Monday, July 17, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SPACED OUT by Stuart Gibbs

Stuart Gibbs is one of my favourite authors of middle grade books. I really enjoy his JUNGLE FUN mysteries as well as these MOON BASE ALPHA mysteries.
 
Description from the Publisher

There’s nowhere to hide on the world’s first moon base. After all, it’s only the size of a soccer field. So when Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, mysteriously vanishes, the Moonies are at a total loss.

Though he may be just twelve years old, Dashiell Gibson is the best detective they’ve got. But this confusing mystery pushes Dash to his limits. Especially since Dash accidentally made contact with an alien and has to keep it a secret. With the fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance, will Dash be able to solve the mystery of the missing Moonie?

Spaced Out: A Moon Base Alpha Novel was written by Stuart Gibbs and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a great mystery and a well-paced story with lots of action as well as the usual middle grade problems with bullies. I really enjoyed all the details about living in space in the excerpts from The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha included with each chapter. I also loved all the unique elements that add to the fun of a story set in space. For example, you've probably never read a book before where a toilet is used for self-defense!

“Slopes are difficult to navigate in low gravity, even when you’re not running for your life.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great example of a middle grade mystery with an interesting setting. I also thought the characters were realistically portrayed, and there’s a lot of humor in the novel through the main character’s voice in this first person narration.

“One of the most unnerving things about having an alien beam herself into my brain was how abruptly she could appear.”

If you’re a teacher…

This is a great option to offer students who might be a little reluctant to read for pleasure. If you're learning about space, students could look for details in this book about life in space and do research to see if they can expand on them. A fun activity would be to try to draw their own plan of how they envision the base based on reading the book.

“Something was definitely wrong with my suit. I was losing oxygen way too fast.”


Opening Line:

“If I hadn’t made the mistake of showing Star Wars to an alien life form, I never would have ended up fighting Patton Sjoberg with the space toilet.”


Other Info:

The first book in the Moon Base Alpha series is Space Case. The next book in the series Waste of Space, is schedule for publication in April 2018. Check out the new cover and description here (I can hardly wait for this one!)

Books in the Fun Jungle series by Stuart Gibbs include Belly Up, Poached, Big Game and Panda-monium.

Stuart Gibbs also writes the Spy School series, including  Spy School, Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, Spy Ski School. Spy School Secret Service is coming in October 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall

I loved this story! It’s a perfect summer read, since so many kids are facing their own swimming pool challenges at this time of year. When I read this book to my kindergarten students in June, they really enjoyed it!

Summary from the publisher:

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash.

Jabari Jumps was written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. It was published in 2017 by Candlewick Press.

Opening:

“I’m jumping off the diving board today,” Jabari told his dad.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story has the kind of simple but perfect concept that many picture book writers are looking for. Most kids can relate to some kind of swimming challenge, whether putting their head under or jumping in, or, like Jabari, trying the diving board. I really loved how the author portrayed the relationship between Jabari and his dad. The support of Jabari’s family is with him, even when he’s making his own decisions.

I also loved the size of this book, the diversity of the characters and the subtle but playful use of different textures in the illustrations.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

There's a lot of scope for lessons related to this book! I might have students make predictions about what will happen in the story, and talk about emotions and feelings based on Jabari’s actions and expressions. It would also be a great way to start a discussion about discussions about fears and strategies for coping with them, beginning with Jabari’s strategies of taking a deep breath or taking his time to think and be ready. 

Although this is probably not the intent, adults can learn a lot from this book too, in the way that Jabari’s dad calmly lets Jabari make his own decision about whether to jump or not.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  swimming, facing fears, bravery, family

Activities:

What challenges have you faced when learning something new? What did you do when you felt scared?

Think about something you are scared to try. Draw a picture to show how you might do it or write a list of steps to get past your fears.

Check out this interview with Gaia Cornwall about the book:




Monday, July 3, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE GREAT TREEHOUSE WAR by Lisa Graff

I have always wanted a treehouse. Wouldn’t it make a great writing studio? I had so much fun reading this, I read it in one afternoon (on my deck, since I don’t have a treehouse, but I could pretend). 

 
Description from the publisher:

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids vs. grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things get pretty complicated! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff was published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2017.


Why you want to read this book… 

Although the situation with Winnie’s parents and their exact schedules seemed pretty extreme, I think many kids will relate to feeling caught between two parents who aren’t getting along. And when the solution is making up your own rules and living in a treehouse – this whole scenario makes this book so much fun!

I really enjoyed the different personalities of Winne’s friends, and her cat, Buttons, but Winnie’s character and her predicament was what kept me reading to see how she would deal with her parents arguing (and not fail fifth grade!). This book also has lots of fun ‘sticky notes’ with comments from Winnie’s friends as well as ‘how-to’ instructions for different projects (e.g., making friendship bracelets).

“It turned out that having ten kids in a treehouse, without any adults to tell them what to do, was even better than Winnie could have imagined.”


If you’re a writer… 

It was really interesting to see how Lisa Graff incorporated all of Winnie’s ten friends, her parents, her uncle, her teacher and her cat into the storyline. That’s a lot of characters to worry about! The ‘sticky note’ comments help to reveal more of her friends’ personalities. A lot of humor in this story is created through the strategy of exaggeration and it’s very effective in making the story fun even though the underlying problem of feeling torn between divorced parents is a serious one.

“The book’s unlined pages seemed full of possibility, inviting Winnie to draw any doodle she wanted or tell any story that popped into her brain.”


If you’re a teacher…

This would be a great book to start discussions or projects about government and how countries are run. This might be interesting to read along with the picture books, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney (HarperCollins, 2004), and How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt & Fred Rix (Kids Can Press, 2009).  I might encourage students to work in a group to create their own country, drawing designs and making up rules.

“Some folks—grown-ups, mainly—were horrified by the idea of children living in their own country, with nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted.”


Opening Line:

“There are a lot of things you should probably know to understand why a bunch of kids decided to climb up a treehouse and not come down.”


Other Info:

Lisa Graff is the author of several other middle grade books, such as A Tangle of Knots, A Clatter of Jars, Absolutely Almost and Double Dog Dare, among others.

Listen to an interesting interview with Lisa Graff about the book from Follett Learning #BehindtheBook

*In case you're wondering why you haven't seen any middle grade book reviews from me for a while, I've had several life-changing events happening in my life and it has been hard to find time to read any books at all. I'm excited and hopeful that I will catch up on my reading and writing this summer! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – I LOVE SHARKS, TOO by Leanne Shirtliffe and Lorenzo Montatore

Sharks are a popular topic in my classroom so I knew my students would enjoy this one! At their request, we read it aloud twice in the same day. I'm especially happy to introduce this book to you since Leanne Shirtliffe is one of my writing critique partners.
 
Summary from the publisher:

Stevie likes sharks. Like a LOT. In response to everything his mom asks him, Stevie has an excellent shark fact in response.

“Brush your teeth, Stevie.”

“Mom, Mako sharks don’t have to brush their teeth because they are covered in fluoride.”

From morning to bedtime—you would think this might totally wear his mom down. But guess who likes, sharks, too?

The book is filled with tons of fun facts, and also information about different shark breeds.

I Love Sharks, Too was written by Leanne Shirtliffe and illustrated by Lorenzo Montatore. It was published in 2017 by Sky Pony Press.

Opening:

“Stevie loves sharks. He loves sharks more than he loves pizza. He loves sharks so much, he wishes he were one.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The concept of showing the shark equivalent of a kid’s ordinary activities is a great hook. The pattern set up by Mom’s nagging and Stevie’s shark response makes you want to turn the page to find out what Stevie’s going to come up with next. The bright, cartoon-style illustrations add to the fun of this story. 

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

The shark facts were interesting and caught the attention of my kindergarten students. I think grade one and two students would also enjoy the humor of Stevie’s shark responses as well as the facts and details. Because of the fact component, I think it would have been nice to have some realistic pictures of sharks at the back with the additional shark facts, but this is a great book to get kids interested in doing more shark research on their own. 

Ages: 5 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  sharks, daily activities, family

Activities:

What is your favourite sea animal? Find out a fact about your animal and make a drawing or poster to show how it could relate to your day.

What is your favourite page in the story? Why?

This book has an excellent teacher’s guide with lots of fun activities, like finding your shark name or drawing a cartoony shark.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – SEA MONKEY & BOB by Aaron Reynolds and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I was excited when this book arrived just as my students developed an interest in exploring whether sink or float! It’s great to have a fun story to connect with this popular topic that comes up every year in my kindergarten classroom. I’m also thrilled to share this book because Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of my writing buddies.
Summary from the publisher:


Two delightfully anxious friends learn that they can overcome anything—even gravity—in this humorous and heartwarming picture book from bestselling author Aaron Reynolds and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Bob the puffer fish and his best buddy Sea Monkey may be little but they’ve got one ocean-sized problem. Sea Monkey’s terrified he’ll sink straight to the bottom of the ocean. After all, he’s heavy, and all heavy things sink, right? Bob on the other hand is worried that his puffed up frame will float up above the surface. He’s light, and all light things float! How will they stay together when the forces of gravity are literally trying to pull them apart? By holding hands, of course! Sea Monkey and Bob learn that sometimes the only way to overcome your fears is to just keep holding on…

Sea Monkey & Bob was written and illustrated by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It was published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Opening:

“Hi. I am Bob. I am a Puffer fish.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a good example of a story told through a conversation between two characters.  The design of using different fonts in different colours right from the first page makes it easy for a reader to use a different voice for each character.  The text and illustrations worked together well to tell a fun story about sinking and floating, but there was another level of story about fears and how friends can help you when you feel afraid.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I read this book to my kindergarten students a few times during our exploration of sinking and floating. I really liked how some of the materials included in the story were items we could actually test (e.g., feathers, tennis balls).  The theme of how a friend can help you through a scary moment provides a good opportunity for a discussion about ways to cope when you feel scared. 

With the big, bold illustration style, even the kids in the back of the group could see what was happening during a read aloud. The style of bright colours with a dark line around the outside would be fun to use as a model for creating under-the-sea art.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: PreK - 3

Themes:  fears, friendship, sinking & floating

Activities:

Do all heavy things sink? Do all light things float? Collect some different materials and experiment to find out! Make a chart to show your results.

Take on a boat-making challenge: Can you make a boat to hold something that might normally sink?

Draw a picture of a time you felt afraid. Do you have a favourite friend or stuffed toy to help you feel less alone? Add your friend to the picture!

What is your favourite sea animal? Create a drawing using the style of bright colours with a dark outline. What do you think your animal might be afraid of?


Check out this video that shows how to draw the characters of Sea Monkey and Bob:



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – I AM NOT A CHAIR by Ross Burach

This story is so preposterous it might make you laugh out loud! That's what happened to me. It reminded me of how, when my daughter was little, sometimes a ridiculous thing would strike us funny and we'd laugh hysterically together.  

Summary from the publisher:


Grab the best seat in the house with this funny, touching picture book about a giraffe who keeps being mistaken for a chair!

From the acclaimed author-illustrator of There’s a Giraffe in My Soup, Ross Burach, comes a curious tale about finding one’s courage and standing up for oneself. Full of vibrant and playful illustrations and hilariously absurd logic, kids will want to read it again and again.

Could there be anything worse for Giraffe? Maybe being sat on by a skunk or smooshed by two hapless hippos, or worst of all—cornered by a hungry lion? No one seems to notice that Giraffe is not standing around just to be sat upon. Will he be able to find his voice and make his friends realize who he really is?

I Am Not a Chair was written and illustrated by Ross Burach. It was published in 2017 by HarperCollins.

Opening:

“On Giraffe’s first day in the jungle, he felt something wasn’t right.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a great book to study if you are learning about plot – the main character makes several attempts to solve his problem and there’s a fun twist at the end when the character finally does take the step that solves the problem. It’s also a great one to study for humor and pacing. I loved the personality of the main character . The text and illustrations worked together so well to tell the story. And then there was a deeper layer with a theme about speaking up for yourself. I think this book has many of the elements of a perfect picture book.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I thought this book would be too silly for me, but I was wrong. I really liked the underlying theme about speaking up for yourself. The way it’s done with animals is quite clever. The character of the giraffe really captures how a quieter, shy or nervous child feels, to the point of being nervous even about asking to go to the bathroom. I liked the line: “I need to be me.” Lots of discussion possibilities for young children. Of course, giraffes don’t live in jungles—but then they aren’t used as chairs, either.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 2

Themes:  sense of self, feeling afraid, individual differences, funny stories

Activities:

Think of a time when you felt afraid but couldn’t speak up for yourself. How did you feel? Draw a picture or share in a discussion if you wish.

If there was another page to the story, what do you think the turtle would do or say? Draw your idea!

What is your favourite page in the story? Why?

The book trailer is a lot of fun:






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – THUNDER BOY JR. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

Have you ever thought about having a different name? Why is your name just right for you? I really liked the way the character in this book took time to think about his name.

Summary from the publisher:


Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name...one that's all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn't want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name...Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.

Thunder Boy Jr. was written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. It was published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company.

Opening:

“Hello, my name is Thunder Boy. Thunder Boy Smith. That’s my real name.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

There is a strong voice in this book, since it’s written as though the main character is talking to the reader. I really loved all the fun possibilities the main character comes up with for choosing a new name. This is another good example of a story with different layers and an important message about being yourself.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book would a great addition to a classroom and school library collection. Not only does it reflect the perspective from a native American culture, it also shows a strong relationship between a son and his father. I would be so great to read early in the school year when students are getting to know each other and learning about each other’s names. I love the line: “I want a name that sounds like me.” Discussing all the possibilities for a new name would provide lots of opportunities for students to talk about some of their accomplishments and experiences.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: family, names, sense of self  

Activities:

List at least five experiences you are proud of. What names could you make up for yourself?

Choose an important adult in your life. What things do you love about him or her? In what ways do you want to be different?


Here’s the book trailer:




Sherman Alexie discusses the book: