Monday, August 13, 2018

MY DEAL WITH THE UNIVERSE by Deborah Kerbel


It was hard to return this one to the library -- I just may have to buy my own copy!


Description from the publisher:

Daisy Fisher just wants to be normal, but growing up in a house known as the “Jungle” makes that impossible. It doesn’t help when the neighbours declare your family public enemy number one. Or when your best friend leaves for camp and forgets you exist. Or when your twin brother may be getting sick again....

Just when it feels like Daisy's deal with the universe is unravelling, she finds out that love and strength can come from surprising places... and that maybe "normal" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

My Deal with the Universe, written by Deborah Kerbel, was published by Scholastic in 2018.


Why you want to read this book… 

Daisy’s take on her life drew me into the story right away. I loved how hard she tried to help her brother, her interactions with her new friend Violet and the cool vine-covered house she and her family lived in. I felt all kinds of emotions right along with Daisy as I was reading the story. This is a book I’d definitely read again.


Opening:

Let’s just get this out of the way right off the top: My name’s Daisy and yeah, I’m that girl. The one who lives in the “Jungle.”


If you’re a writer… 

What a great book to read as a mentor text for learning about voice and character! As I was reading, I felt like Daisy was a living, breathing teenager talking to me. I enjoyed thinking about the characters in this story and how word choices and phrasing bring out their personalities. Also, if you’re trying to understand what editors or agents mean when they ask for “quirky,” I’m pretty sure this is a prime example.

The thick layer of vines somehow manages to keep the rooms coolish in the summer. And warmish in the winter. Mom says the vines give our house insulation. I secretly think it’s one of the reasons why Dad let them take over. He’ll do anything to save money on the electricity bill.


If you’re a teacher…

It’s nice to read a middle grade novel where the parents are part of the story and not banished or dead. Family is important to the main character, even though she doesn’t always agree with their decisions. This story reminded me of the importance of communication between family members.

Have you ever felt like someone’s scribbled all over your insides with a fine tip Sharpie? That’s how I feel right now and I want everyone to know it, so I dress in all black from head to toe.


Looking for another good book to read this summer? Check out the offerings for Marvelous Middle Grade May over at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito & Nicole Wong


There are so many great non-fiction picture books coming out and I wanted to share another one.  I’ve always been intrigued by ALVIN and the idea of diving into the deep sea! So interesting and fun to read about.


Summary from the publisher:

Climb aboard Alvin, the famous deep-sea submersible credited with helping to find the Titanic, and take a trip two miles down to the bottom of the ocean.

Experience a day in the life of an Alvin pilot and join scientists at the seafloor to collect samples and conduct research. Along the way, discover what one wears, eats, and talks about during a typical eight-hour trip in a underwater craft and find out more about the animals that live deep in our oceans. Extensive back matter explains how Alvin works, describes the author’s research, and includes a glossary and further reading..

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN, written by Michelle Cusolito and illustrated by Nicole Wong, was published in 2018 by Charlesbridge.


Why you want to read this book…

This book starts with a mission to explore the deep sea. From there, the rhythm of the language is almost like waves as the experience of being inside ALVIN unfolds. Beautiful, soft illustrations compliment the sensory details of the ALVIN trip, making the whole book an undersea experience.


Opening:   

Imagine you’re the pilot of Alvin, a deep-sea submersible barely big enough for three.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

A great mentor text if you’re writing non-fiction. I especially liked the way the story is told as though the reader is going along on the mission. You might also want to study this book to see how to weave in factual and sensory details using poetic language, such as “cottony fields of bacteria” and “whirring thrusters churn.”


My Thoughts as an Educator:

I loved the way the text is sprinkled with questions that invite the reader to share their own ideas and thoughts. It was interesting that time stamps were included to give a clear picture of how long the journey took. This would make a great read aloud, especially if time is given for students to observe and discuss the details in the illustrations. At the end of the book, there are interesting notes from the author and the illustrator about the process of researching information for the book, as well as glossary and cool facts about a few of the organisms that live down deep.

Ages: 5 - 9

Grades: 1 – 4

Themes: ocean research, ALVIN, deep sea

Activities:

Question:  Did anything surprise you about the ALVIN? Deep sea life? Write one question the book doesn’t answer.

Imagine and Draw: Imagine you’re a deep see architect or engineer. What could you build for scientists or people to use underwater? What would it look like? How would it work? Draw and write about your structure.

