Thursday, November 24, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – PIRASAURS!

Another fun book about pirates! And who doesn't love dinosaurs? I really enjoyed reading this one -- it begs to be read aloud.

Summary from the Publisher:

Meet the Pirasaurs, a ragtag team of seasoned pirate dinosaurs looking for adventure and treasure! There's fearsome Captain Rex, golden-toothed Velocimate, one-eyed Bronto Beard, and more fearsome, buccaneering well as one new recruit who may be small, but who's eager to prove he can learn the ropes and find his place on the team.

But when a trap is set upon the Pirasaurs while looking for buried treasure, it's up to the littlest recruit to show the team that there's more to a Pirasaur than meets the eye patch!

Pirasaurs! written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Michael Slack, was published in 2016 by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic.


“We're Pirasaurs! We're Pirasaurs!
We rule the open seas!
We'll cannon-blast you to the past!
We do just what we please!”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

The rhymes in this story are clever and keep the rhythm going, so it’s a great example to study if you’re writing a rhyming picture book. I love the concept of pirate dinosaurs, which I bet is very appealing to young readers. There are some really fun characters in this story, like “Bronto Beard” and “Triceracook”. The big, cartoony illustration style really brings out their personalities. 

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This is a fun read for the classroom. There’s lots of wordplay and language to engage students. I also like the message about cooperation instead of fighting! In my kindergarten classroom, I’d leave this book at a centre with some toy dinosaurs and perhaps some blocks for building a pirate ship.

Ages: 3 - 7

Grades: K - 2

Themes: dinosaurs, pirates, cooperation


Draw your own pirate dinosaur character. What would you name it?

Make a treasure map on thick paper. Cut it into pieces and see if a partner can put it back together.

What words rhyme in this story? See if you can hear them as your teacher reads aloud.

Talk about some ways to cooperate in your classroom “pirate ship”.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – NEVER FOLLOW A DINOSAUR

I don't often find books with mysteries in them for young children, so I was intrigued by this one. It was especially fun that the children were hunting a dinosaur!

Summary from the Publisher:

Sally and Joe are convinced that the mysterious footprints they have discovered must belong to a dinosaur! Could it be? Join them as they follow the clues to find out…but wait -- what if Sally and Joe are right? What if it really is a dinosaur?

Never Follow a Dinosaur was written and illustrated by Alex Latimer. It was published in 2016 by Peachtree Publishers.


“One afternoon, Joe and his sister Sally spotted a strange set of footprints.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This cumulative story was a bit different than others that I’ve read since each time a new description of the dinosaur was added. I loved the idea of building on clues through the story.

The illustrations were fun! I really liked the way their imagined dinosaur changed as they found more clues and made more guesses.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

The clear illustrations make this a nice book for reading aloud to a group. I really liked the clues and how the book modeled that knowing more changed their ideas about what the dinosaur might be like. I also really liked the plans they drew for their trap. It’s a good book for making inferences.

Ages: 5 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: dinosaurs, mysteries, clues,


Make a list of the clues Joe and Sally found when hunting for the dinosaur. Is there another explanation?

Draw your own plan for a dinosaur trap. Label the key features that will help catch a dinosaur. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS

I loved Jo Knowles’ emotional middle grade SEE YOU AT HARRY’S, so I was excited to read this book. It’s written from the perspective of a boy whose sibling has a mental illness.

Description from Amazon:
Noah is just trying to make it through seventh grade. The girls are confusing, the homework is boring, and even his friends are starting to bug him. Not to mention that his older sister, Emma, has been acting pretty strange, even though Noah thought she'd been doing better ever since the Thing They Don't Talk About. The only place he really feels at peace is in art class, with a block of clay in his hands. As it becomes clear through Emma's ever-stricter food rules and regulations that she's not really doing better at all, the normal seventh-grade year Noah was hoping for begins to seem pretty unattainable. In an affecting and realistic novel with bright spots of humor, Jo Knowles captures the complexities of navigating middle school while feeling helpless in the face of a family crisis.

