Archive for July, 2012

Eva of the Farm by Dia Calhoun

Eva of the Farm. By Dia Calhoun. Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2012. 256 pages. $16.99

Eva is a poet. She doesn’t just dabble in rhymes, but uses them to tell her story and to try and save her family’s farm. Set in rural Washington State, Acadia Orchard, the family farm has been hit by hard times. The family’s economic status is already precarious when Eva’s baby brother becomes ill and needs hospitalization. A counterpoint to the family’s woes is Eva’s immersion in a world of fantasy where mystical events and people serve as creative muses for Eva’s art. A beautifully written, intricately woven story that may prove a challenging read for its target market. A natural for fans of Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. Older students will appreciate the poetic subtleties. Suitable for 5th to 8th grade.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie by J. Patrick Lewis

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems. By J. Patrick Lewis. Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012. 40 pages. $16.99

Ten years after J. Partick Lewis dabbled with poetry and math in Arithmetickle, he’s back at it again in Edgar Allen Poe’s Pie. Inspired by works of famous poets such as Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, Children’s Poet Laureate Lewis, will have readers reaching for their pencil as they work to decipher the “poetry problems.” If stumped, answers appear on the lower corner of each two-page spread. A clever combination of poems and math, this book is sure to please both the word lovers and number crunchers in the crowd. Be sure to hand a copy to both math and language arts teachers to enhance and enrich their students’ experiences. Back matter includes short biographies of parodied poets. Suitable for grades 4-6.

On the Day I Died by Candace Fleming

On the Day I Died. By Candace Fleming. Random House Children’s Books, 2012. 208 pages. $16.99

“WHITE CEMETERY. That was what the words on the metal archway read…Taking a steadying breath, Mike stepped through the gates onto consecrated ground.” Mike, after a close brush with death, finds himself in a cemetery for teens that have met untimely ends. One by one, nine ghosts tell their stories, trusting that Mike will understand since he had almost entered their realm. The short stories are strong enough to be sustained individually, and together, resonate as a collective whole. Candace Fleming is a master storyteller regardless of the format and in these stories draws upon her Chicago roots. The author’s note, giving specific locations and historical references for the stories, is not to be missed. The utter eeriness of these tales will thrill and chill those readers who have outgrown Mary Downing Hahn’s ghost stories. Suitable for 5th to 8th grade.

Homer by Elisha Cooper

Homer. By Elisha Cooper. Greenwillow Books, 2012. 32 pages. $16.99

Every once in a while, you find a picture book that is so lovely you just have to share it with everyone you know. Homer, by Elisha Cooper, is one such book. It is simply, the story of a dog, Homer, and a family. The dog is older. The family is active. The dog is invited to participate, but politely declines, preferring to observe his family from the comfort of the beach house porch. Family members relate the day’s activities to Homer.  He is happy. Contentment resonates through the simplicity of the watercolor and pencil illustrations. Minimal text carries maximum impact as Homer shares thoughts with his family, “No, I have everything I want … I have you.” Anyone who has ever owned an older dog will appreciate Homer’s grace. This is a perfect book to curl up and read, especially if there’s a dog nearby. Suitable for ages 3 – 7, but perfect for everyone.


88 Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress has published a list of 88 books, all by American authors, that have shaped America. The earliest book on the list was published in 1751 and the latest in 2002. Only Benjamin Franklin was worthy of a repeat with three of his books on the list. Having read many of the books, I can see where this could lead to many discussions among friends and colleagues.

For more information on the list, including a video describing some of the selected books visit the Library of Congress website at: or download the video directly:

Have a comment about this list? Think the selectors missed a title of two? Give your input at:

Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire by John Madormo

Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire: The Homemade Stuffing Caper. By John Madormo. Philomel Books, 2012. 256 pages. $15.99

Sam Spade, step aside, there a new hard-boiled private investigator in town! Birds are missing. No, not the backyard variety, but exotic birds. Eugene and Grandma, both former World War II spies, assist Charlie and his sidekick, Henry as they find clues, follow leads, and get themselves into and out of dangerous situations. Does justice prevail in the end? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Author John Madormo finds just the right balance of tough guy talk and nervous second-guessing. While the plot drags as the characters get their identities established, once Charlie is on the scent of the trail, the story moves at a fast clip. Although references to the fictional Sam Solomon may leave readers puzzled, in general, the story will be easier for middle grade readers to understand than Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series.  Suitable for 4th to 6th grades.

Temple Gradin by Sy Montgomery

Temple Gradin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraces Autism and Changed the World. By Sy Montgomery. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 160 pages. $16.99

Temple Gradin is an amazing 21st century woman and is worthy of a biography on several counts. Dr. Gradin is a world-renowned scientist in the area of humane treatment of animals. A PhD in Animal Science, she is a professor at Colorado State University.  Temple Gradin also is autistic. Sy Montgomery, in her book, focuses as much on Dr. Gradin’s autism story as she does on her groundbreaking research in the livestock industry.  The value of this book lies in it being more than a fascinating biography of a woman scientist. It also makes a valuable contribution as account of a person who lives, and indeed, thrives, with autism. With a forward by Temple Grandin, family photographs, facts on farming and autism, bibliography, resources, and index, this book is easily accessible for a wide-range of readers. Temple’s “Advice for Kids on the Spectrum” is enlightening for all readers. Suitable for 4th grade and up.

Summer Reading

Summer reading is always a point of contention. Should it be assigned? What should be assigned? How much should be assigned? Is it enough to merely read the book or should a paper be required as “proof” that reading occured? The questions go on and on. I found this article by Claire Hollander to raise some interesting points. In particular, she stresses that the reading should be “intentional.” By this she means that the outcome for the reading should be clear at the outset. If the outcome is to read for reading’s sake, have at it. If the outcome is to read off a prescribed list for fall discussions, state that. If a paper or reflection is required, make sure students (and parents!) know that up front. More headaches are caused by the last minute cramming of Catcher in the Rye the evening before school starts than one can imagine. Hollander also makes mention of the value of non-fiction reading. She argues that these books expand a student’s world view as well as expand vocabulary. I couldn’t agree more and with so much non-fiction for teens (and adults) being written in such approachable and manageable formats it makes it all the more interesting. Check out Hollander’s article at:

RSS Feed


Twitter Updates

%d bloggers like this: