Ada’s violin: the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

This is an amazing story about a young group of magicians who discovered compassion, creativity, and music among the trash in a landfill in Paraguay.

Picture book, non-fiction, informational
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 4.0
5 out of 5 stars


Ada’s Violin is an absolutely amazing story of a young girl who lives in Cateura, Paraguay. Her town is the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asuncion, and her family works in the landfill, picking through the trash and hauling away items that can be recycled and sold.

For the youth of Cateura, there is not much to do so gangs and fighting are a way of life. Until Favio Chavez comes to town and offers to teach the children to play music. There are not enough instruments to go around, so he got the people in the community to help him make instruments out of trash they could recycle from the landfill.

Word of this amazing Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay began to spread, and the children were invited to travel all over to play. They have performed in concerts around the world, and even opened for Metallica.

Sally Wern Comport’s collage illustrations perfectly fit the tone and style of the book.

The back of the book contains an Author’s Note with more details about the Recycled Orchestra, a photo, and sources for more information.

Book trailer: https://vimeo.com/194621162

Ada’s Violin: The story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
by Susan Hood; illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 9781481430951

Blue Sky White Stars

Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson have created a picture book that conveys a feeling of strong patriotism and pride in the diverse people and landscapes that make the United States a great country.

Picture book
Interest level: All ages
5 out of 5 stars


Two things come together to make this picture book so amazing — sparse, well-chosen text and absolutely stunning illustrations by one of the best illustrators alive today. Sarvinder Naberhaus selects powerful words to make patriotic statements that apply to both the flag, a symbol, and the majestic landscapes and diverse people that make up the United States. The same words describe both.
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Each two-page spread contains an image that focuses on the flag, paired with either a landscape or person who conveys the same ideal. “Red Rows” is illustrated by a row of red-leaved trees, set beside a close-up of the red stripes of the flag. “All American” applies to a stadium hosting a baseball game, as wel as an African-American war veteran sitting on the porch with his grandson listening to the game on a portable radio while eating Cracker Jacks.
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Nelson’s photorealistic oil paintings showcase beautiful landscapes, but his forte is depicting people. This book is full of expressive illustrations featuring diverse faces. The fact that this patriotic and inspiring book contains such a variety of skin tones, hair, and eye colors reminds us to celebrate the ethnic diversity that makes up our country.

Notes from the author and illustrator are included in the back of the book, and additional background material about the flag and phrases Naberhaus chose to include can be found on the author’s website: www.sarvinder.com.

Be sure to check out the back cover of the book. The front cover shows a group of Americans watching a firework show in rapt fascination. I was expecting the back cover to be more of the same, but instead it shows the crowd from the back, as if the reader has joined the scene.


Blue Sky White Stars
by Sarvinder Naberhaus; illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Gone Camping

This should be a must-have book for anyone who teaches poetry writing at the elementary or middle school level.

Novel in verse, fiction, poetry
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.5
5 out of 5 stars


Sam and Lucy, the siblings we originally met in Tamera Wissinger’s first book, Gone Fishing are looking forward to a family camping trip. Dad wakes up with a horrible cold and needs Mom to take care of him, so Grandpa gamely steps up and takes Sam and Lucy.
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Wissinger narrates Sam and Lucy’s story using short poems. Some poems are told from Sam’s point of view and others are from Lucy. Each poem fits on a page or two and identifies whose voice is featured at the top. Gone Camping is more Lucy’s story, while previously Gone Fishing was Sam’s story.
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All is good during the day, but Lucy worries about the creatures and critters who might visit their tent once the sun goes down. Lucy’s anxiety is deftly told by poems titled “The Walls of our Tent” and “Sleeping Bag Charm,” where through a charm poem, Lucy tries to ensure her sleeping bag will be a safe haven.
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Wissinger’s deft poetry is accompanied by the charming illustrations of Matthew Cordell. His pen and ink illustrations are whimsical and fun and match the tone of the poems perfectly. I especially love how Cordell indicates the sun has set by shading the background of the night poems in gray. When the page turns white again, we know that Lucy has made it through the night.

Both Gone Fishing and Gone Camping are excellent stories that are told in verse. These books would both make excellent mentor texts for poetry units. The short poems are accessible to young writers and illustrate some of the many styles that poems can appear in. Wissinger also includes information about various poetry techniques in the back.


Gone Camping: a novel in verse
by Tamera Will Wissinger; illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-63873-0

The Best Man

Richard Peck is a master storyteller who delivers laughs, tears, and a full cast of well-developed characters who can all teach us about becoming the best people we can be.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest Level: 4-7; Reading Level: 4.1
Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Winner 2017: Fiction & Poetry
5 out of 5 stars


Richard Peck is truly an amazing creator of stories. His characters are well-developed and he doesn’t require huge actions or majestic scenarios to create a storyline that compels you to keep reading. The Best Man is the story of Archer Magill. Most of the story takes place during his 5th and 6th-grade years at school, where we see Archer start to really notice the world around him.

