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Perfect Chapter Book for Beginning Readers

pedroAs a teacher of early learners, K-2 in particular, I was always on the lookout for useful books for the classroom.  I have found one that is great for students to read at home and at school.  I am not a fan of the “guided reading” programs currently pushed in many school districts.  A large number of the book selections are frankly boring. Reading should be fun!  Pedro, First Grade Hero is a book young readers will enjoy.  Its anticipated release date by Capstone Press is September 1, 2016, and I highly recommend it!  I personally would use it in reading groups and then send it home for kids to enjoy there as well.



Pedro, First Grade Hero

by Fran Manuskin

Pedro, First Grade Hero, is a delightful “chapter book” for early readers. Children usually want to read chapter books like their teacher models for them.  Unfortunately most chapter books are just too difficult for them to read independently. Pedro, First Grade Hero, however, comes to the rescue for the beginning reader.  It is actually a collection of four stories, all about Pedro.  The readability level, length of the stories, and interest level is perfect for first graders as is the focus of each story.

Pedro is a very likable little boy.  In the first story, “Pedro Goes Buggy,” Pedro has to find a bug to write about in school. Discussions about the best bug ensue in the classroom and at home.  Even his little brother Paco gets involved in the fun.  The story has a nice resolution and ends on a humorous note.  For the teacher who likes to integrate learning strands, language arts, math and science provide easy tie-ins.

“Pedro’s Big Goal” draws in boys and girls who love soccer.  This chapter has “bigger is not always better” as well as “keep trying” as its themes.  Children will enjoy the ending and teachers can help them appreciate the play on words.

Most people love a good mystery as do Pedro and his friends who form a mystery club in the third story, trying to find a missing locket and cell phone.  Good vocabulary words include sparkle, locket, and chirping.

The final story, “Pedro for President,”  teaches Pedro and his friend Katie Woo what is involved in being class president.  As they ponder what they have to offer the class, little brother Paco “helps” with the election poster and Pedro creatively turns that effort into a positive.  Pedro, who always encourages his classmates and promotes fairness in the election, is the obvious favorite for president.

The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are colorful, appealing, and depict well the characters’ emotions and reactions.  Teachers interested in promoting multi-cultural cohesiveness in their classrooms will appreciate the inclusion of children of various backgrounds.  At the end of this book are four pages of jokes in the riddle format that will delight first graders.

I would like to thank and the publisher, Capstone Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review of Simple Pleasures

I recently read and reviewed a book that I enjoyed as an adult, but I think would also be appropriate for middle or high school students, particularly those interested in learning about those who choose a different type of life from theirs.  The book has no inappropriate words or violence and is suitable for all readers.

Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother

by Marianne Jantzi

When I reflect upon Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother by Marianne Jantzi, the first word that comes to mind is “sweet” and the second is “comfortable.” Usually a reader of mysteries and action novels, I was pleasantly surprised by this work.  It lacks the frenetic pace of fiction, but it pulls the reader along, not by suspense, but by the desire to view more of the daily life of a rural Amish family.

This book is a collection of the author’s journal writings and contributions as a monthly columnist to the Amish periodical “The Connection.” Jantzi is a Canadian, an Amish wife and mother, and a former school teacher.  Her book is part of a series called “Plainspoken: Real Life Stories of Amish,” which provides opportunities for outsiders to read about Amish life from the viewpoint of Amish writers.

In an “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, Jantzi offers some structure for her non-chronological tales by briefly profiling her family and providing a few explanations of terms specific to her family. Although she provides this essential introduction, it would also have been helpful to provide at least a brief summary of Amish beliefs and customs or to explain them in context.  These details could help clarify misconceptions about the Amish way of life.  For example, they eschew motorized vehicles. As a non-Amish Christian, I wonder why it is acceptable to go to work via a car with a driver. Perhaps if the writer is Amish, these “irregularities” do not stand out as such.

What this book excels at is allowing the reader a peek at the daily life of an Amish mother of four in a very cold climate.  In addition to the normal childcare activities, Jantzi raises fruits and vegetables during the short growing season and preserves them for the long winter.  She cooks without electricity, operates a shoe store on their property, and tries to find time to fulfill her passion for writing.  She has many social roles and duties in the close-knit Amish community as a woman of God, a wife and mother, daughter and sister by birth and by her membership in the Amish community.  She obviously has a good relationship with her in-laws: they share a connected house and even move from one side to the other as their families change in size.

Although Jantzi’s life is different in many ways from that of the typical non-Amish mother, most will be able to identify with certain familiar themes.  She finds there is rarely enough time or energy for the things that need to be done.  Despite good planning, the unexpected always arises with young children.  If you look for the good and the humorous, you will usually find it.  Jantzi is an introspective woman of faith, always trying to achieve a closer walk with God through obedience and humility.

I extend my thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Herald Press. They have afforded me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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