Friday, March 23, 2018


I don’t necessarily consider this a children’s book, more a book for all ages, especially if you enjoy poetry. I gave this book to my mom a few years ago. Now that she has passed away, it’s nice to have it on my own bookshelf to remind me of happy times we spent bird-watching together. I also love the watercolour illustrations!

Summary from the publisher:

In spare and graceful words, poet and birder Michael J. Rosen captures
the forecasting call of the mysterious cuckoo as well as essential characteristics of more than twenty commonly seen North American birds. This artfully compiled field notebook — enriched by the evocative artwork of watercolorist Stan Fellows — captures the excitement of recognizing a bird, whether a darting kingfisher, a wandering wild turkey, or a chirpy house sparrow.

Back matter includes notes for birdwatchers and haiku lovers.

The Cuckoo’s Haiku was written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows. It was published by Candlewick Press in 2009.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I admire the way some people can evoke such feeling with a few well-chosen words. It’s an interesting idea to create a set of poems based on different species of the same animal. It could spark inspiration for a poetry project of your own!

The watercolor illustrations in this book are lovely, showing different seasons and realistic details in the different species of birds. I enjoyed the facts included with the illustrations (though the hand-written script style made them a little hard to read).

American Crow: huge, violet black birds (commonly eighteen inches tall, with a wingspan twice that).

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This would be especially lovely to read to students who are learning poetry or even students who are interested in birds and bird-watching.

Ages: 6 and up

Grades: 1 and up

Themes: birds, seasons, poetry


Which of the birds or poems in this book is your favorite? Think about why.

Observe some birds out the window or at a local park. What words and phrases would you use to describe them?

Try creating your own haiku poem about something in nature.

Bring drawing materials and watercolor paints outside. Create a "field guide" to your own backyard or school yard, observing and painting what you notice.

Friday, March 16, 2018

MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

I'm continuing with my "bird theme" for the month of March. I've noticed it's difficult to narrow down my favourite bird-related picture books. There are so many of them! I spent a long time studying the stunning illustrations in this one. 

Summary from the publisher:

Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbours in a long line, as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons—will they escape too? When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the tent city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.

One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.

My Beautiful Birds was written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. It was published by Pajama Press in 2017.


The ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk.

My thoughts as a writer:

The story is told in a way that helps younger children connect to the feelings of sadness and fear of the refugee experience.
The illustrations in this book are beautiful, reminding me of many amazing sunsets and cloud-filled skies I have experienced.

If I close my eyes, sometimes I can see my birds, and
sometimes I daydream that I hear them.

My thoughts as an educator:

This book is a great way to introduce or deepen an understanding of the refugee experience at the primary level. Some important aspects of this story for me were the strong sense of community through community members helping each other and the subtle hint of friendship at the end. It would be interesting to read this story along with Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Magriet Ruurs & Nizar Ali Badr and compare the stories.

Ages: 5 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: refugees, birds, imagination, community


Use modeling clay to create your own picture. Try blending clay and adding textures like the illustrator did for the illustrations in this story.

Research: What is your favorite kind of bird? What is special about it?

Discuss: What would you take if you had to leave your home forever? Draw a picture of your most important things.

Watch the book trailer: 

Friday, March 9, 2018

HOOT OWL, MASTER OF DISGUISE by Sean Taylor & Jean Jullien

Continuing with my March theme of birds, I remembered this fun book we discussed when I was one of the judges for the 2015 Cybils Awards for fiction picture books.

Summary from Amazon:

Hoot Owl is no ordinary owl. He is a master of disguise! In the blackness of night, he’s preparing to swoop on his prey before it can realize his dastardly tricks. Look there—a tasty rabbit for him to eat! Hoot Owl readies his costume, disguising himself as . . . a carrot! Then he waits. The rabbit runs off. Never mind! Surely his next juicy target will cower against such a clever and dangerous creature as he!

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise was written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien. The copy at my library was published in 2015 by Candlewick Press.


The darkness of midnight
is all around me.
But I fly through it as quick
as a shooting star.

My thoughts as a writer:

This is an excellent example of a book with a short text and a main character with lots of voice and personality. This story has a repetitive pattern, lovely creative language and it’s funny! I recommend it as a book that picture book writers should take a look at, especially if you are writing a story told in first person.

I also really liked the bold colours in the illustrations, contrasting against the black background. The drawings seem simple yet the owl and other animal characters have so much expression.

Everyone knows Owls are wise. But as well as being wise, I am a master of disguise.

My thoughts as an educator:

This book made me laugh! I really like the message behind this story about being confident in yourself and not giving up. It shows kids how setbacks can simply mean we need to try again. Hoot Owl’s creativity with the disguises was fun. I noticed that since the story is told in first person, there is no gender assigned to Hoot Owl, which might make for a nice topic of discussion.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: persistence, bravery, self-confidence, birds


Discuss: Is Hoot Owl a boy or a girl? Does it matter?

