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. 

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.