Tag Archive for reading activities


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


Bugged! How Insects Changed History

Written by Sarah Albee
Illustrated by Robert Leighton

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Combining biology, history, and a little humor, the author of this amazing new book presents a different view of the world as we know it. Sixth graders, especially boys, will get a kick out of the idea that insects had such a huge influence on history. Information is presented in small digestible doses with clever section titles (e.g., “The Buzz on Locusts”). The author begins with a quick biology lesson on what an insect is. She then proceeds to the many facts of hygiene and some of the more unusual edible insects. Most of the rest of the book goes chronologically through human history, highlighting each event in which insect-borne disease or blight played a major role. Many examples of invading armies either being overcome by local insect-borne illness or introducing a new illness were shown to decide the conquerors. Valuable insect-related products helped decide where conquerors wanted to go. Cortes was so taken with the dyes used by the Aztecs, and derived from insects, that he hung around to learn their secrets. Countries outside of China tried for hundreds of years to find the secrets of silk.

Leighton’s sketches and choices of photos add a fun dimension to the project. Bugs with muscle power. Bugs chomping on the Roman Empire. Bugs inside caskets labeled malaria.

Added bonuses include a table of contents, glossary (helping with comprehension), further reading and surfing (literacy skills), notes on sources, picture credits, and index. The author’s website, http://www.sarahalbeebooks.com/, has more information and reading activities.

  • BuggedTITLE: Bugged! How Insects Changed History
  • AUTHOR: Sarah Albee
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Robert Leighton
  • PUBLISHER: Walker Books for Young Readers/Bloomsbury, 2014
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-0-8027-3422-8
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 176 pages
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, History, Insects, Disease
  • RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2014

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

Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry

Written by Sheila Griffin Llanas

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Poetry inspires dread in the most intrepid of students. If reading literature is seen as a slog through heavy tomes, then reading poetry is walking the path wearing leaden shoes. Enslow’s Poetry Rocks! series works to tame that fear with books that describe both poet and poetry in simple, easy-to-understand language.

What gives such value to the book (and the series) is the chapter organization. Each chapter begins with a short biographical sketch that helps to place the work in the context of the poet’s life and answer the question why: why did the poet choose those particular topics and themes. Even poets who were contemporaneous didn’t write about the same subjects. We see that it is the life experiences that dictate the choice of topics.

One representative poem is subject to a detailed analysis: summary and explication, poetic techniques and themes. Middle school and high school students will benefit immensely from this reading of the techniques of literary analysis in a non-threatening manner. Armed with that knowledge they can work their way to an understanding of the poem, rather than putting away the book, frustrated at their lack of understanding of writing that is different from the prose works they are used to.

Each poet’s style is given its own analysis, creating easy reading activities and discussion points. The reader can discuss how one poet’s style is similar to, and differs from, another’s.  A few more poems are included (the number varies from poet to poet) and the discussion paragraph points to further questions to be considered. The chapter ends with a listing of the poet’s major works and a final paragraph on related poets, which helps to understand the poet’s cultural milieu.

The eleven contemporary American poets included in the book are Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsburg, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Louise Gluck.

Chapter notes, a glossary, further reading suggestions and links to poetry sites comprise the back matter. “A poem is not the end but the beginning of an excursion.” This book is a good start to an excursion into the world of poetry.

  • Poetry RocksTitle: Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry
  • Author: Sheila Griffin Llanas
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2011
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-380-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Literature

Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen: Her Life and Times with 21 Activities

Written by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

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Half a millennium ago, Europe was in turmoil. The Reformation was underway and religion-based wars and conflicts were ongoing. Kings and Queens led their countries and determined the religion of their peoples. Non-conformists were often killed as traitors. Spain, the most powerful country at the time, was staunchly Catholic and determined to convert the rest of Europe. At the same time, the Renaissance was underway. Books and plays were being written. Shakespeare was becoming known in England and more people were learning to read and write. Women were considered second-class citizens without the same rights as men and often with different laws governing their behavior.

Into that political and social climate, Elizabeth I came into power, stepping into the vacancy left by the untimely death of her 16 year old half-brother. It was the monarch’s duty to protect her people, but England at that time was weak.  Without a trained army or navy, and with constant death threats and plots against her and her people, Elizabeth had to be constantly vigilant. Fortunately, she had been given the best education of the time. Educated alongside her younger half-brother she learned to think critically, reason and speak, and read and write in several languages. England was in her very capable hands and Elizabeth I ruled successfully for 45 years.

History lovers will find a thorough description of the life and times of Elizabeth I in this balanced look at one of England’s most famous royals.  Serious sixth grade and older history readers and report writers will find her strengths and weaknesses are described along with the events and characters that shaped her decisions and behaviors. The cast of characters is understandably long, but can be confusing when their names and titles are used interchangeably. Readers may want to keep a list of names to aid in comprehension. Visual learners will appreciate the plentiful sidebars, portraits and reprints of art depicting the time. Hands-on learners will find the 21 activities varied, mostly easy to do and well integrated into the text.

Although the author references her website several times for further information, the cited information wasn’t available at the time of this review. You can search for yourself here: http://www.kerrieloganhollihan.com  You will find plenty of other web links to explore at the end of the book.

  • Elizabeth ITitle: Elizabeth I – the People’s Queen: Her Life and Times with 21 Activities
  • Author: Kerrie Logan Hollihan
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, 2011
  • Reviewer: Carol S. Surges
  • Paperback: 129 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56976-349-0
  • Genre:  History, biography
  • Lexile Score: 870

Jay-Z: CEO of Hip-Hop

Written by Stephen G. Gordon

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It used to be that biographies were written years, often decades or even centuries after a person’s passing. The current trend is to write about people who have achieved greatness in their field during their lifetime.

In the book Jay-Z: CEO of Hip-Hop, Stephen G. Gordon picks up the most compelling aspect of his subject: “Shawn Carter had talent — a lot of talent. Even as a teenager he showed a special gift for rapping. …He rapped about growing up in poverty. He rapped about drug dealing. He rapped about violence. These were topics Shawn knew well.”

In one paragraph the biographer encapsulates the key aspects of the extraordinary musical talent that is Jay-Z — his genius for rap and the rough background that he emerged from. “Jay-Z’s rise in the music industry is a tale of determination and inspiration, a true rags-to-riches story.”

Shawn Carter (he took the name Jay-Z later) grew up in Marcy Houses, a Brooklyn housing development for low income families. Family life was happy. Music filled the home, which became “the house around the neighborhood that everybody went to because we had all the newest records, and we just had super cool parents.”  Dad introduced young Shawn to chess and basketball and music. Tragedy struck and Dad left the family, obsessed with finding his brother’s killers. Mom became the bread earner. We get a picture of strong parents who cared for their children and believed in them. When Shawn took to writing rhymes his mother gave him a three-ring binder to record them in.

The book conveys well the ethos that formed Jay-Z. His talent was honed in the Marcy development where hip-hop was in the air. Neither Jay-Z nor the author hide his drug-dealing days, the dark times he fell into, and the growing realization that “this life has no good ending.” Fortunately for him and for his fans, he had friends who steered him away from the dark path.

What comes through is the portrait of a genuine person, not just a celebrity air-head, growing in strength and understanding of the world. The book details why he decided to go indie in the production of his first record. We follow along as he goes from strength to strength, building his musical empire, diversifying into a very successful clothing line, using his millions for philanthropy. His marriage to Beyonce was a very private affair. He celebrated the birth of his daughter with a song for her.

“In the course of his career, Jay-Z had brought rap music from the streets of Brooklyn to the finest concert halls in the world. In the process, he had broken down barriers.” And this may well be the greatest achievement of a prodigiously talented artist.

The back matter provides much information for discussion and reading activities.  There are many photographs and articles from the newspaper USA Today. Middle school and high school students will enjoy the book, learning much about negotiating the difficulties of life even as Jay-Z did. A worthwhile addition to all reading lists.

  • Jay-ZTitle: Jay-Z: CEO of Hip-Hop
  • Author: Stephen G. Gordon
  • Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books, 2013
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-0811-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography

Passion Blue

Written by Victoria Strauss

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If you think this is about the passions of a young woman, you’re right. But it turns out her real passion is painting, and passion blue is a specific color that is not easy to reproduce. In the Italian Renaissance, women were considered incapable of complex thought. Giulia is a seventeen-year-old girl who loves to draw, but she is at the mercy of an evil stepmother. Her father, who was never married to her mother, has died and left money for her dowry. His widow uses the dowry to buy Giulia’s way into a convent. Determined to get out and find a husband, Giulia uses sorcery and astrology to aid her in her quest. When the nuns discover her artistic talents, she is assigned to apprentice in a workshop famous for making altar pieces. While she plots to leave, Giulia finally figures out that what she really wants is to paint, and that a husband would frown on that pursuit. This complex tale is about coming of age, being happy with who you are, and the plight of women and other people who are suppressed.

Recommended for sixth grade readers and up, the text includes a lot of detail about what life was like in the Italian Renaissance and also what it’s like to be at someone else’s mercy. Reading activities could include learning more about the era, the rights of women, about specific painters, and about painting itself. How do you get a true blue? How is tempera made? Why do many painters prefer oil? This may appear to be a book for girls, but boys can certainly benefit from reading it. Giulia does conduct clandestine meetings with a young man, but there is no sex to shock the reader.

  • Passion BlueTITLE: Passion Blue
  • AUTHOR: Victoria Strauss
  • PUBLISHER: Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-0-0-7614-6230-9
  • FORMAT: Hard cover, 346 pages
  • GENRE: Women, Italian Renaissance