Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Summer Camp Activities from Children's Writers & Illustrators

So glad that summer is here! The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. I'm taking a break from book reviews for a while, as I reflect on my own journey and work on my own writing projects. But I will be dropping in to offer links to resources for young writers and readers.

I wanted to share with you this awesome resource for keeping children learning as they play during the summer...CAMP SCBWI!

CAMP SCBWI is "a digital directory of summer camp activities for students grades PreK-12 and adventurous adults." SCBWI is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They are compiling activities created by authors and illustrators in the areas of the arts, nature, nutrition, sports, and theater, as well as weekly live-streams led by a prominent member of the creative community. 

I checked out the schedule posted on their page and it looks great! I love the way it's broken down by age group and type of activity. This is a great resource for the summer!

You can find weekly schedules for CAMP SCBWI activities on their InstagramTwitter, or this page


Monday, May 18, 2020

THE DISASTER DAYS by Rebecca Behrens - A typical babysitting experience suddenly becomes a test of survival

I love survival stories and this one turned out to be really exciting! I’m really looking forward to the author's next adventure, Alone in the Woods, coming out in the fall of 2020. This author also writes historical middle grade and I'm looking forward to checking it out when I get a chance.

Description from the publisher:

Hannah Steele loves living on Pelling, a tiny island near Seattle. It's a little disconnected from the outside world, but she's always felt completely safe there.

Which is why when she's asked one day to babysit after school, she thinks it's no big deal. Zoe and Oscar are her next-door neighbors, and Hannah just took a babysitting class that she's pretty sure makes her an expert. She isn't even worried that she left her inhaler at home.

Then the shaking begins.

The terrifying earthquake only lasts four minutes but it changes everything, damaging the house, knocking out the power, and making cell service nonexistent. Even worse, the ferry and the bridge connecting the kids to help―and their parents―are both blocked. Which means they're stranded and alone... With Hannah in charge, as things go from bad to dangerous.

The Disaster Days by Rebecca Behrens was published by Sourcebooks in 2019.

Why you want to read this book…

It’s an exciting story where three kids are put in the middle of a disaster, when an unexpected earthquake strikes. There’s an interesting twist to the story, because the main character, Hannah, is babysitting two younger kids when the earthquake hits. The kids are cut off from parents and any kind of phone communication, forcing Hannah to rely on her sense of responsibility and her problem-solving skills to help them survive. Aftershocks, injuries and Hannah’s own asthma condition add to the drama. If you love survival stories, this book is a must read!


Nothing was remarkable that morning, except the postcard-perfect view of Mount Rainier. Most of the time, clouds and fog hid it, but the volcano was always there, watching us, even when we couldn’t see it. We forgot that we were living right on top of a fault zone.

If you’re a writer…

You might be interested in studying the plot complications the author dreams up for these kids who are basically stuck in the same setting for much of the story, as well as how she ramps up the tension. Hannah’s internal thoughts and worries all seemed so appropriate for her age, which might help writers who need a mentor text for a kid stuck in a life-threatening situation. 

If you’re an educator…

This is a good story for a read aloud or a comparative book study with other kinds of disaster stories. Some ways to use this book in your classroom:
- create a “disaster” book display with a place for students to share their thoughts on how they are different, which they liked best, etc.
- read in conjunction with non-fiction projects on the earth and earthquakes to spark ideas for studying how people are affected by changes in the earth
- encourage writing about “your worst experience” as a journal writing activity or theme for a class book

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, May 8, 2020

ARABELLA AND THE MAGIC PENCIL by Stephanie Ward & Shaney Hyde - What would you do with a magic pencil?

This delightful what-if story is a perfect way to escape! What would you do with a magic pencil? I received a beautiful signed copy of this book as a prize from Justin Colon – a huge supporter and encourager of picture book creatives, as well as the founder of #PBChat on Twitter. For more about Justin, check out his website, https://justincolonbooks.com or twitter feed @JustinColon

Summary from the publisher  

Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything until her brother, Avery, arrives. While she loves him, it’s sometimes hard to like him. She spends her days creating marvellous things with her magic pencil, and ignoring him. But when he spoils her tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! Can she get him back?

Arabella and the Magic Pencil was written by Stephanie Ward, illustrated by Shaney Hyde and published by EK Books in 2019.



There once was a girl named Arabella.

She was the only child of a duke and duchess who dote on their delightful daughter.

By royal decree, Arabella was granted one wish each year.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

I love the imaginative way that Arabella deals with the problem of an annoying little brother. Writers could study this story to see how to add a surprising twist to their story.

