Archive for December 30, 2013

Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)

Written by Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

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Who knew that Albert Einstein’s brain was carried around in a jar for forty-three years? Or that the system of medicine developed by one man, Iban Sina, was used for six hundred years? Or that Ivan Pavlov had to support his important scientific discoveries by selling 15,000 jars of gastric juice from dogs (claiming it would help ill people eat)? Sixth grade readers of Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) will discover these intriguing facts and will be hooked by the science and history they learn along the way.

In Lives of the Scientists, Kathleen Krull presents eighteen scientists in chronological order. The scientists range from the well-known Charles Darwin and Galileo to the lesser-known Zhang Heng (who developed the world’s first seismometer) and Grace Murray Hopper (who wrote the first computer operations manual). Fun facts are incorporated into the historical presentations as well as in bulleted “extra credits” at the end of most chapters. Almost every spread includes a full-page illustration or spot art by Kathryn Hewitt. The art presents the scientists in caricature and highlights a key aspect of their work. The lighthearted illustrations brings the book to life.

Krull uses accessible, conversational language which will help young readers connect to these iconic men and women. She includes details of the scientists’ personal opinions such as the fact that Einstein couldn’t stand to wear socks because he didn’t like it when his toe poked out of a hole or that Marie Curie disapproved of high heels, feeling that women were never meant to walk on stilts. Details such as these personify the scientists, helping the reader relate to them.

Teachers hoping to cover the nature of science and scientific and engineering practices might add this to their reading lists as the Lives of Scientists interests students in the scientists themselves and showcases the dedication and determination required to make major discoveries.

  • Lives of ScientistsTITLE: Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)
  • AUTHOR: Kathleen Krull
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Kathryn Hewitt
  • PUBLISHER: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-15-205909-5
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, Science, History
  • LEXILE: 1040


Written by Bryan Davis

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In the last, twisting, turning, tense installment of the four-part series, Davis succeeds in keeping each character’s story tense until the end. We jump into this book in the middle of the war on the planet Starlight. Dragons fight humans, slaves are yet to be set free and many people are dying of disease. Starlighter Cassabrie holds a secret that may help, but her plan is risky. Moving to peace means not only finding a resolution with the dragons, but discovering a cure for the disease, and changing the attitudes of both slave holders and slaves. With the epic’s cast numbering in the tens, keeping up with all their perils is a bit of work, but worth it in the end. Jason, Elyssa, Koren, etc. all of them have their own personal troubles. These individual issues allow us to see their war as something that affects these people personally. And we know that the outcome of the war, good or evil, will not just be affecting a wash of humanity, but our “friends.”

As with most books from this publisher, the religious overtones are strong, though no particular religion is mentioned. Instead, as all technology and magic fall away, the war will be won or lost because of the young characters’ abilities to live up to high standards of truth, love, faith, courage and mercy. Sixth grade readers and above will enjoy this book, especially if they have read the earlier installments. However, some of the references to Christianity may be beyond their comprehension.

  • LiberatorTitle: Liberator
  • Author: Bryan Davis
  • Publisher: Zondervan, 2012
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Format: Paperback, 432 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-71839-0
  • Genre: FICTION/ religious/Christian/fantasy

Carrying Mason

Written by Joyce Magnin

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Young people enjoy reading about people their own age facing and conquering difficulties.  Carrying Mason will be of interest to those at the sixth grade reading level. This story requires good comprehension at the sixth grade level, but is not a strenuous read for that age.

Luna is thirteen years old and lives with her parents, three sisters, and a brother in a small town. It’s a full house, but, for the most part, a happy one. Until, that is, Luna’s best friend Mason dies when hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Luna and Mason had a very special bond. It affects the whole town, but Luna more than anyone. Anyone except Mason’s mother, Ruby Day. Mason had taken such good care of his mother. She is somewhat developmentally delayed and, while some are cruel to her, many in the town look out for her. But she needs more than that. When Luna visits Ruby Day, she finds mildewed clothes in the washer and dirty dishes in the sink and realizes Ruby Day hasn’t bathed in too long. Luna decides it is up to her to take care of Ruby Day. She convinces her parents to let her move in with Ruby Day and promises she will keep up with her school work and will go to college when the time comes. She does remarkably well in her new role, but is faced with her greatest challenge when a relative shows up and insists she should take Ruby Day away. Luna is in for the fight of her life.


