Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This Librarian's Quick Picks: Upper Elementary Edition

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
by Barbara O'Connor
Grades 4-7


After Owen captures an enormous bullfrog, names it Tooley Graham, then has to release it, he and two friends try to use a small submarine that fell from a passing train to search for Tooley in the Carter, Georgia, pond it came from, while avoiding nosy neighbor Viola.

Why you'll love it:
  • Barbara O'Connor's writing is immediate and engaging, with a beautifully evoked setting.
  • A pitch-perfect depiction of the summer activities and adventures of a group of kids.
  • Well-drawn characters, especially crotchety secondary characters Earlene, the woman who has worked for Owen's grandfather for ages, and Joleen Berkus, the woman who bought the house where Owen and his parents used to live.
  • The kids' interactions feel authentic. Owen, Travis, and Stumpy's feelings and attitude toward Viola are believable, as is their eventual change of heart, while Viola's persistence is admirable.

Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-Wiener
by Ursula Vernon
Grades 3-5


When Danny Dragonbreath's best friend, Wendell the iguana, is bitten by one of the hot dogs from his school lunch, he begins to turn into a were-wiener.

Why you'll love it:
  • An appealing format seamlessly marries pages of text with graphic-novel-type illustrations, which propel the story forward. Ursula Vernon's bold art--using only red, green, and black--is simply drawn and striking.
  • The author makes an unlikely scenario believable in large part by the strength of her characters. Danny, who welcomes adventure at every opportunity, and Wendell, who is more reserved, are a great pair.
  • Vernon has a gift for dialogue, and the two friends' interactions are consistently amusing.
  • Readers need not know other books in the series to enjoy this one. 

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything
by Kathleen Krull
Grades 3-6


In the thirteenth century, Kubla Khan ruled the largest empire in the world. Known equally for his indulgences and policies, his reign lasted thirty-four years.

Why you'll love it:
  • Incisive, well-researched text brings the mysterious and legendary Kubla Khan, his family, his court, and his empire to vibrant, exuberant life.
  • Stunning, detailed drawings recreate the Mongolian world of Kubla Khan, from intricate palaces inlaid with jade and decorated with phoenixes to battle scenes that feature hordes of charging horses and their militant Mongolian riders. The map on the endpapers shows the tremendous span of the Mongol Empire.
  • Kathleen Krull takes care to highlight Kubla Khan's cruelties as a military leader and the innovations such as paper currency, accurate calendars, public education, and waterway development that were realized under his direction.

There's a Princess in the Palace: Five Classic Tales
retold by Zoe B. Alley
Grades 2-6


Cinderella, Snow White, and three other well-known princesses share a surprising connection in these fairy-tale retellings presented in comic book format.

Why you'll love it:

  • The heroines of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Frog Prince, and The Princess and the Pea are linked together to hilarious effect.
  • Running commentary throughout by two mice (who serve as the horses for Cinderella's carriage in the first story) adds to the fun.
  • Clever dialogue integrates modern turns of phrase and neatly refreshes the classic tales.
  • This book is big! The graphic format has massive kid appeal. Amusing details in the illustrations invite careful study. 

The Drained Brains Caper: Chicagoland Detective Agency, #1
by Trina Robbins
Grades 4-7


Required to attend summer school after moving to Chicagoland, thirteen-year-old manga-lover Megan Yamamura needs help from twelve-year-old computer genius Raf to escape the maniacal principal's mind-control experiment.

Why you'll love it:
  • Trina Robbins cleverly mixes classic crime-story tropes--an evil villain who reveals her plans to the hero, crime-solving partners who initially don't get along--with unique elements, such as Bradley the talking dog and Raf 's computer program that saves the day.
  • The manga-influenced artwork is eye-catching, with clean lines and uncluttered panels. The action is clearly depicted and easy to follow.
  • Raf is a bit of a nerd, and Megan loves haiku. These characters aren't typical heroes, but they act heroically. Kids will be able to both relate to and look up to Megan and Raf.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
by Laban Carrick Hill
Kindergarten-Grade 4


Dave, a potter who lived in South Carolina in the 1800s, carved poetry onto his pots, an act of tremendous courage for a slave.

Why you'll love it:
  • An inspiring and moving look at how a slave found creative expression.
  • Bryan Collier's affecting illustrations show a world rife with contrasts. Dave is set against a backdrop of anonymous slaves and their dehumanizing work, drawing attention to the importance of the survival of Dave's story, art, and poetry.
  • The lyrical writing and striking, textured artwork pair together to skillfully depict the process of throwing, shaping, and glazing a jar; to readers, it will seem almost as if they are watching Dave create his pottery in real time. 

Case Closed?: Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science
by Susan Hughes
Grades 2-6


Was Egypt's first female pharaoh murdered? Did the city of Ubar vanish without a trace? Science has helped solve these and seven other archaeological mysteries.

Why you'll love it:
  • Susan Hughes has chosen a collection of disappearances that range from ancient to recent and from small-scale (a single missing mountaineer) to catastrophic (entire cities).
  • Hughes employs clear, accessible language and explains both the technology and research utilized by experts to locate their missing quarries.
  • Not all the cases featured in the book have been solved, which will give readers the chance to test their imaginations and develop some theories of their own.
  • Michael Wandelmaier's detailed illustrations cleverly reimagine the past, while full-color photographs showcase modern-day expeditions and researchers. 

Red Zone
by Tiki & Ronde Barber
Grades 2-6


Ronde and Tiki's excitement over the approaching state championship football game turns to worry when there is a chicken pox outbreak at school.

Why you'll love it:
  • Each playoff game requires the team to reconfigure and compensate for the latest stricken teammate. As time passes, the boys all wonder who will be next, creating suspense.
  • Although Tiki and Ronde are the team's stars, each victory is achieved by everyone working together.
  • The novel captures the boys' stress about not disappointing the school now that they are "sentimental favorites" (according to the newspaper) rather than underdogs.
  • Provides a satisfying follow-up to Go Long! and Wild Card--and to the Eagles' eventful season. 


Anonymous said...

Did you see the great author interview with Kathleen Krull at MEET ME AT THE CORNER, Virtual Field Trips for kids?

Here's the link.


This is a great free site for kids. Check it out!

Veens said...

Awesome books, I especially like Case Solved?

Marie Cloutier said...

those look adorable. i particularly like the look of Dave the Potter.

Wanda said...

One visit to your blog and I have a list of books to search for, thanks Amanda! I'm especially interested in finding the Owen Jester and Kubla Khan books for my 10-y.o.

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