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Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas

Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas

Juana & Lucas

I had a blast reading Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas. Author and illustrator Juana Medina, like the main character in her book, is from Bogotá, Columbia. I know some bilingual teachers who would be uncomfortable with the code switching in this book; I love it. For me, inserting some Spanish words in places where the context or illustrations make the word meanings plain adds color and flavor to this chapter book written mainly in English.

Juana, her Mami, and her dog Lucas have an almost perfect life together. They have a routine and a support group of family and friends that keep them happy. Things start to change when Mami gets a new hairstyle and starts wearing more perfume. The new man in Mami’s life is Luis, an architect. Juana likes him but she doesn’t want things to change, and she doesn’t want Mami and Luis to get married. We learn about Juana’s dad who passed away and about the sadness of not having a father. We share in the characters’ preparations for the wedding and the move. All of this is portrayed sensitively, but also with humor. The illustrations fit the book well.

I learned about a favorite Columbian soup, ajiaco. It is creamy and made of several types of potatoes that cook to various consistencies. It has corn on the cob, capers, chicken, sour cream, and herbs, and is topped with a slice of avocado. The other unfamiliar food to me is chocolate con queso. This special treat consists of hot chocolate with chunks of cheese—chihuahua, queso fresco, or mozzarella. Evidently it is a delight of sweet and salty and is served with bread. I’m ready for a trip to Columbia!

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  Age Range: 5 – 8 years

Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3

Publication:  May 14, 2019—Candlewick

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The Eye of the North–children’s fantasy adventure

The Eye of the North

by Sinéad O’Hart

The Eye of the NorthThe Eye of the North is a fantasy adventure tale intended for children in grades three through seven. The interest level would be appropriate for that range and maybe a little higher, but the reading level is too high for most third graders as it contains some fairly advanced vocabulary. It would make a good read aloud with a parent. The chapters are short. Within each chapter, when the two main characters are apart, the story jumps from one character to the other in a well-defined fashion which keeps the plot moving and the reader involved in the action of both characters.

The main character is Emmeline Widget whose parents are immersed in secret scientific research which endangers both them and their daughter. The storyline follows Emmeline’s adventures through apparent abandonment, solo sea travel, kidnapping, attacks and rescues by extraordinary creatures, and near death experiences. Along the way she meets Thing, a most unusual and self-sufficient boy. She saves his life and he repays her by following her north to lands of snow and ice to rescue her.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7

Publication: August 22, 2017— Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Memorable Lines:

Even worse, a roaring river ran right at the end of their property, sweeping past with all the haughtiness of a diamond-encrusted duchess.

…her gaze was caught by a dusty head emerging from a grating in the wall. This head—the color of whose hair was impossible to determine—was swiftly followed by a grubby body dressed in overalls. The fingernails of this creature were clotted with dirt and oil, and his—its?—face was smeared with grease. As Emmeline watched, he slithered out of the hole he’d been hiding in, until all of him—and there wasn’t much—was standing in front of Emmeline with a hand held out in greeting.
“Mornin’,” he said “M’names’s Thing. Who’re you?”

The wind was rummaging through his clothing like a pickpocket looking for a payday.

Lemons–in search of Bigfoot and love

Lemons

by Melissa Savage

LemonsLemons is a delightful chapter book intended  for children ages 8-12. As an adult, I loved it, and I will purchase it for my grandchildren.

Lemons features Lemonade Liberty Witt, a young girl whose mother has passed away. Suddenly “Lem’s” whole life is turned upside down. She meets her grandfather, Charlie, for the first time when she moves in with him. Her first friend in her new town is Tobin who founded and is president of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc.

I laughed and cried as Lem and Tobin along with Charlie and Tobin’s mother, Debbie, live out the pain of losing their respective loved ones, at different times and in different ways. They help each other in their struggles and work to make lemonade out of lemons. The relationship of Lem and Tobin and their search for Bigfoot is both humorous and touching.

I recommend Lemons for independent reading or as a story to share in the classroom or with a parent. It explores issues of grief and the aftermath of expressions of grief for both adults and children. This book shows bullying from the perspective of a child who is socially awkward and what a friend can do to help. The tale abounds with humor as the dynamic duo spend the summer getting to know each other as they search for evidence of Bigfoot.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Crown Books) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction (Middle Grades)

Notes: provides many opportunities for discussions about feelings and how we express them

Publication:   May 2, 2017—Random House (Crown Books)

Memorable Lines:

The wrinkles are so deep and twisty, each one is like a road map to all the different stories of her life.

[Lemon, thinking about her mother:] It’s an important name. The most important name in the whole universe. I say it out loud every day so the universe remembers how important it is, and that it still matters to someone. And also so it doesn’t disappear. Like she did.

“So we let all our sad and mad feelings take over, and instead of loving and supporting each other, we hurt each other with our words.”

The most important thing to remember is to have gratitude for those we love and those who love us. Even if it’s not for the amount of time we had expected or wished for. If you don’t, you can be washed away by the sadness.

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport–introduction to the Holocaust for younger students

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport

by Emma Carlson Berne

escaping-the-nazisMany books have been written for middle school students about the Jews in Nazi Germany. In Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport, Emma Carlson Berne shares a piece of their story with children aged 8-12.  As a teacher I could certainly see this book also being used as a resource for older students who are reading below grade level as it has an interest level appropriate to them as well.

The physical book is designed with the look and feel of an aging family picture album.  There are seven chapters that focus on individual children who were part of the 10,000 children rescued from Nazi controlled areas and relocated to the United Kingdom prior to the beginning of World War II.  Their story is told in the third person but from the child’s perspective.

The first chapter begins with a poem “The Leather Suitcase” written by Tom Berman who was saved as a 5 year old child by a Kindertransport.  Some background is given as it describes what it must have been like for such a young boy to be separated from his parents for a long trip to an unfamiliar country with a different language, not knowing if he would ever see them again. This chapter captures the reader’s interest immediately.

The next chapter, “From Kristallnacht to Kindertransport,”  gives more historical details about the increasing persecution of the Jews and their limited options for survival.  Then the book returns to the stories of individual children, ending with a chapter that briefly recounts what happened to each child after the Kindertransport.  It might be specifics of their time living with another family, further emigration, or an ultimate career, depending on their circumstances and the source documents available.  There is also general statistical information about the 10,000 children of the Kindertransport.

There are study resources at the end of the book.  The “Timeline” integrates important historical dates of the war with major events related to the Kindertransport and the seven children whose rescues are detailed in the book.  The “Glossary,” of course, defines unfamiliar terms such as “haftarah” and “pogrom” which are used in the book.  Next is a page which explains The Kindertransport Association (KTA), whose president was a consultant for the book.  The KTA is comprised of the rescued Kinders, as they call themselves, and their descendants. “Read More” lists three more books on the topic for young readers. There is a page of discussion questions to evoke higher level thinking and several pages devoted to bibliography, source notes, and an index.

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is a valuable teaching resource, drawing from original sources. The length of the chapters is appropriate for this age level as well as for typical time periods in the school day. It could be used for independent reading or group study, but because of the difficult nature of the subject matter and the age of the intended reader, I definitely suggest adult support. The author handles the ugly reality of Nazi Germany with restraint without hiding the brutal truths of beatings, interments, and death.  Being drawn into their stories will be troubling for some youngsters, especially those for whom this is their introduction to Holocaust studies.

I highly recommend Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport as an integrative teaching tool combining reading with social studies, especially history and geography. It abounds with possibilities for discussions to stretch young thinkers to make make new connections and offers opportunities for deep enrichment of vocabulary. Even as an adult, I found the book well written, interesting, and a source of new learning.

This book is scheduled for publication on February 1, 2017.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Capstone Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Perfect Chapter Book for Beginning Readers

pedroAs a teacher of early learners, K-2 in particular, I was always on the lookout for useful books for the classroom.  I have found one that is great for students to read at home and at school.  I am not a fan of the “guided reading” programs currently pushed in many school districts.  A large number of the book selections are frankly boring. Reading should be fun!  Pedro, First Grade Hero is a book young readers will enjoy.  Its anticipated release date by Capstone Press is September 1, 2016, and I highly recommend it!  I personally would use it in reading groups and then send it home for kids to enjoy there as well.

 

 

Pedro, First Grade Hero

by Fran Manuskin

Pedro, First Grade Hero, is a delightful “chapter book” for early readers. Children usually want to read chapter books like their teacher models for them.  Unfortunately most chapter books are just too difficult for them to read independently. Pedro, First Grade Hero, however, comes to the rescue for the beginning reader.  It is actually a collection of four stories, all about Pedro.  The readability level, length of the stories, and interest level is perfect for first graders as is the focus of each story.

Pedro is a very likable little boy.  In the first story, “Pedro Goes Buggy,” Pedro has to find a bug to write about in school. Discussions about the best bug ensue in the classroom and at home.  Even his little brother Paco gets involved in the fun.  The story has a nice resolution and ends on a humorous note.  For the teacher who likes to integrate learning strands, language arts, math and science provide easy tie-ins.

“Pedro’s Big Goal” draws in boys and girls who love soccer.  This chapter has “bigger is not always better” as well as “keep trying” as its themes.  Children will enjoy the ending and teachers can help them appreciate the play on words.

Most people love a good mystery as do Pedro and his friends who form a mystery club in the third story, trying to find a missing locket and cell phone.  Good vocabulary words include sparkle, locket, and chirping.

The final story, “Pedro for President,”  teaches Pedro and his friend Katie Woo what is involved in being class president.  As they ponder what they have to offer the class, little brother Paco “helps” with the election poster and Pedro creatively turns that effort into a positive.  Pedro, who always encourages his classmates and promotes fairness in the election, is the obvious favorite for president.

The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are colorful, appealing, and depict well the characters’ emotions and reactions.  Teachers interested in promoting multi-cultural cohesiveness in their classrooms will appreciate the inclusion of children of various backgrounds.  At the end of this book are four pages of jokes in the riddle format that will delight first graders.

I would like to thank netgalley.com and the publisher, Capstone Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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