Monday, March 25, 2019

THE FRIENDSHIP WAR by Andrew Clements –A story of friends, buttons and economics

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. I was so intrigued by the concept of a story about buttons!

Description from the publisher…

Stickers, Silly Bandz, Rainbow Looms, fidget spinners . . . buttons?! A brand-new school story about friendship and fads from the bestselling author of Frindle.

This is war. Okay–that’s too dramatic.
But no matter what this is called, so far I’m winning.
And it feels wonderful.

Grace and Ellie have been best friends since second grade. Ellie’s always right in the center of everything–and Grace is usually happy to be Ellie’s sidekick. But what happens when everything changes? This time it’s Grace who suddenly has everyone’s attention when she accidentally starts a new fad at school. It’s a fad that has first her class, then her grade, and then the entire school collecting and trading and even fighting over . . . buttons?! A fad that might also get her in major trouble and could even be the end of Grace and Ellie’s friendship. Because Ellie’s not used to being one-upped by anybody. There’s only one thing for Grace to do. With the help of Hank–the biggest button collector in the sixth grade–she will have to figure out a way to end the fad once and for all. But once a fad starts, can it be stopped?

The Friendship War, written by Andrew Clements, was published by Random House Children’s Books in 2019.

Why you want to read this book… 

The subject of buttons caught my attention right away. I could understand how the kids in the story got interested in trading and collecting them. I have a couple of jars of them, right in my home office, because they’re kind of cool. (Ssh! Don’t tell anyone but I may break out some stretchy elastic and make myself a button bracelet tonight.)

It was really interesting how the buttons became a fad and created so much conflict between the kids in the story. I also really liked Grace’s personality. She was a kind person trying to do the right thing and thinking about how her actions affected others.


Flying from Chicago to Boston by myself hasn’t been as big a deal as my dad said it was going to be. But nothing ever is.

If you’re a writer… 

You might notice that the pacing is great. I read this story all the way through in one day because I wanted to finish. But what I enjoyed most was the way the author had Grace share her thought processes. She questioned her friendships and what it means to be a friend, reflecting on her own decisions. I loved how she tried to do the right thing, even after things got out of control and everything started to go wrong.

When water reaches its freezing point, it turns to ice instantly. And just like that, I feel a decision snap into place—clear and cold and hard. I am not letting Ellie get away with this!

If you’re an educator…

You could find so many different things ways to bring this book into classroom activities! There are lots of opportunities to develop math problems from the button collections as well as to talk about data collection and scientific methodology. Grace's enthusiasm for data collection may even rub off on your students. 

I want to dump all three of the mixed boxes onto my floor and then sort the buttons by shape and size and color and design and material—and especially to count them! I could even put all the information into a graph or a table—really look at the data!

After reading this book I was excited about the idea of using buttons to create bracelets or sculptures and I bet students would enjoy this too. Watch this video to see how Augusto Esquivel, an artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, uses buttons to make sculptures:  

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.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

PENGUINAUT! by Marcie Colleen & Emma Yarlett – A nervous penguin bravely takes on an out-of-this-world adventure

What a fun story about working towards goals and being brave!

Summary from the publisher

Orville the penguin lives at the zoo, surrounded by animal pals who go on exciting adventures. A hang gliding rhino! A deep-sea diving giraffe! Orville struggles to keep up, until one day he concocts an adventure all his own: build a spaceship and fly to the moon all by himself. Can one tiny penguin get there alone?

Penguinaut! is perfect for every child who's said, "I can do it myself!" and comes to find that the rewards are much richer when shared with friends. Marcie Colleen's playful text and Emma Yarlett's charming, whimsical illustrations are sure to delight both children and their parents.

Penguinaut! was written by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Emma Yarlett. It was published  in 2018 by Orchard Press, an imprint of Scholastic.

Orville was small.

His friends were big.

And their adventures were bigger.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is an engaging story with gentle humor and simple but fun language, such as “perfectly penguin-sized.” The author has managed to bring out several different emotions within the adventure theme, so it’s a great one to study for thinking about adding different layers to a picture book text. I love the illustrations, especially the one where Orville draws the plans for his rocket. All the characters in the story have characteristic expressions and there are so many fun details for kids to notice as they read the pictures.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a versatile book for reading aloud in the classroom! It shows perseverance and independence in Orville’s attempts to build his rocket, creativity and imagination as he builds with different materials, and emotions of anxiety and excitement. It’s lovely the way Orville’s friends engage in a little kindness and write him a note of encouragement.

Ages: 3-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: adventure, perseverance, creativity


Draw: Have you ever had an adventure? What adventure would you like to have? Draw a picture!

STEAM: Build a rocket ship using cardboard boxes and other recyclable materials that can fit more than one person or toy. Where would travel in your rocket?

Share an act of kindness: Write someone you know a kindness message, like Orville’s friends did in the story. Then hide it someplace where they will find it!

Monday, March 4, 2019

PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes–An entertaining middle grade novel that tackles the issue of censorship

Another recommendation from my writing friend Erika David. What a fun and thought-provoking read!

Description from the publisher…

When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.

But June can’t give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn’t have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It’s a delicious secret . . . and one she can’t keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library’s popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle–a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it’s powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can!

Property of the Rebel Librarian, written by Allison Varnes, was published by Random House in 2018.

Why you want to read this book… 

I didn’t have parents that grounded me or took away books, but it was fun to explore what might happen if... This is one of my favourite types of middle grade book--funny and fast-paced but with a deeper layer of meaning. 

The story moved quickly and I got caught up in wondering what might happen to June and her friends. I loved the way the author shows June’s excitement for books and reading, and the way June gradually comes to take a stand. June’s parents are kind of extreme, but once you accept the premise of the story it’s an entertaining read. As a final treat at the end, there’s a reading list of all the books mentioned in the story.


You’re going to read a lot about me and the things I’ve done. Most of it is true.

If you’re a writer… 

You might want to read this to study the writing style, concise and to the point with just the right amount of detail. There's strong voice in this novel and I loved how we saw things from June's perspective, including the details of her outfits and those of other people. I also admired how the author handled June’s relationships with her friends. June is interested in boys and talks about them with her friends, something I don’t always see in middle grade novels but is very evident in school hallways. I also liked the realism of her relationship with her away-at-college sister.

This is no longer the same Dogwood Middle. It’s an alternate reality where reading is the coolest thing you can do and I, June Harper, am the leader of the cool kids—of the rebellion.

If you’re an educator…

Another great book to include in the classroom or for a book club pick. There's lots to discuss here about censorship, activism, standing up for what you believe in and feeling empowered.

“Adults are always saying how we need to be responsible citizens, but how can we even learn what that means if you put the library on lockdown?”

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.