Archive for January, 2014

The Templeton Twins Make a Scene by Ellis Weiner

The Templeton Twins Make a SceneComparisons to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events are unavoidable with The Templeton Twins titles, a new series by Ellis Weiner, but there are not many children who will complain about the similarities. Like Snicket’s books, these titles feature an intrusive narrator who adds levity, humor and the occasional educational lesson for the readers. As well as providing important background information and hilarious definitions of vocabulary words featured in the books, the narrator poses nonsensical “Questions for Review” at the end of each chapter that are one of best reasons to read these books.

In addition to the intrusive narrator, the Templeton Twins also contend with a delightfully evil villain like the Baudelaire children do in the Series of Unfortunate Events. The Templeton Twins face Dean D. Dean, a scorned former student of their father’s and master of disguise, who attempts to steal credit for their father’s many fabulous inventions. In book 2, Professor Templeton is working at the Thespian Academy of the Performing Arts and Science (TAPAS) to develop new spotlight technology. The invention is nearly complete when Dean D. Dean swoops in to take credit by wooing the school’s Dean and former stage actress, Gwendolyn Splendide. It is up to the twins (and their ridiculous dog) to prove the spotlight is 100 percent their father’s invention.

The story is enhanced by illustrations that are similar in style to an architect’s blue prints, cryptic puzzles, and many hilarious footnotes by the narrator. While not an entirely new concept, this book will have many fans among elementary-school aged readers and it deserves every one of those fans.

Posted by: Kelly

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Common Core Review: The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson was just a young boy of ten when Hitler came to power. By the end of World War II, however, he had experienced more hardship than many men five times his age. The Boy on the Wooden Box is his account of his life and survival during those tragic times. Despite facing years of starvation and exhaustion and being surrounded by death and despair in the ghetto of Krakow and then a Nazi work camp, Leyson survived the Holocaust. Both luck and perseverance played a huge role in Leyson’s survival, but it was his relationship with a Nazi, Oskar Schindler, which helped him the most. As the youngest member of Schindler’s list, Leon Leyson was saved numerous times from situations that would almost certainly have lead to his death.  Leon Leyson has been telling his story to audiences all over the world for years now, and The Boy on the Wooden Box finally puts that amazing story down on paper for millions to experience. It is a powerful and moving account of survival in the most dreadful of situations and the discovery hope in the most unlikely of places.

Non-fiction has been given a new life with the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, particularly narrative non-fiction. The standards require that students be exposed to more informational books over the course of their education and, as a result, there is a great need for engaging non-fiction texts. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a definite standout in the narrative non-fiction category. This book would provide a great opportunity to work on the Common Core State Standards that focus on point of view and reading multiple sources on the same subject. There are plenty of high quality and engaging informational texts about the Holocaust with which The Boy on the Wooden Box can be utilized. Some possible titles to consider would be Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Mendel Grossman and Frank Dabba Smith, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rapaport, and Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story by Karen Levine.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.9 Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Posted by: Staci

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Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones

Constable and ToopA few hundred years ago, “everybody” knew that winter was the best time for reading scary stories. We think of Halloween as perfect for a ghost story, but back then they thought that CHRISTMAS was the best time for it! We’ve passed Christmas, and the days are getting a LITTLE longer, but I still think it’s dark and gloomy enough–and certainly COLD enough–for a good scare.

Constable and Toop is the name over the door of an undertaker’s shop in 19th century London, but the undertakers are not the point of this story. The undertaker’s son, Sam, is: he can see and talk to ghosts, and because of this, he has become aware of a big problem. Certain ghosts in London have been disappearing, leaving their old haunting places infected with a terrible Black Rot. Mr. Lapsewood, a timid clerk from the Ghost Bureau, has begun investigating the problem (though he doesn’t know it), asking the help of a young ghost named Tanner, who, in search of someone with Sam’s abilities, finds himself working with Sam’s uncle Jack, who is not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. And we haven’t even mentioned Clara Tiltman, who has begun to notice the strange behavior of her drapes, or the terrifying actions of an exorcist priest.

Though the description makes the plot sound overly complex, let me reassure you: any reader will be caught up in this compelling story, both by the gripping action of the chase to save London’s ghosts, and by Sam’s almost philosophical, contemplative inner thoughts. And because there ARE so many (well-integrated) characters, any reader can be sure to find one to root for and relate to.

It cannot be denied that the book is frightening–and even sometimes gruesome–so it is probably best read by those of 10 years and up. Those who do read it, though, will be amply rewarded with a wonderful story, perfect for a cold, dark day.

Posted by: Sarah

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Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Book Review

This month, Kelly tells us about one of her new favorites, Where My Wellies Take Me, by Clare and Michael Morpurgo.   (And: Oops!  We accidentally referred to World War II when mentioning Morpurgo’s wonderful book War Horse–we know full well that it takes place during World War I!)

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Yeti, Turn Out the Light! By Greg Long & Chris Edmundson

MooYeti can’t sleep! He’s so tired, and he’s done all the things a yeti should do before bed, but he just can’t fall asleep. There are too many shadows in his room, so he has to keep turning on the lights. Each new click of the lamp illuminates different harmless woodland creatures like bunnies and birds who also can’t sleep and have come to snuggle with Yeti. Soon it becomes too crowded in the little bed with all his visitors, and the critters head home to their own beds where, finally, they can all fall asleep…even Yeti.

Greg Long and Chris Edmundson’s well-paced, fun, and energetic rhyming text is an ideal match for Wednesday Kirwan’s bright illustrations. Yeti is not depicted as a cute and cuddly creature. He is peculiar and even borders on scary looking himself, but that only makes the book more successful by showing that even supposedly scary creatures like Yeti struggle with fears. When the sweet woodland creatures come to see Yeti he welcomes the animals into his bed, thus further illustrating the idea that first impressions are often incorrect. Like the shadows, Yeti is not the scary monster that he appears to be on the outside; he is actually quite gentle and vulnerable. This silly book would be good to read to toddlers and preschoolers struggling with a fear of the dark, but is a fun read even for kids who have no issues going to bed.

Posted by: Staci

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Moo! By David LaRochelle

MooSometimes a picture is worth a thousand words; and in some cases, a word is worth a thousand pictures. In this book, that word is MOO! This is the story of a curious cow who decides to take the farmer’s car for a joy ride one day. The cow soon discovers that the world can be a true adventure (Moooooooooooooooooooooooo!), and the world can also be full of hazards (moOO!). The crazy ride ends in a crash right on top of the policeman’s car – well you can imagine the explanation necessary to get the cow out of this mess (Moo moo! Moo moo-moo, moo! Moo moo, moo, moooooo! Mooooooooooooo moo. Moo moo? Moo. Moo-moo-moo-moo-moo! Moo moo, moo moo. Moo, moo, moo, MOOO!) Udderly clever and fun!

Posted by: Mary

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The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

The Year of the BookFourth grade has brought changes for Anna Wang. Her best friend Laura has made new friends, leaving Anna behind. And Anna must attend Chinese school, where she doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t understand anything the teacher is saying. It’s a good thing Anna has books. Anna loves to read, and finds friendship in the characters in books. Friends like Meg, from A Wrinkle in Time; or Sam, from My Side of the Mountain. So when Laura experiences family troubles and reaches out to Anna in need of a friend, it’s tempting for Anna to retreat into her beloved book worlds. But Anna ultimately realizes that, while friendships can be complicated, they really do make life better.

The Year of the Book is a tender story. The book depicts both a loving family and a supportive community of neighbors. Kids will relate to the social challenges that Anna encounters, which are portrayed realistically and with a light touch. Kids will also enjoy all the book references – I was tempted to revisit some old favorites, and also to read some new ones! (But before I start in on the Anna Wang reading list, I’m going to read the sequel to this book, called The Year of the Baby.) Readers will also learn some Chinese words and characters along with Anna. Like peng you (pronounced like pung you), which means “friend.”

Posted by: Parry

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