Oh, the Lies that Lie Beneath the Fountain!

Just before the new millineum began, 1999 to be exact, a humorous tale was published about a fountain, an artist, school officials and, yes, a coverup (literally). Kate Klise is the talented wit behind Regarding the Fountain. If your chapter book reader hasn’t delved into this tale told in memos, letters and all sorts of correspondence, he or she is missing out.

The fountain outside Dry Creek Middle School is leaking and the principal has charged a fifth grade student with writing a letter requesting a catalog for a new one. So begins the craziness.  The admnistrators want a basic fountain, the students want a grand one and the fountain company, headed by Flo Waters, an artist, wants to create a masterpiece. As tensions rise, the fifth graders begin to deduce that there is more than cost involved in the administrator’s reluctance to replace the fountain. Namely, a coverup, involving something intentionally hidden UNDER the fountain.

Readers will love following the fifith graders as they discover the mystery of the fountain, expose the adults’ corruption and enjoy a satisying conclusion.

Written by Kate Klise

Copyright 1998 (hardcover), 1999 (paperback).

Accelerated reader level 5.8

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A Series of Magical Events

As a school librarian, for years I have encouraged young chapter book fantasy readers to jump into a series by E.D. Baker. Released originally in 2002, the first book, The Frog Princess, kept me (an admittedly reluctant fantasy reader) entertained from first page to last. That book was followed up with many more, including Dragon’s Breath, Once Upon a Curse and many more, right up to the 2017 release, Return of the Frog Princess.

Today, I’m highlighting the prequel to The Frog Princess, The Salamander Spell. Grassina is the red-headed younger sister who lacks all the graces of Chartreuse, her lovely, blond, perfect older sister. What’s more,  the oldest daughter inherit the magical abilities in the family. Grassina watches her sister for signs of  blossoming magic, but seeing none, hopes it will skip her sister and be bestowed upon her. The interest of her mother, Queen Oliviene, lies with Chartreuse and Grassina finds herself left out.

However, events cause changes when the queen is inadvertently cursed, turned into a hag and the kingdom placed in danger, Grassina finds herself on a mission to save her land.  Readers who have read other books in the series will find lots of characters better understood after connecting the dots provided in this prequel.

These fantasy tales are  full of magic, potions, spells, quests, and, to be honest,some romance. The engrossing fantasy world that Baker creates, combined with witty characters and humor, will inspire readers to collect each and every gem in the series.

Written by E.D. Baker

Copyright 2002-2018

Accelerated Reader Levels: range approximately 4.8-5.3

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Magic, Dragons and One Mean Witch!

 

Jax is a nine-year old boy living in Brooklyn with his mother. He is a compliant kid. But when his mother drops him off at Ma’s place for the day while she goes to court to deal with their possible eviction, he is in for an adventure that will require him to assert himself, take unprecedented risks and show cunning and bravery.  Ma, who is not a relative but did raise his mama, is about as friendly as an angry rattlesnake  Initially, Jax is afraid of Ma, which gives way to anger, then couriosity. She reluctantly allows him to stay for the day, but hisses orders at him, trys to keep him away from her things and berates him for his potential eviction.  A box sitting on a table is covered in postage from Madagascar and Jax observes it moving.  Ma guards it carefully, but Jax spies her transferring its contents to a small mints container. Eventually, through sleuthing and disobeying Ma, Jax finds that, shockingly, there are lizard-like creatures in the tin, three of them. Ma reacts strongly to his snooping and Jax decides to bail, running out of Ma’s apartment only to have her follow him.

Their discussion becomes a turning point in their relationship. Ma takes some responsibility for her gruffness and confesses that she is a witch. Jax insists that she be more respectful and gains some insight into her actions. From here, the fantasy element of the story takes off. Ma lets Jax know that she has been assigned transport of the lizards, which are really dragons, to their magical destination. Jax, who now knows that his mother was offered the chance to be Ma’s applrentice when she was young but chose not to enter the magical life, decides to embrace the adventure. With the help of magical characters and a couple of friends, Jax enters the magical world of witchcraft to discover if it’s his destiny to be part of the magical realm.

Jax’s relationship with Ma evolves from rocky to loving through their adventures: transporting to a magical world, losing Ma, losing one of the dragons, finding them both and, in the process, finding his passion.

This is a great book for new fantasy readers as they wade into the genre, and would be a fun  general fantasy story for third and fourth grade chapter book readers and reluctant readers in higher grades.

What I liked about this book:

Ma is the quintessential “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” character. It’s entertaining to witness the way in which Zetta Elliott artfully engineers Ma’s transformation through her relationship with Jax, a mere mortal and a young one, at that.

Variety makes this book spicy through these ingredients:  a variety of cultures, characters that span a wide range of ages and even one character that is invisible!

Written by Zetta Elliott

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written, Reading level approx. 5.0

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Cheaters Never Prosper…..

