• Behind Rebel Lines The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 5/21/2020

    This book is the true story of Emma Edmonds, a Canadian woman who disguised herself as a man and slipped behind enemy lines to spy for the Union Army.  President Lincoln had asked for volunteers to fight in the Civil War.  Emma wanted to be involved, and so she dressed as a man and signed up to serve in the Union Army.  At first, she works in the hospital wards, but when she hears about a spy that has been captured, she volunteers to take his place.  With the help of the Chaplain's wife, with whom she has shared her secret, she disguises herself and sneaks behind enemy lines.  She uses several disguises (with the help of the Chaplain's wife, Mrs. Butler), takes great risks, and makes it back to her camp, and her role as a soldier, Franklin.  She sneaks behind enemy lines several times, with several different disguises,  and finds crucial information that makes a difference in the war effort. 

    This book is well - researched, written with information from Emma's own memoirs, U.S. Army records, and National Archives files, as well as the records of well-known historians.  It is told as a narrative, so dialogue is added, as it might have occurred.  

    I enjoy reading about history.  I know that women have always supported war efforts, in many roles, but I did not imagine that women disguised themselves as men to serve in the Civil War.  It is estimated that over 400 women did so.  Emma's role as a spy, however, was more unusual and adventurous.  This quote from Emma's writings may give insight into why she did this.

    "I am naturally fond of adventure,  a little ambitious,  and a good deal romantic - but patriotism was the true secret of my success."

     - from Emma's memoirs 


    Level T

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  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 4/30/2020

    Mrs. Frisby, the brave widow of Jonathan mouse, is the mother of four little mice.  Her youngest child, Timothy, is sick with pneumonia, and is very weak when this story begins.  Mrs. Frisby is willing to do whatever it takes to help her son recover, and some things take some incredible bravery!  She meets with animals who would normally be predators, including an owl.  As she meets these animals, she discoveres some mysteries.....an unusually sleepy cat, animals who regard her husband Jonathan as a friend and a hero, and rats of some unusual abilities.  

    One of the main problems that Mrs. Frisby has is that her winter home is in a cinder block in the garden, and Timothy needs to stay in the warm cinder block in order to recover.  However, it is early spring, the weather is turning warmer, and the garden will soon be plowed, destroying their home.  Normally, the mouse family moves to their summer home, but Timothy is not able to move until he gets stronger.

    Mrs. Frisby gets some help from unusual places, and in the process, learns some surprising things about the Fitzgibbon's farm and the creatures that live there.

    Level V  (recommended for 5th or 6th grades)

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  • Grow: A Novel in Verse by Juanita Havill

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 5/14/2019

    This is a novel written in a poetry format, and from the first person point of view.  The narrator tells the story of planting a garden with Berneetha.  Berneetha is a powerful presence, with big ideas.  The garden grows, from small beginnings, but it also brings together an unexpected cast of characters.  

    The setting seems to be urban, and the garden's location becomes disputed.  The characters need to work together to solve this issue.

    This book reminded me of the Buffalo Garden Walk, the biggest garden walk in the nation, and how gardens can transform a neighborhood and a city and bring people together.


    Level S

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  • Anastasia - The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 by Carolyn Meyer

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 5/3/2019

    Anastasia is the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia.  She and her family live in the palaces of Russia.  Her daily life consists of her schoolwork, taught by tutors, playing with her three sisters and her brother, and a very structured routine.  Part of the routine is her mother deciding which matching outfit her sisters and she will wear for the day.  Her father takes his leadership role seriously, and is an attentive father to his children, at least until Russia enters World War 1.  Her mother is very worried about her younger brother, Alexi, because he is sickly and the parents do not want the people of Russia to worry about him, as he will be their future leader.  

    The book is written in a diary format, written by Anastasia.  It tells of her fairy-tale life, and the changes that occur when Russia enters World War I.  The peasants are suffering, and turn on the royal family.  The fate of the family becomes uncertain.  

    This story is a very interesting introduction to the Romanov family, and the history of this time period.  There are interesting historical notes and photographs at the end, which add further information, if readers want to know more.  (I did.)

    Level S

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  • You Wouldn't Want to be a Pyramid Builder: A Hazardous Job You'd Rather Not Have by Jacqueline Morley

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 4/24/2019

      This nonfiction book is packed with information about how pyramids are built.  The information is organized into topics, such as "Pulling Your Weight"  (literally, and how humans got those large stones to where they need to be); "Home Comforts" (what daily life was like for ancient Egyptians) and "Wrapping Up the Pharoah"  (some information on the process).  There are interesting "Handy Hints" in each section, which are fun facts.  

