Book Title: Island of Fog
Author: Keith Robinson
Publish Date: 2009
Publisher: Unearthly Tales
Series: Island of Fog series book 1

Island of Fog Book Review | Elements of Elementary
Island of Fog by Keith Robinson

Suggested Grade: 5th, 6th

Suggested Format: Individual Reading

Book Format: Currently e-book only


Hal lives on an island with 7 other 12 year olds and their families. He knows life is a bit different, because they have only ever seen the fog, and sometimes their parents mention what life used to be like. Hal and his friends have never questioned their life too much, but all of that changes quickly when the children begin to change into monsters! What is going on? Can they trust their parents? What about the mysterious Miss Simone who appears from somewhere else?

Hal and his friends have to find the truth, while avoiding the mysterious and violent Manticore who has appeared on the island and trying desperately not to become the monsters they fear.

A real page turner! It can be a bit confusing, because there are lots of unknown variables, but the overall premise is great. Written in a casual but meaningful way, students will find themselves truly living vicariously through Hal and his friends as they battle monsters, parents, and themselves. A great story, questions are finally answered, but the reader knows that the adventures for Hal and his friend are not finished! 

Teacher's Notes: 
I love this book for my 5th grade students. It is fun and exciting, but is not too complex or scary for any student in the class. It holds the attention of even my more reluctant students, and is perfect for students that do not enjoy the traditional classic middle grade books. I recommend this series for every 5th and 6th grade classroom library.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Classroom e-book library

Suggested Interests: Mystery, Action, Fantasy, Fiction
Book Title: The Hundred Dresses
Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Publish Date: 1944
Publisher: Scholastic
The Hundred Dresses Book Review | Elements of Elementary
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Awards: Newbery Honor Book

Suggested Grade: 4th, 5th, 6th

Suggested Format: Read Aloud, Whole Group, Small Group, Independent Reading


Maddie is friends with the nicest, most popular girl in her class, Peggy. She knows that Peggy would never do anything wrong, so when Peggy wants her to have fun with Wanda, she doesn't think anything of it. That is, until she starts to wonder if having fun with Wanda is really making fun of Wanda. But Wanda, the poorest girl in school, shouldn't lie and say she has 100 dresses in her closet! After all, Maddie has only ever seen her wear one dress, every single day of school. 

Teacher's Notes: 

A+! Maddie is scared to stand up to the unintentional bullying, but she realizes that her cowardice is even worse! By the time she decides to do the right thing, though, it may be too late.

Perfect as a read aloud or for whole group instruction, this short tale crafts a powerful message about bullying. It addresses the issue of not thinking about how words can hurt others, as well as learning to voice an unpopular opinion in order to do what is right. 

If I could choose, EVERY 5th grade student would have to read this book!

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for Classroom

Suggested Interests: Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Book Title: A Wind in the Door
Author: Madeline L'Engle
Publish Date: 1973
Publisher: Dell Publishing Company
Series: A Wrinkle in Time series #2

Suggested Grade: 9th grade and up

Suggested Format: Independent reading


Meg and Calvin are back with some strange new friends. Blanjey, a Teacher, Proginoskes, a cherubim, and Sporos, a farandole, team up to face three challenges to save Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace is dying from "mitochondritis," a syndrome that his mother has only begun to understand using her new scientific equipment. 
Full of adventure, the team travel from the mundane of school to the outer cosmos and back to Earth in the form of inhabitants of Charles Wallace's mitochondria. How can an enemy that is nothing be defeated? And why is it attacking Charles Wallace?

Teacher's Notes: 
This is a much more difficult read than A Wrinkle in Time. An excellently written fantasy, it engulfs the reader in the world of the macrocosmic and microcosmic. Full of scientific jargon and settings, this story is not for the general casual reader. I would not recommend this book for anyone until at least High School, and even some college students will have difficulty with it. It does offer a wonderful glimpse into the mind of L'Engle's fundamental understandings of being and voids, and the importance of naming and living completely.

