Thursday, November 16, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – PICTURE THE SKY by Barbara Reid

Since my mom is an artist and has made many paintings of the sky and clouds, I could really relate to the concept behind this book. I loved the way this gave me a whole different way of looking at the sky – or many ways!

Summary from the publisher:

There is more than one way to picture the sky.

The sky tells many stories: in the clouds, in the stars, in the imagination. In lyrical text and brilliantly coloured illustrations, renowned artist Barbara Reid brings her unique vision to the sky above us and around us, in all its moods.

Picture the Sky was written and illustrated by Barbara Reid, and published in 2017 by Scholastic Canada.


There is more than one way to picture the sky.
It can be a blanket, or the curtain rising on your day.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I appreciate writing that draws attention to different perspectives or parts of the world that many people don’t take the time to think about. I enjoyed the careful choice of language and the cadence of the text. The illustrations are lovely, big enough and colourful to catch the attention of wiggly children, yet full of interesting details.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I want to read this book to my class in the hopes of sparking an inquiry or investigation of the sky! It’s a good story for encouraging students to share their perspectives or to read during quieter moments to encourage thoughtful reflection.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 2

Themes: sky, modeling clay art, appreciation of the earth


Go outside to observe and take pictures of the sky on different days (e.g., once a month) and discuss how it changes. Or write an emotion word to label the picture and create a class photo exhibit.

Have students create their own sky pictures using modeling clay or paint.

NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – MAX AND BIRD by Ed Vere

A fun story about friendship!

Summary from the publisher:

When Max meets Bird, Max thinks he'd like to be friends with Bird. He would also like to chase Bird and maybe eat him as a tasty snack. But that's not what friendship is all about . . . Is it?

Max and Bird was written and illustrated by Ed Vere, and published in 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.


This is Max.
Max is a kitten.
Kittens chase birds.

This is Bird.
Bird is a bird.
Birds get chased by kittens.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I love the humor in the storytelling voice. This is a great example of a story that leaves space for the reader to think and form opinions as the story goes along. I would definitely study this one as an example of a picture book that includes a good balance of dialogue and action, with a clear problem and solution. The illustrations are bright and nicely designed -- perfect for read alouds.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This is an entertaining story that could lead to discussions about persistence, following your dreams and friendship. I especially liked the ending, where Max can’t do what Bird does, but is there to support his friend anyway. 

Ages: 3 - 6

Grades: PreK - 2

Themes: friendship, persistence, caring


Draw a picture of something you’d like to learn how to do. What steps would help you accomplish it?

What is something you could help a friend to do? Try it!

Make puppets to tell the story of Max and Bird, and act it out.

Check out this live storytelling by the creator, Ed Vere, from the Scottish Book Trust.

He also gives us a peek inside his studio:

NOTE: This title has been nominated for a Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – FALCON WILD by Terry Lynn Johnson

 A different take on the typical survival story because it includes a falcon!                             
Description from the publisher:

Thirteen-year-old Karma is lost in the backcountry of Montana with her falcon, Stark, and a troubled runaway boy named Cooper. She’s desperate to find help for her dad and brother after a blown tire on a back road causes a terrible accident.

Karma wouldn’t be in this predicament if her parents hadn’t insisted on returning Stark to the bird’s original owner. Life at her father's bird sanctuary—and Karma’s dreams of becoming an apprentice falconer—will never be the same when she has to give Stark back. Lost in the wild, their bond only grows stronger as Karma teaches the falcon to hunt like a bird of prey. All the while, Cooper gets his own lessons on how to trust in newfound friendship.

Both Karma’s and Cooper's mettle is tested by mountain terrain, wild animals, severe weather, injury, and her own waning hope as this edge-of-your-seat wilderness adventure story vividly portrays the special bonds that can form between humans and animals.

Falcon Wild was written by Terry Lynn Johnson and published by Charlesbridge in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s an exciting adventure story as well as a story of friendship between Karma and Cooper. One of the things I enjoy about middle grade novels are all the unique hobbies and interests kids have. The details about falconry in this book were super interesting!

“I’m dangling above a dark hole. The falcon-like part of my brain kicks in. My eyes dart, searching for a solution.”

If you’re a writer… 

The setting is a big part of this story, so it’s a good book to read to study to see how to integrate setting details.

 “The air has changed around me. The smells of cooling earth are lifting with the approaching dusk.”

If you’re a teacher…

I liked how the main character in this story made several “mistakes” and had to find ways to resolve her feelings about them.

“After all my time getting her to trust me, now I’m betraying her.”

Opening Line:

“Stark senses my fear and pulls at the jesses around her feet.”

Other Info:

I really enjoyed Terry Lynn Johnston’s novel Ice Dogs and I’m looking forward to reading her other new stand alone novel, Sled Dogs.

She is also writing a Survivor Diaries Series and the first book, Overboard! is now available. 

There’s a teacher’s guide for this novel here

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – ANYWHERE FARM by Phyllis Root & G. Brian Karas

This book encourages wondering! A good choice to pair with non-fiction  about growing plants.
Summary from the publisher:

You might think a farm means fields, tractors, and a barnyard full of animals. But you can plant a farm anywhere you like! A box or a bucket, a boot or a pan — almost anything can be turned into a home for green, growing things. Windows, balconies, and front steps all make wonderful spots to start. Who knows what plants you may choose to grow and who will come to see your new garden?

 Phyllis Root delivers a modern rhyming mantra for anyone hoping to put their green thumbs to good use, while G. Brian Karas’s cheerful urban illustrations sprout from every page. After all, anywhere can be a farm — all it takes is one small seed and someone to plant it.
For any anywhere farm, here's all that you need: soil and sunshine, some water, a seed.

Anywhere Farm was written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. It was published in 2017 by Candlewick.


For an anywhere farm, here’s all that you need:
and sunshine,
some water,
a seed.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the concept that seeds can be planted in all kinds of different places. The language in this book is fun: “Your seed will sprout out at its own seedy speed.” It’s a lovely example of rhyme done well.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

A great choice to go along with learning about plant growth. Some pages introduce questions, which are good opportunities or models for students to wonder and think. This is a really fun rhyming story for young children! I liked the way the ending invites the reader to take action and plant their own seed.

Ages: 4 - 7

Grades: K - 2

Themes: seeds, growing plants, environment, community


Can we create a classroom garden? What do we need? Encourage students bring in seeds and containers to plant their own creative garden.

Draw a picture of an unusual place where you could plant a seed.

Create a “wonder wall” where students can post their own questions about growing seeds.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – ZINNIA AND THE BEES by Danielle Davis

I'm always on the lookout for novels that connect to nature. Luckily, I won this quirky read from a contest by Wendy McLeod MacKnight and Capstone Young Readers!                           

Description from the publisher:

A colony of honeybees mistakes seventh-grader Zinnia’s hair for a hive — and that’s the least of her problems. While Zinnia's classmates are celebrating the last day of seventh grade, she's in the vice principal's office, serving detention. Her offense? Harmlessly yarn-bombing a statue of the school mascot.

 When Zinnia rushes home to commiserate with her older brother and best friend, Adam, she's devastated to discover that he's gone — with no explanation. Zinnia’s day surely can't get any worse . . . until a colony of honeybees inhabits her hive-like hair!

Zinnia and the Bees was written by Danielle Davis and published by Capstone Young Readers in 2017.

Why you want to read this book… 

It sounds kind of weird, but once I accepted the unusualness of there being bees in her hair, I ended up loving Zinnia’s character and how she coped with the changes in her life. I was surprised by how much emotion I felt while reading this story. I grew angry at Zinnia’s mother for not taking more action when Zinnia’s brother disappeared and for not noticing how Zinnia was hiding under her hood. 

“It’s like a terrible, ridiculous attack-of-the-bees sci-fi movie is being filmed—except no one else knows about it, and I am, unfortunately, the star.”


If you’re a writer… 

You might enjoy the way the author used details, especially the use of the yarn and knitting to show Zinnia’s feelings.

“Wood needles. Wool yarn. The hypnotizing push and pull, tuck and wrap. All the stuff that feels massive gets smaller. Less overwhelming.”

If you’re a teacher…

This book really showcases how sometimes relationships with parents can be challenging and hard for kids. Not everyone has a perfect family, and I think this book shows that, as well as different ways for coping. I also thought it was nice the way the main character reflected and had some realizations about how her own behavior contributed to problems with her friends.

