children’s book recommendations

All posts in the children’s book recommendations category

The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer

Published December 14, 2014 by Dagmar

My niece is a big reader.  One of my favorite things to do is to talk about books with her.  The Land of Stories might be the most enthusiastic recommendation she’s ever made to me.  She went on Land of Storiesabout how much she loved the book, and she was so excited that there were sequels to the story.  A few weeks later I was in a hotel in San Francisco, when I overheard a girl, about the same age as Emma, telling her grandmother about a great book she was reading.  She was so enthusiastic that I couldn’t help interrupting and asking her what book she was talking about.  You’ve got it. It was The Land of Stories.

I ordered the book for my kindle the next night and began reading the book.  I see what they saw in the book.  The Land of Stories falls in the fairy tale fantasy genre for middle readers.  There have been a lot of these books published lately.  Luckily, they are not cookie cutter.  Each is clever and has its own merits.  My particular favorites are this book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, A Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom and Rump.  I’m terribly behind on reading the Sisters Grimm (incredibly behind, really, given that the series now has 9 books) but plan to read that book as well.  After reading it, I put it on my 4th and 5th Grade Fiction Book Club list.  My students raved about this book as well.

The Land of Stories is terrific.  Two great characters go on a quest – but not just any quest. This quest combines humor, mystery, adventure and lots of familiar fairy tale characters who are probably quite a bit different than you might remember.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell pulls you right in.  It  begins as Queen Snow White enters a dark dungeon to speak with her step-mother, the Evil Queen.  Snow White begs the former queen to tell her why she never loved Snow White.  The Evil Queen tells Snow White that “a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

The book then turns to two characters, Alex and Conner Bailey, 12 year old twins who live with their mother.  They live in a small house, having had to sell their old house after their father passes away in a car accident.  Life is difficult for the twins.  Their mother, trying to pay the bills, has to work double shifts as a nurse.  They rarely see their mother, and Conner is struggling in school.  Their grandmother is a light in their life.  When she arrives for the twins’ birthday, she leaves them with her most prized possession, an old story book called, The Land of Stories.

The old story book turns out to be more than just a book of stories.  It vibrates and hums.  It keeps Alex, normally a top student, up at night.  While not many people would think to try to drop a book into the pages of a humming storybook, Alex is just the kind of kid that does.  She drops in several books and a pencil and then, a little predictably, is sucked into the book herself.  Her twin, Conner, horrified as he watches her disappear, jumps right in after his sister.  What do you do when you fall into a book?  You meet a magical creature – not a faun, as might happen if you’ve fallen through the back of a wardrobe – but a big frog who offers you tea with flies (if you like).  The only way to leave the enchanted land?  Fulfill the requirements of the Wishing Spell.

I don’t want to give away too much, because this book is truly worth your time.  You’ll learn the truth about Goldilocks (a villain on the run), Little Red Riding Hood, Jack in the Beanstalk and that Evil Queen and whether she actually is a victim. You’ll also learn whether Alex and Conner ever find their way home.

Honestly, it would not surprise me if this book won an award.  Please don’t miss this wonderful book.  I’m launching a fantasy book club, and my students have already asked me to put book two of this series on the list.  Hmmm.  They might have to just borrow that book from my library shelves – so many more great fantasy books and series to explore!

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle

Published December 12, 2014 by Dagmar

VanishingHoneyBeesThis book is part of a great Scientific Mystery series.  I shared this book with my third grade class.  I love sharing non-fiction books with them.

This book focuses on CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, or the disappearance of worker honeybees from their hives.  Bee hives are left with their queen and her brood (developing bees).

I particularly like this book, because the author, Sandra Markle, does such a great job in building the mystery for students.  The book begins with the question: “Where are all the honeybees?”  Markle’s next topic in the book is the importance of honey bees to all of us as pollinators.  She explains exactly how bees gather nectar and pollen.  The book continues with more on the mystery.  Scientists team up with the bee keepers to discover why the worker bees are not returning to their colony.  They believe the worker bees are dying.

Markle talks about the role of worker bees and tells of all the different bees in the hive, including the queen and the drones.  Then, she goes on to explain the different hypotheses scientists developed to explain what might be killing the honeybees: honeybee’s habitats are changing as areas become more developed; honeybees might be overworked as they are moved from region to region in the country, coinciding with growing seasons; beekeepers, in an effort to keep honeybees working, feed honeybees sugar syrup, which could weaken them.  The answer might be cell phones or even mites, a fungus, or pesticides.

