Thursday, November 8, 2018

STORM by Sam Usher

This book showcases autumn weather and leaves in a such a fun way! I enjoy these books about a boy and his granddad going on adventures. I’ve also read Sun, and now I’m going to search for Rain and Snow!

Summary from the publisher:

A storm is brewing and the wind is picking up, so a boy and his grandfather decide it’s the perfect weather for kite flying. There’s just one problem: they have to find the kite! Their search brings up many wonderful memories of previous adventures together, and when they finally make it outside, their adventure really takes off!

Storm was written and illustrated by Sam Usher. It was published by Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick in 2017.


When I woke up
this morning
the wind was rattling
the windows.

I couldn’t wait to
go outside.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I love the way the opening of this book draws us in! There’s some nice humor in this story as the boy and his granddad search for a kite, and I enjoyed the parallel of their mess inside with mess of leaves outside. Descriptive language that appeals to the senses (“The wind gushed and howled”) helps to create a complete picture of a stormy day.
I really like this illustration style of watercolour and ink, and it works well for this story with its storm clouds.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I don’t see many books that feature children interacting in a meaningful way with their grandparents, and I love that these two go on adventures together. A great book for opening up discussion about things to do with family members that aren’t parents.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K – 3

Themes: autumn, wind, grandparents


Share: Draw a picture or tell about a time when you did something with one of your grandparents.  If you don’t have a grandparent, draw a picture of something you did with a family member that is not your mom or dad.

Create: Can you make a kite? When you are finished, take it outside on a windy day to see if it can fly.

Write: Make a list of words to describe the wind. Challenge yourself to use the words in a story or poem.

Monday, November 5, 2018

THE SWEETEST SOUND by Sherri Winston

An absorbing novel about a girl with social anxiety who learns to speak up for herself.

a review of a middle grade novel about a girl with social anxiety who learns to speak up
Description from Amazon:

For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can't deny it, but otherwise she couldn't be more different -- she's shy as can be.

She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she'd get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what's better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.

The Sweetest Sound, written by Sherri Winston, was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

As an introvert myself, I could emphasize with Cadence’s fear of speaking to others and her anxiety about singing in public. It was interesting how her friends reacted differently after they discovered her singing ability.  I really wanted to read on to find out what happened to their friendships!

A funny thing happens when people are constantly trying to fix you: Eventually you believe you need fixing. Being everyone’s favorite makeover project was simply exhausting.


Birthday s are a problem for me.

If you’re a writer… 

You might want to take a closer look at this book to see how the author used sensory details to help create emotion and build character. Even though I’m not religious, I liked the way the author included references to God and the details of the religious side of Cadence’s life as part of her church. It helped her character to feel like a real person. There are some fun references to other middle grade books that writers may appreciate.

I breathed in air that was cold and tasted like winter, even though the calendar still said fall.

If you’re an educator…

I think this novel has the power to inspire quieter students who may be worried about taking risks to show their inner selves. The thread of Cadence learning to cope with the mom who left her and strengthening her relationships with other adults may strike a chord with some students.

Sometimes when the doorbell rang unexpectedly, for a brief second, I thought she’d be there. Waiting. And I never felt sure if the idea of her showing up made me happy or sad.

For another take on this book, check out Greg Pattridge’s review here.

There’s lots more middle grade fun for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

HOW TO SCARE A GHOST by Jean Reagan & Lee Wildish

Just in time for Halloween! This fun way to learn about Halloween contains lots of gentle humor!

Review of a fun how-to children's picture book about Halloween on the blog That's Another Story by Andrea L MackSummary from the publisher

Who says ghosts get to have all the fun on Halloween? In this humorous new addition to Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish’s bestselling How to… books, the kids are in charge! But in order to scare a ghost, you might have to find one first. Guided by a tongue-in-cheek instructional style, two children show young readers how to set the stage for a spooktacular Halloween by carving pumpkins, playing games, and even reading scary stories. Has a ghost showed up? Great! Now the fun–er, the scaring–can really begin. Filled with charming role-reversal humor, creative ideas, and lots of holiday spirit, How to Scare a Ghost is sure to delight kids, parents, and things that go bump in the night.