Young people will cheer for Luna and appreciate the difficulty of her situation. Most will imagine what it is like to take on such responsibility and will be interested in the idea of living away from their family. They will learn the kind of strength of character it takes for such a task and will also learn they have that kind of strength within themselves. There are a lot of discussion starters in this book. It is more of a girl’s book than a boy’s book, but many boys will probably like this one. The author’s page can be found at

  • Carying MasonTitle: Carrying Mason
  • Author: Joyce Magnin
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz, 2012
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-72682-1
  • Genre: Fiction, Coming of Age
  • Lexile Score: 810

Booboo Stewart: Twilight’s Breakout Idol

Written by Marcia Amidon Lusted

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Middle school students will be interested in movie stars and most of them have an opinion of the movie and books centered on Twilight, the movie Booboo Stewart is best known for. Booboo Stewart: Twilight’s Breakout Idol is a good start for sixth grade level readers and a great introduction to nonfiction biographies.

Teachers will appreciate the Action movie star series because it represents more than the hype of Hollywood.  Sixth grade student readers will enjoy a complete picture of how Booboo Stewart started in his movie career. The book is broken into short chapters covering topics like how he started his singing career, how he made it initially in Hollywood, and how the part in the movie Twilight came to be.

The author gets to the heart of what interests Booboo Stewart and his goals for the future. This is a perfect introduction to sixth grade lessons on career planning, personal talent goals, and helping the sixth grade student begin making a plan for success. Although most sixth grade students may not aspire to reach for Hollywood, this biography gives students a stepping stone to discussing what it is in life that they would like to do.

The book is realistic and offers sixth grade level reading students encouragement to include charity, goal setting, and positive standards into their own life plan. The book is a challenging for the sixth grade level student and offers reading and comprehension at this level which will also encourage reading for pleasure making reading fun.

  • Booboo StewartTitle: Booboo Stewart: Twilight’s Breakout Idol
  • Author: Marcia Amidon Lusted
  • Publisher: Lerner Publication Company, 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0746-6
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Middle grade, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Lexile: 990

The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers

Written by L.L. Samson

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A mysterious fire threatens a boarding school.  Heroic young people rescue the gruff and intimidating headmistress.  There is a secret passageway.  All this is in chapter one of an adventure story that combines classic literature with a modern mystery.  Linus and Ophelia are teen-agers who have been left with their elderly aunt and uncle who own a bookstore while their scientist parents are on a tropical island carrying out their research.  It is a miserably hot summer, the stuffy and academic narrator tells us.  Bartholomew Inkster cannot tell this story without injecting bits of literary devices, Linus and Ophelia’s history along with background on the literary works they explore.  Linus has discovered writings from an ancestor who tells how to bring literary characters to life.  In this episode, they bring D’Artagnan and the evil Lady DeWinter to life while trying to solve a real life mystery of who wants to destroy their best friend Walter’s school.  But D’Artagnan and Milady are more of a headache than a solution.  And Bartholomew keeps putting in his two cents.

Written with humor and a respect for the classics, Bartholomew manages to entertain and provide descriptions of literary devices.  The story could be a way to develop a guide for writing.  Because the voice is so strong – think a snarky Lemony Snicket – and the characters are so eccentric, this would make a good class read aloud for sixth graders.  Even better let them read it to a book buddy as a literacy activity.  The students could make several lists, any one of them would be a good reading worksheet: the literary devices, story details from The Three Musketeers, even the instructions on how to make literary characters come to life.  There is a great book trailer for the first book in the series on the author’s website:  With the commercially-made book trailer as a model, students could make their own trailer for this installment.  There is a lot of action, and the story problem is maintained throughout.  Not everything seems logical, and the real life villain escapes.  We never do meet the three Musketeers as promised on the cover.  Still the adventure is a lot of fun.

  • MusketeersTITLE: The Enchanted Attic: Dueling with the Three Musketeers
  • AUTHOR: L. L. Samson
  • PUBLISHER: Zonderkidz, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 166 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-72799-6
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • LEXILE: 1130, Reading level 6.2


Written by Monica S. Baker

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Freestyle may appeal to readers on the sixth grade reading level who enjoy historical fiction, especially the topic of slavery. This novel presents the story of thirteen-year-old Mitch, a modern-day kid who is fascinated by obituaries, and his fantastical dreams which occur in the 1800s.

During his nights, Mitch comes face-to-face with the Pirate Patty Cannon, a notorious kidnapper and murderer. The action is sustained as he works to evade her cunning games, escape her henchman and release a tortured slave boy. Meanwhile, Mitch’s days are filled with plenty of challenges, including concerns for his father who is a combat soldier, being shackled to a swim team named “Ladybugs” and a bratty little sister. Mitch discovers that he can solve his problems through historical research and prayer.

The chapters alternate irregularly between the modern world and the historical setting of Mitch’s dreams. In an attempt to ground the reader in the setting, background graphics are included on each chapter header page; some readers may find these repetitive graphics distracting. Because Freestyle includes a significant amount of dialog, it could be used as a read aloud or for development of a reader’s theater.

Although the sentence length and majority of the vocabulary in Freestyle could be read by younger students, parents should be aware that the conclusion includes the word “bastard” and makes reference to a sexual relationship between a slave and her owner. As a result of the violent nature of some scenes and the content, this book would fit best on a sixth grade or higher reading list.

  • FreestyleTitle: Freestyle
  • Author: Monica S. Baker
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, 2010
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Format: Paperback: 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-3538-9
  • Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy
  • Lexile Score: 560

Cybercrime: Data Trails Do Tell Tales

Written by Sara L. Latta

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Cybercrime is a hot topic these days. Recent attacks on several huge corporations, apparently by China’s military, have raised people’s awareness of the dangers involved and the extreme security measures being taken to secure information. Huge companies, government agencies, and individuals alike have been dealing with digital security for as long as computers have been in existence, but the problem has intensified with the introduction of networks and the Internet. This title explains the many ways that computers play a role in both causing and solving crimes.

Naturally, computer geeks will be interested in this title, but many sixth grade readers and older will find it a fascinating read. Real crimes and their consequences are included, along with some of the details on how each case was cracked. Each chapter is filled with true tales of the forensic work that caught the double agents and computer users who crossed the line from ‘white hats ’to black hats’. Many of the stories will sound familiar and others will serve as cautionary tales of what happens to people who make poor computing choices. ‘Zombies’, ‘bots’, ‘phishing’, ‘pirating’, ‘spam’, ‘worms’, ‘phreaks’ are some of the many terms that readers will be introduced to as they build comprehension skills. The last chapter explains the skills, experience and credentials required to join the fight against cybercrime.

The edgy design includes plenty of color photos. Extra information is included in contrasting spreads on topics like avoiding e-mail scams, copyright and file-sharing.

The author’s website:

Here you’ll find an interview in which the author shares how she writes her science books. It includes a picture of her office:

  • CybercrimeTitle: Cybercrime: Data Trails Do Tell Tales
  • Author: Sara L. Latta
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, 2013
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Paperback: 104 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-361-4
  • Genre:  Nonfiction, Technology
  • Lexile Score: 1120

Good Sports: From Hardships to Championships

Written by Glenn Stout

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Finding engaging books at the sixth grade reading level is always a challenge. Finding nonfiction for that reading list that is both informative and exciting is particularly difficult. Good Sports: From Hardships to Championships engages readers at sixth grade level and up, an it will inspire them while meeting the greater curricular emphasis on nonfiction. The author did a superb job both of choosing his subjects and on the extensive research for this book.

Most youngsters love baseball and admire the stars of the game, so the five profiled players – Babe Ruth, Jimmy Piersall, Ron LeFlore, Joe Torre, and Torii Hunter – all with great records and fascinating stories – are terrific choices for this book. Each of the players overcame great obstacles to succeed in this highly-competitive sport. The players faced quite diverse problems, but the obstacles are things most young readers can relate to, such as the pressure to join a gang or being abused by an alcoholic parent, or fighting off the peer pressure to be involved with drugs. Perhaps the best thing in the book is the very authentic portrayal of mental illness that shows it as a true illness that can be overcome with proper treatment and diligence.

Sources for further reading are listed in the back as well as a complete listing of all their very impressive career statistics.

Glenn Stout has several other books in the Good Sports series including Good Sports: Against All Odds, Good Sports: Soldier Athletes, and Good Sports: Yes, She Can! While the publisher does offer some educator resources at, none is specific to this book. The author’s page at seems to be unavailable at this time.


