America Grelinger

Reviews (Plus): ‘Puck’ & ‘Saving Hamlet’

puck_doubletpressIn the newest Twisted Lit Novel, Kim Askew and Amy Helmes’ retelling of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, we meet Puck, a young woman lost in the foster care system who has arrived at DreamRoads, a wilderness camp in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but her own skills of wit, manipulation and control. Puck’s time there will either set her free or enslave her until she ages out of the system. Each child may return to the world–or not–depending on their ability to conquer the challenges set out for them. Much like the Puck in Shakespeare’s play, Puck finds she must lie to and betray in order for herself to stay the queen of her own life.

Puck is a great book for a counselor to put into the hands of readers whose story is similar to Puck’s. Anyone who has felt left out or abandoned will enjoy this story.


As Saving Hamlet begins, our protagonist, Emma, has just chopped off her hair to start her sophomore year fresh–and in the hope of catching the eye of the senior who’s directing the fall production of Hamlet. Emma has little experience, and she is shocked when she discovers that her predecessor has moved and she is in charge!

The book’s humorous scenes–the try-outs, the nightly notes, the tech crew antics–are only enhanced when Molly Booth brings time travel into the story. When Emma falls through a trap door, she is transported from present day rehearsal to the original production of Hamlet. She quickly adapts and eventually takes her new-found knowledge back to the present to help her peers produce an amazing show.

In all my years of theater teaching I don’t think I have found a book I would like to get into every star-struck teen I taught as much as Saving Hamlet. It’s a theater student must read–perfect for stage managers, high school stars, the tech people in black, and the senior who wants to run the show.  I love, love this unique and witty retelling of Shakespeare’s classic play!

Puck by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes (Doublet Press | 9780998161303 | November 15, 2016)

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth (Disney-Hyperion | 9781484752746 | November 1, 2016)

Review (Plus): The Lost Property Office

thelostpropertyoffice_9781481467094_9480aBookshelf Blurb: In the English world of lost properties, a Section 13 should never happen–especially in the form of a 13-year-old boy who is missing his father. A bit of Watson & Holmes, magic and mystery explode in this debut novel by a former US Air Force Stealth Bomber Pilot.

America’s Review:

When I read the author bio on this book I was intrigued. James R. Hannibal, author of The Lost Property Office, was a US Air Force stealth bomber pilot and Predator mission commander. Given this impressive vitae in the form of a middle grade read, I had to peruse what mystery and mayhem would be found. In less than 24 hours I had devoured over 300 pages–and with a few left, I stayed up even later to finish!

Our main character, Jack Buckles, is left in charge of his annoying and somewhat bratty little sister Sadie, while his mother goes to find his MIA father. Mr. Buckles Senior is a salesmen who did not come home from his last job forcing his mother to leave the United States in search of her husband in England. Sadie, bored with her tablet within minutes of her mother’s departure, forces Jack to leave the safety of their hotel room, and here begins the twist of the book.

The use of modern day devices and speech will help the young readers when they are suddenly immersed in historical London. Hannibal links the past to the present with the skills soon discovered in the Buckle men as Jack must determine who is father is and the man he wants to become. Sadie leads them to the Lost Property Office where they must complete forms, but alas these are not ordinary forms. The Ministry created the Lost Property Office to help find what was lost and also to keep things hidden–including people.

In the classroom:

Jack is a seer of things beyond the obvious; he can hear, see and sense the shadows of our past giving him the opportunity to solve mysteries of long-ago; however, crimes cannot be solved without a partner, so much like Holmes & Watson, Jack stumbles on a peer who can help him interpret his senses. Find a peer for this assignment, as group work makes it more complicated to agree on visions–as Jack soon discovers!

In the social studies classroom it is fun to challenge your students to create a what-if scenario. This would be a three-part essay. One: If they could go back in time, what time period would they chose and why? Two:  Research the event and historical aspects of this time period. Three: Create a different ending to the story giving specific examples of who might have made a difference decision to change the fate of the event.

Using CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2 for grades 6-8: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | 9781481467094 | November 8, 2016)

Review (Plus): Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat

Bookshelf Blurb: A mystery to solve and shapes to be taught while reading the story. Included activities reinforce the teaching with hands on activities at the end of the book.

charliepiechart_missinghat9780062370563_51768America’s Review: Eric Comstock and Marilyn Sadler have teamed up again for another mystery-solving adventure with Charlie Pie Chart and his sleuthing dog, Watson. It is the day of the school’s musical theater production of The Princess and the Frog when Margot, the Princess, discovers her hat has disappeared! It has been taken.

In this 2nd Charlie Pie Chart mystery, Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat, new elements of math are being taught. Charlie must discern where the hat is based on clues; he also must detect what shape he is trying to find among the many other shapes found throughout the school.

As in the first book, multiple skills are being taught as well as the key concept of the book. They integrate prior knowledge (colors, numbers, letters) into the mystery while also adding a new skill. The vibrant colors used in the illustrations help the reader’s interest stay piqued as they too have to search the pictures for details to help Charlie solve the mystery.

In the Classroom: Sadler and Comstock provide lesson plan activities at the end of their books. This is nice added value for parents or teachers because you don’t have to think of what to do or go search for a project. (You will need to send home a letter–or add this to your weekly newsletter–asking parents to send in empty paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls. These will be used for your activity after you read the book.)

One of the Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten students is for them to correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.G.A.2.) This book teaches shapes throughout the book giving examples you can find in your own classroom. As you read, pause and have your students find the shapes Charlie identifies as he is searching for the missing hat. If time allows, create a rocket ship for each child to take home using the directions at the end of the story. And if time doesn’t allow, send home instructions for your students to make a rocket ship or princess hat at home with their parents explaining what you taught in class and how parents can reinforce the learning in the home.

Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat by Marilyn Sadler & Eric Comstock (HarperCollins | 9780062370563 | October 4, 2016)

Review (Plus): ‘They All Saw a Cat’

Bookshelf Blurb: I know how I see a cat. You know how you see a cat. Now we can know how other animals see a cat through their animal eyes, but at the end of the story, you have to ask, how does a cat see a cat?


America’s Review: Each animal has a different visual perception of the world around them. The illustrations created by Brendan Wenzel in They All Saw a Cat display the unique view of a cat through a variety of species. As a cat prows through the world with his whiskers, ears and paws, the animals see him in a variety of ways: as colorful dots as a bee has a limited vision, or in the colors they are themselves–black and white like a skunk. The worms merely see a dark shadow cross their path as they are under ground and the cat is passing them above on the ground. Each different animal sees the cat as a friend, foe, or possibly a mere part of the passing scenery.

With each turn of the page, the reader is given the opportunity to also see how the cat is viewed. It isn’t until the end of the story, when the reader is asked the simple question, how does the cat view himself?

In the classroom: As you turn the pages of this book, you can ask your young reader (actually this book would be a great read for the middle school age as well as the elementary audience) why the cat is viewed in this manner? The illustrations differ from page to page, so the discussion should vary base on the drawings given on the pages associated with the different species.

The given perspectives of how the different animals “all saw a cat” leads itself to a simple classroom discussion: how do we see ourselves verse how others view us? Ask multiple questions defining “others.” Others can be peers, teachers, parents, family members, etc. Do these perspectives differ based on the environments of our relationships?

At the conclusion of the book, your audience will have differing opinions on how the cat views itself. Will the cat see itself as a shadow, as spots, as a black and white vision? These answers can also reveal how your reader views themselves. These discussions (or journal entry for your older audience) can allow you a different perspective of your student. Sometimes this type of story can open discussions that aren’t answered through  a direct morning question, “How are you?” Fine is a common answer, but with a story about a cat and views of animals, you may find a different answer.

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books | 9781452150130 | August 30, 2016)


Review (Plus): ‘Towers Falling’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes

TowersFalling_9780316262224_99601Bookshelf Blurb: 9/11 devastated our nation and for 15 years, children have been born who have no idea of how this event united people from sea to shining sea. History comes alive through three best friends who live in Brooklyn, NY in 2016.

Ms. America’s Review:

As I listened to the laughter and shouts of joy coming from my two children who were happily watching bombs bursting in air, I realized how innocent and free these 9- & 11-year-old boys were. I watched my 9-year-old place a whirly-bird on the ground and then take off running for his life as he knew the fuse would soon blow. Once he was a safe distance away, he turned back to watch the firework launch into the air and explode in a multitude of lights above his head. I didn’t turn to watch the show, but instead turned to watch his angelic, innocent face and see his eyes reflecting the glow of the night.

Feeling my stare, he turned to look at me, then asked, “Mommy, are you crying?”

I shook my head, wiping away tears, and explained, “This reminds me of the book I am reading about a time you weren’t alive to know about. It was a time that made us realize our freedom comes at a price.” He knew I was upset, not an angry kind of upset, but one of pure sadness. He sat down beside me as his brother took his turn blowing something up and asked me again, “Why are you crying about a book?”

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a book of truth. It will make the adult readers pause and tell the young reader in whose hands this book should belong, exactly the time and place they were the moment they learned that suicidal terrorists flew planes into four US locations: the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and into two of the largest buildings in New York City: The Twin Towers.

Jewell Parker Rhodes won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award for her book Ninth Ward and I hope to see her recognized again for her ability to tell the story of 9/11 through the words of a homeless 10-year-old girl, Deja.

After her family of five have been evicted from their home, Deja has to learn to embrace who she is despite her ailing father, a working mother and her two younger siblings. On the first day of school she meets Ben, who is also new and has just moved to Brooklyn from Arizona, and Sabeen, a young Muslim student who has lived in NY all of her life. The three children are in Miss Garcia’s homeroom where this unlikely friendship forms between a white boy, a black girl and a Muslim girl.

Within the first few days of school, Miss Garcia informs her students they will be working on a class unit learning about the absence of the towers which they could see from their classroom windows 15 years ago. Deja is unaware of this event, and through the friendship of Ben and Sabeen, she soon learns of the devastation and ruin. She has to learn how this affected our nation, but also how this event is the reason her father can no longer hold a job or maintain sanity.

Fifteen years has passed since this attack occurred, but to many people, this tragedy will forever be a part of their life. Freedom is given to us in the United States, but present day children do not realize how freedom can be taken away in mere moments. Pass this book on to our youth. Teach them a moment of history through the perspective of one of their 5th grade peers….Deja learns more about herself and her family through our history of 9/11.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 9780316262224 | July 12, 2016)