Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman

Well… this is embarrassing. I fell into a dark, swirling, black vortex that is Graduate School. (dun dun dun!) I’m studying to become a school librarian, which one would think that kind of work would entail more reading and reviews of books, and it does, but the amount of work was truly staggering. I just couldn’t keep up. So, I’m going to be playing catch up for awhile with all the things that I have, up until this point, been heinously neglecting. This review blog being one of them. I think I even used it for a school project. *Cringe*

Now, I’m actually down to my teaching experience, which honestly has been really fun. I get to see what kids are reading and really like, and new exposure to different kinds of stories that I probably would not have looked to otherwise. This book was one of them.

I love science. I love gross stories. I like gore. And so do middle school students. It’s a win-win. They eat this story up. Phineas Gage, a railroad construction foreman in Canvendish, Vermont in 1848 is the victim of a horrible accident. A thirteen and a half pound, three foot long tamping iron is shot straight through his head and brain, and he walks away. He survives for 12 years before seizures claim his life at the age of 36. This story presents fantastic and compelling evidence that adds to the some developments in brain science. It changed how the medical field thought about how the brain worked. (Among other cases, like Broca’s patients, etc.). This story, though it does have good gore, is appropriate enough, language included, for middle grade readers. For classroom application, I have been reading parts, and summarizing important material, asking probing questions and pairing it with brain coloring sheets and informational videos, like the one below.

History of Neuroscience and Phineas Gage from Molly Wasser on Vimeo.

All in all, this is a great non-fiction text, to get gore-science-medical-loving-types excited about non-fiction, and science in general. I had great fun listening to the oohs and ahhs, and occasionally, “That’s disgusting! Cool.”



Info: Skye, O. (2013). Pillage. Salt Lake City, UT: Shadow Mountain Press. ISBN: 9781609077068

Format: Paperback, Book

Plot Summary: Young orphan, Beck Phillips, is sent to live in an old family mansion with his uncle and discovers a huge family secret, the power to make plants grow for the sinister purpose of hatching dragons.

Audience: Through the age of the protagonist, Beck, is fifteen, the vocabulary and simple sentence structure appeals to a much younger age group. The action involved in the narrative is not too frightening, much of the suspense is built upon the mystery of Beck’s family’s past. Beck’s problems he faces are directly relatable to middle grade children versus the character’s actual age bracket. This book is appropriate for ages 7-12.

Strengths: This suspenseful narrative keeps the reader hooked with questions Beck must discover about the mansion, his reclusive uncle, and himself. The story of Beck’s family’s fate and how it became intertwined with dragons is intriguing as well.

Weaknesses: The characters are very shallow and not well-defined. While the story about the dragons is intriguing the reason for their existence is not entirely believable. The narrative also does not portray adults in a very good light.

Uses: This book, with its simple sentence structure and easy vocabulary, is a good beginning book for children just starting to read chapter books. It is also a good tool to use to introduce children to story elements such as foreshadowing and to work and inferencing. Given the short length of this book, it would make a good book to have children practice their skills reading aloud in a group or one on one.

Read More:

  • For another book about dragons check out Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.
  • For another book about fantastical creatures check out The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide by Holly Black and Toni DiTerlizzi
  • For another book with mystery, mansions, and a fantastical adventure check out The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Awards: Cybils Awards Finalist, 2008

Other: Pillage is book one of a trilogy by Obert Skye. The books that follow Pillage are Choke and Ambush.

The Lightning Thief


Info: Riordan, R. (2005). The Lightning Thief. Narrated by Jesse Bernstein. New York: Listening Library. MP3 Audiobook. ASIN: B000A5CJSQ

Format: MP3 Audiobook

Plot Summary: A young delinquent boy finds out he’s the son of an ancient Greek god and the only person who can stop an all out war between the gods.

Audience: The vocabulary is not overly complex and matches the tone and age of the main character, which is 12 years old. The characters in this narrative are put in danger often, but the author is careful not to make these scenes too intense or too frightening for young audiences. These scenes of danger are, actually, more often than not, quite comical. Though there is some fantasy violence, the author uses a magic sword to explain that only monsters are to be harmed. This type of light-hearted fantastical violence gives this book an appropriate range of ages 8-12.

Strengths: This audiobook version narrated by Jesse Bernstein is exciting and humorous. Bernstein’s voice is clear, enjoyable and matched well with the age of the main character as well as with the material. He voices each character distinctively in addition to conveying an implied tone. He also manages to voice the accents noted in the text quite well. The pace is just right being careful not to read too fast or too slow.

Weaknesses: There is some implied mature content in reference to the gods activities amongst the humans that parents may find to be inappropriate for young children. There is also some religious content discussed within the story that may or may not offend.

Awards: This audiobook has not won any awards as of April, 2016.

Awards for The Lightning Thief:

  • Beehive Book Award, 2007 Winner Utah
  • Volunteer State Book Award, 2009 Winner Tennessee
  • Young Hoosier Book Award, 2008-2009 Winner Indiana
  • Colorado Children’s Book Award, 2008 Runner Up Colorado
  • Cuffies: Children’s Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2005 Honorable Mention United States
  • Cuffies: Children’s Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2005 Winner United States
  • Cuffies: Children’s Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2007 Winner United States
  • Georgia Children’s Book Award, 2009 Winner Georgia
  • Golden Sower Award, 2008 Winner Nebraska
  • Grand Canyon Reader Award, 2008 Winner Arizona
  • Indian Paintbrush Book Award, 2009 2nd Runner Up Wyoming
  • Iowa Teen Award, 2009 Winner Iowa
  • Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award, 2008 Winner Louisiana
  • Maine Student Book Award, 2007 Winner Maine
  • Mark Twain Award, 2008 1st Place Missouri
  • Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, 2008 Winner Massachusetts
  • Nene Award, 2008 Winner Hawaii
  • Nutmeg Children’s Book Award, 2008 Winner Connecticut
  • Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award, 2008 Winner Pennsylvania
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award, 2009 Winner Illinois
  • Sequoyah Book Award, 2008 Winner Oklahoma
  • South Carolina Junior Book Award, 2008 Winner South Carolina
  • Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award, 2007-2008 Winner Florida
  • Virginia Readers’ Choice Award, 2008 Winner Virginia
  • Young Reader’s Choice Award, 2008 Winner Pacific Northwest
  • Askews Torchlight Children’s Book Award, 2006 Winner United Kingdom
  • Red House Children’s Book Award, 2006 Overall Winner United Kingdom

Other: The Lightning Thief is book 1 in the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.


Hi Miss Julie! (Blog)

Info: Jurgens, Julie. (2016).  Hi Miss Julie!. Accessed on April 10, 2016.

Format: Blog

Summary: Hi Miss Julie! is a blog for library service providers for children and teens with a focus on babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Julie Jurgens is a former elementary educator turned librarian who posts on what being a librarian is about, personal and professional experience, and other helpful hints about books, librarianship, and children.

Audience: Librarians in Child and Teen Services

Strengths:There seems to be a little bit of everything on this blog. The most helpful page was a section Jurgens calls, “Being a Librarian” where Jurgens has included links to job postings in Jurgens’ surrounding area (Chicago), ALA, and several more job lists. Another section Jurgens dedicates to tips related to applying for a library position. Jurgens also includes a clever and very vibrant info graphic detailing her work experience. Also included on the side of the main home page was a long list of other similar blogs to follow.

Weaknesses: The page Jurgens dedicated to resources seemed a bit sparse in contrast to the amount of information and frequency of posts that are updated. The book reviews, a large component of the blog, sometimes had little to no explanation to let the reader know what exactly Jurgens was reviewing, and included little to no bibliographic information on the title being reviewed.

Uses: Jurgens has a page devoted to tips for making story time better and more enjoyable for all parties involved. The pages on applying for a library job and the job lists would be very helpful for professionals searching for a job, and for new professionals, such as myself, who need help in the application process. The reviews help to add an opinion and could help sway the decision when weeding or adding to a collection.


Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever!

Info: McCranie, Stephen. (2011). Mal and Chad. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN: 9780399252211.

Format: Hardcover, Book

Plot Summary: A genius boy and his dog go on epic adventures trying to solve big problems like homework, girls, and bullies.

