Thursday, November 4, 2021

DEAR EARTH...FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5 by Erin Dealey & Luisa Uribe - ways to care for the Earth year round

 Wow! I love teaching my students about caring for the Earth and the environment, so I was super excited when I won this book from author Vivian Kirkfield! If you aren't familiar with Vivian's blog, it's a great resource! You can  find picture books reviews and giveaways, as well as a couple of fun writing contests for adults and kids). 

DEAR EARTH is already a favourite in my classroom, and I really love that it's written in the form of letters! Such a fun way to write about different ideas for caring for the Earth. This book also follows the months of the year, which could be really useful for educators. 

Summary from the publisher

When the kids in Room 5 write to Earth asking what they can do to help save our planet, they are delighted to get a letter back. This beautiful picture book is a celebration of every child’s ability to connect with the environment and make a positive impact .

A monthly exchange of ideas between the kids and Earth becomes a lasting friendship in this affectionate story about how to be an Earth Hero, lyrically written by Erin Dealey and gorgeously illustrated by Dilys Evans Founder Award-winning illustrator Luisa Uribe.

Young readers will learn about environmental conservation, along with simple things they can do to help care for the planet—like recycling and reducing energy consumption. There is even a reversible jacket cover that features a poster printed on the inside with twelve months of Earth Hero activities. These fun and interactive activities will encourage children to help protect our planet year-round.

Dear Earth...From Your Friends in Room 5  by Erin Dealey and Luisa Uribe was published by HarperCollins Books in 2020. 


My thoughts as a creator:

I really love picture books written as letters and I love how the kids write to the Earth and the Earth writes back! This book also has the extra structural element of following the months of the year -- a good mentor text for anyone trying this structure. I love the beautiful, soft illustration style -- it feels very natural. 

My thoughts as an educator:

This book is great for the classroom -- it has the months of the year, seasonal activities, letter writing AND of course, ways to help the Earth. There are so many great activities to do that spring from this book! I love how it can be used all year long and not just for Earth Day.


Grades: K – grade 3

Themes: caring for the earth, letter writing, seasons


Family connections:   What are some things your family can do to help the environment? Make and list and discuss it with your family. 

Environment Challenge:  Each month, read about the activity the children do to help the Earth and challenge yourself to do it too! Keep track of how you helped the environment on a calendar. 

Social-Emotional Learning: How do you feel when you see trash or something harmful to the environment? Make a poster to show the world how our environment relates to our feelings. 

Writing:  Choose something from the environment -- a favourite animal, tree or rock--and write them a letter! What could you say? What do you think they would say if they wrote back? Or, write your own letter to the Earth. What do you appreciate about the planet you live on?

Additional Resources: 

 Harper Collins Kids has a cute letter writing page  kids could use to write their own letter to the Earth. 

Here's a read aloud by the author: 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

LITTLE KIDS FIRST BIG BOOK OF ROCKS, MINERALS AND SHELLS - a great resource for young collectors


Wow! Such an interesting book I couldn't pull myself away! Kids will love studying all the different types of rocks and shells in the big colourful photos.

This book is a treasure trove of information but at the same time is laid out in a way that isn't overwhelming for young children. 

Summary from the publisher

Get ready to be dazzled! This lively reference book for the younger set introduces a fascinating variety of Earth’s rocks, minerals, gemstones, fossils, and shells--from granite to gold, marble to malachite, and conchs to clams.

Discover how rocks are formed, the three kinds of rocks, and the difference between rocks and minerals. Learn how rocks and minerals are used in art, architecture, industry, and science. Then journey to the oceans to explore seashells and the amazing animals that once inhabited them. Packed with more than 200 stunning photos, including closeups of each specimen, this colorful book showcases breathtaking natural sites such as the Giant’s Causeway and human-built structures such as the Great Wall of China.

Filled with fun facts and designed for interactive learning, the Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals, and Shells is sure to become a favorite with young rock and shell collectors and their parents!

Published by National Geographic Kids in 2021. 


