Monday, December 23, 2013

Wrapping Up 2013

Happy Holidays!
Thank you for visiting and supporting my blog over the past year!

I'm taking a blog break for the next couple of weeks to spend time with family and enjoy the season.(and maybe sneak in some writing). I hope you are doing that too or whatever makes you happy at this time of year.
Wishing you a joyful and memorable holiday season! See you back here in 2014.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Favourite YA Reads from 2013

I love reading YA and this year I read so many great books for my 100 book challenge! I thought I'd mention a few of my favourites, though it was hard to choose. Some were recently published, but others go back a few years, because I find out about great books on other blogs as well as while browsing at the library. Here are some of the ones I enjoyed most:

I got so immersed in this world and story!

Such a moving and compelling story!

I'd love this book even if Susan and I weren't both

MiG Writers.  I love books set in other places!

This series is so much fun! My daughter

and I are waiting for the last one.


I read three of the Dairy Queen books this year.  I really enjoyed

them since I grew up with two brothers who played football.

This book really made me think.


An absorbing book (and series) I started

reading on my summer vacation.


At first, I didn't like this. But once I

got reading, I was intrigued by the story.

I was really rooting for the boy in this story,

hoping he'd find a way to cope with his OCD and family problems

...and get the girl he was falling for.

I'm looking forward to starting a whole new great bunch of books in 2014! What was your favourite YA read this year?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Learning from Picture Books: Oddrey


written and illustrated by Dave Whamond
published by OwlKids Books, 2012

From Amazon:
From Blue Spruce Award–winning author-illustrator Dave Whamond comes the story of Oddrey, a young girl who is a little bit different from everybody else. Every aspect of Oddrey’s world is a study in playful curiosity. Her adventures and flights of fancy, however, are often a source of some teasing at the hands of her classmates. Her technicolor snow sculpture has the rest of the playground gaping in disbelief. Her drawing of blue apples is met with a stern look from her teacher. But Oddrey, never one to let anything get her down, faces all of these discouragements with optimism and offhanded grace.

So when her class production of The Wizard of Oz is cast and Oddrey is given the rather spiritless role of a tree, she decides to make the best of the situation and vows to be the most unique tree ever. Sadly, her teacher has other ideas, and Oddrey dons an uninspired costume and sways in the back row. But when her classmates start forgetting their lines, knocking down props, and suffering from stage fright, Oddrey steps in to save the show — not by stealing it, but by helping her classmates rise to the occasion, much to their relief and delight. Full of witty, energetic, and vivid illustrations sure to resonate with young readers, Oddrey is an endearing story with a timeless message of how the misfits in our midst can be the ones we most often misjudge.

My Thoughts as a Writer:
Oddrey is a great example of how the text leaves room for the illustrations. The illustrations are full of humour and really make the story come alive. The title was unique and caught my attention, reminding me of the importance of a good title.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:
This story has a great message for students that it’s okay to be different and to be yourself. It also reminds readers that it’s okay to take risks sometimes, like Oddrey does in the play.

This book would be useful for introducing a discussion or writing activity about what children think makes them unique. An art idea to go with this book would be to create your own “tree” to show what is unique about you…the way Oddrey creates her very creative tree in the story.

This book is one of the nominees for The Blue Spruce Award in the Canadian Library Association's Forest of Reading 2014.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Real Boy

Today’s Pick: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

drawings by Erin McGuire
HarperCollins, 2013

From Amazon:
The Real Boy, Anne Ursu’s follow-up to her widely acclaimed and beloved middle-grade fantasy Breadcrumbs, is an unforgettable story of magic, faith, and friendship.

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy named Oscar. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the village, and spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the forest will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

My Take:

The setting and magical world of this story drew me in. I loved all the descriptions of the tinctures and salves that Oscar helped to create. I felt that I was experiencing the garden, the shops, or the forests right along with Oscar. The character of Oscar was so clear in my mind that I saw the world through the his eyes and felt his fears right along with him. I also enjoyed a magical problem that was a little different than other books I’ve read about magic. The version I read was an e-book, so I don't think I could fully appreciate the lovely drawings by Erin McGuire.

As I writer, I’d read this novel again to see how the author used language to create vivid imagery. I also really admired how she managed to create a character who sees the world so differently from everyone else without making this the focus of the story.

Opening Line:

“The residents of the gleaming hilltop town of Asteri called their home, simply, the City.”


“The great oak trees grew to the sky like ladders for giants or gods, and spread their twisting branches as far out over the soil as they could.”

“These hours in the library were stolen things, and he had to be as careful as a thief about how he chose to spend them.”

“His head was full of ice and noise, and it was everything he could do to sort through it all.”


Other Info:

Anne Ursu lives in Minneapolis, where she lives with her son and three cats.

In a guest post at the Children’s Literature Network, Anne Ursu talks about writing: “fear is good…there’s no point to writing a book you already know how to write, that you aren’t terrified to write.”

At Read, Write, Reflect, Anne writes about her motivation for creating the story, based on her experiences as the parent of a boy with autism: “I had lots of ideas, lots of things I was trying to do, but after a while it came down to this: I just wanted Dash to have a book where a kid like him got to be a hero.”

Other children’s books by this author:

The Cronus Chronicles: The Shadow Thieves, The Siren Song, and The Immortal Fire.

For more info, visit Anne Ursu’s website.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Why Picture Books Are Important

I really enjoyed the blog series Why Picture Books Are Important over at Picture Book MonthEvery day in November, there was a new post from a picture book champion with key reasons why we need to read picture books. For example:

Author April Pulley Sayre:  A picture book can refresh you, teach you, comfort you, and help you set sail into real life with inspiration.”
Author and illustrator Steve Jenkins: “…picture books nurture the imagination and help a child make sense of the way the world works and the way other people live.”

Author Heidi Stemple: “As children grow and learn to read aloud and then on their own, the love of story they learned from picture books follows them.”
Author/illustrator Rosemary Wells: “[Picture books] create a huge opportunity for parents to share golden talk time with their kids. Nothing on a screen can do this.”

Author Wendy Silvano: "There isn’t a time that can’t be made better by reading a picture book… at any age."

Now that my children are past the "picture book stage" I really miss that time we had cuddling up together to share a good book. Luckily, as a kindergarten teacher, I still get to share great picture books with my students. It's so wonderful to hear the connections they make to the stories and their suggestions for what might happen next or a different ending.
When was the last time you read a picture book? What are some of your favourites?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Sure Signs of Crazy

Today’s Pick: Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Little, Brown & Company, 2013

From the Publisher:
Love can be a trouble word for some people. Crazy is also a trouble word. I should know. You've never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While most of her friends obsess over Harry Potter, she spends her time writing letters to Atticus Finch. She collects trouble words in her diary. Her best friend is a plant. And she's never known her mother, who left when Sarah was two. Since then, Sarah and her dad have moved from one small Texas town to another, and not one has felt like home. Everything changes when Sarah launches an investigation into her family's Big Secret. She makes unexpected new friends and has her first real crush, and instead of a "typical boring Sarah Nelson summer," this one might just turn out to be extraordinary.

My Take:
This is a quieter story that makes you think about family and different kinds of family situations. I felt a lot of compassion and sympathy for Sarah as I read about how she deals with her family troubles. The first person narration of the story worked well because she has a compelling voice. There are some references to the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and I wondered if this might turn away some middle school students who haven’t read that one.

As I writer, I’d read this novel again to see how the author added unique details to build Sarah’s character.

Opening Line:

“You’ve never met anyone like me.”


“If you want to know, I have a fake diary and a real diary. The fake diary is the decoy, the one you hide in plain sight.”

“I want to take off my sandals and walk on the newly cut grass, feel the start of summer under my feet, maybe follow the warm tar lines in the middle of the street.”

“At home, there is a messed up girl I see in the bathroom mirror, mascara all smeary and out of place.”


Other Info:

Karen Harrington lives in Dallas, TX. She started writing when she was

Sure Signs of Crazy is Karen Harrington’s first middle grade book. It evolved when she began asking herself questions about the daughter in her book for adults, Janeology.

In an interview at the Haunted Orchid blog, Karen Harrington talks about the writing process: “For me, novel writing is the most difficult when you have that gap between what you imagine the story can be and what you have on the page. Revising is all about closing that gap.”

For more info, visit Karen Harrington’s website.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).