Hiranandani, Veera. Lunch Will Never Be the Same (Phoebe G. Green #1)
October 2nd 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap
E Book from The Ohio E Book Project
Phoebe's family isn't particularly interested in food-- their dinners consist of meatloaf, chicken, and lots of bagged salad, and Phoebe buys the school lunch-- but Phoebe is a bit disappointed in what she has when a new student arrives at her school from France. Camille's father is a pastry chef, and her lunches include crusty miniloaves of bread, goat cheese, and salads with duck in them. Phoebe really, really wants to taste what Camille has, and even has her mother invite Camille over to a (disastrous) dinner so she gets an invitation back. This puts Phoebe at odds with her best friend, Sage, whose mother's pakoras are just not exotic enough for her. Eventually, Camille invites Phoebe over, and her curiosity dies down. She makes up with Sage, and the fun continues with a whole series of books: Farm Fresh Fun, A Passport to Pastries, and Cooking Club Chaos!
Strengths: Such a relief after the depressing books I've been reading! This is for younger students (grades 2-4), but I may buy it for my struggling 6th graders anyway. We underestimate how exciting things like cooking are for tweens! The friendship drama is pitch perfect, the multicultural aspect is nicely done, and everyone's parents seem to be alive. Can't wait to read the whole series.
Weaknesses: As I said, a bit young. I would love to see a similar series for 6-8 graders, with a little romance thrown in! Although, given some of my students' insistence that all of their books have pictures, this might be perfect after all!
Hiranandani, Veera. Farm Fresh Fun
October 2nd 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap
Phoebe's class is going to a farm where they will milk goats and make goat cheese, pick apples and lettuce, and make salads and applesauce. Since Phoebe has become a "foodie" after her friend Camille's family has introduced her to good food, she is really excited about this opportunity. Once at the farm, they meet Jenna, the farmer, and see Ginger the goat and her kids frolicking around, and have lots of fun gathering the food and cooking. When Sage and Phoebe take another look at the goat pen, however, they decide that Ginger and her crew look sad, and open the gate! The goats get out, and Phoebe and Sage have to make amends.
Strengths: Again, this was light hearted fun. Who doesn't want to go to the farm and make their own lunch? The format of these books is quite delightful, with bigger text and pleasant pictures, and the information about the farm-to-table movement is interesting. I think this will be a good book for some of my struggling English Language Learners who also may not have ever been to a farm.
Weaknesses: Again, a bit lower than most of my students need, and no Accelerated Reader test yet! I've been getting a lot more lower level books for students to take tests on because we have so many struggling readers. I know a lot of people hate AR, but with all of the online testing, there is some merit to having students read books and then making sure they finish the book and then understand it.
I had one student who was coming in every day and checking out three books, then returning them. It was driving me a little crazy, so I finally said "Look. Clearly these books are working for you, and we need to figure out why." He replied that he couldn't read the books. Sure enough, when we looked up his STAR level, his reading level was 2.3. I gave him two Nate the Great books and said "These are too easy for you, but see how long it takes you to read them, take the tests, and then let me know how you did." He read both in one night and passed both tests, so I sent him home with some Cam Jansen books. If students can read and finish books, their skills are improving. If it takes testing them on a book so they get points toward their language arts class grade to motivate them, so be it!