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.