How to Scare a Ghost was written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2018.


Do you want to scare a ghost? The easiest, spookiest time to try is…Halloween!

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I loved all the fun lists in this book! It’s a great example for a writer to check out for a how-to mentor text. I enjoyed the snippets of humor. Who knew ghosts love glitter? The illustrations show children of diverse backgrounds participating in fun Halloween and fall activities, giving child readers lots to explore.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

A fun, not-scary book to read as Halloween approaches. I love books that showcase list-making, though in this case the list items are scattered throughout with the illustrations.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: Halloween, ghosts, how-to book


Share: Draw a picture or tell about what your family does on Halloween. If you celebrate, what are your Halloween traditions? If you don’t celebrate, what do you do instead?

Design & Build: Could you make a trap for catching a ghost? What materials would you use?

Write: Make a list of things to do when you are feeling scared.

Monday, October 22, 2018


This debut novel in an exciting new science-related series from National Geographic has lots of action as well as secret codes to solve!

Description from Amazon:

Cruz leaves his tranquil home in Hawaii to join 23 talented kids from around the globe to train at the Explorer Academy with the world's leading scientists to become the next generation of great explorers. But for Cruz, there's more at stake. No sooner has he arrived at the Academy than he discovers that his family has a mysterious past with the organization that could jeopardize his future. In the midst of codebreaking and cool classes, new friends and augmented reality expeditions, Cruz must tackle the biggest question of all: Who is out to get him, and why?

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret, written by Trudi Trueit, was published by National Geographic Partners in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

I loved all the twists and surprises in this story! The idea of a special school for science explorers is exciting and I was really curious to find out more. There are lots of fun gadgets in this book (emoto-glasses anyone?) and a mystery to solve about Cruz’s mom and her research. Cruz’s friends and classmates Sailor, Emmett and Lani have interesting skill sets and personalities that help to contribute to their mission. Love the action-filled colour illustrations by Scott Plumbe. I’m looking forward to reading the next book to find out what happens!


“Cruz!” His name floated easily to him across the water. Cruz turned to see his dad waving him in from the beach.

If you’re a writer… 

You might want to study this novel to learn about writing action scenes. It’s hard to write an action scene with enough sensory detail to make it come alive while at the same time not slowing down the pace.
She flew past him so fast he felt a brisk breeze. “Run!”
They heard the sharp smack of hard soles against marble and saw a figure charging their way.

If you’re an educator…

This would be a nice addition to the classroom library. I loved the way science and history is incorporated into the story. There’s lots of cool technology to keep readers hooked and wondering about what our own future might bring. It would be interesting for students to research whether any of the gadgets are real or under development, or to come up with their own ideas for a new piece of technology.

He had read about mind-control digital photography in their text and was eager to try it.


There’s an awesome website for this book where you can learn more about science, play games and even win a trip!

Check out the book trailer!

For another take on this book, check out Greg Pattridge’s review here.

You can also find more middle grade fun for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN by Nancy Churnin & Danny Popovici

I really loved this book! It’s a great story to share when talking about perseverance or even just to read when you need a bit of inspiration.

Summary from the publisher:

Cover image for a review of a picture book about Dashrath Manjhi who chiseled a path between two mountains, reviewed by Andrea L Mack at www.andrea-mack.blogspot.comDashrath Manjhi used a hammer and chisel, grit, determination, and twenty years to carve a path through the mountain separating his poor village from the nearby village with schools, markets, and a hospital. Manjhi Moves a Mountain shows how everyone can make a difference if their heart is big enough.

Manjhi Moves a Mountain was written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Danny Popovici. It was published by Creston Books in 2017.


Deep in the heart of India, a mighty mountain separated two villages.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The carefully chosen details in this story made it come alive for me. I could easily imagine “their pockets jangled with money” and “Powdered rock and tiny chips sprayed.” Another excellent model for writers who are interested in telling narrative non-fiction.

The illustrations are perfect for this story. I love the warm browns and especially the beautiful night sky on the page where Manjhi worked into the night.  