Draw your own animal superhero.

Make puppets and act out the story of Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise. The author notes on his website that this book has indeed been made into a play! Here's a link if you'd like to check it out (

Here’s a YouTube video of the author reading his story:

Friday, March 2, 2018

THE ROOSTER WHO WOULD NOT BE QUIET by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin - A picture book to honor those voices that can't be silenced.

For the month of March, I’ll be reviewing picture books that have birds in them in some way. My mom, who recently passed away, loved birds. For many years, she had canaries or budgies. She also studied ornithology through Cornell University. She and I spent many hours watching birds together. Since her birthday is in March, this seems a fitting way to remember her.

The story of a rooster who refused to be silenced celebrates the importance of being heard
Summary from the publisher:

La Paz is a happy, but noisy village. A little peace and quiet would make it just right. So the villagers elect the bossy Don Pepe as their mayor. Before long, singing of any kind is outlawed. Even the teakettle is afraid to whistle! But there is one noisy rooster who doesn’t give two mangos about this mayor’s silly rules. Instead, he does what roosters were born to do. He sings: “Kee-kee-ree-KEE!”

Carmen Deedy’s masterfully crafted allegory and Eugene Yelchin’s bright, whimsical mixed-media paintings celebrate the spirit of freedom — and the courage of those who are born to sing at any cost.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet was written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. It was published in 2017 by Scholastic Press.


Once there was a village
where the streets rang with song
from morning till night.

My thoughts as a writer:

I enjoyed the humor in this story: Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle. The repeated phrases and the problem of how the mayor is going to stop the rooster provide momentum to carry the reader along, keeping us wondering what is going to happen to this noisy rooster. This story is interesting because the text seems longer than many recent picture books I've read. 

The illustrations are fun, bright and fit really well with this text.

But a song is louder than one noisy little rooster…And it will never die—so long as there is someone to sing it.

My thoughts as a teacher:

I really like the message behind this story about how our voices are important. The author has a lovely note at the back: “Much like roosters, human children are born with voices strong and true—and irrepressible.” As a kindergarten teacher, my goal is always to help children to use their voices to express themselves without silencing their spirit.

Even without thinking about the message behind the book, this is a fun read for children and could lead into some discussion about noise. It would also be fun as part of an inquiry about the noises around us.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: birds, noise, speaking up for others


Discuss: Why did the rooster keep singing?

Play a listening game: Have the children close their eyes while you walk around and rattle or shake things in the room to make a sound. Children can then open their eyes and guess what made the sound.

Nature: Go on a listening walk. What sounds do you hear around you? How many different sounds can you hear?

STEM: Challenge students to build a machine that can make noise.

Friday, February 23, 2018

MIGHTY, MIGHTY CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Dusky Rinker & Tom Lichtenheld for Perfect Picture Book Friday

A fun rhyming story loaded with construction vehicles!

Summary from the publisher:

All of our favorite trucks are back on the construction site—this time with a focus on team-building, friendship, and working together to make a big task seem small! Down in the big construction site, the crew faces their biggest job yet, and will need the help of new construction friends to get it done. Working as a team, there's nothing they can't do!

Mighty, Mighty, Construction Site was written by Sherri Dusky Rinker and illustrated by Tom Litchenheld. It was published in 2017 by Chronicle Books.


Down in the big construction site,
five trucks wake to the morning light.
It’s time to S-T-R-E-T-C-H, roll out of bed,
and gear up for the day ahead!

My thoughts as a writer:

This story is a great one to study if you’re working on a rhyming text. The rhyme and rhythm keeps the story moving and there is a story that doesn’t bend to fit the rhyme scheme. I really liked the action-filled and detailed illustrations!

My thoughts as a teacher:

A great story for a read aloud with younger kids. It would be fun to pair this up with Susanna Leonard Hill’s THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT (see my review here). Students could compare and contrast the events and vehicles working in the two stories.

Ages: 2 - 6

Grades: Toddler  – Grade 1

Themes: construction vehicles, building, teamwork


Discuss: What is your favorite construction vehicle in the story? What is it’s job?

Encourage students to design their own buildings using classroom materials. Draw a plan for your building. How many blocks will you need? Try to build it—or have a friend build it. How tall is your building? How could you measure it?

Monday, February 19, 2018

HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly

I really enjoyed this author's earlier book, BLACKBIRD FLY, and I was excited to read this one!

reviewed at That's Another Story by Andrea L Mack - full and rich story of the developing friendship between a diverse group of kids
Description from the publisher:

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.

