Archive for 2013

Better Nate than Ever

Written by Tim Federle

Lovable, adorable thirteen-year-old Nate sets off for his first Broadway audition, taking the reader along on a great and hilarious adventure. He and his best friend, Libby, think they’ve thoroughly prepared him for the trip and for the audition, but few things go the way they expected. Strangely enough, their preparations really do help, though. For example, they write a speech for the bus ticket agent. He uses it as a well-received monologue in his audition. His special talent turns out to be bottle walking, as they rehearsed in Fiddler on the Roof. Nate’s daydreaming and obsession with Applebee’s add to the fun. Throughout the story, it’s unclear whether Nate is moving toward something, such as a career as a singer/actor, or away from something, such as all the bullying he endures due to his small stature and love of musical theater. What is clear is that Nate finds himself somewhere along the way. And he’s a better Nate for it.

Recommended for sixth grade or mature fifth graders, mainly due to content. Nate is questioning his sexuality and is constantly reminded that he appears to be a little different from the norm. He encounters several examples of homosexuality and remarks on each. Also, he does take a bus into New York by himself and even remarks on the dangers of such a trip. His mother is a recovering alcoholic, and he learns other tragic items about his family.

Winner of several awards: a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, and a Slate Favorite Book of the Year. The publisher’s website has a lot of content related to Nate: The author’s website,, is almost as fun as his books.

  • Better NateTitle: Better Nate than Ever
  • Author: Tim Federle
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 275 pages
  • Genre: Fiction, coming of age, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-4689-2


Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go?

Written by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
Illustrated by Kevin Sylvester

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The times they are a changing. In today’s world selling and buying has become as easy as turning on the computer and going to any of the hundreds of online merchants — Amazon being the largest and best known of them all. Although there are built-in safeguards, theoretically even young children can make purchases on the net (log into their parent’s account, for example.) This book’s purpose is to empower its readers with the knowledge to understand the whole money cycle.

In easily comprehensible language the authors explain the complex web that starts with the creation of a product and ends with its final dissemination. The book is a series of examples of everyday goods and produce, organized under headings that sixth graders, and up can relate to. The first study is an analysis of a breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, bread and juice, and the numbers are eye-opening.

On a $3.00 packet of bacon the farmer’s profit is just 10c. Of course all numbers are estimates, but the ratio of total cost to profit remains about the same. The authors start the journey by advising us that the “prices in the book are only estimates…so don’t go into your local store and say ‘Sylvester and Hlinka tell me this apple should only cost 10c.’”

And it is a journey of discovery as the readers learn of the various costs at each stage: creation, distribution, retail to the customer. Why does the price of gas affect the price of every other thing? What is the gold standard? These are interesting discussion points, leading easily into economic theory. For the younger readers teachers can build reading activities around the chapters dealing with things they are familiar with, like milk, and juice, and books and backpacks.

Worth and value, credit and debit cards, bank operations, the readers gets an overview of all elements of everyday life, and becomes a more informed consumer. Definitely a book for school and library reading lists.

Additional Resources:

  • Follow Your MoneyTitle: Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go?
  • Author: Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
  • Illustrator: Kevin Sylvester
  • Publisher: Annick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Format: Paperback, 56 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-480-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies
  • Lexile Score: 1120

Dreary & Naughty: The ABC’s of Being Dead

Written by John LaFleur
Illustrated by Shawn Dubin

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It’s tough out there for a teen, especially when your dad’s the Grim Reaper. In this short story, written as a quatrain poem, we meet Dreary, a skeleton who frets about his future. He’d rather die than grow up to be like his dad, waving a scythe and ushering the dead to the underworld. He commiserates with his friend, Naughty, the daughter of Hade’s Gatekeeper. Dressed in a crop top and low-slung mini (to show off her devil tail), she rejects her laid-out future as well; she’s not convinced she wants to rule Hell. But, unlike Dreary, she has already broached the subject with her father, and she nudges her pal to do the same.