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This story made me marvel over what a single person can accomplish. There’s a thought-provoking question in the text: Why should some people have so much and others so little? This book would be excellent to discuss with both primary and junior level students. I think children will be amazed and impressed by Manjhi’s hard work and what he accomplished. A great choice for a school library.

 Ages: 4 - 10

Grades: K – 5

Themes: determination, perseverance, goals


Retell: Build a mountain of blocks or rocks and use puppets or pictures to retell Manjhi’s story.

Imagine: Imagine you are one of the villagers. How will an opening through the mountain change your life? Draw a picture or write a paragraph to explain. Will you welcome the change? Talk with a classmate who has a different point of view.

Think: Is there something you can do to make things better for your family or community? How could you do it?  

Monday, October 8, 2018

FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like this book but as I kept reading, I found I couldn’t put it down! A compelling & thought-provoking story that's also a lot of fun.

Description from the publisher:

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets: Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Front Desk, written by Kelly Yang, was published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc. in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s an absorbing read that takes you right inside another person’s life and experiences. I grew quite emotionally connected to Mia and was rooting for things in her life to work out. Reading the stories of the different immigrants Mia’s family helped made me feel sad, but also inspired me. It was great, too, how this book showed that making friends isn’t always that easy, especially when you don’t have the things that other kids have.

That night I could not stop thinking about Uncle Li and how he was willing to do anything, go literally anywhere, even into the belly of a Dumpster, to get what he wanted.


My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face.

If you’re a writer… 

You might study this novel to get a good sense of a strong middle grade perspective. Everything in this novel comes from Mia’s point of view. There are lots of small details that create an authentic reading experience. I also really enjoyed all the references to writing!

Panic seized me. The words were so open and exposed. My story looked like a belly button. I immediately wanted to cover it.

If you’re a teacher…

I thought so much about my own place in the world and my privilege while I was reading this story. An excellent choice for reading aloud, to get kids thinking deeper about the experiences of being an immigrant or sharing their own experiences and feelings. This book also provides several examples of practical writing for letters or job recommendations, and I loved how hard Mia worked to get her writing right.

He and his friends stopped talking, but I could feel their eyeballs on me. I could feel them sinking into my pants.

Go here to read an interesting article about Kelly and the story behind the book in the South China Morning Post.

There’s lots more middle grade fun for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Monday, September 24, 2018

BREAKOUT by Kate Messner

The unique way this story is told makes this an interesting read, but even more than that, it made me reflect on issues of race, discrimination and racial profiling.

Description from the publisher:

Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek--two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town's maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics--a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project--Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who's really welcome in the places we call home.

Breakout, written by Kate Messner, was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

This story hooks you with the mystery and tension of two escaped prisoners. As you read along, it becomes so much more than a prison break story because we get to know the characters in this small town and become invested in their friendships and conflicts. I loved the ingenious way the kids helped to bring in the criminals. 

One thing to keep in mind – this book took me longer to read than many other middle grade novels. But I’d definitely recommend it, and perhaps will even read it again to get a fuller appreciation of the different perspectives that are struggling against each other in this story.


Dear Library Board,
Enclosed is my contribution to the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project. This folder includes my letters as well as public documents and things I’ve collected from friends and family members, shared with permission.

If you’re a writer… 

This middle grade is unique in the way the story is completely told through notes, letters, news articles, text message transcripts, transcripts of recorded conversations, school announcements, drawings, and poems. There are probably more! I can’t even imagine all the work this took to create a coherent story.  Besides that, this story includes characters who are learning about their white privilege, struggling with it and trying to become more sensitive.  

Those inmates broke out, and it feels like everybody’s acting different now.

If you’re a teacher…

There is so much to discuss and talk about in this novel! A great book to read to start kids debating issues of fairness, prejudice, being an outsider, race, and reflecting on other people’s perspectives. This book also contains many different poetry styles that could be models for student writing.

We talk all the time about being a friendly, welcoming community, but Elidee doesn’t see us that way at all. And if people don’t feel welcome, then maybe we’re not as welcoming as we think.