Archer has three very important men in his life — his grandfather, father, and Uncle Paul. Each of these men, in different ways, contributes to Archer’s understanding of life and development of who he is as a person. Most of the story takes place in school, but school and home life intersect throughout the story.

I love the tone of Richard Peck’s writing. I imagine in real life that he has a very sarcastic sense of humor and his dry wit makes for many laugh out loud moments in this story. Like life though, the laughter is balanced by moments of insight as well as sadness. One of the best ways to describe it is to say this book feels very real.

Archer confronts bullying and homophobia during the story. Peck has his main character navigate these harmful scenes with openness and an insightful manner that encourages readers to not slap labels or definitions on people, but to celebrate everyone’s right to happiness and acceptance.

At 232 pages, the book is a nice length for a full-class read-aloud, and the humor and cast or characters will engage students. I highly recommend this book for the wonderful story, strength of characters, humor, inclusion of diversity, and willingness to address homosexuality.


The Best Man
by Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016

BIG CAT, little cat

A deceptively simple book that tackles the short life span of pets.

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading Level: 2.0
5 out of 5 stars


Using mostly black and white line illustrations, Elisha Cooper has crafted a beautiful story that perfectly portrays cats and the joy and meaning they bring to our lives. The story begins with a white cat enjoying life as an only pet. One day a black kitten joins the family, and the big cat shows the kitten what to do — “When to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be, when to rest.”
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Time passes and the reader sees the black kitten grow bigger than the white cat, and then watches as the white cat ages. Cooper does not specifically address that the old cat died, but states that one day he left the house and “didn’t come back.” I think the death of the cat is handled very well. The next page shows the black cat sitting all alone and states, “And that was hard.”

Cooper doesn’t dwell on the death of the pet and friend, but does validate the feelings of sorrow and loss that happen. The story is perfect for young children with pets. They need to understand that our beloved pets do not live as long as humans do and that death and grief are part of life. Cooper provides a book that will not overwhelm young readers, yet he doesn’t whitewash the facts and doesn’t talk down to young children.

The story ends on a happy note as the family gets another kitten and the black cat now assumes the role of “big cat.”
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The illustrations manage to be very simple and expressive at the same time. Like the story itself, they balance the line between providing the reader with enough information and not overwhelming the text.

The entire story is very well-done!


Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper
Roaring Book Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-371-9

The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life

Kwame Alexander has written a motivational book that combines a stunning visual design with inspirational quotes and motivation stories of successful people.

Motivational book, nonfiction
Interest Level: grades 4 and up; Reading Level: 6.7
5 out of 5 stars


The hook that will draw many children to this book will be the sports theme. The colors used throughout are orange, black, and white — the same colors that were used in Alexander’s Newbery winning book, The Crossover. The end papers are raised and provide the textural feel of a basketball. There are many black and white photos of people playing sports. The book is even divided into four quarters, like a basketball game.

Each quarter of the book features a different inspirational theme: grit, motivation, focus, and teamwork and resilience. Halftime is a brief piece about passion, the warm-up goes over the rules, and overtime covers tenacity.

However, for all of the sports feel, this book is meaningful to a much larger audience than just the sports fan. The book features quotes from famous individuals, along with further words of wisdom provided by Alexander. While many are sport related, the meaning for most can also be used to talk about academics or life in general.

Rule #35
There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence.
–Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Brief biographical sketches feature Wilma Rudolph, LeBron James, Pele, Venus and Serena Williams, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All sports are covered in the book, male and females are equally represented, and athletes and non-athletes are included.
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The book is visually appealing and each two-page spread looks like an inspirational poster. This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Reluctant readers will like the visuals and limited text. Sports fans and athletes will be drawn to the theme and athletic quotes and stories. Teachers or parents can give this to students who may need some inspiration to get through tough times in school.

For maker space areas in libraries or schools, there are many quotes that focus on overcoming failure. Since part of the purpose of maker spaces is to encourage children to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, we need to let them know that failure is part of the learning process.

Rule #22
If you’re afraid to fail, then yo’re probably going to fail.
–Kobe Bryant, five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers</blockquote
Kwame Alexander has written another book that will appeal to a diverse group of people.


The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life
by Kwame Alexander; photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-57097-9

Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners

I found this to be a great resource for furthering knowledge about Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Professional development; Universal Design for Learning
5 out of 5 stars


UDL is a research based pedagogical theory that advocates approaching curriculum design by meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom. The different strengths, weaknesses, needs, and abilities of all students are addressed up front in the development of learning opportunities. It is similar to differentiation, but it provides choice and options to all learners.

I utilized Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners in a graduate level class to support a research paper. I found this to be a good resource to teach the theory of UDL as well as to provide solid examples of how choice can be incorporated into lessons.


Universal design for learning in action: 100 ways to teach all learners
by Whitney H. Rapp
Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2014
ISBN 978-1-59857-514-9