Build a Better World/Construye un mundo mejor: Summer 2017 Intermediate

May 20th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | Summer - (Comments Off on Build a Better World/Construye un mundo mejor: Summer 2017 Intermediate)

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Nelson Micheaux. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Carolrhoda, 2009

Bass Reeves was big, tall, and strong, wore a bushy mustache, and rode a powerful horse. “But the biggest thing about Bass Reeves was his character. He had a dedication to duty few men could match. He didn’t have a speck of fear in him. And he was as honest as the day is long.” As a young enslaved man in the 1840s, Bass hit his owner. To avoid death, he ran away to Indian Territory, where he lived on the run until after the Civil War. Eventually Bass became a U.S. deputy marshal for the territory, where he gained a reputation for his sharpshooting and clever use of disguises. His capture rate was high, and he was both respected and hated by the people of the time. Criminals didn’t want Bass tracking them down, and “some whites didn’t like the notion of a black man with a badge.” Striking oil illustrations capture both the dignity of the man and the drama of his job. A glossary, timeline, list of further reading, and additional information about Indian Territory and the judge under whom Bass Reeves worked are included in the final pages. CCBC Categories: Biography and Autobiography  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris. Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Chronicle Books, 2012

Tua is at the market when she stumbles upon a young elephant being cruelly treated by the petty thieves who won the pachyderm in a poker game. Once the men fall asleep, smart, capable Tua frees the elephant and leads her through the bustling Thai city of Chiang Mai. They end up at the house of Tua’s Auntie Orchid, a flamboyant actress who barely bats an eye at the beast’s arrival, not even after the elephant, whom Tua names Pohn-Pohn, opens the refrigerator in search of food. But it’s clear Auntie Orchid’s house isn’t a good elephant refuge, especially when the two thieves show up at the door. A narrow but successful escape has Tua leading the elephant through the city and into the countryside, where she hopes to reach an elephant sanctuary, with the slightly bumbling, slightly menacing thieves hot on her trail. Great descriptive writing combines with lots of action in R. P. Harris’s fresh, whimsical tale full of humor and warmth, not the least of which is the tenderness between Tua and Pohn-Pohn. Beautiful book design—including two-color illustrations in purple and gold—add to the pleasure of this lively story that would make a great read-aloud.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre. Illustrated by Rafael Rosado. First Second, 2012

Bold Claudette wants to slay the legendary, baby-feet-eating giant that threatens her town. Sure, the Marquis built a fortress to protect them (at taxpayer expense, Claudette notes), but what kind of a solution is that? She convinces her best friend Marie, an aspiring princess, and her timid little brother Gaston, an aspiring chef, to join her on a quest to kill the giant. The Marquis rallies a group of men in town to form a search party to go after them, but the children prove far more adept in their quest to reach Giant’s Peak than the men prove in saving them. Once there, the children discover the story as they heard it isn’t quite true: It turns out the giant is just a baby who likes to tickle feet, not eat them. Rafael Rosaldo’s spirited, full-color graphic novel is full of humor and action, as well as doses of social satire and a welcome dismissal of traditional gender roles.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Buffalo Bird Girl:  A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson. Abrams, 2012

“My name is Buffalo Bird Woman, Waheenee, and my people are known as the Hidatsa. When I was young, they called me Buffalo Bird Girl—after the little brown bird that lives on the prairies of the Great Plains.” In a beautifully realized work, S.D. Nelson pairs a narrative written in the first-person voice of Buffalo Bird Woman looking back on her childhood with illustrations and documentary photographs—including one of Buffalo Bird Woman–showing dimensions of nineteenth-century Hidatsa life. The mix of illustrations and photographs works wonderfully. Nelson’s striking paintings reflect scenes described in the narrative, which are punctuated with occasional black-and-white photos showing these elements in real life. In an author’s note Nelson describes personal memories that echo some of the traditions described by Buffalo Bird Woman. He goes on to tell more about Buffalo Bird Woman, including the published works about her life on which she collaborated and from which he drew in writing his narrative. He also discusses the Hidatsa people, past and present. A time line, notes, and a bibliography are also provided. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

MAY (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | May - (Comments Off on MAY (2))

