Friday, November 22, 2019

MY SHAPE IS SAM by Amanda Jackson & Lydia Nichols – A book about being yourself

It’s always wonderful to discover picture books that work on many different levels. Every time I read this book, new connections and thoughts crept into my mind. An excellent choice for a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

Summary from Amazon:

In a world where everybody is a shape and every shape has a specific job, Sam is a square who longs for softer corners, rounder edges, and the ability to roll like a circle. 

But everyone knows that squares don’t roll, they stack. At least that’s what everyone thinks until the day Sam takes a tumble and discovers something wonderful. He doesn’t have to be what others want or expect him to be.

With playful imagery, this story considers identity and nonconformity through the eyes of Sam, a square struggling to find his true place in the world.


Sam had four even sides.
Four pointy corners.
And like all other squares, he was a builder.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a great book to study because it works on several different levels. There is a lot to consider about shapes and their properties, individuality, being yourself, being brave enough to do what you love, and persisting to reach a goal. It was refreshing that the conflict didn't come from Sam's friends making negative comments. The other shapes celebrated his accomplishments right along with him, even though he was doing something different. It was great to have such a positive feeling from a story. 

The illustrations are fun and I loved how the shapes came alive through their expressions. It’s clear that a lot of care was put into the design of this book, right down to the corners of the pages.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

As an educator, I'm always looking for good books about shapes and how they fit together. I really liked the message of being yourself. This book offers many possibilities for discussion, and provides great examples of how to put shapes together to create designs. Another great book for a library or classroom collection! It’s a nice follow up to a book I recently read to my class, Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson. 

Ages: 4-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: shapes, individuality, persistence


Draw/Write: Choose your favourite shape and make it your own! Add a face and other details to create a unique character. Write a few words or a sentence to explain what your shape can do!

Share: In the story, rolling makes Sam feel happy. What makes you feel happy? Share your ideas with your friends or your class if you like.  

STEM Challenge #1: Provide pattern blocks or assorted shapes. What designs can you make?

STEM Challenge #2: Provide squares. In the story, it says squares are good for measuring. How could you measure something using squares?

Compare & contrast: Read the book Scribble by Ruth Ohi. How is the shape art in this book different? What is the same?

Friday, October 25, 2019

PICK A PUMPKIN by Patricia Toht & Jarvis – A perfect introduction to Halloween traditions

Carving pumpkins is one of my favorite fall activities! After I read this, I knew I just had to read it to my kindergarten students.  Another great book for my personal teaching collection.

Summary from Amazon:

Pairing a wonderfully rhythmic read-aloud text with expressive retro illustrations, author Patricia Toht and illustrator Jarvis capture all the excitement and familial feeling of a favorite holiday tradition. Readers will be happy to follow along with each step, from picking out the perfect specimen at the pumpkin patch (be sure to stop for cider and toffee apples) to carting it home, scooping out the insides, carving a scary face, and finally lighting a candle inside — savoring the familiar ritual of transforming an ordinary pumpkin into a one-of-a-kind glowing jack-o’-lantern.

Pick a Pumpkin, written by Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis, was published by Candlewick Press in 2019. 


Pick a pumpkin

from the patch—

tall and lean

or short and fat.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The process of picking and carving a pumpkin is brought to life here with lovely language and illustrations. Study this one to see how the author carefully chooses words to evoke the feeling of fall. The rhymes and near rhymes work very well. I really enjoyed the gorgeous illustrations – they enhance the story, adding lots of extra detail and creating images of a treasured family experience.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

The length of this story is perfect for reading to kindergarteners and preschoolers! Kids will love examining all the details in the illustrations. This book would be a great introduction to Halloween traditions as well as a book to read afterward to make connections to life experiences. An excellent choice for a library or classroom collection! 

Ages: 4-8

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: pumpkins, Halloween, family traditions


Discuss: What is your favorite page in the book? Why?

Art: Provide pencil crayons, paints, crayons for students to create their own Halloween scene.

STEAM Challenge: Create a pumpkin face using paper shapes, cutting out the eyes, nose and mouth. Hang it up on a window to see light shine through!

Check out this interesting interview with author Patricia Toht at BookSeedStudio.   

Monday, October 21, 2019

THE DOUGHNUT KING by Jessie Janowitz – Doughnuts and a caring boy’s plan to save a small town

It’s probably going to seem that I love to read books about  baking (okay, maybe I do) but  I got really involved in this story. (Bonus recipes at the back again, too). I read this one as a hardcover from my local library.

Description from the publisher:

When Tris tries to save his doughnut business and town by competing on a cooking show, will he have what a takes, or lose it all?