While this book doesn’t present the answer to the mystery, the ending is satisfying for students.  It suggests that the answer may be a combination of the factors mentioned and that scientists are continuing their study of honeybees and their colonies to try to find the answer to this question.

I thought this book did a great job of teaching students how science connects to real world issues.  The photographs are terrific and the explanations of the problem and its possible causes are clearly and attractively presented.  I highly recommend this book to 3rd-5th grade students and their teachers.

Thanks to Junior Library Guild for this great selection.

4th and 5th grade fiction book club

Published December 12, 2014 by Dagmar

We just wrapped our 4th and 5th grade fiction book club last week.  Last school year, I hosted a California Young Readers’ Medal book club.  I loved seeing our best readers bond as a group.  When I say these students are our best clients, I’m serious.  These kids really read.

outofmymindI chose five books for my students.  I started with these books: Al Capone Does My Shirts,  by Gennifer Choldenko; The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer; The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman; Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper; and What We Found Al Capone Doesin the Sofa and How it Saved the World, by Henry Clark.  I chose The Land of Stories, because my niece, a fifth grader, told me the Land of Stories was one of the best books she’d read.  I loved it, myself.

Not only did most of my students finish all five of the books I chose, they added books to my list and managed to finish most of those books, too – all while checking out library books to read each week.  Wow.

HLand of Storiesere’s what my students added to our reading list: A Stone in My Hand, by Cathryn Clinton; Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis; Island of Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell; Almost Home, by Joan Bauer.  Great choices.  I loved every one of these books myself.

At our party, I polled all my students on their favorite books.  Out of My Mind won by a mile.  My niece Face Timed me last week to tell me that she’d just read another great book…Out of My Mind. 🙂  I wish she could join my book club!

Look for reviews of these books soon.

Take Away the A, by Michael Escoffier

Published December 12, 2014 by Dagmar

Here’s my next entry in the “Clever Alphabet book” category.  I’m kidding, I don’t have a Clever Alphabet category on my blog, but I think I might need one now.  My first entry in this budding category, The Z was Zappedtake away the a by Chris Van Allsburg, is a fun, if dangerous, alphabet book.

Take Away the A takes each letter and removes it from a word to make a new word.  “Without the C, the Chair has Hair.” “Without the L, the Plants wear Pants.” Clever, right?  My second graders thought so and had a great time reading this book with me.  The illustrations, by Kris Di Giacomo, are lots of fun, too. I highly recommend this book to early readers who will love figuring out what happens as each letter disappears.

Stay tuned for my next clever Alphabet book, Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

Published December 9, 2014 by Dagmar

goldencompassI’ve had The Golden Compass on my school library shelf for three years.  I’ve wanted to read it and never had the opportunity.  With so many students all eager for fiction recommendations, my reading list can be long and scattered – science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, realistic fiction.  I’m often reading several books at one time.  One or my fourth grade students simply tore through this series this fall.  I’m grateful to her for putting this book and series back on my radar.  The beginning of this book really grabbed my attention.  I didn’t stop reading until I’d finished the book.

The Golden Compass is the first book in the “His Dark Materials” series (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass).  Lyra is the main character.  Her world resembles the current world with recognizable countries and geography.   Every human being has a daemon, an animal that acts as an expression of each person’s soul, and is their closest friend.  Daemons change form as a child grows and eventually settle into one animal form when the child becomes an adult.  Lyra is being raised by the Scholars at Jordan College.  Lord Ariel, her uncle, visits Lyra occasionally, but she is largely left to her own devices.  She spends most of her time with her best friend, Roger, a kitchen boy. Together, they get into a lot of mischief, battling with other children, climbing onto the roof of the College and discovering all that tunnels and rooms that lie beneath the College.

