Monday, September 19, 2022

HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET by Barbara Dee – a story about climate and eco-anxiety

Caucasian girl sitting on the ground drawing the title with her finger and small plants around her
Why this book?

I was interested in reading this story because of my own growing awareness about the impact we are having on our climate and environment. The anxiety that the main character, Haven, feels is something more and more people are becoming aware of and maybe are even experiencing. 

While this story might be seem a little intense for children already grappling with anxiety, it may also be helpful to show that they are not alone in their anxious feelings and behaviours. I’m really glad that this story showed me a window into the feelings that Haven was experiencing as well as showing her getting counseling help.

I really enjoy the realism of Barbara Dee's characters. Haven wasn’t a perfect student and I appreciated how she had an understanding teacher to encourage her to complete her work. Haven’s river project gave her a chance to use problem-solving skills, collect data and speak out about something important to her. I loved the message that small steps are important in bringing about change.

Connections: eco-anxiety, climate, environment, data collection

Activities for students:

Social-Emotional Learning – A lot of times we can feel anxious about things happening that are beyond are control. Encourage students to regularly practice mindfulness or calming strategies such as one of the many techniques in the book, Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey (Rodale Kids, 2017).

Literacy – After reading, students could discuss the climate problem and solutions Haven tried, or represent the information in a graphic organizer. 

Literacy & Art—Design a poster Haven might have created to advertise her project.

Math/Science—Explore a climate related issue such as pollution by considering trash around your school yard. For example, collect data to monitor the amount of trash collected weekly in your school yard. How could you increase awareness of the issue?


Description from the publisher: 

Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.

But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.

She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee was published by Simon & Schuster in 2022.

Friday, September 9, 2022

MAGGIE’S TREASURE by Jon-Erik Lappano & Kellen Hatanaka - a book about treasure collecting and community

Girl pulling a wagon loaded with small treasures

Why this book?

My students are always finding all kinds of treasures, so I know they will love this book! I especially connected with the idea of noticing the small or unused things in the world and thinking about how they could be used or re-used. The illustrations are bold and colourful with a fun, distinctive style. 

My thoughts as a creator:

There are some lovely phrases in this story. One of my favourites is, “Maggie saw the sparkle in everything.” A nice book to study when thinking about using your observations of the world to add details to a story.

My thoughts as an educator:

The theme of helping the community is always great to promote activism and encourage students to create their own projects!  It would be interesting to discuss the main ideas in this story in comparison with the picture book Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell with illustrations by Rafael Lopez.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: re-using materials, collections, helping the community


Active Play & Math – Go on a hunt outside (or inside) to find treasures. Encourage children to sort their “treasures” in different ways. Listen as they explain their reasoning for how they sorted them.

Building Community: What might happen if everyone in the class brought one toy or book they didn’t want any more? Could they be given to others or exchanged with each other?

Community Art Project: Encourage everyone in the class to bring in one “treasure” to glue onto a large board or canvas to create a class art project to display in the classroom.

Create – Give children a small collection of “treasures” such as paper scraps, wood scraps, buttons, pieces of cloth, and string or yarn and some glue and drawing materials. What can they make? A prompt question might be: Can you make something useful? Another creative project might be for everyone in the class to bring in one “treasure” to glue together into

Social-Emotional Learning – Brainstorm with children and help them make a list of things they can do to help someone else. Choose one project to work on together.

Classroom Tip: Keep a “scrap bin” of interesting paper bits that children can use for creating at a Maker’s Centre or when finished their work.


More resources:

Child Central Station has a fun Trash to Treasure art activity to try.

Description from the publisher:

Maggie finds treasure wherever she goes. Whether it’s a button, a feather or a shiny stone, she picks it up and takes it home. At first the neighbors and city workers are grateful to Maggie for cleaning up; the mayor even gives her an award. But over time Maggie’s collection grows bigger and bigger, until it spills out of her house and garden in an unsightly mess. Her parents tell her “Enough treasure!” and eventually even Maggie realizes that something must be done. Finally, inspired by a bird outside her window, she finds a way to share her treasure that enchants and transforms the entire neighborhood.

Maggie’s Treasure by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka was published by Groundwood Books in 2020.


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

Friday, August 19, 2022

One is a Pinata: A Book of Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong & Jon Parra


Group of children with a variety of skin colours holding up hands towards the title which is inside a circle with diagonal triangles on each corner, forming a pinata shape

Why this book?