My thoughts as an educator:

This is a great introduction to rocks and shells. Very comprehensive! I love the questions included to encourage connections and deeper thinking. Kids will enjoy poring over this book to study the enormous variety of rocks and all the different objects rocks can become. It was interesting that sea shells are also included too. I predict this book will be the start of many pocket collections! There are activities at the back that could be used by educators or parents -- as well as a page showing the equipment geologists use which gave me ideas for a classroom learning centre. 

Ages: 4 - 8 

Grades: preschool – grade 2

Themes:  science guide, rocks, minerals, shells


Family connections:  Choose a few pages to explore with your child every night. Talk about what you notice in the pictures and discuss your favourites!

Collect and Draw: Go outside and hunt for your own rocks! Create your own book of rocks by drawing pictures or photographing your collection. Think of interesting names for the items in your collection and label your pictures. 

Explore and Identify:  Make your own collection of rocks and shells. Can you find any of them in the book?

Rock Math: Rocks make perfect manipulative for outdoor math. Some activities I've done include sorting rocks outside by size or color, ordering them by size, measuring large rocks using snap cubes or rules, and even just a quick few minutes where we each count how many rocks we found. 


Additional Resources for Educators:

Fantastic, Fun and Learning website has a great collection of interesting activities to try with rocks.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

WEEKEND DAD by Naseem Hrab & Frank Viva - a book about families where everyone doesn't live in the same place

This book fills an important gap by giving kids from families where parents are separated a place to see themselves or find connections. It's great the way this book explores different feelings and memories a child might feel when their parents first split up. A great addition to any collections of books about families or feelings. 

Summary from the publisher

A little boy spends the weekend at his dad’s new apartment in this picture book about how things change when parents separate — and the important things that stay the same.

“This home is home because my dad is here, and it’s nothing like home because my mom isn’t here,” thinks the boy in this story when he enters his dad’s new apartment for the first time. His dad moved out on Monday and now it’s Friday night, the start of his weekend with his dad.

The boy and his dad follow their normal weekend routine — they eat eggs for breakfast, play cards and spend time at the park. And then they do the same things on Sunday. It is hard to say goodbye at the end of the weekend, but Dad gives his son a letter to remind him that, even if they can’t always be together, the boy is loved.

Weekend Dad by Naseem Hrab and Frank Viva was published by Groundwood Books in 2020. 


My thoughts as a creator:

 Muted tones in the illustrations go well with this more serious story theme. The structure of this story is somewhat different and interesting, as the main character speaks to the reader, explaining his memories and feelings. It's a great book to study to learn about how to bring out the emotions in a story. 

My thoughts as an educator:

I haven't seen too many picture books about separating parents and I like the way this one is told through what the child notices and feels. This book could work as a class read aloud, but it might also be great to read one on one with a child who is going through change and difficult family situation. 


Grades: K – grade 2

Themes: family separation, life changes, feelings


Family connections:   Who lives with you? Draw a picture of the people in your family and the places where they live. 

Writing: Draw a picture of a time when you felt scared. 

Social-Emotional Learning: Think of something that scares you. What do you do  when you feel scared? Are there other things that might help you feel better?

Additional Resources: 

 This interview with Naseem Hrab gives some background information on her inspiration for writing this story. 


Monday, September 20, 2021

GENERATION MISFITS by Akemi Dawn Bowman - A story about learning to be yourself

graphic novel style light skinned eleven year old girl holding microphone and singing with four friends singing in the background
Why you want to read this book…  

I learned about this book from Feiwel & Friends Associate Editor Foyinsi Adegbonmire at a recent SCBWI workshop and I immediately found an e-version from a nearby library. How did I not know about this book before? I loved it!

This is a great book for anyone who feels like a misfit or that they don't belong. Although I know nothing about J-Pop, it didn't matter because the characters really came alive for me. They were so much like real people I got completely immersed in this story about Millie, a girl who was previously home-schooled starting middle school for the first time. 

As Millie began to find herself and make friends, we got to know four other girls with different backgrounds and experiences as well. This story touches on many common issues that kids struggle with including friendships, academic performance, parent expectations, bullies, gender, and being brave enough to be yourself.  