Research: Which organism from the book would you like to learn more about? Do some research and make a mini-poster to display what you found out.

Monday, July 30, 2018

THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL by Stacy McAnulty


                  
This is a great dog story, a wonderful story about a girl finding her place in the world, and a story about friendship and family. Definitely worth reading!

Description from the publisher:

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, written by Stacy McAnulty was published by Random House in 2018.


Why you want to read this book… 

One of the things I liked about this story is the way Lucy talks about her disorder and owns it. It’s a part of her life and she’s coping as best she can. Lucy faces challenges of bullying, making and keeping friends and working on school assignments. I loved the clever way she brought her math skills into play when working on her school project. I also liked her relationship with the shelter dog, Pi.


Opening:

I don’t remember the moment that changed my life 4 years ago. Call it a side effect of being struck by lightning. That bolt of electricity burned a small hole in my memory. It also rewired my brain, transforming me into Lucille Fanny Callahan, math genius.


If you’re a writer… 

This is another great example of a first person, present tense narrator with a strong voice. There’s a slightly humorous tone to the story that reminds me of YA novels.

I will never understand people. In algebra, you can solve an equation when you have 1unknown variable. People are equations with dozens of variables. Basically unsolvable.


If you’re a teacher…

Some great things about this book:  There’s lots of talk about math, in a fun way. The main character, Lucy, spends a lot of time in the book working on a school project with a small group—to do something to make a difference. Lucy lives with her grandmother, so I liked that it speaks to kids who don’t live with one or two parents. Lucy’s anxiety and OCD is shown in a straightforward way that makes it easy for kids to relate to.

"Pi?" I whisper the dog’s name, and he turns to look at me. That’s when I notice that 1 of the black spots on his back is the shape of a lightning bolt.

Colby Sharp’s review:



For more great middle grade reads, check out what's happening for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday over at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Friday, July 20, 2018

SHARK LADY: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating & Marta Alvarez Miguens


I don’t often review non-fiction, but this biography of Eugenie Clark has all the elements of a great fiction picture book. It’s so interesting I had to share!


Summary from Amazon:

Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn't imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn't think women should be scientists.

Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname "Shark Lady." Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist, written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens, was published in 2017 by SourceBooks Inc.


Opening:     

It was Saturday, and Eugenie wanted to stay at the aquarium forever. She wanted to smell the damp, salty air and stare at the glittery rainbow of fish. She wanted to keep watching her favorite animals…
The sharks.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

I was compelled to read this book several times, because I was so awe of the design and execution. This has everything you’d want in a picture book biography – it’s engaging for kids, has just enough sensory detail to bring the story alive, and it captures a really interesting part of Eugenie’s life close up. The illustrations are so inviting – they go perfectly with the text!

I also enjoyed the way there were more interesting facts about Eugenie’s research at the back, as well as a timeline to explore. If I were writing picture book biographies, this would definitely be one of my top choices for a mentor text.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

Sharks alone are enough to grab the interest of some students, but I was thrilled to see how well this book showcases the work and dreams of a female shark scientist. What a great role model for students! I loved how, even though the illustrations show the time period through the details and settings, they are done in a modern style with bright colors. This is not a definitely not a dry non-fiction story that will be left on the shelf. Students will love this, and hopefully be inspired to learn more about the animals or things that they are passionate about.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: sharks, ocean research, women scientists

Activities:

Brainstorm: If you were going to be a scientist, what creature or animal would you like to learn more about? Explain why!

Question:  Draw a picture of your favorite sea creature. What do you already know about it? What don’t you know? Write one question you would like to answer.

Draw: What would you find if you could explore the ocean? Use your imagination. 
Choose bright paints or crayons and create your own undersea illustration.

For an awesome way to ‘meet the author,’ watch this virtual visit with author Jess Keating:



Monday, July 9, 2018

THE LENGTH OF A STRING by Elissa Brent Weissman, for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The characters in this story were like real people for me. An interesting and absorbing read!

Reviewed by Andrea L. Mack as an absorbing read about family history, identity, and love
Description from the publisher:

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. Then her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, and Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. 

Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adoptive family of her own. And as Imani reads the diary, she begins to see her family, and her place in it, in a whole new way.

The Length of a String, written by Elissa Brent Weissman was published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2018.