They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly was published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

I really loved how the kids in this story figure things out on their own. They stand up for their friends and for others in a caring way. I also liked the way Virgil learns to be braver and speak up about what he wants. This story includes diverse characters in a way that makes their diversity an integral part of their lives and the story, without being a main focus. I enjoyed the humor in the story, much of which comes from the tag-along little sister.

You know how sometimes you’re friends with someone and they start hanging out with other people and eventually you’re not friends anymore, but you can’t remember when it all happened? Well, that’s not how it was with Roberta. I know the exact date: October twelfth, fourth grade.

Opening line:

Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade.

If you’re a writer… 

I'd study this book to learn about character development. The diverse and interesting characters are really what makes this book special. I was impressed by the distinctiveness of the different characters and their points of view. I also loved the way the author used specific details to bring out character and setting.

…I know the woods like the back of my hand. I know there’s a special clearing where groundhogs come out at dusk. I know there’s an old abandoned water well that’s missing its rope and pail, which tells me that the woods used to be an empty field where someone had a house, which means that the trees are young, at least as far as trees go.

If you’re a teacher…

Since this book won the 2018 Newbery Award, it’s likely going to show up in your school or public library. I love the way this book focuses on kids who are a little different – the girl with hearing aids, the shy and nerdy boy— and shows us their rich, full lives. The school bully was portrayed realistically, and the dialogue between the kids was really well done. An interesting book for a class read aloud.

Instead the Bull took a giant step back, grinned evilly, and turned toward a stumpy circle of stones that Virgil had never noticed before. It was an old well. With two hefty shoves, the Bull pushed the cover of the well aside and dangled the backpack over the now-open hole.

“Say bye-bye to your stuff, retardo,” he said.

Other related books:

Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of two other wonderful middle grade books, Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls. If you'd like to read my thoughts on Blackbird Fly, check out my post here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

WE ARE PARTY PEOPLE by Leslie Margolis - A story for kids who just want to blend in, for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This book was so much fun! I really liked Pixie Jones and all the details about party planning. A great story about learning to be yourself and being forced into the spotlight when you think you want to be invisible.

Description from Amazon:

When a character who feels forced to do things they might not want to do, it spells trouble. There are lots of funny moments in this story as Pixie struggles with fitting in at school and with her friends, while trying to keep her role in the party business under wraps."I am the opposite of a mermaid and that’s exactly the way I like it." Shy and quiet, Pixie does everything she can to fade into the background. All she wants is to survive middle school without being noticed. Meanwhile, her parents own the best party-planning business in town. They thrive on attention, love being experts in fun, and throw themselves into party personas, dressing as pirates, princes, mermaids, and more.

When her mom leaves town indefinitely and her new friend Sophie decides to run for class president, Pixie finds herself way too close to the spotlight. How far is she willing to go to help the people she loves?

We Are Party People by Leslie Margolis was published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

Pixie doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, but with her mom away she has to take on a bigger role in her family’s party planning business. It’s always intriguing to read about a character who feels forced to do things they might not want to do. 

There are lots of amusing moments in this story as Pixie struggles with fitting in at school and with her friends, while trying to keep her role in the party business under wraps. The details about party planning are so much fun!

My mom says it's good to be observant and sensitive. She says I don't miss a thing. But sometimes I wish I would miss certain things. It's not so fun noticing everything. Not in middle school. Not when some of the stuff I witness is simply horrible and soul crushing.

Opening Line:

“We need you to be  mermaid next Saturday,” my dad says, all matter-of-fact, like this is no big deal, as if he’s simply asking me to make my bed, which I’m not going to do, either.

If you’re a writer… 

You might be interested in the way the author handled social media and technology. She doesn't shy away from it (Instagram is mentioned and so is texting) and included it as part of everyday normal life. 

I also really admired how the main character’s thoughts and feelings are integrated in the story. Interiority! (If that word leaves you feeling overwhelmed, check out editor Mary Kole for more).

We are so different, too. What if my mom decides, one day, that she doesn’t need me as a daughter, that I’m too different?
Maybe she’ll  up and leave again.
Or maybe she already has.

If you’re a teacher…

As a child, I was always hungry for books that dealt with the ups and downs of friendship, the pressures of peer groups and finding the place where you can truly be yourself. There’s even a crush in this book. This is a great one to have in the classroom or school library for general reading.

“I think you are born a certain way. This is who you are. Also, this is who other people think you are. The world decides.”

"That’s giving too much power to other people,” says Sophie. “It’s not up to them.”

About the author

Leslie Margolis is also the author of the Maggie Brooklyn series, about a girl with a secret dog-walking job, as well as the Annabelle Unleashed series. (I've previously reviewed the first Maggie Brooklyn book, Girl's Best Friend.)