  • Good SportsTitle: Good Sports: From Hardships to Championships
  • Author: Glenn Stout
  • Publisher: Sandpiper Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-88735-7
  • Genre: Sports
  • Lexile Score: 1040

Aldo’s Fantastical Movie Palace

Written by Jonathan Friesen

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Chloe is in her first year of secondary school and hates school with a passion. It’s not so much that she hates school, as that she hates the other kids. Chloe had been in an accident, which left her neck and face scarred, and that made her a target for bullying. The family’s Movie Palace had been a safe place to hide all summer, but now school was starting up again and so would the bullying. Chloe was hoping that because she was now starting secondary school, with new kids from all over the school district who wouldn’t know the dreaded name the kids called her, that this would be a better year. Then she spotted a new kid at school, a blind kid, complete with a seeing-eye dog, and she had real hope that he would replace her as the target. That hope didn’t last long.


Creativity ran in Chloe’s family. There was her inventor father, who Chloe hated, because the accident had been his fault. And grandpa, who painted just about anything he came in contact with, including windows and walls. Then there had been Aldo, Chloe’s great-grandpa, who built the Fantastical Movie Palace. Chloe and her mom struggled to keep the Movie Palace up and running, but it was out in the middle of nowhere, and was costing more to run than it made.

Nick was an angry young man, who took his blindness out on everyone. His safe place was to get lost in a screenplay he was writing. It was about another land, where things were different, and the blind man was the hero.

Chloe’s mom asked Nick and his family over for dinner, and that was where the adventure started. Chloe discovered Nick’s screenplay, and started making changes in it, without asking. When Nick confronted her about it while Chloe was working in the projection room, they somehow ended up going through the projector and the screen, landing in a very strange land; the very same land that was in the screenplay.

This is a coming-of-age book, about how Chloe and Nick struggle to come to grips with what they perceive as their deformities and how they must fight the evil that is taking over. Chloe must decide who the real blind person is, try to spot the lies, and reach beyond herself to save those around her.

There are some difficult subjects covered in this book, including death, so it may not be a good read for the younger crowd, unless they can get involved in a discussion group to work through some of the issues.

I would recommend this book for sixth grade and up as a good way to open up discussions on bullying, self-esteem and death.

View the Book Trailer on youtube:

  • Aldos Movie PalaceTitle: Aldo’s Fantastical Movie Palace
  • Author: Jonathan Friesen
  • Publisher: ZonderKidz, 2012
  • Reviewer: Carole Robishaw
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0310721105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310721109
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
  • Lexile Score: 810, Grades 5-8

Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February

Written by John LaFleur
Illustrated by Shawn Dubin

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Monsters and romance make an interesting combination for young people. It is not often one can find a rhyming picture book at the sixth grade reading level. Because it is a rhyming picture book for older children, many higher level words are used which might help to build vocabulary and comprehension skills. Since the book is so short, it is not likely to find its way onto many reading lists, but will be a good way to get reluctant readers engaged.

Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February is a most unusual book for older children. The two protagonists in the book are sophomores in Whispering Hills High School in a small, monster-filled town. Dreary is a skeleton boy and Naughty a beautiful devil girl. All the boys have a crush on Naughty, but it’s Dreary with whom she spends her time. The last day of school before Valentine’s Day, Friday the 13th of February, finds Dreary with nary a Valentine card while Naughty has received hundreds. They spend the evening with Greta Ghoul watching movies at Naughty’s house. Dreary spends the rest of the night working on a wonderful, handcrafted gift for Naughty. When he presents it to her on Valentine’s Day, Naughty realizes Dreary is the one for her. She has nothing for him, but it’s not too late.

The story is a sweet one for a book full of monsters, and young people will enjoy the story. The rhyming is often forced, there are several near rhymes, and the meter is uneven at best, but the artwork, the characters, and the story will find fans for this book and the others in the series. Reluctant readers will be enticed by this little book.

Shawn Dubin has a web site focusing on his art at and a blog at which students should find interesting.

There are two other picture books by the same authors in this series: Dreary and Naughty: The ABCs of Being Dead and The Misadventures of Dreary and Naughty.

  • Friday the 13thTitle: Dreary & Naughty: Friday the 13th of February
  • Author: John LaFleur
  • Illustrator: Shawn Dubin
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, 2013
  • Reviewer: Rosi Hollinbeck
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0764344954
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry, Graphic book
  • Grade Level: Six and up
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