Still a Work in Progress was written by Jo Knowles and published by Candlewick Press in 2016.

As a reader and teacher:

When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure I’d like this story, even though the realistic details made me feel almost like I was entering middle school myself. As I read on and let myself get to know Noah, I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to find out what was going on with his family and sister Emma. Experiencing the situation through Noah’s thoughts and perspective made me think about how the whole family is affected when one person has a mental illness.

As a writer: 

Jo Knowles includes specific details and images to create an authentic story. I’d read this one again to study how to write a story about the sibling of a person in a difficult situation. I really liked this perspective and I think it’s an area of middle grade that has been overlooked. Another great example of a character-driven contemporary middle grade.

Opening Line:

“I am not afraid of Molly Lo,” Ryan tells me from inside the stall in the boys’ bathroom.

Other Info:

Jo Knowles is the author of See You at Harry’s, another middle grade book I really recommend (see my thoughts here). She has also written several YA novels.  

Here’s Jo Knowles talking about how she got the idea for the story:

There is a teacher guide for this novel. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – HEY, THAT’S MY MONSTER!

I especially loved exploring the illustrations in this book. I haven’t read the first book by this author and illustrator duo, I NEED MY MONSTER, but now I want to!

Summary from the Publisher:

When Ethan checks under the bed for his monster, he finds this note instead:
“So long, kid. Gotta go. Someone needs me more than you do. –Gabe”

Ethan knows that the ‘someone’ must be his little sister Emma, who keeps
climbing out of bed to play.

She obviously needs a monster to help her get to sleep, but not HIS monster!
Will Ethan lose Gabe forever?

The perfect balance of giggles and shivers will keep you under your covers, and you'll soon be sleeping soundly.

Hey, That’s My Monster was written by Amanda Noll and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. It was published in 2016 by Flashlight Press.


“Tonight, when I looked under the bed for my monster, I found this note instead. So long kid. Gotta go. Someone needs me more than you do. Gabe.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I enjoyed the fun concept of turning around the typical monster-under-the-bed story by including a problem that the narrator’s sister isn’t afraid of monsters. I liked the inventive monsters with their different ways of attempting to get Emma to sleep.

The rich illustrations in this book are full of fun details. They really come to life on the page!

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

After enjoying the fun of a read aloud with this story, it would be useful for discussing a problem and solution story framework. The vivid illustrations also make it a good choice for doing a picture walk through, and talking about the pictures before reading the text.

Ages: 5 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: fears, monsters, persistence, bedtime


What is your favourite illustration in this story? Explain why.

If you had a monster under your bed, what would it look like? Draw a picture and write about your monster’s special skills. 

What if Emma didn't have a monster? Brainstorm a list of other ways the narrator could try to get Emma to fall asleep!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE

I discovered this book in the summer and really enjoyed it. I like reading about the details of life from different perspectives and time periods. This would be a really good book to share with students to help them learn about another culture.

Description from Amazon:

Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich's first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior's Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.

The Birchbark House was written by Louise Erdrich and published by Hyperion in 1999.

As a reader and teacher:

I really enjoyed this story – especially all the details of the chores Omakayas did, and her relationship with her family and the mischievous crow, Andeg. I learned more about the Ojibwa culture and thought more deeply about what they may have experienced. This story was really a survival story – one where the main character faced a variety of hardships, including sickness and death. It kept me hooked until the end.

I also liked the main character’s special connectedness to animals and how she learned from her family. 

As a writer: 

Since I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, I was particularly interested in the setting. The author used lots of specific detail in her descriptions. Even though this story did not follow a traditional plot, the family conflicts and hardships, as well the development of the character Omakayas kept me interested and wanting to finish the story. The way the author sprinkled in traditional language added to the authenticity of the story (there is a glossary at the back).

Opening Line:

“The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.”


“The air was fresh, delicious, smelling of new leaves in the woods, just-popped-out mushrooms, the pelts of young deer.”