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi. HarperCollins, 2016

After Obayda’s family moves from Kabul to the village where her father grew up, the 10-year-old’s aunt suggests she become a bacha posh—a girl who passes as a boy—to give her family the advantage of a son. Obayda’s parents reluctantly agree. Obayda, now Obayd, likes being a girl, and doesn’t know how to move through the world with a boy’s swagger and certainty. Befriended by Rashid, an older bacha posh, Obayd soon is relishing the freedoms and privilege her older sisters do not enjoy, even in their progressive family. Obayd does things as a boy she never would have considered before, discovering a different kind of action and agency as she tries to help her father recover from injuries he suffered in a Kabul explosion. But there is nothing she can do to help Rashid(a) when her friend’s time as a bacha posh abruptly ends when she’s married off to the village war lord. A fascinating, swiftly paced, story firmly grounded in Obayd(a)’s perspective and experience makes clear gender has nothing to do with her physical or intellectual ability, only with how those abilities are perceived in a society where males are privileged. The book is not about gender identity (although Rashid references women she knows of who remained bacha posh or continued to pose as men their entire lives) but about how power is proscribed based on gender. These are big ideas, yet Obayda’s voice feels childlike and true. An author’s note provides additional information about bacha posh and context for the story. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why does Obayda/Obayd feel it iss so much better to be a boy? How do other family members feel?
  2. Why would/does the practice of bacha posh exist?
  3. How does the experience of being a bacha posh empower Obayda and how does she use these lessons to empower others?

MAY (1)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | May - (Comments Off on MAY (1))

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes. WordSong / Highlights, 2016

Garvey is often teased at school for his weight, while his father’s disapproval weighs heavily on him at home. “‘Why can’t Garvey be / like his sister?’ I heard Dad / ask when I was eight. Mom said, / ‘That’s the wrong question. / Ask Garvey what interests him.’” Unlike his sister, Garvey could not care less about sports. But he loves to read, especially science fiction. He also loves music, and often hums, or sings alone at home, but has never considered trying out for middle school Chorus. It’s his best—and only—friend Joe who encourages him to do so. In Chorus, Garvey finds acceptance, and a second friend, Manny. Garvey shines when he sings, and it’s no surprise that his mom and sister are proud of him. But Garvey discovers singing is a source of surprising pride for a dad who, he learns, once sang in a band. A quietly triumphant novel told through Japanese Tanka poems (explained in an author’s note) follows an African American boy gaining confidence and finding connection doing something he loves. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Do you think the poetry makes this story easier or more difficult to read? What do you think are the benefits of writing and reading a story-in-verse? How do you think the book would be different if it were not told in verse?
  2. How do Garvey and Joe (and Manny) keep their friendship strong?
  3. How do Garvey’s friends and family shape him, and how does Garvey shape them?


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | April - (Comments Off on APRIL (2))

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka. Roaring Brook Press, 2016

“I like to think of poems as word paintings. A poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head. In concrete poems, or shape poems, the words also paint pictures on the page.” A concise definition of concrete poetry introduces a collection of 21 elegantly simple, clever concrete poems. Even the poem’s single-word titles are playfully apt in their arrangement of individual letters, while the poems themselves offer further visual delight in describing the concept or object of the title. If the first 20 poems don’t also inspire young readers to try writing poems of their own, the final poem, “PoeTRY,” is a direct invitation, and appears on the page as an inverted pyramid: “poetry is about taking away the words you don’t need / poetry is taking way words you don’t need / poetry is words you need / poetry is words / try.” © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Which poem do you like the best? Why?
  2. How do you think the form of a poem impacts its message?
  3. Where else have you seen concrete poetry?


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | April - (Comments Off on APRIL (1))

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley. Illustrated by Jessie Hartland. Simon & Schuster, 2016

Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace was the daughter of a poet father (Lord Byron) and a mother (Lady Byron) who nurtured her curiosity in math, science and technology. Ada loved both the arts and sciences. When her friend Charles Babbage asked for Ada’s help in explaining what the “Analytical Engine” he designed could do if it were built, Ada “had the vision to see, better even than Babbage himself, how much more a computer could do besides just processing numbers.” Ada took on the task of explaining how the machine’s ability to function required mathematical operations be converted into digital format, or code, that it could understand. In other words, she pioneered programming. This engaging, whimsical look at Ada’s brief life (she died at 36) and her extraordinary accomplishment in writing what is considered the first computer program shows that both knowledge and imagination are necessary for advances in technology and science, and that Ada embodied both. An author’s note tells more about Ada’s Notes and their impact, and acknowledges some have challenged Ada’s authorship (an idea Stanley refutes). A timeline, selected bibliography and glossary are also included in a volume set against illustrations that are blithe but never make light of Ada or her work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do you think this story would have been different if Ada was a man?
  2. How do imagination and science work together in Ada’s life? Can you think of other examples of how imagination and science work together?
  3. Read the “Author’s Notes” and “Controversy”. Why have most people never heard of Ada Lovelace?