Here’s the summary from Amazon…   

Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a heartwarming, fish-out-of-water own voices story about an eleven-year-old Japanese-American girl who finds her true friendsthrough the power of J-Pop!

Millie is attending a real school for the first time, and she dreams of finally having friends and a little bit of freedom. She finds her chance when she joins an imitation band of her favorite J-Pop group, where she's thrilled to meet a group of misfits who quickly become a tightknit group of friends that are like family.

But Millie soon realizes that one of them is dealing with problems bigger than what notes to hit when it comes time for their performance. Can Millie help her friend, even when their problem feels too big to say out loud?

Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2021. I read an e-book from my local library.

Additional Resources: has some resources such as how to pronounce the author's name and a story map lesson. 

For more great middle grade reads, visit Marvelous Middle Grade Monday organized by Greg Pattridge or check out some of the blogs in my sidebar.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

BECOMING VANESSA by Vanessa Brantley Newton - a book about starting school and being yourself


Black girl looking up at butterfly on a branch with book title above

It’s great to see a book that shows kids the way they are, with the things they notice and the way they actually talk! I especially loved the scenes with her family and how they quietly supported her. Another great back-to-school story that is also good for a preschool or kindergarten classroom book collection. 


Summary from the publisher

On Vanessa’s first day of school, her parents tell her it will be easy to make friends. Vanessa isn’t so sure. She wears her fanciest outfit so her new classmates will notice her right away. They notice, but the attention isn’t what she’d hoped for. As the day goes on, she feels more self-conscious. Her clothes are too bright, her feather boa has way too many feathers, and even her name is too hard to write.

The next day, she picks out a plain outfit, and tells her mom that her name is too long. She just wants to blend in, with a simple name like the other girls–why couldn’t her parents have named her Megan or Bella? But when her mother tells her the meaning behind her name, it gives her the confidence she needs to introduce her classmates to the real Vanessa. 

Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley Newton was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2021. 


My thoughts as a creator:

This is a great mentor text for writers and illustrators! This book gave me insights into creating voice and creating believable side characters. I especially liked how the other kids in the class were curious and blunt, but didn’t come across as mean. Vanessa Brantley Newton is a master at using details to add personality and interest to her stories and to her illustrations. 

My thoughts as an educator:

 I liked this different take on a back-to-school story. I’m looking forward to sharing this with my kindergarten students and discussing how the main character’s clothes expressed her personality and feelings. Vanessa solves her problem in her own way, even though her family is there to support her.  

Ages: 3-7

Grades: preschool – grade 2

Themes: starting school, feelings, being yourself


Family connections: Ask you parents what your name means or why they gave you your name. How do you feel about that?

Writing: What is your favorite thing to wear? How do you feel when you are wearing it? Draw a picture of yourself in your favorite outfit.

Math Connections: How many butterflies are in this book? Count them! Draw a picture of your own with lots of butterflies (or caterpillars) to count.

Social-Emotional Learning: What do you do when you don’t feel like talking about something yet? Discuss. 


Additional Resources for Educators:

 On KidLit TV, Vanessa Brantley Newton discusses her life and her art style:

Here she teaches us how to make collage art!


Monday, August 30, 2021

A PLACE AT THE TABLE by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan – a story about cooking, friendship and family


Why you want to read this book…

This is one of my favorite middle grade reads of this year! I really enjoyed this story about learning to find your place, told from the perspectives of two girls with very different personalities and cultural backgrounds. Both characters really came alive through all the details of their families and their culture, as well as their voices. It was great to learn more learn about different cultural foods and traditions. I also got hooked on whether Elizabeth and Sara would be able to resolve all the problems that came up with their families and friends. 

This book gave me something to think about in reading about all the difficulties and feelings that come into play for kids whose parents are also struggling to deal with issues such as mental health, immigrating to a new country and trying to make a place for themselves.  I’d love to read another book with these two characters, because it was hard to put this one down. 


Here’s the summary from the publisher  


A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?


A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan was published by Clarion Books in 2020. I read an e-book from my local library.

Additional Resources:

Here's a wonderful interview with the authors about their inspiration and how they worked together to create the book: 

In this interview, the authors mention these useful questions they created for Starting a Conversation with Elders Who Moved Here from a Different Country, posted on the We Need Diverse Books website


Friday, August 27, 2021

THE COLOR COLLECTOR by Nicholas Solis and Renia Metallinou - a story about making connections

This book has lots of layers, so it's a great mentor text for writers and a great one to add to a primary class collection. 


Why read this book?

 I really loved the way this book showed the awkwardness a quiet person may feel when making friends or not having connections with other kids. I also enjoyed the way colour was used in this story, becoming more prevalent in the illustrations as the girl opened up and made a connection with a friend.

Summary from the publisher: 

The Color Collector is a poignant story about newness, friendship, and common ground. When a boy notices the new girl picking up all manner of debris and litter on their walks home from school he wants to know why. So she shows him the huge mural she's created in her room that reminds her of the home she left behind. He learns all about where she's come from and they both find how wonderful it is to make a new friend.


The Color Collector by Nicholas Solis & Renia Metallinou was published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2021


 My Thoughts as a Creator:


One of the things I admired most about this book was how colours were used so effectively to fit with the text – a great mentor text for illustrators. The opening of the book was especially effective with a slightly sad or lonely tone and very little colour. You could definitely see how the illustrator and author together both contributed to creating meaning in this story.


My Thoughts as an Educator:


This would be a great book for a primary teacher, because as you read there is a lot to discuss about making friends, feelings and how to make other people feel at ease. The illustrations and idea of collecting scraps of colour to create art is a fantastic opportunity for talking about re-using materials as well as showing an art style kids could try. This is a many-layered book so it can have several purposes – my favourite kind of classroom purchase!


Ages: 5-9


Grades: The publisher suggests grades 1 – 4, but I will read this to my kindergarten students.


Themes: friendship, feelings, found object art



Writing: Think of a time when you felt unsure about something. Brainstorm some feeling words to describe how you felt. How could you help someone else who is feeling that way? Write one sentence to say how you could help.


Social-Emotional Learning Challenge: How do you usually make friends? Think of the things you have in common with a few of your friends. Now, challenge yourself to make a new friend! With a partner, talk for a couple of minutes and try to find something you both have in common.


Art: Try some Found Wrapper Art: Collect different kinds and colours of food and other product wrappers. What can you create using a collage technique? Add some drawn elements to your collage.


Additional Resources for Educators:


Here’s a link to some found object collage art with cereal boxes.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11 by Alan Gratz


Image of a boy standing in front of the wreckage of the Twin Towers
Why you want to read this book…

Besides it being the twenty-year anniversary of this horrific event, I was drawn to this story because I thought Alan Gratz would present the story carefully but with lots of tension. I was right. 

This story shares the events of 9/11 through the eyes of a fictional young boy, Brandon, who experiences the collapse of the towers and fights to survive. An interesting surprise was that it also told the story of Reshmina, a young girl in Afghanistan, who also experienced a life-changing event and had to struggle for survival. The similarities and differences between these two perspectives gave me a lot to think about.

 Even twenty years later, twin towers tragedy is heart-breaking, making for an intense read. Luckily, the details are descriptive without being overly vivid or scary. Reshmina’s story is also emotionally difficult and I found it very interesting to learn about her life and think about the issues she faced. Along with political issues, this story makes you think about basic human values and how people are connected. Author notes at the end of the story provide extra information as well as discussing some of the decisions the author made in writing the novel. A very interesting and emotional read.


Here’s the summary from the publisher…


It's September 11, 2001. Brandon, a nine-year-old boy, goes to work for the day with his dad… at the World Trade Center in New York City. When two planes hit the towers, Brandon and his father are trapped inside a fiery nightmare as terror and confusion whirl around them. Can they escape — and what will the world be like when they do?

In present-day Afghanistan, Reshmina is an eleven-year-old girl who is used to growing up in the shadow of war, but she has dreams of peace and unity. When she ends up harboring a wounded young American soldier, she and her entire family are put in mortal danger. But Reshmina also learns something surprising about the roots of this endless war.