Whimsical watercolour illustrations create a beautiful fairy-tale feeling. I enjoyed studying all the small details on the clothing and in the backgrounds.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a fun story that would be great to use as a mentor text for writing imaginative fantasy or fairy-tale themed stories. It clearly shows a problem for the main character, as well as her solution.

Ages: 4-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: drawing, imagination, coping with siblings


Discuss: What is your favourite page in the story? Explain why.

Draw & Write: What would you do if you had a magic pencil? What problems would arise from your decision?

More Drawing Fun:  Take turns drawing or painting a picture with a younger or older sibling. What happens when you disagree? How do you solve problems?

Try this Magic Pencil Craft from the author. And here's author Stephanie Ward reading the book aloud

Want to read more great picture books? Check out the list at Perfect Picture Book Friday, a regular Friday feature organized by children's author Susanna Leonard Hill

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Tips for Authors & Illustrators Providing Distance Learning Content for Young Children

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash
I’m so grateful to all the authors, illustrators, book publishers and other creatives who are providing a steady line-up of read alouds, activities and downloads! 

As an educator, it’s really exciting to be able to introduce my students to books read by the author or to share drawing demos created by an illustrator. If you are one of those people, thank you so much!!

Since this has been on my mind, I thought I’d share some of the things I look for as I search for read alouds to support my lessons:

  • I link to read alouds that can be shared from Youtube, Vimeo, or author websites, especially ones that are Kid-safe and ad free. I don’t link to Facebook, Instagram, etc.

  • Since I schedule lessons in advance, I’m looking for content that stays accessible for a while. Students and families access distance learning at different times over the day, whenever they can fit it in.

  • I'm attracted to readings with a natural, relatively slow pace and lots of close ups of the book illustrations.

  • Extra content such as a related song, art demo or story about where the idea for the book came from is really fun, as long as they aren’t overly long.

  • It’s not always necessary to provide extra content.  I use read alouds to support what I’m teaching, so sometimes I appreciate just having the read aloud itself.

  • When themes, keywords or topics of the books are easy to find, I can tell right away how the book will fit into my lesson plans. By-author lists are nice if I’m familiar with the author and looking for a “for fun” story.

I really enjoy bringing authors and illustrators to my students and I purposefully look for picture books that are read by their creators. I’d love to hear from you if you have additional tips or resources!

Monday, May 4, 2020

THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner - A story about coping with and accepting disappointments

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any middle grade books, but I miss them! Is it possible to be too busy to read much? I’ve been working hard to create positive experiences for my kindergarten students through distance learning, as well as squeezing in a little time for working on my own novel. Then there’s all the spring gardening... But I’m so happy to be back to reading, because some days all I want to do is escape into a good book.

This week, I’m pleased to be showcasing this book from author Kate Messner. From what I can tell, Kate loves to ask questions about the world and her curiosity leads her to write some very interesting stories with fun and realistic characters.

Description from the publisher:

Kirby "Zig" Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people--especially his father, who he hasn't seen in over a year. When his dad's latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo--a garage sale GPS unit--for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren't always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there's more than one set of coordinates for home.

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner was published by Bloomsbury in 2017.

Why you want to read this book…

First of all, it’s about geocaching! This is a really fun hobby where you get to hike and hunt for treasures at the same time. The main character in this book also loves to create and tinker with electronics. He’s struggling with his feelings and his relationship with his father, who he hasn’t seen in a long time. I really liked how his friends supported him through the process of learning about what was going on with his father and the feelings he was having about it. 
One last fun thing I want to mention about this book is that it connects to the wonderful THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, the first middle grade book Kate Messner had published.  


He’s not coming.
The thought’s been buzzing around my brain all day like a mosquito that gets in the tent on a camping trip. It comes back, no matter how many times I swat it away.
I write my name on my English paper. Kirby Zigonski, and today, I add the Jr. at the end.

If you’re a writer…

You’ve probably read at least one book by Kate Messner. If you’ve read The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, this one is an interesting follow up since the characters inhabit the same world and setting. If you haven’t read any of Kate Messner’s books and you write middle grade, I recommend her books as mentor texts for plotting and building character through small details and dialogue. As you can tell from the opening lines of this book, it’s a great one to use as a mentor text for getting into the point of view of the character and seeing the world from their eyes.

If you’re an educator…

This is a good story for a read aloud or book club to open up discussions about feelings of disappointment and loss that isn’t related to a death, but the other kinds of loss that we experience as we travel through life. Some ideas for using this book in your classroom:
·        provide a selection of books by Kate Messner to read as part of an “Author of the Month” display with post-its to record thoughts or index cards for posting a mini-review on a bulletin board
·        display in conjunction with a “tinker centre” or a unit on electronics
·        design a geocache box or a treasure map for a classroom treasure hunt

Kate Messner has written many other books for kids – check out her website for info about them as well as resources and activities for teachers. She has also put together a wonderful list of resources for learning from anywhere - Read, Wonder and Learn.

If you’d like to know my thoughts on some of her books, here’s the list of reviews on That’s Another Story (a small sampling of her work):
Middle Grade
Picture Books

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, March 30, 2020

One for Fun - Make Your Own Puzzle

Hope you are all managing okay, where ever you are! I came across this fun (and easy) activity today and thought I'd pass it along. 


1.Cut the front off of a cereal box or cracker box.

2. Cut the box front into pieces - 8 to 10 pieces for an easier puzzle, more for a harder puzzle. You can cut basic random shapes (triangles, rectangles) or shapes with trickier notches or angles. 

Variations: You can also use an old family photo glued onto thin cardboard or cardstock, or have your child draw a picture. Just wait until the glue is dry before trying to make your puzzle. 

Tip: Encourage your child to cut their own pieces so they can make a puzzle for you!

Area of Development: fine motor skill, problem-solving, mathematical thinking 


Cereal Box Puzzles:  https://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-puzzles/

Other Puzzle Ideas:   https://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-puzzles-for-toddlers-and-preschoolers/

Thanks also to educator Deanna Pecaski McLennan, author of Spring Math Walk and an FDK educator in Southern Ontario, for the idea.

Friday, March 27, 2020

One for Fun – an art activity for bored young children and overwhelmed parents

Here’s an easy art activity to try:
1. On a blank sheet of paper, draw a big doodle with straight and curved lines that cross each other in many places.
2. Colour in the spaces between the lines using paint, crayons or coloured pencils.
Can you make a happy doodle? A sad one? 
Tip: You can play this as a game by drawing with a partner and taking turns, adding lines and colours. You could also assign a colour to each dice roll (e.g., 1 = red, 2= blue, 3=green, 4=yellow, 5=black, 6= purple).

For another take on this activity, check out Happy Hooligans HomemadeDoodle Art!
Area of Development: creativity, problem-solving, self-confidence, emotional learning
Happy creating!

HENRY & BEA by Jessixa Bagley – a story about sadness and loss

I liked this story, a good one for generating discussion about sadness. I read a hard copy I had signed out from the public library, but it is also available on Epic. If you're looking for my daily One for Fun learning activity, the post will be up later today.

Summary from the publisher:

Henry and Bea are inseparable, but one day Henry suddenly stops talking to his best friend. Bea knows there’s something Henry’s not telling her, but what could it be?

Henry and Bea have always been inseparable…until one day Henry suddenly stops talking to Bea. He won’t chat with her in class, and he won’t sit with her at lunch. Bea can tell something’s going on, and she’s determined to find out what it is.

When their teacher announces that the class is taking a field trip to a farm, Bea hopes that this might be her chance to reconnect with Henry. When Henry finds an old cat collar at the farm and starts to cry, he finally reveals his secret to Bea: his cat Buddy died last week.

And even though it’s hard for them both, Bea knows that she’ll be there for Henry, as his best friend, no matter what.

Henry and Bea was written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley. It was published in 2019 by Holiday House.


It’s always lucky to find someone who understands you,
and that’s why Henry and Bea were the best of friends.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story about the loss of a pet was a little different in that it showed how sadness affected the character during their everyday life. It was really interesting how his friend tried to figure out what was wrong when he didn’t feel like talking. A good example for writers for how to include some interiority from a character.

The soft-toned illustrations capture a lovely, quiet mood for this story. I enjoyed how the details on the clothing and the character expressions make them seem so real.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a quieter story about emotions and sadness. Although this story is about dealing with the loss of a pet, it could be used for discussion about any kind of loss or sadness.

Ages: 4-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: sadness, loss, friendship


Discuss:  What is your favourite page in the story? Explain why.

Draw & Write: What do you do when you feel sad? Draw a picture of something you like to hold or a place you go to be by yourself. Write sentence: I feel sad when…

Fun at home: With a grown-up, find a cookie recipe and bake some cookies! [Baking is a great opportunity for learning about measuring.]

For more picture book reviews and activities, visit Susanna Leonard Hill's blog  on Fridays.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Day 3: Fun Ideas for Bored Kids & Overwhelmed Parents - Math with LEGO® Bricks

Although people often think of worksheets when they think of math, there are lots of fun games and hands on activities to try with young children.

Some ideas for using LEGO® bricks to build math skills in a fun way:

Measuring: Build a measuring stick of 10 or 20 LEGO® bricks. Search around your house or yard for things that are taller or shorter than your measuring stick. Can you find something exactly the same length?

Patterning:  Use your LEGO® to create patterns. You can make patterns with colours, different sized bricks, different brick orientations...so many ways to try it! Challenge other people in your family to create patterns too!

Addition game: Play a tower (or other structure) building game with your family members. Roll one or two dice to see how many pieces to add. Keep going until you reach 25 (or other agreed upon number). You can also play this as a subtraction game, by starting with a tower (or structure) of 25 pieces and taking away bricks, to see who can completely lose their structure first.

Area of Development: mathematics behaviours, measuring, comparing, counting, patterning, problem solving

More LEGO® math ideas for kindergarten and preschool:



Wondering why I'm posting math activities on my reading & writing blog? Read my post here to find out. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Day 2: Ideas for Bored Kids and Overwhelmed Adults - I'm Bored Read Aloud & a STEAM challenge

Give yourselves a pat on the back for making it through another day! My goals for each day are:

  • be active -- I've been enjoying Yoga with Adriene onYouTube and long walks with my dog
  • be creative -- I write everyday, and draw something most days
  • learn something new --  I read about new learning activities and writing techniques
  • do something relaxing -- read a good book, play a game, watch a funny show

In case you're wondering why I'm posting about this, check out my blog post here.

Today's Learning Link:  A funny read aloud from Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

Area of Development: literacy

Extra STEAM activity:  The main character in the story created a pirate ship. Create your own vehicle to help a bored potato travel! Or build an imaginative, indoor playground where a bored potato could play.

Area of Development: problem-solving

How are you coping? Do you set any goals for yourself?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Daily Ideas for Bored Young Children and Overwhelmed Parents - Literacy

One of the things I’ve noticed is the huge number of read alouds, construction challenges, games and drawing lessons popping up everywhere on the internet. I don’t know about you, but I’m experiencing a bit of overwhelm.

As I’ve seen in many places, good advice to remember is that parents are not teachers. As a parent, first and foremost you need to cherish, love and keep your kids happy and healthy. You do what you need to do to during these challenging times. Please stay safe and follow recommended social distancing measures.

At the same time, I know it’s challenging to keep children busy all day long. So I’m going to be posting a fun learning idea or link with resources as I can (hopefully daily but we’ll see how that goes). 

Since I have the knowledge and learning from my background as a kindergarten teacher in Ontario, I’ll include information about the related areas of development and learning (for parents who are worried that their children are missing their learning). Please note that I’m doing this as a good samaritan, drawing on my expertise to be helpful, rather than as part of my employment as a teacher. 

Parents of young children can also visit Ontario.ca/learnathome.

Be well & have fun!


Today's fun resource:  KidLit TV

Area of Development: literacy

This resource has been around for a while. It has a library of read alouds by authors and book-related activities. I especially love Ready, Set, Draw! Here's an example:

Have fun exploring!

Monday, March 23, 2020


Coping with the unusual is definitely something that's on my mind these days. All the mysterious happenings in this story kept me hooked.

Description from the publisher:

SoHo, 1981. Twelve-year-old Olympia is an artist--and in her neighborhood, that's normal. Her dad and his business partner Apollo bring antique paintings back to life, while her mother makes intricate sculptures in a corner of their loft, leaving Ollie to roam the streets of New York with her best friends Richard and Alex, drawing everything that catches her eye.

Then everything falls apart. Ollie's dad disappears in the middle of the night, leaving her only a cryptic note and instructions to destroy it. Her mom has gone to bed, and she's not getting up. Apollo is hiding something, Alex is acting strange, and Richard has questions about the mysterious stranger he saw outside. And someone keeps calling, looking for a missing piece of art. . . .

Olympia knows her dad is the key--but first, she has to find him, and time is running out.

All the Grey’s on Greene Street by Laura Tucker was published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2019.

Why you want to read this book…
All the aspects of the art studio, the artist loft and Ollie’s lifestyle were intriguing, but what really tugged at my heart was the predicament Ollie was put in. Reading about how Ollie tried to cope with her father leaving and her mother’s depression made for a strong, emotional experience.  I also really enjoyed all the details about art!

May Day is the first day of May.

“Mayday” is a radio signal used by ships and aircraft in distress.

This spring, May Day was the first day that my mom didn’t get out of bed.

If you’re a writer…

You might be interested in the way the author left space for the reader to interpret and think about what is going on. The way the author described the art techniques put me right there in the moment. This is a good book to study to see how different threads of plot are wound up and tied together at the end.

I hate charcoal. You’d think I’d like it because there’s no color involved, but I hate the horrible scratching sound it makes against the paper and the smudgy mess of it.

If you’re an educator or parent…

A great story for a read aloud to open up discussions about feelings, different kinds of families, and coping with family troubles. The art and the mystery give the story lots of ways to interest readers.
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.