Overall: 7/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for my collection

Suggested Interests: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fiction
Book Title: The Monster's Ring
Author: Bruce Coville
Publish Date: 1982
Publisher: Scholastic
Series: Magic Shop Books #1

The Monster's Ring | Elements of Elementary
The Monster's Ring by Bruce Coville

Suggested Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th

Suggested Format: Independent Reading

Russell Crannaker loves Halloween. He loves monsters, magic, scary stories, and all things creepy and crawly. But this Halloween, Russell is struggling with being the target of the school bully, Eddie. That is, until a mysterious man in a magic shop sells him a ring. Russell is delighted to discover that he can turn into a monster with the help of the ring, anytime he wants. He even reads through the included directions:

"Twist it once, you're horned and haired;
Twist it twice and fangs are bared;
Twist it thrice? No one has dared!

Use with caution, and never on the night of a full moon."

Russell thinks that this is the solution to all of his problems, at least at first, but learns he might not like everything that being a monster really means.

Teacher's Notes: 
A fun story, this is a quick Halloween read. Its take on magic is lighthearted and fun, and is not "magic-y" enough to concern most readers. There are no truly creepy or scary elements, and paired with a great moral and theme, it is a perfect read for all students. This would make a great read-aloud for 2nd graders all the way through middle school during the month of October.

Overall: 8/10

How I Got the Book: Gifted to my classroom

Suggested Interests: Fantasy, Monsters, Halloween, Fiction
Book Title: Son
Author: Lois Lowry
Publish Date: 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Series: The Giver Quartet #4

Son Book Review | Elements of Elementary
Son by Lois Lowry

Suggested Grade: 7th, 8th, High School

Suggested Format: Independent Reading

The surprising ending to the Giver Quartet, the reader begins the tale in the mind of Claire, a Vessel in a town that seems familiar to the reader. Claire is unfit to be a Vessel, however, and is transferred to another position within her Community. During a strange time of unknown panic and disruption within her Community, Claire finds herself taking refuge on a boat, but a storm soon washes her overboard and into the strangest village she has ever seen. The only problem-she does not remember who she is, or where she is from. This story is the emotional and moving story of her rediscovery of who she is, and her rebuilding of her future, with the son she never knew.

Teacher's Notes: 
This is the most stark and moving story in The Giver Quartet. Lowry has definitely grown her stories along with her audience. I do not keep this book on my 5th grade shelves, as I feel very few students would be ready for the themes within this story. As a read for High School or adults, I would recommend this book for those who could not get enough with the first three books of this Quartet. For readers who were not enthralled by the tales from the first three books, this is probably a pass, as it will not hold their interest.

Overall: 8/10

How I Got the Book: Gift

Suggested Interests: Dystopia, Fiction, Fantasy
Book Title: A Prince Without A Kingdom
Author: Timothee de Fombelle
Translated by: Sarah Ardizzone
Publish Date: 1st US Edition 2015
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Series: Sequel to Vango: Between Earth and Sky

A Prince Without a Kingdom Book Review | Elements of Elementary
A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothee de Fombelle

Suggested Grade: 8th grade and up

Suggested Format: Individual Reading, Book Club


Vango is being chased. He is not completely sure who is chasing him, or why. All he knows is that he must escape, must continue to run, and must find out who he really is. Orphaned at a young age, Vango has lived most of his life hiding: from pirates, from the government, from the police, even from the girl he loves. In this book, Vango decides it is time to stop hiding, and start finding answers. 

Ethel has not seen the man she loves in years, but she still holds on to the scarf she still has that belongs to him. Her parents dead, her brother in Spain fighting a war, the scarf is her only comfort. She spends her evenings sitting by the fire, staring at the stitched "V" on the blue cloth. During the days, however, she is busy with a very important, very secret project.

Padre Zafiro is on a mission to find and eliminate the most notorious arms dealer in the world. His two problems? The man knows he is coming and is watching for him, and he is trying to keep everyone else he knows safe. Can a priest really do whatever it takes, including murder, just to bring a criminal to justice?

Boulard is the Superintendent of the Paris police force, but he is being blackmailed by a Russian crime lord. He knows that there is more at stake than his own life, so he blindly follows orders, at least for now. At the back of his mind, he is trying desperately to create a plan to get rid of this problem once and for all. His time is running out, however, and not everyone is who they seem to be.