This book caught my eye as a fun counting book that also gave me a deeper peek at elements of Mexican, Central American and South American culture. 

The illustrations include lots of different play and celebration scenarios with many details to find and look at. There's so much here to keep a child's interest during a read aloud!


My thoughts as a creator:

I studied this book for interesting ways to create rhyme as well as how to move the reader along in a counting concept book. I found it interesting that for some numerals there was an extra rhyming stanza.

My thoughts as an educator:

I’m always looking for fun ways to reinforce concepts like counting. In this book, there is so much to talk about with each page – the activities shown in the illustrations and the fun elements from Mexico, Central America and South America. The glossary at the back is so helpful in giving me more insights and pronunciation tips before a read aloud. I also really love how the numbers are bilingual in English and Spanish. We need more books like this for many different languages!

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: counting, family, Spanish language, 


Art/Math/Culture: Have students help construct a number wall by drawing and colouring numerals to ten. Add words to label the numeral in their home language. This is also a great way to connect with parents by asking them for how to count in their home language. Encourage the children to add pictures of favourite elements of their own cultural celebrations for each numeral.

STEM: Can you build a kite? Provide materials for kite-building (e.g. string, a tissue paper, streamers, sticks) and encourage children to design their own kites. Later, test the kites outside to see if they fly!

Dramatic play: Encourage students to design their own parade! Provide materials to create banners, decorations and even floats!


More resources:

Art: Create your own pinata from Fun Family Crafts 

For more about parades, read: Everyone Loves a Parade by Andrea Denish & Guilherme Franco, Astra Young Readers (2020)

Description from the publisher:

One is a rainbow. One is a cake. One is a piñata that's ready to break! In this lively picture book, a companion to the Pura Belpré–honored Green Is a Chile Pepper, children discover a fiesta of numbers in the world around them, all the way from one to ten. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin and all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this vibrant book enumerates the joys of counting and the wonders that abound in every child's day!

One is a Pinata: A Book of Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong & Jon Parra was published by Chronicle Books in 2019.

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


Monday, July 25, 2022

NOTHING IS LITTLE by Carmella Van Vleet -- a story about how little things can lead to big changes

I've been taking a bit of a summer break while I work on my own writing, but I'm so excited about this middle grade novel that I had to "take a break from my break"  to share it with you.

Why this book?

I’m so excited to feature this book by my friend, Carmella Van Vleet! This is the story of Felix, an eleven-year-old boy who may be the shortest boy in school but he has a big personality. 

Like many kids today, Felix has many things to deal with—he has Growth Hormone Deficiency for one. I was intrigued to learn more about this, because I hadn’t heard about it before. Felix’s mom and step-dad are having a new baby, too, which makes him curious about his biological dad, who he has never met. When Felix joins the Forensic Science Club at school, he hopes to get the tools and skills he needs to track down is biological dad. He also gets a cool nickname: Shortlock Holmes. Wow! Reading about this club made me wish I could go back in time and go to Felix’s school too. All of these elements make for a really engaging story. Did I mention there’s also a surprise twist?

This is a really fun read! I especially loved the way this story showed us how a kid learns to cope with some disappointments and also celebrates some of the fun things life can bring. If you enjoy this book, also read Carmella Van Vleet’s other middle grade novels about Eliza Bing—another very engaging character! [See my posts for more on these ones here: Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter, Eliza Bing is (Not)a Star]

Connections: family, forensic science, being short, new baby, step-families, adoption issues


Social-Emotional Learning – One of the cool things about Felix is that he puts a positive spin on something other people might think is a negative. Make a list of all the ways that Felix finds his small size an advantage. Now, think of something about yourself that other people might think is a disadvantage. Make a list of all the positive things about your unique trait.

Reasoning & Problem-solving – Play the detective “grouping game” mentioned in the story in the classroom.  Have one person select a group of students based on a common characteristic (like the colour of their socks). Other students can work together to figure out the rule for making the groups.

Literacy – One of the activities Felix tries in the Forensic Science Club is to practice interviewing a crime science witness by paying attention to their emotions and body language. Work with a partner to practice interviewing skills: Person One tells a one-sentence story about something they did recently. Person Two asks questions to collect more details and information.

Literacy: Making inferences – Try this “Picture of the Day“ activity. Show students a picture of a scene. Have them make list of all the things they observe in the picture. Then have students make inferences about what they think, based on their observations (for this and more ideas for building reading comprehension skills check out the list at

More resources:

Locard’s Exchange Principle and Books, a guest post by Carmella Van Vleet, School Library Journal

Forensic science lesson plans for middle school from The Science Spot

Virtual Crime Lab tour 


Description from the publisher:

Eleven-year-old Felix likes being the smallest kid in school.

 At least he knows where he fits in. Plus his nickname, “Short-lock Holmes,” is perfect for someone who’s killing it in forensic science club. To Felix, Growth Hormone Deficiency is no big deal.

And then Felix learns that his biological dad was short, too. This one, tiny, itty-bitty piece of information opens up a massive hole in his life. Felix must find his father. He only has a few small clues to work from, but as Sherlock Holmes said, “To a great mind, nothing is little.”

The further Felix gets in his investigation, though, the more he starts to wonder: What if his dad doesn’t want to be found? And what if Felix’s family—his mom, his stepdad, the baby on the way—needs him right where he is?

Nothing is Little by Carmella Van Vleet was published by Holiday House in 2022.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

3 in 3 (and tea) – Episode 2!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and I are back for another episode of 3 in 3 (and tea), where we feature 3 children’s books by Canadian authors and/or illustrators and provide some tips for using them in the classroom. 

In Episode 2, we explore a picture book and a middle grade novel that feature emotionally challenging situations, and check out a bonus middle grade novel that  includes a visit to Drumheller (I love dinosaurs!) and STEM connections. If you missed Episode 1, you can find it here.

In this episode: 

 Summary: In this picture book, a young girl is faced with a new family, a new country, a new school and maybe even new Carnival traditions. The vibrant, collage-style illustrations are a perfect fit with the writing style of standard English and Caribbean patois.

This book is part of the Malaika series which follows the same character through three stories.

Visit the author and illustrator:

Nadia L Hohn  🍁

Irene Luxbacher  🍁

Visit the publisher:

Groundwood Books 

Activities & resources here.


In the middle grade novel, Sorry for Your Loss, Oren, a boy whose parents were killed in a car accident and Evie, whose parents own a funeral home, start off *not* being friends—but they end up helping each other.

Visit the author online:

Joanne Levy 🍁  

Book cover design by Rachel Page

Visit the publisher:

Orca Books    

Activities & resources here.


 Summary: In Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field a boy who is really into dinosaurs gets a chance to attend a special paleontology expedition at the Royal Tyrell Museum, but has to learn to cope with disappointment and the failing health of his beloved grandmother.

Visit the author and illustrator online:

Angela Ahn 🍁 

Julie Kwon

Visit the Publisher

Penguin Random House Canada

Activities & resources here.


Find out more about Canadian author/illustrator Debbie Ohi by visiting her website.

Thanks to The Faithful Sidekicks for writing and performing our theme song! You can learn more about them at their website


Monday, May 30, 2022

SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS by Joanne Levy - a middle grade novel about being friends and not friends through times of grief and loss

Why this book?

In this story, Evie, a girl who says she doesn’t want any friends, develops a friendship with Oren, a boy whose parents were killed in car accident. Evie’s family owns a funeral home and she helps Oren explore some of his questions about dying. There are few sad moments, but funny ones too. I loved so many things about this book – I learned, I laughed, I cried and I wanted to read it again.

I especially loved the way this shows how kids can work through and learn to accept sad things in life with the help of friends. If you enjoy this book, also read Joanne Levy’s other recent book, The Sun Will Come Out. It’s another wonderful read!

Connections: family, friendship, death, funerals, Jewish traditions, paper quilling,


Literacy & Sharing Experiences – Put up a large paper/bulletin board where students can add their thoughts and questions that arise from reading. Invite classmates to post answers from their experiences or research.

Literacy – Create an advice column! Make up three questions/issues that friends might have problems with. Write answers or swap with a friend so they can try to give helpful advice to solve the problems.

Personal Journal – Reflect on times when you were and were not a good friend. When thinking about times where you were not a good friend, think about what you might have done differently. Where might you need help from others to solve a friendship problem?

STEAM - Research paper quilling. Try to create an art project using the technique of paper quilling. Could you create a different cover for the novel?


Discussion and Activity Guide 

Q & A with the author from the Orca Books blog

Lessons and activities about friendship from Teacher Planet

The Most Common Friendship Issues in the Classroom – We Are Teachers. Com


If students are experiencing grief or loss:

This website helps educators recognize grief and suggests ways to help support grieving children, including children who have experienced COVID-related loss

Children and grief resources from Scholastic

Resources from Winston’s Wish

Description from the publisher:

Evie Walman is not obsessed with death. She does think about it a lot, though, but only because her family runs a Jewish funeral home. At twelve, Evie already knows she’s going to be a funeral director when she grows up. So what if the kids at school call her “corpse girl” and say she smells like death? They’re just mean and don’t get how important it is to have someone take care of things when your world is falling apart.