Why you want to read this book… 

I felt so close to the characters of Imani and Anna that I felt sad, disappointed and excited right along with them as I read the story. I’ve always thought that researching your own family is a wonderful way to learn about history, and this novel showed me it’s true. I enjoyed the realistic way the author showed relationships between characters, especially Imani and her mom. I haven’t come across many contemporary stories about girls with a Jewish upbringing, so that was also interesting.


Opening:

Dear Belle,

All my life I’ve shared with you. Before we were born, we shared Mama’s belly, splitting the resources so equally that we weighed the exact same amount at birth.


If you’re a writer… 

This is an excellent mentor text if you’re trying to weave together stories from two different time periods, or if you want to include a series of letters in your novel. I also really enjoyed the writing style and careful use of details. Technology is integrated into the story with limits and as a research tool.

I ran my hand over the old paper until my eyes stopped on a familiar word. A name: Anna. It was at the bottom of the page on the right, the way you’d sign a letter or a diary. My fingers jumped back as though the ink were hot.


If you’re a teacher…

This would be an interesting read aloud to kick off a family history project or to encourage discussion about war, the Holocaust, identity and family. Thinking about real life events from the perspective of how it affects families made this work of fiction seem quite real. There are details about the Jewish faith, as the main character is preparing for her bat mitzvah.

“Can you imagine that? Being your age and going to a new country all by yourself?”

I got a sudden pang of nervousness, like a pinprick in my side. I could tell Mom knew something about Grandma Anna’s family, and I didn’t want to know what it was. Not yet.


Check out more great middle grade reads on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, hosted by writer & book blogger, Greg Pattridge.

Friday, July 6, 2018

BUT THE BEAR CAME BACK by Tammi Sauer & Dan Taylor - A humorous book about friendship

My kindergarten students loved this story! I thought it might be too simple an idea but it generated a surprising amount of discussion. It’s also a great mentor text for picture book writers.

Summary from Amazon:

Knock, knock. Who’s there? A BEAR! A furry, friendly PERSISTENT bear. And no matter how many times a particular little boy tries to tell him that bears don’t belong in houses, he keeps coming back—until, one day, he doesn’t. Only then does the boy realize how much he cares about the bear . . . and misses him. Can he find his friend again? A funny, surprising story about two unexpected pals.

But the Bear Came Back was written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Taylor and published by Sterling in 2018.

Opening:     

One ordinary day, a bear knocked on my door.
I politely informed him that bears do not belong in houses.
Then I said, “Go home, bear.”
And that was that.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story is an excellent mentor text for writers. The structure is clear—the boy has a problem (that keeps coming back). The writing style is modern and spare, but humorous. There’s a warm and satisfying ending, too. It’s a complete story on its own, but so much more when paired with the illustrations. I loved the expressions on the character’s faces and the signs and messages that contributed to creating a fully developed reading experience.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

My students enjoyed predicting what might happen next…would the bear come back again? We discussed what it might be like to have a friend that keeps wanting to play when you’re not feeling up to it. It’s a nice book for introducing discussions about the ups and downs of friendship, and also the idea of being patient sometimes. My students asked me to re-read this book several times, so I’m planning to purchase it for my classroom (the copy I read was from a local library).

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: bears, problem-solving, friendship

Activities:

Write: What do you the bear’s home is like? Describe what might happen if the boy visited the bear.

Brainstorm: What words could you use to say to a friend that keeps coming back, even when you say no?

Draw: What do you think the boy and the bear will do on their next adventure? Draw a picture to show your idea.

For a behind the scenes look at Dan Taylor's illustrations, courtesy of The Bright Agency go here.

There’s a wonderful book talk on this book by Colby Sharp:



Friday, June 1, 2018

CAN I BE YOUR DOG? by Troy Cummings - A dog story told through letters


What a fun dog story! Perfect for learning about letter writing or community helpers!


Summary from the publisher:

This picture book shares the tale of Arfy, a homeless mutt who lives in a box in an alley. Arfy writes to every person on Butternut Street about what a great pet he'd make. His letters to prospective owners share that he's house broken! He has his own squeaky bone! He can learn to live with cats! But, no one wants him. Won't anyone open their heart--and home--to a lonesome dog? Readers will be happily surprised to learn just who steps up to adopt Arfy.  

Can I Be Your Dog? was written and illustrated by Troy Cummings. It was published by Random House in 2018.