      The book is written as if the author is talking to you, the reader, and giving you information on how life works for an ancient Egyptian.  The illustrations are cartoon-like drawings, which make it fun.  

      I found this to be an interesting read, which gives factual information in a fun way.


    Level R

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  • The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 4/18/2019

      The sorceress, Lady Lamorna, has her sights set on a new velvet dress, studded with skulls.   Since her treasure chest is empty of gold, she has to resort to other (evil) means to get her dress.  Her plans include kidnapping, blackmailing, and magic spells.

      The way the author structures this book is interesting.  Each chapter focuses on a character, and their current activities in this land of Five Kingdoms.  The heroine, Gracie Gillypot, like Cinderella, has a good heart, but is treated cruelly by her very nasty stepsister.  The characters come together at the end, and the problems are solved in a unique way.  I liked that the ending did not just punish evil, but had a restorataive element.  

      Although this is not a book that I thought I would enjoy, I did like it, and would read some of the other Tales from the Five Kingdoms (The Bag of Bones; The Heart of Glass; The Flight of Dragons; The Music of Zombies)


    Level S 

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  • Rules - by Cynthia Lord

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 4/5/2019

    I think this book is wonderful, and I enjoyed reading it very much. It is written in the first person point of view by Catherine, who has a younger brother with autism.  Being that April is Autism Awareness month, this was good reading and a good reminder about the lives of families who have a member/s with autism.

    Catherine also deals with friendship, and what it means to be a good friend.  There is another character, Jason, who is nonverbal, and Catherine contemplates how to be a friend with him.

    One of the reasons that I really enjoyed this book is because it helps people be aware of how we interact with those with disablilties, and how we are more alike than different.  It is a great lesson.

    At the end of the book there are some bonus activities that are fun.  There is also an interesting interview with the author.


    Level R

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  • Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 3/26/2019

    "Hound Dog True" is about a fifth grade girl, Mattie, who is very shy.  She and her mom have moved a lot, and Mattie does not want to start school in a new place.....again.  She especially does not want to go to the lunchroom or to recess, and so she makes a plan to help her Uncle Potluck with his custodial duties.  During the summer, she follows her eccentric Uncle Potluck and keeps notes of everything she needs to know to be an associate custodian.  

    The story continues as Mattie tries to find her way through this situation, and as she contemplates a friendship with the neighbor's daughter.  There is a lot of insight into Mattie's thoughts as the story progresses and she searches for a true friend. Aside from Uncle Potluck, there are no male characters.  


    My favorite quote from the book is, "You can't have brave without scared."  How true.


    Level R

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  • Shadows on the Sea by Joan Hiatt Harlow

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 3/4/2019

    This historical fiction book is set in Winter Haven, Maine, during World War 2.  Jill is sent to Winter Haven to stay with her grandmother while her dad, a popular singer, is on tour, and her mom is traveling to take care of her brother.  One of the first things she finds on the beach is a carrier pigeon with a canister on its leg.  She finds out that there are many secrets in Winter Haven, and Jill really struggles to know who to trust.  Because of that, she tries to solve things on her own.  Her friend, Quarry, turns out to be a loyal friend, and they work together.

    This book is based on facts.  There were really German U boats patrolling our coasts, ready to attack targets.  There really were sympathizers who aided the Germans.

    I thought this book started out slowly, but I really enjoyed it as the story progressed.


    Level R

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  • Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm

    Posted by DONDRA DECKER on 2/27/2019

    I enjoyed reading this Newberry Honor award - winning book.  It is the first book that I have read about settlers of the Pacific Northwest.  May Amelia is the only girl in a family of 8.  She lives in a remote setting, and is the only girl around for miles!  She is constantly being told to "be a lady," and tires of it.  She wants to have adventures, like her brothers.  She does end up in some wild adventures.  One of these adventures happens because she ventures off and finds herself being chased up a tree by a bear.  There is no way out....and she gives her family quite a scare.  Her mom is expecting a baby, and it is her great hope of having a sister. Her situation at home is tense, but worsens as her grandmother moves in.  It becomes intolerable.  

    This book is historical fiction, based on a journal that was given to the author.  It is the diary of her grandaunt, Alice Amelia Holm.


    Level R

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