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Picture Books on the First Day of School Grades 5-8

bullet Riding the Tiger by David Frampton and Eve Bunting: We do a "Bully Free" program at our school and I've had a lot of success with the book. I really "ham it up" while reading...doing the tiger's voice.
bullet First Day Jitters by Julie Dannebrog is a good little picture book-probably the kids would relate more though if 6th grade is the beginning of middle school for them--maybe not so much if 6th grade is a continuation for elementary school--but a great surprise at the end.
bullet"Seventh Grade."  By Gary Soto Itís about the first day of seventh grade, but my fifth and sixth graders have enjoyed it in the past. 
bulletDonald Davisís "Miss Daisy" from Listening for the Crack of Dawn
bullet Dr. Seussís Oh, the Places You Will Go as a read-aloud followed by a writing assignment:  where to you want to go this year? as a way of having students set goals for themselves for the school year.
bullet The Twits by Roald Dahl
One of the very important things this book teaches you is that if you have ugly thoughts, it begins to show on your face. That explains why Mrs. Twit, who always carries a walking stick with which to beat people, is the ugliest woman you have ever seen. However, Mr. Twit, with his dirty beard encrusted with bits and pieces of every meal he had every eaten, is even worse. Fortunately, these two horrible people spend most of their time making each other miserable with twisted practical jokes involving things like a glass eye, a frog or a bunch of balloons, as you will discover when you read this book by Roald Dahl. But then we learn that Mr. Twit likes to catch birds for Wednesday's Bird Pie dinner and that his grand plan is to train four monkeys kept in a cage in the garden to become The Great Upside-Down Monkey Circus. This is not a good thing. Not at all. Fortunately, this particular family of monkeys, named the Muggle-Wumps, are aided by the Roly-Poly Bird in turning the tables on the Twists. When I was reading "The Twists" as part of my most recent second-childhood, I thought this was a relatively minor Roald Dahl story, enhanced by Quetin Blake's zany illustrations. But when I found out the great plan of the father Muggle-Wump for the Twits and realized the Dreaded Shrinks were not simply a figment of Mr. Twit's imagination, I decided this was really just another one of his wonderful books and that I should have known better than to doubt him.
bullet Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
The characters introduced here two abandoned children, their villainous guardians and a kindly country couple might have stepped out of a Dickens novel, but as Creech (Love that Dog) probes beneath their facades, the characters grow more complex than classic archetypes. Florida and her brother Dallas, raised in an orphanage run by the cold-hearted Trepids, rely on each other rather than grownups for support. They become suspicious when Mr. Trepid informs them that they are going to a place called Ruby Holler to accompany old Mr. and Mrs. Morey on separate vacations. Florida is to be Mr. Tiller Morey's companion on a canoe trip; Dallas is to help Mrs. Sairy Morey hunt down an elusive bird. Readying for the trips proves to be a journey in itself as the Moreys, Florida and Dallas make discoveries about one another as well as themselves in a soothing rural environment. This poignant story evokes a feeling as welcoming as fresh-baked bread. The slow evolution of the siblings who are no angels parallels the gradual building of mutual trust for the Moreys. The novel celebrates the healing effects of love and compassion. Although conflicts emerge, readers will have little doubt that all will end well for the children and the grandparently Moreys. Ages 8-12.
bullet Baseball Card Adventures by Dan Gutman
Gr. 4-6. In another Baseball Card Adventure book Joe Stoshack travels back in time again to meet a famous baseball player. Joe's father, who has been seriously injured in a car accident, tells Joe where to find a 1951 Mickey Mantle card, which Joe is to use to travel back to the 1951 World Series and warn Mantle of an impending accident. But Joe's friend Samantha switches cards, and the boy finds himself traveling back to 1944, instead, where he meets Mickey Maguire, a star player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Joe hangs out with Maguire's team and meets more famous players before encountering 13-year-old Mickey Mantle on a train, where Joe warns the confused Mantle about an accident awaiting him years later. Joe returns to the present to learn his father will be okay. Like the other books in the series, this one delivers a fast-moving plot, lots of action, and colorful depictions of famous sports heroes of the past. A good choice for reluctant readers who are sports fans.
bullet Hank Zipzer series coauthored by Henry Winkler
As a parent and a teacher, I would highly recommend these books for people of all ages. Even though this is a collection, one doesn't need to read the books in order to understand the vivid characters or lively plots. These books not only make you think about how you treat others, they make you laugh out loud while doing it.
