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?

Monday, May 27, 2019

STAND ON THE SKY by Erin Bow – A bird, a girl, an adventure

Thanks so much to #KickButtKidLit for the chance to win this book! I really loved the writing and the story.  Didn’t want to put it down.

Description from the publisher:

She had always heard that the eagle chooses the eagle hunter. She wanted that. She wanted her eagle to come to her. To choose her.

It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family's leader, but his life too.

When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie — and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar. Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers. Erin Bow’s lyrical middle grade debut is perfect for fans of original animal-friendship stories like Pax and Because of Winn Dixie.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

It’s a compelling story about the growing bond between a fiercely determined girl and an equally fierce eagle. It’s also a story about a family holding together in a time of crisis. I loved learning about eagles, about the Kazakh nomads, about a different way of life. Aisulu’s determination to help train the eagle and to help her brother made me root for her to succeed.


There was no sign of Serik’s horse.

If you’re a writer…

You’ll want to read this to study how specific details can make setting and characters feel alive. The writing in this story is so lovely! Erin Bow gives us images and experiences for all of the senses. I was  impressed to learn about all the research that went into creating this book. She spent a summer living with a Kazakh eagle hunter and his family to make sure she got all the details right. This shows how important it is to do your research!

If you’re an educator…

This book will be a wonderful addition to your collection of stories with strong female characters. Set in a country I haven't read about before, this story shows how a family gets through their troubles. And how you can find friendship anywhere--even with a fierce and beautiful bird. I really loved Aisulu's determination and willingness to take risks. 

In a land where girls are supposed to have hearts made of milk, Aisulu had a heart made of sky.

Check out another review of this book from Quill & Quire.

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.

Monday, May 13, 2019

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE by Dan Gemeinhart – A story full of personality and emotion

Another book you really don’t want to put down! A cool “road trip” story with an interesting cast of characters and a mission that will break your heart.

Description from the publisher

Five years.

That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.

It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.

Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished—the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box—she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.

Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...

Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart was published by Henry Holt in 2019.

Why you want to read this book:

Coyote’s story is heart-breaking and full of hope at the same time. It’s a contemporary “quest” story with a lot of kindness and a troop of interesting characters to help and cheer on Coyote as she faces one of the most difficult challenges in her life. This story is full of interesting details. For example, she adopts a kitten and names it Ivan, after one of her favorite book characters.


There were big days and there were small days and there were bad days and there were good days and I suppose I could pick any one of ‘em for my “once upon a time.”

If you’re a writer…

There is so much personality in this story! I’d definitely read this if you’re thinking about how to create a unique or quirky story, one that stands out from the crowd.

I know it’s weird to call eyes “quiet,” since I’ve never seen a loud eyeball, but it’s the truth. Salvador’s eyes were quiet, and something about that quietness kinda gave you the courage to talk to them.

If you’re an educator…

Kids who have experienced periods of sadness or family troubles will be able to relate to this book. Coyote’s interesting character keeps you hooked on the story, but it’s really the story of how she and her father come to term with a terrible, life-changing event. It’s also a story of perseverance, because Coyote has a goal and she really doesn’t let anything stop her from reaching it. The other big theme in this book is kindness and helping others.

“Friend” wasn’t a word I heard all that often. It is one of those words that once you hear it, you wanna hear it a lot more.

Here's another review of this book by Colby Sharp:

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, April 26, 2019

I AM THE BOSS OF THIS CHAIR by Carolyn Crimi & Marisa Morea – A story about making rules and learning to share

I was surprised at how much my students liked this book!  

Summary from Amazon:

Oswald Minklehoff Honey Bunny III has always been top cat. Then Pom Pom the kitten comes along and suddenly Oswald isn’t the boss of everything anymore—not the toilet paper, food dish, back door, toy mouse, or even his own special chair. Will Oswald realize that life is more fun when you have a friend—and that, really, there’s plenty of room on the chair to share? A fun picture book with a comforting message for any kid with a new sibling.

I Am the Boss of This Chair was written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by Marisa Morea. It was published in 2018 by Sterling Children’s Books.

I, Oswald Minklehoff Honey Bunny III, am the boss of this chair.
You may look at it, and you may walk by it, but you may not sit in it.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The theme of bossiness is very clear from the very first line, but the story doesn’t come across as didactic. The cat characters and use of exaggeration make this a fun read! Because the characters are cats, they can get away with a lot of naughtiness. I especially liked the ending, because it seemed realistic and I think it would be comforting to a child.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

Children can easily relate to this book. In a classroom setting, there are often some students who attempt to “make rules” for other students about play. This book provides a great opportunity to discuss some ways to be kind and to talk about one of the key principles in preschool and kindergarten – sharing! It is also a fun way to help children explore their feelings about siblings (new or ones that were already there when they arrived).

Ages: 3-7

Grades: PreK – 2

Themes: bossiness, sharing, cats


Predict: What would happen if a third cat came along and wanted to use the chair? Draw or write about what might happen.

STEAM: Can you build a new chair for the cats?

Think like an illustrator: Look closely at how the illustrator made the cats in the illustrations. How did she create the cat faces? Their fur? Using pastels, paints and black marker, create your cat character. Or try creating a character for a different animal!

Discuss: What can you do if someone is bossy? Have you ever been bossy yourself? Are there some things that belong to you that you don’t want to share?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

BLENDED by Sharon Draper – An emotional and thought-provoking read

I didn’t know anything about this book when I reserved at my local library, but I just couldn’t put this down.

Description from the publisher…

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Blended by Sharon Draper was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

Isabella is an engaging character with family problems that feel very real. I wanted to know what would happen, especially through the tension of wedding planning and preparing for her big performance. I also love learning from what I read and this story made me think about individual differences and racism.


Boomble. I know that’s not an actual word, but it’s a real sound. I can create any musical combination of sounds on my piano. That’s my superpower.

If you’re a writer… 

What you’ll admire right away is the voice. Love the main character’s opinions on everything, and especially her own life and her family. It was really interesting the way the book was structured through Isabella’s calendar of days with her mom and days with her dad.

My sneakers are sinking into the soft muck of the flower bed. The smell of fertilizer makes me gag. I just want to keep sinking into the mud until I disappear forever.

If you’re an educator…

Many kids will relate to this story of being shuffled between two parents and two different cultures and backgrounds. What happens after Isabella and Darren get stopped by the police or even the very fact that they are stopped opens the door for class debate and discussion.

“I love you, Mom, but I’m not white. I never will be, and…I don’t want to be. Because the half of me that is Daddy is stronger.”

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.