Monday, March 20, 2023


illustrated girl running towards a hand with a ring
Why this book?

It’s funny, it’s a mystery and it’s packed with action! I also love the way the main character Nikki relies on her friends to help her and how they all have their own special skills—and messy real life problems. Nikki has an interesting and temperamental pet ferret to add to the mix.

Connections: science, mysteries, friendships, STEM

Activity Ideas:

Literacy – Do some research to find out more about the real-life scientists that inspired the characters in book, such as Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday. Create a poster or a short video to tell your friends more about them.

STEM: If you could invent anything, what would you invent? Draw a design for invention. Have one of your friends look at your design and ask questions about it. Do you need to revise your design? What materials would you need to build it?

Literacy/STEM: – If you found a ring with unknown powers, what tests would you try to figure out it’s capabilities?

Art: Imagine you’ve been shrunken to the size of a ferret or other small pet. What would you see? Create a piece of art to show what your classroom or room would look like from a tiny animal’s perspective.

Watch this video by Jess Keating to learn more about the books and the science behind them:

Find out more about this book by visiting the publisher’s webpage HERE.

Find out more about illustrator Lissy Marlin by visiting her webpage here.

Additional Resources:

Check out the other books in this series:

Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray (Elements of Genius #1)

Nikki Tesla and theTraitors of the Lost Spark (Elements of Genius #3)


Description from the publisher:   

"For a group of geniuses who are supposed to help people, we do an awful lot of stealing."

Nikki Tesla and the rest of the Genius Academy team have agreed to pilfer a completely priceless, totally lethal high-tech ring. Why? Because a mad scientist on a power trip plans to use it to do some serious damage. And because the very same mad scientist has kidnapped Mary Shelley. Mess with one genius, and you mess with them all.

But mostly they're planning the heist of the century so Nikki can get to know her long-lost father who claims he isn't the criminal mastermind she believes him to be. After all, if a little international thievery can protect the world from evil, it just might save Nikki's family.

Nikki Tesla and the Fellowship of the Bling (Elements of Genuis #2), written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Lissy Marlin was published by Scholastic Press in 2020.


To find more middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, organized by Greg Pattridge over at his blog.


Friday, March 10, 2023

ANOTHER SQUIGGLY STORY by Andrew Larsen & Mike Lowery

Comic-style boy holding up pencil and notebook under the title
Why this book?

What a great book for inspiring kids to write! This one is extra fun because of comic-style design and the lists of ideas. I love how it models different aspects of the writing process—generating ideas, thinking, connecting ideas, writing and revising. I also enjoyed their first book, A Squiggly Story (see my blog feature here). 

My thoughts as a creator:

I love books that contain lists and hope to write one someday, so it was interesting to me to see how they incorporated the lists into the story. I also noticed there is a lot of dialogue in this story, which was included in speech bubbles. I loved the notebook pages in the illustrations! This book includes many different levels – the writing process, the relationship with a sibling, friendships, taking a break from a challenging task, and includes some gentle humor.

My thoughts as an educator:

It’s great to see a book that contains several different writing formats –speech bubbles, lists, and autobiography. This book is great for grade 1 and 2, where kids are learning to write using sentences, and especially for introducing a writing notebook. But I would definitely read this in kindergarten to show my students how to make lists of things they love. It was great how the story also shows how sometimes, when you’re stuck, taking a break can be helpful. This story also shows a little of the process of revision, and how to improve a story by adding details and changing sentences.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: writing, lists, imagination, perseverance, siblings


Literacy: Provide children with writing notebooks to write in when they are inspired. A writing corner with visual lists could be a fun way to inspire young writers. 

Literacy: Write or draw your own list of things you love. Can you create a story about yourself?

Social Emotional Learning: What do you do when you can’t think of an idea or feel stuck doing your school work? Brainstorm some ideas for short breaks you can take

Social Emotional Learning: Think of a time when a sibling or someone else in your family helped you. Draw a picture to show how you felt.

Art: Create a self-portrait! Provide a mirror and materials for kids, with tips such as making a large shape to almost fill the paper to begin.

More resources:

 Teaching Guide for A Squiggly Story from Kids Can Press

Self-Portrait Ideas from Fantastic and Fun  Learning

12 Strategies to Support Struggling Writers from

Description from the publisher:

The kindergartener who learned to use squiggles to write a story in award-winning Andrew Larsen’s A Squiggly Story is now in second grade and learning to write an autobiography. Told in the same authentic child’s voice, this playful book encourages readers to just start, even if they don’t know how their story will go. It offers an accessible early language arts lesson on the writing process, exploring important basics (brainstorming, first draft, revising) and key terms (autobiography, editing, title, cover). Mike Lowery’s bold illustrations incorporate story panels and dialogue bubbles, keeping the energy high and giving a fresh and modern feel to the pages. A strong tie-in with early literacy curricula, this book also works well for supplementary or at-home learning. It’s a perfect choice to inspire the storyteller in every child!

Another Squiggly Story, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Mike Lowrey, was published by Kids Can Press in 2022.  Go here to visit Kids Can Press for more about this book.

Monday, February 27, 2023

ALICE FLECK’S RECIPES FOR DISASTER by Rachelle Delaney - a cooking-related middle grade mystery with lots of surprises

Red-headed girl looking doubtful surrounded by baking tools and a cake

Why this book?

I’m a big fan of books that involve kids cooking and especially books with cooking competitions! I was hooked right from the beginning, since Alice didn’t want to be part of a Victorian-themed cooking show (what would her friends think?) Even worse, she was entered in this contest by her dad’s new girlfriend Hana, without being asked first. Lucky for us readers, Alice agrees to participate and we get to read about Alice and her historian dad working together to bake in the contest. There are even more plot twists when her favourite "Culinary Chronicles" cooking show is renamed "Culinary Combat" with a whole new approach. And then it becomes clear that someone is sabotaging the contestants! Alice meets some sweet new friends and they work together to solve the mystery of the saboteur, while she comes to terms with her dad’s new relationship, and discovers how to be herself.  

Jacket Art: Morgan Goble

Connections: reality shows, mysteries, cooking, friendships

Activity Ideas:

Literacy – Create your own “mystery” by choosing a popular recipe and inventing clues to reveal 4 or 5 of the ingredients. Can your friends guess your recipe?

Literacy/Drama – Design and film a commercial for “Culinary Combat” or another reality show you think would be interesting.

Art: Use your imagination and art materials to create your own version of “Peacock Pie.”


A bookformercial for the book by Tundra Books: 


Additional Resources:

Rachelle Delaney, the author, has lots of resources with her research materials on her website HERE.

A book club discussion guide from Kawartha Lakes Library can be found here.

Other cooking-related books students might enjoy:

The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz 

Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet

Description from the publisher:   

Alice Fleck's father is a culinary historian, and for as long as she can remember, she's been helping him recreate meals from the past — a hobby she prefers to keep secret from kids her age. But when her father's new girlfriend enters them into a cooking competition at a Victorian festival, Alice finds herself and her hobby thrust into the spotlight.
     And that's just the first of many surprises awaiting her. On arriving at the festival, Alice learns that she and her father are actually contestants on Culinary Combat, a new reality TV show hosted by Tom Truffleman, the most famous and fierce judge on TV! And to make matters worse, she begins to suspect that someone is at work behind the scenes, sabotaging the competition.
     It's up to Alice, with the help of a few new friends, to find the saboteur before the entire competition is ruined, all the while tackling some of the hardest cooking challenges of her life . . . for the whole world to see.

Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney was published by Tundra Books/Puffin Canada in 2021. Visit the publisher’s page to listen to an audio clip of the e-book version here.


To find more middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, organized by Greg Pattridge over at his blog.

Friday, February 17, 2023

A Library by Nikki Giovanni & Erin K. Robinson

black girl hugging an armful of books with beautiful colours in the background

Why this book?

I found this book at my local library before kindergarten class went on a visit there. This book gave a lovely introduction to how books can excite your imagination! I’ll definitely be looking for more of Nikki Giovanni’s work to read for myself. The illustrations in this book were full of texture—and could inspire kids to create interesting art of their own.

My thoughts as a creator:

This is a good example of a book with sparse text –sometimes just a few words on the page to spark thoughts or imagination.

My thoughts as an educator:

This book contains lots of interesting vocabulary (some words, such as “cautious” needed explaining to my kindergarten students). I liked the way this book showed going to the library as part of everyday life. Children could reflect on the ending line and think about how they feel or act differently in different places.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: libraries, reading, imagination 


Dramatic Play:  Provide bins of books, small book bags and paper to make pretend library cards or books and encourage children to “play library.” Add things to their experience as needed. For example, an old keyboard where they can “check in” books.

Literacy: Draw a picture of a library you have visited. Or design your own library—where would you keep all the books? Draw your favourite place to read.

Art: Look closely at the different textures in the art in this story. Make a painting of one of your favourite place. Add texture by painting with tools such as tooth brushes, mesh vegetable bags, pinecones, etc.  