With his trademark skill, Alan Gratz delivers an action-packed and insightful story of two kids whose lives connect in unexpected ways, and reminds us how the past and present are always more linked than we think.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz was published by Scholastic Press in 2021. I read an e-version from my local public library.

Resources for Teachers: 

Here's a 25-min book talk with Alan Gratz, where he explains why he wrote the book and some of the research and decisions he made. Lots to discuss here! 


Monday, July 19, 2021

VIOLETS ARE BLUE by Barbara Dee – a story about coping with a parent’s addiction

Why you want to read this book…

A girl wearing makeup in shades of purples, with her eyes closed, earrings and a starfish hairclip

Barbara Dee always creates realistic and emotionally satisfying stories so I was super excited to read this latest novel. What an absorbing dive into a character with lots of personality and challenges! I love how Wren explored a different side of her personality when she moved to a new town to start over – including changing her name. It’s super interesting to follow her story as she struggles with friendships, her relationship with her parents and even how to act with a boy that likes her when she just wants to be friends. 

This book was definitely never boring! Wren has to deal with some really difficult things, like the weird way her mom is acting. One of the really cool things about this story is Wren’s unique interest in special effects makeup, which leads her to doing the makeup for the witch in a school production of Wicked. A great contemporary MG novel that’s definitely worth reading, especially if you like reading about family and friendship issues.


Here’s the summary from the publisher…  

 Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee is published by Simon & Schuster and comes out on September 21, 2021. I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

Teaching resources:   A recent interview with Barbara Dee about some of her books, including Maybe He Just Likes Me from Fairfax County Schools

Thursday, July 8, 2021

MY HEART FILLS WITH HAPPINESS by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett

 This is one of my favourites! It's a great story to introduce at the beginning of the school year when talking about families, or a lovely bedtime read with a preschooler at home.

Top view of Indigenous girl dancing in a green circle skirt on a yellow field

Summary from the publisher

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy. 

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett was first published by Orca Book Publishers in 2016.



 My heart fills with happiness when…

 I see the face of

someone I love


Why read this book?

This board book encourages both parents and children to think about the simple joys of life that bring happiness. It highlights nature and family through poetic language and the warm-toned illustrations. I especially loved how this story ends with a question to provoke more thought.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The lyrical language in this book carries us gently through the pages. I love the way specific details in the text and illustrations show us First Nations culture, but at the same time are universal experiences that every child can feel alone or with their own family.


My Thoughts as an Educator:

I purchased this book for my personal teaching collection. It fits in so well with our discussions about feelings in kindergarten. I love the openness of the question: What fills your heart with happiness? It can be interpreted in many different ways – people, foods, activities, experiences, and so on. The illustrations offer lots of opportunity to talk about families and different cultures. It’s a book I like to keep on my classroom shelf so children can return to it on their own to feel comfort and love. I also really like that some versions include Cree as well as English words on the same page. 

 Ages: 3-6

 Grades: preschool – 2

 Themes: happiness, family, First Nations culture


Think and Draw: What fills your heart with happiness? Draw a picture to show a time when your heart felt happy.

Writing & Emotional Learning: Provide a small booklet labeled: “What Brings Me Happiness” with several pages. Keep in an accessible place and encourage children to return to add new ideas as they discover more things that fill their hearts with happiness.

Improvise: Play several different types of music for children. Encourage them to move in “joyful” ways. Which music sounds “happy”?

Visual Art: Encourage children to paint picture of a time they felt happy with a family member.

Social-Emotional Learning: In thinking about what fills our own hearts with happiness, it’s also wonderful to think about how to fill someone else’s heart. Provide a heart template and encourage children to create a “happy heart” to give to someone else. Surprise another class with some messages of happiness!


Additional Resources:

Wolf Joe is an animated series that focuses on a First Nations boy and Anishinaabe teachings.

49th Kids has a great list of books to help with learning about residential schools 

Here the author reads her story: