Friday, December 4, 2020

EXPLORERS OF THE WILD by Cale Atkinson - A fun adventure story for a child and a bear

One of my favourite themes in picture books and children's novels is adventure, so I was delighted to recently discover this beautifully illustrated picture book by Canadian author-illustrator Cale Atkinson! I read it as an e-book from my local library. (Even though I always prefer to hold and pore over a hard copy, e-books have the advantage of a view of the complete illustration not obscured by the gutter from the binding). 

Summary from the publisher:

Boy and Bear both love to explore the outdoors. There are so many neat things to see, and so many strange things to find. These explorers are prepared for anything . . . except each other!

When Bear and Boy meet in the woods, they're scared at first. Really scared. But soon these kings of the wild realize that no mountain is too big to conquer if you have a friend to climb it by your side.

Explorers of the Wild was written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, and published by Disney-Hyperion in 2016.


Why I liked this book:

The colourful and detail-packed illustrations really went well with the single-day adventure. I think kids will love the friendly-looking characters and the "big surprise" when they meet each other. Such a cute story!

From a writer's perspective...

I'd read this again or use it as a mentor text if I were writing a picture book with two parallel stories. This is a great example of a book with two parallel stories that meet partway through the story and continue on together. The simple text really lets the illustrations shine.

From an educator's perspective:

This is a lovely celebration of a single day's adventure into the woods. It reminded me a little of an old favourite, "Where's My Teddy?" by Jez Alborough. It would be fun to discuss the different perspectives of the characters and what they see or bring on the adventure. This story could also lead to a discussion about how some friendships are based on common interests. As a read aloud, this could inspire some wonderful some student art and writing!

Ages: 4-7

Grades: K – 2

Themes: adventures, nature, friendship


Create: Think about what might happen if you planned your own adventure. Draw small pictures of all the things you'd bring along. Or, cut them out of a flyer and glue them in a collage, with a few words of explanation.  

Write: Write a story about your own adventure! You could use the prompt: If I was exploring the wilderness... 

Imagine and draw: What do you think happened when the bear got home? What about the boy? Draw comic to show what happened next. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

PINE ISLAND HOME by Polly Horvath - A story of adventure and family with four orphan sisters


Why you want to read this book…

This absorbing story about four orphan sisters living on their own was just delightful. The characters seemed like they could be loosely based on the girls in Little Women, but this story also reminded me of an old favourite, The Five Little Peppers,  based on the writing style and the predicaments the children experienced. 

The four sisters all had very different personalities and I could see something of myself in each one of them. I especially loved Marlin’s struggles as a writer and how their guardian grew and changed through interacting with them.  I also loved the nature elements-–a bear!—and Natasha’s birding adventures.

The emotions the girls had for their deceased parents were handled so realistically, and yet didn’t drag down the story into sadness. Each chapter was like a new adventure. I loved how not everything was wrapped up neatly at the end. Delightful really is the best word to describe this gem. I hope Polly Horvath is writing a sequel, because I’d love to see what these girls get up to next!


Here’s the summary from the publisher:

Fiona, Marlin, Natasha, and Charlie McCready are left on their own when their missionary parents are washed away in a tsunami. Fortunately, their great aunt Martha volunteers to have them live with her on her farm in British Columbia. But while they are traveling there, Martha dies unexpectedly, forcing Fiona, the eldest, to come up with a scheme to keep social services from separating the girls - a scheme that will only work if no one knows they are living on their own.

     Fiona approaches their grouchy and indifferent neighbor Al and asks if he will pretend to be their live-in legal guardian should papers need to be signed or if anyone comes snooping around. He reluctantly agrees, under the condition that they bring him dinner every night. As weeks pass, Fiona takes on more and more adult responsibilities, while each of the younger girls finds their own special role in their atypical family. But even if things seem to be falling into place, Fiona can't help but worry that it is only a matter of time before they are caught. What she needs to do is find them a real guardian.


Pine Island Home by Polly Horvath was published by Penguin Random House in 2020. I read an e-version from my local public library.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

LOOK! I WROTE A BOOK! (AND YOU CAN TOO) by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Neal Layton

 As a person who loves reading and writing, I was drawn to this book by the title. I loved all the funny ideas in drawings and the explanations of the writing process (including revising). The cartoony crayon style illustration adds to the fun.


Summary from the publisher:

 Want to write a book? Well, the spunky, know-it-all narrator of this side-splitting story can tell you just how to do it. She walks readers through the whole process, from deciding what to write about (like dump trucks or The Olden Days) to writing a story that doesn’t put everyone to sleep and getting people to buy your book (tips: be nice, give them cookies, and if all else fails, tie them to a chair).


Look! I Wrote a Book! was written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Neal Layton, and published by Schwartz & Wade Books in 2019.



When you want to write a book,

first you need a Good Idea.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

Check out this book for a humorous example of a how-to text. It would be interesting to compare this one to Kate Messner’s How to Write a Story and think about the choices that the authors made about what to focus on.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is a great book for an elementary classroom! I loved how it explains the process of writing a story. It will likely motivate some children to get to work on their own.