The story begins as Lyra, a girl, and her daemon, Pantalaimon hide in a wardrobe in the Retiring Room at Jordan College.  Hidden, she sees the Master of the College walk into the room and put poison in the wine glass of the visiting Lord Asriel, who is soon to arrive. Lord Asriel enters the Retiring Room only to catch Lyra, hiding in the wardrobe.  Lyra tells him of the poisoned wine. Grateful to know about the plot to kill him, Lord Asriel allows her to crawl back in the wardrobe so that she can see the slideshow he is presenting to Scholars at Jordan College.  The slideshow shows the Aurora in the North and an image of a city in the sky.  Lord Asriel speaks to the group of Scholars about a mysterious substance called “dust”.  Lyra is fascinated by the images Lord Asriel has shown the group.  She is curious about everything she has heard and wants to visit the North to learn more about “dust” and the City in the sky.

From that day forward, Lyra’s life changes completely.  She and Roger begin to hear rumors that children are being stolen from Oxford and surrounding areas.  Then, Roger is abducted.  Lyra also learns that Lord Asriel is being held prisoner in the North. Then, the Master of the College tells Lyra that she must leave Jordan College and go live with Mrs. Coulter, a beautiful and charming, but mysterious, woman.  Before she leaves the College, the Master gives her a strange device called an alethiometer, that looks like a compass.  She is told to keep it safe from others.

Lyra soon finds out that she has a special gift that allows her to “read” the alethiometer.  She learns more about her family and the evil that exists in her world.  She is forced to run away from Mrs. Coulter’s house and is found and protected by Gyptians, a nomadic people who move from place to place on their boats.  Together with the Gyptians and an armored bear called Iorek Byrnison, Lyra heads north to free her friend Roger, the other lost children and Lord Asriel.

This is a fast-paced book’s unfolding mystery will hold you in suspense until the final pages.  There are truly evil characters and smart, loyal characters that you’ll come to love.  Lyra is brave and determined to fight the evil she sees.

I highly recommend this book to fourth grade-middle school readers who love mystery and fantasy.

My Teacher is a Monster!, by Peter Brown

Published November 1, 2014 by Dagmar

teacher monsterPeter Brown, author of You Will Be My Friend and Children Make Terrible Pets, has written a new book that was a big success with my kindergarten students.

Running into your teacher outside school can be fun.  Or, if you think your teacher hates you, it can be “a terrible surprise.”

Ms. Kirby is always yelling at Bobby, especially when Bobby flies paper airplanes in class.  Ms. Kirby stomps, and she roars.  Ms. Kirby even looks just like a monster.  Bobby runs into Ms. Kirby sitting on a bench reading a book.  Not knowing quite what to do, and feeling awkward, Bobby sits next to her on the bench.  Suddenly, a gust of wind blows Ms. Kirby’s favorite hat off her head.  Bobby runs to catch Ms. Kirby’s hat.    Ms. Kirby is so grateful to Bobby that she thanks him and then shows him how she likes to quack with the ducks at the park.  Bobby decides to show Ms. Kirby his favorite part of the park.  Sitting at the top of a hill in the park, Ms. Kirby has an idea.  She pulls out a piece of paper and gives it to Bobby.  Bobby quickly folds it into an airplane and launches it.  It’s the best paper airplane flight ever.   Bobby and Ms. Kirby each decide the other is not so terrible.  In fact, Ms. Kirby starts looking like an actual teacher, instead of a monster.  It’s a great resolution…until Bobby throws a paper airplane in class.

I love Peter Brown’s dedication, “To misunderstood teachers and their misunderstood students.”  Have fun with this one!

Benjamin and Bumper to the Rescue, by Molly Coxe

Published October 21, 2014 by Dagmar

Many thanks to Amélie of Amélie’s Bookshelf for recommending this terrific book.  It provided a great opportunity to talk to my kindergarten students about authors and illustrators and whether illustrators always had to draw or paint the pictures to a book.  In this case, Olivier Toppin has taken photographs of stuffed animals with real props in order to illustrate the book.

Benjamin and BusterAs I read this to my kindergarteners, they were held in great suspense, some said they were even scared as we read it.  Trust me, this is a very gentle book with a kindergarten-sized villain and two really good guys, named Benjamin and Bumper.

When Benjamin’s mom goes off to do errands and doesn’t return, Benjamin and Bumper set out to find her.  Luckily, they are very practical animals, packing lots of tools that they might need for their search and rescue mission, including: their scooter, ropes, ladders, a sewing kit, a fishing pool and some tools.  When they discover that Mrs. Middlemouse has been captured by the terrible Sir Pouncelot, they’ll need all these various things in order to save her from becoming an ingredient in one of his dinner casseroles.

