Women in Conservation…a new middle grades series


Women in Conservation (series). Chicago: Heinemann, 2015. 48 p. $32.65. Gr. 6 and up.

Doak, Robin S. Dian Fossey: Friend to Africa’s Gorillas. 978-1-4846-0468-7.

Doak, Robin S. Jane Goodall: Chimpanzee Protector. 978-1-4846-0469-4.

Fertig, Dennis. Sylvia Earle: Ocean Explorer. 978-1-4846-0470-0

Hile, Lori. Rachel Carson: Environmental Pioneer. 978-1-4846-0471-7.

This series offers appealing, colorful, up-to-date biographies of some of the key women in conservation. Rachel Carson, for example, covers the famous biologist’s childhood, education, and famous publications (most notably Silent Spring). Short chapters, frequent section headings, and lots of photographs and quote boxes make this series very accessible for researchers and browsers alike. “In Her Own Words” and “Did You Know?” sidebars, in addition to informative captions, provide context and interest to the pages. The last chapter on Carson’s legacy will help readers to see how relevant her work still is to today’s headlines. Rachel Carson would make a fun fiction/nonfiction pair with Skink: No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen!

508 Conservation; 92 Biography     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

Students at my school research Rachel Carson and Sylvia Earle, so I will definitely include these titles in my biography section. The other titles in the series would also be valuable purchases where Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall are assigned research topics.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing…a sequel to Three Times Lucky


Turnage, Sheila. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2014. 978-0-8037-3671-9. 352p. $16.99. Gr. 4-8.

Mo LoBeau and the Desperado Detective Agency are back in this hilarious sequel to Newbery Honor book (2013) Three Times Lucky (2012).  After Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy accidentally purchase the old Tupelo Inn, they find out that with the inn (in very small print) comes a ghost.  Now, it’s up to Mo and Dale to figure out who this ghost is and why he/she is haunting Miss Lana’s inn.  As the Desperados begin their investigation, new kid, Harm Crenshaw, starts lurking around.  As Mo and Dale try to figure out the usually-a-bully-but-once-in-a-while-nice-guy Harm and why he’s hanging about, they must also tackle their living history assignment in order to pass the sixth grade; an assignment that means interviewing the most vial citizen of Tupelo Landing, Red Baker.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is a fabulous sequel and middle-grades novel (it earned a starred review from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal).  Mo LoBeau is one of the most loveable characters; she’s everything many middle school girls want to me: confident, funny, intelligent, a dare-devil, in love, and loved (and beloved).  Mo is a great character role-model.  I also love Tupelo Landing.  It reminds me over my old home, a town of around 800 people, where everyone supports one another and often knows one another.  I hope to see Mo LoBeau again soon.  One final note…Turnage writes on page 85, “Stress focuses you right up until it sucks your brain dry.  Standardized testing taught me that.”  How true…how true 🙂

Realistic Fiction    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

New from R.J. Palacio…365 Days of Wonder and The Julian Chapter


Palacio, R. J. 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. ISBN 978-0-553-49904-9.  $14.99 Gr. 5 and up.

Mr. Browne and his precepts are back.  In a spin off of the book, Wonder, R.J. Palacio creates a companion novel to include 365 precepts compiled to live our lives with more kindness, compassion, and empathy.  In this novel, readers learn about Mr. Browne and the history and reason for his precepts.  Each month of the year has a precept per day.  In between the months, Mr. Browne includes insights including why precepts are used, students’ precepts and the questions stemming from them, and even anecdotes about his own family and how the precepts have affected or impacted them.  Characters emerge from the first book including Auggie Pullman, Julian Albans, Summer and Charlotte.  

Use alone or as a companion to Wonder, this book would be perfect to include in a class meeting setting, creative writing, or even a student group based on bullying. Educators can utilize the precepts as a thought a day asking students to expound on what the precept means to them.  In essay form or as an open ended response, students could relate the quote or excerpt to their own lives, employing a text to self connection. Not necessarily solely for education, this book could also serve parents who hope to invoke a sense of empathy in their own children, discussing the precepts and their meaning.

Realistic Fiction        Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School




Palacio, R.J. The Julian Chapter. Read by Michael Chamberlain. Brilliance Audio,  2014. CD. ISBN 978-1-4915-2409-1.  $14.99.  Grades 3 and up.

Everyone fell in love with Auggie Pullman and grew to dislike Julian Albans in the first book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  In The Julian Chapter, we hear Julian’s side of the story.  Complete with behind the scenes details from the first day Julian is brought in to be Auggie’s tour guide, through the decision for Julian to not return to Beecher Prep, this perspective is one we rarely see.  Raw and intrusive, the reader can see into the parenting and psychological background from Julian’s point of view.  Because readers could only guess what Julian was thinking in the first book, they can now discover what he was thinking to himself in each situation.

Julian’s actions and thoughts were molded by his parents’ upbringing.  Readers will get a rare glimpse into the raw interactions between parent and child.  Julian’s perspective, although outwardly a bully in Wonder becomes one readers can connect with and even sympathize with in this novel. Only three CDs, the book is a quick read (and the audio a quick listen).  Available only in Kindle audiobook and CD, this audiobook is a nice way to follow up the book Wonder and a way to discuss character education particularly the role of a bully.

Realistic Fiction       Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

The Winter Horses…new middle level fiction

Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 978-0-385-75544-3. $16.99. 278p. Gr. 6-8.
During the summer of 1941, Maxim Melnik cared for the animals on the Askaniya-Nova animal sanctuary located in the Ukraine, but the Przewalski horses fascinated him more than any other.  Warned of the sinister Nazi invasion and indisputable takeover of the reserve by the senior manager, Max held his ground assuming the Germans couldn’t be any worse than the Russians.  To his utter disbelief, they proved him wrong when their first order of business was to begin shooting the animals to feed their troops.  On the other side of the reserve, a young, orphaned Jewish girl meanders across the rugged steppe in search of food and shelter, trying to stay clear of any Nazis.  She stumbles upon two horses who see in her a comparable ally.  Max shortly discovers this unlikely trio and unconsciously vows to protect Kalinka and the last two Przewalski horses no matter the risk.  When Captain Grenzmann uncovers Kalinka’s hiding place, Max tries stalling to give Kalinka and the horses a head start.  Only the cunning intelligence of the Przewalski breed will outsmart the Nazis who are pursuing them across the Ukrainian wilderness.
The history of the Przewalski horses is extremely interesting.  They date back tens of thousands of years and are even pictured in the prehistoric paintings of Paleolithic men.  At the end of World War II, nine horses remained.  Protected and cared for, their number has grown to approximately 1500.  Kerr has added a fantastical element to her story and allows the reader to determine where the legend ends and history begins.
Historical Fiction       Christine Massey, JWP Middle School