Ages: 5-9

Grades: K – 4

Themes: writing, story structure


List:  Make a list of topics you might like to write about. Think about who might like to read a story about your topic.

Draw: Design your own book cover. Make up a title and then draw a cover illustration to go with it.

Plan: Get a big sheet of paper and draw a beginning, a middle and an end for a story. Make sure it’s not boring. If it is, then add some obstacles to get in your character’s way. Reading the book again will help remind you of ways you can make your story more interesting.

Write: Imagine you are a famous author. Write your own About the Author page with important facts about you.

Monday, October 19, 2020

THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS by Ann Braden – a powerful and emotional story about choosing the right path

This is a book worth taking some time to read and think about. I really liked how the teacher helped encourage the main character and helped her figure out how to participate in the debate club.

Why read this book?

It’s a powerful story with a lot of emotional depth that will get you thinking. I loved the determined spirit of the main character Zoey and the strength of her caring for her family. I really enjoyed the way the main character learned to think about her life differently and to speak up and choose. Even though Zoey didn’t have a chose to join the debate club, it was interesting how it helped her think about her life differently and to speak up. The story had a hopeful ending, despite the fact that her family situation continued to be challenging. I also really enjoyed the octopus facts included in the story!


Here’s the summary:

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they've got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there's Lenny, her mom's boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it's best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she's not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia's situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they're better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she's ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.


The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden was published by Sky Pony Press in 2018. I read an e-version from my local public library.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

WHEN EMILY WAS SMALL by Lauren Soloy - A story inspired by the writings of artist Emily Carr

Why read this book?

As a fan of Emily Carr's art, I was intrigued by the idea of finding out about what she was like as a young girl. This book provides is a fun way to share creative inspiration and art with young children. 

Summary from the publisher:

A joyful frolic through the garden helps a little girl feel powerful in this beautiful picture book that celebrates nature, inspired by the writings of revered artist Emily Carr.

Emily feels small. Small when her mother tells her not to get her dress dirty, small when she's told to sit up straight, small when she has to sit still in school.

But when she's in the garden, she becomes Small: a wild, fearless, curious and passionate soul, communing with nature and feeling one with herself. She knows there are secrets to be unlocked in nature, and she yearns to discover the mysteries before she has to go back to being small . . . for now.

When Emily Was Small by Lauren Soloy was published by Tundra Books in 2020.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The lyrical language in this book just begs to be read aloud. Try reading the story aloud to study how the rhythm created by the phrasing and word choices carries you through the story.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

I loved the way this book tells us about the childhood of this famous artist, in way that explores imagination. Discovering the note at the back that explains how this story is based on Emily Carr’s own writing and her own thoughts about her childhood was a lovely surprise. This book would be a great one to incorporate into several lessons to consider the interesting word choices, the art and the connection to nature.

 Ages: 4-8

Grades: K – 3

Themes: imagination, creativity, nature


Drama: At different places in the story, Emily felt small, wild and peaceful. Improvise movements or dance to show her different feelings.

 Art Talk: Provide children with some examples of Emily Carr’s work ( . Ask them to share their feelings and thoughts about each one. A question for discussion: Where do you see nature in her art work? Why do you think she’s an important artist?

Think & Draw: Have there been any times when you felt small? Draw a picture to show a time when you felt small.

Create: Look closely at the greens you see out the window. Try to see all the different greens. Experiment with paints to create several different shades of green by adding bits of white, black or other colours to a basic green pain. Make your own painting using different shades of green.


Monday, September 14, 2020

RED FOX ROAD by Frances Greenslade – An exciting survival story

I'm jumping back in to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with exactly the kind of book I love to read--an exciting adventure! 

Why you want to read this book…

If you’re a fan of survival stories like I am, you’ll enjoy reading this book. I couldn’t put it down! In this one, the main character’s parents are along for the ride, but Francie ends up on her own. She has to use her own knowledge and smarts to figure out how to get through some scary moments. I really liked her resourcefulness. This story was different than other survival stories I’ve read because Francie had to worry about her mom’s mental health as well as how to stay alive. A great read!

Here’s the summary from the publisher:

A thirteen-year-old girl on a family vacation becomes stranded alone in the wilderness when the family's GPS leads them astray. A compelling survival story for ages 10 to 14, for fans of Hatchet and The Skeleton Tree.

Francie and her parents are on a spring road trip: driving from British Columbia, Canada, to hike in the Grand Canyon. When a shortcut leads them down an old logging road, disaster strikes. Their truck hits a rock and wipes out the oil pan. They are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Francie can't help feeling a little excited -- she'd often imagined how she'd survive if she got stranded in the bush, and now here they are. But will her survival skills -- building fires, gathering dandelion leaves and fir needles for tea -- be enough when hours stretch into days?

Red Fox Road by Frances Greenslade, was published by Penguin Random House Canada and debuts on September 15, 2020. I read an electronic version via NetGalley, provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Make Mask-Wearing Easier for Young Children

I recently came across this clear and straightforward book about mask-wearing. This independently-published book is a useful resource for opening up discussions about why we need to wear masks. 

As a teacher, I love how it connects masks for playing with the mask that keeps others safe, helping kids with the emotional aspect of mask wearing. It was nice to see that “a portion of proceeds from sales of Lucy’s Mask will be donated to frontline workers and first responders.”

Here's the summary from Amazon:

Suddenly, masks are everywhere. Are your kids confused and anxious about wearing a mask? Lucy’s world turned upside down. She’s bored. She can’t be together with her friends. But when she finds out her mom is making her a new mask her boredom turns into excitement. Lucy loves masks! She dives into her toy box full of costumes and opens a world of imagination and make-believe adventure, far beyond the walls of her room. Of course, she doesn’t realize that the mask her mom is making is not a costume at all but one that will keep her safe and make her a real-life superhero.

I’d pair Lucy's Mask with this classic...

Thursday, August 20, 2020


You may have noticed I haven't been reviewing books over the summer. This is mainly because I was working on writing my own! But I have been doing a lot of reading and have some great books to tell you about in the fall.

r example, I recently read GURPLE AND PREEN by Linda Sue Park and Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It's a fun story with robots and recycling! (Watch for my review in the fall). You can read about the story behind GURPLE AND PREEN here.

There's also a fun challenge related to this book happening now on Twitter and Instagram. (You don't need to have read the book to participate.)

Basically, it involves using recycled materials to create art. The first challenge is to use dryer lint! As you can see below, I've attempted it myself...

I never thought I'd be using dryer lint as an art material!?!  

You can see more dryer lint creations by searching #GurpleandPreenChallenge on Insta and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Two Tips for Summer Learning

Are you worried? There's so much talk on social media these days about returning to school and not returning to school. Keeping kids safe at the expense of learning. And there are so many resources for keeping kids learning -- websites, read alouds, online camps. Just thinking about it is overwhelming. Take a few deep breaths. Today I just want to remind you of a couple of easy ways to boost your child's learning over the summer.  

Read Aloud. You've probably heard this before. Reading aloud to your child (at any age) is one of the best things you can do to promote literacy. Not only are you taking time away from the blue light of the screen to do something together, you're also introducing your child to new vocabulary, new ideas and new information. I used to build blanket tents inside or take books outside to read in the backyard. If you can't get to the library, it's okay. Re-reading old favourites is comforting. 

Listen First. As adults, we know more than kids do, and we like to share what we know with our kids. I challenge you listen to your child first before jumping in with your adult perspective. After you read a book together, ask questions - Which part did you like? Do you think that was a good ending? Why or why not? and then really listen to your child's answer. When you go on a walk and discover something new, ask your child to share their thinking about it first. It's hard, I know. We always want to help our children learn by telling what we know. Listening first gives your child space to think things through, to develop their own opinions and communicate them. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Learning Through Listening

I'm listening to the rain at the moment, which makes a lovely backdrop for working on creative projects (and also makes me feel relieved that I don't need to go out and water my gardens today). One of the things I'm doing on my break from teaching is to really focus on listening. 

Both as a creative and as an educator, I find listening opens up new perspectives and ways of thinking about ideas and situations. It seems to me that a lot of listening is needed to figure out what directions we will be following in the days ahead.

Over this past week, I watched the webinar (free to the general public) Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell. Educators as well as creatives might be interested hearing these experiences of several BIPOC authors and illustrators of children's books and how their experiences have shaped their creative work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Let Your Creativity Shine This Summer

It's so great to be able to spend time outside in nature! This summer especially, it's a real joy to explore the garden with all it's blooms and insects. Every day there is a new flower or bird visit to marvel over. After spending time out in nature, I feel more at peace and more creative. 

If you're spending time outdoors, don't forget to bring along a notebook and some drawing tools. Drawing and sketching outdoors is a way to spark your own or your child's creativity!

I just wanted to let you know about a wonderful series through the Art Gallery of Ontario called AGO Makes: Summer Edition with free family art talks and demonstrations! This series will continue for four weeks, kind of like an art summer camp for your family. I'm really looking forward to exploring some of the art techniques in this series.

If you're interested in art demonstrations that are specifically geared for children (and wannabe illustrators), don't forget to check out the great content on BiblioVideo -  a YouTube Channel packed with stories and art demonstrations by Canadian children's authors and illustrators, brought to us by the Canadian Children's Book Centre.

In this recent example, illustrator Carmen Mok shows us her studio and how to draw a shark!


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Summer Fun with Read Alouds & Activities from Simon Kids

How is your summer going? With the current heat wave, I'm not doing as much exploring as I might normally do. Instead, I'm taking more time to be creative inside (for me that's writing, doodling and drawing) as well as spending lots of time with family. 

In case you and your child are stuck inside more than usual too, I thought you might like to know about this great resource for books and activities from Simon Kids.

Read and Learn with Simon Kids

I especially love their YouTube channel, which has lots of free content, where authors and illustrators read their books aloud and present a fun activity to go with the book. You can find it here:  Read and Learn with Simon Kids - Youtube Channel

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, 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