Monday, January 30, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS

If you like funny, emotional novels that explore what happens after a family medical tragedy, you'll enjoy this. I loved it! My blog has been a bit quiet while I was putting all my energies into writing about my students for their report cards, but I'm back and looking forward to sharing more great middle grade reads with you on Middle Grade Mondays. Stay tuned! 

Description from the publisher:

A new hilarious, honest, and hopeful novel from the author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie!

Claire’s life is a joke . . . but she’s not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she’s dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there’s a boy, Ryder, who’s just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody’s really listening to her—if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.

Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic—while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious—and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.

Falling Over Sideways was written by Jordan Sonnenblick and published by Scholastic Press in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s funny, heart-breaking and captures what it’s really like for a family to cope with a serious medical issue. I found the story a bit slow at first, but sticking with it was totally worth it! Some parts made me tear up. The author has managed to include Claire’s struggles with her friends, as well as her feelings about her changing body, her dancing ability, and her place in her family. I liked the father-daughter relationship and I especially loved Claire’s voice. She’s funny and engaging. I felt like I really got to know her. 

“If I had known I was dressing for the worst day of my life, I would probably have chosen black socks or something.”

If you’re a writer…

This is a great example of a first person point-of-view. Claire is looking back and telling us what happened. I’d study this to see how to smoothly transition between events that happened in different time periods in Claire’s life.  

“The first night of class which fell on a Friday, was the most humiliating thing ever.”

If you’re a teacher…

This is Jordan Sonnenblick’s first published novel with a girl narrator, but boys will enjoy it too (head ups – there’s some detail about periods in Chapter 2, which may be enlightening). It’s worth discussing how Claire’s perspective on life changes through the story.

Opening line:

“I’m waiting in the wings, watching all of the fathers dancing onstage.”

Other info:

Two of Jordan Sonnenblick’s other middle grades are definitely on my list of all-time favourites: Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie and After Ever After.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE BICYCLE SPY

I really enjoy reading historical fiction and I spent a few hours with this one over the holidays -- an absorbing and exciting read with lots of nail-biting moments.

Marcel loves riding his bicycle, whether he's racing through the streets of his small town in France or making bread deliveries for his parents' bakery. He dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany's occupation of France began two years ago, in 1940, the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, interrupting Marcel's rides with checkpoints and questioning.

Then Marcel learns two big secrets, and he realizes there are worse things about the war than a canceled race. When he later discovers that his friend's entire family is in imminent danger, Marcel knows he can help — but it will involve taking a risky bicycle ride to pass along covert information. And when nothing ends up going according to plan, it's up to him to keep pedaling and think quickly... because his friend, her family, and his own future hang in the balance..

The Bicycle Spy was written by Yona Zeldis McDonough and published by Scholastic Press in 2016.

My thoughts as a reader and teacher:

I couldn’t put this book down! It’s a compelling story that brings to life the fear and reality of what it was like to live in France during 1942. Marcel was brave and courageous, and I loved how his passion for riding bicycles and the Tour de France was an integral part of the story.  

“He was exhausted, and very, very cold. But then he thought of the riders in the Tour de France. Surely they got tired, hungry, and cold too. They had to ride in all kinds of weather—extreme heat and freezing cold.”

From the moment Marcel discovers a secret about his family, he is afraid about what he must do, but he takes on the challenge, even when at times he has to do it on his own and without the security and guidance of his parents.

This would be a great book to start or deepen discussions about prejudice, persecution and basic human rights. The back matter contains a brief history of World War II as well as of the Tour de France.

My thoughts as a writer: 

Historical fiction can sometimes be more interesting than compelling, but this story was both. I loved how the author created suspense and drama through the use of specific details. 

“Escape? Where?” The hair on the back of Marcel’s neck began to prickle and he knew it wasn’t just from the crisp, cold air.”

Opening Line:

“A gust of wind cut across Marcel’s face as he cycled furiously down the street.”

Other Info:

Yona Zeldis McDonough has written 27 books for children. They include The Doll With the Yellow Star, The Dollhouse Magic, Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Who Was Rosa Parks? 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – BEAUTIFUL

I'm excited to start off 2017 with this wonderful picture book that promotes diversity and positive self-image. As a teacher and as a mother, I'm always looking for books that show children, and especially girls, of different shapes, sizes and abilities, as confident and multi-talented. I recommended this book to my local library to purchase for their collection.
Summary from the Publisher:

Every girl is unique, talented, and lovable. . . .Every girl is BEAUTIFUL.
Much more than how one looks on the outside, true beauty is found in conquering challenges, showing kindness, and spreading contagious laughter. Beautiful girls are empowered and smart and strong!

BEAUTIFUL breaks barriers by showing girls free to be themselves: splashing in mud, conducting science experiments, and reading books under a flashlight with friends. This book will encourage all girls to embrace who they are and realize their endless potential.

Beautiful was written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. It was published in 2016 by Running Press Kids.


“Beautiful girls…have the perfect look.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The text is simple, celebrating different aspects of beauty for girls. The illustrations are the key to developing the underlying message that beauty is found in many different ways – showing girls as adventurers, scientists, and creators. This is a good text for studying how the text and illustrations work together.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I love the message that all girls are beautiful no matter how they dress or act, and that girls can do anything. I’d love to read this to my class to see how they react to it. The illustrations include confident girls with different skin colors and body types. It’s a good book for promoting self-acceptance. Every child’s library should include this book.

Ages: 3 - 7

Grades: PreK - 2

Themes: self-acceptance, diversity, beauty, empowerment


What does beautiful mean? Make a list of all the different ways of showing beauty.

Make a “beautiful” class book by having each student draw a picture of a friend (male or female) and write about what makes them beautiful.

Create a mirror template. Have each child draw a self-portrait inside the mirror that shows something awesome about themselves. Write an explanation or sentence about what makes them beautiful.