May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | March - (Comments Off on MARCH (2))

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2016

Giant squids lives so deep in the ocean that few have ever been seen. Scientists have had to piece together a complete picture based on just parts of the creatures that have been found, mostly inside sperm whales caught by fisherman. Candace Fleming’s haunting narrative captures the mystery and the majesty of this amazing animal, once thought to be a sea monster. The moody realistic illustrations create a strong sense of being deep undersea, and include a stunning double-fold-out page showing a giant squid reemerging from the shadows of the murky ink it has shot to protect itself from a barracuda. An author’s note provides more information, including fascinating tidbits such as the fact that there are more photographs of Mars than of giant squid. Honor Book, 2017 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the illustrator keep the squid mysterious?
  2. What did you learn about the giant squid? What do you still want to know?
  3. Look at the diagram at the end. List three adaptations of the giant squid.


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | March - (Comments Off on MARCH (1))

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. Little, Brown, 2016

A historical fantasy weaves retellings of traditional Chinese legends into the story of a girl and boy, Pinmei and Yishan, searching for the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. The new emperor kidnapped Pinmei’s grandmother, the Storyteller, and Pinmei wants to find the stone and offer it in exchange. On their journey they meet those who’ve already faced loss at the hands of the emperor, who is conscripting men and boys to build a vast Wall. At first hesitant to share the stories she’s grown up hearing from her grandmother, stories she knows like her own heart, shy Pinmei becomes a storyteller in her own right as they travel. Visually the legends are set apart with a distinct font, but there is satisfaction in the way they are also woven into the fabric of Pinmei and Yishan’s quest, even offering clues: Not everyone Pinmei and Yishan meet is who and what they seem. There is also delight in how this story connects to the two earlier books in the cycle, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, although it, like the others, stands on its own. Exquisite book- making, including full-color plates and color accents on chapter headings, add to the pleasure of this enticing volume. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What examples of foreshadowing can you find in the story?
  2. What makes storytelling so valuable?
  3. What folklore do you recognize in the novel?


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | February - (Comments Off on FEBRUARY (2))

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet. Afterword by Martha White. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Elwyn Brooks (E. B.) White, known to family and friends from early adulthood on as Andy, was shy and often anxious throughout his life. But with a pen in his hand, or a typewriter in front of him, he was entertaining and eloquent. Readers who know him as the author of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan will relish the stories here about those books. They will also love discovering White the young adventurer, White the amateur naturalist and avid outdoorsperson, White the urbane journalist, White the opinionated commentator and essayist and defender of democracy, White the humorist, White the family man, White the farmer, White the literary stylist and master of clarity, and much more. Author/illustrator Melissa Sweet brilliantly distills these qualities into an appealing, accessible portrait of White in a book that blends original watercolors, photographs, and collage with a clear (White would approve!) and engaging substantial narrative that integrates many quotes from White’s professional and personal writing. The gorgeous book design offers a sense of effortless interplay between the visual elements and text. A timeline, ample citations and source material, an author’s note and an afterword from writer Martha White about her grandfather and this book all add to a work that will bring delight to, and shows such respect for, young readers. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What makes the style of this biography unique?
  2. How do the illustrations and text work together or separately to tell the reader about E.B. White, his life, and his writing?
  3. What kind of child was E.B. White? What were some of his experiences, interests and/or fears?
  4. What do you notice about his writing and revision process (pages 87 to 91)? How did this influence his writing as an adult?


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | February - (Comments Off on FEBRUARY (1))

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington. WordSong / Highlights, 2016

