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.
Author Eva Ibbotson, who passed away in 2010, had a way with words. Today’s Flashback Friday selection from 2003 is Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, In it, Ibbotson creates a multilayered tale that takes readers from England to the Amazon and is peppered with characters from kind to cruel. It’s 1910, and Maia is attending a girl’s academy in England when she gets word that she is no longer an orphan. An aunt, uncle and their twins have stepped forward as relatives. Excited to have relatives, start a new life and see the Amazon, Maia sets out on a long journey by land and sea with Miss Minton, her governess. Initially, MIss Minton is rather icy, but eventually Maia and Miss Minton warm to each other and grow close. Upon their arrival in Brazil, life becomes complicated. The Carters, Maia’s new relatives, are horrid people running an unsuccessful rubber plantation who despise the jungle. Maia loves her wild new world, but feels trapped by the Carters. A young actor friend, Clovis, met along her journey and a fellow jungle-loving friend, Finn, play important parts as well in Maia’s adventures.
Ibbotson’s story is enthralling, complex and well written. Readers who love classic tales full of excitement will be drawn into Maia’s journey and the cunning ways she navigates her adventures in the Amazon.
Written by Eva Ibbotson
Accelerated Reader Level 5.7
Why I like this book:
It is the kind of book that hooks you and you just have to read one more chapter before you go to sleep. Maia is relatable and many readers will imagine themselves in South America, excited, scared and brave as is Maia. The word choice, descriptions and adventures are indicative of a classic tale, which I find entertaining and satisfying to read.
Back in 2005, Gloria Whelan wrote Listening for Lions, this week’s Flashback Friday feature. It is a tale reminiscent of many classics, with an enthralling story line, settings worthy of a painting and characters deeply ensconced in their desires, whether good or evil. Living in East Africa in 1919, Rachel is but 13 when her parents, missionaries, die of influenza, as does Valerie Pritchard, their neighbor’s daughter. Rachel dearly loves Africa and has no desire to leave. Finding herself in the care of the Pritchards, Rachel feels desperate. As the plot thickens, the Pritchards devise an immoral, if not downright evil, plan. Since they have burned their bridges with the wealthy grandfather of their family, they planned to send Valerie to live with this patriarch in failing health, win him over and have them reinstated in his will. With the death of Valerie, their revised plan becomes to send Rachel, also a redhead, in her place, tricking grandfather in an attempt to still accomplish their greedy goal. Rachel wants to refuse, but relents, traveling to England and forming a strong bond with their frail grandfather despite the deception.
Scene descriptions bring the settings to life and readers will feel for the predicament in which Rachel has found herself. Will good win over evil? Will Rachel return to Africa? If you’ve read The Secret Garden and similar classics, give this story a go and you will once again experience the satisfaction of a good story, well told.
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!
Yea! It’s Flashback Friday! Today I feature a book written at the beginning of our new millineum, the year 2000. Seems like yesterday, but, alas, it was not.
Lerner Chanse, the protagonist, enrolls in a new middle school and is, frankly, miserable. The cool kids rule the school and the nerds suffer. Lerner doesn’t want to be part of either group. Amidst her despair, she discovers a worm, Fip, with special abilities. When this “Word Eater” eats paper, not only are the words on the paper devoured, the real life item disappears, as well. Yes, the premise is way out there. Yes, there are a few subplots that bird-walk off topic. Nonetheless, this story gets the imaginations of young chapter book readers fired up! Example: the book worm eats the words “vending machine” and, viola, the vending machine disappears, leaving its delectable, sugary treats strewn on the floor! The possibilities are endless and Lerner starts to contemplate them. Should she use the book worm to get rid of the cool kids? She could make her life so much better, but who or what would get hurt in the process? Morals come into play and the stakes get higher as the the Word Eater’s powers are discovered by others and Fip falls into the wrong hands. Ask your chapter book reader what he or she would make disappear with a Word Eater of their own and listen as the wheels in their noggins start turning. A great book for inspiring creative writing.
Written by Mary Amato (a fabulous writer, poet and playwright)
I read this book to my fourth grade class and they loved it. Then, I put it in my teacher’s closet and promptly forgot about it. Much later, as a librarian, a third grade teacher asked me for a read aloud for her class, something that her kids hadn’t already heard from previous teachers or knew from the library, something different. A light bulb sparked in my head and I brought out Stephen Manes’, Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days. That third grade teacher read it to her class, then passed it on to the other third grade classes. Ah……success! Originally published in the mid-nineties and republished in 2013, it is one flashback worth bringing back. The premise is this: K. Pinkerton Silverfish, wacky professor, wrote a book, a three day program that he believed could make anyone perfect. Milo Crinkley (don’t you just love these names?), walking through the library, was struck in the head by the book as it fell from a shelf and took it as a sign. He decided then and there that being perfect would be a great thing to be. Milo checked out the book and began Pinkerton’s plan, strange as it was. One requirement of the program involved Milo wearing broccoli around his neck, which was embarrassing to be sure. Perfectionism, it turns out, comes at a pretty high cost. Readers will cringe and giggle as Milo shows perseverance and learns lessons in humility, personal growth and what it means to be perfectly imperfect.
The reading level is 4. There is no AR test for this book.
Katherine Applegate is an amazing writer, having produced picture books, intermediate-level books and young adult books. Her characters have included a gorilla, an imaginary cat and now…..a tree! Who knew that a tree, an oak named Red, who can neither talk to humans nor physically move, could be the main character of a book for 4th-6th grade readers? Yet, indeed, this old oak tells a powerful story about problems, both human and plant, and how kindness is the answer to them both. Red’s spent 200 plus years rooted near the elementary school, watching over the neighborhood and it’s residents while graciously providing a home for the area’s small animals. Red’s closest friend, Bongo, a bird, nests in his branches and adds a sometimes snarky perspective in contrast to Red’s philosophical ways. Each May, residents write a wish on a piece of cloth and tie it to Red’s branches. Over time, Red becomes known as the Wishtree. Red has seen human’s wishes come true, but has also witnessed the cruel treatment of newcomers to America who’ve settled in the neighborhood. These acts of prejudice started decades earlier when an Irish immigrant girl was the target of the spiteful behavior of others. Unfortunately, they continued to the present with the word “leave” carved in Red’s bark as a threatening message to Samar, a Muslim immigrant girl. The story intensifies as Red and Bongo concoct a plan to help Samar. Additionally, the friends must deal with the reality that Red’s roots, which have enabled growth and strength, are now interfering with the plumbing on a neighborhood woman’s property. As a result, she intends to cut Red down. The resolution of plant and human problems is satisfying and, by books’ end, having the tale told by a tree makes uniquely perfect sense.
Wishtree is written in short chapters and is Accelerated Reader level 4.2
Thanks for landing here! I’m a teacher, reading specialist and librarian with a special place in my heart for fabulous chapter books. I hope this blog helps parents connect their intermediate level readers (in the range of 3-6 graders) with great chapter books, some new, some recent and, occasionally, an older selection that shouldn’t be missed. Check in often to see the next chapter books I have scouted out!
“Great books excite reader’s imaginations and make indelible connections to lives and hearts.” Anonymous