George – Realistic Fiction for Upper Elementary and MS

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Gino, Alex. George. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-81254-2. 195p. $16.99. Gr. 4-6.

George took Girl’s Life magazine from the recycling in the library. Older brother Scott is a freshman in high school and is happy when he believes his brother is growing up and reading “dirty” magazines. George practices for the tryout of the fourth grade play “Charlotte’s Web” with Kelly only to have the  teacher find  it a joke when a boy tries out for Charlotte the spider and thinks it will confuse the audience. At home, George is dishonest with his mother, stating that he did not try out because it was too much to memorize. The next day at school his teacher shares that his audition took her by surprise and too many of the female students desire the role of Charlotte, but she offers George the role of either Wilbur, any male roles, or the narrator. George does not accept. Kelly gets cast as Charlotte which secretly makes George unhappy. Kelly consoles George when the classroom boys mock him and call him a girl. When George returns home, mom removes the Girl’s Life magazines and tells George not to go into her closet.  When playing Mario Kart with his brother, Scott, George wants to be the princess but selects the next best: Toad. After a week of not talking, Kelly apologizes and asks gently if George is transgender. George shares that transgender people do not have all of the same rights. Kelly secretly gives George the role of Charlotte for the afternoon performance. Scott and George’s mother are accepting of his personal feelings. Kelly also accepts George as a girl, and they agree to have George go by the name Melissa. Together they try on dress clothes and go with her uncle on a trip to the Bronx Zoo.  This novel received a Stonewall Book Honor in 2016. THOUGHTS:  George is in fourth grade during the book. While George is younger than middle school student readers, having this book available would be advantageous for students.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

MS Series Continuation – Lockwood & Co.


Stroud, Jonathan. Lockwood & Co.: The Hollow Boy. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2015. 978-1484709689. 385p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

This is the much anticipated third volume in the Lockwood & Co. ghost thriller series. Lockwood & Co is the psychic investigation agency (ghost-hunting) led by Anthony Lockwood Esq., and assisted by George Cubbins, the round mound of research, and the gifted Lucy Carlyle, who can hear and communicate with the dead, and narrates the story. For the last 20 years London has had an enormous uptick in paranormal activity and giant agencies staffed with adults are assisting the government’s DEPRAC – Department of Psychic Research and Control – in beating back the attacking ghosts and apparitions at night, enforcing a curfew, cordoning off whole sections of the city, and trying to solve what has caused these clusters of disturbances which in some cases cause loss of life. But, only kids can truly hear and see the ghosts and their warning signs, making the teenage team at Lockwood & Co. almost always successful. In this volume, Stroud introduces the uber-efficient assistant Holly Munro, and she shakes up the group dynamics established in the first two books.  THOUGHTS: Haven’t read the first two Lockwood & Co. books in this series? No worries; jump right in! I did and didn’t feel lost at all, just thrilled, as I turned page after page and read this whopping book in two sittings. If Harry, Ron and Hermione were ghost-hunters, Lockwood & Co. would be their agency. Similar to the Harry Potter series, the writing is crisp, witty, and masterful.  The world is fully inhabited with real people and otherworldly beings readers can visualize, and Stroud has created a full universe with its own reality and vocabulary.  There is a ghost glossary at the end to help readers navigate this complex world. Highly recommended for anyone grade 5 and up.

Paranormal Fantasy    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Imaginary Fred


Colfer, Eoin. Imaginary Fred. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 978-0062379559. 48p. $18.99. Gr. K-3.

Fred is the perfect imaginary friend who appears just when a child wishes for a friend, but Fred is accustomed to being cast aside when that child acquires a human friend. Fred starts to fade and know he’s about to be sucked back up into the imaginary realm until the next child needs him. That is until he meets Sam. He and Sam do everything together, but one day Sam announces he’s met someone he’d like Fred to meet, Sami. Uh oh, thinks Fred, here we go again. But wait! Sami has an imaginary friend Frieda, who completes their friendship circle perfectly. This book is tons of fun, written and illustrated by the amazing team of Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl series), and Oliver Jeffers (The Incredible Book Eating Boy, The Day the Crayons Quit). While the reading level is 3.5, I had middle grade students who thoroughly enjoyed this as both a read aloud as well as paging through independently. THOUGHTS: Pair this with The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat for an imaginary friend themed lesson and discussion.  