“Everything was ice in her dream, and she was sliding on it.”

Other Info:

Louise Erdrich has written several other books in the Birchbark House series.

Here’s a discussion of the importance of names for the Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, in The Birchbark House.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – QUIT CALLING ME A MONSTER!

Since Hallowe'en is approaching, I thought this was a fun choice for a "monster" book that isn't too scary. This will make kids laugh.

Summary from the Publisher:

Floyd Patterson is so much more than shaggy purple fur and pointy monster teeth—
why can’t people just see him for him? Jory John and Bob Shea have struck gold in creating a knee-slapping, read-it-again story that will start a valuable discussion about how we treat others and how it feels to be seen as “different.”

Quit Calling Me a Monster was written by Jory John and illustrated by Bob Shea. It was published in 2016 by Random House Children’s Books.


“Quit calling me a monster! Just…stop it, right this minute!”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I loved the voice in this story because it really allows the monster’s personality to shine through. It’s a great example of a story written in dialogue—or a monologue, really, up until the end.  There’s lots of repetition in the structure of this story (a whole section where sentences start with  “and”).

Bob Shea’s colourful illustrations keep the monster from being too scary. The “glow in the dark” monster smile allows us to know where the monster is even when it’s in the dark under the bed – a nice design. Love the expressions on the monster's face!

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

The monster tries really hard to convince the reader that he’s not a monster…until it becomes really obvious that he is. It’s a good book for starting a discussion about how someone feels about what they are called.

This would also be a fun book to use as a model for writing with older kids. I'd use it to talk about taking another perspective, and maybe brainstorm ideas about the different perspectives of the child, monster and parent.

Ages: 3 – 7

Grades: preK - 2

Themes: fears, monsters, point of view, name-calling


Talk about different words to describe the way the child, parent and monster feel about the monster.

Draw a picture of an imaginary monster in any place you can think of (e.g., the grocery story, the swimming pool, the library). Write a speech bubble to show what your monster is really thinking. And don't forget to name for your monster!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Learning from Picture Books – LITTLE RED AND THE VERY HUNGRY LION

I really love fractured fairy-tales and this one was a lot of fun!  I especially liked the safari theme and the confidence and creativity of Little Red.

Summary from the Publisher:

Little Red sets off to visit her auntie who is poorly. She walks under the giraffes, over the sleepy crocodiles, past the enormous elephants and the chattering monkeys. Then a Very Hungry Lion approaches Little Red, wanting to gobble her up. But despite all the cunning plans by Lion, Little Red outsmarts him and soon has him saying sorry and eating doughnuts instead.

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion was written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith. It was published in 2016 by Scholastic Press.


“This is Little Red. Today she is going to be gobbled up by a lion.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I liked the humorous tone of the story. It drew me in right away and set up an expectation that the Lion might be tricked. I loved Little Red’s personality, and how she set out to get back at the Lion – her ideas were a lot of fun and offered lots of possibilities for the illustrations.

The illustrations were interesting from a design perspective, since some of the pages were divided in unexpected ways. I liked the bright, fun colours that fit the safari theme, and details like the antics of Little Red’s tiny goat.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

A good story for a read aloud. I really enjoyed all the animals Little Red met along her way, which could be paired with non-fiction books for additional learning. I also really liked the plan the lion made – this could be a model for students to use when making their own plan. 

What I liked most of all were the fun story twists and the boldness of Red's character. It would be interesting to compare her actions to the Red Riding Hood in a more traditional version of the story. I wondered, though, if the idea of being eaten might be a little scary for preschoolers.

Ages: 5 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes: fairy tales, safari, Africa


With a partner, make some props and act out the story! How do you think each character feels?

Read a traditional version of Little Red Riding Hood. Compare the stories and find similarities and differences.

Find out about one of the animals Little Red meets on her way to Auntie’s house. 

Make a funny poster to show how it might escape the Lion.

Look through the book and find details that the author/illustrator used to show that the story takes place in Africa.