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.




Thursday, October 5, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – MITZI TULANE, PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE in WHAT’S THAT SMELL? by Lauren McLaughlin & Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I enjoyed this sweet, funny book about a young girl and her family.

Summary from the publisher:

Mitzi Tulane may be only three years old, but she sure knows how to follow a trail of evidence and solve tough mysteries. From the strange happenings in the kitchen to the sudden arrival of every family member she’s ever met, Mitzi pieces together the clues and (finally) realizes that she’s . . . in the middle of her own surprise birthday party!

Kids and parents will laugh along as Mitzi sorts through not-so-subtle hints and comes to her conclusions. Readers will love figuring out the surprise ahead of the private-eye protagonist! Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s bouncy illustrations bring an extra layer of fun to Lauren McLaughlin’s clever story.

Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in What’s That Smell? was written by Lauren McLaughlin and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It was published in 2017 by Random House Children’s Books.

Opening:

“Mitzi Tulane knew every smell that came from her kitchen. As a detective, it was her job to know what happened at 123 Maple Street.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really liked the idea of Mitzi being a detective to find out more about what was happening in her own house. It’s also very sweet that she turns to her baby brother, Kev, to think things through. The author has nicely shown the perspective of a young child with Mitzi’s observations and conclusions (“Everyone one in the whole wide world was standing in Mitzi’s living room.”) The illustrations follow this same perspective and most scenes depict the world around Mitzi from her eye level. I also enjoyed the subtle humor that often seemed designed to give adult readers a chuckle.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

I don’t often come across fiction picture books that focus on the sense of smell, and I liked the concept of using it to solve a mystery. This different way of telling a story about a birthday was refreshing. The illustrations show diversity in the skin colors of family members, and it was interesting to read interviews with Debbie that explained the reasoning for her artistic choices (http://debbieohi.com/bk-mitzi-creation/).

Ages: 2 - 5

Grades: preK - 1

Themes:  birthdays, family, detectives

Activities:

Draw a picture of your own birthday party. Who was there?

Go on a “smelling walk.” Use your nose to smell what’s in the air around you and try to identify what you are smelling.

What is your favorite smell? Draw pictures or make a list of smells you like—and smells you don’t like.

Check out the Teacher's Guide on Debbie Ridpath Ohi's site for more activities.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday Quick Pick: RESTART by Gordon Korman

I don't have time for a full review of this one, since it's so early in the school year and I'm still re-learning how to balance my writing, reading and teaching without collapsing from exhaustion at the end of every day. But I really wanted to give this book a shout out. 

I loved the concept of the story: a kid who was a terrible bully has an accident, gets amnesia and gets a chance to start his life over again.

This is a different take on a bullying story and it's worth sharing with kids to generate discussion about feelings and behaviour choices. As well as Chase's point of view, the story is also told from the perspective of kids who he bullied in his "previous life."

I am a big fan of Gordon Korman's writing and you can learn more about him from some of my other reviews of his books: UNGIFTED, MASTERMINDS and THE HYPNOTISTS.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART by Stephanie Burgis

This is one of the best middle grades I've read this year - a fun, fresh and delicious story with bold and lively characters.

Description from the publisher:


Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest kind of dragon, and she's ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she finds herself transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw. She's still the fiercest creature in these mountains though – and now she's found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is walk on two feet to the human city, find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time … won't she?

Wild and reckless young Aventurine will bring havoc to the human city – but what she doesn't expect is that she'll find real friendship there too, along with betrayal, deception, scrumptious chocolate and a startling new understanding of what it means to be a human (and a dragon).

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was written by Stephanie Burgis and published by Bloomsbury in  in 2017.


Why you want to read this book… 

It was a genius idea to pair dragons and chocolate in the same book! I loved Adventurine’s fierceness and adventurous personality. It’s so entertaining to read about how she learned to adapt to the “human world” and I loved her determination to become a chocolatier apprentice. There are lots of funny moments in this story and I loved Adventurine’s friendship with the persuasive girl, Silke, as well as her developing relationship with her gruff new boss, Marina. And then there are the interesting details about making chocolate! For me, the best word to describe this story is “delightful.”

“Dragons could go for days without food when they needed to, and I didn’t like being treated as if I were weak. Still, as the scent drifted up from the glass in my hands, I lost the will to argue.”      


If you’re a writer… 

This is a good story to study to see how to create characters that feel alive and full of personality. I enjoyed all the details that showed her dragon’s eye view of the world the author created.

“Humans really were herd animals. And now I was at their mercy.”

If you’re a teacher…

It was interesting how Adventurine had to learn how to control the dragony feelings of rage that bubbled up inside during challenging situations. She also is quite determined and doesn’t give up on her dream to work in a chocolate house. This story would be a great one to have in the classroom for fans of fantasy!

“I blinked out the last of the irritating wetness from my aching eyes and pushed myself up from the ground with a growl of fury. What kind of dragon would curl up and surrender just because she’d had a bit of bad luck?”


Opening Line:

“I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human.”


Other Info:

Stephanie Burgis is the author of the Kat Incorrigible series. I believe (hope!) The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the first in a series too!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – NERDY BIRDY TWEETS by Aaron Reynolds & Matt Davies

A great book for encouraging reflection about the use of social media.
            
Summary from the publisher:

Nerdy Birdy and his best friend, Vulture, are very different. Nerdy Birdy loves video games, but Vulture finds them BORING. Vulture loves snacking on dead things, but Nerdy Birdy finds that GROSS. Luckily, you don’t have to agree on everything to still be friends.

One day, Nerdy Birdy joins Tweetster, and the friend requests start flying in. Vulture watches as Nerdy Birdy gets swept up in his new friendships, but when she finally gets angry, Nerdy Birdy knows just what to do to make things right.

Nerdy Birdy Tweets was written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies. It was published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press.

Opening:

“This is Nerdy Birdy. Nerdy Birdy loves playing video games.

This is Vulture. Vulture thinks video games are boring.”


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The author sets up an interesting contrast right from the beginning, since the two main characters are so different. I really enjoyed all the humor in this story, both from the text and the illustrations. The message about social media in this story is pretty obvious, but it doesn’t take away from the humor of the story. 


My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book explains bullying on social media in a way that younger primary students can understand. It’s a good choice for generating discussion about the use of social media and how it can affect friendships for children in the primary grades and even younger junior students. I liked the way the ending showed Nerdy Birdy apologizing and admitting to his friend that he'd treated her badly. 

 This book also provides a chance to think about internet privacy and how social media or video games can become all consuming. I think this would be most appropriate for children in grades 2, 3 and even 4, though younger children may also relate the concepts to their observations about older siblings or parents using their devices.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: 1 - 3

Themes:  social media, friendship, privacy

Activities:

Conduct a survey about how much time you and your friends or family spend using their devices. Is there anything you could do differently?


Plan a "no screen time" day or evening. Create a poster showing other things people can do that doesn't involve a device.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Quick Pick - THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen

A few weeks ago I was asked to share some thoughts about one of my favorite middle grade books on the Dream Gardens podcast. I chose THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen. 

I've read this book three or four times and each time, I enjoy it. As a writer, I continue to admire the strong voice of the main character, Sage, as well as the many surprises and quick pace of the story. I posted my review of this novel for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday when it originally came out in 2012 and I also featured it as one of my top picks for the year. 

If you haven't read it, I urge you to give it a try! 

You may also be interested in my interview with Jody Mott of the Dream Gardens podcast. It's an interesting coincidence that his last name is also the name of one of the characters in the story! 

The Dream Gardens podcast is good place to find noteworthy middle grade books recommended by teachers, writers, librarians and others who love children's books. 




Thursday, September 7, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – CLAYMATES by Dev Petty & Lauren Eldridge

A wonderful book to encourage imaginative play and risk-taking, or to support creative exploration with clay!
            
Summary from the publisher:

What can you do with two blobs of clay? Create something amazing! But don't leave them alone for too long. Things might get a little crazy.

In this photographic friendship adventure, the claymates squish, smash, and sculpt themselves into the funniest shapes imaginable. But can they fix a giant mess before they're caught in the act?

Claymates was written by Dev Petty and illustrated by Lauren Eldridge. It was published in 2017 by Little Brown.

Opening:

“So…are you new here?”
“Yeah.”
“Me too.”
“What do you think is going to happen?”

My thoughts as a writer:

The simple beginning question, “So, are you new here?” immediately invites readers to connect with these characters, because all kids have been in a new situation. The illustrations are actual photographs of modeled clay, shown talking to each other. So brilliant, because kids love using kids love using their imaginations to make toys and their creations talk. We also get a sense of their characters right away – the gray blob has a positive, adventurous outlook, while the brown blog is more cautious.

