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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

BE KIND by Pat Zietlow Miller & Jen Hill

A wonderful book for the classroom or school library!

Summary from Amazon:

When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind?

From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend.

With a gentle text from the award-winning author of Sophie's Squash, Pat Zietlow Miller, and irresistible art from Jen Hill, Be Kind is an unforgettable story about how two simple words can change the world.

Be Kind was written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill. It was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2018.


Tanisha spilled grape juice yesterday.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Although we are often told as writers that our messages should be subtle, this story takes a direct approach. For me, this straightforward writing style keeps the story from feeling too preachy. I especially liked the way the author introduced situations that are part of a child’s typical everyday experiences, e.g., spilled juice, class guinea pig, and using another person’s name. The illustrations have realistic style with interesting details.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

When I read this book to my kindergarten students, it generated a lot of discussion. I love the way this story brings the concept of kindness to the child’s level in terms they can easily understand. I really liked, too, the way the text acknowledges that it’s not always easy to be kind: And sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind is really hard.

Taking small acts of everyday kindness and showing how they can grow into something bigger is lovely. This book is a great purchase for a classroom! I read a copy from the public library but I’m going to buy one for my personal collection.

Ages: 4 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: kindness, caring, community


Think: What can you do to be kind at home? At school? Make a list of ways to be kind.

Act: Try doing one kind thing a day for a week. Draw pictures of what you did to be kind.

Create: Make a kindness wall in your classroom, where students can leave notes when they see someone else being kind.

Explore: Could your class start a small act of kindness might grow to include other classes in your school, or beyond? What could you do?

Watch: This book trailer shows kids talking about being kind:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

YOU NEST HERE WITH ME by Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple & Melissa Sweet

I think my mom would’ve loved this book and she would have bought it for her granddaughters if it had been around when they were younger. A really special book for bird lovers and bird watchers!

A review of a lovely rhyming text about birds by Andrea L. Mack on That's Another StorySummary from the publisher:

With rhyming text, this soothing bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and sleepy children home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes to her child how many species of birds nest, from pigeons on concrete ledges to owls in oak tree boles to swallows above barn doors. The soothing refrain of “you nest here with me” eases her little one and readers alike to slumber. Combining their poetic writing and their love of birding, mother and daughter Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple have written what is sure to become a bedtime classic.

You Nest Here With Me was written by Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It was published by Boyds Mills Press in 2015.


My little nestling, time for bed.
Climb inside, you sleepyhead.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

A lovely example of a rhyming story.  I enjoyed the way the rhythm of the story carried me along and showed me different kinds of birds. The repetition of “You nest here with me” is so comforting. It was interesting to read the back matter and think about the four facts chosen for each bird.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I’m looking forward to reading this book to my kindergarten students who have been noticing birds now that spring is coming. I liked the facts at the back and the way a drawing of a feather and egg is included, since students sometimes find bird feathers.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: birds, nests, bird-watching, family


Build: Collect materials and try to build your own bird nest.

Draw: If you could build a nest anywhere, where would it be? Draw a plan to show where you’d build your nest.

Discuss: What is your favorite bird from the story? Why do you like that one best?

Monday, March 26, 2018

ELLIE, ENGINEER by Jackson Pearce for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Since my daughter recently graduated as an engineer, I was extra-excited to read this one!

Description from Amazon:

Ellie is an engineer. With a tool belt strapped over her favorite skirt (who says you can't wear a dress and have two kinds of screwdrivers handy, just in case?), she invents and builds amazing creations in her backyard workshop. Together with her best friend Kit, Ellie can make anything. 

As Kit's birthday nears, Ellie doesn't know what gift to make until the girls overhear Kit's mom talking about her present--the dog Kit always wanted! Ellie plans to make an amazing doghouse, but her plans grow so elaborate that she has to enlist help from the neighbor boys and crafty girls, even though the two groups don't get along. Will Ellie be able to pull off her biggest project yet, all while keeping a secret from Kit?

Why you want to read this book… 

I especially loved all the illustrations with Ellie’s sketches and plans! Along with the typical conflicts between friends that is characteristic of middle grade books, there are lots of pranks and a lot of creative problem-solving. Ellie is a very positive and energetic character and I wanted to hang out with her and make something.


