Category Archives: celebrating differences

Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

hi_res_FLF_COVER_2-330 The first time I heard Charlotte’s Web was while sitting on the carpet of my 4th grade classroom in 1975 when Mrs. Smith read the book aloud to us. I was captivated. At the time, I had no idea that the book was already more than 20 years old. Fleabrain Loves Franny opens in the early 1950s, just after E.B. White published Charlotte’s Web, and main character Franny is just as smitten with Charlotte as I was. We meet Franny not long after she’s recovered from polio and is grappling with life in a wheelchair. She’s still considered contagious by her friends and their parents, and she wishes for a friend like Charlotte. Fleabrain is no Charlotte, but his imperfect love for Franny sets her off on a journey–both fantastical and internal–that provides both a needed escape from reality as well as a solid plan for her new normal. Franny is a sympathetic character who doesn’t evoke pity, but respect. One of my favorite lines is when Franny’s former gang of friends parades by her house yet again, waving and saying how much they miss her. She thinks: “Which Franny do you miss? Because, actually, I’ve been here all along. In the flesh.” She doesn’t want or need to be treated with kid gloves, and the resolved friendships in the end are both satisfying and realistic.

Teachers and students often ask if we have any new historical fiction titles on the shelves, and I’m looking forward to recommending this one in the fall.

Publisher’s description:  This gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness

Hand this book to the kid who:

* enjoys historical fiction

* is interested in science (especially microbiology and germs/bacteria/viruses/medicine)

* loves a light touch of fantasy

* is struggling with feeling different from his or her peers

* would like to vicariously visit the Seven Wonders of the World

* is a fan of  E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Katie Speck’s Maybelle series.


Use this book to discuss:

* Differences–So often we highlight ways in which we are different from other people, instead of celebrating the many ways that we are alike. Having a peek into Franny’s point of view, we realize that the kernel of who she is has not changed; it’s her community who has changed the way they see her through a lens of fear

* The science behind vaccines –As I looked through our library’s online catalog, I realized that we have quite a few non-fiction titles about epidemics and the role/effects of disease throughout history. Jonas Salk, the man who discovered the polio vaccine, is mentioned several times in the book.

* Points of View–While most of the story is told from Franny’s point of view, we do see snippets of Fleabrain’s point of view, as well. Especially in the end, when Fleabrain can’t communicate with Franny, students can discuss misunderstanding, intentions, and forgiveness all within the context of friendship.

For schools with Internet filters that block YouTube, click here for the trailer on School Tube.

Visit author Joanne Rocklin’s website here and my interview with her here in 2012.

Many thanks to the publisher who provided this e-galley via Netgalley.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams Books

Publication Date: August 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-1068-1

Number of Pages: 288

For ages 9-12


The Vampirina Ballerina books by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Today Biblio Links welcomes picture book author Anne Marie Pace! Anne Marie’s fourth picture book was released this summer to rave reviews, and it is guaranteed to make Vampirina Ballerina fans squeal with delight. (If you haven’t met Vampirina yet, then get thee to a bookstore!)

Here’s the description of the first Vampirina book:

9781423157533Oh, to be a ballerina! It’s a challenge for any little girl, but even more so if you happen to be a vampire like Vampirina. First of all, you have to find a class that meets at night. Then you have to figure out how to perfect your form when you can’t see yourself in the mirror?  And then there’s wearing pink (not the most flattering of colors if you happen to be undead) and that nagging urge to take a little nip out of the other dancers. And worse of all… STAGE FRIGHT!!!

…and the adorable second book:

9781423175704Before Vampirina can host her very first sleepover there are a few things she must keep in mind: be polite and offer her guests food (like blood pudding); plan some games like scavenger hunt (but keep the clues simple so no one gets lost); and don’t forget to dance! Vampirina may be a little nervous at first, but by following a few simple rules she will host the Best Sleepover Ever.

I promise you will fall in love with this ballet-loving vampire who just wants to fit in. The Vampirina books are the kind that offer something different each time you read them. My students love Vampirina, and the first read-through with them is always a delight. But the more kids hear or read the book and examine the detail in the illustrations, the more they glean from the story. They always make text-to-self connections about times when they felt different from their peers.

