begin to record even the mundane. His teacher insists that “Stories are everywhere!”, but when he stares out the window, at his paper, and at the ceiling, nothing seems to inspire him…until he lays under his desk, hiding, yet pretending to find inspiration. And then something happens when the teacher asks Ralph about his story, he has one!

Abby Hanlon’s line drawings capture the emotion of a budding writer in elementary school. This fun read-aloud is well-suited for a second grade class; this new book is an instant classic because any reader can relate. To reinforce comprehension, students may be asked to describe what techniques didn’t work to help Ralph get over his writer’s block and what helps them to personally clear away the fog that keeps them from completing assignments. As a teacher herself, Hanlon is familiar with students’ struggles with finding their stories. What I love most about this book is that Ralph is shown writing and brainstorming all over the room. His teacher is not caught up in his sitting on his bottom at his desk; Ralph’s teacher in encouraging and understanding of Ralph’s need to get up and move to find inspiration. Ralph Tells a Story is a must-have for any elementary classroom library.

For writing tips and prompts

  • Ralph Tells a StoryTitle: Ralph Tells a Story
  • Author/Illustrator: Abby Hanlon
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Hardback, 38 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0761461807
  • Genre: fiction/writing process



Poco Loco

Written and Illustrated by J. R. Krause and Maria Chua

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Poco Loco is a mouse who’s just a little bit crazy. He invents things that no one else would think of inventing, like the Cuckoo Clock-Coffeemaker, the Shower-Bed, and the Waffle Iron-Weather Forecaster. But those aren’t bad ideas. They are just a little different. What happens when Poco Loco tries to warn his friends Gallo, Gato, Cerdo, and Vaca of bad weather? They do not believe him because the sky is clear—and the weather forecast comes from a waffle iron. But when Poco Loco is swept up by the wind, they quickly learn Poco Loco and his invention are correct. One after the other of them tries to save him, basically ending up looking like a tail to a kite! Whipped away by the strong wind, they may not know it, but they are fortunate when the rain puts an end to their flight . . . and Poco Loco remembers his greatest invention—the helicopter-paraguas (helicopter-umbrella).

Perfect for the second grade reader, comprehension comes easily with the exciting, colorful illustrations. The bilingual approach, best enjoyed when the book is read aloud, will appeal to both Spanish and English learners at the second grade level. Teachers will appreciate the Glossary of Spanish Words, in addition to the many prompts in the text and illustrations. Much like Poco Loco, the authors J. R. Krause and Maria Chua are genios. Children will laugh uproariously at the silliness of Poco Loco and his friends’ adventure. Poco Loco is a must-have for any first, second, or third grade classroom.

Illustrator/Author Website:

  • Poco LocoTitle: Poco Loco
  • Authors: J. R. Krause and Maria Chua
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer: Bonita Herold
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1477816493
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Lexile Score: 470

Martha Speaks: So You Want to Be a Dog?

Written by Raye Lankford and Peter K. Hirsch

Illustrations based on characters by Susan Meddaugh

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Many second graders have wondered what it would be like to be an animal. In Martha Speaks: So You Want to Be a Dog?, readers follow along with children who experience a doggy transformation. The book is presented through two separate stories, tied together with a brief introduction and conclusion.

In the first story, neat and helpful Carolina can’t seem to empathize with Martha, the talking dog who likes to sniff garbage, loves to roll in the mud, and can’t stand to be on a leash. Then Carolina is unexpectedly turned into a collie.  After being taken to the pound, she gains a new point of view. In the second story, T.D. is unhappy with his life. In the past week, he lost his homework, had someone sit on his lunch and gotten assigned a science project as punishment.  T.D. challenges Martha by stating that a dog’s life is easier than a boy’s, and he ends up conducting a doggy experiment. After spending a day as a dog, blocked out of the library, unable to draw, and generally being bored, T.D. concludes that a dog’s life is not perfect either.

Colorful illustrations based on the characters from the PBS “Martha Speaks” television show are placed on every page and may support comprehension. Children on a second grade reading level  will appreciate this imaginative take on a dog’s life. They will enjoy the humor in Carolina’s experience and will relate to T.D.’s everyday challenges. These relatable characters and situations will carry second grade readers into the story and help them improve their reading skills. Teachers will appreciate the ties to curriculum. The second story introduces the scientific process, using vocabulary such as hypothesis, conclusion, and experiment.

The back matter includes a glossary which, in addition to including scientific terms, will help readers determine the difference between “empathy” and “sympathy.” Also included are a simple origami activity and five easy steps for a kid-friendly experiment. Websites, ( and ( offer additional activities, games, videos and stories.

  • Martha Speaks So You Want to be a DogTITLE: Martha Speaks: So You Want to Be a Dog?
  • AUTHOR: Raye Lankford and Peter K. Hirsch
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Based on characters by Susan Meddaugh
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • EDITION: Paperback: 96 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547970189
  • GENRE: Chapter book
  • LEXILE: 430

Little Red Hot

Written by Eric Kimmel

Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

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I love a tale where the young heroine can take care of herself. In this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red Hot is a hot-pepper-loving, horse-riding, quiche-baking, big-bad-wolf-talking dynamo who figures out her own solutions. She is not perfect, but she figures out her mistakes and still finds a solution. Set in Texas, the story has the pace of a tall-tale, but one where we already know the story. We know Red will go to Grandma’s. We know there will be a Big Bad Wolf, or Señor Lobo. And we know everyone will come together at the end. What we didn’t know was how they do it in Texas. Suffice to say, the cuisine enjoyed by Little Red Hot, is not one that can be wolfed down. The pictures are as active as the character and give the feel of wide-open, cactus-filled landscape, where Little Red Hot seems both at home and in command.

This will be an ideal read aloud for younger students. However, as a retelling, it also perfect for emerging second grade readers. If the students have heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood, they will be able to make accurate predictions about this story, aiding their reading comprehension, while still enjoying the differences. I would even recommend this fun book for third, fourth and even fifth grade readers who might be working on comparative literature themes. Fractured fairy tales provide plenty of room to compare and contrast the well-known plot with the new one. Kimmel’s other picture books offer more fairy tale hijinks and more chances to compare and contrast.


Visit Eric A. Kimmel’s web page and see what he is up to now.

  • Little Red HotTitle: Little Red Hot
  • Author: Eric Kimmel
  • Illustrator: Laura Huliska-Beith
  • Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Hardcover 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4778-1638-7
  • Genre: fiction, picture book
  • Lexile Score: 750


Bramble and Maggie – Give and Take

Written by Jessie Haas

Illustrated by Alison Friend

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Bramble and Maggie – Give and Take is a wonderful chapter book for second grade level readers that encompasses a good plot, a take away lesson, lovable characters, and rich illustrations. Although the main character next to Bramble the horse is a girl, boys can relate to the overall story and life experiences that are common to the second grade reader.

Readers are experiencing what it takes to play and work together. In this chapter book students have a fast moving chapter story that shows how Bramble the horse learns to trust Maggie and how Maggie learns to compromise with her horse.

Teachers will appreciate the life lesson in this second grade level reader which can spring board deeper discussions and group activities showing compromise. Parents will appreciate a well written book that helps to reinforce positive character education and family values.

Bramble and Maggie- Give and Take is a reading experience that students will enjoy reading independently. The language is appropriate for the young reader and the concepts are clear and easy to comprehend.

  • Bramble and MaggieTitle: Bramble and Maggie – Give and Take
  • Author: Jessie Haas
  • Illustrator: Alison Friend
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5021-6
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Juvenile/Chapter book


Sherlock Bones and the Missing Cheese

Written by Susan Stevens Crummel

Ilustrated by Dorothy Donohue

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A smelly, scrumptious cheese is missing!  This is no ordinary cheese.  It is made from the milk of a cantankerous cow, a Cowabunga.  It is delicious, delectable, but really smelly.  So when it disappears from its rock, Sherlock Bones is called to find that missing cheese.  He uses all five senses to gather clues.  Some witnesses saw strange things, others heard strange things.  He notes them all which lead him to the beanstalk.  He concludes that they have a giant problem.  Sure enough, a giant got hungry for pizza and thought the smelly cheese would be perfect for his concoction.  When Sherlock demands that the giant return the cheese, he puts all the cheese in his mouth.  Poor giant.  Now he has a giant stomach ache.  When he grabs Sherlock, they both fall out of beanstalk land.   The people of the dell are now able to trade the giant’s services for the cure to the Cowabunga Cheese Disease.

For all those amateur detectives out there, Sherlock’s clues are shown in detail and can be adapted into a literacy activity.  Sherlock’s problem solving method is a good model for young readers.  There is also the music for “The Farmer in the Dell” which the author claims was the inspiration for this story.  It is a very loose connection, but the song could be part of the story time that uses this book as a read aloud.  The intricate cut-paper illustrations are unique, giving a sense of depth as well as adding a humorous element of their own.  The illustrator shows her method on her website: (

  • Sherlock BonesTITLE: Sherlock Bones and the Missing Cheese
  • AUTHOR: Susan Stevens Crummel
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Dorothy Donohue
  • PUBLISHER: Amazon Children’s Publishing
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7614-6186-9
  • GENRE: Rhyming stories, Picture books

Happy Birdday, Tacky!

Written by Helen Lester

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

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The team of author Lester and illustrator Munsinger delight children and adults with another installment of Tacky the Penguin stories. In this episode, several of Tacky’s penguin friends attempt to plan a perfect birdday party for Tacky, and they want it to be a surprise.

Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect bake a cake, secure the fishy ice cream, write and illustrate cards, prepare a special birdday card, purchase the extravagant dinner jacket, and line up some penguin entertainment. But, as often happens to an event when Tacky is involved, things don’t necessarily go as originally planned. Tacky wants to dine on the jacket and not in it. He wears the fishy ice cream cone on his head like a hat. He extinguishes the birdday candles with a hair dryer; and then tosses the cake like a football. And after those fiascos, Twinklewebs the Dance Queen, begins to perform her special ballet dance. But her swan song takes a mis-flight, and Twinklewebs is injured, or so the drama-queen thinks. In Tacky fashion, the guest of honor distracts the crowd with his Flapwaddle Dance, and suddenly Twinklewebs recovers and joins him in the dance, along with Tacky’s penguin friends.

Lester and Munsinger use the Tacky series to celebrate individuality and differences. The books often mention that Tacky is an “odd bird,” but yet he never fails to delight his friends in the story and charm readers, both children and adults. The stories of Tacky encourage readers to appreciate their uniqueness, as well as the differences of others around them.

Second grade readers will like the made-up words, like “flapwaddle,” “birdday,” “tippywebs,” and “Iglooslavia.” Be sure to check the children’s reading comprehension of the story with the created words used in the story and with the words used by the penguin character, Twinklewebs, spoken in an “Iglooslavian” accent.

After reading the story aloud to the class, pick a day to celebrate the individuals in your classroom. Play a game in which the students take turns sharing aloud a fact about themselves that they believe is unique, a characteristic that no one else in the room shares. Like, one child might say, “I was born in California.” If someone else in the room shares that same fact, then he or she joins the speaker at the front of the room, and the speaker must make another statement of uniqueness. The idea is for each child to share something about himself or herself that is completely individual to that child and will single he or she out as a special, unique individual. (And, it’s a fun way to get to know your students better!)

  • Happy Birthday TackyTITLE: Happy Birdday, Tacky!
  • AUTHOR: Helen Lester
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Lynn Munsinger
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • EDITION: Hard Cover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-91228-8
  • GENRE: Humor




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