Thursday, September 21, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – NERDY BIRDY TWEETS by Aaron Reynolds & Matt Davies

A great book for encouraging reflection about the use of social media.
            
Summary from the publisher:

Nerdy Birdy and his best friend, Vulture, are very different. Nerdy Birdy loves video games, but Vulture finds them BORING. Vulture loves snacking on dead things, but Nerdy Birdy finds that GROSS. Luckily, you don’t have to agree on everything to still be friends.

One day, Nerdy Birdy joins Tweetster, and the friend requests start flying in. Vulture watches as Nerdy Birdy gets swept up in his new friendships, but when she finally gets angry, Nerdy Birdy knows just what to do to make things right.

Nerdy Birdy Tweets was written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies. It was published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press.

Opening:

“This is Nerdy Birdy. Nerdy Birdy loves playing video games.

This is Vulture. Vulture thinks video games are boring.”


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The author sets up an interesting contrast right from the beginning, since the two main characters are so different. I really enjoyed all the humor in this story, both from the text and the illustrations. The message about social media in this story is pretty obvious, but it doesn’t take away from the humor of the story. 


My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book explains bullying on social media in a way that younger primary students can understand. It’s a good choice for generating discussion about the use of social media and how it can affect friendships for children in the primary grades and even younger junior students. I liked the way the ending showed Nerdy Birdy apologizing and admitting to his friend that he'd treated her badly. 

 This book also provides a chance to think about internet privacy and how social media or video games can become all consuming. I think this would be most appropriate for children in grades 2, 3 and even 4, though younger children may also relate the concepts to their observations about older siblings or parents using their devices.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: 1 - 3

Themes:  social media, friendship, privacy

Activities:

Conduct a survey about how much time you and your friends or family spend using their devices. Is there anything you could do differently?


Plan a "no screen time" day or evening. Create a poster showing other things people can do that doesn't involve a device.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Quick Pick - THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen

A few weeks ago I was asked to share some thoughts about one of my favorite middle grade books on the Dream Gardens podcast. I chose THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen. 

I've read this book three or four times and each time, I enjoy it. As a writer, I continue to admire the strong voice of the main character, Sage, as well as the many surprises and quick pace of the story. I posted my review of this novel for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday when it originally came out in 2012 and I also featured it as one of my top picks for the year. 

If you haven't read it, I urge you to give it a try! 

You may also be interested in my interview with Jody Mott of the Dream Gardens podcast. It's an interesting coincidence that his last name is also the name of one of the characters in the story! 

The Dream Gardens podcast is good place to find noteworthy middle grade books recommended by teachers, writers, librarians and others who love children's books. 




Thursday, September 7, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – CLAYMATES by Dev Petty & Lauren Eldridge

A wonderful book to encourage imaginative play and risk-taking, or to support creative exploration with clay!
            
Summary from the publisher:

What can you do with two blobs of clay? Create something amazing! But don't leave them alone for too long. Things might get a little crazy.

In this photographic friendship adventure, the claymates squish, smash, and sculpt themselves into the funniest shapes imaginable. But can they fix a giant mess before they're caught in the act?

Claymates was written by Dev Petty and illustrated by Lauren Eldridge. It was published in 2017 by Little Brown.

Opening:

“So…are you new here?”
“Yeah.”
“Me too.”
“What do you think is going to happen?”

My thoughts as a writer:

The simple beginning question, “So, are you new here?” immediately invites readers to connect with these characters, because all kids have been in a new situation. The illustrations are actual photographs of modeled clay, shown talking to each other. So brilliant, because kids love using kids love using their imaginations to make toys and their creations talk. We also get a sense of their characters right away – the gray blob has a positive, adventurous outlook, while the brown blog is more cautious.

The entire text is structured as a conversation between the two main characters (balls of clay!) so it’s a great example to study to learn about telling a story through dialogue. I especially love how the “speech bubbles” are small, torn scraps of paper! Another nice feature is how the ending circles back to the beginning with the “What happens now?” question.
 
My thoughts as an educator:

As an educator who guides learning through inquiry, I love the way this story starts with the question: “What do you think is going to happen?” While reading this book aloud, there are opportunities to talk about taking risks and being creative, as well as persistence and problem-solving. Or you could discuss friendship and how friends help each other. 

Although the publisher lists the recommended ages for this book as as 4-8, it could easily support the art process in older elementary grades too.The photographs show us how to create form and texture using clay, and there is so much in them that I can imagine students returning to this book to look at it again and again. I want this one for my personal classroom collection! 

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  creativity, imagination, taking risks, friendship, modeling clay

Activities:

Do a creative modeling clay challenge: Can you create ten different characters from the same ball of clay, using different textures?

Create a stop motion video of two clay characters interacting, using paper notes to show dialogue.

Play “hide and create” with a partner. Hide your eyes while your partner creates a cool creature using your blob of clay. Keep track of what creatures you made for each other. How does your partner’s idea influence yours?

Mr. Schu Reads showcases the book trailer along with his review

Little Brown provides a book chat with the author and illustrator. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE FIREFLY CODE by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Reading this book transports you to a different world!


Description from the publisher:


Mori and her friends live a normal life on Firefly Lane in their utopian community, Old Harmonie. In a world this safe and perfect, they've never had to question anything . . . never had to wonder about how their lives came to be. Until a new girl named Ilana moves in. She's so perfect that Mori and her friends are curious . . . Where exactly did Ilana come from, and why does she act so strange sometimes? When Ilana's secret is revealed, the kids on Firefly Lane must decide: is it finally time to start questioning the only world they've ever known?

The Firefly Code was written by Megan Frazer Blakemore and published by Bloomsbury in  in 2016.


Why you want to read this book… 

This story explores interesting ethical ideas, but even if you don't want to think about it on that level, it’s a great read with a little bit of mystery, problems with friends and some surprising events along the way. I really enjoyed the friendships between the characters. The ending was a bit abrupt so I was glad to see from the author's website that a sequel is coming. I would gladly spend more time with the 'Firefly Five' on their adventure.

 “I held my arms out wide and looked up at the gray night sky, a smile spreading across my lips. I knew I was not going to tell anyone about this breach. It didn’t matter. After all, it’s not fences that keep us safe. It’s us.”


If you’re a writer… 

You will appreciate the lovely, poetic way that Megan Frazer Blakemore uses words to create sensory images. Even though it moved along at a good pace and had an intriguing storyline, care was taken to choose just the right words, without overburdening the story with description. I really love the writing style!

“All the smells of the forest came up to meet us, the smells of things growing and alive.”

If you’re a teacher…

There are so many interesting sparks for discussion in this story! The whole idea of a utopian community is fascinating (and would make for an interest project for students to work on as a group). There are also some interesting lesson plans related to building community on Megan Frazer Blakemore’s website). You could talk about artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, environmental issues, politics and ideas about safety, friendship, diversity, community – there’s really a lot to think about here. This would be interesting as a classroom read aloud.
  
“It’s only when you get out to the edges of the forest that you have the wild old trees: oaks and pines and maples all mixed together. That’s another reason why I like it out there: things were left to nature to figure it out, and nature tends to be smarter than people.”



Opening Line:

“Everyone goes to sleep at the same time on Firefly Lane. You can watch the lights switching off around the cul-de-sac like dominoes falling.”

Other Info:

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of several middle grade novels, including The Water Castle, The Friendship Riddle, and The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill.

THE DAYBREAK BOND, Book #2 in The Firefly Code series is scheduled for release in September 2017.

Check out this video on how she comes up with her ideas.








Thursday, August 24, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – CHICKEN IN SCHOOL by Adam Lehrhaupt & Shahar Kober

This is a cute story that encourages creative thinking and dramatic play!
            
Summary from the publisher:


Join Zoey the chicken for a tour of her unusual classroom in this celebration of creativity, friendship, and tasty snacks. When Zoey decides to turn the barn into a school and become a teacher, everyone in the barnyard learns that the best part of school is using your imagination.

From the hilarious author-illustrator duo that brought you Chicken in Space, this story about playful approaches to activities like reading, math, and recess will inspire any young adventurer to get excited for school.

Chicken in School was written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Shahar Kober. It was published in 2017 by Harper.


Opening:

“Zoey wasn’t like the other chickens.

And that’s how Sam liked it.”


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The concept of this story is very appropriate for young children. They will easily connect with the idea of “playing school.” I liked the gentle humor the author created through the secondary characters and their reactions to the main character’s over-the-top ideas. It’s fun to see how the illustrator has enhanced the humor in the text. The expressions on the character’s faces reveal a lot about what they are thinking!


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This book is a nice choice to support play-based learning in a preschool or kindergarten classroom. I especially loved Zoey’s creative way to use books and crayons! This story also promotes a positive attitude towards school.

Ages: 3 - 6

Grades: PreK - 1

Themes:  creativity, imagination, taking risks, friendship, modeling clay

Activities:

Look at the pictures Zoey drew of her adventures. What would your adventure be? Draw a picture to show what you would do.

What other things could you build with besides books? Draw a plan to show what you would build and ask if you can try it out!

Build your own school. What do you need? What would you want to learn?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – HOW TO OUTFOX YOUR FRIENDS WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A CLUE by Jess Keating

If you like books about animals, you'll love all the details about the zoo and the wildlife rehabilitation centre!

Description from the publisher:

What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo? Just ask Ana Wright, star of the hilarious, award-nominated My Life is A Zoo series that combines first crushes, friendship fails...and pack dynamics.