Mr. Death isn’t an easy sell, however. He reminds Dreary that he’s part of an important legacy and reviews the many facets, the A,B,C’s, if you will, of this grim job.


A is for arsenic, quite subtle you know.

B is for band saw, no new head will grow.

C is for cudgel, for striking a blow.

D is for dungeon, a process that’s slow.


And so on, all the way to Z. Dreary can’t be convinced; he wants no part of this Reaper business. Later, when he meets up with his friends, War, Famine, and Pestilence, it turns out they all suffer from the I-gotta-be-me blues (Famine whines to his dad that he just wants a chimichanga). Whether Mr. Death ultimately gives Dreary his blessing is left a mystery, but the overall message, albeit heavy-handed, is clear: life is short, so follow your heart.

LaFleur injects a lot of camp into this macabre tale, while Dubin breathes life into the ghoulish characters with his sufficiently creepy black and white watercolor illustrations. Reluctant readers may find the book’s brevity and subject matter appealing, while the poem’s rhyming scheme can bolster their comprehension and literacy skills. This is the third title in the Dreary & Naughty series. For other titles, see the publisher’s website:

  • ABCs of Being DeadTitle: Dreary & Naughty: The ABC’s of Being Dead
  • Author: John LaFleur
  • Illustrator: Shawn Dubin
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 72 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4496-1
  • Genre: Fiction / Poetry / Horror / Dark Humor

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

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

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

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

Ravens of Solemano

Written by Eden Unger Bowditch
Illustrated by Mary Grace Corpus

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The brilliant children of the Young Inventors Guild are in danger again.  In the second installment of the Young Inventors Guild series, their relief at escaping from the evil Komar Romak and the joy of being reunited with their parents is short-lived.  The group travels in luxury aboard a train that is suddenly blown up.  They are not on the train but their parents appear to be.  In a haze of grief and pain, their teacher, Miss Brett, and the five children are swept away by the mysterious men in black, those men who barely speak English but manage to keep them one step ahead of death.  Jasper and his sister Lucy Modest are from England; Wallace Banneker is from New York, Noah Canto-Sagas is from Toronto and Faye Vigyanveta is from New Delhi.  They continue to build their relationship, learning one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and become a team in order to survive and do the work that each is drawn to do.  After a harrowing sea voyage and near discovery, they are taken to a lovely manor house in a small village in Italy.  There they are safe to work and explore the grounds.  They especially like the village baker, a warm, affectionate woman who bakes them all sorts of treats.  The house is a haven but they also discover that it is a vast library of all the brilliant inventors before them.  When Komar Romak attacks them once again, they barely escape and can only hope that the manuscripts in the subterranean library are still intact.  Because the children work together, their escape is especially satisfying.

There are new situations for the children to explore as they travel, when they are not in danger, that is.  Each part of the adventure is filled with amazing inventions and tantalizing mysteries that hint at the centuries-old Guild at the heart of the story.  Reading the first installment is recommended.  The girl characters are the most believable: Faye pushes everyone away so she deals with trust issues, and Lucy has a perfect memory but remains a babyish little girl.  The boy characters tend to be defined by their role in the group: Jasper takes care of Lucy, Noah is a clown and Wallace is painfully shy.  Much of the story is told through Miss Brett’s point of view although there is not a clear main character.  One literacy activity could be to write a description of each character and list their inventions as a way to predict how they will defeat Komar Romak.  The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are enticing and other illustrations help explain how the inventions work.  The author’s website has a certificate for the Young Inventors Guild: (, which could be a prize for reading games.  There is an interesting YouTube video about the author being in Egypt during the revolution while trying to finish the first installment of the series, The Atomic Weight of Secrets: (  Each volume is very long.  Strong readers will take to this series.

  • Ravens of SolemanTITLE: The Ravens of Solemano: or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Black
  • AUTHOR: Eden Unger Bowditch
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Mary Grace Corpus
  • PUBLISHER: Bancroft, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 465 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-61088-104-3
  • GENRE: Fantasy
  • Grade level: Sixth
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