Thursday, February 21, 2019

A WORLD OF KINDNESS by the Editors & Illustrators of Pajama Press

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to talk about kindness with my students. This book is perfect for starting a discussion. It was also lovely to see that royalties from this book will be donated to  Think Kindness.

Summary from the publisher:

In a series of simple yet evocative questions, this impactful book asks children how they will show kindness and consideration for others. Written by the editors of Pajama Press, and illustrated by celebrated Pajama Press artists, these stunning pages inspire meaningful discussion and storytelling about the understated yet powerful ways in which children might influence the world around them. A World of Kindness goes beyond mere rhetoric to examine, in a child-friendly way, everyday social interactions where a kind word or act could have a transformative effect on others.

A World of Kindness was written by the Editors of Pajama Press and illustrated by nine illustrators, Suzanne Del Rizzo, Tara Anderson, Rebecca Bender, Brian Deines, Wallace Edwards, Manon Gauthier, Dean Griffiths, Kim La Fave and Francois Thisdale. It was published  in 2018.


Are you kind?

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Such a simple text yet so effective! It's really a list of ways to be kind, written as a series of questions. Put together with these lovely illustrations, the text does make me think. 

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a perfect book for reading aloud. After an initial read through, educators could talk about one page a day and have a wonderful discussion. It’s also a great book for studying different styles of illustration and what makes them effective. Or to think about how the illustration relates to the text. I also really love the cover. I definitely want this one for my personal collection!

Ages: all ages

Grades: K – 4

Themes: kindness, diversity, manners


List: Make a list of acts of kindness that you could try.

Create: Choose your favourite illustration from the text. What makes it special? Try to 
create your own art in the style of the artist.

Discuss: Think of a time when you had to say you were sorry. How did you feel? How 
do you think the other person felt?

Draw: Draw a picture of how you look when you are sad. Write about some things that make you feel better. Could you try those things to help someone else?

Monday, February 18, 2019


'Hummingbirds’ in the title caught my eye—but I was even more intrigued when I discovered the main character was a girl born with talipes equinovarus (clubfoot).   

The cover has the book title with tiny humming birds against a background of green diamonds. This image accompanies a book review at That's Another Story by Andrea L MackDescription from the publisher…

“Hummingbirds and angels don’t need two good feet. They have wings.” That’s what Alba’s mother always says. Of course, Alba doesn’t have wings or two good feet: she has Cleo. Cleo is the name Alba has given to her left foot, which was born twisted in the wrong direction. When she points this out, though, her mother just smiles like the world has some surprise in store she doesn’t know about yet.

Well, Alba has her own surprise planned. After one final surgery and one final cast, Cleo is almost ready to meet the world straight on—just in time to run in the sixth grade cross-country race. Unfortunately, Alba’s best friend Levi thinks there’s no way she can pull it off. And she thinks there’s no way he’s right about the school librarian hiding a wormhole in her office. Tempers flare. Sharp words fly faster than hummingbirds. And soon it looks like both friends will be stuck proving their theories on their own.

The Theory of Hummingbirds, written by Michelle Kadarusman, was published by Pajama Press in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

Alba is a strong and interesting character, determined to reach her dream of running in the cross country race, in spite of the doubts of her parents and her best friend. I really loved all the facts about hummingbirds in this story, and I also liked the secretive librarian and the new friend that Alba met from school.


Hummingbirds can’t walk. Their feet are too tiny. They perch, but never walk.

If you’re a writer… 

I admired the way the author managed to weave so much into her story, which is short compared to many other middle grade novels. What stands out to me is her skill at creating characters. All the characters have definite personalities with strengths and weaknesses. Interactions between them seem realistic, including the interactions between Alba and her mom. And I love the best friend relationship Alba has with Levi, and how they stay friends even after their fight.

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics said I could ride along because Levi wouldn’t let go of my hand. The truth is I never would have let go either.