Okay, 2006 isn’t all that far back, but honestly, every generation needs to read at least one awesome story about kids who try to cheat and get away with it. First, because who doesn’t need to learn that lesson? Second, because we ALL dream big as kids, so we can all relate. When I was little, I was sure that by high school we’d all be flying to school using jet packs.  But think about the licensing problems, the collisions, the parking…see, big dreams start out great, but then reality hits. Brenton’s big dream was to modify his computer so that it would do his homework for him, hence the book’s title, The Homework Machine. Amazingly, he did it and it worked, but soon thereafter his solution to homework transformed into a problem. Sam, Judy and Kelsey are assigned to be a study group with Brenton. The four are as different as can be, yet they have one thing in common. They all want in on the Homework Machine action and so the secret grows. Events gain momentum in their downhill roll and, eventually, their moral lapse is revealed. Written in concise chapters, each is narrated by a character explaining his/her perspective on the situation. Dan Gutman creates a sometimes humorous, sometimes harshly real view of following opportunities without considering their consequences. A great read-aloud perfectly suited for discussion of or the chance to write about right versus wrong and the morality of our actions and maybe even a little bit about big dreams.

By Dan Gutman

Accelerated Reader Level 4.8

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No Ordinary Story!

There are authors whose writing is ordinary and those whose ability to tell a story is simply extraordinary. I am happy to say that Natalie Lloyd’s offering, The Key to Extraordinary, is an example of the latter. From the first page to the last, readers will love the community and scenery Lloyd has created for her multilayered, entertaining protagonist, Emma. She lives with her Granny Blue, a gruff-on-the-outside character with ties to country music and boxing, and her kind and talented baking brother, Topher. Their home, with living space on top, has their bakery, the Boneyard Cafe, on the bottom, named fittingly.  Behind it is the town cemetery, where the backs of necks are often lightly touched and etherial songs can be heard.

Emma is a girl struggling with her “big empty”, a hole inside her left by the death of her mother. Before her passing, mama tells Emma that she will soon have her Destiny Dream. As with each previous girl in the family, the dream will reveal the dreamer’s special talent. Mama also gives her a well-worn book, a diary of sorts, with entries from each female relative. Reading the tellings of suffragettes to folktale singers, Emma is amazed and inspired by their extraordinary abilities and contributions. When her own dream happens, Emma, together with her old friend Cody Belle and her new non-verbal friend, Earl,  begins a quest that she believes will fulfill her destiny: to save the Boneyard Cafe and cemetery from a greedy developer by finding a long-missing treasure. It is Emma’s chance to be extraordinary. The tale is complex yet easily followed, with colorful characters full of strong voice, settings that come vibrantly to life and a story line packed with twists and turns. Part adventure, part mystery with a smattering of magic and tie-ins to History, this unique and satisfying tale will entice readers to become part of Emma’s extraordinary world and, maybe, develop a whole new appreciation for both flowers and hot cocoa!

By Natalie Lloyd

Copyright 2016

Accelerated Reader, Level 4.7

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Small But Mighty Chapter Book

Flashback Friday! Wednesday, I scouted out Marion Dane Bauer’s book, Little Cat’s Luck.  This flashback is also by Bauer and was her first venture into chapter books for intermediate readers which feature animals as main characters. Runt, published in 2002, is the sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes triumphant tale of a family of wolves. Five pups are born and each is given a name that reflects their abilities, such as Leader. Born last and smallest, Runt is only called Runt. In attempting to define himself and to convince his father, King,  of his worth, Runt puts himself in dangerous situations and the results make matters worse. But, when King is threatened, Runt finds another chance to prove himself. Bauer successfully draws readers into the world of the wolf and produces a strong adventure story rife with lessons that readers can internalize about trying too hard to impress others, bravery and self-worth.

By Marion Dean Bauer

Accelerated Reader Level 4.8

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So Sweet You Could Get a Cavity!

Marion Dane Bauer has written literally dozens of books for all ages, but I think I like the animal stories she writes for intermediate readers best. Probably not a surprise coming from me. Filled with sweet characters and messages, Bauer’s free verse narrative is a quick and darling tale. Patches, a calico cat, is looking for a special place. She already has a home and a girl who loves her, but feeling driven, she takes advantage of a loose screen and follows her instinct to find that place. After experiencing confusion, danger and hunger, Patches feels certain her special place is, ironically, in a yard occupied by a dog.  Gus is not any dog. He’s equally foul-tempered and foul-smelling and is feared by local residents, both animals and people. Despite his reputation, Patches gives in to hunger and enters Gus’ yard, settles in and finally understands why she needs a special place. She gives birth to three kittens and, aftter awhile Gus becomes their protector. But Patches now has to find her way home and deal with Gus’ attempt to keep Patches and her kittens all for himself. The supporting cast of neighborhood animals, from mice to squirrels, are as cute as can be, offering their skills and wisdom.  The humans play minor roles and that’s just how it should be. The animals in this story teach us humans about kindness, lonliness and love. What could be sweeter? Well, maybe a cup of hot chocolate, a blanket and this book.

