Friday, May 6, 2022

The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney - a delicious rhyming adventure

Why this book?

I love stories where interesting characters need to solve mysteries and go on adventures together! I also can't resist a mystery. If you like rhyming books, this one is a great choice. I especially enjoyed all the creative (and funny) places the characters traveled through in the story, like "Trifle Tower." One of the wonderful things about this book is that there are others in the series. I’m excited to see there’s a new Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast adventure coming out soon!

 My thoughts as a creator:

I found it interesting to study how the author created a mystery in a rhyming story. What a challenge! Any of the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast books are wonderful mentor texts for writing a rhyming picture book. I loved how small details and wordplay added to the humor in the story.

My thoughts as an educator:

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of rhyming stories with my students to help them develop their sense of rhyme by listening for similar sounds in words. The fun characters in this story really captured the children’s attention. It’s also really fun to find a mystery in a picture book! Reading this book can lead into some fun discussions and maybe some student-created stories with clues and “red herrings.”   

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: rhyming, mysteries, problem-solving, helping friends


Literacy - Have students choose their favourite character and follow what happens to them through the story.

Create – Encourage students to think of a food in their refrigerator and create their own character! Draw or use collage materials to bring their character to life. To add a bit of a literacy twist,

Math – Create a survey about story characters, for example, Which character do you like better, Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast or Inspector Croissant?

Movement – Encourage students to make up a “signature move” for each of the main characters in the story. How would Sir French Toast dance? What about Inspector Croissant?


 More resources:

On his website, author Josh Funk has links to activity kits provided by the publisher, Union Books & Co., to go with his books. Check out this one for The Case of the Stinky Stench. Another cool thing I found there was a song to go with each one of the books!

Josh Funk's resources for writers can help with inspiration or the writing process 

Book Nerd Mommy has provided a sweet “fruitcake” recipe kids can make to go along with this book!  

Description from the publisher:

There’s a stinky stench in the fridge—and our favorite foodie friends must solve a smelly mystery! Sir French Toast’s nephew, Inspector Croissant, begs him and Lady Pancake for help in finding the source of the foul odor. Could it be the devious Baron Von Waffle? A fetid fish lurking in the bottom of Corn Chowder Lake?

Featuring the same delectable rhymes, wordplay, and art that won critical raves for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast—there’s even an actual red herring—this fun follow-up is an absolutely tasty treat for kids!

The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk & Brendan Kearney was published by Union Square & Co in 2017.


For more wonderful picture books, visit Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

RED, WHITE AND WHOLE by Rajani LaRocca


Why read this book? 

The way the words are put together in this verse novel is so beautiful! If you like stories that make you feel a lot of emotion (and maybe learn a few things along the way), you’d enjoy this one. The main character in this story feels torn between the different sides of her life, and it made me think of different people in my own life who have moved from far away places to live in a completely different cultural environment. 

The emotions and challenges Reha faced when her mother developed cancer made me sad at times and I even cried, remembering my own mom. The words: “I have one life. That’s all any of us gets” especially resonated with me. I also enjoyed all the 80’s references, especially to the show Family Ties, which I watched when I was a kid.

Because this is a verse novel, reading the words goes fairly quickly (especially when you don’t want to put it down!). But I found this novel also encouraged me to think and reflect as I was reading. This is a book I’d definitely read again. In fact, I wanted to read it again right after I finished it!

Additional Resources: 

Visit Rajani LaRocca at her website and find a link to the novel's playlist

As a Book of the Month selection for the Anti-Defamation League, you can find their wonderful resource with activities related to the book themes, key words, discussion questions and extension activities.  For example, a literacy activity to choose one of the main characters in the book and create diary entries showing the character’s perspective. They also provide resources such as 6 Ways to Be an Ally 

Check out this interesting interview with Rajani LaRocca over at Reading Middle Grade.

Colby Sharp has a wonderful conversation with Rajana LaRocca where she talks about how her personal experiences inspired her novel, how she got interested in writing and what she hopes for her novel.

Summary from the publisher:

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma. Although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.

Red, White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca was published by Quill Tree Books in 2021.

For more wonderful middle grade books, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday over at Greg Pattridge's blog.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

TEN BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Molly Beth Griffin & Maribel Lechuga - a book about feelings and appreciating the world


Why this book?

If my children were younger, this would definitely be a book I'd want to keep on our bookshelves to return to over and over again. As a person who is always looking for the small joys in life, I really connected with the idea of finding "ten beautiful things" in the world. This is a lovely story that shows us how looking for the positives and small joys in life can help with the anxiety and fear that comes with big changes -- or even with the ups and downs of everyday life.

My thoughts as a creator:

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the way the author used all the senses for different perspectives on “beautiful things.” It was sweet the way Gram began choosing the things and then Lily joined in with her own ideas – which Gram accepted. The relationship between Gram and Lily showed love and care and respect. So much to love about this story!!

I also loved the sense of place all around them as they travelled, created by the lovely illustrations. I especially liked the way light and shadow added an additional level of realism to the computer-generated illustrations. It was wonderful to see that the body shapes of the characters were realistic and not idealized.


My thoughts as an educator:

I liked the thought-provoking distinction made between “pretty” and “beautiful.” This would be interesting to discuss with students, especially in light of the idea that beauty depends on the beholder.

It was wonderful to see that the body shapes of the characters were depicted realistically and not idealized. This book made me think about people in my own life I can rely on for support – another great subject for classroom discussion.

Ages: 5-9

Grades: Suitable for K - 5

Connections: life changes, feelings, positivity, small joys of life


Writing: Have each student create their own list of ten beautiful things or create a class list of beautiful things. A class activity could be to create a calendar or classroom tree where each day, a different child records one “beautiful thing” they noticed that day.

Social-Emotional Learning: Discuss the difference between “pretty” and “beautiful”? What things make you feel beautiful inside? What things do you think are beautiful?  Have students draw a picture or make a mind map to show all the things that they think are beautiful.

Social-Emotional Learning Challenge: Have students think about and share  their responses with partner: How do you cope with difficult emotions or challenges? Use art materials of their choice to create their own “beautiful thing” that shows their feelings.

Outdoor Learning: Take students on a nature walk or a walk around the neighbourhood. Have them use their five senses to discover the world around them on the walk, for example, the smell of cut grass or the sound of boots crunching on snow. What beautiful things will did they find?

More resources:

Here’s an interview with author Molly Beth Griffin and book publisher Yolanda Scott.


Here's another take on this book by author Pat Zietlow Miller at Picture Book Builders:

Summary from the publisher:

Lily and her grandmother search for ten beautiful things as they take a long car ride to Iowa and Lily's new home with Gran. At first, Lily sees nothing beautiful in the April slush and cloudy sky. Soon though, Lily can see beauty in unexpected places, from the smell of spring mud to a cloud shaped like a swan to a dilapidated barn. A furious rainstorm mirrors Lily's anxiety, but as it clears Lily discovers the tenth beautiful thing: Lily and Gran and their love for each other.

Ten Beautiful Things leaves the exact cause of Lily's move ambiguous, making it perfect for anyone helping a child navigate change, whether it be the loss of a parent, entering or leaving a foster home, or moving.

Ten Beautiful Things, written by Molly Beth Griffin and illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, was published by Charlesbridge in 2021.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Welcome to 3 in 3 (and tea)!

My friend Debbie Ridpath Ohi and I are so excited to bring you 3 in 3 (and Tea)! 

We'll be highlighting 3 Canadian children’s books and suggesting a few ways to use them in the classroom. 

Today’s episode features a picture book and a middle grade novel that inspired us to wonder more about the world around us, plus a bonus fiction picture book with an easy breathing technique for helping kids cope with stress.

In this episode: 

Summary: With beautiful line and watercolor art, the picture book, A Year of Everyday Wonders, takes the reader on a journey through all the "firsts" that happen over the year. 

Visit the author and illustrator online:

Cheryl B.Klein  

Qin Leng  🍁

Visit the publisher:

Abrams Books for Young Readers

Activities & resources 

 SummaryIn the middle grade mystery Rescue at Lake Wild, 12-year-old Madi rescues two young beaver kits and brings them home -- and then has to work with her friends to find out who was responsible for orphaning them and help to solve the town's beaver problem.  

Visit the author online:

Terry Lynn Johnson 🍁

Visit the publisher:

Clarion Books

Activities & resources 

SummaryIn the picture book, Sloth to the Rescue, Sloth goes out of their comfort zone and goes on an adventure with friends to look for Patti to return something important.  

Visit the author and illustrator online:

Leanne Shirtliffe 🍁 

Rob McClurkan

Visit the publisher:

Running Press Kids

Activities & resources 

Thank you so much to The Faithful Sidekicks who wrote and performed our "3 in 3" musical theme. You can find out more about them here

You can find out more about Canadian author/illustrator Debbie Ohi🍁 by visiting her website  or linktree. And see what else she's been reading at her Bookstagram.

Monday, March 21, 2022

RESCUE AT LAKE WILD by Terry Lynn Johnson

Why this book?

It's a great read for kids who love nature, animals…and mysteries! In this middle grade mystery, 12-year-old Madi rescues two young beaver kits and brings them home, even though her parents have forbidden her from rescuing any more wildlife. Madi and her friends work together to find out who was responsible for orphaning the beaver kits as well as working on solving the town’s beaver problem.

I really loved the short chapters and how this book touched on lots of the issues that kids experience -- like having an annoying older sibling, doing a secret project that you want to hide from your parents and having problems with friends who get distracted. It was also interesting that Madi was a fan on scientist Jane Goodall.

Connections: solving mysteries, cooperation, Canadian animals, wildlife & human interactions, animal rescue, friendship problems

Activities for learners:

Literacy – Design a log book for collecting animal observations. Find an animal to observe (e.g., birds, family pet) to add entries to the book.

Literacy (story structure) – Make a list of the problems Madi and her friends have to solve in the story. Do they succeed or fail?

Literacy (biography) – Research scientist Jane Goodall and find out some of her contributions to helping the environment. What other scientists are helping us learn about the environment? Choose one and create a short poster or bookmark to share their contribution.  

STEM: Research beavers and create a model beaver dam or lodge. Are beaver dams built like dams made by humans? Another good (outdoor) STEM project would be to investigate different ways to control the flow of water using tubes, ramps and dams.

More resources:

Visit Terry Lynn Johnson’s website to find out more about the author.

Over here at Unleashing Readers, you’ll find another perspective on this novel as well as lots of great discussion questions for the book.

Description from the publisher:

In this funny and moving animals-in-peril adventure, a twelve-year-old girl and her two best friends determine to rescue two orphaned beaver kits—and soon find themselves trying to solve a local environmental crisis. Perfect for fans of Pax and A Boy Called Bat.

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she's saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.

But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.

Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2021.

For more great middle grade books, check out Marvelous Middle Grade Monday over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

SLOTH TO THE RESCUE by Leanne Shirtliffe & Rob McClurkan - a story about stepping out of your comfort zone


Why this book?

As a person who feels shy about new experiences, I could relate to Sloth and his desire to help his friend while at the same time feeling nervous and worried.  In this story, Sloth's friend Patti leaves an important notebook at the Animal Rainforest Rescue Center. Sloth decides to bring it back to her, even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone. 

I loved the way Sloth could rely on friends to help, as well as using strategies to stay calm. The illustrations are colourful and detailed, and the animal faces are so expressive!


My thoughts as a creator:

This would be a great mentor text if you're trying to incorporate social emotional learning into a story that has a classic problem and solution plot. 

My thoughts as an educator:

I really liked how even though Sloth was feeling stressed, they were kind to their friends and pointed out how their friends' strengths could help them get through a part of the journey to find Patti. This book would be great for introducing discussions about problem-solving and strategies for feeling calm. 

Ages: 3 - 7

Grades: Prek - 3

Connections: new experiences, problem-solving, feelings, belly-breathing, rainforest animals, helping friends, first day of school


Create - Have students choose a favourite animal and write or draw a picture of what would happen if that animal came to school. Questions to think about: What is your animal good at? How would that help them in a tricky situation?

Math - Count all the different animals in the story. How many are there? 

Social-Emotional Learning - Practice belly breathing. Make a poster for a calm down corner in your classroom that reminds others to try belly breathing when they feel stressed.  

More resources:

Learn to belly breathe with Rosita from Sesame Street:

One Green Planet gives us a peek at how to teach an injured sloth how to crawl again

Description from the publisher:

At the Rainforest Rescue Center, Sloth loves when Patti comes to visit. But when Patti forgets her class report, it’s up to Sloth, with the help of his other (faster) rain-forest friends, to return Patti’s notebook to her-at school! Will they be able to find her among all the other kids in a new environment?

The first day of school can be scary-especially if you forget your summer assignment-but in Sloth to the Rescue,Sloth, Peccary, Boa, Capuchin, and Ocelot overcome their fears and realize that what makes them unique is what helps them fit right in!

Sloth to the Rescue by Leanne Shirtliffe & Rob McClurkan was published by Running Press Kids in 2019.

For more wonderful picture books, visit Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill's website

Friday, March 18, 2022

A YEAR OF EVERYDAY WONDERS by Cheryl Klein & Qin Leng - a celebration of "firsts"


Why this book?

This book is all about first experiences. It starts with the first day of the New Year, and takes us on a journey of many of a child's "firsts" that might happen in a year. 

 I loved the fun, light-hearted illustrations created with ink and watercolor--they have so much movement and personality! I also appreciated the slight touches of humor in the text and the illustrations.

My thoughts as a creator:

This is a great example of a picture book that uses minimal words. The repetition of "first" creates a nice pattern and sets up some of the humor in the text. The text in this one also shows us how to leave lots of room for the illustrator to bring more to the story.

My thoughts as an educator:

I loved all the possibilities for using this book in the classroom. So many kids can relate to that feeling of the "first time" doing something and will think of many of their own "first experiences" during a class discussion. You could dive deeper into feelings and SEL by talking about feelings that are related to first experiences, such as fear, apprehension or even surprise. This book also works well as a lead-in to goal setting, since kids could draw or write about something they'd like to try for the first time.

Ages: 3 - 7

Grades: Prek - 3

Connections: new experiences, New Year's Day, seasons, feelings, appreciating the world, small joys of life


Goal Setting & Literacy - Have students draw and write about something they'd like to try for the first time. 

Literacy - Make a list of writing topics based on "firsts." Have students draw or write about a "first" such as the first time they had waffles, the first time they went sledding, etc. 

Bonus tip: Create a class book of "firsts" by collecting a page from each student. I make inexpensive class books by putting each student's page in a plastic page protector and compiling them in a duotang. Then I get a few students to help design a cover, laminate it for greater durability and tape it onto the duotang. 

Math - Create a class graph to show how everyone is feeling. Or do a "Have You Ever...? graph question using one of the ideas from the story.

Social-Emotional Learning: Provide a "feeling check-in station" so students can move their marker to indicate how they are feeling. (In my classroom, I have  pictures of real faces showing emotions on a magnetic board and students can move their name magnet onto the appropriate picture at any time during the day). 

More resources:

In this interview on the Teaching Books Blog, author Cheryl Klein talks about where she got the idea for the book and provides an Imagination Activity for generating writing ideas. 

Proud to Be Primary Emotions for Kids: Lessons and Activities to Build Self-Awareness

Description from the publisher:

From first haircut to first ice-cream cone, each year brings a new cycle of experiences.

With each new year come countless little wonders. From the highs—first snowfall, first new umbrella, first beach trip—to the lows—first missed bus, first lost umbrella, first sunburn—every year older means another cycle of everyday experiences.

In their clever, playful, observant picture book, acclaimed author Cheryl B. Klein and illustrator Qin Leng explore many truths of childhood through a calendar year of small moments that, all together, comprise what it is to be a kid.

A Year of Everyday Wonders by Cheryl B. Klein & Qin Leng was published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2020.

Monday, March 14, 2022

PETER LEE'S NOTES FROM THE FIELD by Angela Ahn with illustrations by Julie Kwon

 Why read this book?

I haven't seen too many books where the main character does something they have dreamed about for a really long time...and then rejects it.  In this story, Peter Lee, a Korean boy with asthma, is obsessed with dinosaurs. He wants to be a paleontologist and is looking forward to a family trip to Drumheller, Alberta and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. 

But everything turns out a little differently than Peter expects--and he ends up feeling like a big failure. In the meantime things with his family are getting confusing and complicated. His grandmother is acting strangely, his mom is stressing about his academics and his little sister, a genius, is getting to be more and more annoying. 

I loved how Peter learned to cope with his disappointments and feelings of failure as well as the declining health of his grandmother. Peter also had to navigate how to fit in at school with mean kids and his friends, as well as managing his parents’ high expectations. I especially liked how Peter struggled with his relationship with his younger sister. Drawings by Julie Kwon helped to show the reader Peter’s growing artistic abilities.

Teaching Connections: 

scientific observations, paleontology, bullying, family relationships, parent expectations, fitting in with friends

Additional Resources

More about author Angela Ahn:

     Asian Heritage in Canada by Ryerson University  

     Angela Ahn's  website

More about illustrator Julie Kwon

     Julie Kwon's online sketchbook

Fossils in Focus Fact Sheet from the Tyrrell Museum

Down the Rabbit Hole's Virtual Visit of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, 2018

For more great middle grade books, check out the line up for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Cybils Awards Board Book Finalists and the Winner for 2021

As a judge for the Cybils Awards Picture Book and Board Book Categories, I got to do one of the things I love -- read and talk about children's books!! Now that the judging is over and the winner has been announced, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the finalists, because they were all amazing! 

Animals Go Vroom! by Abi Cushman, published by Viking Books for Young Readers

A really cute concept! Once they learn the pattern, kids can have fun trying to guess which vehicle is making the noise. This one has actual pages like a picture book, but they are thicker to stand up to handling by toddlers.

Big Bear, Little Bear by Marine Schneider, published by Cameron Kids

This was our top pick! I really liked the humor in this book. Comparing Big Bear and Little Bear on each spread was a genius idea. This book had fun surprises and a heart-warming ending. I could picture a toddler carrying this one around as a favourite.

Caution! Road Signs Ahead by Tony Buzzeo & Chi Birmingham, published by Rise x Penguin Workshop

This fun concept book has pages shaped liked road signs, which gives young hands something to touch and explore. Many common road signs are included, like stop signs and the school bus stop.

Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins, published by Chronicle Books

What an interesting book!  It provides a way to play with shapes in a really creative way I've never seen before. I enjoyed the way it stretched my imagination!  

Comparrotives by Janik Coat, published by Abrams Appleseed

The bright colours are so appealing and go so well with the humor! This book was so funny, and I loved how it had elements toddlers could touch. 

This is Still Not a Book by Jean Jullien

This is the book a toddler will carry around and play with, filled with all kinds of non-book illustrations. Because there's no text at all, no adults are needed for reading this one! There are a couple of fold-out pages to make it even more fun.

Turn Seek Find: Habitats by Ben Newman

I really liked how this book introduced animal habitats to very young readers. This was a sturdy book that won't easily break (a definite plus for a interactive book) and I think it would also age-up with children. I know preschoolers who enjoy finding things would spend a long time exploring the pictures. 

Additional Resources: 

You can find descriptions of the books at the Cybils Awards website.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

WORDS AND YOUR HEART by Kate Jane Neal - a picture book about the power of words

child holding a white heart balloon with the title against a solid red background
Why read this book?

Many picture books about using kind words are not this direct. But for me, the simple and stylish presentation here made the direct approach really effective. 

The key message in this story is about the power of words. When I read this to my kindergarten students, they leaned in and listened a little more closely than usual. I think they could really connect to this book, since at times they may feel small and powerless, with adults making decisions for them. 

Summary from Amazon: 

This book is about your heart (the little bit inside of you that makes you, you!)

The words we listen to can affect how we feel.

Some words can do amazing things and make us happy.

And some words can really hurt us (we all know what sort of words those are).

Our words have power, and we can choose to use them to make the world a better place.

Simple, direct, and emotive, Words and Your Heart’s message is that words have extraordinary power–to harm and to heal, to create and to destroy, and to spread love.

I was lucky to find this copy of Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal, published by Feiwel and Friends, at my local library, but it's one I'm considering buying for my classroom. 

My thoughts as a creator: 

"This book is about your heart." What a great way to begin! I really liked the conversational tone of this book. The art style makes use of lots of white space and the limited color palette of black, grey and red made the illustrations and the simple, but powerful ideas on each stand out. I loved the cute cartoon-style characters -- the drawings are so expressive!

My thoughts as an educator:

The idea of how powerful words are is a key concept in learning about anti-racism and bullying. This book would be a great way to introduce any lessons on bullying and especially thinking about word choices. I also really liked the focus on the uniqueness of each individual. It could be really fun and effective to pair this up with learning about superheroes and powers.

Age Range: 3 -7


Writing & Art: Make a list of amazing words! What words make you feel good? Which words make you feel powerful? Put your word in the centre of a heart shape and add colour using your favourite colours and choice of medium. This would work really well with complimentary colours to make the word pop! 

Writing & Reading: Students could make a small drawing to illustrate a powerful word they chose for a class book. Place the class book where students can read it whenever they wish.

Social-Emotional Learning: Try a random act of kindness! Think of something you could say with your words to make someone else feel happy. Write it on the back of a happy face or a heart and deliver it to a  random student in another class, somewhere else in your school. Or create a bulletin board display of words and phrases that could lift others up.

Additional Resources: 

For another perspective and more activities to go with this book, visit Kiddos and Crayons