In the second Vampirina book, I know my students will make these same types of connections, but this time centered on family. Many of my students are immigrants, and their families bring their own rich and layered cultural traditions with them to this country. Sometimes it makes them stand out from other families, and it can be tricky for a kid to balance their home culture with that of the community in which they now live. I can’t wait to share this new Vampirina book with my students.

I asked author and former teacher Anne Marie Pace how her Vampirina books might be used in the classroom.

16048Biblio Links: Welcome, Anne Marie!
A student walks into my library and I think: THAT kid needs a Vampirina Ballerina book. Who is this child?

Anne Marie Pace: I can think of several types of kid who might need a Vampirina book. There are certainly people who see a little girl ballerina on the cover and assume it’s meant for small girls who love to dance, and definitely the books work for those girls.  In fact, even last year, in the first months after release, I received photographs of more than a few girls who had dressed as Vampirina for Halloween.

But surprisingly, when I’ve done school visits, I find that third and fourth grade boys really get the book as a whole.  They really appreciate the tiny creepy details that go over younger children’s heads.  For an example of what I mean, take a look at the ways in which LeUyen Pham portrays Dame Margot Fonteyn, the famous ballerina, throughout the book.

Speaking of tiny details, I’d say a reader who loves examining illustrations closely would also be a great candidate for the  Vampirina books because LeUyen Pham includes incredible telling detail throughout.  I am still discovering new things.

Another reader who might like Vampirina would be a child who feels a little different from his or her peers and needs reassurance that being different is not only a-ok, it’s actually pretty cool.  And of course, they’re good for anyone who likes to laugh!

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see or hear?

Anne Marie Pace: I hope you’d see a lot of kids laughing!  The teacher would have lots to point out to the kids.  She could talk about Dame Margot Fonteyn, whose influence figures prominently in Vampirina’s life; and they might discuss how we can look up to role models.  They could trace the numerous subplots that are present in the illustrations.  And they could move!  Because Vampirina is a dancer, she loves movement. There’s also a wonderful teachers’ guide developed by one Natalie Lorenzi.  It’s available for download on my website.  There are wonderful activities in that guide, from patterning to tooth brushing!

Biblio Links: Creating the teacher’s guide for Vampirina was so much fun! The story and illustrations lend themselves so well to activities across the curriculum. With the story’s theme of fitting in, school guidance counselors will want to add these to their shelves, too.

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Anne Marie PaceMy website is a starting point:  There are also a lot of links on the Vampirina Ballerina Facebook page, at  And Linda Urban did a series of blog posts with both me and LeUyen Pham, the illustrator.  Those links are here, here, and here.

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Anne Marie!

You can also follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @AnneMariePace.

Look for Anne Marie’s other picture books published by Scholastic Book Clubs. Click on either book cover to learn more.

Strangers final front coverTeacher for Bear

The teacher’s guide link to the first Vampirina book is here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Dates: Fall 2012 (Vampirina Ballerina) and Summer 2013 (Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover)

ISBN-13: 978-1423157533 (Vampirina Ballerina)

ISBN-13: 978-1423175704 (Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover)

Interest Level: Ages 2 to 6

Number of Pages: 40

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Ten Picture Books with Multicultural Casts of Characters (That Have Absolutely Nothing To Do With Race or Culture)

42cc2-pb10for10015-1Many thanks to teachers Mandy Robek and Cathy Mere for creating the August Picture Book 10 for 10 event! Click on their names above to visit their blogs where you’ll find  links to more Top 10 picture book lists from  bloggers around the kidlitosphere.

My list has more than 10 titles, because I’ve included several series–same authors with (usually) the same illustrators and the same lovable cast of characters.

As a school librarian in a culturally and linguistically diverse school district, I’m always looking for books that highlight different cultures and life experiences for my students. Books introduce kids to everything from Cinco de Mayo to Ramadan to the life experiences of an undocumented immigrant child in the U.S. But my students also want stories about fairies and friends, monsters and space travel.

Try this…the next time you’re at the library or in a book store, pull some picture books at random from the shelves–books with at least one character who is a child  (not only animals or aliens or monsters), and a story or subject that is not tied to culture or race. Do this until you’ve chosen ten books. Next, count how many of those ten  show children of different races. If you’re coming up empty, check out some of these titles from the following list:

(All summaries come from the publishers’ websites.)