Picture Book    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Sharks All Around – Shark Detective; Clark the Shark


Olien, Jessica. Shark Detective! New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0062357144. 32p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

During the day Shark lives a lonely life in the big city, but at night he watches too many detective shows, eats junk food, and falls asleep dreaming of being a detective. There’s no explanation for why Shark lives on land, in an apartment like a person, which makes this book all the funnier. Not surprisingly, people he approaches trying to help solve the mystery of a missing neighborhood kitty typically run off screaming. Well, Shark finds the kitty; they become fast friends, and Shark decides to help kitty find his missing mousey toy. The colorful and simple illustrations are quite fun and this is one of those picture books with lots of visual gags that adults will enjoy as much as the kiddos. Recommended as a read aloud or read together. THOUGHTS:  I just so happened to receive a copy of Clark the Shark afraid of the dark by Bruce Hale and decided to pair these for a very fun read aloud and compare/contrast discussion with kindergarten students. Most of us are fascinated by sharks but especially the wee ones, and it is fun to have books that treat them whimsically instead of as scary monsters.

Picture Book    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School



Hale, Bruce. Clark the Shark: Afraid of the Dark. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 978-0062374509. 32p. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Clark the Shark is all ready for his first sleepover: “Balloons? Check. Games? Check. Snacks? Double check.” But, he is afraid of the dark and afraid to admit that to his seemingly brave friends. The party starts out smashingly with games, karaoke, and dancing, but when Benny Blowfish starts the ghost stories, Clark and his friends are spooked. They swear they see scary monsters which wind up just being shadows. Then the truth comes out, they are all “a little” afraid of the dark. So, they decide to create a rhyme as a group that will remind them that there is nothing to be afraid of. Really cute illustrations, nice pacing, and an enjoyable read aloud, this is a great addition to the Clark the Shark series for young reads that includes Tooth Trouble, Dare to Share and others. THOUGHTS: I’d recommend this to read to a class or one-on-one, and it would be fun to use as a themed pair with another book like The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen or the classic Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber.

Picture Book    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Nature Picture Books – Beyond the Pond; Polar Regions


Kuefler, Joseph. Beyond the Pond. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0062364272. 40p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

“Just behind an ordinary house filled with too little fun, Ernest D had decided today would be the day that he’d explore the depths of his pond.” Accompanied by his spotted dog, he throws in a variety of objects and is thrilled to determine that his pond is bottomless. He and his dog then plunge in armed with an old diver helmet, flashlight and other “explorer supplies,” and swim through the dark and wondrous deep which opens up on a wild world on the other side. This is a fun and beautifully illustrated book about imagination, exploring, and playing in the wild. THOUGHTS: I read aloud Beyond the Pond along with last year’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, and the 1988 classic Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor and Graham Booth. This lesson featured a fun compare and contrast discussion; all three books feature a companion dog and some similar tools, but each book takes a different approach to exploring and fantasy vs. reality.

Picture Book    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School


about habitats

Sill, Cathryn. About Habitats: Polar Regions. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2015. 978-1-56145-832-5. 48pp. $16.95. Grades K-3.

This nonfiction title pairs straightforward introductory information about the polar regions with stunning watercolor illustrations. On each spread, the left-hand page contains one sentence about either the Arctic or the Antarctic, and the right-hand page features a related illustration. The text describes how animals and plants survive in this harsh environment, and it also describes some of the daylight and temperature fluctuations these regions experience. The realistic watercolor illustrations provide additional insight about the fish, mammals, birds, and plants that make their homes here. The Afterword, at the back of the book, includes additional facts about life in some of the coldest places on Earth. A glossary and list of recommended websites rounds out the backmatter.  THOUGHTS:  This title will be a valuable resource for students studying biomes. The text is easily accessible and unintimidating, yet more in-depth details that will round out research are shared in the backmatter.

Science; Habitats   Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Applegate, Katherine. Crenshaw. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 978-1-250-04323 245p. Grades 3-6.

Jackson is a rising fifth grader with some very grown-up problems. His family has fallen on hard times, due to his dad’s struggle with MS and his mom being laid off from her job as a music teacher. (Applegate makes a subtle point here as she simply mentions a music program being cut.) Money is tight, leading to hungry nights and yard sales of the family’s belongings. Jackson, a firm believer in science and facts, wishes his parents would be honest with him about their situation and fears the family will again be living out of their minivan. This serious storyline mixes in with Jackson’s imaginary friend Crenshaw, a huge cat that remakes his appearance for the first time in years. Crenshaw’s calm wisdom at first irritates Jackson who tries to rationalize his existence. He eventually realized that the best advice comes from Crenshaw – that he, Jackson, can make his own decisions and needs to be honest with himself first.  THOUGHTS: A story about friendship, love, loss, and what really matters, this book is sure to touch readers. I would recommend it as a read-aloud for grades 3-4 so there can be appropriate discussion. It definitely makes you think about what is important! A worthy follow-up to Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.

