Review: San Francisco: A 3D Keepsake Cityscape

San Francisco: A 3D Keepsake CityscapeSan Francisco: A 3D Keepsake Cityscape by Charlotte Trounce

Candlewick Press (2013)

This is a fun and beautifully illustrated cut-out novelty book of landmarks in San Francisco – like a map book. It is well done and accurate enough to inspire any visitor to the city or remind someone of the terrific trip they had once. With detailed map scenes of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, China Town and other easily recognizable parts of the City by the Bay, it is a terrific visual book and enjoyable for young children as well as adults. The book comes in a cardboard sleeve for easy shelving, making it durable and a great novelty for anyone who loves San Francisco.

Quantitative: No Lexile or ATOS available

Qualitative: This book consists primarily of map components, with indexing and markings consistent with maps and landmark depictions.

Content Area: Social Science: Geography – San Francisco

Common Core Standards: RI.3.7

Additional/Digital Content:

San Francisco city map:

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Review: Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore

Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up On Mount RushmoreHanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury

Dial Books (Penguin Young Readers Group):NY (2012)

ISBN13: 9780803737310

In this picture book biography, readers meet Lincoln, the young son of Gutzon Borglum, as he grows up in the shadows of Mt. Rushmore as it is being carved from the mountains of South Dakota. The story is told through his eyes and recollections but it is also a story of our nation, as personalities and politics ebbed and flowed in the decades of work on the sculpture. Borglum’s story is that of a boy who spent his childhood watching the progress and getting to know the workmen and families involved, eventually to take over the project and see it completed after his father passed away.

This is a terrific biography, telling the story not only of Lincoln Borglum, but also of his father and the other who made the Mt. Rushmore project possible from President Coolidge to the many workmen who lived and worked on the mountain project.

Quantitative: ATOS 5.8

Qualitative: This book is suitable for lower grades (K-3) as a biography examining the history of the United States and the Mt. Rushmore project itself. It contains a short bibliography at the end which includes resources for further research on the Borglum family and the monument.

Content Area: English; History: U.S.

Common Core Standards: RI.1.1, RI.1.3, RI.1.6, RI.1.7; RI.2.1, RI.2.3,

Additional/Digital Content:

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Review: The Robot Zoo

Robot ZooRobot Zoo by Philip Whitfield

Turner Publishing: GA (1994)

ISBN13: 9781840280821

Perfect for STEM, This is a really amazing book for use as a science informational text, exploring biomechanics. There is animal anatomy and plenty of very detailed illustrations and cut aways to allow children to see both the physical composition of their favorite zoo friends as well as mechanical illustration to show the physical make-up of each. There is also a very precise biomechanical engineering aspect to this book, as the robotic illustrations show readers how mechanisms could be designed to function in the same manner as the animal’s natural structure. This book is great for incorporating STEM concepts in the classroom and allows for the exploration and discussion of various robotic functions and the biomechanics of these living creatures. Similar to The Way Things Work books, this one shows the insides in a whole new light!

The computerized animals are fun and curiously frightening at the same time. Aside from the 3-page fold-out of the mechanized giraffe, which is not to be missed, one of my favorite illustrations was the mechanical rhinoceros. The extra-strong supports, shock-absorbing pads, ball and socket joints and dual food processors keep him running smoothly – and his fly swatter (tail) is perfectly suited for those hot days in Africa! But not all animals are so big – don’t miss the T4 virus on page 42 as well as the Glossary, which explains and compares matching anatomical and mechanical components for students who may not understand exactly how  ear drums or nerves function.

Quantitative: No Lexile Level or ATOS available.

Qualitative: Due to the anatomical and mechanical terms used in the illustrations, this book is best suited for use in grades 3 and up. It could also be used in lower grades with guidance and additional resources.

Content Area: Science – STEM

Common Core Standards: RI.1.1, RI.1.2, RI.1.6, RI.2.7,

Additional/Digital Resources:

Robot Zoo website:

AAAS Science NetLinks:

Personal Note: This book is a little bit Magic School Bus and a little bit The Way Things Work and kids love it. The revelation of “what’s underneath” really appeals to kids K-5 and this book shows everything – from the visual receptors (eyes), food processors (stomachs),  to the waste disposal units (yes, that too)- nothing is left out!

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Review: A Bag of Marbles

A Bag of MarblesA Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo – Graphic Novel

Lerner Publishing (Graphic Universe): MN (2013)

ISBN13: 9781467707008

This story is based on the true story of Joseph Joffo who, at the age of ten in 1941, was sent by his father to go with his older brother, given fifty francs and instructions to flee Nazi-occupied Paris for unoccupied France. The story of their survival is amazing but this presentation of the story is not. The boys’ journey takes them across a dangerous landscape via every type of transportation available and on foot.

I was disappointed with the language choices in this book and frankly I think younger readers would find it disappointing as well. It is not authentic and appears to be written in the hopes of attracting a specific age of reader rather than to make a great story that could be enjoyed by readers of any age. With phrases such as ‘hop to it’ ‘don’t have a fit’ ‘hold your horses’ ‘stop blubbering’ ‘you’re gonna get it’ and ‘doorbell ditches’ set against the backdrop of 1941 Paris, the symmetry is severely lacking. It is difficult to imagine YA readers buying in without realizing the graphic has been dumbed down.

However, I was very impressed with the graphic art itself. The street scenes, characters and situational depictions are beautifully done and integrated into an amazing journey of their own. I especially liked the graphics of the story within the story that the boys’ father tells them at bedtime. The drawings are stylized to offset them from the main graphic novel content. It is a common technique but cleverly used here.

Quantitative: ATOS 2.5

Qualitative: Middle Grades (6-8) The story is graphic and contains violence and some profanity. The themes of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany and occupied France, anti-Semitism and violence against Jews are depicted visually which brings them into stark focus for readers. Recommended for mature readers with prior knowledge of these themes.

Content Area: History – European – France – Nazis; History – Jewish; History – Holocaust; Biography; WWII;

Common Core Standards: RI.6.2, RI.6.3, RI.6.7, RI.6.9; RI.8.1, RI.8.3, RI.8.7

Additional/Digital Content:

National Holocaust Museum website – Educator resources:

Holocaust survivor stories and links:

Personal Notes: The original published version of this story (published by University of Chicago Press, 2001) was also a graphic novel, intended for ages 11-18. Joseph Joffo first published his memoir in France in 1971 and it has since been translated into 18 languages since then.

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Review: We Love California!

We Love California!We Love California! by Gabriella Francine

BBM Books (2013)

ISBN13: 9781938504013

As an informational text, this book was a well-illustrated and imaginative romp through the State of California. Starting with two real girls’ imagination and joined by a tour guiding descendant of the California State flag model, “Monarch” the Grizzly Bear, they are transformed into cartoons and begin to explore. The girls venture throughout the state, learning many of the state symbols and visiting landmarks along the way. The depictions are very well done: the capitol building is accurately detailed, the California poppies and state seal are very realistic. My favorite illustration was of the state grass: purple needlegrass. This is a very distinct plant and it grows in my own grandmother’s yard. The book is a fun addition to any library section on the state in terms of content; however, the language used in the book was not particularly complex considering the intended age for this book. Also, in a book of only 32 pages, finding 38 exclamation marks was a little distracting. Not everything warrants a shout out! I would recommend it, particularly for a read-aloud – yelling is optional.

Quantitative: No Lexile or ATOS available.

Qualitative: Lower Grade (K-3). Language is grade level and content is appropriate for use as read-aloud or as a source for information on the State of California.

Content Area: History: States – California

Common Core Standards: RL.1.1, RL.1.7, RL.1.9; W.1.2, W.1.3; L.1.2.a-e

Additional/Digital Resources:

State of California website – Student Portal:

Personal Notes: The punctuation in this book is excellent for illustrating editing and grammar in their own writing. The abundance of exclamation marks is a good topic for class discussions.

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Review: Hooked: When Addiction Hits Home

Hooked: When Addiction Hits HomeHooked: When Addiction Hits Home by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes

Annick Press (2013)

ISBN 9781554514748

I have high praise for the brave young people who were willing to share their powerful, painful and generally raw stories of the destructive addictions that have shaped and shattered their lives. These stories, written in the voices of the children who lived through them, are heartbreaking, partly due to the visceral nature of the family secrets retold and partly because readers know these secrets are true. As a tool for other youth facing similar situations in their families, this book has some extremely candid moments to offer and is written in a way that is very authentic.

That being said, I believe a reader of such stories needs to feel some sense of recovery afterwards just as the narrators do. The stories shared by these young people as part of their recovery offer no way up for readers and in many cases the take-away is very negative. In his introduction, Munsch describes for readers his own addiction and offers only that “addiction is a disease and not a child’s fault.” This may be true, but if you are going to ask readers to invest in a book, there needs to be some element of it that is for the reader – not just therapeutic for the writer. Some sort of insight, either from a professional in the area of addiction recovery or from youth counselors who have something to offer towards breaking the cycle of addiction in families. There is a lot of regret and damage in these stories. If readers cannot find hope for recovery then it will leave them wondering if any of these young people ever found that hope in their lives.

The true value of this book is in the discussions and terrifying topics that it brings into the classroom when you read it. Students are much more realistic in their acceptance of the ugly, horrifying things they may face in life – unlike most adults who do not want to believe such terrible things happen to children. In a room with students facing some of the issues in these stories, this book is a gateway to exploring and discussing those topics that hurt and damage them. It provides a safe, vicarious way for students to talk about difficult issues that they themselves may be dealing with in their own lives.

Quantitative: 120 pages

Qualitative: Upper Grade (10-12) mature themes and language. This is not a complex text in the use of vocabulary or structure but the content makes it suitable for mature readers only. Guided reading is recommended.

Content Area: Health – Addiction; Social Science – Families

Common Core Standards: RI.11-12.1; L.11-12.4

Additional/Digital Resources:

Discovery Education – Lesson plans exploring cycle of addiction:

National Institute of Health – Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction:

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Review: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and PoetReview: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

by Andrea Cheng

Lee & Low Books: NY (2013)

ISBN: 978160060451

This is the story of the life of Dave, a slave whose owner’s family own Pottersville Stoneware. When Dave learns the craft, his natural ability leads him to become a renown potter in the south who inscribed his works with sayings and short poems in spite of the slave anti-literacy sentiment in South Carolina in the years leading up to the Civil War. 

The pages contain a variety of voices and verses presenting the views of life from the perspectives of not only Dave, but also those who see him as their property, his two wives, his admirers, his champion (the owner’s wife who teaches him to read) as well as his adversaries. The prose is succinct and plain, much like the language and words exchanged in the time of Dave’s life. The power of brevity is beautifully displayed and subtly pressed into the pages using wood block illustrations. This is a song that shows young readers how a slave named Dave became an extraordinary man, a skilled craftsman with clay and wheel, and a literate man who found a way to share his messages of hope with the world.

Quantitative: Lexile Level 790; ATOS 5.0

Qualitative: Middle grades 4-8; YA biography written in verse.

Content area: English; Social Studies, Biography, Poetry, History-Slavery, Civil War

Common Core Standards: RI.4.1, 4.3, 4.5, 4.6;  RH.6-8.4-RH.6-8.9

Additional/Digital Resources:

Personal Note:  There are so many things to love about this book it is hard to know where to start. This book was a pleasure from cover to cover. This “narrative biography, told in verse” uses words the way Dave used his sharp stick – to carve words that seem simple but hold great power. The wood block illustrations are carved as well giving this collection an “etched” feeling in every way.

Andrea Cheng combines the words left behind by Dave (Drake) on the pottery he shaped as a slave in the early nineteenth century with the imagined musings, “dramatic extensions” of truth and reflections of the people around him. This book is a treasure and illustrates the internal conflicts of those who believed in the mid-1800’s that slaves should be educated and that the human spirit will always find a way to make its mark on history. This is a book to buy, to share and to aspire to. As Dave says “… when I write, I am a man.” These are words you don’t want to miss

Subjects/Themes: Slavery, Civil War, Biography, Poetry

Includes bibliography and maps.

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