Wokka_cover-330How Do You Wokka Wokka? by Elizabeth Blumle, illustrated by Randy Cecil

Some days you wake up and you just gotta wokka. Wokka what? Wokka-wokka! It’s about movement. It’s about dance. It’s about shimmy-shakin’, be-boppin’, and more! It’s about gathering friends and joining the party. The creative team behind MY FATHER THE DOG returns with a call-and-response for preschoolers, an exuberant invitation to be part of the fun — and show your stuff!

Say “HEY!” to your neighbors and get your dance on! Jazzy rhythms, silly rhymes, and welcoming images are guaranteed to entice little readers.
cvr9781416933625_9781416933625_lgOh How Sylvester Can Pester! And Other Poems More or Less About Manners by Robert Kinerk, illustrated by Drazen Kozjan
Robert Kinerk pokes fun at what can happen when good manners are neglected. From Eleanor Ickity who is served nothing that she likes to eat or Sylvester who can pester and pester and pester, this charming cast of characters will warn the ill mannered about the consequences of their shameful behavior.
ATW_CaldecottAll the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the world is here.It is there.It is everywhere.All the world is right where you are.Now.Following a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning till night, this book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to warm family connections, to the widest sunset sky.
thinkbigThink Big by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Vanessa Newton
Art is so much more than easels and paintbrushes as this delightful new picture book by two exciting talents makes clear. Follow along as a classroom of exuberant young kids explore art and the power of creativity in its most varied forms-painting, music, writing, cooking, performing … there’s no end to where their imaginations can take them! The lilting poetry of Liz Garton Scanlon’s text pairs perfectly with the playful art of Vanessa Newton in this warm, thoughtful, and-of course-creative picture book. Young listeners will want to jump right into the pages to find their own muse.
ray-starsStars by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Marla Frazee
A star is how you know it’s almost night.
As soon as you see one, there’s another, and another.
And the dark that comes doesn’t feel so dark.
What if you could have a star?
From acclaimed author Mary Lyn Ray and two-time Caldecott Honor winner Marla Frazee comes this tender, evocative—and profound—exploration of stars both near and far.
gbm-coverThe Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery
When a class leaves for recess, their just-baked Gingerbread Man is left behind. But he’s a smart cookie and heads out to find them. He’ll run, slide, skip, and (after a mishap with a soccer ball) limp as fast as he can because: “I can catch them! I’m their Gingerbread Man!”With help from the gym teacher, the nurse, the art teacher and even the principal, the Gingerbread Man does find his class, and he’s assured they’ll never leave him behind again.
GB cover 10.1.12The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Guess who gets to go along on a field trip to the firehouse? The Gingerbread Man! But when he falls out of his classmate’s pocket, Spot the Dalmatian comes sniffing around. Luckily, this Gingerbread Man is one smart cookie, and he races into the fire truck, up the pole, and all through the station, staying one step ahead of the hungry dog the whole time.
Then an emergency call comes in and the Gingerbread Man knows just what to do:
“I’ll ride to the rescue, as fast as I can.
I want to help, too! I’m the Gingerbread Man!”
With snappy rhymes and fresh illustrations, the Gingerbread Man makes a sweet return in his second school adventure.
fairies400The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illusrated by Christa Unzner
Could a tulip be a good place for hide-and-seek? Could a bit of dandelion fluff be a pillow? They could be, if fairies live nearby. This book invites kids to have a backyard adventure searching for the telltale signs of fairies who might be residing all around them. Not only can children “search” for fairies in the book’s unique blend of art and photography, but they will also be encouraged to discover the wonder and magic in nature, whether in a backyard or a local park.
mermaids400The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Have you ever walked on the beach and looked for shells or clams? There are creatures, more like you and me, who are even more interesting to look for. Most people don’t see them, but they might just not know how to look for signs. That sand dollar – why, that could be a mermaid-size surfboard. Those twisted reeds – a bed for a lovely afternoon mermaid nap. And if you peer closely into the water, you might see a mermaid market.
9780061762758Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

Your buffalo is growing up. He plays with friends. He shares his toys. He’s smart! But is he ready for kindergarten? (And is kindergarten ready for him?)

A hilarious look at first-day-of-school jitters from author Audrey Vernick and illustrator Daniel Jennewein.

9780061762536Teach Your Buffalo to Play the Drums by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

Does your buffalo pound on pots and pans?
Tap out rhythms at the dinner table?
It’s not as unusual as you might think.
He’s simply at the start of an exciting new journey.
A very loud musical journey that begins by teaching your buffalo to play drums.
(Did we mention it might be loud?)

bees-cover-300x220These Bees Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

How do bees count? The bees at the Busy Bee Farm buzz through the sky as one big swarm, fly over two waving dandelions, find three wild strawberries bursting with sweetness . . . As the children in Mr. Tate’s class listen, they learn how bees work to produce honey and make food and flowers grow. Bees count–they’re important to us all.

7688367-300x236These Trees Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

If you listen carefully to the lone tree behind Oak Lane School, it has a story to tell about… one owl, two spiders, three squirrels, four robins, five caterpillars, six ants, seven crickets, eight flies, nine ladybugs, and ten earthworms, all living safe and free in their tree home.

What does this tree need?  The children know — it needs friends!

Formento-cover-300x237These Seas Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

Mr. Tate’s class helps clean up a local beach and listens to the sea as it tells them about all the wildlife that make it their home. One whale, two giant sea turtles, three marlins . . . and more. Of course, the class discovers that “this sea counts!” These Seas Count! explores the environmental impact and importance of the seas, and how crucial it is to keep them healthy.

Alison Formento’s gentle story and Sarah Snow’s amazing collages combine for a powerful message about the environment and what we can do to preserve our oceans.

cover32259-mediumHow Do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Michael Slack

Want to blast into orbit? Walk on the moon? Snag a personal photo of a shooting star? Well your time is coming! And when it does, you’re going to need How Do You Burp in Space? 

This guide is filled with the kind of information you’d need to plan any vacation including what to pack (hint: no bubble bath or juggling balls!); what to expect from your accomodations (a sleeping bag attached to the wall), and what to do for fun (leapfrog on the moon!). Grounded in the history of space travel and the planned future of space tourism, this guide book will leave young adventurers daydreaming about future intergalactic space vacations. Get ready to rock your rocketship!

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Happy Book Birthday tomorrow to Sophie’s Squash!

CoverWith school starting rather soon-ish, my first thought was to recommend Sophie’s Squash to teachers, librarians and parents as a charming book for autumn. But I hesitate to  limit this gem to the “books for fall” shelf. Inspired by Pat’s own squash-loving daughter, Sonia, this lovely story is really about friendship, and is a joy for all seasons.

From the publisher’s website: On a trip to the farmers’ market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes…. What’s a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble? With absolutely delightful text by Pat Zietlow Miller and downright hilarious illustrations from Anne Wilsdorf, Sophie’s Squash will be a fresh addition to any collection of autumn books.

If you’re thinking this book sounds like a must-read, you’re not alone. So far it’s received four–count ’em–FOUR! starred reviews:

“In a perfect blend of story and art, the humorous watercolor-and-ink illustrations are bursting with color and energy on every page… This is a paean to love and friendship, which can come in all species, shapes, and sizes.” ~Booklist

“With lessons on life, love, and vegetable gardening, this tale will be cherished by children, and their parents will be happy to read it to them often.” ~School Library Journal

“Sensitive but funny… Miller’s easygoing storytelling taps into the familiar scenario of children making fierce attachments to favorite objects.” ~Publishers Weekly

“This season-spanning turn with high-spirited Sophie offers endearing lessons about nurture and regeneration.” ~Kirkus Reviews

I asked Pat Zietlow Miller how Sophie’s Squash might be used in the classroom.

PAT ZMBiblio Links: A student or teacher walks into my library and I think: THAT person needs a copy of Sophie’s Squash. Who is this kid or teacher?

Pat Zietlow Miller: The kid would be any preschool through second-grade kid carrying a stuffed animal, a pet rock or a blanket that has been loved into oblivion. Or a kid with one best friend he or she does everything with. Those kids would totally understand why Sophie loves Bernice.

The teacher could be a teacher looking to talk about friendship with her class. Or loss. Or a teacher who’s just looking for a new fall book. Or maybe a teacher who’s about to take his or her class on a field trip to a farmers’ market.

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see or hear?

Pat Zietlow Miller: Well, in a perfect world, I’d love to peek into a classroom and see all the kids happily decorating squash of their own so they would have new friends. This would be after the teacher had read the book to them and talked about what a good friend is, how you know when you’ve found one and how you can be a good friend to others.

Biblio Links: I’d also add that this book is a natural pick for school guidance counselors. In addition to the topic of friendship, Sophie’s Squash is the perfect springboard for discussions  on loss–of pets, friends who move away, loved ones. etc. 

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Pat Zietlow Miller: My main website is

I also have a Pinterest board that suggests books with similar themes to SOPHIE’S SQUASH. It’s at:

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Pat!

You can also follow Pat on Twitter: @PatZMiller. And the titles on her Pinterest board? They’d all make nice pairings with Sophie’s Squash for lessons on making text-to-text connections.

Look for Pat’s upcoming books in 2015: Sharing the Bread, a Thanksgiving book from Schwartz and Wade, and The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, inspired by Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph, from Chronicle Books.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Schwartz and Wade

Publication Date: August 6, 2013

ISBN-10: 0307978966

ISBN-13: 978-0-307-97896-7

Interest Level: Ages 3 to 7

Number of Pages: 40

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Katerina’s Wish by Jeannie Mobley

Up next in my series on middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience in the US is a middle grade historical fiction debut from author Jeannie Mobley. I read the advanced reader’s copy this summer and adored Katerina (“Trina” to her friends and family). The book has just been released in stores,  and has already received two starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Today I’m thrilled to have author Jeannie Mobley here to talk about ways that Katerina’s Wish can be used in classrooms and libraries to connect with students and the curriculum.

From the author’s website: Katerina’s Wish tells the story of a Bohemian family who comes to America in 1900, hoping to work a year in the coal mines of southern Colorado and then buy a farm. After a year, they discover they have no more money than they came with, and much less hope. Then young Trina sees a strange fish and remembers the folk story of a carp that grants wishes. When her sisters make wishes that come true, Trina makes the biggest wish she can, for a farm in America. But is a wish enough to fill a dream so big?

Biblio Links:  Welcome, Jeannie, and congratulations on the release of Katerina’s Wish!

A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of Katerina’s Wish. Who is this child?

Jeannie MobleyIt’s funny, but I never really thought of my book as one that a kid
would “need.” I don’t think of my book as one that will help a child cope with their current problems or understand their own confusing life circumstances. But I do think there are many kids who will enjoy my book, and who will find in it food for thought about what really makes
dreams come true.

I would wish my book into the hands of kids who love historical fiction and daydream about living in the past.  In weaving fairy-tale elements into my book, I created a tone that I hope appeals to kids who are still holding onto the idealism of their childhood, even as they approach the pressures of contemporary teenage life, and I want them to feel comfortable and safe in holding on to that optimism of youth. I hope also that my book will encourage kids to feel empowered–to know that by holding on to their dreams and working toward them, they can make their own lives better. I think that’s true of all kids, whether they have
advantages in life or not. But I think my book will appeal most to the quiet kids who have big dreams, but maybe fly beneath the radar of the peer pressure-driven measures of success that so often fill kids’ lives in their formative years. Then again, maybe I think that because that is the kind of kid I was, and I would have liked this book. 🙂

Biblio Links: The Middle Grade me would have loved this book, too! 

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Jeannie MobleyI think you might see many things. Historical fiction has the potential to teach many different lessons in the classroom. For one thing, we, as
a society, keep coming back to many of the same issues repeatedly in our history–things like immigration, racism, labor movements, stereotypes of other ethnicity or nationalities. Sometimes, it is easier to talk about these issues by viewing them in a different, less politically or socially charged context. KATERINA’S WISH is set in 1901, but deals with many of these issues that contemporary people deal with, and I hope could start some of these conversations that have relevance both in understanding our history and understanding the situations we face today. I think the book could also be used as a tie in to history lessons, math (there is a lot of discussion of prices for goods throughout the story), and in creating an interest for students in their own family histories. After all, we here in America, are largely a nation of immigrants.

