Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 7


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This newsletter is a selection of new book reviews that have been added to the site. They cover the full age range from PreK through 12th grade. There are three picture books (one of which is nonfiction), two other nonfiction titles, a chapter book and two novels. All of them are outstanding.

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Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. (Clarion, 2009. ISBN 9780547074214. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades PreK-2.

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This is a playful fantasy full of wordplay. There's rhyming and alliteration and tongue twister phrases as a baby boy gets swept up in a bubble and a growing cast of characters chase after him.

If you like a challenging read aloud try this book -- but be sure you practice first. It starts, innocently enough:

"Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble . . . Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way."

But once the rhythm and tongue twisters get going stumbling over the words is inevitable.

"even feeble Mrs. Threeble, in a muddle with her needle (matching pink and purple patcher for a pretty patchwork quilt), when her older sister told her, tossed the quilt across her shoulder, as she set off at a totter in her tattered tartan kilt."

The artwork, watercolors on textured paper, helps by playing out all the rapid fire details from the text as we see the crowd growing and the problem of getting the baby down reach a crisis.

You can also use this silly book to introduce several writing techniques to older kids.

Buttons by Brock Cole

(Farrar, 2000. ISBN 0374310017. Order Info.) Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades K-4.

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This is a delightfully silly tale of a man with three daughters who bursts his trousers. The buttons fly into the fire and are burned. He takes to his bed. Not to worry, he has three daughters. The eldest declares that she will dress in her finest clothing and walk back and forth across a bridge until a young man falls in love with her. Thereupon she will demand buttons for her father before consenting to marriage. She does get a young man to fall in love with her but forgets to demand the buttons.

The second daughter plans to disguise herself as a man and join the army where her uniform will surely have enough buttons to spare for her father. The second daughter's plan also fails to get buttons but does get her a husband.

The third daughter decides to go to the meadow with her apron outstretched in order to catch any buttons that might fall from the sky.

It's the youngest and most inept daughter, as it should be, who is at last successful but not before a hilarious text and suitably comic illustrations lead us to the final family portrait. Cole's text is witty as well as silly with a strong dose of understatement giving us a delightfully affectionate tale of a family of sillies.

Ape by Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White. (Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 9780763634711. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 45 pages. Grades 1-12.

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White's illustrations are a loving tribute to the four non-human species of great apes: chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and gorillas. On each spread a single individual is rendered in color with transparent washes over the drawing while the rest of the individuals and the background are left as rougher cross hatch drawings.

The technique helps to create an arresting focus on each ape, especially their faces, which is furthered by White's attention to detail. This would be a heartfelt addition to any unit on apes, primates, mammals or animals even though the amount of information provided on each species is quite limited. I also think this book is a nice source of inspiration for any drawing project -- especially when introducing the technique of cross-hatching.

A world map on the last page showing the population size and distribution of each animal is a nice tie-in to wildlife protection and geography. Orangutans are found in Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia. Chimps live across western and central Africa. Bonobos live in the Congo basin and gorillas can be found in central Africa.

There are some earnest comments at the end about the fifth great ape, humans, and their impact on the others as well as current efforts to protect the remaining populations.

There's an interview with Illustrator Vicky White at:

Emmaline and the Bunny

(Greenwillow, 2009. ISBN 9780061626548. Order Info.) Chapter Book. 112 pages. Grades 1-3.

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This chapter book uses a sweet approach to tell a cautionary tale of a town that doesn't allow any messiness. The language is playful, even silly, and the tender watercolor illustrations keep the tone light even while broaching a serious topic.

Emmaline lives in Neatasapin where tidiness has been decreed by the mayor and taken to extremes. Children are not allowed to hop, jump puddles, skate board or chew bubble gum. Babies' diapers must be equipped with alarms that beep when they are dirty. Houses and yards must be quiet and spotless.

But Emmaline loves to dig in the dirt and jump and shout "Dinglederrydee!" Her kind parents understand her exuberance but also want to help her follow the rules.

Emmaline desperately wants a wild bunny but they're messy and need a bit of wilderness -- not these manicured yards. Her passion to find and provide safety for a wild rabbit brings her, her family and eventually her whole town through a transformative experience.

The writing is full of creative word usage and begs to be read aloud. A charming gem of a book.

Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell and R. Gregory Christie

Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. (Knopf, 2001. ISBN 044041766X. Order Info.) Picture Book, Nonfiction. 36 pages. Grades 3-12.

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The text is dramatic and gives information about slavery in the northern United States in the early 1800's because, of course, that's where the slave Isabelle, later to rename herself as Sojourner Truth, lived her long and inspiring life.

The book covers her early years when she was beaten and sold repeatedly including at a slave auction in Kingston, New York. After being denied the freedom promised her she escapes and later has her permanent freedom bought. We follow her through her travels as an advocate for civil rights with an author's note telling us more about her life and work.

The illustrations are remarkable. They are bold and stylized figures with large heads and exaggerated features, there's a passion to them that makes them perfect companions to the dramatic text. R. Gregory Christie won the Coretta Scott King Honor for his illustrations in The Palm of My Heart. This is a picture book that you can use as low as third grade but don't let your high school students miss it either.

