Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly

Written by Alan Madison
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd Graders

Velma is starting first grade and she wants to make her mark. Everyone remembers her two big sisters for all of the special things they did, like singing beautifully and running very fast. Velma tries to draw attention to herself but her choices get her into a little trouble. Velma is thrilled when Mr. Plexipuss begins a science unit on butterflies. Could learning about butterflies be the very thing to make Velma special? When the class takes a field trip to the Butterfly Conservatory, Velma is able to put her butterfly knowledge to work in a way everyone is sure to remember.

I love Velma's spunk. Here's a first grader who has such enthusiasm it could be contagious. She plunges into learning about butterflies with gusto. You almost get the feeling that she'd have the same excitement even if she were studying slugs. Author Alan Madison has perfectly captured that single-mindedness many youngsters have about their favorite subjects.

Add 'Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly' to a science unit on butterflies or as a family read-aloud before going to a butterfly conservatory. The various caterpillars and butterflies depicted on the book's end papers will give you lots of species to watch for. How many of them can be found here where we live?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Libba Bray Coming to Woodstock!

Young adult author Libba Bray will be visiting Read Between the Lynes bookstore in Woodstock this Sunday, September 27th at 2PM to celebrate the release of her newest book, Going Bovine. Libba is the author of the popular Gemma Doyle trilogy which began with A Great and Terrible Beauty. If you have a teen in your life that loves Libba's books, don't miss this chance to see her!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Magical Ms. Plum

Written by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Amy Portnoy
Most enjoyed by 1st through 4th graders

There is something special about Ms. Plum. Students who have had her in years past smile in a secret way when the topic of Ms. Plum comes up. This year is no different. In fact, Ms. Plum can't wait for the year to start because she knows that this year's class will be the best one ever.
As the first day of school begins, Ms. Plum asks for a volunteer to get her a pencil. Ignoring the hands that are already raised, Ms. Plum chooses Tashala to go into the supply closet for a pencil. But that's not all Tashala returns with. At her heels is a small pony. Tashala would love nothing more than to be a cowgirl and what does every cowgirl need but a horse. The other kids in the class are jealous but when Ms. Plum tells Tashala to put the horse in her desk, Tashala discovers the hard way that keeping a horse is a bit more work than she anticipated.

And then there is quiet Jovi, a student from Africa trying to improve his English. When Jovi is sent into the supply closet for a roll of tape, he returns with tape and a falcon. At first, the class thinks the falcon is pretty cool, but the more it dives at students and makes a nuisance of itself, the more the kids feel it's time for the falcon to go. Just as Brad is about to throw an eraser at the falcon, a voice is heard from the back of the classroom, loudly and clearly. Despite his limited English, Jovi comes up with a solution for handling the falcon that impresses his classmates, both with his thinking and his speaking.

Each child in the class gets to go into the closet on a supply errand for Ms. Plum, but who gets chosen and when is always unexpected. The mystery keeps the students and the reader guessing! As Ms. Plum demonstrates, every student is special and unique and her closet has just what they each need to help build their self-confidence. You'll find yourself wishing you could be in Ms. Plum's class. What animal would follow you out of Ms. Plum's closet?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Written by Sarah Weeks
Illustrated by Jane Manning
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 2nd Graders

Allergy season is around the corner, if yours haven't flared up yet. When little ones get tired of the sneezing and runny noses, check out 'Baa-Choo!' to read aloud together.

Sam the lamb has to sneeze. He can get the 'Baa' out and the 'aaahh' but he just can't get to 'choo!'. It seems to get stuck. His farmyard friends try to help out by tickling his nose with a feather and blowing pepper in his direction. And when Sam finally get his sneeze out? Well, pick up this book and read it out loud. You'll need to read it twice, then once more, and even one more time after that. Why? Because who doesn't love a read aloud with lots of pretend sneezes!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Candace Fleming is Coming to Woodstock!

This past spring, Zion was fortunate to host the incredibly talented author Candace Fleming. Candace talked about her scrapbook biography of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, titled appropriately enough, The Lincoln's (read my review of the book here). Our junior high students were in awe of the amount of work Candace puts into her books, especially as she showed us the number of rewrites she accumulates as she works to make the book perfect.

At that time, Candace shared the title of her forthcoming book about P.T. Barnum. The book has been released recently, and now she's coming to Woodstock to talk about it! This Saturday, September 19th, you can visit with Candace again when she comes to Read Between the Lynes bookstore on the Square in Woodstock to promote The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. Candace will discuss both this book and her Lincoln book at 3PM at the store. This is a great opportunity to hear Candace speak again about how she brings these historic figures to life in such incredible detail. You can be sure I'll be there. Will you join me?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Extra Credit

Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Mark Elliot
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th Graders

Afghanistan is in the news a lot, and not always favorably. With war reports on the radio and TV almost daily, I suppose, from a young person's perspective, that the country and it's people don't make the best impression. But within Afghanistan are children, and many of those children have the same dreams and desires as our American children do. This can be forgotten among those daily war reports. 'Extra Credit' will change that and give young readers a new way to think of the people of Afghanistan.

