Monday, July 9, 2018

THE LENGTH OF A STRING by Elissa Brent Weissman, for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The characters in this story were like real people for me. An interesting and absorbing read!

Reviewed by Andrea L. Mack as an absorbing read about family history, identity, and love
Description from the publisher:

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. Then her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, and Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. 

Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adoptive family of her own. And as Imani reads the diary, she begins to see her family, and her place in it, in a whole new way.

The Length of a String, written by Elissa Brent Weissman was published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

I felt so close to the characters of Imani and Anna that I felt sad, disappointed and excited right along with them as I read the story. I’ve always thought that researching your own family is a wonderful way to learn about history, and this novel showed me it’s true. I enjoyed the realistic way the author showed relationships between characters, especially Imani and her mom. I haven’t come across many contemporary stories about girls with a Jewish upbringing, so that was also interesting.


Dear Belle,

All my life I’ve shared with you. Before we were born, we shared Mama’s belly, splitting the resources so equally that we weighed the exact same amount at birth.

If you’re a writer… 

This is an excellent mentor text if you’re trying to weave together stories from two different time periods, or if you want to include a series of letters in your novel. I also really enjoyed the writing style and careful use of details. Technology is integrated into the story with limits and as a research tool.

I ran my hand over the old paper until my eyes stopped on a familiar word. A name: Anna. It was at the bottom of the page on the right, the way you’d sign a letter or a diary. My fingers jumped back as though the ink were hot.

If you’re a teacher…

This would be an interesting read aloud to kick off a family history project or to encourage discussion about war, the Holocaust, identity and family. Thinking about real life events from the perspective of how it affects families made this work of fiction seem quite real. There are details about the Jewish faith, as the main character is preparing for her bat mitzvah.

“Can you imagine that? Being your age and going to a new country all by yourself?”

I got a sudden pang of nervousness, like a pinprick in my side. I could tell Mom knew something about Grandma Anna’s family, and I didn’t want to know what it was. Not yet.

Check out more great middle grade reads on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, hosted by writer & book blogger, Greg Pattridge.

Friday, July 6, 2018

BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK by Tammi Sauer & Dan Taylor - A humorous book about friendship

My kindergarten students loved this story! I thought it might be too simple an idea but it generated a surprising amount of discussion. It’s also a great mentor text for picture book writers.

Summary from Amazon:

Knock, knock. Who’s there? A BEAR! A furry, friendly PERSISTENT bear. And no matter how many times a particular little boy tries to tell him that bears don’t belong in houses, he keeps coming back—until, one day, he doesn’t. Only then does the boy realize how much he cares about the bear . . . and misses him. Can he find his friend again? A funny, surprising story about two unexpected pals.

But the Bear Came Back was written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Taylor and published by Sterling in 2018.


One ordinary day, a bear knocked on my door.
I politely informed him that bears do not belong in houses.
Then I said, “Go home, bear.”
And that was that.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story is an excellent mentor text for writers. The structure is clear—the boy has a problem (that keeps coming back). The writing style is modern and spare, but humorous. There’s a warm and satisfying ending, too. It’s a complete story on its own, but so much more when paired with the illustrations. I loved the expressions on the character’s faces and the signs and messages that contributed to creating a fully developed reading experience.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

My students enjoyed predicting what might happen next…would the bear come back again? We discussed what it might be like to have a friend that keeps wanting to play when you’re not feeling up to it. It’s a nice book for introducing discussions about the ups and downs of friendship, and also the idea of being patient sometimes. My students asked me to re-read this book several times, so I’m planning to purchase it for my classroom (the copy I read was from a local library).

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: bears, problem-solving, friendship


Write: What do you the bear’s home is like? Describe what might happen if the boy visited the bear.

Brainstorm: What words could you use to say to a friend that keeps coming back, even when you say no?

Draw: What do you think the boy and the bear will do on their next adventure? Draw a picture to show your idea.

For a behind the scenes look at Dan Taylor's illustrations, courtesy of The Bright Agency go here.

There’s a wonderful book talk on this book by Colby Sharp:

Friday, June 1, 2018

CAN I BE YOUR DOG? by Troy Cummings - A dog story told through letters

What a fun dog story! Perfect for learning about letter writing or community helpers!

Summary from the publisher:

This picture book shares the tale of Arfy, a homeless mutt who lives in a box in an alley. Arfy writes to every person on Butternut Street about what a great pet he'd make. His letters to prospective owners share that he's house broken! He has his own squeaky bone! He can learn to live with cats! But, no one wants him. Won't anyone open their heart--and home--to a lonesome dog? Readers will be happily surprised to learn just who steps up to adopt Arfy.  

Can I Be Your Dog? was written and illustrated by Troy Cummings. It was published by Random House in 2018.

Dear People at Yellow House,
I am potty trained, and I have my own squeaky bone.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

If you’re interested in writing a story through letters, this is a great mentor text. There’s lots of humor in this story. I especially liked the different styles of responses to the dog.  The letters show the different personalities and hints of backstory in a just a few words. It made me want to try the challenge of writing a story told through letters or notes!

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a fun book to show students examples of letter writing and persuasive writing. It also shows different community helpers or places in the community. It may even lead into discussions about homelessness. The big, colourful illustrations make this book great for reading aloud.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: dogs, letter-writing, community


Pretend you are an animal. Write your own letter to ask for a home.

Draw a map showing different places the dog wanted to live. Tell the story using your map.

What do you think happens after the dog gets to his new home? Draw a picture to show your idea. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

A SQUIGGLY STORY by Andrew Larsen & Mike Lowery - A book to encourage young writers!

After I read this book, I wanted to read this to my kindergarten students right away! I loved the way it recognized their beginning stages of writing. This book was one of the nominees for the Blue Spruce Award from The Forest of Reading in 2018. 

Summary from the publisher:

A young boy wants to write a story, just like his big sister. But there's a problem, he tells her. Though he knows his letters, he doesn't know many words. “Every story starts with a single word and every word starts with a single letter,” his sister explains patiently. “Why don't you start there, with a letter?” 

So the boy tries. He writes a letter. An easy letter. The letter I. And from that one skinny letter, the story grows, and the little boy discovers that all of us, including him, have what we need to write our own perfect story.

A Squiggly Story was written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Mike Lowery. It was published by Kids Can Press in 2016.


My sister loves to read.

Big words and little words.

Page after page, word after word.

My sister loves to write.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the way this story showed the writing process. The emphasis on the ideas in the story, rather than the mechanics of forming the words, showed how imagination plays a huge role in storytelling. I also liked the way the author showed the boy listening to the suggestions of other children, thinking about them and then sticking to the ideas that fit the story he wanted to tell. The comic style illustrations are cute!

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a wonderful book to encourage beginning writers, including even very beginning writers who can tell a story but can’t write it down themselves. I really liked the way squiggles and zigzags were shown as a way to help tell a story. The book nicely explains that a story needs a beginning, middle and an end, and shows how to brainstorm ideas. A great book to have in a primary classroom.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: writing, storytelling, brainstorming


Write your own squiggly story!

Make a list of ideas for different ways to end the boy’s story. Which ending would you choose?

What is your favourite “big” word? Your favourite “little” word? Can you draw a story that includes your words?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

COLOR BLOCKED by Ashley Sorenson & David Miles – Classroom Connections to Picture Books

When I opened this book, I was excited! The pages inside the cover show a lovely exploration of paint and color. I knew this would be fun to use in the classroom.

Key Elements for Teaching:
  •          The rainbow of color on the first page was an attention-getter for my rainbow-loving students.
  •          The black and white line drawing of fantastical machines showed us how to use lines with curves, angles, bits of shading and texture.
  •          Color mixing concepts
  •          A fun interactive story, like Press Here by Herve Tullet. I had some students help me “push the buttons” on the machine or turn the book around to “close the pipes.”

