Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Grades 3-5’ Category

When looking for books to read, a perfect place to start is with the award-winners. They’re available for all ages and in all genres. Here are three recent ones.

We Are Growing by Laurie Keller bursts with the exuberance one would expect of a winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. Such exuberance is also perhaps the only way an author could comically write about such a mundane topic as grass. Each blade of grass is growing and proud of being the tallest, the curliest, or the silliest. But one long piece of grass doesn’t know what’s special about him until a lawn mower reduces them to the same size. Through googly-eyed grasses and slapstick moments, Keller gently teaches that we’re all the best at something.

Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up drawing with the support of his mom, who would lie with him to draw on old work papers. From her, Basquiat learned that art is found not just in museums and theaters but also in the games he played and the people he met. Basquiat overcame serious injuries suffered when he was struck by a car at age seven, and the institutionalization of his mom at age 13 to become a famous artist. Steptoe captures Basquiat’s life in his rich writing style and creative illustrations. To give meaning to the book’s artwork, Steptoe collected bits of scrap wood from around Basquiat’s home in New York City, and used them as canvases onto which he painted scenes from his book. He also adeptly integrates Basquiat’s favorite motifs into his illustrations. Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe is a brilliant Caldecott-winner biography!

Entrenched in fantasy, complex characters, and poignant themes, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is impossible to put down. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch that lives in the forest. But nothing is at is seems in this Newbery-winning novel. For example, the witch is kind. She rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest. One year, the witch discovers one of the children possesses magic and decides to raise Luna as her own. But the baby’s mother is searching for her. And the mother meets a man who is determined to free his people from the witch. Eventually, all paths intersect with a message of love.

Graphic novels have grown in popularity over the past decade. In some libraries, the hottest children’s books are often graphic novels. Here are three graphic novel recommendations for different ages groups.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard features a young boy who finds himself whisked back to the 16th century England while exploring an abandoned theater. He emerges on the stage of the Globe Theatre in the middle of a performance, much to the chagrin of William Shakespeare himself. A chase erupts, wherein the young boy frees and then befriends both a caged bear and an imprisoned baron. Kids and their parents will want to study the detailed illustrations to get the most out of this wordless paneled graphic novel.

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first title in the Lunch Lady series, introduces an uncover hero who assumes the guise of a lunch lady. A group of school friends who call themselves the Breakfast Bunch take a stand against bullies, agonize over what clubs to join, laugh at each other’s food choices, and debate who should win Teacher of the Year award. One day they follow the Lunch Lady home to see what she does when not serving meals. This leads to them teaming up with the Lunch Lady, her sidekick, and their crime-fighting gadgets against a suspicious substitute teacher. Mayhem abounds in this fast-paced madcap adventure, which has been a hit with both boys and girls.

For older readers comes the autobiographical novel called Smile. It tells of Raina who just wants to be a normal sixth-grader, but one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, damaging her two front teeth. This seemingly simple incident leads to years of agonizing over braces, headgear, surgery, and even a retainer with fake teeth. As if all this wasn’t already enough, Raina must maneuver her way through the confusion of changing friendships, dating, and self-identity. Although Smile takes place in the 1980’s, it still feels fresh. Anyone who has experienced the pain of dental work and adolescent angst will relate. Just as important, the novel will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find their creative voice.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

Mariana Weber is so passionate about global warming that she used to regularly write letters to the president. Then she realized that his replies were all the same and that a co-worker had probably drafted a form letter for such requests as hers. Undeterred, Mariana decided to both form an organization for environmental protection and to write a book. For the latter, she enlisted her illustrator friend Joanna Whysner, whose colorful drawings add to the charm of The Global Warming Express.

Through an easy-to-read fantasy, Weber entertains while also making a plea for change. Earth is in peril. Several animals and two young people decide to join forces. They ride a magical train to the White House, where they hope their cry will be heard by the president.

The adventure begins in Antarctica, where an emperor penguin named The Fluff has just lost his mom, who died after swallowing a piece of plastic from the ocean. The girls also meet other animals whose stories engage while also drawing upon sympathies: a harp seal named Creamy who almost drowned when the ice she called home melted before she could learn to swim, a bear named Tomas and a salamander named Sally whose homes have been destroyed by fires caused by drought, a polar bear named Flora who found herself separated from her parents due to melting ice, a mountain goat named Edgar who has nowhere left to migrate, a caribou named Lauren who has no place to call home due to the destruction of muskeg, a duck named Zolo whose feathers have been permanently damaged by oil, a fish named Bobbi Sue whose aquatic home is toxic, and a rat named Zingo whose home is being destroyed by hurricanes that have become increasingly severe. One would be hard-pressed to read the tales of all these animals and not be stirred to action.