Description from the publisher:

In this lyrical picture book, world-renowned poet, New York Times bestselling author, and Coretta Scott King Honor winner Nikki Giovanni and fine artist Erin Robinson craft an ode to the magic of a library as a place not only for knowledge but also for imagination, exploration, and escape.

In what other place can a child "sail their dreams" and "surf the rainbow" without ever leaving the room? This ode to libraries is a celebration for everyone who loves stories, from seasoned readers to those just learning to love words, and it will have kids and parents alike imagining where their library can take them.

This inspiring read-aloud includes stunning illustrations and a note from Nikki Giovanni about the importance of libraries in her own childhood.

Monday, February 6, 2023

HUMMINGBIRD by Natalie Lloyd – a story about magical wishes, friendship and hummingbirds

Happy February! I've had to take a bit of a blogging break, due to the demands of my teaching job, but I'm so excited to be getting back to doing more reading. Winter is such a great time to cozy up with a good book! 

Deep purple background, girl in wheelchair on a stage with cone of light over her head
Why this book?

I was excited to read this story, because I enjoy reading stories where characters need to cope with medical or physical challenges. It was interesting to learn about Olive’s bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta. I especially loved how Olive didn’t let her disability hold her back! Olive uses yoga breaths to help herself stay calm, which is a strategy I think many kids are learning to use as well.

Magical realism stories are so much fun, since the magical elements of the story—in this case a special wish--are embedded in everyday life. It was fun having Olive take us on the adventure of trying to solve the mystery of where to find the magical hummingbird, and I loved how Olive’s thoughts about what she wanted changed as she went along. For anyone who loves language, the little poems included at different places in the story are an added element to bring delight. I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the story and her word, “If there’s anything that birds—even teeny, little hummingbirds—can teach us, it’s that fragile creatures still get to fly.”

Connections: physical disabilities, school plays, friendship, magical wishes, yoga breathing, poetry, Emily Dickinson

Activity Ideas:

Social-Emotional Learning – Have a class discussion about strategies students might use to help themselves feel calm. Make a list of different strategies and experiment by trying different ones every day during a brief mindfulness period.

Literacy – Encourage students to make a list of words related to an event they have experienced, such as a dance, a hockey game, or being on stage. Once they have a list, they can try to create poetic sentences to capture the feelings they had when they experienced the event.

Literacy – Try this writing prompt: If you won a magical wish, what would you wish for? What might happen if you wish came true?

Watch the trailer: 

Author Natalie Lloyd reads Chapter 1:

Additional Resources:

Investigate hummingbirds with Audubon Adventures

Ideas for poetry lessons:  40 Inspiring Poetry Games and Activities for Kids and Teens by Jull Staake at

Description from the publisher:   

Twelve-year-old homeschooled Olive is tired of being seen as “fragile” just because she has osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease) so she’s thrilled when she finally convinces her parents to let her attend Macklemore Elementary. Olive can’t wait to go to a traditional school and make the friends she’s always longed for, until a disastrous first day dashes her hopes of ever fitting in.

Then Olive hears whispers about a magical, wish-granting hummingbird that supposedly lives near Macklemore. It’ll be the solution to all her problems! If she can find the bird and prove herself worthy, the creature will make her most desperate, secret wish come true.

When it becomes clear that she can’t solve the mystery on her own, Olive teams up with some unlikely allies who help her learn the truth about the bird. And on the way, she just might learn that our fragile places lead us to the most wonderful magic of all.

Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd was published by Scholastic Press in 2022. Visit the publisher's page here.

To find more middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, organized by Greg Pattridge over at his blog.

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Bird Feeder by Andrew Larsen & Dorothy Leung

child and grandmother looking out a window at a cardinal on a bird feeder
 Why this book?

I don’t often read picture books that make me cry, but this one did. It reminded me so much of my own mom, the process of her dying and her love of birds. I loved the relationship between the child and their grandma, and the things they liked to do together. 

This would be wonderful book to help a child with grieving a loss of a special person in their life, because of the calm and steady way it showed what happened. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a hospice depicted in a picture book.

My thoughts as a creator:

The simplicity of the straightforward language and description created a sense of comfort when I read this story. There are many lines that give you space to stop and think and just feel the emotion. It’s a great example of a quiet and gentle book that can evoke emotions. I also loved the illustrations in this story. Though many of the scenes take place in the same room, different perspectives add interest, and carefully chosen details evoke emotions to fit with the text.

My thoughts as an educator:

I think this is a good book to provide for optional reading in a classroom or library. It needs a quiet space with some time for discussing the feelings and personal connections that might emerge when reading. I’d read this in a smaller group setting, so that children have a chance to talk about their own feelings and relationships with the special people in their lives.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: grandparents,  birdwatching, dying, hospice care, therapy dogs  


Literacy: Draw a picture of something special you like to do with a grandparent or other family member.

Literacy & Social-Emotional Learning:  Contact a hospice or retirement home to see if your students could make drawings or cards for residents. Have students create art or drawings or messages to brighten the walls in a retirement home or hospice.

STEM:  Create a bird-watching station in the classroom (e.g., make a sign for the window, provide binoculars and bird watching charts and books, as well as a book for students to record their own bird drawings). Provide materials to create bird nests or design a bird feeder.

More info:

Bird inquiry resources:

The Curious Kindergarten 

Kindergarten Fun in Room 101 

Mrs. Albanese's Class

Cornell’s Bird Academy (a forum for discussing citizen science investigations with ways introduce and assess student inquiry projects)

How to explain hospice care to children from Bridge Hospice Care

Description from Kids Can Press:  

When Grandma gets sick and comes to stay at her grandchild’s house, she brings her bird feeder. Grandma loves birds. And the child loves the time they now get to have together, drawing pictures of birds and “talking about interesting things.” After a while, though, Grandma’s health declines, and she moves to the hospice. Hanging Grandma’s bird feeder outside the window there makes things better. After a while, though, Grandma continues to grow weaker, and her ability to interact lessens. Difficult as it is, the child adjusts, knowing that, while the situation keeps changing, their love for each other never wavers.

Award-winning author Andrew Larsen beautifully captures the special bond between a child and a grandparent, and sensitively deals with a child’s loss of a loved one. Using the motif of their shared love of birds and its physical manifestation in the form of the bird feeder allows for a continuity in the child’s life that puts the loss in a larger context. Larsen offers an authentic, straightforward presentation of the process of a loved one’s death, from being sick, to going to the hospice, to participating less and less in their relationship, to death. It will lead young readers to ask their own questions about life, death and how we remember those who die. The cool palette and simple lines in Dorothy Leung’s art evoke empathy for the child’s experience, while the presence of the birds adds life and hope to the visual story.

The Bird Feeder was written by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dorothy Leung, and published by Kids Can Press.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Great Caper Caper by Josh Funk & Brendan Kearney

characters from the story with the title above
Why this book?

I was so excited to see the latest “Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast” book! This one is a fun mystery with a friendship theme. I love how the characters work together to solve their problem.

A plus for these books is that there's humor in this story for grown-ups as well as kids, so they can be enjoyed by all age levels. It's definitely one you can read more than one time to appreciate all the details and the humor!

My thoughts as a creator:

What a great example of a rhyming story with a strong plot and storyline! I’m also amazed at how the author-illustrator team manage to work in so many characters and create a satisfying ending. This one is a great book to study if you love to write word play or want to see how another author uses “made up” names for settings in a humorous picture book.

My thoughts as an educator:

This is a great story to read with children to promote a love of reading! The fun characters based on food are really appealing to kids. I also loved how the characters work together to solve their problems. The illustrations contain lots of details that children can spend time looking at when reading the book on their own.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: problem-solving,  teamwork, rhyming, friendship


Literacy & Dramatic Play: Try retelling the main events of the story. Children could draw the characters and attach to popsicle sticks to make puppets to retell the story events.

Literacy & Drawing: Talk about all the interesting places in the refrigerator! Encourage children to draw a map (or draw a map together) of some of the fun places. Bonus: Children could add to the map with their own imaginative names for places.

Literacy & Art: Look at the fun postcards from “Las Veggies” at the end of the book. Encourage children to design their own postcard from one of the characters in the story.

STEM: Create a challenge to build a tower using materials from around the classroom.


More info:

For a peek at an earlier adventure of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, check out my post on The Case of the Stinky Stench.

THE GREAT CAPER CAPER was recently selected as an Indie Kids' Next Pick.

This post is part of the The Great Caper Caper blog tour! Check out these other places to learn more about this story:




Description from the publisher:  

In the fifth adventure of the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series, our delectable rhyming friends find their home covered in darkness and embark on a Las Veggies heist—perfect for fans of The Food Group series.

When Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast awake one morning to near-darkness, they are aghast. Who would steal the fridge light? And what if the fridge is—gasp—dark all the time? Not to worry. Our trusty heroes are on the case. Will they be able to bring the fridge back to its bright self, or will they have to live in semi-darkness…forever?

The Great Caper Caper was written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney and published by Union Square & Co.