Pragmatic Mom

January 30, 2010

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author.  She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range.  Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service.  Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result.

I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade.  She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade.  I think it’s important to provide strong role models for girls so I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors’ Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  It’s about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children’s lives.   The reading level is similar but the content is more interesting than “Grapes of Wrath” graphic because her students are rugged and hardy and completely capable of living off the land.  This is also historical fiction.

December 2, 2009

Favorite Books for Grades 3-5

Pragmatic Mom’s 4th grader helped to compile this list of favorite books she recommends for 3-5th graders.  I have also vetted this list for content.  I feel that some topics such as death, cruelty, poverty, when dealt with a heavy hand are best suited for when kids are a little older, say Middle School.  These books, even though they cover these heavy topics, have also managed to be uplifting.  As always, click on the image of the book to purchase it at

The Secret School by Avi.  Ida Bidson becomes a teacher at 14-years-old when her teacher at her one-room schoolhouse has to leave due to a family illness.  This is a Newbery Award Winner!  My oldest highly recommends it!  [ages 8-12]

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall.  Her first book, The Penderwicks, won a Newbury Award.  It’s a fantastic book but the sequel is even better.  In this book, the girls try to find a wife for their dad. I think I was more excited than my daughter when the sequel came out! [ages 8-12]

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.  When Eben McAllister is challenged by his pa to discover wonders in his small farming community, he finds the extraordinary in a doll, a bookcase, a saw, a table, a ship in a bottle, a woven cloth, and more.  [ages 7-12]

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume. [ages 8-11]

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. [ages 8-11]

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  Historical fiction about the author’s own grandmother who settled in Wisconsin during the 1860’s and their adventures getting along with the local Native Americans. [ages 8-12]

The BFG by Roald Dahl. [ages 8-11]

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh.   A true story about Sarah Noble, a brave 8-year-old pioneer child, who must leave her mother and siblings to accompany her father to the wilds of Connecticut while he builds a house for their family.  Can Sarah keep her courage up when faced with Indians?  With large type and short chapters, this Newbery Honor book is perfect for younger readers.  Older readers might compare this to Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, another true story about a pioneer girl who befriends Indians.  [ages 6-10]

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  Probably one of the best books I have ever read.  An amazing and uplifting story.  [ages 8-12].  A note of caution, A Tiger Rising also by Kate DiCamillo also won a Newbury Honor award but I didn’t think the content was suitable for ages 8-10.  The realism is just too …real, and sad.  A Tale of Desperaux was also difficult for my 4th grader to get into.  She thought it was boring.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.  My daughter’s 3rd grade teacher recommended this book and my daughter also said she loved it.  It’s great for 3rd grade girls because this is when social issues such as cliques can form.  [ages 8-11]

Julie of the Wolves series by Jean Craighead George.  My mom friend highly recommended this series.  She’s reading it with her two girls and they all love it.  [ages 7-12]

The Doll People by Laura Godwin (a three book series).  [ages 8-11]

Umbrella Summer by Jan Graff.  When her older brother dies unexpectedly less than a year ago, Annie reacts by excessive worrying.  It’s not until a new neighbor moves in, with a secret of her own, that Annie is able to close the “umberella” of her sadness and let the sunshine in.  [ages 8-12]

If your child liked Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles or Rules by Cynthia Lord, this is a good choice.

Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill. Technically, this is historical fiction about a teacher who goes to rural Alaska and transforms the lives of the children at a one room schoolhouse.  [ages 8-11]

If your child likes this book, try The Secret School by Avi.

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. A princess gets the gift of being ordinary and that turns out to be the best gift of all.  [ages 8-11].

Fairy Godsister by Liz Kessler.  My oldest said to include this book; it’s one of her favorites.  [ages 8-12]

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigburg.  One of my favorite books of all time about a sister who stages a “run away” to the Metropolitan Museum of Art mostly because she wants to feel different. I just tried this book with my 10-year-old daughter and she found it difficult to follow the plot and couldn’t get into it.  She much prefers Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg[ages 8-12]

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by e. l. konigsburg.  For anyone who has had to move to a new town and stuggle to make new friends and fit in, this is the perfect read.  A Newbury Honor Book, not quite in the same league as From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, this is a great book about girl friendships…and witchcraft.  [ages 9-13]

The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin.  This is the sequel to The Year of the Dog in which Pacy learns that her best friend is moving to California, faces prejudice including her own as a new “fresh-off-the-boat” Chinese boy joins her class, and struggles to fit in. [ages 7-11]

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Grace Lin is the Amy Tan for the elementary school set.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an Asian-American version of the Percy Jackson series starting with The Lightening Thief. Where Riordan weaves in Greek Mythology into his plot, Grace Lin uses Chinese Folk Tales into a wonderful, inspiring and heart-warming story that teaches all of us to just… BELIEVE.   This book was listed twice as a favorite book on my kids’ elementary school newspaper.  [ages 8-12]

Rules by Cynthia Lord. A really wonderful story about a girl whose special needs brother and special needs friend help her to discover the courage to just be herself.  [ages 8-11]

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 15th century Korea, Korea’s Golden Age, two brothers — one  skilled in kite making and the other skilled in  kite flying — combine their skills to compete in a kite flying contest on behalf of the king.  [ages 7-12]

Seesaw Girl by Linda Sue Park.  Set during the Yi Dynasty, considered the Golden Age of Korea, the seesaw girl illustrates lives and limitations of women in a noble family. [ages 8-11]

 A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.  Set in 12th century Korea during the Koryo era, an orphan who ends up working for a celebrated celadon potter is able to realize his own potential.  [ages 8-12]

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.  I have just discovered this Newbery Award-winning author and I have to say he’s an amazing story teller.  A Year Down Yonder is the Newbery Award winning book, and it’s the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago.  While this book is set in a small country bumpkin town during the Great Depression, it’s a hilarious story about fifteen-year-old Mary Alice who is sent to live with her Grandma for a year during the Great Depression while her parents get situated.  Grandma Dowdel is a force to be reckoned with; her resourcefulness is matched by her heart of gold and Mary Alice’s year is filled with enough drama to fill a newspaper.   A Long Way from Chicago is from Mary Alice’s older brother’s perspective during their eight summers at  Grandma Dowel’s farm and the antics they got into.  It also gives a gentle history on how the Great Depression impacted their community.   [ages 8-12]

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins.  Set in Bangladesh, a sickly rickshaw driver’s daughter strives to earn money for her family.  [ages 8-11]

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.   You’d have to be living under a rock for over a decade not to know about Harry Potter.  We just saw the exhibit at our Museum of Science and it was terrific!  We went Christmas Eve to avoid the crowds and the museum was still half-full.  My 4th daughter is now racing through the series now…I thought she didn’t read these books earlier because they were too scary.  She said it was because she didn’t own them.  Well, the 7 book series is $48.97; that’s a pretty good price.  [ages 7-adult]

If your child liked the Harry Potter series, try The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.  The first book is The Lightening Thief and the movie premieres Feb. 12, 2010.  It’s always music to my ears when my child tells me that the book is waaaay better than the movie!

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan.  [ages 8-11]

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.   This book is deceptively thick because it’s 250+ pages of illustrations that tell part of the story that I call “The Phantom of the Opera” of children’s literature.  Set in 1930’s Paris, Hugo Cabret is an orphan with a talent for all things mechanical.  The key to his future, he believes, is unlocking the secret of an automaton “wonder.”  With other interlocking stories that weave together, this is a riveting story about the power of friendships, magic and perseverance.  [ages 8-12]


Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli.  [ages 9-14]

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.  Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee, an orphan and an athlete of legendary acclaim, breaks the racial barrier existing between two neighboring towns.  [ages 8-15]

The Last Giraffe series by Lauren St. John.   A mom friend highly recommends this series.  [ages 6-10]

The All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Apparently the newest American Girl doll is based on this book so maybe it’s more well-known now.  The first book is the only one in print, but you can find the rest of the series at your public library or used on Amazon at sometimes exorbitant prices:  More All-Of-A-Kind Family, All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown, All-Of-A-Kind Family Uptown, Ella of All-Of-A-Kind Family.


Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories  by Rosemary Wells.  This is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created. [ages 9-12]

 Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles.  My daughter’s 3rd grade teacher’s favorite book in the world.  Ruby Lavender spends the summer dealing with the absence of her beloved grandmother, who is visiting family in Hawaii.  It obliquely deals with death, but in an uplifting way.  The book manages to be hilarious and poignant at the same time. [ages 8-11]

If your child liked Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, this is a good choice.  This Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles is also highly recommended by my oldest daughter’s friend who says this book is even funnier than Love, Ruby Lavender.

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. My oldest daughter’s well-read friend says that this is her new favorite book of the year.  Last year, her favorite book was Love, Ruby Lavender but she says this book is better and funnier.  It’s about a 10-year-old girl named Comfort whose family runs a mortuary.  Despite a spate of deaths in the family and other wacky adventures, the story is both hilarious laugh-out-loud and poignant.  [ages 8-11]

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