If you’re an educator…

This is such a great book to include in the classroom, because of the way Alba’s foot surgery and abilities are handled so sensitively. As a class read aloud, this would encourage thoughtful reflection about themes related to individual differences, friendship and determination.  

I pictured myself springing like a gazelle across the finish line. I didn’t want to break the bubble. I didn’t want to see the look Levi would give me again, the look that said I had no business running in the race. The look that said I didn’t belong in Normal Land.

If you’re looking for more books for 8 to 12 year-olds, check out the list of wonderful middle grade books over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS by Margaret Chiu Greanias & Lesley Breen Withrow - A fun story about accepting your true self

I have been exchanging manuscripts for critique with the author of this book, Margaret, for a few years, and I am still blown away by her creativity. I was excited to purchase this book for my own collection and to share it with my students.

Summary from the publisher:

Maximillian Villainous is a monster who doesn’t have the heart to be a villain. His famous family pulls pranks on the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and Max spends his time undoing them. So when he brings home a bunny to be his sidekick, Max’s disapproving mother hatches a plan. She challenges Max and the bunny to become a devious duo; otherwise . . . the bunny hops. If they want to stay together, Max and the bunny have no choice but to go against their nature. They blunder into villainy with comical effect until Max discovers that embracing his good heart may just be the key to pulling off the most devious deed of all and winning his family’s acceptance.

Delightfully fun and irreverent, Maximillian Villainous is an empowering story about embracing one’s true self and finding acceptance. Up and coming illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow brings the characters to life with bold and colorful illustrations in a style reminiscent of Richard Scarry.

Maximillian Villainous was written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow. It was published by Running Press Kids in 2018.


Maximillian Villainous came from a long line of famous villains. But Max was different from his family.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

How lovely to read a story where the main character can’t help being kind! Although the theme of a character learning to accept his differences isn’t new, the author has provided a twist by having him come from a family of villains. The ending and solution to his problem was a nice surprise. I really liked the big, colourful illustrations.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

The main character in this story shows persistence as he makes several attempts to fit in with his family by being villainous. This is a fun read for children, though the idea of a “bunny brigade” may need a little explaining. A nice book for discussions about kindness to others or working towards goals.

Ages: 4 - 9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: kindness, individual differences, persistence


List: What act of kindness could Max and his bunny try next? Make a list of ideas.

Research: What is your family known for? Make a “family tree” and write something each family member is good at. What is your “claim to fame”?

STEM challenge: Design and construct your own leprechaun trap.

For more Perfect Picture Book Friday reads with teacher and/or parent tips, check out the list on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Monday, February 4, 2019


I was surprised to learn this story was based on a real event! I was so intrigued by this book that I read the whole thing in one afternoon.

Description from the publisher…

The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.

Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?

Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.

Journey of the Pale Bear, written by Susan Fletcher, was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

This is a wonderful story about how a boy learns about himself as he learns to love the bear. If you love animal stories, you will enjoy this book!


In the evening, as darkness falls, I return to the fortress. A guard lifts a lantern to my face, and at once I’m blind, blinking against the flood of sudden brightness.

If you’re a writer… 

The writing in this novel is so lovely, I would read it again just to hear the words and phrases in my mind. It’s worth studying to see how the author uses language to create a mood, to develop character, and to bring settings to life. I liked that the ending wasn’t ‘happily ever after with all loose ends wrapped up.’

Before we saw the bear, we heard her—a heavy, rhythmic tread, a thump, a clang. Beyond the reek of fish, I sniffed out the feral musk of her.

If you’re an educator…

This book lends itself to discussion about the environment and what it means to be free and wild. There’s a lovely appreciation of nature in this book, as well as some sea adventures and survival elements.

I lifted the hatch and peered out. The sun had edged over the horizon, and in the pale morning light I could see the bear pacing slowly back and forth, not far from the sterncastle and the bulk of the crew. Arrows still bristled from her snout, shoulder and leg.

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.