Thursday, January 31, 2019

THE EPIC ADVENTURES OF HUGGIE & STICK by Drew Daywalt & David Spencer - A hilarious story with two very different perspectives

This book was recommended to me by writer Erika David, who also has the dream job of working in the children’s department of a bookstore.  I’m so happy she told me about this one because it’s tons of fun!  

Summary from the publisher:

When super cheerful Stick and grumpy stuffed bunny Huggie get thrown from a backpack, the adventure is on! Together this odd couple survives encounters with sea-faring pirates, raging rhinos in Africa, sword-wielding royalty in Europe, stick-eating panda bears in Asia, sharks in Australia, hungry penguins in Antarctica, and piranhas in South America–all before finally making it home to North America. A fantastically funny read-aloud about two unlikely friends and their epic journey around the world.

The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick was written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by David Spencer. It was published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House in 2018.


Huggie and Stick belonged to a little boy named Reece, and like many things that belong to little boys, they spend a good part of their time being lugged around in a backpack.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

What a great book to study for learning about voice. I love the two different personalities of the main characters that come through in the letters they write. It’s really fun to see two different perspectives on the same experience. The illustrations are great and add to the humor, especially the little doodle drawings on the letters.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I can see this being a big hit with young children. It’d be great to include this in an author study about Drew Daywalt. I might also use this book to introduce the idea of different points of view. It would be fun to assign pairs of students to a random experience, have them each write a letter and then read the results.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: letter-writing, adventure, perspectives


Write: Pick a random event (or one of your own experiences) and write two letters showing how different characters might view the experience.

Explore: Choose one of the continents in the book and do some research. What would you find if you visited? Create a “postcard” from your imaginary adventure.

Draw: What will happen to Huggie & Stick on their next adventure? Draw a picture or two to show your ideas!

STEM challenge: Can you design a backpack that will keep Huggie & Stick from getting lost (or escaping)?

Monday, January 21, 2019

ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A STAR by Carmella Van Vleet

This story about a girl with ADHD and her struggles with friendship is a great read! I might be a little bit biased on this one since Carmella is one of my critique partners and I had the chance to read this book in draft form, long before it was published. But Eliza is such an engaging character I was so glad to get a chance to read more about her!

Description from the publisher...

How will Eliza make it through the sixth grade? Her ADHD tends to complicate things. . . .

Eliza Bing stuck with taekwondo and earned her yellow belt even though her family expected her to quit. She’s tough enough to break boards with her bare hands! Next up: middle school, and hopefully a best friend. The school play turns out to be the perfect opportunity to befriend confident, stage-obsessed Annie. But can their friendship survive the spotlight?

The joys and sorrows of middle school come to life in this funny and heartfelt sequel to Eliza Bing Is (NOT) a Big, Fat Quitter, recipient of the Christopher Award and four child-voted state award nominations.

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Star, written by Carmella Van Vleet, was published by Holiday House in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a story about determination and friendship. Eliza is a great character with lots of personality. I really liked how she worked so hard to achieve her goals in taekwondo and how she gradually came to enjoy performing. Eliza’s parents and brother are part of the story too (no dead or banished parents in this story) as well as the family dog.


Master Kim once said a good martial artist focuses his or her mind on the lesson at all times. But a million cupcakes says he’s never sat through Mr. Roddel’s lab safety lecture. Sorting socks would be more exciting.

If you’re a writer… 

This is a great novel to read if you’re studying voice or character. Eliza has a definite personality.

I didn’t understand how punching slowly in the air would help me break my board. All I knew was that my gold-belt test was in less than three weeks and I wasn’t sure if I had a fire in my belly or a swarm of butterflies.

If you’re an educator…

It’s so refreshing to read a story where a character with a medical condition is shown as they navigate their life, rather than a story that is focused on the condition. Eliza has a lot of issues with her friends and friendships, and I think many kids will be able to connect with this character as she tries to cope with changes in her friendship and learns about herself along the way. A great book for a middle grade book club!

Mom liked to say you should try a decision on for size like a coat. That way you can walk around in it for a bit and see how it feels.

If you’re looking for more to read, check out the list of fabulous middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

THEY SAY BLUE by Jillian Tamaki - A picture book with an interesting perspective on colors

When I noticed this book was a finalist for a Cybils Award, I realized I'd better hurry up and read it! An interesting perspective on colours and nature.

 Summary from the publisher:

Caldecott and Printz Honor-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki brings us a poetic exploration of colour and nature from a young child’s point of view. They Say Blue follows a young girl as she contemplates colours in the known and the unknown, in the immediate world and the world beyond what she can see. The sea looks blue, yet water cupped in her hands is as clear as glass. Is a blue whale blue? She doesn’t know — she hasn’t seen one.

Stunningly beautiful illustrations flow from one spread to the next, as time passes and the imagination takes hold. The world is full of colour, and mystery too, in this first picture book from a highly acclaimed artist.

They Say Blue was written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and published by Groundwood Books in 2018.


They say blue is the colour of the sky.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is such an interesting book from a writer’s perspective. Instead of following a traditional approach to telling a story, the writing is almost expressing a stream of different thoughts that connect to colours a child encounters. I like the hints of the narrator’s personality: “It’s just plain old yellow grass anyway.” And I was especially taken by thoughts connected to viewing and touching water.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I’m curious about how children will react to this story and will have to read it to my students. I think it would pave the way for some interesting discussions about the senses and ways to describe experiences or colours. It would be interesting to use this book with children in grades 2 to 4 who are learning strategies for writing. I think it would be a good mentor text to encourage young writers to capture small moments or to include sensory details.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: colors, senses, nature


Paint: Choose a favourite page in the story. Create a piece of art using a similar style to the artist. Think of one word to describe your painting and add it as a title!

Think: Choose your favourite colour and think of ten different ways to describe it. If you have time, put your ideas together into a poem.

STEM challenge: Can you build a boat light enough for grass to hold it up? After you build your boat, take it outside to the grass and test it!

Monday, January 7, 2019

FLY WITH ME by Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple & Jason Stemple

I don’t usually review middle grade non-fiction, but this book is so lovely I couldn’t resist! Such a perfect book for the Year of the Bird in 2018 (see more about the Year of the Bird). Even though it's now 2019, I love birds and I think every year should be the year of the bird!

Description from the publisher

Enchanting stories, lyrical poems, stunning photography, and fascinating science fill the pages of this treasury celebrating the amazing world of birds.

This thoughtful and beautifully curated collection of our flying, feathery friends highlights the role birds play in human life from centuries ago to present day. While it’s beautiful, it’s also full of valuable real science about these wondrous creatures. From history and behavior to spotting and photographing, there’s sure to be something for every bird fan in your flock. Young birders will learn all about migration and the importance of habitat conservation. They’ll find stories about bird rescues and fun facts about the fastest, strongest, and tiniest fliers. They’ll also discover the best bird nests, sweet songs to sing, ways to listen for and identify the birds around them, and more. Paired with stunning art and photography and beautiful design, this treasury is sure to become a classic for bird enthusiasts of all ages.

Fly with Me was created to help celebrate Year of the Bird, National Geographic’s 2018 initiative to bring awareness to the plight of birds around the world.

Why you want to read this book… 

This book seems to have everything anyone could want – gorgeous photographs, cool bird facts, information about state birds and extinct birds, legends and stories about birds, lovely poetry – and even some information about dinosaurs!  I really enjoy picking up this book when I have a quiet moment. It’s fun to discover something new or read a bird-related poem before I gaze out the window at my bird feeder. I’m going to have to track down some of the movies in the “birds on screen” list.

If you’re a writer… 

You might like to spend some time studying the lovely poetry in this book. It reminded me of how nature and science can inspire our writing work.

You wait as quite
as leaf or lawn
or the moment
before dawn.

If you’re an educator…

This book is a great resource for students who are learning about or interested in birds. It’s packed with information so some kids may be overwhelmed if they think they have to read it all. A book that is well-suited to flipping though and finding things that catch the eye. It would be lovely to have on hand to go with a bird feeding station or in a quiet area for students to sample from when they have a free moment.

To see birds, you need only to open your eyes and look.

For more resources about the Year of the Bird at National Geographic’s Kids site.

If you’re looking for more to read, check out the list of fabulous middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

SAM & EVA by Debbie Ridpath Ohi - A picture book to inspire creativity and collaboration

I am super excited to be featuring this book today! Debbie’s stories and illustrations are so much fun and I’m so grateful to have her as one of my writing buddies. For me, starting a new year always jump starts my creativity and this book definitely inspires creative thinking! It also reminds me of an art-related game my mom used to play with me and my daughters to pass the time, where we took turns adding onto the same drawing.

cover for Sam & Eva shows two children smiling and holding drawing tools on a bright yellow background
Summary from the publisher:

Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Tom and Jerry in this sweet and funny picture book about a boy and girl who must balance their creativity and figure out how to cooperate after their drawings come to life.

When Sam starts drawing a super cool velociraptor, Eva decides to join in. But Sam isn’t too happy about the collaboration. Soon Eva and Sam are locked in an epic creative clash, bringing to life everything from superhero marmots to exploding confetti. But when their masterpieces turn to mayhem will Sam stay stubbornly solo or will he realize that sometimes the best work comes from teamwork?

Sam & Eva was written and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It was published by Simon & Schuster in 2017.


Sam had just begun to draw when Eva arrived.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Specific word choices help to bring out the character’s personalities in this story.  You can really see how 'every word counts.' As a mentor text, this is a great example of how to create an engaging story with minimal words. I especially love the page where the characters’ ideas really start to flourish: Marmot was actually a superhero in disguise.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I love to read this story to my kindergarten students to encourage them to tell stories using their drawings (except we can’t draw on the walls, as one boy in my class pointed out).  Although I haven't suggested this, it would also be a fun story to practice retelling and I think I might try that the next time I read it with my students. They love retelling stories! 

The expressions on the character’s faces are great for talking about emotions. This book is also perfect for starting a discussion about what it means to cooperate.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: PreK – 3

Themes: creativity, collaboration, imagination


Draw: Play a drawing game with a friend. Take turns adding new parts to a drawing. What did you end up with?

Build a story: Make four small drawings of different items on small pieces of paper or index cards. Have a friend do the same. Swap your drawings with a friend and then write or dictate a story to link the four drawings together.

Create Art: Work with two different kinds of drawing tools the way Sam and Eva do in the story. Try paints and crayon, paint and chalk or paints and pastels. What happens? What effects can you create?

Think: At the end of the story, Eva has drawn a triceratops and Sam thinks it’s a unicorn. What happens next? Draw a picture to show your idea.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My 2018 Year in Middle Grade Novels

It was so much fun compiling this summary and remembering these wonderful books! Goodreads says I read at least 34 middle grade novels books in 2018. I say "at least" because I'm sure there are some gems I've forgotten to record. Here are the ones I featured on my blog (clicking on the cover will take you to the review):

When a character who feels forced to do things they might not want to do, it spells trouble. There are lots of funny moments in this story as Pixie struggles with fitting in at school and with her friends, while trying to keep her role in the party business under wraps.reviewed at That's Another Story by Andrea L Mack - full and rich story of the developing friendship between a diverse group of kidsThere are lots of tense moments in this story! I was intrigued by the idea that language is limited and some words were forbidden. I loved the writing style and the detail in this story.  It was so interesting to think about issues of censorship and the role of language in our lives.

Reviewed by Andrea L. Mack as an absorbing read about family history, identity, and lovea review of a middle grade novel about a girl with social anxiety who learns to speak up

My 2018 Year in Picture Books

According to my Goodreads tally, I read at least 60 picture books in 2018. I say "at least" because sometimes I forget to record the ones I've read. Here are the ones I featured on my blog (clicking on the cover will take you to the review):

The story of a rooster who refused to be silenced celebrates the importance of being heard

Review of a fun how-to children's picture book about Halloween on the blog That's Another Story by Andrea L MackCover image for a review of a picture book about Dashrath Manjhi who chiseled a path between two mountains, reviewed by Andrea L Mack at