Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 9, Poetry and Short Stories

Module 9: A Curious Collection of Cats

Title: A Curious Collection of Cats

Author:Betsy Franco

ISBN: 978-1-58246-248-6

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


A Curious Collection of Cats is a book of brightly illustrated cat poems that detail all of the quirks and personalities found in cats.The poems are often as unruly as the felines they portray, with upside down poems, curved words, and even a poem shaped like the fat cat that it is about. Each poem takes on a personality of its own, and helps any cat loving reader get closer to their purring pets.

Franco, B. & Wertz, M. (2009). A curious collection of cats. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.

My Impressions:

This collection of concrete cat poems will have readers of all ages laughing out loud. Each poem in the collection is unique, and brilliantly illustrated. The art and the poems work well together- one would not be the same without the other. Several of the poems stuck out to me after I finished the book. I loved the hilarious haiku poems included, and thought that they could not have done a better job of portraying some of the less endearing personality traits cats posses. Perhaps my favorite  poem in the collection was completely symmetrical. The illustration is stunning, and captures the picture of two cats sitting on a chair perfectly. Cat lovers and haters alike will all find something worthwhile in this collection of poems. I recommend this book to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

This collection would pair well with a work of fiction about cats, such as What Will Fat Cat Sit On? by Jan Thomas. As it contains examples of many different types of poems, this collection would make an excellent addition to a poetry unit. The collection includes several great haiku poems, and even a symmetrical poem that could be used to supplement a geometry unit.


In an ideal match of subject and form, poet Franco uses the sinuous shapes and playful motions of cats to distill the essence of felines in all their grace and ridiculousness. Each of the thirty-two concrete poems is a mini-depiction of a particular cat, as in “Veronica Goes Wide”: “Veronica’s gotten so pudgy / and PLUMP, / she now mostly acts like a snuggable / lump”; the poem is written across the yellow cat, with the M in lump formed from her ears. Cats interact with dogs, with squirrels, with one another, and with people in a variety of funny ways, but Franco uses words so precisely to capture cats’ behavior that cat-lovers will feel a shock of recognition. Cat-haters may, too, as Franco lays bare the lesscharming aspects of life with cats, as in “cat haiku 1” (“Tuna fish dinner / Kitty washes down her meal / sips from toilet bowl”) and the self-explanatory “that cat peed on my hat.” Wirtz’s illustrations, monoprints adjusted in Adobe Photoshop, keep the words that wrap and weave around the cats readable while still creating visual interest in the backgrounds. Together, poet and artist convey the silliness of cats and their humans without ever being silly themselves. s.d.l.

S. D., L. (2009). [Review of the book A curious collection of cats, by B. Franco & M. Wertz]. Horn Book Magazine, 85(3), 314-315. Retrieved from

Posted in Module 8, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

Module 8: The Book of Blood and Shadow

Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow

Author: Robin Wasserman

ISBN: 978-0-375-87277-8

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books


When Nora’s brother dies in a car accident, she cosoles herself by losing herself in her hobby- Latin translation. Nora receives a scholarship to a private school, where she can receive specialized instruction in Latin her senior year, and she surrounds herself with new friends who know nothing about her family’s past. When Nora’s professor asks her to translate a collection of old, and seemingly useless letters, she grudgingly takes on the task. But Nora soon discovers that the letters contain the key to a mystery that scholars have sought to uncover for centuries. Upon her discovery, Nora’s best friend is mysteriously murdered in his home, and the only witness has no memory of the event. Nora embarks on a quest to discover the truth behind the letters, and the mysterious book they are connected to. She finds herself in Prague, investigating the history behind the Voynicht manuscript, and it’s connection to a powerful alchemical machine with the power to allow its user to connect with God. Nora soon finds that she can’t trust anyone around her, as she comes closer and closer to the truth of the machine. She is captured by religious fanatics who are intent on using her blood to power the machine. Nora must fight, and find the inner strength to cope with the betrayal she faces upon discovering that her boyfriend is at the heart of the fanatic mob.

Wasserman, R. (2013). The book of blood and shadow. United States: Random House Children’s Books.

My Impressions:

This is a worthy addition to the young adult mystery genre. Nora is a lovable character to which the reader will instantly relate. She has a sassy, almost sarcastic  voice, and tells her story in a very compelling manor. The plot is engaging, and leaves the reader desperate to begin the next chapter. It is quite complex, and delivers juicy twists and turns throughout. There was quite a bit of Latin throughout the book, but it is almost always translated into English. The story feels like it gets a little tedious and long in the second half of the book, but that is by no means a deal breaker with this one. Despite the length, readers will be anxious to finish this one, and discover the secret behind the Lumen Dei.

For Use in the Library:

Recommend this text to a reader who is interested in languages. The main character’s love of language is obvious, and will likely be inspiring to young readers. Nora is easy to relate to, and will make the study of language seem mysterious and exciting.


When high school senior Nora is assigned to translate Elizabeth Weston’s Latin letters of the 1590s rather than decode the mysterious, medieval Voynich manuscript for a research project, at first she’s insulted. Then she realizes that the letters offer a vital key to the design of the Lumen Dei, an ancient alchemical device intended to give man limitless knowledge and communion with God. When her best friend and fellow researcher is murdered and her new boyfriend disappears, Nora’s caught up in an ancient competition between two secret societies whose race to build the Lumen Dei first began in Renaissance Prague—and who will kill to find out what Nora knows. As Nora searches for her vanished boyfriend throughout Prague, she becomes ever more mired in deception, double deception, murder, and theological conflict. This is a thorough mixture of contemporary American adolescence, the sixteenth-century occult, and atmospheric, historical substance, all dished up with a convoluted plot in Da Vinci Code mode. An afterword describes the historical basis of the real Voynich manuscript and sixteenth-century poet Elizabeth Weston. deirdre f. baker

Baker, D. (2012). [Review of the book The book of blood and shadow, by R. Wasserman]. Horn Book Magazine, 88(2), 122-123. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 7, Non-Fiction

Module 7: Poop Happened!

Title: Poop Happened!

Author: Sarah Albee

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2077-1

Publisher: Walker & Company


Poop Happened! takes the reader through history, looking at how humans have relieved themselves and disposed of their waste over the ages. It begins by discussing why this study is so important. Albee explains how people did not understand the connection between unclean living conditions and water and human health. She goes on to show how each century changed in its view points on sanitation, discussing things such as professions, diseases, and even how clothing has changed in relation to how society uses the restroom. Albee concludes by explaining how toilets advanced due to technology, and how pollution still a factor in our world.

Albee, S. (2010). Poop happened! A history of the world from the bottom up. New York, Ny: Walker & Company.

My Impressions:

This one will be an instant hit in my classroom, and I am stoked to tempt my reluctant readers with it. Albee takes on a conversational tone with her reader as she discusses this unconventional subject, reminding young readers that reading is fun. The text features throughout this text are amazing. Readers will love the array of pictures and captions, as well as the silly cartoons flitting along the pages. The chapters are organized well, and are full of eye catching side bars or boxes that draw the reader in. I read this entire book in one sitting. And I found myself repeating interesting facts I had learned to my family and friends several days after I finished. I enjoyed Albee’s lighthearted tone, adored the clever chapter titles, and couldn’t get enough of the content. I recommend this text for every 4-8 grade classroom. Readers will be waiting in line to read this one!

For Use in the Library:

This is an excellent text to suggest to a reluctant or struggling reader. The title and subject matter of this book is unconventional, and will make hesitant readers feel at ease while reading. The vocabulary is very kid friendly, and the content is highly engaging. Talk this one up to your classes, and you will have kids begging to be the next in line to read it.


Gr 4-8–This self-proclaimed “number one book on number two” takes readers inside the fascinating world of excrement, ranging across the historical spectrum from “Hellenic Hygiene” to “How Do Astronauts Use the Toilet in Space?” Albee’s focus is not only on bodily functions, but also on the larger public-health challenges created by mass urbanization in the ancient and modern world as well as the ability of societies to deal with these problems, which provides readers with an excellent introduction to social history. With a focus on the Western world in general and England in particular, the author touches on an array of topics from diseases such as cholera and plague to the development of increased sanitation in large urban areas such as London. The exciting format is comprised of a two-color (pastel green and blue) layout with numerous illustrations and photos. Interesting sidebars describe occupations and “hygiene heroes” such as Edwin Chadwick and bathroom fashion. The fluid writing style that ensnares and holds readers’ attention from beginning to end. By bringing history alive, this captivating work is without a doubt an essential purchase.

Odom, B. (2010). [Review of the book Poop happened: A history of the world from the bottom up, by S. Albee]. School Library Journal, 56(5), 126. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Elementary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Module 6: Henry’s Freedom Box

Title: Henry’s Freedom Box

Author: Ellen Levine

ISBN: 978-0-439-77733-9

Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated


A true story of the underground railroad, Henry’s Freedom Box, tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who did whatever it took to gain his freedom. Henry was fortunate to grow up working as a slave for a master who was kind to him. But Henry’s master fell ill, and soon called for Henry and his mother. Henry wondered if his master was going to grant them freedom, but he just gave him to his son instead. Henry quickly realized that his new master was not kind like his old one, and though he was good at his job, Henry was frequently beaten by the boss. As a young man, Henry met his wife, Nancy, and started a family. They lived in happiness for a while, but soon, Nancy’s master lost his fortune, and agreed to sell off his best slaves. Nancy and her children were taken away, and Henry was left alone and desperate. Henry devised a plan to runaway and find his family. He made contact with the underground railroad, and decided to hop in a box, and mail himself to a free state in the north. Henry’s mission was successful. He gained his freedom and a new life.

Levine, E. & Nelson, K. (2007). Henry’s freedom box. United States: Scholastic, Incorporated.

My Impressions:

This is an absolutely beautiful book. Nelson’s illustrations are exquisite, and do a wonderful job of enhancing the story. Levine tells her story expertly, with simple kid friendly language, making this book friendly for readers of all ages. I enjoyed Henry Brown’s story, and was definitely on the edge of my seat when he decided to mail himself to freedom with only a few biscuits for food along the way. This sets a suspenseful image in the mind, and very much allows the reader to the desperation that Henry feels at the loss of his family. My only complaint is that the author concludes the story without telling the reader whether Henry was ever able to find and free his family. Even the author’s note on Henry Brown at the end of the book did not mention anything about his family.  The story felt incomplete without knowing the fate of Nancy and the kids, and prompted me to do my own research on the subject, simply to satisfy my own curiosity. I suppose if it prompts my students to do the same, encouraging them to research things that interest them, I can’t be too upset by the author’s choice to make the reader dig for more information. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

Henry’s Freedom Box would make an excellent addition to any library. Whether it is for pleasure reading or a classroom lesson, readers of every age will fall in love with Henry “Box” Brown. Use this title as an opening library lesson during black history month. Pair it with titles such as Salt in His Shoes, by Deloris Jordan, or My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris.


In a true story that is both heartbreaking and joyful, Levine recounts the history of Henry “Box” Brown, born into slavery. Henry works in a tobacco factory, marries another slave, and fathers three children; but then his family is sold, and Henry realizes he will never see them again. With nothing to lose, Henry persuades his friend James and a sympathetic white man to mail him in a wooden box to Philadelphia and freedom. Levine maintains a dignified, measured tone, telling her powerful story through direct, simple language. A note at the end explains the historical basis for the fictionalized story. Accompanying Levine’s fine, controlled telling are pencil, watercolor, and oil paint illustrations by Kadir Nelson that resonate with beauty and sorrow. When Henry’s mother holds him as a child on her lap, they gaze out at bright autumn leaves, and the tenderness is palpable, even as she calls to his attention the leaves that “are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.” There is no sugarcoating here, and Henry is not miraculously reunited with his wife and children; however, the conclusion, as Henry celebrates his new freedom, is moving and satisfying. S.D.L.

Lempke, S. D. (2007). [Review of the book Henry’s freedom box, by E. Levine & K. Nelson]. Horn Book Magazine, 83(2), 186-187. Retrieved from