Two on an Island by Bianca Bradbury

The author does not have a personal website and there are no book trailers online. This book was published in 1965. This is a link to a page list of her books.

Summary: This is the story of a brother and sister who take their dog on a quick daytrip to a sandbar island. They do not leave a note behind for their grandmother (who is not expecting them to arrive for a visit for several days). Their boat is swept away and the siblings must cooperate to survive.

Personal Reaction: I agree with most other reviewers who shared that this was one of our favorite books as an elementary school child. Now in my 40’s, I can recall how suspenseful this survival story was for me way back when I had read the book. As soon as another reviewer mentioned the tomato juice and pineapple juice, I could instantly remember my reaction to that scene in the book. Wonderful read.

Curriculum or discussion topics: boating safety, survival tips, sibling rivalry

Connections to other books: Hatchet by Paulsen, Island series by Korman, The Box-Car Children by Warner, My Side of the Mountain by George, The Swiss Family Robinson by Wyss, Lost in the River of Grass by Rorby, Storm Runners by Smith, Red Midnight by Mikaelsen (for gr7+); Elite Forces Survival Guides by Wilson, Survive Alive series by Champion; SOS: Stories of Survival by Butts

Items to display with book: stuffed animals (German Shepherd, rat, crab); photo of sandbar island, rickety fishing shack; toy helicopter

Food items connected to story: Milk, tomato juice, oatmeal cookies, bananas


Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Here’s the author’s website  which includes a professional book trailer.

Here’s an additional link to the “Meet the Author” video on

Summary: Frannie is a worrier. When her teacher presents a poem with the line “Hope is the thing with feathers,” the line sticks with her. Her mom and brother seem to know exactly what it means. As she puzzles out the process of growing up within a community divided by a highway into black neighborhoods & schools and white neighborhoods & schools, a new white boy arrives in her class. His long brown hair sparks the nickname “Jesus Boy” and Frannie and her best friend Samantha discuss what it would mean if he really was Jesus and why Jesus would want to come to their neighborhood anyway. Jesus Boy becomes a bully’s target but Frannie is hesitant to intervene.

Personal Reaction: Audiobook narrator, Sisi Aisha Johnson, was excellent. I just love Woodson, this book doesn’t disappoint.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Music – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel is featured in the story with discussion of bridging the gap between the black and white worlds on either side of the highway; bullying; poetry – “Hope is the thing with…” have students select an ending to that thought and describe why or write a poem on a theme of hope

Connections to other books: Books on The 1970s era, Black Panthers, music, etc.; books on Sign Language; poetry by Emily Dickinson and a selection of black poets or teen poets would be good too, like Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets; other books by JWoodson, especially the Maizon series. Go through your library and pull any book with hope in the title and spread them around!

Items to display with book: Large feather, baby diapers or stork delivery figurine, afro pick with black power fist

Food items connected to story: Rice, Hamburgers, Fried chicken, goulash

Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Links: Author’s website  No video trailer found. After reading the book, you might enjoy this audio version of the Rock Island Line song featured in the story by Lead Belly. There are other versions available.

From Wikipedia:

Rock Island Line” is an American blues/folk song first recorded by John Lomax in 1934 as sung by inmates in an Arkansas State Prison, and later popularized by Lead Belly.[1] Many versions have been recorded by other artists, most significantly the world-wide hit version in the mid-1950s by Lonnie Donegan. The song is ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

Book Summary: Lilly is growing up in 1920’s Illinois in a poor railroad town but a tightly-knit, successful black family. Her innocent childhood with her best friend Lois (also discriminated against, but for being American Indian) contains a touch of comedy as neither girl knows where babies come from and Lilly is determined to buy a baby brother. Lilly grows up and eventually does discover how babies are born and how they die.

Personal Reaction: Because the book encompasses most of Lilly’s lifetime, I cannot say I would recommend it to middle graders due to the adult topics that arise (nothing graphic), but I liked it as a personal choice. I loved the bonfires and the character of Lee. I was shocked at Papa’s confession and the tragedy of Pearl and Maggie.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Racism, personal responsibility, family values. Author has book club discussion questions posted on her website.

Connections to other books: Out Of The Dust and Witness by Hesse, Bud, Not Buddy by Curtis, A Long Way From Chicago by Peck; The Great Depression and World War II by Carlisle, Al Capone’s Chicago by Yancey, maybe a few of those decade chronicles-type books for 20’s and on… like The 1930s from the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz by Feinstein

Items to display with book: Railroad set or model train, photos of Depression era Illinois, spelling book, big brown dusty oxford school shoes, Jazz or Blues records (on a phonograph if you can score one), bell jar full of pennies, baby doll or diapers

Food items connected to story: Chicken every which way (fried, roasted, sandwiches, soup, potpie, & dumplings); pot luck party foods (lima beans, casseroles, cakes, biscuits) lemonade, etc.

Sky Memories by Pat Brisson


Original date reviewed: 2/18/03

Summary: Emily’s mom is diagnosed with cancer. The book follows their last year together and the positive way they try to make each moment precious through shared memories of different sky scenes. Emily’s aunt moves in to care for both of them and then takes over as Emily’s guardian after her mom dies.

Personal Reaction: I cried!! I don’t even know anyone with cancer, but I gave it to my media clerk whose mother died two years ago and she sobbed! It is a poignant and touching look at how the characters shared their dwindling time together.  UPDATE TO THIS REVIEW: My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in 2010 and is a survivor, my friend’s mother has survived breast cancer. Things changed since 2003, didn’t they?

Any Cautions:  You’ll have to be aware of whether your students have/had a family member with cancer or other terminal illness. This will affect them deeply.

Points for discussion with children:  terminal illness, cancer, valuing family and time spent together

Possible classroom uses: This might be a good item to select whenever a school “Pasta for Pennies” (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) or “Relay for Life” (American Cancer Society) event is occurring. It’s short and won’t take more than a day or two to cover. It can remind everyone how precious life is.

Connections to other books: Any cancer or terminal illness related book should be made available for those who need to bond with “others out there” who have had this experience. Nonfiction:  Have pamphlets/information available on support groups and online resources for cancer support groups. Coping When Someone in Your Family Has Cancer by Rocha. The Power of a Wish by Spizman about the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Fiction: Lurlene McDaniel has a series that deals with teens’ terminal illnesses. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer is excellent; A Walk to Remember by Sparks, Kira-Kira by Kadohata, and Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Sonnenblick (this one made me laugh). YA/Adult – Before I Die by Downham (explicit).

Realia: watercolor paintings or other depictions of sky scenes, purple sequined baseball cap, forsythia flowers

Food items connected to story: None

Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China by Savannah Grace

author’s website includes lots of photos (and a spoiler – how long the “one year” of traveling turns out to be)

Summary: Self-published travel memoir: a 14 year old girl’s account of being forced to leave her home in Canada to travel across China and Mongolia with her mother, brother and sister. Detailed account of backpacking lifestyle.

Personal Reaction: Scary, actually… I don’t have the backpackers’ sense of adventure to live this kind of life. I think a really good editor would made this book better, but it still works as a teen writer’s first book.

Any Cautions: Minor cursing

Curriculum or discussion topics: For any middle grade teacher working on a unit about Asia, this would be good as an extra-credit mention for students.

Connections to other books: The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, Gone with the Wind by  Mitchell, The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, travel guide books for China & Mongolia

Items to display with book: The website has several photos and maps you can display. Jade bracelet, water bottles, backpacks, boots, deck of playing cards, chop sticks, travel guide books for China & Mongolia

Food items connected to story: Lots and lots within the story. Dr. Pepper! You can go basic Chinese food (any rice and vegetables will do, green tea, yoghurt, banana pancakes) or interesting (chicken feet). It may be harder to get goat soup here in the states.