Katheren, called Keet by her family—short for Parakeet, because she never stops talking—loves telling stories. But when her African American family moves from Alabama to the north and she’s teased at her new school for her southern accent, she stops talking in class. She makes a new friend in Allegra, who lives next door and who Keet nicknames Allie-gator, and continues to tell stories at home, but remains quiet at school. When her grandpa has a stroke and seems lost, Keet tells him a story every day, willing him to come back. She misses him, and she needs his support, faced with the terror of giving a “Dream Day” oral report. “My hands are grasshoppers / my heart is a kangaroo / my lungs are too small / my throat is a desert / my tongue … / where’s my tongue?” After seven weeks of silence the words come pouring out. “My voice is all the places I’ve been / and all the stories I’ve heard. / It’s Grandpa, Grandma, Mama, Daddy, / and Nose. It’s my uncles, aunties, / and my hundred-hundred cousins.” Lovely characterizations, language, and word play propel a story about family, friendship, and the power of story to hold and express a heart. A poetry glossary defines the different types of poems that comprise the novel. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. “Knowing someone’s story is one way to put an end to a lot of trouble in the world.” (pg. 152). What does that quote mean to you?
  2. Relationships are very important in this story. How do they help Keet find her voice again?
  3. Use the Poetry Glossary on pg. 219 to find out more about different types of poetry. What type of poetry would you use to tell your story?




May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (2))

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2016

From historical documents he acquired, Ashley Bryan gives breath and life to 11 enslaved individuals listed on the Fairchilds Estate Appraisement of 1828. The document identifies most of them by name, and as boy, girl, woman, or man, along with their “value.” The cold, brutal reality of a price attached to a human life is at the foundation of this work. But in imagining these individuals’ histories, daily lives, hopes, and dreams, Bryan defies that erasure of human- ness. For each person, he has created two poems and two paintings. The first poem/painting pair is a sober portrait, set against fragments of documents related to slavery, alongside a poem detailing elements of their lives and histories. The second poem/painting pair is a “dream” poem, and a vibrant, often joyful scene. In “Bacus dreams,” the blacksmith tells how every strike of his hammer against hot metal is an outlet for his anger, a blow for justice. In “Charlotte dreams,” she speaks of her artistry as a weaver, a means of self-discovery. In both these dream poems the speakers note the distance and difference between how their owners see them, and who they are. Across this extraordinary work, it is not only a sense of individual lives that emerge, but also of a community of individuals caring for one another. An author’s note includes a reproduction of the estate appraisal, which every word in this work defies. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Which person stands out to you the most? Why?
  2. Why does the author feel it was important to create stories and dreams for the people on a receipt?
  3. What do you notice about the illustrations on each page?


May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | January - (Comments Off on JANUARY (1))

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Viking, 2016

As a child in the 1960s, Andrea Davis Pinkney was affected profoundly by The Snowy Day. It was the first book she encountered featuring an African American child like her. Her ingenious poem is a celebration of both the character Peter and of his creator, Ezra Jack Keats. Keats started out life as a poor Jewish boy in Brooklyn who dreamed of being an artist. Peter of The Snowy Day makes several of what Pinkney describes as “peek-a-boo” appearances throughout this lyrical account of Keats’ life, “waving at the reader.” When Keats was working early in his career as a comic-book artist, for example: “The brown-sugar boy / in a blanket of white / began to ignite by what kids saw, / and didn’t see, / in the not-so-funny comics / Ezra was made to draw. / All the heroes in all the comics / were always as white as a winter sky.” This tour-de-force is illustrated brilliantly with acrylic, collage, and pencil artwork that gives a true sense of Keats’s own artwork. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How did Ezra’s responsibilities for his family affect his career?
  2. Why was/is Peter such an important character for so many children?
  3. Who and what supported Ezra’s dreams? Who supports your dreams?



May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | December - (Comments Off on DECEMBER (2))

A Boy Named Queen by Sara Cassidy. Groundwood, 2016

Most of the kids in Evelyn’s grade 5 class don’t know what to make of the new boy, with his long hair, pink shirt, bead necklaces, and name: Queen. Evelyn doesn’t either, but when he’s shooting baskets on his own at recess the first day, missing every time, she shows him how to make a bank shot. From that moment, they’re friends. Queen takes the other kids in stride, telling Evelyn that he imagines he has a turquoise force field that mean comments bounce off. Evelyn’s imagination, no less active, works differently. She wonders, for example, what her walk home from school would have looked like 100 years ago. When Evelyn enters the realm of Queen’s easygoing, artistic family—his mom and dad are laid-back musicians (the dog is named Patti Smith)—Queen and his parents share the story of how he started calling himself Queen when he was four, wearing a purple velvet cape everywhere (his mother confesses it was actually velour). It couldn’t be more different from Evelyn’s staid home, but the love is the same. A short, charming novel distinguished by fine writing that reveals characters and relationships with wonderful clarity and great delight. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What lessons do Evelyn and Queen learn about friendship?
  2. How are Queen’s and Evelyn’s families alike and different?
  3. How might this story be continued?
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