Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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The set of reviews includes books that explore standardized testing, books where characters write to express their feelings, and books that investigate what makes something important. There is also a professional book with great advice on preparing students for standardized reading tests.

Testing Miss Malarkey

Enjoy Judy Finchler's satirical look at the test preparation that can ensue standardized testing season begins. Miss Malarkey's students must prepare for the I.P.T.U. standardized test, and the grown-ups in their lives begin to behave in strange ways as these adults grow more nervous about the impending test. With research indicating that talking about their feelings about the test can help student perform better, this book is a perfect text for opening a discussion about what is, and is not, important about standardized tests. Give yourself, and your students, a little testing perspective by spending some time with Miss Malarkey and her class as they get ready for a standardized test. This book is both ridiculous and authentic, with rich and thought-provoking illustrations from Kevin O'Malley.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Three Questions

When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? These are The Three Questions, as retold by Jon J Muth from the timeless Leo Tolstoy short story from a collection of short stories entitled What Men Live by and Other Tales, written in 1885. The central character Nikolai (the name of Tolstoy's beloved brother, who Jon J Muth named his son after) has three friends, Sonya the heron, Gogol the monkey and Pushkin the dog. Each is symbolic of a particular aspect of human philosophical endeavor. This book promises to give students of all ages a lot to think, talk and write about.The three questions are in essence the one eternal question that has plagued humankind since the beginning. How am I to be a good person? Nikolai poses the three questions to each of his three friends but none of their answers seem to ring true. So he climbs high into the mountains, seeking the wisest of the wise, Leo the turtle, who live alone there. Does Nikolai find the wise Leo the turtle and the answers he seeks high in the mountains? You will find the answers you seek and perhaps your own enlightenment in The Three Questions written and harmoniously illustrated by Jon J Muth.

The Important Book

First published in 1949, The Important Book by noted children's author Margaret Wise Brown is a classic. The book is an exercise in finding the main idea, as Brown makes statements about one true characteristic of everyday objects. Brown is actually playing a game with the reader because one person's "important thing" is not at all that of another. The point is to examine the world around us and teach children to think for themselves. Brown makes us think about the essence of everyday items in new ways. The lovely illustrations are provided by Caldecott Medal winner Leonard Weisgard and he does a compelling job of visually illustrating the roundess of an apple. Use this book as a catalyst for your students to mine the essence of themselves during a getting-to-know-you exercise at the beginning of the year. Bring it out again to help students consider what is, and is not, important. This is a dear book for putting a standardized test into perspective.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Dave the Potter

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier is a tribute in prose to the South Carolina slave and potter, who adopted the name David Drake after emancipation. The water color/collage images that illustrate the book are an up close and personal look at the step-by-step process of making the huge jars that made Mr. Drake famous. The images of the potter that represent Dave in the book are based solely on the imagination of the artist. No one knows what David Drake really looked like. Many examples of Mr. Drake's work, often inscribed by his own hand with short poems and signed "Dave," still exist in museums and private collections throughout the country. While this book sometimes bends to poetic expression at the expense of historical accuracy, it is an important introduction to the profoundly inspirational story of a slave that managed to make his mark. David Drake, a slave who, against all odds learned to read and write at great risk to himself and whoever taught him, became a master potter whose work endures to this day, leaving us much to think and talk about. The book also contains a special treat: a photograph of five works by Dave, the potter, from the collection of the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

The Old Woman Who Named Things

With loss and heartache at the crux of her world, an elderly woman decides to outwit loneliness by naming the intimate objects that surround her. A firm bed receives the name of Roxanne and an armchair is dubbed Fred. This is her way of keeping company without having to commit to any kind of relationship that might leave her feeling alone should it end. Her attempts to remove the emotional bond from her relationships are spoiled when a stray puppy enters her world. She offers him food but nothing else, not even a name. Despite her best efforts to keep the pup at arm's length, the emotional tug she feels when he disappears proves too great and she realizes that he has won a place in her heart. Cynthia Rylant conveys a tender narrative about the cycle of love, loss and the courage needed to love again while Kathryn Brown's silly illustrations maintains a light-heartedness that will appeal to youngsters.

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Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

Celebrated children's poet, Jack Prelutsky, and award-winning illustrator, Lane Smith, took drafts of an unpublished story of Theodor Seuss Geisel's and created a book that is a tribute to creative teachers. Lane and Prelutsky honor Dr. Seuss's loosely developed characters and themes as well as integrating their own distinctive styles in this fun book. Diffendoofer School is threatened with closure unless the students do well on a standardized test. The idiosyncratic teachers rise to the task, as all effective teachers do, and make test prep not only fun but inspiring. Much to the students' surprise, not only does the test cover the material they've been taught, the questions that stretch the students are answered by them engaging the thinking skills that teachers like Miss Bonkers and Miss Twining have instilled in their students. Editor Janet Schulman includes a rich afterward that gives a peek inside Dr. Seuss's creative process.

A Fine, Fine School

"Aren't these fine children? Aren't these fine teachers? Isn't this a fine, fine school?" These are the words of Mr. Keene, a well-meaning but overzealous school principal who decides that he will capitalize on students' downtime to schedule extra time for learning. What starts with Saturday classes turns into students' loss of entire weekends, holidays and summer vacations. Tillie, one of the students at Mr. Keene's school, has an innate love for learning but also enjoys her carefree time away from school when she plays with her little brother and teaches him how to skip and climb trees. Soon Tillie, along with the rest of the school population, is stressed and overwhelmed. In a climate where high-stakes testing, increased teacher accountability, and extended school days are at the forefront of many educators' minds, Sharon Creech hits upon a timely issue with this tale.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Mood Swing: Show 'Em How Your Feeling!

Along with weeks of test preparation and test readiness skills, many classrooms now include time to address the emotional side of testing. Acknowledging a student's feeling about test-taking is an important part of the testing equation. This clever spiral-bound book would be perfect to use when talking to students about the impact of testing on their mental outlook. It folds to form a free-standing easel that can be propped up on a desk or table. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jim Borgman's illustrations of thirty different moods will come in handy in your classroom, not just during testing season!

My Diary from Here to There

My Diary from Here to There, written by Amada Irmez Parez and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, is a moving memoir of the author's childhood. Parez's account of her childhood move from Mexico to California, combined with Gonzalez's vivid but tender paintings, captures the heartbreak of loss, the processes of grief and growth, and renewal as one turns to face the present. Throughout the narrative, the main character (author) explores her feelings by writing in a journal that travels with her as she makes her way to America. The book ends with her expressing an interest in writing a book from her journal one day, which is, of course, My Diary from Here to There.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

A Teacher's Guide to Standardized Reading Tests

This book offers an alternate perspective on the reading we do when we take a test. While we teach our students to read for pleasure, to reread, and to savor, the skills they need for a test are completely different. The authors suggest that taking a test is more like playing a video game than reading a book, and they offer strategies and specific language for having this discussion with children. By asking children to "beat" the test-makers (who are out to trick them), discussions about the test and even the test itself can be more engaging. This book offers a revolutionary way to think about testing and test preparation, and it comes form authors who believe is the power of authentic literacy as they try to gain some perspective in the high-stakes world of education today.