Whatever the lesson, I would hope you would see students excited to learn about the past and inspired to talk about the social issues that are so ingrained in the American experience.

Biblio Links: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Jeannie MobelyMy website ( would be a great place to start. I’ve got an FAQ there that tells a little about the book and why I wrote it, but I always welcome other questions from teachers and readers through the email contact there. I also have some ideas to inspire writing, and a detailed teachers’ guide to KATERINA’S WISH that includes discussion questions and activities across the curriculum. But of course, the best way to learn more about my book, is to read it for yourself!

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Jeannie!

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, A Division of Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: August 28, 2012

ISBN:  978-1442433434

Number of Pages: 256

Interest Level:  Ages 8 and up

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for hosting today’s What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

This is the next book up in my series on middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience in the US.

When Fadi’s family flees from the Taliban in Afghanistan, his 6-year-old sister, Mariam, is accidentally left behind. As Fadi and his family try to adjust to life in San Francisco, Mariam is never far from their thoughts. At school, Fadi enters a photography contest, hoping to win the grand prize—a National Geographic photography trip to India. If he wins, Fadi plans to slip over the border into Afghanistan to find his sister. But after the events of 9/11, Fadi’s Pashtun family is fearful in their new home, and fearful that they’ll never be able to get Mariam out of Afghanistan.

Many of my students’ parents who were doctors or engineers in their home countries have to take jobs in the US where they aren’t able to utilize their training and talents. The only job that Fadi’s educated father can get in the US is a taxi driver, and his older sister works at McDonalds as the family struggles day-to-day. I know that many of my students will connect with Fadi and his family’s struggles.

Hand this book to the kid:

* who recently emigrated to the US

* who had to leave family behind in the home country

* whose parents struggle with a career change in the US

* who is going through culture shock

* who is learning English

* who is interested in photography

* who has experienced bullying

* who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

Empathy–While Fadi and his community endure acts of hate after the events of 9/11, this story introduces readers to the innocent victims of racial profiling.

* Photography--Middle School Art teachers, this is your book! Fadi’s saving grace at school is the photography club, and there are several details about what makes a good photo–composition, lighting, subject, etc.

*World Events–The story provides a straightforward explanation of the rise and fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fear and hope that Afghanis experienced with the US invasion of their country.

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: 2010

ISBN:  978-1-4424-0194-5

Number of Pages: 272

Reading Level: 5.4

Interest Level:  ages 8 and up

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for hosting today’s What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Hard Cover


This is the next book up in my series of reviews of middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience.

When Lowji and his parents move to America from India one summer, Lowji finds himself without friends and with nothing to do. He’s always dreamed of having a pet, but the no-nonsense landlady, Mrs. Crisp, does not allow pets in her building. But Lowji doesn’t give up, and finally convinces the hard-working Mrs. Crisp that she needs a mouse-catching cat, a friendly guard dog, and a lawn-trimming goat. In the end, Lowji befriends a girl in his neighborhood who helps him take care of Mrs. Crisp’s newly-acquired menagerie.

While many immigrant families struggle economically after settling in the US, this story offers a refreshing reminder that not all newly arrived families struggle financially. Lowji’s mother has a high-tech job, and his father does the cooking at home.

With its sparse text and humor, Lowji Discovers America makes a good read-aloud and is recommended for kids who are moving into chapter books.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who recently emigrated to the US

* Who is beginning to read chapter books

* Who loves animals

* Who is going through culture shock

* Who is learning English

* Who needs to know that there’s a “silver lining” to some obstacles in life

* Who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

Empathy–Immigrant children will certainly identify with Lowji, and for children who have never been the “new kid” at school, readers will empathize with Lowji’s bewilderment as he’s introduced to American culture and slang.

* Letter Writing--Lowji’s letters to his best friend back in India are sprinkled throughout the text.

*Voice and Humor–Although Lowji learned English in school back in India, his voice is distinct and reflects the cadence and grammatical patterns of a second language learner. His voice would also make a good study in humor for student writers.

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

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Publisher: Aladdin

Publication Date: 2005 (paperback version 2008)

ISBN: 978-1-416-95832-1 (paperback) 978-0-689-862991 (hard cover)

Number of Pages: 160

Reading Level: 3.1

Interest Level:  ages 7-10