Surprise! Ana’s long distance BFF is finally coming back to visit. But with her purple hair and new attitude, Liv is barely the girl Ana remembers. This new Liv probably thinks a birthday party at the zoo is lame. Maybe if Ana has a super-secret sleepover instead, she’d never have to introduce Liv to Ashley, former enemy and now Ana’s best-ish friend. What could go wrong?

Creature File for Liv:

Species Name: Best Frendicus

Kingdom: New Zealand

Phylum: girl who used to be Ana Wright’s best friend, girl who used to like getting
milkshakes at Shaken, Not Stirred

Feeds on: video chats with Leilani, attention from boys

Life span: undetermined, but if things keep going the way they are, the lifespan of Ana and Liv, BFFs isn’t going to be the “forever” they thought…

How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue was written by Jess Keating and published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2015.


Why you want to read this book… 

It’s easy to relate to the main character, Ana, and her friendship problems and I really wanted to find out how she would solve them! People do change and it can be hard, sometimes, to let go of the way you thought they were before. The story moves along at a good pace, and is full of cool details about animals and what it’s like in the zoo as well as a wildlife rehabilitation centre. I also enjoyed the humor in the story and Ana’s animal-related perspective on the world!

 “Taking a nervous breath, I put on my absolute coolest face, trying to look like those girls do in the yogurt commercials where they look all carefree and chill with their little spoons and hips shaking everywhere.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great novel to check out if you need an example of an excellent voice. Everything is from the perspective of the main character, including her views on animals, friendships, homework and family issues, like her annoying twin brother.  The dialogue is realistic and so are the problems Ana faces.

“Of course, most almost-thirteen-year-olds don’t also have to instruct their friends on how to avoid getting drooled on by a giraffe, but hey, welcome to my life.”

If you’re a teacher…

This would be a fun book to have in a classroom collection or school library. There are some important issues about friendships that arise in this story. I especially like how, in this series, the main character Ana has become friends with a girl she thought was her enemy. It’s also nice to see Ana’s mature attitude about the idea of “best friends” that emerges in this novel. I really liked the school assignment she had to do about finding five important influences in her life – it would be an interesting assignment to do with students.

“It occurred to me that not so long ago, an invitation like this from Ashley would probably have left me running for the hills. It’s funny how much our lives can changed without us noticing it.”


Opening Line:

“Know what’s crazy? In exactly nine days, four hours, and nineteen minutes, I am going to change.”


Other Info:

Jess Keating is the author of several other middle grade books, including How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied (see my review here) and How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.


You might want to check out Jess Keating’s kids magazine, The Curious Creative.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – I AM CANADA: A Celebration by Heather Patterson & many wonderful Canadian illustrators

What a lovely book for a classroom collection! It celebrates diversity through the different activities mentioned in the text and through the different styles of illustration on each double-page spread. 
            
Summary from the publisher:

Simple text describes the ample space available to our children in this country, and the freedom they have to grow and dream and share. With artwork from 13 of Canada’s finest illustrators, each page is a celebration and a reminder of the infinite variety of our home and native land.

Heather Patterson’s free verse poem I Am Canada, originally published in 1996, gets new life in this beautiful, illustrated hardcover timed to celebrate both Canada’s 150th year and Scholastic Canada’s 60th anniversary.

Illustrations by:


Jeremy Tankard
Ruth Ohi
Barbara Reid
Jon Klassen
Marie-Louise Gay
Danielle Daniel
Ashley Spires
Geneviève Côté
Cale Atkinson
Doretta Groenendyk
Qin Leng
Eva Campbell
Irene Luxbacher


I Am Canada: A Celebration was published in 2017.

Opening:

“I am Canada.
I run. I swim. I skate, I dance.”

My thoughts as a writer:

In a lovely, child-friendly way, this book shows the space and freedoms of living in Canada, from “I have space” to “I stay out late and see the northern lights.” I especially enjoyed the way it celebrates diversity through the different activities mentioned in the text, as well as through the diversity of illustrators who created work for this project. It’s a good book to explore if you’re thinking about how to create a meaningful and expressive text using minimal words.

If you’re an illustrator, this book will be very interesting to investigate, since it showcases 13 different illustration styles. It was also fun to look through the book to see if I could tell who the illustrator was for each spread (they are listed at the back). I enjoyed reading the notes at the back, describing the inspirations for creating the work from the author and each illustrator.

My thoughts as an educator:

I think this is an important book to read aloud with students. Almost every page provides an opportunity for young children to share a bit about themselves and will lead to discussion about similarities, differences and what it means to be part of a community and culture. I hope to find it in my school library—and it’s on my wish list of books to purchase for my classroom.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  Canada, community, diversity

Activities:

What is your favourite page in the book? Why?

Work with your classmates to create your own “I Am Canada” book. What will you create on your page? What is important to you about being Canadian?

Fox Creek Municipal Library's Time for Tots presents a reading of the book with a northern lights art activity:



Scholastic Canada provided a short video to promote I AM CANADA: