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: