Friday, May 31, 2019

I’M WORRIED by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi – The story of a girl, a flamingo and a very worried potato

I am thrilled to be featuring this picture book on my blog today. It’s the third in a series of books about emotions (the other two are I’M BORED and I’M SAD, see my review here). Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me this copy for review!  

 Summary from the publisher:

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

I’m Worried, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, was published in 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


I’m worried.

What are you worried about?

The future.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I love the characters and how their worries suit their personalities. This is a great book to search out when you’re looking for creating a story with multiple characters and wondering how to create different personalities in the same story. 

Even though the topic of emotions and anxiety could be presented in a heavy, serious way, the gentle humor and bold and fun illustrations give this story a lighter tone that will really connect with young children.  

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I’m so happy to have this whole series of books for helping my kindergarten students talk about emotions. They love the quirky characters and they can really relate to these books. (My classroom copy of I’m Bored is in tatters because it is so well-loved.)

In I’m Worried, I especially love how the friends listen to each other, compare their stories and accept each other’s feelings. I often tell my students, “It’s okay to feel worried” or “It’s okay to feel sad.” This book is a must for a classroom collection! I would love to pair this book with Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, a character who also has a lot of worries.

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: anxiety, feelings, friendship


Draw & Write: Think of a time when you felt worried. Draw and write about what happened. 

STEM: Provide a real potato for students to feel and explore. Can you build a “safe place” or “hideout” for the potato?

STEAM: Provide bubble wrap and art materials. What can you make with bubble wrap?

Make a list: What are some things you can do when you feel worried?

Monday, May 27, 2019

STAND ON THE SKY by Erin Bow – A bird, a girl, an adventure

Thanks so much to #KickButtKidLit for the chance to win this book! I really loved the writing and the story.  Didn’t want to put it down.

Description from the publisher:

She had always heard that the eagle chooses the eagle hunter. She wanted that. She wanted her eagle to come to her. To choose her.

It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family's leader, but his life too.

When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie — and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar. Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers. Erin Bow’s lyrical middle grade debut is perfect for fans of original animal-friendship stories like Pax and Because of Winn Dixie.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

It’s a compelling story about the growing bond between a fiercely determined girl and an equally fierce eagle. It’s also a story about a family holding together in a time of crisis. I loved learning about eagles, about the Kazakh nomads, about a different way of life. Aisulu’s determination to help train the eagle and to help her brother made me root for her to succeed.


There was no sign of Serik’s horse.

If you’re a writer…

You’ll want to read this to study how specific details can make setting and characters feel alive. The writing in this story is so lovely! Erin Bow gives us images and experiences for all of the senses. I was  impressed to learn about all the research that went into creating this book. She spent a summer living with a Kazakh eagle hunter and his family to make sure she got all the details right. This shows how important it is to do your research!

If you’re an educator…

This book will be a wonderful addition to your collection of stories with strong female characters. Set in a country I haven't read about before, this story shows how a family gets through their troubles. And how you can find friendship anywhere--even with a fierce and beautiful bird. I really loved Aisulu's determination and willingness to take risks. 

In a land where girls are supposed to have hearts made of milk, Aisulu had a heart made of sky.

Check out another review of this book from Quill & Quire.

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.

Monday, May 13, 2019

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE by Dan Gemeinhart – A story full of personality and emotion

Another book you really don’t want to put down! A cool “road trip” story with an interesting cast of characters and a mission that will break your heart.

Description from the publisher

Five years.

That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.

It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.

Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished—the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box—she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.

Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...

Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart was published by Henry Holt in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

Coyote’s story is heart-breaking and full of hope at the same time. It’s a contemporary “quest” story with a lot of kindness and a troop of interesting characters to help and cheer on Coyote as she faces one of the most difficult challenges in her life. This story is full of interesting details. For example, she adopts a kitten and names it Ivan, after one of her favorite book characters.


There were big days and there were small days and there were bad days and there were good days and I suppose I could pick any one of ‘em for my “once upon a time.”

If you’re a writer…

There is so much personality in this story! I’d definitely read this if you’re thinking about how to create a unique or quirky story, one that stands out from the crowd.

I know it’s weird to call eyes “quiet,” since I’ve never seen a loud eyeball, but it’s the truth. Salvador’s eyes were quiet, and something about that quietness kinda gave you the courage to talk to them.

If you’re an educator…

Kids who have experienced periods of sadness or family troubles will be able to relate to this book. Coyote’s interesting character keeps you hooked on the story, but it’s really the story of how she and her father come to term with a terrible, life-changing event. It’s also a story of perseverance, because Coyote has a goal and she really doesn’t let anything stop her from reaching it. The other big theme in this book is kindness and helping others.

“Friend” wasn’t a word I heard all that often. It is one of those words that once you hear it, you wanna hear it a lot more.

Here's another review of this book by Colby Sharp:

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.

Friday, April 26, 2019

I AM THE BOSS OF THIS CHAIR by Carolyn Crimi & Marisa Morea – A story about making rules and learning to share

I was surprised at how much my students liked this book!  

Summary from Amazon:

Oswald Minklehoff Honey Bunny III has always been top cat. Then Pom Pom the kitten comes along and suddenly Oswald isn’t the boss of everything anymore—not the toilet paper, food dish, back door, toy mouse, or even his own special chair. Will Oswald realize that life is more fun when you have a friend—and that, really, there’s plenty of room on the chair to share? A fun picture book with a comforting message for any kid with a new sibling.

I Am the Boss of This Chair was written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by Marisa Morea. It was published in 2018 by Sterling Children’s Books.

I, Oswald Minklehoff Honey Bunny III, am the boss of this chair.
You may look at it, and you may walk by it, but you may not sit in it.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The theme of bossiness is very clear from the very first line, but the story doesn’t come across as didactic. The cat characters and use of exaggeration make this a fun read! Because the characters are cats, they can get away with a lot of naughtiness. I especially liked the ending, because it seemed realistic and I think it would be comforting to a child.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

Children can easily relate to this book. In a classroom setting, there are often some students who attempt to “make rules” for other students about play. This book provides a great opportunity to discuss some ways to be kind and to talk about one of the key principles in preschool and kindergarten – sharing! It is also a fun way to help children explore their feelings about siblings (new or ones that were already there when they arrived).

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: bossiness, sharing, cats


Predict: What would happen if a third cat came along and wanted to use the chair? Draw or write about what might happen.

STEAM: Can you build a new chair for the cats?

Think like an illustrator: Look closely at how the illustrator made the cats in the illustrations. How did she create the cat faces? Their fur? Using pastels, paints and black marker, create your cat character. Or try creating a character for a different animal!

Discuss: What can you do if someone is bossy? Have you ever been bossy yourself? Are there some things that belong to you that you don’t want to share?

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.