 Evie loves dusting caskets, polishing pews, and vacuuming the chapel—and on funeral days, she dresses up and hands out tissues and offers her condolences to mourners. She doesn’t normally help her parents with the grieving families directly, until one day when they ask her to help with Oren, a boy who was in a horrific car accident that killed both his parents. Oren refuses to speak and Evie, who is nursing her own private grief, is determined to find a way to help him deal with his loss.

Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy was published by Orca Books in 2021.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Malaika's Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn & Irene Luxbacher - a picture book about adjusting to a new life

scene of children dressed in snowsuits against a background of a snow castles with colourful fireworks in the sky

Why this book?

Children of different ages and backgrounds will relate to this story about a young girl joining a new family and coming to a new country. Together with the other books in this series, it forms part of the story of one child. But each book can be read and understood without reading the others.

The bright, collage art illustrations are wonderful and engaging for young children.


My thoughts as a creator:

I really liked the cultural perspective of this story and the writing style. This book would be great to study when working on adding cultural elements and vocabulary to stories written in English. 

My thoughts as an educator:

I’ve learned with many students who have come from other countries to live in Canada and wished I had a book like this to read with them! It would be great for opening up discussions about life experiences and family members that are far away.

I loved the way the author blended English and Caribbean patois in writing this story. It’s really important for kids to see and hear other languages in their learning environment, so this one would be great as part of a classroom collection. If you can watch the author reading this book (or the other two books in the series) it’s a wonderful storytelling experience!

 Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 3

Connections: new experiences, family changes, new siblings, new school, moving to a new country, cultural celebrations and festivals


Literacy – Draw a story map with students and encourage them to help retell the story.  

Writing & Social-Emotional Learning – Encourage students to draw a picture and write about traveling to a new place and share how they felt about it.

Literacy & Art: Provide materials for students to create puppets using wooden craft sticks to represent family members. Encourage children to retell their own family stories.

Social-Emotional Learning: Draw or discuss a time when you felt angry. What made you so angry? Make a list of ways to help move through angry feelings.

Art: Create collage art to create your own imaginary carnival! Use brightly coloured oil pastels with bold lines and shapes to draw a carnival scene. Create different papers to collage onto your scene using crayons or pastels on coloured paper. Cut them into shapes and glue them on to add details to clothing or items in your art project.

More resources:

10 Ways to Teach Malaika’s Costume and other books

An interview with NadiaL. Hohn about her writing process

Irene Luxbacher has created some amazing books for creating art in the classroom (now unfortunately out of print). My students especially enjoyed the "I Can Paint" and "I Can Sculpt" books and were inspired to create their own projects. The Jumbo Book of Art is full of great teaching ideas!  

Check out this illustrator demonstration by Irene Luxbacher for the third book in the series, Malaika’s Surprise. 

At present, Malaika's Winter Carnival is available on EPIC


Description from the publisher:

Malaika is happy to be reunited with Mummy, but it means moving to Canada, where everything is different. It’s cold in Québec City, no one understands when she talks and Carnival is nothing like the celebration Malaika knows from home!

When Mummy marries Mr. Frédéric, Malaika gets a new sister called Adèle. Her new family is nice, but Malaika misses Grandma. She has to wear a puffy purple coat, learn a new language and get used to calling this new place home. Things come to a head when Mummy and Mr. Frédéric take Malaika and Adèle to a carnival. Malaika is dismayed that there are no colorful costumes and that it’s nothing like Carnival at home in the Caribbean! She is so angry that she kicks over Adèle’s snow castle, but that doesn’t make her feel any better. It takes a video chat with Grandma to help Malaika see the good things about her new home and family.

Nadia L. Hohn’s prose, written in a blend of standard English and Caribbean patois, tells a warm story about the importance of family, especially when adjusting to a new home. Readers of the first Malaika book will want to find out what happens when she moves to Canada, and will enjoy seeing Malaika and her family once again depicted through Irene Luxbacher’s colorful collage illustrations.

Malaika’s Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn & Irene Luxbacher was published by Groundwood Books in 2017.

Looking for more picture books? Check out this week's list of perfect picture books at Perfect Picture Book Fridays on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.