Friday, May 14, 2021

OUTSIDE IN by Deborah Underwood & Cindy Derby - a look at nature from indoors + activities for teachers


cover watercolour illustration of girl and cat walking in a forest

Why read this book?

I love spending time in nature, and it was so interesting to think about how we stay connected to nature even when we are inside. The illustrations are stunning! If you love the art of the picture book, this is one you definitely need to explore. 

Summary from the publisher:

Perfect for fans of Joyce Sidman and Julie Fogliano, Outside In reminds emerging readers of the ways nature creates and touches our lives in homes, apartments, and cars, and is the perfect homeschooling tool to reflect on the world’s connectedness.

Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.

Rhythmic, powerful language shows us how our world is made and the many ways Outside comes in to help and heal us, and reminds us that we are all part of a much greater universe. Emotive illustrations evoke the beauty, simplicity, and wonder that await us all . . . outside.

OUTSIDE IN, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020.


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The language in the story is lovely and poetic, with many connections to the five senses. This is not exactly a traditional type of story, but more a poem about how we are connected to nature in many different ways, even though we are inside. A good book to study to think about how to bring the five senses in to your writing.

My Thoughts as an Educator:

This is such a beautiful book both in terms of the language and the illustrations! I was so thrilled to share this with my kindergarten students. This is a book to re-visit more than once. For example, read this book before going outside for a nature walk, and then read it again after returning inside to talk about what students noticed during their walk. You could also read this indoors, and then have students search for the "nature" they experience around them indoors.

I really love how this book can inspire a greater connection with nature! It's a great choice for talking about the five senses or to pair with mindfulness activities. The illustrations have a dreamy or imaginative quality which may evoke different emotions for class discussions. Definitely a book for a classroom or library collection.

Ages: all

Grades: K – 5

Themes: nature, mindfulness, five senses


Explore & List: What examples can you find of the outside in your indoor environment? Make a class list! How many did you find? Did you use all of your senses?

Mindfulness: After reading this story, sit in a quiet place outside. Close your eyes and concentrate on what you notice. What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you hear?

Art: Choose a favourite illustration from the book. How does it make you feel? Explore Cindy Derby's website to explore some of her other illustrations. What do you notice about her style of art making?

Create & Imagine: To create some of her illustrations, Cindy Derby painted with thread. Try using yarn or thread dipped in paint to create your own painting! What does your creation make you think of?

Older students may appreciate watching some or all of this 30 min video showing how she used this technique and the decisions she made while creating a piece of artwork. 

Learn more: In this wonderful video interview from BABF Youth, 
the author and illustrator talk about the process of creating the book and read it aloud together, and Cindy Derby demonstrates an art activity. I especially liked how they talked about "imperfectness" in art and writing as beautiful. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

YOU GO FIRST by Erin Entrada Kelly - a story about online friendship and connections

 This is a quieter book that includes one of my favourite games. Published before the pandemic began, it now seems timely to think about the online connections we make and how they impact our lives.  

Why you want to read this book…

Another great story with characters that very real, from Erin Entrada Kelly. In this story, Ben and Charlotte live miles apart in two different cities and connect through an online Scrabble game. That concept hooked me on the book before I even opened it, since I'm a big Scrabble fan and I play online games all the time. I love the idea that having another person to connect with in some way, can help you feel less alone. 

For me, there was an underlying thread that different kinds of friendships fill different needs in your life, or help support you in different ways. Although the two kids became online friends, they had a different friendship than each of the main characters developed with their in-person friends and family. This is quieter story that leaves the reader with some questions to think about, and an ending that isn't neatly wrapped up (rather like real life).

I really love this quote from the story: "The greatest mystery of people isn't learning what they are, but learning what they aren't."

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana.

Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.

During the course of one week, Charlotte and Ben—friends connected only by an online Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. The New York Times-bestselling novel You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone.

You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly was published by Greenwillow Books in 2018. I read an e-book from my local public library.


If you’re looking for another thought-provoking, or maybe funny, middle grade book to read, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on Greg Pattridge's blog.