Tag Archives: school

A Review of Two of the ‘Kids of Polk Street School’ Books

The Kids of the Polk Street School series is written for young readers who are eagerly beginning to stretch their reading skills to chapter books.  This is quite an exciting time of new goals for children. Each book focuses on a student in Ms. Rooney’s second grade classroom.

The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room

“Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times, in all circumstances.”  – St. Vincent de Paul

Reading level

3.2        [Scholastic – reflects the grade level at which a student reading on grade could read the book independently]

2.1         [AR]

Interest level

Grades  3 – 5

Review and Comments

The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room, the first book in the series, introduces readers to several typical second grade students.  Richard “Beast” Best is one of the students beginning the new school year in Ms. Rooney’s class – for the second time.  Because of this, Richard has to deal with a lot of concerns before he feels comfortable in a class of younger children.  What will he tell his old classmates about why he was left back?  Why does he have to feel so big next to the other second graders?  Why does he still have baby teeth?  Why can he only read ten words? Why does he get in trouble so often? The reader understands more about Richard’s struggles through his relationships with other students who eventually support and accept him.  Inevitably, there is also an irritating student who attempts to upset Richard’s adjustment to the new school year with hurtful remarks. Continue reading A Review of Two of the ‘Kids of Polk Street School’ Books

Finding Greatness: A Review of ‘Wonder’

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” –from Wonder

Grade Level:

Grades 5-8

Review and Thoughts

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is one of those great middle elementary books that teaches everyone the struggles and beauties of life and how sometimes they become entwined and we can’t have one without the other.

The story begins with our introduction to August Pullman who has been born with a terrible facial deformity.  In fact, when he is first born, he tells us that the nurses took him away so that his mother couldn’t see him.  He goes on to explain how everyone is so shocked and flustered in the hospital, but when his mother sees him, she notices how beautiful his eyes are and loves him the way any mother would.  And so the book begins with that combination of struggle and beauty and continues throughout. Continue reading Finding Greatness: A Review of ‘Wonder’

Rhythmical Creation of Beauty in Words: A Review of ‘Pocket Poems’

“Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.”–Carl Sandburg

Grade Level:

K-1

Review and Comments:

Pocket Poems by Bobbi Katz is an anthology of 55 short poems that are both humorous and thought provoking. They cover subjects from nature themes to a twist on traditional stories like ‘Humpty Dumpty’, ‘The Old Woman in the Shoe’, and ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. There is even a poem written in English and Spanish entitled “You – Tu.”  Teachers will find the poem using homophones and a few poems about punctuation marks good additions to English lessons.  My particular favorites are “The Drum” and [from]” Arithmetic.”  The poems are written by classic authors such as Emily Dickinson and Carl Sandburg along with contemporary authors like the author of the anthology, Bobbie Katz. Continue reading Rhythmical Creation of Beauty in Words: A Review of ‘Pocket Poems’

Life Spills Over For Better or Worse: A Review of ‘The Great Gilly Hopkins’

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and worse.”  Pope Benedict XVI

Reading Level:

Grades  4-5

Review and Thoughts:

Foster Child: a child without parental support and protection, placed with a person or family to be cared for, usually by local welfare services or by court order. This is Gilly Hopkins.  Gilly, or Galadriel Hopkins, is an eleven year old girl who is starting over yet again in the third foster home in three years through circumstances beyond her control.  Gilly’s life experiences have forced her to create a list of rules written on her heart.  These rigid rules are what she fights to live by:

  1. I will accept no kisses or hugs.
  2. I will be clever and hard to manage.
  3. I will dare anyone to accept me or change me.
  4. I will be in charge of my own life.
  5. I will never appear the fool.
  6. I will never need help.
  7. I will be in charge of my education by making teachers treat me differently.
  8. I will be tough.
  9. I will continue to build a reputation and be proud of it.
  10. I will never attach myself to something that is likely to blow away some day.
  11. I will be Galadriel Hopkins – some day.

Continue reading Life Spills Over For Better or Worse: A Review of ‘The Great Gilly Hopkins’

Making a Mark: A Review of ‘The Dot’

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar Degas

Reading Level:

Grades K-1

Review and Thoughts:

Many of us have confronted a blank paper when faced with the task of writing an assignment or drawing a picture. It can feel overwhelming.  After some initial struggles there is a glimmer of an idea – the promise of something unique and worthwhile.  Then, the first sentence or the first stroke blossoms into an exclusive creation. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is a story about such an experience. Continue reading Making a Mark: A Review of ‘The Dot’

A Mysterious Turn of Events: A Review of ‘Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery’

By Deborah and James Howe

A dog has one aim in life…. to bestow his heart. J. R. Ackerley

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.  Ernest Hemingway

Reading Level:

Grades 4-5

Review and Thoughts

Before the actual story begins James Howe, the author, explains the evolution of Bunnicula — how he and his wife created a group of characters who became a story and ultimately how that story became the book, Bunnicula.

The Editor’s Note is quite clever and explains how the story of Bunnicula is then delivered to the editor by a dog carrying a large brown envelope.  Inside the envelope is a letter addressed to the editors. The letter is actually written by the dog and explains that the manuscript, also in the envelope, is written in his own words.  It tells a true story about his family (names changed to protect family), and he hopes they find it interesting enough to publish. Continue reading A Mysterious Turn of Events: A Review of ‘Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery’

A Third Grader Extraordinaire: A Review of ‘Clementine’

“When the light turns green, you go.  When the light turns red, you stop.  But what do you do when the light turns blue and orange with lavender spots?”  Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

Reading Level

Grades 2-3

 Review and Thoughts

“There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine.”   This is a testimony given by Clementine’s parents, and the reader will surely agree with them after reading about one week in her life. Clementine is an extraordinary girl, although some may say she is a bit peculiar. She has a lot of ideas and impressions about things bouncing around in her head, and the reader is allowed to observe them as they develop.  They provide a good idea of who this young whirlwind of a girl is.  She says, “Spectacular ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.”  I have to “grab them fast or else they get bored and bounce away.” These notions often lead to dilemmas that become more and more complicated, and the consequences of her actions are not what Clementine thinks about until she meets them face to face. Continue reading A Third Grader Extraordinaire: A Review of ‘Clementine’

Wounding Others: A Review of ‘Falling into Place’

“No one heals himself by wounding another.”—Saint Ambrose

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grade 10-12

Review and Thoughts

I heard about Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang from the HarperCollins Common Core Reading List recommendations for high school students.  I feel like the increase in contemporary literature in today’s high schools can really help students find that love of reading that they may have lost.  At this age most students have been reading classic literature and may have had trouble connecting with it.   Unfortunately, along with contemporary literature comes a lot of contemporary issues.  I, in no way, ever condone banning a book, but there are times I feel like some literature may not be the best fit for a classroom setting.  I would strongly advise parents to look for an alternative contemporary piece.  I think Zhang’s writing is truly poetic and beautiful, but this book does not portray much goodness in its characters.  I understand that teens are bombarded with these issues in media and even in their own schools, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we need to teach it in our classrooms as well. Continue reading Wounding Others: A Review of ‘Falling into Place’

Friendship Marks a Life: A Review of ‘Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon’

“I want my friend to miss me as long as I miss him.”  Saint Augustine

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger is a realistic story about Amber, a spunky third grader, who is almost always very confident.  She knows she is messy, has a good memory, and can sometimes be sarcastic, according to her mom.  Her teacher says she has “an active imagination,” and she doesn’t argue that point.  She expresses her feelings so well throughout the story that the reader is allowed into the special places in her heart.  When she begins a sentence with “I, Amber Brown….” it signals that she is about to make an important announcement about herself and her present state of mind.  Amber is facing a very difficult year however. Her best friend is moving away. We can see that at the beginning of her story she is struggling with the emotions of losing her best friend when she says, “When I grow up and remember third grade, I’m going to immediately try to forget it.” This is her journey. Continue reading Friendship Marks a Life: A Review of ‘Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon’

Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  St. Thomas More

Suggested Grade Level

Grades 2-3

Review and Thoughts

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary is a realistic fiction story about a girl named Ramona, her sister Beezus, and her parents. We are allowed a close up look at this family as they handle the pressures of everyday life, adjustments to new schools for the girls and the dad, money issues, and family responsibilities.  All of this is seen through the eyes and imagination of Ramona.

Ramona is a lively and dramatic character.  Throughout the story the reader gets an intimate glimpse into her thoughts and interpretations about the events in her life. Many times these thoughts are humorous and may sound familiar and at other times they are not very nice, like those of an upset eight- year-old.  What’s fair and not fair is always an issue with children, and Ramona is no different.  She just desperately wants to be “the clever young daughter who is doing her part to help the family,” but life and her perception of things seem to get in the way, and she struggles to uphold that promise to herself. Continue reading Inside the Imagination of an Eight-year-old: A Review of ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’