Archive for 2014

The Cure for Dreaming

Written by Cat Winters

If I said this is Dracula meets Susan B. Anthony, would it sound weird? Maybe, but Cat Winters makes it work. There is enough of Bram Stoker’s opus to pique the reader’s interest without giving away the entire story or being overly graphic. There is enough of women’s rights without being preachy. All the while, the author weaves in hypnotism and the power of words.

In 1900 Portland, Oregon, Olivia Mead turns seventeen only to have her father panic about her independence and strong mind. She attends a show by a hypnotist, Henri Reverie and becomes his main subject, unwittingly allowing him to turn her into a board that gets walked on. Her father decides Henri can make Olivia a more demure, subservient woman. The result is she sees monsters and can’t fight back, even in the face of real danger. She attributes this in part to her love of Dracula, but maybe there really are monsters. Meanwhile, the father of her suitor writes an editorial about why women don’t need the right to vote. Olivia anonymously submits a letter to the editor refuting all his claims. When the letter gets published, a firestorm results. Her own father thinks a man wrote the letter because it was too well written. Everything goes from bad to worse as Olivia and Henri get to know each other and plot to work things out. In the end, Olivia’s father pushes so hard, she is forced to find her voice (literally) and declare her independence.

Sixth grade readers will learn about Bram Stoker, life in 1900, women’s rights, and mesmerism.

  • Cure for DreamingTitle: The Cure for Dreaming
  • Author: Cat Winters
  • Publisher: Amulet Books/Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 up
  • Genre: Fiction, women’s suffrage, Dracula, hypnotism
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1216-6


Fleabrain Loves Franny

Written by Joanne Rocklin

Pittsburgh, 1952. Recovering from polio, Franny Katzenback listens to the sounds of her friends playing outside as she lies in bed and wishes her legs would move. With only books for comfort, she falls in love with the newly published Charlotte’s Web. If only she had a Charlotte in her life, she thinks. Her wish comes true when she receives a mysterious letter written in blood-red ink. The author happens to be a highly intelligent flea named Fleabrain, who lives on her dog’s tail.

The two strike up a correspondence. Fleabrain shares with Franny a love of literature as well as music and languages. Not only can he talk, but his saliva contains superpowers, which allow him to take Franny on all kinds of fantastical adventures based on his extensive reading. He flies her around at night on a magical horseback ride, he miniaturizes her á la Alice in Wonderland, and he zooms her around the globe to tour the Seven Wonders of the World. Their relationship strains, however, when she learns he cannot use his powers to cure her of polio. Issues of social injustice are touched upon when Franny faces discrimination upon her return to school.

Sixth graders will likely find the historical elements of this story interesting as it paints a solid picture of the polio scare during the 1950’s and what it was like to be on the receiving end of that terrible disease. While there certainly is enough advanced vocabulary and thematic elements to enhance one’s comprehension and literacy skills, the overreaching plot and fantastical elements may leave readers scratching their heads just like the poor dog who hosts Fleabrain.

Buy on Amazon

  • FleabrainTitle: Fleabrain Loves Franny
  • Author: Joanne Rocklin
  • Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1068-0
  • Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction


September 17

Written by Amanda West Lewis

War, as seen from the eyes of 10, 13 and 15 year olds is quite different from that of adults. In this carefully researched historical fiction we find that many children being sent away to Canada from England on a large cruise ship see it as an adventure.

This startling tale is about a time when England was so sure it would fall to the Nazis that a plan was established to send away a whole generation of children. Some would be sent, supposedly, to Canada. Others would go to Australia or New Zealand.

The alarming rate of bombing in London caused parents to make very fast decisions under duress. Children were sent away with only a change of clothes and, if lucky, one packed lunch.

Unfortunately, the title of the book is the date that one such ship carrying a group of over 90 children was torpedoed and sunk by the Nazi U-boat. There were survivors, but very few. Perhaps the most breathtaking part of the story is the several days that one group of children spent in a tiny lifeboat dreaming of survival. One of the things that still kept the children going was their thought of having an adventure at sea with real sailors.

Core curriculum standards for history, geography and literacy skills can be met for grade 6 readers and beyond whether the book is used in a classroom, library or book club setting. It is history we have not read before and it is provided in a fascinating narrative style that puts the reader right in that scary frigid water.

Buy on Amazon

  • September 17Title: September 17
  • Author: Amanda West Lewis
  • Publisher: Red Deer Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 313 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-88995-507-3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 6 and up
  • Extras: Afterward, Recommended Reading, Interview and Photograph of the Author

Pink & Green is the New Black

Written by Lisa Greenwald

13-year-old Lucy Desberg is back in the third book of the Pink & Green series, and, on the outside, things couldn’t be better. Her initiative to have the school cafeteria go green is a success, her family’s pharmacy and spa are thriving, and she has a boyfriend in high school. What she’s not telling everyone, however, is that Yamir hasn’t called or texted her in weeks, and she has no idea why. To take her mind off him, she and her best friend, Sunny (Yamir’s sister), agree to help plan the upcoming school dance, the Eighth-Grade Masquerade, even though mean-girl Erica Crane is in charge. At least Erica has been acting like a normal human being lately, but Lucy wonders if that will last.

Like everything else she does, Lucy puts her heart and soul into making the masquerade perfect. She offers to do everyone’s makeup at the spa and works hard to make sure all her friends have dates. But as hard as she tries to ignore the Yamir problem, the more frustrated she becomes. To make matters more complicated, a cute boy named Travis, who’s new to the school, shows interest in her. Lucy puts on a happy face and pretends like she can handle it all, but it doesn’t take long until the cracks in her armor begin to show.

In this coming-of-age novel, Greenwald creates a realistic depiction of middle school girl drama, where saving face and fitting in sometimes makes it challenging to do the right thing. Sixth graders will identify with winsome Lucy and her friends as they navigate the turbulent waters of balancing friends, crushes, family and school.

Order on Amazon

  • Pink & GreenTitle: Pink & Green is the New Black
  • Author: Lisa Greenwald
  • Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Paperback, 272 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1225-8
  • Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction
  • Release Date: October 2014


Written by Kate A. Boorman

Part Divergent, part Giver, this story of an alternate reality follows some believable and loveable characters as another harsh winter approaches their community. Emmeline, just short of sixteen, tries to be a model citizen but doesn’t quite make the cut in a society where a series of seemingly minor infractions can land you in caged exile. Emmeline’s grandmother was punished years earlier for supposedly propositioning a married. This leaves the entire family in a precarious position. With some of her duties taking her outside the fortification, Emmeline is drawn to the woods by curiosity and by her vivid dreams. Are there really monsters in the woods that can snatch a person? If not, what is out there? What can harm you and what can help? The surprising answers lie in both the past and the future. No one is sure why the settlement’s leader chooses her as a life mate. Is it to keep her under control? Meanwhile, she is falling in love with someone else. Choosing the path between what is right and what is safe is nearly impossible.

Sixth graders can appreciate all the subtleties in Emmeline’s struggle to help her community, her father, and herself. Reading activities include many discussions of Emmeline’s decisions, as well as those of the other characters. Readers are also invited to speculate about the exact location and time of the story and the identity of the Lost People. The story is fast-paced and riveting.


  • WinterkillTitle: Winterkill
  • Author: Kate A. Boorman
  • Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
  • Genre: Dystopian, autocratic rule, survival
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1235-7
  • Release date: September 2014


The Stepsister’s Tale

Written by Tracy Barrett

Sixth graders and above will love this quirky re-take on the familiar story of Cinderella. Looking beyond the unambiguous version where Cinderella was the good little servant and the stepsisters were malevolent, Barrett wonders what might have happened if all the characters were well-developed. Maybe Cinderella was a spoiled brat who told lies to elicit sympathy. Maybe the family was destitute after years of trying to live without the men who had promised to take care of them. (High-born women, in fact, weren’t allowed to do men’s work.) Maybe the prince was also spoiled and not even worthy of further thought.

Young Jane Montjoy is doing her best to keep her family together. Mamma is ineffectual and Maude is much younger than she is. Both Jane and Maude work very hard making butter and cheese and taking care of the house. They share with the people who live in the forest. One day, Mamma goes to market and comes back with a new husband and a new stepsister. The man does not live long. He was in debt and his daughter has no skills. A harsh winter nearly kills them all, until Jane has the good sense to ask the forest people for help. When the prince tries to marry Ella, adventure ensues.

The many details the author uses to explain away Cinderella’s story make this extra delightful and also very funny. It’s the humor which will make many boys enjoy this book. The pumpkin coach and the glass slippers are items Ella’s father spoils her with before his death. Ella doesn’t even think the coach looks like a pumpkin. The beautiful dress was Ella’s mother’s, which hasn’t been touched in years. Ella plays in the ashes in order to be close to where the heat was. Of course, some details remain unexplainable. Fairies?

As I said, the characters are well-developed, making this great for extending literacy skills and comprehension. There is a lot in this book about not taking things at face value and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Wonderful new book worth a look.

  • Stepsisters TaleTitle: The Stepsister’s Tale
  • Author: Tracy Barrett
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
  • Genre: Retold fairy tale
  • ISBN: 978-0-373-21121-0
  • Extras: Discussion questions to keep the thinking going


The Boy on the Wooden Box

Written by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson was one of the boys on Schindler’s list. As explained in this memoir, he was so small at the time that he had to stand on a box to reach the buttons and dials of the machine he was operating. This sad, but not graphic depiction of the Holocaust, is important for fifth grade readers, sixth grade readers and beyond,

It is important that the world not forget what happened in our recent history. But it is also important that it be told in such a way that will not cause nightmares or fear of exploring the world. Lesson does an excellent job of separating the German people from those in the Nazi party. He trusted Germans before the war and returned to Germany after the war.

A remarkable thing about this memoir is the strength of hope exhibited and the resiliency of this young man. Again and again it seemed he would never see his family again. Over and over he was put in a line that would lead to his death. But still he survived. Thanks to Oscar Schindler. Most people were unaware of the heroic deeds of that one man until a movie was made. However, students in grades five an up might not be aware of the film.

As students, teachers and librarians continue to read and teach The Diary of Anne Frank, they should also be reading and teaching this memoir. This story continued on past the ghetto, the camps, and the death. Perhaps because of his age, young Leon was able to pick up his hopes and dreams and immigrate into the United States. He continued on to live a happy and productive life. For decades, his own children did not know the story of his being a Schindler’s boy in his teens.

How thrilled Leon was, though, in the fall of 1965 in Los Angeles, to have Oscar Schindler recognize and remember him.

This book will fulfill multiple literacy skills as well as history and social studies requirements in the core curriculum and should be part of every school library collection.

  • Boy on Wooden BoxTitle: The Boy on the Wooden Box
  • Author: Leon Leyson
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-9781-8
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Grade Level: 6
  • Extras: Photographs, additional resources for learning about the Holocaust


Written by Gary Blackwood

Buy on Amazon

If you have ever stopped while on vacation at an automated wax museum or one of those museums of oddities from the past, this book will fascinate you. It is Gary Blackwood’s newest historical fiction. It revolves around the story of a real automated chess playing device called The Turk. It was very a very popular attraction invented by the same man who invented the metronome. People were intrigued by this machine that could play chess against a real person and actually win. It was part of a traveling show between the years 1826 and 1838.

Rufus is the main character in this story. He is a young penniless lad who is curious about everything. When his father is thrown into debtor’s prison, Rufus gets sent to a terrible House of Refuge. The description of this place will make the reader think immediately of Dickens houses for orphans. But this young man has a most refined skill at the game of chess. It is something his father taught him, and because of a weak body and sickly childhood, Rufus spent hours entertaining himself with the game until he became a master in his own right.

For a time, Rufus played against grownups in one of Philadelphia’s Chess Clubs. Later, he got to work with the Turk and be the keeper of all of its secrets. He worked well, but was neither paid nor fed. Even though his only flaw is “asking too many questions,” which is a phrase that many grade five or grade six readers will find familiar. His story is intriguing and well told. Middle school students will enjoy the adventure and suspense.

Teachers, librarians and parents can use the book to meet core curriculum standards and teach literacy skills. This story provides excellent opportunities for students to distinguish between fact and fiction by researching unfamiliar terms like phrenology or hunchbacked. It also provides a great opportunity to discover the exciting development of mechanical devices during the 1800’s.

As with Gary Blackwood’s previous historical novels, this is well researched and smoothly told. Its title was particularly well chosen as curiosity completely envelopes the reader from the first page to the last.


  • CuriosityTitle: Curiosity
  • Author: Gary Blackwood
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 313 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3924-6
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 7
  • Extras: Afterword on Historical Content

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles

Written and illustrated by Douglas Florian

Buy on Amazon

Belly laughs and snickers will be heard from the fourth grade readers, fifth grade readers and sixth grade readers that carry this book on the bus or anywhere else they like to read. The poems are short, simple and catchy. They talk about the things kids enjoy: getting swallowed by an alligator, being hungry enough to eat the whole world or getting stuck in an overstuffed chair.

Douglas Florian clearly knows his readers and how to engage them with his words and his art.

Students will be using his sketches as models for learning how to make new drawings of their own.

Some of his poems start with the beginning lines of well-known nursery rhymes or often repeated poems, but he takes them off in a new, often humorous direction.

Teachers and librarians can use this fun example of poetry in meeting core curriculum goals and literacy skills. Art teachers can have students design their own sketches to go along with the poems. Students can use their favorite poems for their public speaking requirements and have fun doing them. Many of these will become often repeated verses learned by those pesky little brothers and sisters that we all love to make giggle.

  • Poem DepotTitle: Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles
  • Author/Illustrator: Douglas Florian
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 154 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-4042-6
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Grade level: 4 to 6
  • Extras: Index of Titles/ Index of First Lines

Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure

Written by David Meissner and Kim Richardson

Buy on Amazon

Fast paced action and adventure accompanied with real photos, letters and maps make this an exciting read. Sixth grade readers and beyond will be amazed at how quickly people dropped everything, gathered supplies and headed to the Klondike for a chance at finding gold.

Readers will be shocked at how many people underestimated the difficulties that climate, geography and lack of supplies could cause. Wondering how people will survive and if they will get back home alive keeps the pacing of the story fast. This story illuminates just how desperate people were to get out of poverty. Or, was it the possibility of adventure that lured them out of the rut of boredom?

This well researched book tells the story of two young men, Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond who were college friends and business partners. Fortunately, they had parents who were willing and able to support their adventuresome dream of striking it rich. As soon as word reached California of the discovery in the Klondike, these young men booked passage and were among the very first explorers to reach the gold fields.

An amazing sense of discipline helped these young men to determine even before they left home that they would only try this gold rush thing for one year.  At the end of that time, they would return home. It was the deal they made with their fathers, but makes it more interesting to follow them through the months of struggle and small successes wondering if they really would pull up stakes and go back home. The families kept a bag of letters, photos and maps that were recently used to produce this excellent account of a short, but important time in American history.

This book will be fulfill many standards in the core curriculum dealing with the economic history of America as well as the study of adventurers and the importance of gold to the world.

Using research and learning how to writing non-fiction are among the multiple literacy skills that can be taught and/or enhanced through the usage of this book. It is a volume every librarian will want to have in the collection.


  • Call of the KlondikeTitle: Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure
  • Author: David Meissner and Kim Richardson
  • Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 167 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-823-3
  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Grade level 4 and up
  • Extras: Bibliography/ For More Information/ Websites
« Older Entries