Sunday, April 14, 2019

BLENDED by Sharon Draper – An emotional and thought-provoking read

I didn’t know anything about this book when I reserved at my local library, but I just couldn’t put this down.

Description from the publisher…

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Blended by Sharon Draper was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

Isabella is an engaging character with family problems that feel very real. I wanted to know what would happen, especially through the tension of wedding planning and preparing for her big performance. I also love learning from what I read and this story made me think about individual differences and racism.


Boomble. I know that’s not an actual word, but it’s a real sound. I can create any musical combination of sounds on my piano. That’s my superpower.

If you’re a writer… 

What you’ll admire right away is the voice. Love the main character’s opinions on everything, and especially her own life and her family. It was really interesting the way the book was structured through Isabella’s calendar of days with her mom and days with her dad.

My sneakers are sinking into the soft muck of the flower bed. The smell of fertilizer makes me gag. I just want to keep sinking into the mud until I disappear forever.

If you’re an educator…

Many kids will relate to this story of being shuffled between two parents and two different cultures and backgrounds. What happens after Isabella and Darren get stopped by the police or even the very fact that they are stopped opens the door for class debate and discussion.

“I love you, Mom, but I’m not white. I never will be, and…I don’t want to be. Because the half of me that is Daddy is stronger.”

If you’re looking for another great list of middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

HORSE MEETS DOG by Elliott Kalan & Tim Miller – What happens when you aren’t really paying attention to someone else

This story is so much fun, with lots of great connections for the classroom!

Summary from the publisher: 

Horse is just an oversize dog with funny paws…according to Dog. And Dog? Just a tiny baby horse with a weird tail. That’s what Horse thinks, anyway.

Television comedy writer Elliott Kalan and acclaimed illustrator Tim Miller team up in this clever comedy of mistaken species identity.

Horse Meets Dog was written by Elliott Kalan and illustrated by Tim Miller. It was published  in 2018 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.


Wow! You’re very big.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

A great example of a story told entirely in dialogue, with the help of some very funny and expressive illustrations. I really love the concept of this story! I noticed how the author uses repetition of phrasing to add to the humor. This is also a great story to study to see how the text and illustrations work together to create humor and emotion.   
This book reminds me of the Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie stories, but in a picture book format. Even though this story is more than the standard 32 pages, the word count is around 400 words.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a great book to capture the attention of children while also creating opportunities for discussions about listening to others, points of view and individual differences. I’m always looking for books to help kids develop the ability to realize that other people may have a different perspective on a situation—or themselves!

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: perspective-taking, individual differences, listening


Draw or Write: What do you think happens next, when Horse and Dog meet Bird?

STEAM: What kind of home would Horse and Dog live in? Build their house!

Think & Draw: Think about someone close to you. Do you and that person look the same? What is different about you? What is the same? Design a perfect toy for your person to take on a trip.

Discuss: Is Horse bossy? Is Dog bossy? How could Dog and Horse have avoided this big problem? What are some ways to really notice what another person is saying?

Check out this funny trailer for the book! Do you think you would like to read this one?

Monday, March 25, 2019

THE FRIENDSHIP WAR by Andrew Clements –A story of friends, buttons and economics

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. I was so intrigued by the concept of a story about buttons!

Description from the publisher…

Stickers, Silly Bandz, Rainbow Looms, fidget spinners . . . buttons?! A brand-new school story about friendship and fads from the bestselling author of Frindle.

This is war. Okay–that’s too dramatic.
But no matter what this is called, so far I’m winning.
And it feels wonderful.

Grace and Ellie have been best friends since second grade. Ellie’s always right in the center of everything–and Grace is usually happy to be Ellie’s sidekick. But what happens when everything changes? This time it’s Grace who suddenly has everyone’s attention when she accidentally starts a new fad at school. It’s a fad that has first her class, then her grade, and then the entire school collecting and trading and even fighting over . . . buttons?! A fad that might also get her in major trouble and could even be the end of Grace and Ellie’s friendship. Because Ellie’s not used to being one-upped by anybody. There’s only one thing for Grace to do. With the help of Hank–the biggest button collector in the sixth grade–she will have to figure out a way to end the fad once and for all. But once a fad starts, can it be stopped?

The Friendship War, written by Andrew Clements, was published by Random House Children’s Books in 2019.

Why you want to read this book… 

The subject of buttons caught my attention right away. I could understand how the kids in the story got interested in trading and collecting them. I have a couple of jars of them, right in my home office, because they’re kind of cool. (Ssh! Don’t tell anyone but I may break out some stretchy elastic and make myself a button bracelet tonight.)

It was really interesting how the buttons became a fad and created so much conflict between the kids in the story. I also really liked Grace’s personality. She was a kind person trying to do the right thing and thinking about how her actions affected others.


Flying from Chicago to Boston by myself hasn’t been as big a deal as my dad said it was going to be. But nothing ever is.

If you’re a writer… 

You might notice that the pacing is great. I read this story all the way through in one day because I wanted to finish. But what I enjoyed most was the way the author had Grace share her thought processes. She questioned her friendships and what it means to be a friend, reflecting on her own decisions. I loved how she tried to do the right thing, even after things got out of control and everything started to go wrong.

When water reaches its freezing point, it turns to ice instantly. And just like that, I feel a decision snap into place—clear and cold and hard. I am not letting Ellie get away with this!

If you’re an educator…

You could find so many different things ways to bring this book into classroom activities! There are lots of opportunities to develop math problems from the button collections as well as to talk about data collection and scientific methodology. Grace's enthusiasm for data collection may even rub off on your students. 

I want to dump all three of the mixed boxes onto my floor and then sort the buttons by shape and size and color and design and material—and especially to count them! I could even put all the information into a graph or a table—really look at the data!

After reading this book I was excited about the idea of using buttons to create bracelets or sculptures and I bet students would enjoy this too. Watch this video to see how Augusto Esquivel, an artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, uses buttons to make sculptures:  

If you’re looking for another great list of middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

PENGUINAUT! by Marcie Colleen & Emma Yarlett – A nervous penguin bravely takes on an out-of-this-world adventure

What a fun story about working towards goals and being brave!

Summary from the publisher

Orville the penguin lives at the zoo, surrounded by animal pals who go on exciting adventures. A hang gliding rhino! A deep-sea diving giraffe! Orville struggles to keep up, until one day he concocts an adventure all his own: build a spaceship and fly to the moon all by himself. Can one tiny penguin get there alone?

Penguinaut! is perfect for every child who's said, "I can do it myself!" and comes to find that the rewards are much richer when shared with friends. Marcie Colleen's playful text and Emma Yarlett's charming, whimsical illustrations are sure to delight both children and their parents.

Penguinaut! was written by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Emma Yarlett. It was published  in 2018 by Orchard Press, an imprint of Scholastic.

Orville was small.

His friends were big.

And their adventures were bigger.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is an engaging story with gentle humor and simple but fun language, such as “perfectly penguin-sized.” The author has managed to bring out several different emotions within the adventure theme, so it’s a great one to study for thinking about adding different layers to a picture book text. I love the illustrations, especially the one where Orville draws the plans for his rocket. All the characters in the story have characteristic expressions and there are so many fun details for kids to notice as they read the pictures.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a versatile book for reading aloud in the classroom! It shows perseverance and independence in Orville’s attempts to build his rocket, creativity and imagination as he builds with different materials, and emotions of anxiety and excitement. It’s lovely the way Orville’s friends engage in a little kindness and write him a note of encouragement.

Ages: 3-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: adventure, perseverance, creativity


Draw: Have you ever had an adventure? What adventure would you like to have? Draw a picture!

STEAM: Build a rocket ship using cardboard boxes and other recyclable materials that can fit more than one person or toy. Where would travel in your rocket?

Share an act of kindness: Write someone you know a kindness message, like Orville’s friends did in the story. Then hide it someplace where they will find it!

Monday, March 4, 2019

PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes–An entertaining middle grade novel that tackles the issue of censorship

Another recommendation from my writing friend Erika David. What a fun and thought-provoking read!

Description from the publisher…

When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.

But June can’t give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn’t have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It’s a delicious secret . . . and one she can’t keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library’s popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle–a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it’s powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can!

Property of the Rebel Librarian, written by Allison Varnes, was published by Random House in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

I didn’t have parents that grounded me or took away books, but it was fun to explore what might happen if... This is one of my favourite types of middle grade book--funny and fast-paced but with a deeper layer of meaning. 

The story moved quickly and I got caught up in wondering what might happen to June and her friends. I loved the way the author shows June’s excitement for books and reading, and the way June gradually comes to take a stand. June’s parents are kind of extreme, but once you accept the premise of the story it’s an entertaining read. As a final treat at the end, there’s a reading list of all the books mentioned in the story.


You’re going to read a lot about me and the things I’ve done. Most of it is true.

If you’re a writer… 

You might want to read this to study the writing style, concise and to the point with just the right amount of detail. There's strong voice in this novel and I loved how we saw things from June's perspective, including the details of her outfits and those of other people. I also admired how the author handled June’s relationships with her friends. June is interested in boys and talks about them with her friends, something I don’t always see in middle grade novels but is very evident in school hallways. I also liked the realism of her relationship with her away-at-college sister.

This is no longer the same Dogwood Middle. It’s an alternate reality where reading is the coolest thing you can do and I, June Harper, am the leader of the cool kids—of the rebellion.

If you’re an educator…

Another great book to include in the classroom or for a book club pick. There's lots to discuss here about censorship, activism, standing up for what you believe in and feeling empowered.

“Adults are always saying how we need to be responsible citizens, but how can we even learn what that means if you put the library on lockdown?”

If you’re looking for another great list of middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

A WORLD OF KINDNESS by the Editors & Illustrators of Pajama Press

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to talk about kindness with my students. This book is perfect for starting a discussion. It was also lovely to see that royalties from this book will be donated to  Think Kindness.

Summary from the publisher:

In a series of simple yet evocative questions, this impactful book asks children how they will show kindness and consideration for others. Written by the editors of Pajama Press, and illustrated by celebrated Pajama Press artists, these stunning pages inspire meaningful discussion and storytelling about the understated yet powerful ways in which children might influence the world around them. A World of Kindness goes beyond mere rhetoric to examine, in a child-friendly way, everyday social interactions where a kind word or act could have a transformative effect on others.

A World of Kindness was written by the Editors of Pajama Press and illustrated by nine illustrators, Suzanne Del Rizzo, Tara Anderson, Rebecca Bender, Brian Deines, Wallace Edwards, Manon Gauthier, Dean Griffiths, Kim La Fave and Francois Thisdale. It was published  in 2018.


Are you kind?

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Such a simple text yet so effective! It's really a list of ways to be kind, written as a series of questions. Put together with these lovely illustrations, the text does make me think. 

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a perfect book for reading aloud. After an initial read through, educators could talk about one page a day and have a wonderful discussion. It’s also a great book for studying different styles of illustration and what makes them effective. Or to think about how the illustration relates to the text. I also really love the cover. I definitely want this one for my personal collection!

Ages: all ages

Grades: K – 4

Themes: kindness, diversity, manners


List: Make a list of acts of kindness that you could try.

Create: Choose your favourite illustration from the text. What makes it special? Try to 
create your own art in the style of the artist.

Discuss: Think of a time when you had to say you were sorry. How did you feel? How 
do you think the other person felt?

Draw: Draw a picture of how you look when you are sad. Write about some things that make you feel better. Could you try those things to help someone else?

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.