Category Archives: Grades 5 – 6

The Importance of Wings by Robin Friedman

Charlesbridge, 2009     ISBN: 1580893309

Nothing is right anymore: Roxanne’s mother is in Israel caring for her sick sister, her father is working long hours as a cab driver, and she is left looking after her little sister, Gayle.

Meanwhile, fitting in at middle school is no easy thing, especially without the right clothes and the right hairstyle: the difficult to construct “wings” of the title.

When a new girl moves into the cursed pink house on her street, life becomes more interesting. Liat is also Israeli; she is also motherless, although permanently so, her mother having been killed in a bombing in Israel; she’s tough; and she doesn’t care about what other kids think of her.

Liat puts Roxanne’s troubles into a new light, and Roxanne matures under Liat’s influence.

Unfortunately, the setting of the book in the 1970s, with the TV shows of those years so often mentioned, will not draw in today’s young readers, and the concept of a house with a curse (which does play out once again at the end of the book), is a plot device more suited to a younger audience.

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Filed under * Not recommended, Grades 5 - 6

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2006     ISBN: 0670061344

green glassTen-year-old Dewey Kerrigan, who has been living with her grandmother for some years, is reunited with her father and taken to Los Alamos where he is doing “war work.” When he is called to Washington, she stays temporarily, with the Gordans, a family with two scientist parents, and a girl her own age, Suze. Suze does not appreciate her presence, and when Dewey’s father is hit by a car and killed, Dewey moves in on a semi-permanent basis. Her grandmother is in a nursing home, and her mother abandoned her when Dewey was an infant, so she really has no where else to go.

The girls ultimately become friends, though not without some continued tension between them. One of the things that draws them together is how they are able to combine Dewey’s knack for gadgets and technology, and Suze’s artistic skills to create some one-of-a-kind contraptions.

In the backdrop of the kids concerns is the ever increasing tension as the scientists at Los Alamos rush to create and test the first atomic bomb, which is secretly held out as the hope to put an end to World War II, once and for all.

The characters are well-drawn and full-fleshed, and the historical and scientific information fits seamlessly into the story.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 5 - 6

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

chainsSet in the beginning years of the War of Independence, this book portrays the lives of slaves in the North, and raises interesting questions about how the “founding fathers,” could fight for freedom while owning other human beings.

Thirteen-year-old Isabel and her younger sister, Lucy, have been promised their freedom in their mistress’s will, but her only heir sells them to a Tory couple who live in New York. Their new mistress at first takes a liking to Lucy, but when she sees her having a seizure, she believes she is possessed and gets rid of her one night while Isabel is in a drugged sleep.

Isabel’s only friend is the slave of a Patriot, and he begs her to spy on her new owners who have political connections with important Tories. Isabel is torn about what to do but ultimately provides some useful information to the Patriots. However, their promises of assistance to her go unfulfilled, and Isabel realizes she must act on her own to find Lucy.

An excellent book, with a very good question and answer section at the end that provides historical and moral contexts.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6

The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, Kool-Aid, and Civil Disobedience: or Reading Can Be a Dangerous Thing

pushcart“The Pushcart War” is one of my all-time favorite books.  For those of you who haven’t read it, get thee to a library or bookstore, and remedy the situation immediately. The book is about the pushcart peddlers in New York City, who become embattled with the Mack Truck drivers who are crowding the streets and blaming the pushcarts for the traffic jams. How the beleaguered little guys join together and beat the big guys with their big trucks is a great story.

I read the book in 5th grade during all the student and racial unrest in the 60s, and it really politicized me, leading to my own petition writing and civil disobedience at school.

The petition was to get rid of our fifth grade teacher after she punished Nancy S. (I guess I won’t name names here) for having a packet of Kool-Aid in her purse. The Kool-Aid thing was a fad at the time: lick your finger and dip it in the Kool-Aid powder and lick it off. People went around with Kool-Aid colored index fingers.

For some reason this bothered our teacher, and she banned Kool-Aid packets in the classroom. One day, for reasons unbeknownst to me, David C. went into Nancy’s desk, into her purse, found a Kool-Aid packet, and ratted her out. Nancy got into trouble, but David did not. Now I was no friend of Nancy’s, who I saw as a snobby rich kid, but I knew that the teacher was punishing her based on illegally obtained evidence. And I felt that David should have been punished for going into her desk and purse and invading her privacy. I have always had strong feelings about fairness, and while I might be shy about sticking up for myself at times, I would never let something like this go by without doing something about it.

Most of the kids in the class signed my petition, including the principal’s daughter, Gretchen, who volunteered to take it to her father. But when my classmates saw how serious I was about this, they chickened out and erased their names from the petition. I was furious and stormed out of the classroom. Gretchen followed me, fluttering around me in dismay, and I turned and punched her in the arm, left the building and walked home, only to be taken back to school by my mother.

My mother was actually proud of me–not for hitting the principal’s daughter or leaving school, but for sticking up for what was right. I got a mild lecture about how the school was responsible for my whereabouts during school hours from the principal and my mother.

And that is how Kool-Aid and The Pushcart War have become linked forever in my mind.

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Filed under ***** A must read, Grades 5 - 6

Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson

mahtabAllen & Unwin, 2009     ISBN: 9781741753349

Mahtab, an Afghani girl, flees with her family one night to escape the Taliban. Their goal is to reach Australia. They are hidden under a load of furniture and other items in the back of an old pick-up truck. Their father has devised an innocuous noise to warn them to be perfectly still and quiet if they are stopped at a checkpoint.

After a long, uncomfortable journey, they finally arrive in Pakistan, where they will wait until the next stage of their voyage can be arranged. Weeks go by with no action, and finally, Mahtab’s father decides to set out ahead of them and send for them once he has reached Australia. After eight months of waiting, they must flee again when rumors of the Taliban in the area arise.

Their next stop is to Malaysia, by plane, an experience new, and frightening to all of them. In Malaysia, they are housed in a nice hotel until a boat can be arranged to take them on the final leg of the journey. Unfortunately, the ship is less than sea-worthy, and begins to take on water. And when they draw near to Australia, a large ship approaches and orders them back. Their small ship turns away, and the captain makes plans to land elsewhere once it is dark.

Upon setting foot on land, Mahtab rejoices that they’ve made it and that they’re free, only to discover that they are to be interred in a prison-like refugee camp until each of their cases can be dealt with. Up until this time, Mahtab has been her mother’s right hand, cheerful, and keeping the younger children entertained. But now she loses heart as the months pass by waiting for the officials to find their father.

Inspired by a true story, this well-written book offers readers insight into the plight of refugees.

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Filed under *** A good read, Grades 5 - 6

Indian Captive by Lois Lenski

a36c05434657b115934374b55514141414c3441I originally read this Newbery Honor award winner (published in 1941), when I was in second or third grade. The book is based on the true story of Mary Jemison, captured by members of the Seneca tribe. One of a number of white children captured by Native Americans over the years who chose not to return to white society, Mary’s story is one of the more well-known because of her own account of her experiences which was first published in 1824 (A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, who was Taken by the Indians, in the year 1775, When Only About Twelve Years of Age, and has Continued to Reside Amongst Them to the Present Time by James E. Seaver).

Over the years, many authors have retold her story for various audiences. Lenski focuses on a period of two to three years in Mary’s childhood: her capture, the couple of years following, and her initial decision to remain wit her captives. Lenski is noted as being the first author to study Seneca life and customs, and to accurately represent them in her account of Mary’s story. Lenski thus avoids much of the stereotyping one would expect to find in a book of its era, and many interesting details of the ways of life and beliefs of the Seneca are presented. Illustrated by Lenski with Seneca symbols and articles used in their life at that time add interest to the story.

Reading this book for the second time, as an adult, I again found it fascinating, but I now want to read her original account.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6