Check out the trailer for this book!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

THE DINOSAUR EXPERT by Margaret McNamara & G. Brian Karas

What a nice book for a STEM collection!

Children's book review of this great picture book highlighting women in science 
Summary from the publisher:

Mr. Tiffin and his students are back in another picture book, and this time the focus is on dinosaur-loving Kimmy. During a field trip to the natural history museum, Kimmy is thrilled to share what she knows about the Stegosaurus and the Archaeopteryx and even the ginormous Titanosaurus. That changes when one of her classmates questions whether girls can be paleontologists. Kimmy starts to feel shy. What if they can’t? What if no one wants to hear what she has to say? It will take some help from Mr. Tiffin–and from a famous scientist–for Kimmy to find her voice again.

The Dinosaur Expert was written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. It was published by Schwartz & Wade Books in 2018.


Kimmy collected things so she could study them.

My thoughts as a writer:

This book shows a way to blend factual information into a narrative. There was an obvious message in the text of this story (women can be scientists) but I really liked the way the author included all the facts and details in with the story.

My thoughts as an educator:

Dinosaur lovers will find this book interesting! It’s would be nice to include it in a school library or classroom collection because it showcases women scientists. As a read aloud, I’d use this book to encourage some discussion about women and different occupations and roles. There are interesting dinosaur facts in this story, too.

Ages: 5 - 8

Grades: K – 3

Themes: dinosaurs, scientists, paleontology


STEM Challenge: Create a collection of something that interests you. Include at least 5 items in your collection and write a label for each item.

List: Think of something you know a lot about. Make a list of some interesting things you could share with others.

Research: Choose one of the women paleontologists in the back of the book. Try to find out more about her.

Imagine:  Draw a picture of a dinosaur “field trip.” What would you see?

Monday, September 10, 2018


A good story about new beginnings and making friends.

Description from the publisher:

Juliet has just moved to a beachside town with her newly separated mother and her moody older sister. When she meets their new neighbor, Emma, the girls form an instant bond. Emma's big family takes Juliet in, and the girls have fun together, starting with the night they throw bottles with secret messages into the sea.

Then someone writes back to Juliet's message. An email arrives, inviting her to join the Starry Beach Club. All she has to do is make someone else's wish come true.

So Juliet and Emma set off to help as many other people as they can. It's fun! But as Juliet spends more and more time away from home, enjoying her new town and Emma's family more than her own mom and sister, she starts feeling lost. It's been easy to find others to help. But maybe her star would shine a little brighter if she brought it closer to home.

See You on a Starry Night, written by Lisa Shroeder, was published by Scholastic Press in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

This is a lovely story about new beginnings – or how to cope when your life completely changes. Juliet’s friendships and feelings are portrayed in a realistic way. This novel follows the everyday experiences of Juliet, but it’s never boring. Small mysteries, interesting details and conflicts create a richly textured story. I appreciated the connections to the art of Vincent Van Gogh.


Casper, my old, white, kitty, sat perched on my nightstand, studying me like I might unpack a can of tuna any second. Poor cat. No tuna here, just all of the moving boxes marked Juliet.

If you’re a writer… 

One of the cool (and quirky) things about this book is Juliet’s habit of making lists! A great model if you’re interested in incorporating lists into a novel. I also really liked the way memories are incorporated in the story to reveal more about her character. Here's part of one of Juliet's lists:

Some of my other wishes

·        World peace
·        Life on Mars
·        For animals to live forever
·        A library in every neighborhood

If you’re a teacher…

There are so many great possibilities for activities related to this book:  writing a message in a bottle, writing lists using the headings of Juliet’s lists as prompts, finding out the meanings of interesting words, and planning a wish come true for someone like Juliet and Emma do in this story.  I really liked the emphasis on doing good deeds and how caring the girls were in this story.

But the more time that went by, the more I knew the chances of that happening were really, really small.

Smaller than a ladybug’s wing.

Smaller than a watermelon seed.

Smaller than the tip of a fine-point pen.

Some related music for inspiration (or to use as a writing prompt):

Start your school year off right with a list of good books to read from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

MIXED: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

What an awesome book for talking about diversity and to use as a model for some really cool art!