Weber has done her research. In her introduction, she explains why the Earth is heating up and why we need to slow down the effects. Through a parrot named Inoah, she teaches reading about multiple issues related to global warming such as the burning of fossil fuels, drilling of natural preserves, releasing of carbon monoxide into the air, and dumping of oils. And, on her resources page, Weber provides multiple links to articles and websites related to climate change. Anyone who is stirred to action by The Global Warming Express will have obvious reasons and solutions.

The Global Warming Express isn’t simply a cautionary tale. It’s also a fun story of a cross-country adventure where several animals and two young people visit unfamiliar places and face dangers such as fires and hurricanes. One minor complaint is I’m not sure why the train takes them into Canada, given that their mission is to plead with the United States president to pass environmental protection laws. While on this ride, the train becomes a character too. If the passengers are sad it slows down and even stops, but if the passengers are happy it speeds up.

In addition to writing a book, Weber started The Global Warming Express program. Its website explains global warming, tells how adults can help, and provides updates on small and big goals that young people in the group have made towards climate change.

This winter I asked parents to share the titles of their children’s favorite books. Below are three. To share your own recommendations, post in the comments of email me at: allisonsbookbag@outlook.com

Munch! by Matthew Van Fleet is a colorful board book with tabs and textures that animate a cast of frolicking critters who show your kids that mouths are for more than eating food. The animals use their mouths to laugh, hiccup, smile, pout, and so much more. My favorite interactive tab is the one that makes the busy beaver chew his tree branch! Said one mother, “The book is sturdy, the text is easy to add fun vocal inflections to, and the illustrations hold the interest of babies with short attention spans.”

We’re Going on A Book Hunt is a picture book about bears that teaches kids how to select just the right book. The way to start reading a book and raise a finger for each word you don’t know. If you get to all five fingers raised, it means the book is too hard. Author Pat Miller also teaches readers to be considerate library users. Her enthusiastic bears arrive quietly, use shelf markers, turn pages carefully, and remember to return their borrowed books. Young readers will be engaged by Miller’s catchy verse, which she modeled after the popular action rhyme “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. About this writing, one mom wrote: “The rhythm is the best and you can change your voice to reflect the moods!

The Kingdom of Wrenly is a fantasy chapter book series by Jordan Quinn with easy-to-read text and with illustrations on almost every page. In the first book, The Lost Stone, Prince Lucas is lonely and wishes for a friend, but his parents forbid him to play with other children in the kingdom. When Lucas returns home after running away and hiding out in a village school, his parents relent and allow him to play with Clara Gills, the daughter of a seamstress for the royal family. Lucas and Clara get the chance to explore other lands when they team up to find his mother’s missing emerald pendant. Said one mother, “This is a good beginning chapter book series that my girls love to read on their own.”

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

Celebrate Love Your Pet Day on February 20 with Ralphie Always Loved by Andrea Yerramilli. This colorful and upbeat picture book will win the hearts of everyone who loves dogs, enjoys dog rescue stories, and is a child at heart. My Advanced Reader Copy even came with a bookmark and a bandana. The story was inspired by the author’s real dog.

Yerramilli adds a whimsical touch to what could otherwise have been an overly sentimental story. The story has a fun start, with Ralphie being in heaven, where the angels in heaven are busily painting puffy white clouds on a clear blue sky. He wants to help and so dips first his tail, then his paws, and even his tail into the paint. The result is a mess, but God just laughs and grants him the wish of visiting earth. Yerramilli recognizes the reality of dog relinquishment. Three owners in a row gave him up to a shelter. Rather than dwell on the negative, Yerramilli chooses to focus on the positive. Ralphie was still young when he found his forever home, one where he grows old and knows that he’ll always be loved.

Through the power of words and fiction, Yerramilli models what a lifetime commitment to a pet should look like. After three strike-outs, Ralphie was adopted by a couple who want him as a companion for them and their older dog. The couple doesn’t care that Ralphie has a lot to learn, but rather teach him good manners. Nor do the couple give him up after having a baby, but instead they gave Ralphie time to find new ways to love. Whatever changes came into their life, even that of their first dog dying of old age, the couple ensure Ralphie remains part of their family.

The illustrations are done by Samantha Van Riet and are just as heart-warming as the story. She lavishes each page with warm and bright colors. One of my favorites is a yellow-framed portrait of Ralphie. God has just dipped his finger into paint and drawn a heart on Ralphie. The watercolor backdrop is a lovely blend of purple, blue, and yellow. Another favorite of mine depicts gray-haired Ralphie with a bone. Next to him are a montage of fond memories of times with family.

The real Ralphie was diagnosed with cancer at age 16 and recently crossed Rainbow Bridge. Read more about his true adventures at 16 year old Ralphie Loves Every Human and Animal He Meets.


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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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