Tris Levin thought moving from New York City to middle-of-nowhere Petersville meant life would definitely get worse. . . only it actually got better. But just when things are looking up, problems start rolling in. His doughnut business has a major supply issue. And that's not the worst part, Petersville has its own supply problem-it doesn't have enough people. Folks keep moving away and if they can't get people to stay, Petersville may disappear.

Petersville needs to become a tourist destination, and his shop could be a big part of it, if Tris can keep up with demand. There's only one solution: The Belshaw Donut Robot. If Tris can win "Can You Cut It," the cutthroat competitive kids' cooking show, he can get the cash to buy the machine. But even with the whole town training and supporting him, Tris isn't sure he can live with what it takes to takes to win.

The Doughnut King by Jessie Janowitz was published by Source Books, Inc. in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

If you love watching cooking contests on TV, you’ll enjoy this book! Tris is a determined character. He helps to run his own doughnut shop (so cool!) and is trying to find a way to produce more doughnuts to meet customer demand. It will also help bring business to the small town where he lives. Tris has an interesting team of friends, two sisters with very different personalities, and he meets a few more interesting characters when he gets to the contest.  A fun story with a couple of twists and turns and a great ending that wraps things up. And did I mention the robot?


YES! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And I wasn’t the only one.  

If you’re a writer…

I’d study the pacing in this novel. The story kept me interested all the way through. I really liked how Tris’ family was included in the story, coming in and out at the right moments but not taking over or saving the day.

I had never seen anything so beautiful. It was all stainless steel and shiny. It mixed. It fried. It glazed and injected. The Donut Robot did it all.

If you’re an educator…

At first Tris shies away from the challenge of going on Can You Cut It? because he doesn’t think he can do it. But I loved the way he persevered and tried it anyway. I also really liked the realism the author brought in when Tris makes a really bad decision—and then later admits he was wrong.

I ripped off my microphone and sprinted out of the room and down the hall, my eyes on the checkered tiles flying by. I didn’t want to have to see anyone.

Check out this fun book trailer!  

The author, Jessie Janowitz, shows us how to bake a favourite recipe while she talks about the book on Storymakers in the Kitchen:  

If you’re looking for another great list of middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Friday, October 11, 2019

TRUMAN by Jean Reidy & Lucy Ruth Cummins – A book to build empathy

What a lovely story about patience and friendship! A book I definitely want to study more closely. I think I will purchase for my personal collection.

Summary from Amazon:

Truman the tortoise lives with his Sarah, high above the taxis and the trash trucks and the number eleven bus, which travels south. He never worries about the world below…until one day, when Sarah straps on a big backpack and does something Truman has never seen before. She boards the bus!

Truman waits for her to return.
He waits.
And waits.
And waits.
And when he can wait no longer, he knows what he must do.

Even if it seems…impossible!

Truman was small,
the size of a donut—
a small donut—
and every bit as sweet.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I loved this different take on a “going to school” story. The unique voice of this story drew me in. The carefully chosen details, rhythm of the language and repeated phrases kept me reading along. This book is full of emotion. I especially loved the “Be brave” moment. If you write stories that are considered “quiet” this is a great example to study. Lots of heart! 

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I loved the way the author turned around the traditional “going to school” story to look at a pet’s perspective. Being curious about what happens to a pet when a child is away at school is a great conversation starter!  I think young children will relate to the idea of separation and the ways that Truman tries to cope. It’s also a great book for helping to build empathy by sharing another character's perspective.  

Ages: 4-8

Grades: K – 3

Themes: friendship, loyalty, bravery


Discuss: How was Truman brave? Can you think of a time when you were brave?

Draw & Write:  What does your pet do while you are at school? If you don’t have a pet, draw a picture about what your favorite toy or your Mom does while you are at school.

STEM: Provide a small toy tortoise, a wall and building materials (e.g. invert a toy bin and use the bottom). How can a little tortoise get up to the top? Build a structure for the tortoise to climb.

Monday, August 5, 2019

SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES by Margaret Dilloway – A story about trust and pie

I love baking and eating pie, so I found this one especially interesting (bonus recipes at the back to try, too). I read this one as an e-book from my local library.

Description from the publisher

When Cady Bennett is sent to live with the aunt she didn’t even know she had in the quaint mountain town of Julian, she isn’t sure what to expect. Cady isn’t used to stability, after growing up homeless in San Diego with her dad.

Now she’s staying in her mother’s old room, exploring the countryside filled with apple orchards and pie shops, making friends, and working in Aunt Shell’s own pie shop—and soon, Cady starts to feel like she belongs.

Then she finds out that Aunt Shell’s shop is failing. Saving the business and protecting the first place she’s ever really felt safe will take everything she's learned and the help of all her new friends. But are there some things even the perfect pie just can’t fix?

Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway was published by Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

I loved how Cady’s willingness to try new things and learn develops as she begins to feel at home and trust her aunt. There are some emotional scenes at the beginning when she’s acting tough and stubborn. There are several interesting characters she meets as she gets to know people in the town, and I loved her creative plans for saving the pie shop! A fun read, especially if you like baking or baking shows!

My favorite part is combining everything. How it mixes and becomes something new.


I open my eyes, expecting to see the inside of our van, Dad snoring next to me like a half-broken engine.  But I’m in a small bedroom covered in bright posters.  

If you’re a writer…

You might enjoy studying this novel to see how the author wove in issues such as immigration, homelessness and financial hardship. I really loved all the details she included about baking!

The tears that I’ve been crushing down for three days come to a full boil. “I’m not that hungry,” I say in a choked voice.

If you’re an educator…

Cady stands up for what she believes in, although sometimes she could use a little more tact! There are a lots of connections to issues in this story, and the fact that Cady is not able to live with her dad will be interesting to students.

“Well, a lot of things look complicated when they’re done, and they are complicated—but you have to remember every single project gets broken down into a bunch of smaller steps.”

Check out this review from Madison’s Library for another perspective on this book! 

If you’re looking for more delicious middle grade books to dig into, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Friday, July 19, 2019

HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE by Josh Funk & Sara Palacios – A fun book to introduce kids to coding

It is so great to see a book about coding that tackles a kid-friendly problem. This is another book that would be excellent for a classroom or school library collection. Or maybe even to read during summer camp. The foreword by Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, helps explain why introducing basic concepts of coding to young children helps to prepare them for their future.

Summary from Amazon:

All summer, Pearl has been trying to build the perfect sandcastle, but out-of-control Frisbees and mischievous puppies keep getting in the way! Pearl and her robot friend Pascal have one last chance, and this time, they’re going to use code to get the job done. Using fundamental computer coding concepts like sequences and loops, Pearl and Pascal are able to break down their sandcastle problem into small, manageable steps. If they can create working code, this could turn out to be the best beach day ever!

How to Code a Sandcastle, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios was published in 2018 by Viking Children’s Books.


Hello, World. I’m Pearl.

It’s the last day of summer vacation.

Which means today is my very last chance

to build a sandcastle!

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The beginning of this story shows all the problems Pearl has met in trying to build a sandcastle—a great set up for the solution of using a robot to help her. I liked the way the story shows Pearl’s reactions to the problems that crop up as she uses the robot.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

The idea of breaking a big problem down into smaller problems to solve is what really came through for me as a key concept in this story. I also really liked the way the book explains concepts such as “loop” and “sequence” in a kid-friendly way. The illustrations are fun and the problems of not giving specific enough instructions to the robot add a lot of light humor to this story.

Ages: 4-8

Grades: K – 3

Themes: coding, problem-solving, sandcastles


Imagine & Draw: Design your own fantastic sandcastle! Draw a picture and include all the features that will make your sandcastle really awesome.

Write: Think about the steps a robot would need to build a tower or bridge. What sequences might you need? What loops could help save on the work? Draw and write to show your steps. Build a model of your design.

STEM: Create a coding game! Design a set of cards to show how the robot would move from the sandcastle to the water to fill the castle moat. What obstacles would be in the way? What directions would the robot need to move?

Monday, July 8, 2019

A WOLF CALLED WANDER by Rosanne Parry – A glimpse of wolf’s perspective on the wilderness

Such an interesting story about wolves! I read this one as an e-book from my local library, but a print copy would be better to fully appreciate the lovely black and white drawings by illustrator Mónica Armiño.

Description from the publisher

This gripping novel about survival and family is based on the real story of one wolf’s incredible journey to find a safe place to call home. Illustrated throughout, this irresistible tale by award-winning author Rosanne Parry is for fans of Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.

Swift, a young wolf cub, lives with his pack in the mountains learning to hunt, competing with his brothers and sisters for hierarchy, and watching over a new litter of cubs. Then a rival pack attacks, and Swift and his family scatter.

Alone and scared, Swift must flee and find a new home. His journey takes him a remarkable one thousand miles across the Pacific Northwest. The trip is full of peril, and Swift encounters forest fires, hunters, highways, and hunger before he finds his new home.

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry was published by Greenwillow Books in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

It’s an exciting survival story, told from an animal’s perspective. It was hard to put down this story as I followed Swift through childhood, tragedy and survival without his pack. It was super interested to learn about wolf behaviour as I was reading.  Keep in mind that this story includes realistic details about wolf hunting their prey, for anyone who is squeamish. The wolves are portrayed as living, wild animals—hunting, fighting, sustaining injuries.

