Monday, June 13, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE WILD ROBOT

I'd heard a lot about this book and was really looking forward to reading it! I didn't know about all the illustrations, so that was a lovely surprise.

Description from Amazon:

Can a robot survive in the wilderness?
technology meets nature in a survival story on an island

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is--but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island's unwelcoming animal inhabitants.

As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home--until, one day, the robot's mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

From bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Peter Brown comes a heartwarming and action-packed novel about what happens when nature and technology collide.
The Wild Robot was written and illustrated by Peter Brown and published by Little Brown and Company in 2016.

My Take:

I haven’t read a middle grade book with talking animals for a while, and I enjoyed this one. I was so interested in finding out what would happen to Roz, I read it very fast. But I’d read it again to again to study the illustrations more closely and absorb all the layers of meaning.

I enjoyed the details of the natural setting and animal behavior, as well as Roz’s understandings and communications about it. By the time I got to the end, I really wanted to find out what happens next. I hope there is a sequel!

For writers: 

It’s interesting to think about how Peter Brown managed to create a robot with warmth and kindness, while still keeping her robot-like characteristics and personality. I especially liked how the lessons and strategies the robot tried to learn were emphasized throughout the story. 

Opening Line:

“Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and lightning and waves.”


“Roz could feel her Survival Instincts—the part of her computer brain that made her want to avoid danger and take care of herself so she could continue functioning properly.”

“Performing could be survival strategy! If the opossum could pretend to be dead, the robot could pretend to be alive. She could act less robotic and more natural.”

“It was a mystery why her computer brain knew certain things but not others.”

Other Info:

Peter Brown is an author and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. He has written and illustrated many picture books, such as My Teacher is a Monster, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild,  Will You Be My Friend? and Children Make Terrible Pets.  He also illustrated one of my favorites, Creepy Carrots. The Wild Robot is his first middle grade novel.

Peter Brown's blog post on how The Wild Robot developed is fascinating. He explains many considerations he had while planning, such as deciding on the gender of the robot, the setting, and where the initial idea came from. I was especially interested in how long it took for this story to develop – eight years!

I also really enjoyed reading Peter Brown’s description of what the story is about and what Roz learns. Here's a snippet: “But the most important lesson Roz learns is that kindness can be a survival skill. And she uses kindness to develop friends and a family and a peaceful life for herself. Until her mysterious past catches up with her.”

Looking for more middle grade reads? Check out the list of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books over at author Shannon Messenger's blog.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – WOLFIE THE BUNNY

At first this book seems like just another funny story (and it is) but there are also deeper layers and an important but subtle message about standing up for yourself and the people you love.

Summary from the publisher:

The Bunny family has adopted a wolf son, and daughter Dot is the only one who realizes Wolfie can--and might--eat them all up! Dot tries to get through to her parents, but they are too smitten to listen. A new brother takes getting used to, and when (in a twist of fate) it's Wolfie who's threatened, can Dot save the day?

Wolfie the Bunny was written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. It was published in2015 by Little Brown and Company.


“The Bunny family came home to find a bundle outside their door.”

My thoughts as a writer:

This is a really great example of how illustrations work with the text to add more humor and layers to the story. The bright, bold illustration style without much background keeps the focus on the characters.

I really liked the use of repetition. A pattern is set up that seems like it’s going to be predictable but then there's a surprising twist.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

There are a lot of possibilities for discussion with this book – how it might feel to have a new sibling, why the baby is getting so much attention, adoption, looking different than other people in your family, standing up for others. I really liked the idea that you can stand up for yourself and others, regardless of size.

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: preschool - 2

Themes: individuality, getting a new sibling, family, standing up for others


Draw your favorite page in the story. Explain why you liked it.

Make puppets and retell the story! This would be a really fun book to place at a retelling centre or to use in a retelling basket.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME

I've enjoyed two of Karen Rivers' other middle grades, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I wasn't disappointed - there's lots of suspense!

middle grade story of a girl trapped in a wellDescription from Amazon:

Longing to be one of the popular girls in her new town, Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into their club. Now Kammie’s trapped in the dark, counting the hours, waiting to be rescued. (The Girls have gone for help, haven’t they?)

As hours pass, Kammie’s real-life predicament mixes with memories of the best and worst moments of her life so far, including the awful reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to feel hungry and thirsty and light-headed, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.
The Girl in the Well is Me was written by Karen Rivers and published by Cormorant Books in 2016.

My Take:

I really didn’t like the girls in this book, reminding me of “mean girls” I encountered myself at various times in my life so far. I liked the way more layers of Kammie’s personality and history were revealed as the story continued, and I was scared for what might happen to her. It’s a good thing this was a shorter book that I could read fairly quickly.

For writers: 

I found it interesting to think about how the author created tension and suspense while writing in a stream of consciousness style. A really good example of writing where everything is written in the thoughts of the main character, and realistic in the way her thoughts jump from one idea to another related idea.  

Opening Line:

“The whole thing feels like a prank at first, like something they planned—a joke with a punchline.”


“But, obviously, popular and mean are tied together so tight they’re like those knots that just tighten and tighten no matter how hard you try to untangle them.”

“I start to cry again, but my throat is all clamped up from all that crying before and I can’t breathe, so I stop and instead do useful things, like whisper-screaming HELP every twelve seconds in the hopes of being helped.”

“I stare at the well wall in front of me, which is like looking into a shadow to try and find a light.”

Other Info:

Karen Rivers ( is the author of 18 novels for adults, young adults and middle grade readers. Her middle grades include: Finding Ruby Starling, The Encyclopedia of Me and Waiting to Dive.