Ellie Bell was in her workshop. Technically, it was a playhouse, because it was the little covered bit on her playset. But this was where Ellie worked, so that made it a workshop, if you asked her.

If you’re a writer… 

I loved the way the story kept me interested through lots of action and fun story events (like the pranks and Ellie’s inventions). It’s a great example for anyone writing middle grade who wants to embed science or STEM in an engaging way.

When a boy ran up and rang the doorbell, stepping on the mat would send a big poof of red paint powder up at him from the ground.

If you’re a teacher…

This book is noteworthy since it showcases girls who love science and building as well as tea parties and French-braiding. It also shows how sometimes many different attempts are needed to solve a problem. 

“You don’t need a special class to build things. Maybe to build really big things, like skyscrapers or lasers, but you can build things just for fun.”

Friday, March 23, 2018


I don’t necessarily consider this a children’s book, more a book for all ages, especially if you enjoy poetry. I gave this book to my mom a few years ago. Now that she has passed away, it’s nice to have it on my own bookshelf to remind me of happy times we spent bird-watching together. I also love the watercolour illustrations!

Summary from the publisher:

In spare and graceful words, poet and birder Michael J. Rosen captures
the forecasting call of the mysterious cuckoo as well as essential characteristics of more than twenty commonly seen North American birds. This artfully compiled field notebook — enriched by the evocative artwork of watercolorist Stan Fellows — captures the excitement of recognizing a bird, whether a darting kingfisher, a wandering wild turkey, or a chirpy house sparrow.

Back matter includes notes for birdwatchers and haiku lovers.

The Cuckoo’s Haiku was written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows. It was published by Candlewick Press in 2009.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I admire the way some people can evoke such feeling with a few well-chosen words. It’s an interesting idea to create a set of poems based on different species of the same animal. It could spark inspiration for a poetry project of your own!

The watercolor illustrations in this book are lovely, showing different seasons and realistic details in the different species of birds. I enjoyed the facts included with the illustrations (though the hand-written script style made them a little hard to read).

American Crow: huge, violet black birds (commonly eighteen inches tall, with a wingspan twice that).

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This would be especially lovely to read to students who are learning poetry or even students who are interested in birds and bird-watching.

Ages: 6 and up

Grades: 1 and up

Themes: birds, seasons, poetry


Which of the birds or poems in this book is your favorite? Think about why.

Observe some birds out the window or at a local park. What words and phrases would you use to describe them?

Try creating your own haiku poem about something in nature.

Bring drawing materials and watercolor paints outside. Create a "field guide" to your own backyard or school yard, observing and painting what you notice.

Friday, March 16, 2018

MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

I'm continuing with my "bird theme" for the month of March. I've noticed it's difficult to narrow down my favourite bird-related picture books. There are so many of them! I spent a long time studying the stunning illustrations in this one. 

Summary from the publisher:

Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbours in a long line, as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons—will they escape too? When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the tent city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.

One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.

My Beautiful Birds was written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. It was published by Pajama Press in 2017.


The ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk.

My thoughts as a writer:

The story is told in a way that helps younger children connect to the feelings of sadness and fear of the refugee experience.
The illustrations in this book are beautiful, reminding me of many amazing sunsets and cloud-filled skies I have experienced.

If I close my eyes, sometimes I can see my birds, and
sometimes I daydream that I hear them.

My thoughts as an educator:

This book is a great way to introduce or deepen an understanding of the refugee experience at the primary level. Some important aspects of this story for me were the strong sense of community through community members helping each other and the subtle hint of friendship at the end. It would be interesting to read this story along with Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Magriet Ruurs & Nizar Ali Badr and compare the stories.

Ages: 5 and up

Grades: K and up

Themes: refugees, birds, imagination, community


Use modeling clay to create your own picture. Try blending clay and adding textures like the illustrator did for the illustrations in this story.

Research: What is your favorite kind of bird? What is special about it?

Discuss: What would you take if you had to leave your home forever? Draw a picture of your most important things.

Watch the book trailer: 

Friday, March 9, 2018

HOOT OWL, MASTER OF DISGUISE by Sean Taylor & Jean Jullien

Continuing with my March theme of birds, I remembered this fun book we discussed when I was one of the judges for the 2015 Cybils Awards for fiction picture books.