Realistic Fiction      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School

Animals Series – Survivors: The Gathering Darkness; Dog Chronicles


Hunter, Erin and Laszlo Kubinyi. Survivors: The Gathering Darkness #1: A Pack Divided. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 978-0062343338 . 278p. $16.99. Gr. 4-8.

This is the first book in the brand new Survivors: The Gathering Darkness series, brought to us by bestselling author of the much loved Warriors series about cats. The protagonist, Storm, is a female “fierce” dog member of the Wild Pack. Within the pack there are rivalries and conflict that create tension in the story and keep readers turning the pages. The confrontations from pack members cause Storm to doubt herself and have vivid nightmares. Hunter continues to write high quality adventure with full character development and emotional depth. Highly recommended for lovers of fantasy, adventure, and animals, this volume contains a nice pictorial guide at the end to the dozens of Seekers, Warriors, and Survivors series. THOUGHTS: Even as an adult reader I find myself completely sucked into this fantasy world and enjoying every minute. I’d recommend readers start with the first 6 Survivor series books to get background on this story arc. Then, be prepared for your readers to complain that they must wait until summer 2016 to read the next Survivors: The Gathering Darkness book. Everything Warriors and Survivors are very big with fourth graders at my school.

Adventure, Animal Fantasy     Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School



Hart, Alison. Finder: Coal Mine Dog. (Dog Chronicles) Atlanta: Peachtree, 2015. 176p. 978-156145-8608. $12.95. Gr. 4-8.

Finder, a mountain cur, narrates this story of a terrible coal mine disaster that killed 256 coal miners. At the story’s start, however, he is training, unsuccessfully, to be a hunting dog. He sees his human family this way: “Uncle trains me. Aunt scolds me. Thomas loves me.” It is the bond between fourteen-year-old Thomas and Finder that is the root of the story. Thomas is living with his aunt and uncle since his parents’ deaths, and he’s willing to help to make ends meet in tough 1909, Cherry, Illinois. He unhappily obeys his uncle’s wish that he leave school and begin work in the coal mine. His one solace is that Finder can accompany him. The next few months prove startlingly harsh for the physical labor, negative health effects, and unrelenting debt, but they also provide new friends, a solid bond between Thomas and Finder, and a maturing for Thomas. When a fire starts in a coal car in the mines, it grows to disastrous proportions, and many men are killed or trapped. Thomas and Finder are inside the mine and help many of the men; some who live, some who die. The ending would make the protagonist of Korman’s No More Dead Dogs proud—Finder and Thomas emerge from the mines, injured but offered new positions on the mine safety team. THOUGHTS: This is the third book in a stand-alone series, Dog Chronicles. Titles include: Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I (2013) and Murphy, Gold Rush Dog (2014). This is a decent upper elementary and middle school series that includes the grit of life as well as the joy of dogs. A teacher’s guide is available from Titlewave.

Historical Fiction      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

The Survival Guide to Bullying – MS & HS


Mayrock, Aija. The Survival Guide to Bullying, Written by a Teen. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 153 p. 978-0-545-86066-6 Grades 5-12.

Mayrock, now nineteen years old, endured bullying during middle and high school. The reasons aren’t clear, just that she was chosen to be “it.” In fact, she was told by a classmate, “It’s not personal. It’s just you.” Out of the confusion and fear and pain, when she emerged, she realized she had to write a book. Her creativity flourishing (she wrote a sceenplay (about bullying) the day of the deadline and won the Santa Barbara International Film Festival), she decided to use words to help those still struggling with bullying. She opens each chapter with a “roem”, her own term for a rap poem. The guide offers short assessments for readers to define their bullying and “six stepping stones to the real you” including: embrace your creativity, believe what you really believe, and become the real you in school. She repeatedly tells readers to talk with parents and teachers, even offering verbal and written scripts for how to approach the matter. One chapter covers tactics for smartly maneuvering difficult school scenarios (hallways, lunchroom, locker room, classroom); another chapter takes on cyberbullying with several good insights, the best—and toughest—being “go dark,” that is, take a short or long-term break from social media. The book does lack insight on how one’s faith might prove helpful or how to build a legal case against bullies, but these are not Mayrock’s emphases. She simply wants to provide a book of hope to those in the “dark tunnel.” And at this, she succeeds. The book ends with a list of online resources.  THOUGHTS: The slim size of this volume and the inviting interior make this a non-threatening way for teens to combat bullying by changing their views of themselves. Combine with Words Wound: How to Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral (2015) for greater online insight, Hey, Back Off! Tips for Stopping Teen Harassment (2011), Paige Rawl’s Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World and Rosen’s I Have Been Cyberbullied, Now What? (2016). Recommended for grades 5-12. Discussion Guide is available via Titlewave entry.

302.34 Bullying      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

YA Series NF – Special Reports


Marsico, Katie.  Special Reports: ISIS.  Minneapolis: ABDO, 2016.  978-1-62403-901-0.  $29.00. 112p. Grades 7 and up.

Special Reports, a series from ABDO, takes on the high profile topic of ISIS.  In this series Special Reports: ISIS creates an easily accessible way for all students to understand the complex and often confusing topic of ISIS.  Nearly every page has a text box highlighting key definitions or quotes from experts on ISIS.  The larger print and vivid photographs are essential to drawing in students.   Each book in the series includes essential facts, a glossary, additional resources, source notes, and an index to aid readers in research on this serious topic. Thoughts: Special Reports series is great resource for refining research skills.  The text boxes, graphs and illustrations will help students synthesize relevant information for use in their research projects.  

956.054; Terrorism     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS



Higgins, Melissa and Michael Regan.  Special Reports: Cybersecurity.  Minneapolis: ABDO, 2016.  978-1-62403-899-0.  $29.00. 112p. Grades 7 and up.

Special Reports, a series from ABDO, takes on the increasingly serious topic of cybersecurity.  In this title, readers journey through time beginning with the history of the Internet to modern day hackers and hacktivists all the way to the future of cyberthreats and future solutions.  Many of the pages have a text boxes and graphics that are familiar to readers.  As with the rest of the titles in the Special Reports series, the larger print and vivid photographs are essential to drawing in students.   Each book in the series includes essential facts, a glossary, additional resources, source notes, and an index to aid readers in research on this serious topic. Thoughts: The Special Reports series is great resource for refining research skills.  The text boxes, graphs and illustrations will help students synthesize relevant information for use in their research projects.  

005.8 Cybersecurity       Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS

Series NF for Upper Elementary and MS – Super Simple Cookies; Top Ten Science


Kuskowski, Alex. Super Simple Cookies (series). Minneapolis: ABDO Publishing, 2016. 32 p. $18.95 ea. Gr. 3-6.

Super Simple Bar Cookies. 978-1-62403-946-1.

Super Simple Classic Cookies. 978-1-62403-947-8.

Super Simple Healthy Cookies. 978-1-62403-948-5.

Super Simple Holiday Cookies. 978-1-62403-949-2.

Super Simple No-Bake Cookies. 978-1-62403-950-8.

Super Simple Specialty Cookies. 978-1-62403-951-5.

This attractive series from ABDO gives recipes on various kinds of cookies. Each recipe includes ingredients, tools, and 3-8 steps with different levels of difficulty; both bake and no-bake choices are included. The directions are clear and concise. Some illustrations show how to accomplish different steps although not every step is illustrated. Each recipe includes a full-page close-up of finished cookies. Each book includes extensive extra material including a table of contents, information about cooking basics, how to measure and measurement conversions, illustrated cooking terms, and picture glossaries of kitchen utensils and ingredients. THOUGHTS: Kids will love these colorful books splashed with delicious-looking cookies and will be able to follow the steps to create their own.

641.86; Baking     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools



Chandler, Matt. Top Ten Science. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2016. 32 p. $20.49 Grades 4-8.

The Science of Baseball: The Top Ten Ways Science Affects the Game.  978-14914-82186.

The Science of Hockey: The Top Ten Ways Science Affects the Game. 978-14914-82216.

These two titles are from Top Ten Science, a set of four books produced in partnership with Sports Illustrated Kids. (The other two titles, not reviewed here, focus on football and basketball.) Both books begin with a one-page introduction, alerting readers to the intriguing scientific questions that the sport raises. Baseball asks and answers: what makes a curveball curve; and how does air affect a batter’s ability to hit a homerun? Hockey asks and answers: what makes a perfect slap shot; and how does ice quality affect the way the game is played? Both books stand out in the writing; each topic is given one-four pages rather than a quick one-page box plus obligatory sidebar photo. The writing seems to flow as one piece, not separate chapters, and the books wisely begin and end with some summary words. These are full-color, with excellent additions (Zamboni in Hockey, for instance) which prove interesting.  Each text also includes a glossary, index, “Read More” section, and useful internet sites for further exploration.  THOUGHTS: This is excellent for STEM connections, sports fans, and reluctant readers. It is easy to pick these up and read one or two chapters, but for any fan who has actually asked himself or herself these questions, the books will be hard not to read cover-to-cover.

796 Sports     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School