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

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.