Monday, October 26, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH

Just a warning -- this is a sad book that may make you feel like crying. I read this one as an e-book from my local library.

Description from Amazon:
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

The Thing About Jellyfish was written by Ali Benjamin and published by Little, Brown and Company in 2015.

My Take:

If you like stories that make you feel a lot of emotion, this is a good choice. I found it quite sad. The difficulties of friendships and fitting in during middle school are portrayed realistically. Suzy had an interesting character. One of the things I liked most about this novel was the integration of scientific facts and information about jellyfish.

As a writer, I also admired the way the author used language to show the pain that Suzy was feeling. It’s a good example of a story where a character undergoes an emotional transformation.

Opening Line:

“A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough, begins to look like a heart beating.”


“During the first three weeks of seventh grade, I’d learned one thing above all else: A person can become invisible by staying quiet.”

“I liked that so many things were out there, waiting to be known.”

“Over time, as people forget you, your silhouette gradually fades into darkness until the final time anyone says your name on this planet. That’s when your very last feature—the freckled tip of your nose, or the heart-top bubble of your lips—fades for good.”

Other Info:

As a child, Ali Benjamin spent many hours catching bugs and frogs. Her love of nature is what inspired The Thing About Jellyfish.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learning from Picture Books -- CREEPY CARROTS!

Here’s a story that’s a little bit spooky – in a fun way!

Summary from

Jasper Rabbit loves carrots—especially Crackenhopper Field carrots. He eats them on the way to school.

He eats them going to Little League.
He eats them walking home.
Until the day the carrots start following him...or are they?

Creepy Carrots was written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. It was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2012.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really enjoyed this book! It has a nice balance of scary and funny, which I think is hard to achieve as a writer. I also loved how specific words and phrasing added details to the story, e.g. how the bunny “yanked” and “ripped” the carrots and “terrible, carroty breathing.”

The shades of gray in the illustrations really helped to create a spooky atmosphere for the story. I really admired the way light and shadow was used. The facial expressions on the carrots fit so well with the text.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book would be a good one for introducing a discussion about fears and fearful feelings.  The interesting illustration style, with shades of charcoal and a few bits of orange, would be interesting to talk about with students.

Illustrator Peter Brown talks about how he created the art work.

Themes: fears, rabbit, carrots

Ages: 3 – 6

Grades: preschool – grade 1

Follow-Up Activities:

  • Make a list of “scary things”. Talk about what to do when you feel scared.
  • Set up a centre where students can act out the story with small characters, paper or toy carrots, and blocks
  • Talk about carrots and how they grow. Could your class grow their own carrots?
  • Draw a picture or write about your favorite page in the story.
  • Create some art using shades of grey or pencil drawing. Choose one colour to add to make something in your picture stand out.

To find more great picture books to read or to use in your classroom, visit author Susanna Leonard Hill's website for her theme-based summary of Perfect Picture Books posted by book-loving bloggers on Perfect Picture Book Friday.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate

This is another story where a character is dealing with a problem – I seem to be finding a lot of them lately! I’d heard about this one from many other bloggers and was looking forward to reading it, because I loved the author's previous book, The One and Only Ivan.  I borrowed the hardcover from my local library.

From the publisher:

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Crenshaw was written by Katherine Applegate and published by Feiwel and Friends in 2015.

My Take:

This is such a unique story. I’ve never read a middle grade where an imaginary friend plays such a big role in the story, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. What was especially well done, I thought, was the way the author portrayed Jackson’s feelings about becoming homeless, and also the way it happened. It was a good depiction of a family’s struggle. 

I enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s writing style in The One and Only Ivan and I also enjoyed it here. The novel is well-paced, has spare writing with the occasional very meaningful sentence or image that makes you think.

Opening Line:

“I noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat.”


“The hallway was dark, except for the bathroom light spilling onto the carpet like melted butter.”

“It’s surprising how much stuff adults don’t know.”

“Imaginary friends are like books. We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.”

Other Info:

Katherine Applegate also wrote The One and Only Ivan, which won the 2013 Newbery Medal. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

Inspired by Crenshaw, in October, Macmillan Children’s Publishing is partnering with bookstores to host a nationwide food drive.

There’s a great trailer for this book!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Fish in a Tree

I’ve heard about this one from many other bloggers and was excited when it finally became available at my local library. I read it as an e-book, but this is one where I might just buy my own copy. A very cool thing about this book is that the author is posting Q & A videos about the book to celebrate Global Read Aloud 2015.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live
its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

Fish in a Tree was written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and published by Nancy Paulsen Books of the Penguin Group in 2015.

My Take:

I connected with Ally’s character as she struggled to cope with teasing and bullying when other students noticed her struggle with reading. I liked the spark in her personality. Since she is a talented artist, I wondered what her drawings would’ve looked like. Her friends Keisha and Albert were caring and supportive and added some humor to the story. It was great to see a teacher portrayed as caring and willing to help Ally.

As a writer, I admired the language and interesting images the author chose to bring out key moments. Much of this story is told through dialogue, so it’s a good one to read to see how to use dialogue effectively.  

Opening Line:

“It’s always there. Like the ground underneath my feet.”


“My mind does this all the time—shows me these movies that seem so real that they carry me away inside of them.”

“I believe that the things we put numbers on are not necessarily the things that count the most. You can’t measure the stuff that makes us human.”

“Whatever was going to happen at the lunch table is something I’m lucky to have missed.”

Other Info:

Lynda Mullaly Hunt drew on her own experiences as a child with reading difficulties when writing FISH IN A TREE.

She also wrote the middle grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS.

On her website she says, “I write about really decent kids—ordinary and extraordinary at the same time—who find themselves in difficult circumstances and find ways to walk themselves out of it.”

During October, she is celebrating Global Read Aloud 2015 with giveaways and special videos answering questions about the book. You also can hear her reading the first chapter.

And I just have to mention that I absolutely love the inspiring slogan on her blog: “Be someone’s hero. No cape required.”

For more middle grade book recommendations, check out the links at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!