Monday, February 18, 2019


'Hummingbirds’ in the title caught my eye—but I was even more intrigued when I discovered the main character was a girl born with talipes equinovarus (clubfoot).   

The cover has the book title with tiny humming birds against a background of green diamonds. This image accompanies a book review at That's Another Story by Andrea L MackDescription from the publisher…

“Hummingbirds and angels don’t need two good feet. They have wings.” That’s what Alba’s mother always says. Of course, Alba doesn’t have wings or two good feet: she has Cleo. Cleo is the name Alba has given to her left foot, which was born twisted in the wrong direction. When she points this out, though, her mother just smiles like the world has some surprise in store she doesn’t know about yet.

Well, Alba has her own surprise planned. After one final surgery and one final cast, Cleo is almost ready to meet the world straight on—just in time to run in the sixth grade cross-country race. Unfortunately, Alba’s best friend Levi thinks there’s no way she can pull it off. And she thinks there’s no way he’s right about the school librarian hiding a wormhole in her office. Tempers flare. Sharp words fly faster than hummingbirds. And soon it looks like both friends will be stuck proving their theories on their own.

The Theory of Hummingbirds, written by Michelle Kadarusman, was published by Pajama Press in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

Alba is a strong and interesting character, determined to reach her dream of running in the cross country race, in spite of the doubts of her parents and her best friend. I really loved all the facts about hummingbirds in this story, and I also liked the secretive librarian and the new friend that Alba met from school.


Hummingbirds can’t walk. Their feet are too tiny. They perch, but never walk.

If you’re a writer… 

I admired the way the author managed to weave so much into her story, which is short compared to many other middle grade novels. What stands out to me is her skill at creating characters. All the characters have definite personalities with strengths and weaknesses. Interactions between them seem realistic, including the interactions between Alba and her mom. And I love the best friend relationship Alba has with Levi, and how they stay friends even after their fight.

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics said I could ride along because Levi wouldn’t let go of my hand. The truth is I never would have let go either.

If you’re an educator…

This is such a great book to include in the classroom, because of the way Alba’s foot surgery and abilities are handled so sensitively. As a class read aloud, this would encourage thoughtful reflection about themes related to individual differences, friendship and determination.  

I pictured myself springing like a gazelle across the finish line. I didn’t want to break the bubble. I didn’t want to see the look Levi would give me again, the look that said I had no business running in the race. The look that said I didn’t belong in Normal Land.

If you’re looking for more books for 8 to 12 year-olds, check out the list of wonderful middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS by Margaret Chiu Greanias & Lesley Breen Withrow - A fun story about accepting your true self

I have been exchanging manuscripts for critique with the author of this book, Margaret, for a few years, and I am still blown away by her creativity. I was excited to purchase this book for my own collection and to share it with my students.

Summary from the publisher:

Maximillian Villainous is a monster who doesn’t have the heart to be a villain. His famous family pulls pranks on the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and Max spends his time undoing them. So when he brings home a bunny to be his sidekick, Max’s disapproving mother hatches a plan. She challenges Max and the bunny to become a devious duo; otherwise . . . the bunny hops. If they want to stay together, Max and the bunny have no choice but to go against their nature. They blunder into villainy with comical effect until Max discovers that embracing his good heart may just be the key to pulling off the most devious deed of all and winning his family’s acceptance.

Delightfully fun and irreverent, Maximillian Villainous is an empowering story about embracing one’s true self and finding acceptance. Up and coming illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow brings the characters to life with bold and colorful illustrations in a style reminiscent of Richard Scarry.

Maximillian Villainous was written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow. It was published by Running Press Kids in 2018.


Maximillian Villainous came from a long line of famous villains. But Max was different from his family.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

How lovely to read a story where the main character can’t help being kind! Although the theme of a character learning to accept his differences isn’t new, the author has provided a twist by having him come from a family of villains. The ending and solution to his problem was a nice surprise. I really liked the big, colourful illustrations.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

The main character in this story shows persistence as he makes several attempts to fit in with his family by being villainous. This is a fun read for children, though the idea of a “bunny brigade” may need a little explaining. A nice book for discussions about kindness to others or working towards goals.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: kindness, individual differences, persistence


List: What act of kindness could Max and his bunny try next? Make a list of ideas.

Research: What is your family known for? Make a “family tree” and write something each family member is good at. What is your “claim to fame”?

STEM challenge: Design and construct your own leprechaun trap.

For more Perfect Picture Book Friday reads with teacher and/or parent tips, check out the list on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Monday, February 4, 2019


I was surprised to learn this story was based on a real event! I was so intrigued by this book that I read the whole thing in one afternoon.

Description from the publisher…

The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.

Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?

Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.

Journey of the Pale Bear, written by Susan Fletcher, was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

This is a wonderful story about how a boy learns about himself as he learns to love the bear. If you love animal stories, you will enjoy this book!


In the evening, as darkness falls, I return to the fortress. A guard lifts a lantern to my face, and at once I’m blind, blinking against the flood of sudden brightness.

If you’re a writer… 

The writing in this novel is so lovely, I would read it again just to hear the words and phrases in my mind. It’s worth studying to see how the author uses language to create a mood, to develop character, and to bring settings to life. I liked that the ending wasn’t ‘happily ever after with all loose ends wrapped up.’

Before we saw the bear, we heard her—a heavy, rhythmic tread, a thump, a clang. Beyond the reek of fish, I sniffed out the feral musk of her.

If you’re an educator…

This book lends itself to discussion about the environment and what it means to be free and wild. There’s a lovely appreciation of nature in this book, as well as some sea adventures and survival elements.

I lifted the hatch and peered out. The sun had edged over the horizon, and in the pale morning light I could see the bear pacing slowly back and forth, not far from the sterncastle and the bulk of the crew. Arrows still bristled from her snout, shoulder and leg.

If you’re looking for more to read, check out the list of fabulous middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

THE EPIC ADVENTURES OF HUGGIE & STICK by Drew Daywalt & David Spencer - A hilarious story with two very different perspectives

This book was recommended to me by writer Erika David, who also has the dream job of working in the children’s department of a bookstore.  I’m so happy she told me about this one because it’s tons of fun!  

Summary from the publisher:

When super cheerful Stick and grumpy stuffed bunny Huggie get thrown from a backpack, the adventure is on! Together this odd couple survives encounters with sea-faring pirates, raging rhinos in Africa, sword-wielding royalty in Europe, stick-eating panda bears in Asia, sharks in Australia, hungry penguins in Antarctica, and piranhas in South America–all before finally making it home to North America. A fantastically funny read-aloud about two unlikely friends and their epic journey around the world.

The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick was written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by David Spencer. It was published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House in 2018.


Huggie and Stick belonged to a little boy named Reece, and like many things that belong to little boys, they spend a good part of their time being lugged around in a backpack.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

What a great book to study for learning about voice. I love the two different personalities of the main characters that come through in the letters they write. It’s really fun to see two different perspectives on the same experience. The illustrations are great and add to the humor, especially the little doodle drawings on the letters.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I can see this being a big hit with young children. It’d be great to include this in an author study about Drew Daywalt. I might also use this book to introduce the idea of different points of view. It would be fun to assign pairs of students to a random experience, have them each write a letter and then read the results.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: letter-writing, adventure, perspectives


Write: Pick a random event (or one of your own experiences) and write two letters showing how different characters might view the experience.

Explore: Choose one of the continents in the book and do some research. What would you find if you visited? Create a “postcard” from your imaginary adventure.

Draw: What will happen to Huggie & Stick on their next adventure? Draw a picture or two to show your ideas!

STEM challenge: Can you design a backpack that will keep Huggie & Stick from getting lost (or escaping)?

Monday, January 21, 2019

ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A STAR by Carmella Van Vleet

This story about a girl with ADHD and her struggles with friendship is a great read! I might be a little bit biased on this one since Carmella is one of my critique partners and I had the chance to read this book in draft form, long before it was published. But Eliza is such an engaging character I was so glad to get a chance to read more about her!

Description from the publisher...

How will Eliza make it through the sixth grade? Her ADHD tends to complicate things. . . .

Eliza Bing stuck with taekwondo and earned her yellow belt even though her family expected her to quit. She’s tough enough to break boards with her bare hands! Next up: middle school, and hopefully a best friend. The school play turns out to be the perfect opportunity to befriend confident, stage-obsessed Annie. But can their friendship survive the spotlight?

The joys and sorrows of middle school come to life in this funny and heartfelt sequel to Eliza Bing Is (NOT) a Big, Fat Quitter, recipient of the Christopher Award and four child-voted state award nominations.

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Star, written by Carmella Van Vleet, was published by Holiday House in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a story about determination and friendship. Eliza is a great character with lots of personality. I really liked how she worked so hard to achieve her goals in taekwondo and how she gradually came to enjoy performing. Eliza’s parents and brother are part of the story too (no dead or banished parents in this story) as well as the family dog.


Master Kim once said a good martial artist focuses his or her mind on the lesson at all times. But a million cupcakes says he’s never sat through Mr. Roddel’s lab safety lecture. Sorting socks would be more exciting.

If you’re a writer… 

This is a great novel to read if you’re studying voice or character. Eliza has a definite personality.

I didn’t understand how punching slowly in the air would help me break my board. All I knew was that my gold-belt test was in less than three weeks and I wasn’t sure if I had a fire in my belly or a swarm of butterflies.

If you’re an educator…

It’s so refreshing to read a story where a character with a medical condition is shown as they navigate their life, rather than a story that is focused on the condition. Eliza has a lot of issues with her friends and friendships, and I think many kids will be able to connect with this character as she tries to cope with changes in her friendship and learns about herself along the way. A great book for a middle grade book club!

Mom liked to say you should try a decision on for size like a coat. That way you can walk around in it for a bit and see how it feels.

If you’re looking for more to read, check out the list of fabulous middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

THEY SAY BLUE by Jillian Tamaki - A picture book with an interesting perspective on colors

When I noticed this book was a finalist for a Cybils Award, I realized I'd better hurry up and read it! An interesting perspective on colours and nature.

 Summary from the publisher:

Caldecott and Printz Honor-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki brings us a poetic exploration of colour and nature from a young child’s point of view. They Say Blue follows a young girl as she contemplates colours in the known and the unknown, in the immediate world and the world beyond what she can see. The sea looks blue, yet water cupped in her hands is as clear as glass. Is a blue whale blue? She doesn’t know — she hasn’t seen one.

Stunningly beautiful illustrations flow from one spread to the next, as time passes and the imagination takes hold. The world is full of colour, and mystery too, in this first picture book from a highly acclaimed artist.

They Say Blue was written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and published by Groundwood Books in 2018.


They say blue is the colour of the sky.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is such an interesting book from a writer’s perspective. Instead of following a traditional approach to telling a story, the writing is almost expressing a stream of different thoughts that connect to colours a child encounters. I like the hints of the narrator’s personality: “It’s just plain old yellow grass anyway.” And I was especially taken by thoughts connected to viewing and touching water.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I’m curious about how children will react to this story and will have to read it to my students. I think it would pave the way for some interesting discussions about the senses and ways to describe experiences or colours. It would be interesting to use this book with children in grades 2 to 4 who are learning strategies for writing. I think it would be a good mentor text to encourage young writers to capture small moments or to include sensory details.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: colors, senses, nature


Paint: Choose a favourite page in the story. Create a piece of art using a similar style to the artist. Think of one word to describe your painting and add it as a title!

Think: Choose your favourite colour and think of ten different ways to describe it. If you have time, put your ideas together into a poem.

STEM challenge: Can you build a boat light enough for grass to hold it up? After you build your boat, take it outside to the grass and test it!

Monday, January 7, 2019

FLY WITH ME by Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple & Jason Stemple

I don’t usually review middle grade non-fiction, but this book is so lovely I couldn’t resist! Such a perfect book for the Year of the Bird in 2018 (see more about the Year of the Bird). Even though it's now 2019, I love birds and I think every year should be the year of the bird!

Description from the publisher

Enchanting stories, lyrical poems, stunning photography, and fascinating science fill the pages of this treasury celebrating the amazing world of birds.

This thoughtful and beautifully curated collection of our flying, feathery friends highlights the role birds play in human life from centuries ago to present day. While it’s beautiful, it’s also full of valuable real science about these wondrous creatures. From history and behavior to spotting and photographing, there’s sure to be something for every bird fan in your flock. Young birders will learn all about migration and the importance of habitat conservation. They’ll find stories about bird rescues and fun facts about the fastest, strongest, and tiniest fliers. They’ll also discover the best bird nests, sweet songs to sing, ways to listen for and identify the birds around them, and more. Paired with stunning art and photography and beautiful design, this treasury is sure to become a classic for bird enthusiasts of all ages.

Fly with Me was created to help celebrate Year of the Bird, National Geographic’s 2018 initiative to bring awareness to the plight of birds around the world.

Why you want to read this book… 

This book seems to have everything anyone could want – gorgeous photographs, cool bird facts, information about state birds and extinct birds, legends and stories about birds, lovely poetry – and even some information about dinosaurs!  I really enjoy picking up this book when I have a quiet moment. It’s fun to discover something new or read a bird-related poem before I gaze out the window at my bird feeder. I’m going to have to track down some of the movies in the “birds on screen” list.

If you’re a writer… 

You might like to spend some time studying the lovely poetry in this book. It reminded me of how nature and science can inspire our writing work.

You wait as quite
as leaf or lawn
or the moment
before dawn.

If you’re an educator…

This book is a great resource for students who are learning about or interested in birds. It’s packed with information so some kids may be overwhelmed if they think they have to read it all. A book that is well-suited to flipping though and finding things that catch the eye. It would be lovely to have on hand to go with a bird feeding station or in a quiet area for students to sample from when they have a free moment.

To see birds, you need only to open your eyes and look.

For more resources about the Year of the Bird at National Geographic’s Kids site.

If you’re looking for more to read, check out the list of fabulous middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.