Will Benjamin and Bumper be able to save Benjamin’s mom?  Will Sir Pouncelot learn a lesson?  Tune in to this, the first of the Benjamin and Bumper Adventure series, to find out!

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli

Published October 20, 2014 by Dagmar

ManiacMagee1This book may be my favorite book of the year.  Written by the author of one of my recent favorites for middle and high school, Stargirl, was recommended to me by the students in one of my third grade classes.  They’d been read the book by their teacher.  I’d been given all sorts of recommendations, Captain Underpants, among them.  This one stuck in my mind, because I knew it had won the 1991 Newbery Medal and because I’d always meant to read it.

Jeffrey Magee was orphaned at the age of three when his parents’ trolley went off the tracks of the P & W Trestle into the Schuylkill River.  Jeffrey moved in with his aunt and uncle who always fought. One day, he ran away, literally.  He ran all the way to a town called Two Mills.  Two Mills was split by Hector Street.  The West End of town was reserved for whites.  The East End of town was for blacks.  The two populations didn’t mix at all.  In fact, no one who was white dared come into East End.  Likewise, no one who was black purposely went into the West End of town.  Until Maniac Magee, unaware of the rules, showed up in the East End of town.  He met a girl named Amanda Beale, a great lover of books.  He managed, unbelievably, to borrow a book from her, a girl who did not, as a rule, lend her books.  He promised to return it and ended up living in Amanda Beale’s house.  There, he had two little brothers, a sister and a mother and father – a home.  Maniac Magee was fearless.  He could do extraordinary things.  He hit home runs off a star pitcher, ran touch downs on the football field, untangled complicated knots, ran on a single rail of a railroad line and actually sat on the Finsterwald’s front steps to read a book. He never went to school but loved to read.  He was a maniac.  He was legend.  All was going well until one day someone pointed out that he was white.  Maniac, didn’t even realize it himself.  Things changed after that day.  People didn’t like that the Beale’s were sheltering him.  So, Maniac ran.  He ran and found a home at the local zoo, in the buffalo pen.  There, he met a true friend, Grayson, who would make him another home in the park.  Soon, Maniac had to run again, this time, to the West End and a house where two small boys needed someone who would keep them safe.  He was fine there, taking care of those two boys who needed him and for whom he would do anything.  Until the day they asked him to do something he absolutely could not do, and he ran again.

Like my students, I became completely absorbed in Maniac Magee’s story.  I hope you will too.

 

 

Quest, by Aaron Becker

Published October 20, 2014 by Dagmar

questQuest is the incredible sequel to Aaron Becker’s 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey.   It, like Journey, is a wordless book with breathtaking illustrations.

I particularly like to use wordless books with my fourth graders.  They are a restless bunch, usually wanting to talk amongst themselves rather than listen to a read aloud.  With a book like Quest, I stand in front of my students and page through the book for them as they “read” it to themselves.

Even those students who were reluctant to pay attention quieted quickly.  Quest held their attention so well, you could only hear the whispers as they “read” this book and said soft “aahhs” at the beautiful illustrations.  At the end, my intractable group smiled and clapped.  They loved it!

Quest begins at the end of Journey.  (To be sure my students understood this, I showed them Journey first and then Quest.)  The two children, a boy holding a purple crayon and a girl holding a red crayon, meet a king who gives them a written message, with multiple colors on it.  The king is abducted by soldiers and taken away.  The boy and girl use their crayons to try to save the king using the clues in the message he gave them.  To see if they succeed, read this wonderful book and enjoy.

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea

Published October 20, 2014 by Dagmar

doyouknowwhichHere’s a great book that worked well with my pre-k through K students.  They really enjoyed it. Susan Shea cleverly takes readers from things that are organic and grow and things that won’t grow with rhyming text and unfolding pages.

“If a duckling grows and becomes a duck, can a car grow and become (unfold the page) a truck?”  “If an owlet grows and becomes an owl, can a washcloth grow and become (unfold) a towel?”

This is lots of fun to read to young students.   When they see what (inorganic thing) the author thinks might grow, they laugh and yell (in their best library voices), “NO!”

Have fun with this one!  Many thanks to my friend, Leona, a story teller at our school, for this wonderful recommendation!