Audience: The dialog is simple and easy to follow. The illustrations help to tell the story and make it exciting and fast paced. Sentence structure, vocabulary, and content is appropriate and relevant for children ages 5-10.

Strengths: The chapters are short and tell independent stories that can function alone, but also ultimately add to the greater plot. The illustrations are playful and interesting. McCranie seamlessly incorporates humor and danger to keep his audience captivated. The content is both exciting and fantastic, while also remaining relatable to the target audience.

Weaknesses: The full color cover misleads the reader into thinking that the illustrations are also in full color, however, the interior is colorless, ink and paper, black and white, which can sometimes make the illustrations difficult to decipher when there is a lot crowding a frame.

Uses: This is a great book for children who haven’t found a love of reading yet. For younger children, it can be used to aid in character identification or to inspire creative thinking. The short chapters make it a great book for children to practice reading aloud or making inferences. Mal and Chad have many adventures in different locations during different time periods, or just visiting different biomes. This book can be a launching pad for discussions about dinosaurs and paleontology, to discuss deep sea diving or what might be found in the ocean, as well as outer space exploration and stars.

Awards: No Awards as of April 2016.

Other: Though this graphic novel has not won any awards previously it has been named on the American Library Association’s Booklist in 2011 and Booklist Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth in 2012.



The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs


Info: Scieszka, Jon. Illus. Lane Smith. (1989). The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. New York: Viking Kestrel Penguin Group. ISBN: 9780140540567.

Format: Hardcover, Book

Plot Summary: The Big Bad Wolf from the famous tale of the Three Little Pigs tells his wild version of the story, that he claims is the truth behind what really happened to the three little pigs.

Audience: Though this story mentions some dark topics, the illustrations are not graphic and keep this book appropriate for children ages 5-10. The text that accompanies the detailed illustrations is simple and straightforward relying equally on the illustrations.

Strengths: The text and illustrations compliment each other very well. This adaptation of a famous tale if very inventive and creative. The dark, gritty wood block print style illustrations, dominated by browns, add a memorative quality to the story.

Uses: This book is a fun new take on an old fairy tale, it could be used to inspire students to create their own versions of well known folk tales. During a good read, the detailed illustrations allow young readers to engage by searching for little clues about the pigs, and hints to the Big Bad Wolf’s guilt or innocence.

Read More:

  • For another story about a famous fairy tale check out Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall ISBN: 9780140563665.
  • For another adaptation about the three little pigs check out The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugenios Trivizas ISBN: 9780590486224.
  • For another book about wolves check out The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman ISBN: 9780060530877.

Awards: Indies Choice Book Award, 2013, Indies Choice Award Picture Book Hall of Fame, 2013, SMART Book Award Nominee, 2003, Golden Sower Award Honor, 1992, Parents’ Choice Award Silver, 1996.

Ball by Mary Sullivan


Info: Sullivan, Mary. (2013). Ball. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 978 0547759364

Format: Hardcover, Book

Plot Summary: A little dog searches for someone to play fetch with him while his owner is away at school for the day.

Audience: Appropriate for ages for this book, though great for any age, targets birth-8 years of age. The narrative uses only one word in repetition, letting the illustrations tell most of the story.

Strengths: The illustrations are imaginative and easy to read. The author uses one word effectively to help convey tone and implied intonation of the same word used within different circumstances. This helps keep the one word book interesting and from seeming too repetitive. The characters within the story are easy to identify. Warm, bright colors used to in the illustrations convey a cheerful, light tone, while active, energetic outlines convey a sense of motion.

Uses: This book is a great tool for teaching simple words (or word in this case) in and out of the classroom. It teaches context and and would aid in character identification which allows young children to follow the story being told. The narrative and illustrations would also be helpful in teaching children how to make inferences about what might happen next and get them thinking critically. It also can be put to use teaching young children about caring for pets.

Read more:

  • For another easy reader book about dogs check out Wrapped in Love by Jan Johnston ISBN:9781934706725.
  • For another book about a dog and his ball check out Oh! If only… by Michael Foreman ISBN:9781849393836.
  • For another book about animals check out Peck, Peck, Peck  by Lucy Cousins ISBN: 9780763666217.