bullet Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Amazon.com's Best of 2001
Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, a funny, sweet, original short novel written in free verse, introduces us to an endearingly unassuming, straight-talking boy who discovers the powers and pleasures of poetry. Against his will. After all, "boys don't write poetry. Girls do." What does he say of the famous poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? "I think Mr. Robert Frost / has a little / too / much / time / on his / hands." As his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, introduces the canon to the class, however, he starts to see the light. Poetry is not so bad, it's not just for girls, and it's not even that hard to write. Take William Carlos Williams, for example: "If that is a poem / about the red wheelbarrow / and the white chickens / then any words / can be a poem. / You've just got to / make / short / lines." He becomes more and more discerning as the days go by, and readers' spirits will rise with Jack's as he begins to find his own voice through his own poetry and through that of others. His favorite poem of all is a short, rhythmic one by Walter Dean Myers called "Love That Boy" (included at the end of the book with all the rest of Ms. Stretchberry's assignments). The words completely captivate him, reminding him of the loving way his dad calls him in the morning and of the way he used to call his yellow dog, Sky. Jack's reverence for the poem ultimately leads to meeting the poet himself, an experience he will never forget. This winning, accessible book is truly remarkable in that Creech lets us witness firsthand how words can open doors to the soul. And this from a boy who asks, "Why doesn't the person just / keep going if he's got / so many miles to go / before he sleeps?" (Ages 8 to 12) --Karin Snelson -
bullet More Mixed-up Stories >From the Wayside School
The Wayside School was supposed to be one story high, with 30 classrooms side by side; instead, it was built sideways, with 30 one-classroom stories. As befits such a strange school, these tales are a bit strange too. In one, Jason is stuck to his seat by a large wad of chewing gum. His teacher tries throwing ice water on him (to chill the gum to brittleness) and turning him upside down. She even contemplates cutting his pants off. Finally, though, he falls from his upside-down position when kissed (ugh!) by one of the girls in the class. Other tales include a bit of a moral, such as the story of Kathy, whose assumption that no one will ever like her is proved right, or the story of Bebe, who draws quickly but without artistic merit. The quirky humor in this book is appealing to children, and it makes a good read-aloud book for the younger set. (Ages 5 to 12) --Richard Farr
bullet Unbearable: More Bizarre Stories by Paul Jennings
Gr. 4^-6. Most of the stories in Jennings' new collection are disappointingly routine, with one, "Yuggles," even verging on ridiculous farce. Yet there are still a few that kids will like a lot. In these, Jennings rejuvenates his talent for turning what seems normal into something wickedly funny and surprising. "Licked," one of the more successful stories, has a great middle-school gross-out factor: a flyswatter becomes the instrument of revenge for a child tired of his father's harangues about table manners. Kids will also like the neat reversal in "Only Gilt," in which a boy blames his lively dog for killing the parakeet belonging to a girl that the boy has a crush on. An uneven roundup, best for collections where Jennings' short stories are big movers. Stephanie Zvirin
bullet Dear Mr. Falker by Patricia Polocco. It's a great story--a true story about Patricia Polocco, who is learning disabled. It tells how she desperately wants to learn to read but can't until Mr. Falker comes to her school (4th or 5th grade) and discovers that she has been "faking" it. Through MI approaches, she learns to read. I met Mrs. Polocco, who did reiterate that it was the story about her. Great to talk about learning differences...how you can overcome obstacles in your life...bullying. Truthfully, I get very weepy every time I read it, which lets the children also know...I am real.
Grayson by Lynn Cox On a clear California morning when Cox (Swimming to Antarctica) was 17 years old, she had an unusual experience that stayed with her for 30 years, creating a spiritual foundation for her personal and professional success. In this slim and crisp memoir, Cox details a morning swim off the coast of California that took an unexpected turn: returning to shore, she discovered that she was being followed by a baby gray whale that had been separated from its mother. As Cox developed a rapport with the whale, she took on the responsibility of keeping it at sea until it was reunited with its mother. Cox expertly weaves fine details together, from the whale's mushroomlike skin to how other fish react to such a large creature. At times Cox's prose is uneven, alternating from emotional to factual, but her pure joy at connecting with Grayson (her name for the baby whale) overrides any technical inconsistencies. The combination of retelling her once-in-a-lifetime experience with her observations on life ("If I try, if I believe, if I work toward something... the impossible isn't impossible at all") will have timeless appeal for all ages. (Aug.)
Jeremy Hatcher Dragon Thatcher It is about a boy who finds a dragon egg in a magic shop and raises it.  He eventually has to return to the "Dragon world".  It is a great book and has a wonderful theme of friendship. Grade 5-7-- In this entertaining fantasy readers will soon realize that things are not always as they seem. Jeremy Thatcher is plagued with all of the problems of a 12-year-old plus a few extra. He is pursued by Mary Lou Hutton, whom he detests, and is constantly put down by his art teacher for reasons he does not understand. One afternoon, in an effort to escape Mary Lou, Jeremy runs through alleys, side streets, and byways and finds himself in a part of town he has never seen before. He enters a small magic shop where he purchases a strange egg. A dragon that only Jeremy and Mary Lou can see enters the picture. The book is filled with scenes that will bring laughter and near tears to readers. Jeremy and his friends are believable characters; their actions and reactions are typical of the children's age. Once again, Coville offers a fantasy that younger readers can handle easily, and one in which dragons really exist for a little while. --Kenneth E. Kowen, Atascocita Middle School Library, Humble, TX