Iron Thunder by Avi is a fascinating fictional account based on the true story of the building of the ironclad ship, the Monitor, and the Civil War battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. This story is told from the point of view of a boy named Tom Carroll, who worked as an assistant to the ship's designer and then worked on the ship when it went into battle. There really was a young man by that name who worked on the ship, but this character was imagined in order to tell the story. I enjoy historical fiction because you can read about real events from history and learn from them, but at the same time you can imagine what life was like for the people who lived during that time in ways that are usually not possible by reading history texts.
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies is a fabulous story about not only how to make money selling lemonade, but also how to get along with other people. It tells the story of Evan and Jessie, a brother and sister who decide to each sell lemonade in their neighborhood and compete to see who will earn the most money in the five days before school starts. The book shows how Jessie, who is mathematically-gifted, calculates her profits, and also how Evan, who is mathematically-challenged, figures out his calculations using drawings. Throughout the story, we also see how the two kids must get over a disagreement they are having because Jessie is skipping third grade and going to be in fourth grade with her big brother, and while they are both worried about it, it is Evan who is angry about it.
Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff is a well-written, fascinating story about an eleven year old boy who finds a newspaper clipping in the attic which leads him to question everything he has taken for granted about his life. He asks a new girl at school to come to his house to help him read the article, since he has reading difficulties, and also so that they can build a castle together for a class project. What follows is a story about friendship, family, and facing things that make you sad, angry, or scared. I found the dialogue in this story to be very different from other books. The conversations featured short phrases instead of lengthy sentences. I enjoyed the uniqueness of this book.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn is a surprisingly good ghost story considering that it's not really scary but it's still spooky. It's about a blended family of a Michael, Molly, and their mom who married Heather's dad. Heather is younger than the other two kids and very angry about having to share her dad. The family moves together to a converted church out in the country next to a graveyard. Heather becomes fascinated with the graveyard and begins talking to a ghost-girl named Helen. Molly follows Heather frequently, even though she is fearful of the graveyard, because she wants to protect Heather. Heather lies about Molly and Michael, saying they did things to her that are untrue. All of this family drama makes for an interesting, yet sometimes frustrating, story.
Stolen Children by Peg Kehret is a realistic, exciting story about a fourteen-year-old girl who is babysitting when she discovers that the child has been kidnapped, and then the kidnappers take her too. But Amy is smart and creative. She wants to be a writer and uses clues from one of her stories to help the police figure out where she is when they watch the DVDs the kidnappers send to the little girl's family. She also takes action instead of just waiting around for the police to rescue her. She tries to escape, but they move too slowly because of the young child, and they are caught. She hides the kidnappers' gun, knowing that they aren't planning on letting her live. One reason why this story was so well-written is that the author asked a detective to read over her manuscript to help her describe the police procedures accurately.
11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass is a fun and heartwarming story about two kids, Amanda and Leo, who find themselves experiencing their eleventh birthday eleven times. These two had celebrated every birthday together since their first one, but they had a huge misunderstanding on their tenth birthday and stopped speaking to each other. After three repeat birthdays, they realize they are both having the same experience while the rest of the world is unaware. So they make up and work together to find a way to see the day after their birthday instead of celebrating their birthdays forever. If you've ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, you will understand the premise for this book.
Mudshark by Gary Paulsen is a story about a gifted twelve year old named Lyle but kn own to everyone as Mudshark because of his quick moves. He has always read a lot, and he retains everything he reads, so people come to him for the answers to their questions. And his excellent memory combined with his keen observational skills make him the one to go to when trying to find lost items. Until the librarian gets a parrot that can tell people where their stuff is too. Figuring out how he can do that is one of the mysteries Mudshark solves in this book. I liked Mudshark a lot and wish I could read more about him. This book is a quck read, but some of the vocabulary can be challenging. But it is so funny that it is worth looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary for.
Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins is an awesome, fast-paced Indiana Jones-type adventure. I was caught up in the characters and the story-line from the very beginning. Although the vocabulary could be somewhat challenging at times, this book is well worth reading. I would recommend it as independent reading for any on-grade level or above fifth grader. For the rest, I would encourage trying it as a read-aloud. It has some great content area tie-ins, such as to different cultural groups like the Mayans and Romans, and to science concepts like light, energy, and archeology. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, which deals with Egyptian archeology. There are still one or two mysteries from the first book that I hope the next book will clear up.
Calvin Coconut Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury is a very funny book about a nine-year-old boy named Calvin, whose father had their family's last name changed to Coconut before leaving them to pursue his musical career. In a light-hearted way, this book deals with bullies, school, friendship, welcoming new people, single-parent families, and Calvin's tendency to get in (and out of) trouble. I enjoyed the author's descriptions of life in Hawaii, of Calvin's troubles, and especially the native food which is so unfamiliar to newcomers to the island. I am glad there are other books about Calvin Coconut so that I can read about more of his hilarious adventures and learn more about life in Hawaii.