Awards: Crystal Kite Member Choice Award Finalist, 2013, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award, 2013, and the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award Honor Book, 2014.


Bone Detective: the story of forensic anthropologist Diane France


Hopping, Lorraine J. (2005). Bone Detective: the story of forensic anthropologist Diane France. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press. New York, New York: Franklin Watts.  ISBN: 978-0309095501

Format: Hardcover Book

Plot Summary: Bone Detective tells the story of Dr. Diane France, a forensic anthropologist in Colorado. The narrative contains lots of biographical information, but utilizes Diane’s story to instruct the reader in the anatomy of the human body, building up to a basic understanding of the types of forensic work and discoveries Dr. France accomplishes that ultimately inform the reader of the nature of forensic anthropology.

Audience: Appropriate for ages 10-12. This text includes info graphics with images and illustrations that are labeled to help the reader understand anatomy, however, the book is largely text-based and uses some scientific terms, that are explained for readers, but requires more reading and is therefore appropriate for middle grade readers.

Strengths: The book is organized into short chapters using biographical information about Dr. France’s life to describe the important science behind forensic anthropology and includes plenty of illustrations and graphics.

Weaknesses: The book is very text heavy and may not be easy for younger readers under age 10.

Uses: This book gives a good overview on forensic anthropology as an occupation good for students interested in a future in science. Students could do group assignments analyzing each case from Diane’s career and then sharing what they have learned with their peers. The short, text-heavy chapters would be good for group reading exercises as well.

Read more:

  • For another interesting scientific read check out Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science  by John Fleischman ISBN: 978-0618494781.
  • For more about forensic anthropology check out Forensic Identification: Putting a Name and Face on Death by Elizabeth A. Murray ISBN: 978-0761366966.
  • For another book about women scientists check out Strong Force: The Story of Physicist Shirley Ann Jackson by Diane O’Connell ISBN: 978-0309095532.

Awards: SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books Finalist, 2007.

Other: One installment of Women’s Adventures in Science Collection



National Geographic Kids


Info: Bellows, M., Buchholz, R., Emmett, J. (2016, May). National Geographic Kids. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic partners, LLC.

Format: Magazine

Summary: The featured story for this issue is “Wolf Hero: How these canines helped save a park” which tells about how the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf to Yellowstone National Park brought back other species that had been suffering without the wolves to keep the elk population from overrunning the park. The magazine includes other small articles of interest, large info graphics, and photos of wildlife, landscapes, puzzles, and games.

Audience: Appropriate for ages 6-12. Captioned photos and info graphics dominate the pages with text for support using a simple sentence structure that make the content easily accessible for a young age group. Included at the end of the magazine are games and puzzles that range in difficulty for entertainment as well as instructional purposes.

Strengths: Info graphics use a size hierarchy to impose an order in which to be read. The pages and info graphics are colorful, uses lots of color photographs, and everything is labeled. The information is well organized, divided by colorful graphics. Games and puzzles included at the end encourage the reader’s participation, as well as a photo contest that reader’s can enter their own wildlife photographs and have them published in future issues.

Weaknesses: Occasionally the pages are overcrowded with information which makes the page too chaotic and frustrating to read or properly decipher the correct order of information. The magazine includes advertisements that cater to its young readership, but also are confusing and detract from the magazine’s instructional appeal.

Uses: This magazine has great instructional uses for students to learn interesting natural science facts, and some geographical information. The short bursts of text and abundance of images make this magazine good for supplemental reading. The games and puzzles included make a good incentive and fun way to learn.

Awards: The magazine itself does not hold any awards as of April 2016.

Other: The National Geographic Kids website won a Webby Award in 2015.

Children’s Literature Blog

As a part of my most recent academic adventure in my efforts to become a Master (get my Master’s degree), I am embarking on an adventure in an attempt to express and develop my professional skills in the reviewing the above Children’s books of a variety and pre-set formats and genres.

Below this post are my previous attempts at blogging focusing entirely on my own subjective opinion. In the above posts to follow I will attempt to review children’s book in a more professional and objective way.


Thank you for sticking with me.