The entire text is structured as a conversation between the two main characters (balls of clay!) so it’s a great example to study to learn about telling a story through dialogue. I especially love how the “speech bubbles” are small, torn scraps of paper! Another nice feature is how the ending circles back to the beginning with the “What happens now?” question.
 
My thoughts as an educator:

As an educator who guides learning through inquiry, I love the way this story starts with the question: “What do you think is going to happen?” While reading this book aloud, there are opportunities to talk about taking risks and being creative, as well as persistence and problem-solving. Or you could discuss friendship and how friends help each other. 

Although the publisher lists the recommended ages for this book as as 4-8, it could easily support the art process in older elementary grades too.The photographs show us how to create form and texture using clay, and there is so much in them that I can imagine students returning to this book to look at it again and again. I want this one for my personal classroom collection! 

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  creativity, imagination, taking risks, friendship, modeling clay

Activities:

Do a creative modeling clay challenge: Can you create ten different characters from the same ball of clay, using different textures?

Create a stop motion video of two clay characters interacting, using paper notes to show dialogue.

Play “hide and create” with a partner. Hide your eyes while your partner creates a cool creature using your blob of clay. Keep track of what creatures you made for each other. How does your partner’s idea influence yours?

Mr. Schu Reads showcases the book trailer along with his review

Little Brown provides a book chat with the author and illustrator. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE FIREFLY CODE by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Reading this book transports you to a different world!


Description from the publisher:


Mori and her friends live a normal life on Firefly Lane in their utopian community, Old Harmonie. In a world this safe and perfect, they've never had to question anything . . . never had to wonder about how their lives came to be. Until a new girl named Ilana moves in. She's so perfect that Mori and her friends are curious . . . Where exactly did Ilana come from, and why does she act so strange sometimes? When Ilana's secret is revealed, the kids on Firefly Lane must decide: is it finally time to start questioning the only world they've ever known?

The Firefly Code was written by Megan Frazer Blakemore and published by Bloomsbury in  in 2016.


Why you want to read this book… 

This story explores interesting ethical ideas, but even if you don't want to think about it on that level, it’s a great read with a little bit of mystery, problems with friends and some surprising events along the way. I really enjoyed the friendships between the characters. The ending was a bit abrupt so I was glad to see from the author's website that a sequel is coming. I would gladly spend more time with the 'Firefly Five' on their adventure.

 “I held my arms out wide and looked up at the gray night sky, a smile spreading across my lips. I knew I was not going to tell anyone about this breach. It didn’t matter. After all, it’s not fences that keep us safe. It’s us.”


If you’re a writer… 

You will appreciate the lovely, poetic way that Megan Frazer Blakemore uses words to create sensory images. Even though it moved along at a good pace and had an intriguing storyline, care was taken to choose just the right words, without overburdening the story with description. I really love the writing style!

“All the smells of the forest came up to meet us, the smells of things growing and alive.”

If you’re a teacher…

There are so many interesting sparks for discussion in this story! The whole idea of a utopian community is fascinating (and would make for an interest project for students to work on as a group). There are also some interesting lesson plans related to building community on Megan Frazer Blakemore’s website). You could talk about artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, environmental issues, politics and ideas about safety, friendship, diversity, community – there’s really a lot to think about here. This would be interesting as a classroom read aloud.
  
“It’s only when you get out to the edges of the forest that you have the wild old trees: oaks and pines and maples all mixed together. That’s another reason why I like it out there: things were left to nature to figure it out, and nature tends to be smarter than people.”



Opening Line:

“Everyone goes to sleep at the same time on Firefly Lane. You can watch the lights switching off around the cul-de-sac like dominoes falling.”

Other Info:

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of several middle grade novels, including The Water Castle, The Friendship Riddle, and The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill.

THE DAYBREAK BOND, Book #2 in The Firefly Code series is scheduled for release in September 2017.

Check out this video on how she comes up with her ideas.








Thursday, August 24, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – CHICKEN IN SCHOOL by Adam Lehrhaupt & Shahar Kober

This is a cute story that encourages creative thinking and dramatic play!
            
Summary from the publisher:


Join Zoey the chicken for a tour of her unusual classroom in this celebration of creativity, friendship, and tasty snacks. When Zoey decides to turn the barn into a school and become a teacher, everyone in the barnyard learns that the best part of school is using your imagination.

From the hilarious author-illustrator duo that brought you Chicken in Space, this story about playful approaches to activities like reading, math, and recess will inspire any young adventurer to get excited for school.

Chicken in School was written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Shahar Kober. It was published in 2017 by Harper.