Summary from the publisher:

In the beginning, there were three colors . . .
and Blues.

All special in their own ways, all living in harmony—until one day, a Red says "Reds are the best!" and starts a color kerfuffle. When the colors decide to separate, is there anything that can change their minds?

A Yellow, a Blue, and a never-before-seen color might just save the day in this inspiring book about color, tolerance, and embracing differences.

Mixed: A Colorful Story was written and illustrated by Arree Chung. It was published by Henry Holt & Company in 2018.

In the beginning, there were three colors . . .
and Blues.
Reds were the loudest,

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I think this would be a perfect example of what agents and editors mean when they say they are looking for something “fresh.” Colour mixing stories are not new. But even though I predicted that the colors would mix together, I didn’t realize it would happen in such a fun and visually exciting way. I really loved the way the author didn’t dumb down the text and used lovely words such as “vibrant” and “fascinated” and “possibilities.” And I loved the use of speech bubbles to show the character dialogue (awesome, modern design choice).

My Thoughts as an Educator:

In a way, this reminded me of a modern take on Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches, but without the rhyming and the machine. (Maybe a good opportunity for comparing and contrasting themes?) I loved how the author drew attention to the feelings of the characters in different situations, through the text and the colours. Lots to discuss here about friendship, community, inclusion and feelings.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: colour mixing, inclusiveness, diversity


Design: Use the art style in the beginning pages of the book to draw your own cool town and add a few pops of color.

Create a class mural:  Day 1 - Students draw elements of a town using black marker and Day 2- Students mix a colour and add themselves somewhere in the town.

Explore: Put out paints and give students a chance to mix & name their own new colors.

Watch: Arree Chung reads a preview of the book!

Monday, August 27, 2018

MISSION MUMBAI by Mahtab Narsimhan

Lots of action and interesting details about traveling and life in India!  

Description from the publisher:

When aspiring photographer Dylan Moore is invited to join his best friend, Rohit Lal, on a family trip to India, he jumps at the chance to embark on an exciting journey just like their Lord of the Rings heroes, Frodo and Sam. But each boy comes to the trip with a problem: Rohit is desperate to convince his parents not to leave him behind in Mumbai to finish school, and Dylan is desperate to stay in India to prove himself as a photographer and to avoid his parents' constant fighting. Keeping their struggles to themselves threatens to tear the boys apart. But when disaster strikes, Dylan and Rohit realize they have to set aside their differences to navigate India safely, confront their family issues, and salvage their friendship.

Mission Mumbai, written by Mahtab Narsimhan was published by Scholastic in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

The details of traveling in India are so interesting! I enjoyed all the descriptions of food, customs and cultural traditions woven into this story. Did I mention the food? I appreciated all the mentions of typical Indian foods and meals (you can find two of the author’s favorite recipes here). There’s never a dull moment in this novel, as the two boys explore, facing challenges that test their friendship.


I wanted a clear shot but there were too many people blocking the way. Clutching a weapon that was highly inadequate for this dangerous mission, I crept toward the beast.

If you’re a writer… 

Definitely consider reading this to study how to use authentic details to bring a setting to life. This book provides a different spin on the classic middle grade friendship issues, showing how the friendship between the two boys deteriorates when they are preoccupied with their own goals and family problems. 

We narrowly missed colliding with a cyclist transporting cages of screaming hens, a vendor with a tall stack of egg trays on the carrier behind him, and a lamppost. It was scary and thrilling all at once.

If you’re a teacher…

This is a great read for students who are interested in adventure and travel. I found it interesting the way the author depicted the boys interacting with people of all different social classes, showing that everyone had their own problems and joys. For students who have never been to India, this book provides a great snapshot of what life might be like.

The road was submerged in at least two feet of water. Plastic bags, bottles, banana peels, and other unidentifiable debris floated on the floodwater’s pockmarked surface. Everything was soggy and limp in the relentless downpour.

Check out this interesting interview with author Mahtab Narsimhan and go here for some discussion questions and activities.

More middle grade book reviews are waiting for you for Marvelous Middle Grade at Greg Pattridge's blog.