Also check out these related books on our site:
Ashley Bryan's Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals. (2007, Atheneum. ISBN 9780689847325. Order Info.) Picture Book. 38 pages. Gr PreK-5.
Vibrant cut construction paper collages illustrate this inspirational picture book/ song book. The words of "This Little Light of Mine," "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" accompany the full double spread illustrations. At the end of the book the author has included the music and an afterward about slavery and the origin of the spirituals. Read More . . .
Mildred D. Taylor's The Land. (2001, Penguin Putnam/ Phyllis Fogelman. ISBN 0803719507. Order Info.) Novel. 375 pages. Gr 4-8.
Paul was born from the partnership of a slave and the white master of the plantation in Mississippi. Slavery ended when he was still very young but he, his sister, and his mother have stayed on the plantation. Paul's mother is the cook and housekeeper. Read More . . .

On our website there are related articles here:
US History through Kids' Books, Category with links to Featured Subject Articles and Featured Book Articles:
and here
eBook CD In Times Past: Integrating US History with Literature in Grades 3-8. Third Edition by Carol Otis Hurst and Rebecca Otis. Ordering information and sample chapters:
and here
Women's History through Kids' Books, Featured Subject Article with Activities, Related Books and Links:
and here
Slavery through Kids' Books, Featured Subject with activities, related books and links:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

(Holt, 2009. ISBN 9780805088410. Order Info.) Novel. 340 pages. Grades 4-8.

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While her family is napping through the heat of Texas afternoons in the summer of 1899 Calpurnia sneaks off to the river to cool off and to escape the confines of an eleven year old girl's responsibilities in order to wonder at the tiny details of the riverside.

Calpurnia has six brothers and the full weight of taking on female roles in her family descends on her complete with corsets and needlework.

When her reclusive, naturalist, grandfather discovers her love of the natural world he takes a special interest in her and introduces her to Darwin's The Origin of Species where her intellectual curiosity is rewarded with knowledge of the workings of the life around her. Read More.

See again the Women's History article on our site mentioned above.

There's also an article Celebrating Darwin and Lincoln's Birthdays, a Featured Subject with Related Books and Links:

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

(Carolrhoda, 2009. ISBN 9780822571353. Order Info.) Nonfiction. 144 pages. Grades 6-12.

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This outstanding nonfiction book provides a great way to take advantage of the current popularity of forensics and its hip TV scientists by bringing forensics into the history and science curriculum. The discovery of 17th century graves in and around Jamestown, Virginia is covered by the on-the-scene author who follows the scientists as they work to uncover mysteries about the bodies of a Captain, an African slave girl, an upper class woman and more.

The cover has a creepy, haunting feel suitable for a book about bones and uncovering corpses. The photographs throughout the book of the archaeologists, the grave sites and the human remains are striking and informative.

Students who are eager for forensics on the bodies in the graves will have to read through a discussion of soil conditions and signs in the dirt of the original Jamestown fort and grave outlines before they get to the more tantalizing analysis of a teenage boy's teeth and bones from 1607. At this point the crime lab style details of how the scientists determine the skeleton's age, gender, ethnicity and more take over.

The brilliantly written text explains the fascinating history and science of the discoveries. Walker gives just the right amount of explanation for whatever the current issue is whether it is tooth whitening techniques of the 1600's, the stages of the hardening of seams in the human skull or the decomposition of bodies. This highly accurate text is clearly the result of the writer's immersion in the excavations and in the scientists' testing of the bodies, soils and artifacts.

Specific mysteries -- such as the missing lower legs and feet of a baby's skeleton are presented along with the clues then used to come up with possible explanations. In the process a lot of information about the lives of the colonial era people is covered. Topics such as rickets, class differences, medicine, religious freedom, funeral rites, life expectancy, step-families, warfare, farm work, slavery and of course anatomy are all made vivid.

Source notes, a bibliography, a timeline and recommended websites are included. This is a wonderful unification of science and history.

There is an article on our site on Colonial History through Kids' Books, a Featured Subject with activities, related books and links:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

(Harcourt, 2008. ISBN 9780152063962. Order Info.) Novel. 471 pages. Grades 8-12.

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Katsa is the king's niece and a Graceling -- one born with special powers. Her gift is the ability to kill with her bare hands. When her gift is discovered, at the age of eight, she enters into a period of training so that she can control the power and stun with a punch or kick instead of kill.

This strong heroine is determined to use her gift in responsible ways within the complicated land of seven kingdoms where power and greed clash with benevolence and justice. She forms a secret council to fight for the rights of victims of government abuse, including that perpetrated by her uncle.

When Katsa meets another Graceling, Prince Po, during the rescue of the Prince's grandfather who is being held prisoner, she eventually builds a friendship with him while grappling over issues of self-reliance versus depending on others. Her quest to save the seven kingdoms brings her through a high adventure of combat, romance and self-discovery.


That's it for this issue.

Happy reading!

Rebecca Otis

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Create fun and exciting photo gifts this holiday season at Snapfish has many styles of photo books to choose from, and customers get 50% off their photo book purchase. Getting started is free, with new members receiving 50 free 4"x6" photo prints, get started today! Snapfish Photo Books 50% Off