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Spotlight on Spotlight from ABDO

A strange phenomenon is happening with my students. Reading “Ms Chen’s Special Books” has become so popular that entire classes of third graders are jumping through hurdles to earn the rights. They’ll check out their two library books quickly, then spend twice as long choosing from my review titles. They make teachers wait and still won’t leave the library after an hour because they are negotiating with their friends who gets which title first.

I love nonfiction publishers like ABDO who send boxes of books to review. The students are so excited to open the boxes, make lists of new titles, check them out through our written honor system, read, talk about the titles, write mini-reviews, and bring them back. If they check out a book at 7:30 a.m., the odds are the students will be back by noon with a friend trailing them to make sure they can be the next one to “checkout” the book. Then they select a new book and start the process all over again. If someone doesn’t bring back the book, they’ll look through the lists in the folder and go request they return the book.

The biggest change I have noticed is the conversation. Students are talking about books. They are recognizing authors, series, and even publishers. They are becoming more aware of their reading styles. They are DEMANDING more books. And now they are requesting the chance to chat with the authors.

How many times has a classroom teacher sent students to check out a chapter book at their level? Unfortunately, it’s hard to locate enough chapter books for those reading in the range 1.5-2.5. Lose the Blanket, Linus! is listed at grade 2.0 so it fits perfectly the needs of those students. It’s interesting to everyone through fourth grade, so students aren’t embarrassed to be seen reading a beginning book.

Lose the Blanket, Linus! a Peanuts Ready-to-Read Level 2 ABDO Spotlight book may not be one of the best examples of high literary quality (a criticism Laurie had of some of the Spotlight Scooby-Doo titles), but for students wanting to read beginning chapter books, this series is a good choice.

Every librarian knows you need to balance quality with interest. Which do you think is better: a collection of exemplary classical literary titles that sit on the shelf … or titles that interest students enough to check them out, thus inspiring them to read and become better readers? I’ll go for circulating and reading. I’m not saying by any means that the titles are not well written. I do acknowledge that some of the writing is uneven for different series, but  school librarians are trained to balance choices.  I choose to get students reading, then expand their repertoire.

Speaking of choices, ABDO offers characters that are familiar with the students rank among their favorites like  Hannah Montana, Disney’s Jonas  Wild Hearts, and the Wizards of Waverly Place the Movie: The Junior Novel.

Some of my very favorites in the Spotlights imprints include Franny K. Stein: Mad Scientist, The Black Lagoon picture books, The Black Lagoon Adventures chapter books, Katie Kazoo, and R. L. Stein’s Rotten School series. Spotlight editions are printed on high-quality paper and with reinforced library bindings specifically printed for the library market. These titles are holding up to my really tough crowd. I can get some of my favorite series titles and feel good about introducing students to these knowing they’ll hold up.

The Marvel Graphic Novels are some of our most highly circulated titles. When I first arrived at my school, the most common request was for the Hulk and the “SuperHero books.” Now that we are adding slowly to our collection students are devouring Thor, Spider-man, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Iron Man.

The new ABDO Spotlight Monster Mansion series was requested by students after they discovered they could go to the Spotlight webpage and look up WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE? and then ask me to get them. I’ve created monsters —  students who know how to get what they want – more books.

Since a publishing rival and next door neighbor of ABDO in Minnesota is Capstone Publishing, I will mention that my students who cannot get enough of the Mighty Mighty Monster series recently explored the Stone Arch website and found there are new titles in that series, too. Immediately they drug me over to the screen to see the titles. They folded their hands and asked why I hadn’t ordered them yet. I know I have a pointy nose  but I still can’t just twitch it and make titles appear.

If it weren’t for review titles, my students wouldn’t know that one-eighth of these series exist. Our budget is as tiny as yours. I don’t write about the titles we get to boast, but I’m looking for new ways to share them. We currently share titles with other libraries by donating them and lending them. I take hundreds of titles to give away with me to conferences when I talk about new nonfiction. When I meet vendors at conferences, I’m known for dragging other librarians and teachers over and booktalking must-have titles they might miss. Since I read hundreds of titles a month AND I have these incredible students stepping in to read anything I set down, we try to share with others our favorite titles and series.

Even though I expect most of what I share you already know, there is a chance some librarian out there doesn’t realize that Spotlight is reprinting many Scholastic titles in library bindings like The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon.

Here are two other ABDO titles from different imprints that you might like to peruse:

Karen Kelly has adapted Grimm’s Fairy Tales for Calico Illustrated Classics. The cover looks very dark and doesn’t indicate that any who open the cover will find ten Grimm’s classics retold at a fourth grade level. Don’t look for watered down wimpy stories though. Snow White ends with the wicked Queen wearing iron slippers that were red-hot. For those students who love scary and creepy, put this in their hands. What’s inside?

  • The Frog Prince
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Snow White
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Rapunzel
  • Cinderella
  • The Shoemaker and the Elves
  • Tom Thumb

Rachel’s Home on Bear Mountain: A Story About Connecticut is one of the Fact & Fable State Stories. The cover doesn’t reveal how well-designed the inside is so be sure to pick up one of these books and look inside. This rapidly moved up to my must-have’s list for state stories. Tennessee may not be in the first three sets, but I expect it to be an excellent title so I plan to get more titles while I’m waiting. This is written at a third grade level but interesting to second-fourth graders. Here’s the publisher’s description:

This unique series introduces young readers to the United States through an entertaining and educational story based on the symbols, history and geography of each state. The illustrated story involves the state animals on a big adventure that is supported by factual sidebars and full color photographs. A treasure-hunt map begins each story that plots the journey. A cultural recipe or activity is also included within each story. Each book ends with state facts at a glance, a reading comprehension quiz, and more things to see and do around the state with a map showing the locations. This series is a great way to explore the United States in preparation for state reports or family vacations! Super SandCastle is an imprint of ABDO Publishing Company.


  1. Hi–Wondering if you might be interested in an electronic review copy of my new nonfiction picture book, A LEAF CAN BE… (Millbrook Press). Sorry to leave this in a comment, but I couldn’t find a contact email for you. If you’re interested, you could email me and let me know and I’ll send you the details. Thanks! Laura