Art Connection:

1. Using the page with the black & white line drawing for inspiration, discuss the different kinds of lines and shapes. What do you notice?

2. Follow up by offering students the opportunity to draw their own machines, using black crayon or black permanent marker. (We used black crayon and it worked well.) Encourage them to draw pipes where later, color can appear.

3. Flip to a later page in the book where the “color explosion” occurs. Provide red, blue and yellow watercolour or tempera paint, with paintbrushes and water. Mix and explore!

Friday, April 27, 2018

THE DARKEST DARK by Chris Hadfield, Kate Fillion and The Fan Brothers

Have you ever been curious about what a famous person's childhood was like? I really enjoyed this peek into the childhood of astronaut Chris Hadfield. This book is another of the nominees for the 2018 Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association. I read a copy from my local library. 

Summary from the publisher:

Chris loves rockets and planets and pretending he's a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem--at night, Chris doesn't feel so brave. He's afraid of the dark.

But when he watches the groundbreaking moon landing on TV, he realizes that space is the darkest dark there is--and the dark is beautiful and exciting, especially when you have big dreams to keep you company.

The Darkest Dark was written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion, and illustrated by The Fan Brothers. It was published by Tundra Books in 2016.


Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This glimpse into Chris Hadfield’s childhood drew me in as a reader, especially showing Chris’ fears of the dark and aliens. It’s a nice example of a way to provide biographical information that can connect to a young child’s life experiences. I liked the gentle humor woven into this story: An astronaut’s work is never done, so astronauts do not like to sleep. But their parents do

My Thoughts as an Educator:

It’s interesting to show students how a childhood dream can turn into reality – especially a big dream like becoming an astronaut. The links to history and the significance of the moon landing would be a good topic for research and discussion.

Ages: 5 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: astronauts, space, fear of the dark


Think: What do you dream of doing when you are older? Paint or draw a picture of your dream.

Explore: Go outside and look at the night sky. What do you see?

Research: What is your favorite planet? Create a poster to advertise your planet and invite visitors.

Friday, April 20, 2018

THANK YOU, EARTH by April Pulley Sayre

A perfect choice to read for Earth Day on April 22, but lovely to keep on hand for reading any time to foster an appreciation of our planet. I love the stunning photos in this book!

Stunning photos and poetic text celebrate nature's diversity.Summary from the publisher:

April Pulley Sayre, award-winning photographer and acclaimed author of more than sixty-five books, introduces concepts of science, nature, and language arts through stunning photographs and a poetic text structured as a simple thank-you note.

Touching on subjects from life cycles to weather, colors, shapes, and patterns, this is an ideal resource for science and language art curriculums and a terrific book for bedtime sharing. Thank You, Earth is a great choice for Earth Day celebrations, as well as family and group read-alouds.

Includes backmatter with kid-friendly ideas for conservation projects information about the photographs, and additional resources.

Thank You, Earth was created by April Pulley Sayre and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in 2018.


Dear Earth,

Thank you for the water

and those that float,

for slippery seaweed

and stone.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enjoyed the flow of the language in this story. I appreciated the pauses and variations in the phrasing, so that, even though this was a rhyming text, it had a poetic and thoughtful feel. It’s interesting how the author managed to put together so many diverse aspects of the planet in one book.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This book offers lots of ways to connect to learning – math concepts such as patterns or rays and many science and environmental concepts such as seasons, weather, and living things. With stunning close ups of insects and plants, it’s a wonderful book to explore. Perfect for a kindergarten classroom!

Ages: 3 and up

Grades: PreK and up

Themes: the earth, nature, diversity


Explore: Go outside and a take a picture of something you find in your local environment. Add a “thank you” caption to your photo. Student photos could be compiled in a class book.

Write: What would you want to tell Planet Earth? Write your own letter to the planet!

List: Look closely at the page “Thank you for tiny and towering.” What other tiny things could we find on our planet? What towers over our heads? Make a list.