Abby Carson is on the verge of being held back from sixth grade. Oh, she's plenty smart, it's just that homework isn't important to her. Spending time in the woods behind her farm house and climbing the rock wall in the gym mean much more that math problems or science worksheets. But ignoring all that work puts Abby behind, leading her teachers to suggest she repeat 6th grade. As an extra-credit assignment to help move her forward, Abby offers to become a pen-pal with a girl in Afghanistan and to share the letters with her classmates.
On the other side of the world, Abby's request is discussed among the elders of a small village outside Kabul. The best writer in the village is a young boy named Sadeed, but it is improper for a boy to write letters to a girl. So the elders decide the have Sadeed's younger sister Amira write the letters with Sadeed's help. But as the first letters are exchanged, both Sadeed's and Abby's eyes are opened to the world beyond their small towns. Soon, the project that seemed to only be more work, takes on special meaning and an importance of it's own.

At the heart of this book is the story of two young people getting to know each other over thousands of miles and discovering that they share many of the same dreams. Despite cultural differences, they are able to forge a friendship that lasts for a short while but stays with both forever.

There will be lots to talk about and think about when you finish 'Extra Credit' - Afghanistan, it's culture and history, as well as our role in shaping it today and in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if the book also results in an increase in readers wanting pen pals of their own. And wouldn't that be a great way to learn about another part of the world?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Announcing: Team RC20

Are you ready for a challenge? A reading challenge? Good, because we've got one for you!

There are 20 titles on the 2010 Rebecca Caudill list. All of them are great books just begging to be read. Can you read all 20 before the end of April? Yep, that's your challenge. We already have two 6th graders who are making an attempt and both have over half of the books completed already. Last year, we had one student who accomplished this feat. Will we have more this year?
Here's how it works:
1. Sign up to join the team in the Zion library. It doesn't cost anything to join. You are simply agreeing to try your best to read all 20 titles. Think of it as signing a contract with yourself!
2. Start reading. You may read the books in any order, in any way that you wish (listening to the books on audio tape or CD counts). When you have finished a book, take the book's AR test. A score of 70% or better will mean you successfully finished the book. If you receive a score of less than 70%, see Mrs. Sutera. Successful completion of the AR test will be 'proof' that you read the book.
3. You may have started reading the 2010 Rebecca Caudill's last spring and might have even finished a few this summer. They all still count towards your goal of reading all 20. In order to qualify for our challenge this year, the deadline for reading all 20 will be April 30th, 2010. Please note that in order to vote for your favorite, you will need to have three read by February. But because we're getting a late start this year, we're making the deadline for this year's 2010 challenge to be the end of April.
4. Are you interested in trying but the idea of reading 20 books scares you? That's OK, try anyway. Why not set a beginning goal to read 5 of the titles. Then once you've finished 5, set another goal to read an additional 5. That will give you 10 titles read, which means you're half-way there. Now the 20 doesn't sound so bad, right? If you take the list in small chunks, you can do it!
Sound interested? Are you up to it? Sign up in the library today!

The Perfect Nest

Written by Catherine Friend
Illustrated by John Manders
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 3rd Grade

Cat loves omelets. He loves them so much, he decides to build the perfect nest in order to attract a chicken. Once he has a chicken, he knows he'll have an endless supply of eggs for omelets. But his nest doesn't just attract a chicken. Along come a goose and duck who also think the nest is perfect. Cat gets his eggs all right, but he gets a bit of a surprise along with them.

'The Perfect Nest' is just right as a read-aloud for younger readers. There's lots of opportunity to change voices between the characters. In fact, there's even a chance to use your best French accent when reading the duck's part! While you're reading the text, the illustrations will give your listener lots to look at. The character's facial expressions are a hoot. And the perfect nest Cat creates? Well, take at look at the one in the book then try creating your own. What would your perfect nest look like?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Highway Robbery

Written by Kate Thompson
Illustrated by Jonny Duddle and Robert Dress
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Our narrator is a young boy living on the streets of London at the turn of the 19th century. Hoping for a coin with which to buy something to eat, he is startled when a magnificent black horse comes charging down the street. As the rider dismounts, he asks the boy to hold the horse until he returns, offering a coin in exchange. The boy willingly agrees to the simple task and there begins the story. Throughout the day and into the evening, folks stop by to admire the horse, some even try to buy it. As the hours tick by, the boy wonders if the mysterious rider will ever return. Could the rider be Dick Turpin, the well-known thief who rides a black horse? When gentlemen come in the middle of the night to steal the horse, the boy must decide where his loyalty lies.

'Highway Robbery' would make an excellent read-aloud. We never find out the boy's name and it really doesn't matter. He's telling us his story as if he is speaking directly to us, the reader. This makes him an interesting character. Are we to believe what he's telling us or not? How reliable is he? His story has an interesting twist at the end that will have you puzzling those very questions. You may even find yourself reading the book over again to look for clues. But that's just fine, because 'Highway Robbery' is the kind of story that can be read over and over.