September 2008

When Jill at The Well Read Child asked for guest reviewers I decided to send her an email to request a chance to review some books.  She was gracious enough to accept my request and send me three books to review.  The first review can be found here and follows here.  My thanks to Jill for such a wonderful opportunity to review these books and add them to our shelves at the library. 
Let’s Clear the Air: 10 Reasons Not to Start Smoking is probably the most readable book on the subject I have seen. There are ten chapters. Each chapter is devoted to one reason not to start smoking. Within each chapter, the reader is introduced to pre-teens and teens who think no one should start to smoke. After the introduction. the reader is allowed to peek into the mind of person by reading his/her original essay dealing with the topic of smoking

The ten reasons given for not smoking are the ones you would expect: cancer, other health issues, relationships, addiction, performance, appearance, the entertainment trap, false advertising, and money.

What you might not expect is the honesty of these young people as they tell how family members suffered because someone in the family smoked. They tell of the pain they felt when their parent or grandparent died from cancer. They tell of cousins addicted to cigarettes who have told them NEVER to start smoking because they themselves can’t quit. In the chapter about how tobacco affects athletic performance oral cancer and smokeless tobacco were also addressed.

Included in each chapter are interesting facts which highlight the dangers of tobacco in brief sentences inside gray boxes. Lighter gray boxes have the student essays. This layout helps the reader to focus on specific aspects that interest them. Other features that will keep students reading are black and white pencil drawings. For students who want to take action facts relating to how they can become active in spreading the message about the dangers of tobacco are included.

I believe this book would be a wonderful addition to a school or public library. Students will not feel someone is preaching to them as they read this book. The teens included in the book speak with words that are convincing and not overly edited to sound less than authentic.

Adrienne Joy Lowry was seven when her dad died of cancer. The book includes Adrienne’s story in her own words.

“My dad died on November 2, 2002. I wrote this in my journal on the day that he died.

‘Today my daddy died. It was really sad. I will miss him. He took his last breath and poof he was gone. His spirit went to heaven. He is special.’ ”

She concludes her essay with this statement of firm resolve:

“I will never smoke because I don’t want my kids someday to have to go through what I went through” (p 15).

Another essay I liked was by Brenna on page 107. She writes,

“If you think you want to start smoking, you should think again! Because if you like the way you look now, that can all change when you start smoking. When you smoke the tar in the cigarettes will stain your teeth and fingers yellow. Smokers also have really bad breath!”

How much more honest can you get?

This book was published in Canada and includes photos of Canadian cigarette package warnings. It is interesting to note that these warnings include photos of the disease along with the warning. I think it would be much harder to pick up a pack of cigarettes that had a photo of diseased lung or a clogged heart valve along with the words “smoking causes lung cancer or doubles your risk of stroke.”

For Eben McAllister, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence world.  He is fascinated with the seven wonders of the world and spends his time wishing to be some place exciting… anywhere but in Sassafras Springs.

Eben’s Pa, a wise man, gives his son a challenge; find seven Wonders in Sassafras Springs.  If Eben is able to find seven things in seven days Pa will buy him a ticket to see some relatives living in the Colorado mountains. 

So the scene is set for adventure!  Not everyone likes a kid coming around asking questions.   Eben  soon finds himself saddled with a annoying pest who wants to follow him as he tries to find Wonders.  Eben does his best to ditch the Rae Ellen the pest, but she stays hot on his trail with a “Wonderful” of her own to show him.

My favorite part of the story happens when tough Coogie Jackson, sends for Eben to show him an outhouse and tell him about a Wonder.  Could an outhouse in the middle of nowhere be a wonder?  Was it a trick?  Eben has little time to decide if he believes the story before Coogie is sending him inside to get the proof neded to verify the story. 

This is a delightful story full of rich country language and descriptions.  The stories Eben gathers and the Wonders he finds give him a new perspective for seeing common things.  This story is perfect for reading aloud. 


You can read about the author Betty G. Birney.

If someone saved your life would you do anything to help them?  Would you let a pint sized spirit (dybbuk) live inside of you (for a little while) so he can get the truth out of a German soldier who killed him and other defenseless children?  What if your girlfriend threatens to call off the marriage because she thinks you are acting too strange?  What if the dybbuk steals your spotlight as you entertain audiences as a ventrioquist?  Would you want an exorcism?  

The Dybbuk has a name.  It is Avrom.  Because Avrom knows the truth, he feels he must share that truth with as many people as possible.  He needs a body in order to accomplish his mission.  Freddy has a career as a ventrioquist but it seems to be at a standstill since he can learn to talk without moving his mouth. 

If they work together can both of them succeed?

Even though this is a book with a ghost, it is not a mystery.  It is not even scary.  It is funny, light, and powerful all at the same time. 

Sid Fleischman uses humor, an interesting plot, along with true facts about the holocaust to present a message that needs to be remembered.

New in Sept. 2008
New book in September 2008


Sometimes, real life is messy.  Sometimes the truth has a hard edge.  After mom dies, eleven-year-old Mackenzie O’Rourke and his brother, Kid, live with a parent who is controlled by alcohol and gambling.  After a night of gambling Mackenzie’s dad brings home a puppy.  And love happens.  No one has to remind Mackenzie to feed his dog (Cash) or take care of him.  MacKenzie lives to be right by Cash’s side and Cash, for his part feels the same.  Then Dad, in a fit of anger, gets rid of Cash by taking him into the country and dumping him by the side of the road. 
After the separation the story is told from MacKenzie’s point of view and Cash’s.  Cash tells of the pain of hunger, his capture by men who run dog fighting rings, and of heroic deeds.  All the while, MacKenzie searches desperatly for his dog.  Besides, losing his dog MacKenzie must deal with the loss of his brother, Kid, who can’t take any more of dad’s anger.
In the background of this story another tale is being told.  Cash is pit bull and the town has decided that pit bulls are dangerous and not welcome.  But, what about this mysterious pit bull that is rescuing people in cars parked on train tracks?  Are all pit bulls dangerous?  Can Cash find his way back home?  Can Kid? Fans of Shiloh will enjoy this tale of a dog lost. 
For ages 9-adult

For ages 9-adult

“What-the-Dickens” are the first words the newborn creature heard, and assumed that was his name.  His lack of information came from the fact that he is an orphan.  What-the-Dickens thinks he is alone a world he doesn’t understand.  Bravely, he does his best to get adopted by a cat.  When that doesn’t work out he finds himself in a tiger’s mouth examining a sore tooth.  One day the creature sees a someone who looks like he does and can fly like he does.  It is a skibbereen (tooth fairy) going about her business of exchanging teeth for money.  What-the-Dickens finally has someone who can tell him about himself, but she wants nothing to do with him.  So goes the story Gage tells to his cousins in the middle of a terrifying storm.  As the story grows more suspenseful, the children are able to put aside their fears and concentrate on the troubles What-the-Dickens finds himself confronting.  This is really two stories in one. The author is skilled at getting the reader to the edge of one story and weaving the other story back into the readers mind in surprising ways.  While the children deal with the lack of electrical power, adequate food, and howling winds, the skiddereen have to deal with a harsh assignment given as punishment for allowing What-the-Dickens to enter the secret colony of fairies.  The two stories intersect when Gage tells how he met What-the-Dickens and his friend Pepper on the night of this secret assignment.

King Theophilus may be able to run a country, but he seems to have no clue how to handle his daughter, Princess Penelope.   Princess Penelope has been spoiled ROTTEN by the king, with a little help from the queen.  If things don’t go her way Penelope usually screams and demands everyone give her what she wants. 

For her eighth birthday, the spoiled princess has decided she wants a pig.  Of course she gets one. 

After looking at all the pigs in the kingdom, Penelope selects Lollipop as her birthday present.  This pig also comes complete with a trainer, named Johnny Skinner, who had taught his pet pig to sit and stand. 

Now, the princess is demanding that Lollipop live in the palace.  The queen’s response was understandable to every mom alive.  “If the pig moves in… I move out!”  

In conversations with his pig, Johnny gets right to the heart of Penelope’s terrible behavior. 

“She is a spoiled child.  But in a way it is not her fault. It is the fault of her mom and dad for letting her have everything she wants.  She was quite nice, wasn’t she when we were eating the cake, don’t you think?”

Lollipop grunted.

“But then the moment she couldn’t get her own way, she flew off the handle didn’t she?”

Lollipop grunted again.

I have been quite successful at training you,” Johnny Skinner said to the pig. ” I wonder if I could train her?”

Page 34

And so, two determined children  and a pig begin a relationship full of fun and laughter along with some serious lessons.  Johnny Skinner uses Lollipop to help teach Penelope to speak calmly and think less about herself and more about others.  Johnny is determined to train Penelope and the princess is determined to have a pig living INSIDE the palace. 

This book by Dick King-Smith is fun to read and entertains the young and the old.  Students in grades three would not be too young to read the book alone ( Toward the end of the year, most second graders could read it alone too.)  But, this book begs to be read aloud *, enjoyed together and discussed.  If you have an child between the ages of 4 and 10 this would be just the right book for a bedtime chapter ( or two) a night. 

The delightful pencil drawings scattered thoughtout the book bring more fun to the story.


* A note about reading aloud.  This site has some very interesting information concerning parents reading aloud at home.


This is a picture book but not your typical picture book.  It is not a book young children would enjoy having read to them.  The illustrations are black pencil drawings.  There is nothing bright and cheery about this book.  Despite all this, I do value and appreciate the book.  Terrible Things is based on a quote from a Holocaust survivor who spent years in a concentration camp. 

In this book there is a “Terrible Thing”  that comes into the forest to destroy all the creatures with feathers.  The animals don’t always see the Terrible Thing right away, but they know it is coming because they can hear the heavy footsteps.  These footsteps are much like the heavy boots of the German soldiers. The Terrible Thing’s big net catches them all as they try to flee.  None of the other animals are worried since they don’t have feathers.  They do miss the bird’s beautiful songs when they are gone.  A little rabbit questions the reason the birds were taken, only to be told not to question the Terrible Thing.  One after another the animals are caught in the net when the Terrible Thing comes for them.  Finally, there is only one little rabbit left, who hid very still for a long time.  He leaves to try to warn animals in other forests about the danger.  He feels sad the animals did not stick together to help each other.  The book leaves us with a bit of hope and a question … will the other animals in the far away forest listen?    So, why do I like this book which is so dreary and sad?  It tells a sad part of history in a way that children can understand and discuss without having to deal with the more difficult issues involved.  It provides a great introduction to a Holocaust Lesson.  
The art, as I mentioned earlier, is black and white pencil drawings.  You never see the Terrible Thing but you do see a shadow.  The illustrations give a dark,sad feeling to the book which helps to tell the story. 
This is a small book with an important story for the audience.  

One of our students reviewed Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank You Notes for Flamingnet. (See the Blogroll)  She liked the book and gave it a favorable review.  I thought I would pick up another one of the author’s books for our library. 

by Peggy Gifford

by Peggy Gifford

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

Moxy, is the typical busy nine year old. Ok, maybe a little busier than most..(think perpetual motion and non-stop talking ) It is the LAST day of summer vacation and she has to read Stuart Little before tomorrow.  She has had all summer to do it but she never got around to it.  The day before school starts she is still procrastinating.  Her mother (bless her weary soul) has had it!  Moxy will stay in her room and read the book.  But, when her mother leaves to run errands Moxy has a brilliant idea… or so she thought. 

Moxy makes me tired.  She is constantly thinking, constantly planning, and always getting herself into trouble.  She is very realistic drama queen! I like the photos that accompany the text and the chapter titles.  I especially like the ones where the title is longer than the chapter. 



Chapter Seven:
In Which Moxy’s Mother says No


That is it… the whole chapter.  Short and concise.  I do appreciate the fact that Moxy’s Mother uses wisdom in dealing with her errant daughter.  There are consequences to Moxy’s delay in doing her homework.  That makes me smile.  There is hope for Moxy to learn better habits.

I think this will be a good choice for students who are ready to move on from first chapter books and a fun, quick read for older elementary students.

    Our students have been given a unique opportunity to become book reviewers through the cooperation of Flamingnet and our local county library.  The county library is paying the small fee for our students to join Flamingnet as reviewers.  If their application is accepted the students choose books from a list to review.  Once the book arrives the students reads the book, writes a review, and gets to keep the book.  How much better could it get?  Students are reading and writing about books on a site started by a student and his dad.  We are just getting started with this program, but already there is much interest.  Parents, for your child to participate they must return a signed note explaining the program in detail along with recommendations for how you and your child can choose books best suited for them.

Show Me Award Nominee 2008-2009

Show Me Award Nominee 2008-2009

Winning contests can bring unexpected problems.  One young man finds this out when he thinks he won a pterodactyl and can’t keep it at home.  He pleads with his teacher to let him bring it to school.  As I read this book to the students they all were joining in on the “Please, Ms. Johnson can I bring my Pterodactyl to school.  Can I?   Please!” 

This student is very persuasive in his attempts to convince his teacher to let him bring the pterodactyl to school.  He uses all of the unique aspects of the dinosaur to show how helpful it would be to the students and even the teacher.

A couple of things I really liked are first the illustrations.  They added just the right touch to show the readers how the dinosaur would behave. The details were just right… the lunch box in the dinosaur’s mouth and the dinosaur being used as a jungle gym.  The little girl in its mouth was commented on by several children.  Before I began to read the book, one little girl told me she was afraid of dinosaurs. After listening to the story, she informed me she was not scared anymore. 

The other aspect I enjoyed is the ending.  I won’t spoil it for you; it does go over the heads of students who need the book read to them. However, it is entertaining to the older child or adult reading it aloud. 

This book would be helpful in teaching children the skill of predicting, it could lead to research about pre-historic animals, it would be an aid to begin a discussion of bullies.  Best of all, I think this book could be used to teach the craft of writing as the students brainstorm about reasons for bringing other animals to school. 


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