Monday, August 22, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SONG OF THE LIONESS: ALANNA

I decided to try this book when it became available as an e-book through my local library and I’m so glad I did! I really enjoyed this compelling fantasy and now I want to read the rest of the series.

Description from Amazon:

Young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. 

As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins—one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and make her a legend in the land.

Song of the Lioness: Alanna was written by Tamora Pierce and this reprint edition was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2010 (originally published in 1983).

My Take:

I didn’t know what to expect but I really enjoyed the story line of Alanna pretending to be a boy so she could train to be a knight. The story moves along at a good pace and I especially liked the realistic details of how she hid her true identity. Alanna's character is determined and persistent, but she also has flaws which sometimes lead to trouble. The magic part of the story is intriguing, and I liked the friendships she developed.  Lots of fun and adventure in this action-packed story!

For writers: 

This is a good example of how to create a believable fantasy world without getting bogged down in details.  I was able to connect with this character right from the beginning of the story.

Opening Line:

“That is my decision. We need not discuss it,” said the man at the desk.


“Every muscle in her body was stiff and sore. She was speckled with large and small bruises. Stiffly she got ready for the new day, wondering if she would live through it.”

“The truth was, she didn’t feel worthy of being someone’s squire. She was a girl, and she was a liar. And at any moment, the truth could surface.”

Other Info:

Tamora Pierce is the author of many novels for teens, such as The Protector of the Small series.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Learning from Picture Books: FINDING WINNIE

Now that the library strike is over, I’ve lugged home a big armload of books. I finally have gotten around to reading this very special picture book, and it was worth waiting for!  
Summary from Amazon:

During World War I, Captain Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian on his way to serve with cavalry units in Europe, rescued a bear cub in White River, Ontario. He named the bear Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.

Harry Colebourn's real-life great-granddaughter Lindsay Mattick recounts their incredible journey, from a northern Canadian town to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England . . . and finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made a new friend: a boy named Christopher Robin.

Gentle yet haunting illustrations by acclaimed illustrator Sophie Blackall bring the wartime era to life, and are complemented by photographs and ephemera from the Colebourn family archives.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear was written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. It was published in 2015 by HarperCollins.


“Could you tell me a story?” asked Cole.

My thoughts as a writer:

There is so much to love about this story! The unique structure of intertwining stories from different generations is fascinating.  I loved learning about how Winnie the Pooh came to be, and enjoyed learning about in the White River connection, having driven through there many times on the way to Thunder Bay. I thought the author did a lovely job of integrating interesting facts (e.g., the number of ships sailing across the Atlantic) into the story.  This is truly a book for all ages – and I think it would be a lovely “family read aloud” to spark interesting discussions.

The realistic, soft style of the illustrations suited the historical nature of the text. It was so interesting to have reproductions of actual photographs  and research materials in the Scrapbook at the end.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

As a teacher, I really liked the way this book contains a “story within a story” and explains how a story character developed and took inspiration from real life. There are many reviews and ideas posted about how to use this book with students, but I think it would be a lovely mentor text for encouraging students to learn about their own family history. For example, to encourage children to interview their own parents and grandparents to find out about the interesting stories in their family history.

Ages: ages 6 and up

Grades: upper elementary

Themes: bears, family history, soldiers, zoo, Christopher Robbins


There is a wonderful and comprehensive teacher guide for Finding Winnie with  Social Studies, Math , Language Arts, Science and Arts connections.

Brain Pickings featured a summary of the story with links to resources.