Linked together, characters step in and out of each other's lives, living through the chaos they are trying to control. Travel with them around the globe, from Paris to Scotland, New York to Russia, monasteries to prisons. Live vicariously through the eyes of people who have seen the wars in Spain, pirates of the Mediterranean, the first acts of discrimination against Jews in Paris, and the beginning of the second World War. 

Teacher's Notes: 

A Prince Without a Kingdom is an excellent tale of mystery, intrigue, and tragedy mixed with an ounce of comedy, written in a historically accurate setting. The sequel to Vango: Between Earth and Sky, this book actually serves quite well as a stand alone tale. Readers may at first be a bit confused about a few of the readers, but given the writing style in which the author introduces new characters and later delves more deeply into their connections and past, there is no guarantee that the first book would not also be so complex. 

Each character is artfully woven together into the full tapestry that is finally completed and shown at arm's length in the last few sentences of the book. There are many characters within this tale, and several are introduced even towards the very end of the book. This makes the book more difficult for students to understand, as seemingly important pieces are missing. 

From a classroom standpoint, this book is perfect for students to read independently. I would not suggest a whole group application of this text, as it can be confusing, and not all students will be willing to put in the effort to truly understand the story line progression as it crosses through multiple characters and continents.

There are plots of assassination, glimpses into occupied Paris during World War II, and scenes of death and destruction within the book. They are written with respect for the deceased and a hand that artfully describes accuracy without being too violent or gory for students in upper grades. The historical and social aspects of the movie are an excellent study of how historical events vary from the basic history lesson when viewed through the eyes of a character living deep within the event.

There are several love stories interwoven into the tale, but none are indecent for the public or private school setting. The most intimate of actions are a brief kiss or the holding of hands, with a few mentions of weddings, pregnancy, and children. The tale is so well constructed that even students who shy away from stories of love or "chick flicks" will not mind the account. 

If not for the complex construction of the text which makes the story inaccessible to all readers within a classroom, I would gladly recommend this book as a whole group activity for high school students. There are many wonderful topics to delve into, both thematic and relating to the writer's craft. This would be wonderful as a book study for more advanced students.

Overall: 9/10

How I Got the Book: ARC from publisher through LibraryThing

Suggested Interests: Historical fiction, fiction, mystery
Book Title: Messenger
Author: Lois Lowry
Publish Date: 2006
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Series: The Giver Quartet #3

Messenger Book Review | Elements of Elementary
Messenger by Lois Lowry

Suggested Grade: 7th, 8th, High School

Suggested Format: Small Group, Independent Reading

Matty has the perfect life now, living in the Village and helping the Seer. His world is changing, however, and Matty doesn't think it is changing for the better. Something evil is changing people in the Village, and they no longer want to accept the outsiders that they once were. Matty acts as messenger between the other communities, and now with the boundaries closing, Matty must take one more message, this time to try and convince Kira to return to the Village. Along the way, he discovers a power that he holds inside of himself. But when the time comes, can Matty bring himself to make the necessary sacrifice?

Teacher's Notes: 
A wonderful read, this is the saddest of the Giver Quartet. I definitely cried through the ending. The story has a haunting presence on the reader, and is definitely for a slightly more mature audience than the first two stories. I would recommend this book to older students on a case by case basis. It is more abstract in nature than The Giver and Gathering Blue, and will not interest as many students. Those students who are interested, however, will once again be drawn into a wonderfully crafted world.

Overall: 9/10

How I Got the Book: Gift

Suggested Interests: Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction
Book Title: Gathering Blue
Author: Lois Lowry
Publish Date: 2000
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Series: The Giver Quartet #2

Gathering Blue Book Review | Elements of Elementary
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Suggested Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, High School

Suggested Format: Small Group, Independent reading

Kira is an anomaly in a world where the weak are cast aside. An orphan with a deformed leg, she fears what her future will be. Kira is granted reprieve because of her skills as a gifted weaver, and is given an important task within the society. The singer's robe needs repairs, and Kira is the only one who can fix it. History itself resides within the robe, as the singer uses it every year to remind the community of their past. As she lives in the city center and begins her important work, Kira realizes that there are secrets in the community--secrets that are not necessarily for the good of the people. Kira sets out to find the truth about her world, and the unknown world beyond.

