Tag Archives: poetry

Summer Reading: Hold Fast


Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.  (@BlueBalliett) Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Early Pearl and her family dream of one day owning a home of their own.  Their plans are crimped however, when her father mysteriously disappears, and her apartment is ransacked and robbed.  She, her mother, Sum, and brother, Jubie, have no choice but to seek refuge at a homeless shelter.

Themes/Content: Family, home, homelessness, Langston Hughes, poetry, onomatopoeia, figurative language, etymology, vocabulary, quotes, libraries, theft, shelters, rhythm, writing, writer’s craft, text features

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up.  Learning about the plight of the homeless, learning about figurative language, teaching poetry, students who love a good mystery, discussing words and word origins, students who like books with some drama, read aloud

My Two Cents:  Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) writes, “How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?”  Blue Balliett has created a masterful work of art filled with the commitment and courage, repetition and rhythm.  From the very first pages I wanted the Pearl family to find their dream.  They are such strong and loving family, with intelligent and compassionate parents who are providing the best for their children even though they can afford very few “material things.” They have a plan, and they hold each other up as they work toward putting that plan into action.  When Dash disappears and their home is robbed the family is shocked and devastated.  This family holds fast to each other as they persevere and face the toughest challenges they could imagine.

Balliett deftly crafts this story.  She draws on the poetry and rhythms of Langston Hughes in several ways.  Hughes writing provides the Pearls their smooth soulful voices.  Every conversation is poetry.  Hughes’ poetry and writing also play a significant role in the mystery of Dash’s disappearance. Balliett does a brilliant job of weaving the story with word play and figurative language.  Words are tossed and twisted and taken apart.  You’ll have blast finding those gems.

This book would make a great dramatic read aloud.

Similar/Paired books from EHUE Library:

  • Bauer, Joan. Almost home. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Bunting, Eve. Fly away home. New York: Clarion Books, 1991. Print.
  • Burleigh, Robert. Langston’s train ride. New York: Orchard Books, 2004. Print.
  • Carlson, Natalie S. The family under the bridge. New York: Harper/Trophy, 1958. Print.
  • Clements, Andrew. Room one : a mystery or two. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006. Print.
  • Cooper, Floyd. Coming home : from the life of Langston Hughes. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1998. Print.
  • DiCamillo, Kate. Great joy. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2007. Print.
  • Hughes, Langston. The dream keeper and other poems : including seven additional poems. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.
  • Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.
  • Lewis, Barbara A. The kid’s guide to service projects : over 500 service ideas for young people who want to make a difference. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 2009. Print.
  • O’Connor, Barbara. How to steal a dog : a novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
  • Perdomo, Willie. Visiting Langston. New York: H. Holt, 2002. Print.
  • Perkovich, Olugbemisola R. 8th grade superzero. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. Print.

Favorite Quote: “Reading is a tool no one can take away.  A million bad things may happen in life and it’ll still be with you, like a flashlight that never needs a battery.  Reading can offer a crack of light on the blackest of nights.”  (Balliett, Blue. Hold fast. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013. 166. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Wow-ow! Read it! 😀

Summer Reading: 8 Class Pets +1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos


8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde.  Illustrated by Steve Björkman. Humor/ Fantasy.

When a squirrel, being chased by a dog, becomes trapped in the elementary school, there are chaotic consequences as all of the class pets team up to help him escape.

Themes/Content: Animals, class pets, teamwork, perspective (character), voice (character), alliteration, poetry, art,

Recommended for: Grades 4 and up; read aloud, teaching perspective, teaching voice, any teacher who has a classroom pet, animal lovers, beginning chapter-book readers, fictional tie-in when studying animal behavior

My Two Cents:  I decided I needed to review something for the younger crowd and this book will surely please our fourth graders.  Vande Velde crafts a hilarious story and commotion ensues as each critter adds to the tale .  Not only does she expertly capture the point of view, but each pet’s voice is based on that animals behavior in nature.  Björkman’s black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

This book would make a great beginning of the year read aloud.  It would be even more effective if you are able to read the characters in different voices.  Your students will laugh out loud at the crazy antics of the animals and there is just a little twist at the end that will give them one more smile.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Birney, Betty G. Friendship according to Humphrey. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005. Print.
  • Caudill, Rebecca. A pocketful of Cricket. New York: Henry Holt, 2004. Print.
  • George, Jean C. How to talk to your dog. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
  • Hatkoff, Isabella, Craig Hatkoff, and P Kahumbu. Owen & Mzee : the true story of a remarkable friendship. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. Print.
  • Hollander, John. Animal poems. New York: Sterling, 2004. Print.
  • Jenkins, Steve, and Robin Page. How to clean a hippopotamus : a look at unusual animal partnerships. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. Print.
  • Judge, Lita. Bird talk : what birds are saying and why. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012. Print.

Favorite Quote: (Spoken by the school of neon tetras) “We’re in a school.  We’re in a school in a school. We are tickled by that idea.” (Vande Velde, Vivian. 8 class pets + 1 squirrel ÷ 1 dog = chaos. New York: Holiday House, 2012. 23. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A clever and fun read aloud! 🙂

Summer Read: Same Sun Here


Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, Illustrated by Hilary Schenker. Realistic Fiction.

Pen pals, Meena and River, become fast friends as they discover that they have much more in common than they ever thought possible.  Told via alternating bits of correspondence, the story spans an entire school year, with happy, sad, and uncomfortable conversations along the way.

Themes/Content: Friendship, writing, culture, India, Kentucky, social activism, environment, immigration, citizenship, coal mining, mountain top removal, stereotypes, prejudice, Appalachia, family, poetry, voice, presidential elections, Barak Obama

My two cents:  Recommended for grades 5 and up.  I really wanted to love this book, but I had a hard time believing it.  Meena begins the conversation by asking River to be completely open and honest in his writing…. and surprisingly he actually is!  I know it’s possible for two kids to be so forthcoming so quickly, but it’s just not believable.  Their correspondence is also full of political overtones.  Again, not to say that two sixth graders would not ever discuss presidential elections and environmental activism, they just seem mature beyond their years. (Be aware that a few of their conversations may not be suitable for everyone.)

(Spoilers ahead…) Finally, there is also just a little too much coincidence for this to be believable.  They both have fathers whose work keeps them away from home for long periods of time; they both have extremely wise, caring  and strong grandmothers; their homesteads are impacted by greedy companies destroying the environment;  River’s school gym is crushed by a boulder dislodged as a result of mountain top mining; River ends up on the cover of Time magazine … Sorry, but there are just way too many cards falling into place…

Favorite Quote: “I like that library books have secret lives. All those hands that have held them. All those eyes that have read them.” (House, Silas; Vaswani, Neela (2012-02-14). Same Sun Here (Kindle Locations 741-742). Candlewick Press. Kindle Edition.)

The Final Word: So-so. 😐