“It shuts with a tiny click that sounds louder than my slam did, at least to me. It sounds final, like after everything, I’ve finally gone too far.”

Opening Line:

“Ronny the Rattlesnake is naked. But not for long.”

Other Info:

Here’s a fun book trailer for Zinnia and the Bees!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT by Susanna Leonard Hill & Erica Sirotich

This is a really fun rhyming story from young children! I won this book in the summer in an online contest sponsored by Vivian Kirkfield (check out her blog for great reviews of picture books). I could hardly wait for school to start to introduce it to my class!

Summary from the publisher:

Join the ride as a team of adorable vehicles work together to build a new road in this fresh, cement-mixing spin on the classic nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built.”

Bulldozers, scrapers, graders, and more are hard at work making sure that every car, truck, and motorcycle can get where they’re going fast!

The Road That Trucks Built was written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Erica Sirotich. It was published in 2017 by Little Simon.


This is the traffic that’s moving too slow.
Cars and buses have nowhere to go.
What is the answer?
I’m guessing you know.
The trucks need to build a new road!

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This is a nice example of how to create a rhyming story. The problem of the story is clear from the beginning. The fun, bouncy rhymes keep our attention through the story – as do the big, bright illustrations of different trucks. Most of the lines in the story flow easily during a read aloud. The choice to use the format of “The House That Jack Built” works well.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This is a really fun rhyming story for young children! The idea that every truck has its part to play in the construction can be used to help explain the concept of teamwork. The labeled diagrams at the back are good examples of how to label as well as providing information about the parts of trucks.

Ages: 3 - 7

Grades: preK - 1

Themes: trucks, construction, teamwork


Provide pictures of the different trucks in the story to use when telling the story.

Create a road building centre with props for children to explore during play.

With Lego or other snap-together blocks, encourage children to build different kinds of trucks and talk about the parts they need for their jobs.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, so it seems especially appropriate to feature a novel that reminds us that some families are struggling today. This is an absorbing read, especially for children ages 11 and up with challenging family situations. 

Description from the publisher:

Charlie feels like she's always coming in last. From her Mom's new job to her sister's life away at college, everything else always seems to be more important than Charlie's upcoming dance competition or science project. Unsure of how to get her family's attention, Charlie comes across the surprise of her life one day while ice-fishing . . . in the form of a floppy, scaly fish offering to grant her a wish in exchange for its freedom. Charlie can't believe her luck until she realizes that this fish has a funny way of granting wishes, despite her best intentions. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they've ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish.

The Seventh Wish was written by Kate Messner and published by Bloomsbury in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It's great to find a story that shows how a sibling is affected when her older sister faces a difficult challenge. It’s a realistic portrayal of how a whole family struggles and has to come to terms with the crisis, while still carrying on with all the other things they have to do in their lives. (This story reminded me a bit of Jo Knowles’ novel, Still a Work in Progress, because it is also told from the perspective of a sibling of a struggling character. See my review here.)

I think this is the first novel I’ve read that includes both Irish dancing and ice fishing! For me, the magic fish reminded me how sometimes we wish for a quick solution that will make things better but in reality there are some difficulties we can only get through with time and hard, emotional work. The ending of the story was realistic and hopeful.

“But today, I’m tired of being the youngest in the family. I hate the way everybody else’s plans matter more than mine.”

If you’re a writer… 

This is a good story to study to see how to create a fully realized picture of the many elements that make up middle school life – friends, family, activities and interests, homework… It’s so interesting to see how the author manages to balance all of these elements in the same story!

“Mom doesn’t need that stomping and kicking and forget-everything loudness the way I do, especially now.”

If you’re a teacher…

Many students need to cope with difficult family situations, like addiction, so I think it’s an important novel to at least have available in the classroom. I really liked the way the story showed the family taking time to work through the situation. This story has connections to curriculum related to substance abuse and addiction.

“We can wish on clovers and shooting stars and flowers all we want. But in the end, the only real magic is what’s inside us and the people we love.”

Opening Line:

“I’ve only seen the ice flowers once.”

Other Info:

Kate Messner has written many middle grade novels including Eye of the Storm, Capture the Flag, The Exact Location of Home and the Ranger in Time series.

There’s a teacher’s guide for The Seventh Wish on Bloomsbury’s website.