Teacher's Notes: 
An amazing book, this is my personal favorite book in the Giver Quartet. This book is always a big hit with some of my more introverted girls, as they feel they can connect with Kira. It can be read as a stand alone book, or as a follow-up to the Giver. Some students every year put the book down claiming it is "too slow" or "not exciting" enough, as it is a bit slow to start. You really get the feel of the characters, and who they are as the story begins. This is an awesome book, but is not for everyone.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for my personal collection

Suggested Interests: Fantasy, Fiction, Dystopia
Book Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publish Date: 1993
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Series: The Giver Quartet

The Giver Book Review | Elements of Elementary
The Giver by Lois Lowry

Awards: 1994 Newbery Award

Suggested Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th, High School

Suggested Format: Whole Group, Small Group, Independent Reading

Jonah lives in a perfect world: no pain, no war, no fear. Everyone has a role in the Community, and everyone lives in harmony. Every year, a rite of passage assigns 12-year-olds to training for their future jobs in the Community. At the ritual, however, Jonas' name is passed by. He is singled out instead to become an apprentice to the Giver, the man who holds all of the Community's memories and history. As Jonas learns the truth, however, his world will never be the same again.

Teacher's Notes: 
This is a wonderful book for older students, and has quickly become a staple of the Junior High classroom. A lighter version of the dystopian/utopian concept, this is a great lead into more complex and meaningful discussions in the classroom. A must read for all students.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for my collection

Suggested Interests: Dystopia, Fiction, Fantasy
Book Title: The War Within These Walls
Author: Aline Sax
Illustrator: Caryl Strzelecki
Publish Date: 2013
Publisher: Eerdman's Books for Young Readers

The War Within These Walls Book Review | Elements of Elementary
The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax

Suggested Grade: 7th, 8th, High School

Suggested Format: Independent Reading, Small Group

The War Within These Walls is a compelling read about the Holocaust of World War II. The narrator is a young (teenage) Jew living in Warsaw, Poland. The story starts when the first relocation of Jews in Poland began after the German occupation, and ends in the rebellion of Jews still remaining in the walled ghetto of Warsaw.
This book is very true to the nature of the cruelties that children lived through during this time. Holocaust, injury, genocide, torture, and death are all present. While it is written in a fictional format, it is very much a non-fiction tale of what really happened.

Teacher's Notes: 
For classroom use, however, this book will be on my personal bookshelf. It will only be shared with students who are ready (and whose parents agree are ready) to read the book with an understanding of the dark, stark factual representation of death that occurred. While the reading level is fairly simple, most of my students are not emotionally ready for the portrayal of death in this story.

A wonderful read for mature students and adults, however, this book is a reminder of the horrors of history that are often glazed over in history class.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: ARC from publisher through LibraryThing

Suggested Interests: War, Historical Fiction
Book Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeline L'Engle
Publish Date: 1962
Publisher: Dell Publishing Company
Series: A Wrinkle in Time series #1

A Wrinkle in Time Book Review | Elements of Elementary
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

Awards: Newbery Winner

Suggested Grade: 5th, 6th, 7th grade and up

Suggested Format: Whole class, Independent reading, Small group

Meg Murray feels like a misfit. No one at school understands her, her teachers think she's dumb, her peers think she's weird, and to top it all off, the adults are all whispering behind her back that her dad has run off. It's true, Meg's dad is missing. But he was working on a super-secret project as a physicist, and Meg just knows he's going to return soon. And then there's Charles Wallace, her genius little brother who won't talk around anyone but family. Meg isn't sure how she is going to make it through school until one wild and stormy night when Charles Wallace introduces her to Mrs. Whatsit. 
Meg is thrown into a whirlwind of events where she meets Calvin, a student a few grades ahead of her at school, three "stars," Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, and is tessered across the universe in search of her father. With the help of her brother and her new friends, Meg must figure out how to use the wrinkles in time and her own uniqueness to save her father.

Teacher's Notes: 
I haven't put this book down since I was in 5th grade! (I read it at least once a year, sometimes more) I wholly recommend it for anyone, including adults! The concepts are a bit tricky, so I would suggest 5th grade unless the reader has a voracious vocabulary. Well, written, creative, positive, and perfectly balanced, this is a definite 10/10.

Overall: 10/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for my collection

Suggested Interests: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fiction
Here it is, ready or not: Back to School Orientation for parents. You have everything out, you're excited, you're nervous, and then that one parent walks in the door. You know the one that I mean. The one who wants to find fault with everything, or tell everyone about their old school, or argue that that isn't they way they learned it, or even the one with 12 kids around their legs (or pets, heaven forbid!) who spend the evening undoing your nice neat classroom. And you're stuck holding the bag, with an orientation that is disrupted and miserable for everyone involved. We've all been there, or at least, I'd like to think we have. I'd hate to be alone!

It's time for teachers to take back these parent sessions! I'm here to provide information, answer questions, and help parents. I am doing my job if I do not give in to the few parents who would, intentionally or unintentionally, derail the meeting. 

8 Ways to Own Your Parent Orientation | Elements of Elementary
Book Title: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publish Date: 2007
Publisher: Candlewick Press

Edward Tulane Book Review | Elements of Elementary
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Suggested Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th grade

Suggested Format: Independent reading

Edward Toulane is a very vain china rabbit, with no thought for anyone or anything but himself. He is given the best of everything, and has no reason to change his thinking until one day when he is lost over the side of a boat and sinks to the ocean floor. Feeling an emotion other than pride and smugness for the first time in his life, Edward is afraid. He is found by a fisherman, and finally begins to feel something for people, when he is discarded by another. This book chronicles his tragic and wonderful travels as he journeys through love, pain, fear, and sadness to discover what it truly means to be.

Teacher's Notes: 
This book is beautifully illustrated, and will catch the eye of even some of the more reluctant readers in your classroom. It is a very sad book, with many emotional journeys. As an adult, I cried when I read the book. I would suggest that 3rd grade teachers and parents consider their individual child before selecting this book for them, as it can come across as a bit depressing, although it details a very realistic emotional journey through life.

Overall: 9/10

How I Got the Book: Purchased for my classroom

Suggested Interests: Fiction, Toys

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is putting off Back to School planning by "planning" on Pinterest! Today while I was in one of those wandering, searching modes on Pinterest, I realized I was trying to repin ideas I had found last year. Even more embarrassing for myself-they were great ideas that I had never used in my classroom because I forgot they were there!

If I'm trying to save this great idea more than once, I MUST really like it, right? So I decided to make a list of my top 10. What pins have been repinned and shared the most this month, and what pins am I still wanting to use for Back to School? 

Here are my Top 10:

1. A Peek at the Week: A great free resource to help get us organized for Back to School! Original Blog post by Ms. Houser here.

2. Back to School Read Alouds for Big Kids: I can't wait to try some of these out! Original blog post by Mrs. Beer's Language Arts Class here.

3. 9 Math YouTube Channels for Kids: Do I even need to explain this one? :) Original post by IGameMom here.

4. 10 Rhetorical Questions Teachers Shouldn't Ask, & 10 Effective Replacements: This is something I always need to work on! Original blog post by Blair Turner here.

5. Grungeball: A fun way to engage kiddos in multiple subject areas. Original blog post on To Engage them All here.

6. 7 Great Apps for Social Studies: With a 1-1 classroom, I'm always looking for great new apps. Original article on EdTech Review here.

7. Team building activities for Back to School: I really want to incorporate more team building and group activities this year. Original blog post on Runde's Room here.

8. Make Thinking Visible - Tug of War: I am trying this on DAY ONE with my class! (I have tried to repin this so many times lately, so I must really want to try it!) Original blog post by Secondgradealicious here.

9. Order of Operations Madness: It's back and better than ever! Math that my boys (and girls!) LOVE. I am definitely utilizing this again this year! TPT product link here.

10. Close Reading in general. This one was a tie, so I included a pin that links to lots of great Close Reading activities. I use all of these in the classroom every year, some as whole group activities, and some as small group intervention or assessment. TPT product link here.

There you are, (and there I am!) my Top 10 Pinterest Pins from July 2015. I can't wait to utilize these in...17 days! YIKES!

What are your top 10 pins for the month? I would love for you to share in the comments below!