Monday, March 1, 2021

LAURA INGALLS IS RUINING MY LIFE by Shelley Tougas

I can’t believe I missed this one when it came out! It was a really absorbing read. 

Why you want to read this book…

 The writer did a wonderful job of making Charlotte and the other characters feel real. I liked the way Charlotte thought about the connection between her own life and the historical articles she was reading. 

Even though I am a fan of the “Little House” books and really enjoyed them, I am aware of how problematic they are, and it was great to see some of the bias and facts being carefully woven into the story. I also liked the way Charlotte’s teacher challenged and encouraged her.

 

 Here’s the summary from the publisher:

 A life on the prairie is not all its cracked up to be for one girl whose mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far.

 Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2017. I read an e-version from my local public library.

 

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU MANGOS by Kereen Getten – A story of friendship, adventure and mystery

The setting of this story is wonderful! It's a fun read with a twist ending and supernatural elements.

Why you want to read this book…


If you’re wishing for the warmth and escape of summer, this book will take you there. I really enjoyed reading about Clara’s adventures and her secrets. Clara has a memory issue related to a mysterious event that happened last summer, leading to fears and complicated feelings about friends that unfold as the story develops. And there’s a surprising twist! 


I loved all the details of the island that we experience through Clara’s adventures—including her secret hideout.  

 

Description from Goodreads

Twelve-year-old Clara lives on an island that visitors call exotic. But there's nothing exotic about it to Clara. She loves eating ripe mangos off the ground, running outside in the rain with her Papa during rainy season, and going to her secret hideout with Gaynah--even though lately she's not acting like a best friend.


 The only thing out of the ordinary for Clara is that something happened to her memory that made her forget everything that happened last summer after a hurricane hit. Sometimes things come back to her in drips like a tap that hasn't been turned off properly. Other times her Mama fills in the blanks...only she knows those aren't her memories and it is hard feeling like she is not like everybody else.


But this summer is going to be different for Clara. Everyone is buzzing with excitement over a new girl in the village who is not like other visitors. She is about to make big waves on the island--and give Clara a summer she won't forget.


When Life Gives You Mangos by Kereen Getten was published by Random House Children’s Books in 2020. I read an electronic version from my local library.

 

 If you’re looking for another fun or maybe spooky middle grade book to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Monday, February 1, 2021

ANA ON THE EDGE by A. J. Sass - A story about deciding who you really are

After an extended holiday break (which included returning to teaching kindergarten online and writing about my students' wonderful progress for their report cards), I'm back to reviewing some of the many books I read. This year, one of my reading goals is to expand the types of books I read to better reflect the diversity of children who read them. Along with choosing stories that call to me personally, I will also be choosing books that may help me broaden and challenge my own perspective. 


 Why you want to read this book…

Ana’s story is intriguing, full of tension and a few surprises. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book, but it didn’t take long before I was hooked on the story. The way Ana’s character develops and grows seemed so natural, especially the way Ana questioned and thought about their own feelings. The backdrop of the competitive figure-skating world adds another layer to the story with the pressure to perform. This is a much-needed book and it’s so well-written that I really didn’t want to put it down.

The author’s note and an explanation of dysphoria at the back helps to explain what nonbinary means and some of the feelings a nonbinary individual might experience.

 

Description from the publisher…

Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season's program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.

Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn't correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he's around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it's tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.

Ana on the Edge by A. J. Sass was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2020. I read an e-version from my local library.


If you’re looking for more thought-provoking middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.


Friday, December 4, 2020

EXPLORERS OF THE WILD by Cale Atkinson - A fun adventure story for a child and a bear

One of my favourite themes in picture books and children's novels is adventure, so I was delighted to recently discover this beautifully illustrated picture book by Canadian author-illustrator Cale Atkinson! I read it as an e-book from my local library. (Even though I always prefer to hold and pore over a hard copy, e-books have the advantage of a view of the complete illustration not obscured by the gutter from the binding). 


Summary from the publisher:

Boy and Bear both love to explore the outdoors. There are so many neat things to see, and so many strange things to find. These explorers are prepared for anything . . . except each other!

When Bear and Boy meet in the woods, they're scared at first. Really scared. But soon these kings of the wild realize that no mountain is too big to conquer if you have a friend to climb it by your side.

Explorers of the Wild was written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, and published by Disney-Hyperion in 2016.

 

Why I liked this book:

The colourful and detail-packed illustrations really went well with the single-day adventure. I think kids will love the friendly-looking characters and the "big surprise" when they meet each other. Such a cute story!


From a writer's perspective...

I'd read this again or use it as a mentor text if I were writing a picture book with two parallel stories. This is a great example of a book with two parallel stories that meet partway through the story and continue on together. The simple text really lets the illustrations shine.


From an educator's perspective:

This is a lovely celebration of a single day's adventure into the woods. It reminded me a little of an old favourite, "Where's My Teddy?" by Jez Alborough. It would be fun to discuss the different perspectives of the characters and what they see or bring on the adventure. This story could also lead to a discussion about how some friendships are based on common interests. As a read aloud, this could inspire some wonderful some student art and writing!

Ages: 4-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: adventures, nature, friendship

Activities:

Create: Think about what might happen if you planned your own adventure. Draw small pictures of all the things you'd bring along. Or, cut them out of a flyer and glue them in a collage, with a few words of explanation.  

Write: Write a story about your own adventure! You could use the prompt: If I was exploring the wilderness... 

Imagine and draw: What do you think happened when the bear got home? What about the boy? Draw comic to show what happened next. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

PINE ISLAND HOME by Polly Horvath - A story of adventure and family with four orphan sisters

 

Why you want to read this book…

This absorbing story about four orphan sisters living on their own was just delightful. The characters seemed like they could be loosely based on the girls in Little Women, but this story also reminded me of an old favourite, The Five Little Peppers,  based on the writing style and the predicaments the children experienced. 

The four sisters all had very different personalities and I could see something of myself in each one of them. I especially loved Marlin’s struggles as a writer and how their guardian grew and changed through interacting with them.  I also loved the nature elements-–a bear!—and Natasha’s birding adventures.

The emotions the girls had for their deceased parents were handled so realistically, and yet didn’t drag down the story into sadness. Each chapter was like a new adventure. I loved how not everything was wrapped up neatly at the end. Delightful really is the best word to describe this gem. I hope Polly Horvath is writing a sequel, because I’d love to see what these girls get up to next!

 

Here’s the summary from the publisher:

Fiona, Marlin, Natasha, and Charlie McCready are left on their own when their missionary parents are washed away in a tsunami. Fortunately, their great aunt Martha volunteers to have them live with her on her farm in British Columbia. But while they are traveling there, Martha dies unexpectedly, forcing Fiona, the eldest, to come up with a scheme to keep social services from separating the girls - a scheme that will only work if no one knows they are living on their own.

     Fiona approaches their grouchy and indifferent neighbor Al and asks if he will pretend to be their live-in legal guardian should papers need to be signed or if anyone comes snooping around. He reluctantly agrees, under the condition that they bring him dinner every night. As weeks pass, Fiona takes on more and more adult responsibilities, while each of the younger girls finds their own special role in their atypical family. But even if things seem to be falling into place, Fiona can't help but worry that it is only a matter of time before they are caught. What she needs to do is find them a real guardian.

 

Pine Island Home by Polly Horvath was published by Penguin Random House in 2020. I read an e-version from my local public library.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

LOOK! I WROTE A BOOK! (AND YOU CAN TOO) by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Neal Layton

 As a person who loves reading and writing, I was drawn to this book by the title. I loved all the funny ideas in drawings and the explanations of the writing process (including revising). The cartoony crayon style illustration adds to the fun.

 

Summary from the publisher:

 Want to write a book? Well, the spunky, know-it-all narrator of this side-splitting story can tell you just how to do it. She walks readers through the whole process, from deciding what to write about (like dump trucks or The Olden Days) to writing a story that doesn’t put everyone to sleep and getting people to buy your book (tips: be nice, give them cookies, and if all else fails, tie them to a chair).

 

Look! I Wrote a Book! was written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Neal Layton, and published by Schwartz & Wade Books in 2019.

 

Opening:    


When you want to write a book,

first you need a Good Idea.

 

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Check out this book for a humorous example of a how-to text. It would be interesting to compare this one to Kate Messner’s How to Write a Story and think about the choices that the authors made about what to focus on.

 

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a great book for an elementary classroom! I loved how it explains the process of writing a story. It will likely motivate some children to get to work on their own.

 

Ages: 5-9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: writing, story structure

Activities:

List:  Make a list of topics you might like to write about. Think about who might like to read a story about your topic.

Draw: Design your own book cover. Make up a title and then draw a cover illustration to go with it.

Plan: Get a big sheet of paper and draw a beginning, a middle and an end for a story. Make sure it’s not boring. If it is, then add some obstacles to get in your character’s way. Reading the book again will help remind you of ways you can make your story more interesting.

Write: Imagine you are a famous author. Write your own About the Author page with important facts about you.

Monday, October 19, 2020

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS by Ann Braden – a powerful and emotional story about choosing the right path

This is a book worth taking some time to read and think about. I really liked how the teacher helped encourage the main character and helped her figure out how to participate in the debate club.


Why read this book?

It’s a powerful story with a lot of emotional depth that will get you thinking. I loved the determined spirit of the main character Zoey and the strength of her caring for her family. I really enjoyed the way the main character learned to think about her life differently and to speak up and choose. Even though Zoey didn’t have a chose to join the debate club, it was interesting how it helped her think about her life differently and to speak up. The story had a hopeful ending, despite the fact that her family situation continued to be challenging. I also really enjoyed the octopus facts included in the story!

 

Here’s the summary:

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they've got to do.


Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there's Lenny, her mom's boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it's best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she's not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia's situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they're better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she's ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden was published by Sky Pony Press in 2018. I read an e-version from my local public library.