By Marion Dane Bauer
Acclerated Reader Level 4.7
Copyright 2017

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October is Meant for Magic (chapter books, that is!)

As soon as the first few leaves spiral down from the trees, pumpkins appear on porches and costumes arrive in stores,  I start to get a hankering for chapter books in the fantasy realm. The one I recently scouted, Upside Down Magic, combines the struggles of a girl, Nory, with starting school and fitting in. So what’s magical? Pretty much everything. Nory’s father can make things invisible, her sister can direct the actions of animals and her brother can conjure fire. Nory has powers, too. Problem is, as a Fluxer, she should be able to transform herself into an animal at will. Sadly, those abilities seem to short circuit more often than not and Nory ends up changing into two animals at once. This off-kilter magic lands Nory in the Dunwiddle Magic School, specifically, the Upside-down Magic Class. Nory, finding the class full of kids with oddball powers, only wants her magic and her life to be normal. Attempts to manage her situation result in engrossing adventures and Nory learning life lessons about herself and others.

The story, a collaboration of three expert authors, is wonderfully penned. The characters of varying cultures and the challenges of Nory and her classmates are artfully woven to make a story with wide appeal. Readers in grades 3-5 who love fantasy as well as those who fancy stories with strong-willed main characters will want to dive into this book like a dog into a pile of leaves. This book is the first in a series.

Written by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Accelerated Reader Level ranges from 3.7-4.2

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Each Chapter Filled with Unlucky Winners!

Linda Lacrosse is aware that she is an unlucky person, things just don’t go her way.  So, after buying a lottery ticket to use as part of a math lesson for her class, she has no qualms about offering to share her potential winnings equally with her class. But this verbal agreement  is not good enough, according to her students in room 13. They want a contract in writing. Linda and the kids sign, except for the kid who was absent that day. Amazingly, their teacher’s ticket IS the winner and, true to her word and the contract, she splits the winnings. One million dollars goes to each student, except, again, the student who was absent that day.   Honest Lee, the author, dedicates one short chapter to each of the now-millionaire room 13 students, telling the tale of  how he or she spends their sudden windfall. Some students have selfish motives, for example, the one who cloned himself, while others try to better the world, but most of them meet with disaster and lose it all. The conclusion, of course, is that money can’t buy most things kids desire, especially happiness. Perhaps, the student who was absent the day of the lottery contract was, in fact, the luckiest kid in room 13! The story is clever and funny and students, particularly those in grades 3-5, will enjoy the silly spending decisions and the good-ideas-gone-bad conjured up by Lee. Readers will ponder what they would do with a million dollars. Sharp teachers will capitalize on the opportunity to read the book aloud and use its premise to motivate students to do some wildly creative writing of their own.

Written by Honest Lee, copyright 2017, Accelerated Reader Level 4.9

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If you enjoy this chapter book, you’ll be happy to learn that it’s the beginning of a series.  Below are the further (mis)adventures of the students of room 13.

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Historical fiction so alive, you can almost feel its heartbeat!

This book, published in 2015, is incredibly well-written historical fiction that many of my students who read at a 4th or 5th grade level considered one of their favorite stories ever!  Set in WWII London, Ava, an eleven-year-old girl born with a club foot and her younger brother, Jaime, are in crisis. Their mother, a broken woman with a cruel streak, intends to save Jaime from the dangers of war by sending him north, leaving Ava, to whom she is physically and emotionally abusive, and herself behind. But Ava is determined, despite her disability, to accompany him. Once up north, the children are provided for by Susan, a woman who is standoffish, due to her own struggles.  Ada, who feels undeserving of love, finds comfort in a kinship with Butter, a horse. This story of strife and triumph is filled with depth through its well-crafted characters and highly dramatic events. It is a not-to-be-missed slice of historical fiction!

Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, AR level 4.1, Newbery Honor Award.

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Not often is the sequel to a book equal to it’s predecessor, but this one is pretty close. In it, Ava’s foot surgery transforms her physically, but emotionally she still struggles to define her place in her surrogate family and reconcile her identity. With the war still raging, Susan, Jaime and Ava are forced to move to a small guest house with Lady Thorton, Maggie, her daughter, and Ruth, a bright Jewish girl from Germany.  In these tight quarters, tempers flare, fears are voiced and a tragedy affects them all. By book’s end, relationships are transformed, family is redefined and Ava finally wins her war within.

This book does contain a death from war. The AR level is 3.7, but the material is mature. Don’t let the lower level dissuade 5th or 6th grade readers from picking up this novel!

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