Monday, November 30, 2009

The True Gift: A Christmas Story

Written by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Brian Floca
Most enjoyed by 3rd through 8th graders

Lily and Liam are on their way to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Christmas vacation. They're loaded down with books and a little money with which to buy gifts for each other and family in the small town. As they pass the farm field to turn into the driveway, they spot White Cow standing alone in the field. At one time, Grandma and Grandpa had other cows but they are gone now, sold to people who wanted them for their own herds. Liam is bothered by this. Is White Cow lonely, he asks. Grandpa responds that we can't know what cows think. But Liam is pretty sure White Cow is lonely, and no one should be lonely for Christmas, even a cow.

This is a beautiful story just right for reading and savoring as we kick off the holiday season. With Black Friday behind us, and Cyber Monday upon us, it's easy to get caught up in the gift-giving frenzy of the holidays. Yes, 'The True Gift' is about a gift being given, but this gift is given with the greatest of care and love. And isn't that what the best gifts are sweetened with? Be sure to put 'The True Gift' at the top of your holiday reading list. It's a short reminder of the joy a simple kindness can bring.

Reviewed from library copy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Written and illustrated by Ursula Vernon
Most enjoyed by 2nd through 4th graders

Babymouse, let me introduce you to Danny Dragonbreath. He's a little dragon who will be sharing some of your readership soon. Don't worry, kids will still love you and want to read you over and over. But I predict Danny will be finding a few new friends among our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade boys.

Danny Dragonbreath has been assigned to write a paper about the ocean. Waiting until the last minute, he throws together something that his teacher doesn't like. When he has to go back to the drawing board and write a real report, he finally does some research. He calls on his cousin, Edward the sea serpent, to take him and his friend Wendell on a fantastic ocean journey. Thanks to special breath mints, Danny and Wendell are able to breath under water for a few hours, long enough to get the information Danny needs to rewrite his paper. Much to his surprise, Danny finds that research is pretty fun, not to mention a little life-threatening once in a while.

On land, Danny has another problem in addition to his paper. The problem is in the form of Big Eddy, a Komodo dragon who likes to bully Danny. Danny's ocean journey gives him ideas not only for his paper but for dealing with Big Eddy perhaps once and for all.
Despite the fact that Danny is not a full-fledged fire breathing dragon, at least not yet, his book will have readers hooked right from the start. There's plenty of action, humor, and likeable characters to keep readers turning the pages. It also encourages kids to stand up to bullies. Despite his fear of Big Eddy, Danny learns there are ways to turn the tables on bullies and he does, with a little help from Wendell. This won't be the last we see of Danny Dragonbreath which makes me happy. His next adventure is called 'Attack of the Ninja Frogs' and I can't wait to read that one!

The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt

Written by Megan McDonald
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Most enjoyed by 1st through 4th graders

Judy Moody and Stink are back in a new adventure that finds them playing pirate. The Moody family is off to Ocrakoke Island for a little fun in the sun. Stink is thrilled because it means he and Judy can fulfill their inner pirate and shiver their timbers all they want. When they find from Pirate Scurvy Sam that there is a real treasure hunt, the two can't resist and join forces to solve the clues and gather pieces of eight. But they get some stiff competition from two other kids who seem hot on the trail of the treasure. Will Judy and Stink find the treasure first? Get ready for a winning ending that proves the treasure of friendship is the best treasure of all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Odd and the Frost Giants

Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Young Odd's father is a Viking who perished while on a raid. He didn't die gloriously in battle; he died trying to save one of the ponies the Vikings used in their raids. Odd never cries for his father, although he watches his mother's sad face every day. Shortly after his father's death, Odd takes his father's largest ax and tries to chop down the tallest tree he can find, but he's unable to get out of the way before the tree falls, crushing his leg. The leg never heals, leaving Odd to walk with a crutch. When his mother marries Fat Elfred, Odd gains both a stepfather and step siblings who think he lives up to his name. As winter lingers, Odd decides to leave home, heading for his father's hunting hut.

When a bright red fox appears at the hut's door, Odd follows it only to discover it leads him to a bear trapped between two trees. After freeing the bear, Odd waits for it to eat him, but much to his surprise, the bear takes him on his back and delivers him back to the but under the watchful eye of an eagle. Since the animals seem reluctant to leave him, Odd invites them into the hut and there discovers they are not who they appear to be. Instead, they are Norse gods who have been changed into animals by the Frost Giants. In order to be changed back into themselves, they must find a way to outsmart the Frost Giants and Odd seems the perfect boy up to the challenge.

'Odd and the Frost Giants' is a wonderful story that has the feel of a fairy tale. It would make an excellent read-aloud for 3rd or 4th graders and yet will be enjoyed by older readers, too. There is something endearing about Odd, a boy with a big heart willing to take risks out of sheer kindness. With the holidays approaching, it's the type of story one can read in an evening after a day spent with the crowds at the mall or after one too many sports practices. Savor the goodness of Odd.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guess Again!

Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Most enjoyed by readers of all ages

Be sure to take the time to read this book with your whole family when it comes home. This is one you don't want to miss.

Each two-page spread is made up of a simple rhyme on one page accompanied by a picture on the other page. Within the picture is a silhouette or object of something described in the rhyme. Think you know what it is? Just turn the page and find out that you need to guess again!

I would imagine that 'Guess Again!' would make a fun writing model for older students. They could write a rhyme describing something, then create a picture with that something in it. The true test would be to share the picture and rhyme with a classmate to see if they could guess what the picture it. This might even be a fun activity to do as a family when Thanksgiving dinner is done.

I'm so glad this book was at the book fair last week. Everyone who's heard it agrees it's a winner!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trips to the Library Expand Reading World

Yesterday, our 4th grade class took a walking field trip to the Marengo Union Public Library. The purpose of the trip was to get better acquainted with what the public library has to offer. While we have a great collection here at Zion, it doesn't have everything we might want to read or watch or listen to. By getting familiar with the public library, we'll never be at a loss for something to read.

Ms. Sondra Terry, Youth Services librarian, showed us examples of the fiction and non-fiction books as well as the movies and CD's to check out. We even got a behind-the-scenes tour of the back offices where book ordering and processing takes place. The most popular feature of the library was the monthly scavenger hunt in which we have to find different items around the library and answer related questions in order to win a prize. We found just enough of the hunt items to make us want to go back and finish it when we return for books!

The 4th graders were the last class to visit the library this fall. All of the 1st through 4th graders have made the trip over. It's been so much fun that we plan to do even more library visits with our 3rd grade classes in January. The public library is such a great resource for everyone that we're happy to take advantage of it!