Summary from Amazon:

Hoot Owl is no ordinary owl. He is a master of disguise! In the blackness of night, he’s preparing to swoop on his prey before it can realize his dastardly tricks. Look there—a tasty rabbit for him to eat! Hoot Owl readies his costume, disguising himself as . . . a carrot! Then he waits. The rabbit runs off. Never mind! Surely his next juicy target will cower against such a clever and dangerous creature as he!

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise was written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien. The copy at my library was published in 2015 by Candlewick Press.


The darkness of midnight
is all around me.
But I fly through it as quick
as a shooting star.

My thoughts as a writer:

This is an excellent example of a book with a short text and a main character with lots of voice and personality. This story has a repetitive pattern, lovely creative language and it’s funny! I recommend it as a book that picture book writers should take a look at, especially if you are writing a story told in first person.

I also really liked the bold colours in the illustrations, contrasting against the black background. The drawings seem simple yet the owl and other animal characters have so much expression.

Everyone knows Owls are wise. But as well as being wise, I am a master of disguise.

My thoughts as an educator:

This book made me laugh! I really like the message behind this story about being confident in yourself and not giving up. It shows kids how setbacks can simply mean we need to try again. Hoot Owl’s creativity with the disguises was fun. I noticed that since the story is told in first person, there is no gender assigned to Hoot Owl, which might make for a nice topic of discussion.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: persistence, bravery, self-confidence, birds


Discuss: Is Hoot Owl a boy or a girl? Does it matter?

Draw your own animal superhero.

Make puppets and act out the story of Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise. The author notes on his website that this book has indeed been made into a play! Here's a link if you'd like to check it out (

Here’s a YouTube video of the author reading his story:

Friday, March 2, 2018

THE ROOSTER WHO WOULD NOT BE QUIET by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin - A picture book to honor those voices that can't be silenced.

For the month of March, I’ll be reviewing picture books that have birds in them in some way. My mom, who recently passed away, loved birds. For many years, she had canaries or budgies. She also studied ornithology through Cornell University. She and I spent many hours watching birds together. Since her birthday is in March, this seems a fitting way to remember her.

The story of a rooster who refused to be silenced celebrates the importance of being heard
Summary from the publisher:

La Paz is a happy, but noisy village. A little peace and quiet would make it just right. So the villagers elect the bossy Don Pepe as their mayor. Before long, singing of any kind is outlawed. Even the teakettle is afraid to whistle! But there is one noisy rooster who doesn’t give two mangos about this mayor’s silly rules. Instead, he does what roosters were born to do. He sings: “Kee-kee-ree-KEE!”

Carmen Deedy’s masterfully crafted allegory and Eugene Yelchin’s bright, whimsical mixed-media paintings celebrate the spirit of freedom — and the courage of those who are born to sing at any cost.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet was written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. It was published in 2017 by Scholastic Press.


Once there was a village
where the streets rang with song
from morning till night.

My thoughts as a writer:

I enjoyed the humor in this story: Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle. The repeated phrases and the problem of how the mayor is going to stop the rooster provide momentum to carry the reader along, keeping us wondering what is going to happen to this noisy rooster. This story is interesting because the text seems longer than many recent picture books I've read. 

The illustrations are fun, bright and fit really well with this text.

But a song is louder than one noisy little rooster…And it will never die—so long as there is someone to sing it.

My thoughts as a teacher:

I really like the message behind this story about how our voices are important. The author has a lovely note at the back: “Much like roosters, human children are born with voices strong and true—and irrepressible.” As a kindergarten teacher, my goal is always to help children to use their voices to express themselves without silencing their spirit.

Even without thinking about the message behind the book, this is a fun read for children and could lead into some discussion about noise. It would also be fun as part of an inquiry about the noises around us.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: birds, noise, speaking up for others


Discuss: Why did the rooster keep singing?

Play a listening game: Have the children close their eyes while you walk around and rattle or shake things in the room to make a sound. Children can then open their eyes and guess what made the sound.

Nature: Go on a listening walk. What sounds do you hear around you? How many different sounds can you hear?

STEM: Challenge students to build a machine that can make noise.