Opening:    
 
Dear People at Yellow House,
WOOF!!
CAN I BE YOUR DOG?
I am potty trained, and I have my own squeaky bone.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

If you’re interested in writing a story through letters, this is a great mentor text. There’s lots of humor in this story. I especially liked the different styles of responses to the dog.  The letters show the different personalities and hints of backstory in a just a few words. It made me want to try the challenge of writing a story told through letters or notes!

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a fun book to show students examples of letter writing and persuasive writing. It also shows different community helpers or places in the community. It may even lead into discussions about homelessness. The big, colourful illustrations make this book great for reading aloud.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: dogs, letter-writing, community

Activities:

Pretend you are an animal. Write your own letter to ask for a home.

Draw a map showing different places the dog wanted to live. Tell the story using your map.

What do you think happens after the dog gets to his new home? Draw a picture to show your idea. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

A SQUIGGLY STORY by Andrew Larsen & Mike Lowery - A book to encourage young writers!


After I read this book, I wanted to read this to my kindergarten students right away! I loved the way it recognized their beginning stages of writing. This book was one of the nominees for the Blue Spruce Award from The Forest of Reading in 2018. 

Summary from the publisher:

A young boy wants to write a story, just like his big sister. But there's a problem, he tells her. Though he knows his letters, he doesn't know many words. “Every story starts with a single word and every word starts with a single letter,” his sister explains patiently. “Why don't you start there, with a letter?” 

So the boy tries. He writes a letter. An easy letter. The letter I. And from that one skinny letter, the story grows, and the little boy discovers that all of us, including him, have what we need to write our own perfect story.

A Squiggly Story was written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Mike Lowery. It was published by Kids Can Press in 2016.


Opening:

My sister loves to read.

Big words and little words.

Page after page, word after word.

My sister loves to write.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the way this story showed the writing process. The emphasis on the ideas in the story, rather than the mechanics of forming the words, showed how imagination plays a huge role in storytelling. I also liked the way the author showed the boy listening to the suggestions of other children, thinking about them and then sticking to the ideas that fit the story he wanted to tell. The comic style illustrations are cute!

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a wonderful book to encourage beginning writers, including even very beginning writers who can tell a story but can’t write it down themselves. I really liked the way squiggles and zigzags were shown as a way to help tell a story. The book nicely explains that a story needs a beginning, middle and an end, and shows how to brainstorm ideas. A great book to have in a primary classroom.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: writing, storytelling, brainstorming

Activities:

Write your own squiggly story!

Make a list of ideas for different ways to end the boy’s story. Which ending would you choose?

What is your favourite “big” word? Your favourite “little” word? Can you draw a story that includes your words?


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

COLOR BLOCKED by Ashley Sorenson & David Miles – Classroom Connections to Picture Books


When I opened this book, I was excited! The pages inside the cover show a lovely exploration of paint and color. I knew this would be fun to use in the classroom.

Key Elements for Teaching:
  •          The rainbow of color on the first page was an attention-getter for my rainbow-loving students.
  •          The black and white line drawing of fantastical machines showed us how to use lines with curves, angles, bits of shading and texture.
  •          Color mixing concepts
  •          A fun interactive story, like Press Here by Herve Tullet. I had some students help me “push the buttons” on the machine or turn the book around to “close the pipes.”

Art Connection:

1. Using the page with the black & white line drawing for inspiration, discuss the different kinds of lines and shapes. What do you notice?

2. Follow up by offering students the opportunity to draw their own machines, using black crayon or black permanent marker. (We used black crayon and it worked well.) Encourage them to draw pipes where later, color can appear.

3. Flip to a later page in the book where the “color explosion” occurs. Provide red, blue and yellow watercolour or tempera paint, with paintbrushes and water. Mix and explore!

Friday, April 27, 2018

THE DARKEST DARK by Chris Hadfield, Kate Fillion and The Fan Brothers

Have you ever been curious about what a famous person's childhood was like? I really enjoyed this peek into the childhood of astronaut Chris Hadfield. This book is another of the nominees for the 2018 Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association. I read a copy from my local library. 


Summary from the publisher:

Chris loves rockets and planets and pretending he's a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem--at night, Chris doesn't feel so brave. He's afraid of the dark.

But when he watches the groundbreaking moon landing on TV, he realizes that space is the darkest dark there is--and the dark is beautiful and exciting, especially when you have big dreams to keep you company.

The Darkest Dark was written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion, and illustrated by The Fan Brothers. It was published by Tundra Books in 2016.


Opening:

Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

This glimpse into Chris Hadfield’s childhood drew me in as a reader, especially showing Chris’ fears of the dark and aliens. It’s a nice example of a way to provide biographical information that can connect to a young child’s life experiences. I liked the gentle humor woven into this story: An astronaut’s work is never done, so astronauts do not like to sleep. But their parents do


My Thoughts as an Educator:

It’s interesting to show students how a childhood dream can turn into reality – especially a big dream like becoming an astronaut. The links to history and the significance of the moon landing would be a good topic for research and discussion.

Ages: 5 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: astronauts, space, fear of the dark

Activities:

Think: What do you dream of doing when you are older? Paint or draw a picture of your dream.

Explore: Go outside and look at the night sky. What do you see?

Research: What is your favorite planet? Create a poster to advertise your planet and invite visitors.

Friday, April 20, 2018

THANK YOU, EARTH by April Pulley Sayre


A perfect choice to read for Earth Day on April 22, but lovely to keep on hand for reading any time to foster an appreciation of our planet. I love the stunning photos in this book!

Stunning photos and poetic text celebrate nature's diversity.Summary from the publisher:

April Pulley Sayre, award-winning photographer and acclaimed author of more than sixty-five books, introduces concepts of science, nature, and language arts through stunning photographs and a poetic text structured as a simple thank-you note.

Touching on subjects from life cycles to weather, colors, shapes, and patterns, this is an ideal resource for science and language art curriculums and a terrific book for bedtime sharing. Thank You, Earth is a great choice for Earth Day celebrations, as well as family and group read-alouds.

Includes backmatter with kid-friendly ideas for conservation projects information about the photographs, and additional resources.

Thank You, Earth was created by April Pulley Sayre and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in 2018.

Opening:

Dear Earth,

Thank you for the water

and those that float,

for slippery seaweed

and stone.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I enjoyed the flow of the language in this story. I appreciated the pauses and variations in the phrasing, so that, even though this was a rhyming text, it had a poetic and thoughtful feel. It’s interesting how the author managed to put together so many diverse aspects of the planet in one book.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This book offers lots of ways to connect to learning – math concepts such as patterns or rays and many science and environmental concepts such as seasons, weather, and living things. With stunning close ups of insects and plants, it’s a wonderful book to explore. Perfect for a kindergarten classroom!

Ages: 3 and up

Grades: PreK and up

Themes: the earth, nature, diversity

Activities:

Explore: Go outside and a take a picture of something you find in your local environment. Add a “thank you” caption to your photo. Student photos could be compiled in a class book.

Write: What would you want to tell Planet Earth? Write your own letter to the planet!

List: Look closely at the page “Thank you for tiny and towering.” What other tiny things could we find on our planet? What towers over our heads? Make a list.



Friday, April 13, 2018

THE BRANCH by Mireille Messier & Pierre Pratt


A nice book for talking about reusing or salvaging materials! This book is nominated for the 2018 Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association. I read a copy from my local library. 

 
Summary from the publisher:

When an ice storm snaps a small girl's favorite branch from the tree in her yard, she's crestfallen. The girl's mom says it's just a branch. But not to her! "That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under. It was my castle, my spy base, my ship . . ." Luckily, her neighbor Mr. Frank understands. He says the branch has "potential."  "What's potential?" she asks. "It means it's worth keeping." And so, with imagination and spirit, and Mr. Frank's guidance and tools, the girl transforms the broken branch into something whole and new, giving it another purpose, and her another place to treasure.

The Branch was written by Mireille Messier and illustrated by Pierre Pratt. It was published by Kids Can Press in 2016.


Opening:

It’s past my bedtime, but I can’t sleep.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really liked how the effects of the ice storm in this story were made so personal for the main character. There were also lots of sensory details: the sound of icy rain hitting my window and the splintery part on the trunk. The ending was a lovely surprise and very fitting. Unlike many recent picture books, this one is on the longer side at 774 words.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This book offers many possibilities for discussion – weather and storms, losing something you care about, fear, imagination, reusing materials and community.

Ages: 4 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: ice storms, reusing materials, community

Activities:

Imagine: If you climbed into a tree with a perfect branch, what would you imagine? Draw a picture.

Create: Go on a hunt outside and find your own branch. Use paint, glue, yarn or whatever you can find to turn your branch into something special.

A teaching guide with more resources is available on the Kids Can Press website.