I spring to my feet and run. The fire is on my heels, scorching my paws. Fire is above my head, singing my fur.


I begin in darkness, and my nose tells me everything I know.

If you’re a writer…

You might want to study this book to see how to use description and action to create an animal perspective. It’s especially interesting to look at all the sensory details from a wolf point of view! I liked the way the author created a complete world for the wolves by developing their beliefs and thoughts about family and their own culture.  

Our voices bounce off the mountains. They reach for the wolf star.

If you’re an educator…

This book will satisfy the curiosity of anyone interested in wolves! At the back of the book, there’s lots of information about wolves and their habitats, as well as details about how research information on wolves is collected. I was really interested to learn that the story was inspired by the life of a real wolf in Oregon.

Check out another review of this book from a family perspective at Some the Wiser.  

If you’re looking for another great list of middle grade books to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Friday, June 28, 2019

MY FOREST IS GREEN by Darren Lebeuf & Ashley Barron – An artistic celebration of an urban forest

What a delightful book! This is a wonderful book for the classroom or anyone who likes to experiment with art. I borrowed a copy from the public library, but I really want to buy this for my classroom collection.

Summary from the publisher:

With art supplies in tow, a young boy explores the urban forest near his home, then interprets what he sees with his art. The boy is a keen observer who uses poetic, rhythmic language to describe the diversity he finds through all four seasons. His forest is both “fluffy” and “prickly,” “dense” and “sparse,” “crispy” and “soft.” It's also “scattered and soggy, and spotted and foggy.” His forest is made up of many colors --- but he decides that “mostly it's green.” Each aspect of the forest inspires the boy to create a different kind of art: charcoal rubbing, rock art, photography, sponge painting, snow sculpture, cut-paper collage. To this artist, there's always something new to discover, and to capture

My Forest is Green, written by Darren Lebeuf and illustrated by Ashley Barron was published in 2019 by Kids Can Press.


This is my forest.

Well, actually…

this is my forest.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The text in this story is very simple and clear, creating a rhythm through the descriptive words that carries you to the end of the story. I especially liked the sense of possibility suggested by the ending!

The illustrations include many different ways children could represent a forest, using art materials as well as natural materials. I love the way the artist has used patterns and texture!

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This lovely book has a short text, which is perfect for reading aloud with young children. The illustrations are full of details to look at and explore! I loved the way the illustrations show different ways the young artist has captured the forest. This book could inspire kids (and teachers) with art adventures in so many ways.

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: forests, art, nature


Draw & Write: Have each student create their own “forest” using their choice of art media and write a descriptive statement “My forest is __________.” Put up their work on a display to create an even larger forest!  

STEM: Go on a nature walk and collect sticks, logs, bark, etc. Can you build a forest? Create some animals to live in your forest.

Art: Bring paper and unpeeled crayons on a nature walk. Experiment with using crayons to make rubbings of different tree and rock surfaces.

Explore: Make a set of cards for the descriptive words in the story (tall, short, fluffy, prickly, etc). Can you find something in your classroom to match each word?

Friday, May 31, 2019

I’M WORRIED by Michael Ian Black & Debbie Ridpath Ohi – The story of a girl, a flamingo and a very worried potato

I am thrilled to be featuring this picture book on my blog today. It’s the third in a series of books about emotions (the other two are I’M BORED and I’M SAD, see my review here). Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me this copy for review!  

 Summary from the publisher:

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

I’m Worried, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, was published in 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


I’m worried.

What are you worried about?

The future.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I love the characters and how their worries suit their personalities. This is a great book to search out when you’re looking for creating a story with multiple characters and wondering how to create different personalities in the same story. 

Even though the topic of emotions and anxiety could be presented in a heavy, serious way, the gentle humor and bold and fun illustrations give this story a lighter tone that will really connect with young children.  

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I’m so happy to have this whole series of books for helping my kindergarten students talk about emotions. They love the quirky characters and they can really relate to these books. (My classroom copy of I’m Bored is in tatters because it is so well-loved.)

In I’m Worried, I especially love how the friends listen to each other, compare their stories and accept each other’s feelings. I often tell my students, “It’s okay to feel worried” or “It’s okay to feel sad.” This book is a must for a classroom collection! I would love to pair this book with Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, a character who also has a lot of worries.

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: anxiety, feelings, friendship


Draw & Write: Think of a time when you felt worried. Draw and write about what happened. 

STEM: Provide a real potato for students to feel and explore. Can you build a “safe place” or “hideout” for the potato?

STEAM: Provide bubble wrap and art materials. What can you make with bubble wrap?

Make a list: What are some things you can do when you feel worried?