Opening:

“Zoey wasn’t like the other chickens.

And that’s how Sam liked it.”


My Thoughts as a Writer:

The concept of this story is very appropriate for young children. They will easily connect with the idea of “playing school.” I liked the gentle humor the author created through the secondary characters and their reactions to the main character’s over-the-top ideas. It’s fun to see how the illustrator has enhanced the humor in the text. The expressions on the character’s faces reveal a lot about what they are thinking!


My Thoughts as an Educator:

This book is a nice choice to support play-based learning in a preschool or kindergarten classroom. I especially loved Zoey’s creative way to use books and crayons! This story also promotes a positive attitude towards school.

Ages: 3 - 6

Grades: PreK - 1

Themes:  creativity, imagination, taking risks, friendship, modeling clay

Activities:

Look at the pictures Zoey drew of her adventures. What would your adventure be? Draw a picture to show what you would do.

What other things could you build with besides books? Draw a plan to show what you would build and ask if you can try it out!

Build your own school. What do you need? What would you want to learn?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – HOW TO OUTFOX YOUR FRIENDS WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A CLUE by Jess Keating

If you like books about animals, you'll love all the details about the zoo and the wildlife rehabilitation centre!

Description from the publisher:

What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo? Just ask Ana Wright, star of the hilarious, award-nominated My Life is A Zoo series that combines first crushes, friendship fails...and pack dynamics.

Surprise! Ana’s long distance BFF is finally coming back to visit. But with her purple hair and new attitude, Liv is barely the girl Ana remembers. This new Liv probably thinks a birthday party at the zoo is lame. Maybe if Ana has a super-secret sleepover instead, she’d never have to introduce Liv to Ashley, former enemy and now Ana’s best-ish friend. What could go wrong?

Creature File for Liv:

Species Name: Best Frendicus

Kingdom: New Zealand

Phylum: girl who used to be Ana Wright’s best friend, girl who used to like getting
milkshakes at Shaken, Not Stirred

Feeds on: video chats with Leilani, attention from boys

Life span: undetermined, but if things keep going the way they are, the lifespan of Ana and Liv, BFFs isn’t going to be the “forever” they thought…

How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue was written by Jess Keating and published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2015.


Why you want to read this book… 

It’s easy to relate to the main character, Ana, and her friendship problems and I really wanted to find out how she would solve them! People do change and it can be hard, sometimes, to let go of the way you thought they were before. The story moves along at a good pace, and is full of cool details about animals and what it’s like in the zoo as well as a wildlife rehabilitation centre. I also enjoyed the humor in the story and Ana’s animal-related perspective on the world!

 “Taking a nervous breath, I put on my absolute coolest face, trying to look like those girls do in the yogurt commercials where they look all carefree and chill with their little spoons and hips shaking everywhere.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great novel to check out if you need an example of an excellent voice. Everything is from the perspective of the main character, including her views on animals, friendships, homework and family issues, like her annoying twin brother.  The dialogue is realistic and so are the problems Ana faces.

“Of course, most almost-thirteen-year-olds don’t also have to instruct their friends on how to avoid getting drooled on by a giraffe, but hey, welcome to my life.”

If you’re a teacher…

This would be a fun book to have in a classroom collection or school library. There are some important issues about friendships that arise in this story. I especially like how, in this series, the main character Ana has become friends with a girl she thought was her enemy. It’s also nice to see Ana’s mature attitude about the idea of “best friends” that emerges in this novel. I really liked the school assignment she had to do about finding five important influences in her life – it would be an interesting assignment to do with students.

“It occurred to me that not so long ago, an invitation like this from Ashley would probably have left me running for the hills. It’s funny how much our lives can changed without us noticing it.”


Opening Line:

“Know what’s crazy? In exactly nine days, four hours, and nineteen minutes, I am going to change.”


Other Info:

Jess Keating is the author of several other middle grade books, including How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied (see my review here) and How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.


You might want to check out Jess Keating’s kids magazine, The Curious Creative.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – I AM CANADA: A Celebration by Heather Patterson & many wonderful Canadian illustrators

What a lovely book for a classroom collection! It celebrates diversity through the different activities mentioned in the text and through the different styles of illustration on each double-page spread. 
            
Summary from the publisher:

Simple text describes the ample space available to our children in this country, and the freedom they have to grow and dream and share. With artwork from 13 of Canada’s finest illustrators, each page is a celebration and a reminder of the infinite variety of our home and native land.

Heather Patterson’s free verse poem I Am Canada, originally published in 1996, gets new life in this beautiful, illustrated hardcover timed to celebrate both Canada’s 150th year and Scholastic Canada’s 60th anniversary.

Illustrations by:


Jeremy Tankard
Ruth Ohi
Barbara Reid
Jon Klassen
Marie-Louise Gay
Danielle Daniel
Ashley Spires
Geneviève Côté
Cale Atkinson
Doretta Groenendyk
Qin Leng
Eva Campbell
Irene Luxbacher


I Am Canada: A Celebration was published in 2017.

Opening:

“I am Canada.
I run. I swim. I skate, I dance.”

My thoughts as a writer:

In a lovely, child-friendly way, this book shows the space and freedoms of living in Canada, from “I have space” to “I stay out late and see the northern lights.” I especially enjoyed the way it celebrates diversity through the different activities mentioned in the text, as well as through the diversity of illustrators who created work for this project. It’s a good book to explore if you’re thinking about how to create a meaningful and expressive text using minimal words.

If you’re an illustrator, this book will be very interesting to investigate, since it showcases 13 different illustration styles. It was also fun to look through the book to see if I could tell who the illustrator was for each spread (they are listed at the back). I enjoyed reading the notes at the back, describing the inspirations for creating the work from the author and each illustrator.

My thoughts as an educator:

I think this is an important book to read aloud with students. Almost every page provides an opportunity for young children to share a bit about themselves and will lead to discussion about similarities, differences and what it means to be part of a community and culture. I hope to find it in my school library—and it’s on my wish list of books to purchase for my classroom.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  Canada, community, diversity

Activities:

What is your favourite page in the book? Why?

Work with your classmates to create your own “I Am Canada” book. What will you create on your page? What is important to you about being Canadian?

Fox Creek Municipal Library's Time for Tots presents a reading of the book with a northern lights art activity:



Scholastic Canada provided a short video to promote I AM CANADA:



Monday, July 31, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – CYCLONE by Doreen Cronin

I can’t resist stories that include some kind of medical drama!

Description from the publisher:


Riding the Cyclone, the world famous Coney Island roller coaster, was supposed to be the highlight of Nora’s summer. But right after they disembark, Nora’s cousin Riley falls to the ground…and doesn’t get up. Nora had begged and dragged Riley onto the ride, and no matter what the doctors say, that she had a heart condition, that it could have happened at any time, Nora knows it was her fault. Then, as Riley comes out of her coma, she’s not really Riley at all. The cousin who used to be loud and funny and unafraid now can’t talk, let alone go to the bathroom by herself. No, she’s only 10% Riley.

Nora, guilt eating her up on the inside worse than a Coney Island hotdog, thinks she knows how to help. How to get 100% Riley back. But what Nora doesn’t realize is that the guilt will only get worse as that percentage rises.

Cyclone was written by Doreen Cronin and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2017.


Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a unique medical-related story. I’ve never come across a book about a girl who had a stroke before, so I found the details about what happened to Riley and her rehabilitation intriguing. I definitely wanted to read on to find out what would happen. I liked the perspective of Nora as the narrator and her attempts to try to create “sparks” in her cousin.

 “Taking a nervous breath, I put on my absolute coolest face, trying to look like those girls do in the yogurt commercials where they look all carefree and chill with their little spoons and hips shaking everywhere.”


If you’re a writer… 

You might study this book as an example of first person perspective. The problems Norah faces with her guilt, her worry for her sister and feeling crowded by family are just right for a middle grade novel. I thought it was very realistic how Norah’s understanding of Riley’s condition and what she needed changed as I moved through the novel.

“My legs were beginning to feel foreign to me from the hours I spend every day sitting in the car, sitting in the family room, sitting in Riley’s room—then sitting in the car again. My legs were getting depressed, and I didn’t want it to spread to the rest of me.”

If you’re a teacher…

I really liked the way this story includes Nora’s drawings for Riley’s personalized communication board. It would be interesting to have students create their own, making the essential icons they would need if they couldn’t communicate verbally. It might be interesting to pair this with Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, a story about a girl whose father has had a stroke.

“It was the word you use when you have no idea what to say. The word you might use if you woke up in a room with your family laughing their heads off while you try to recover from a stroke and hope your mother is coming back soon.”


Opening Line:

“The last word I understood completely from my cousin Riley’s mouth was the F-bomb.”

Other Info:

Doreen Cronin is the author of the popular picture book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type and many other fun picture books, including the other books in the Click, Clack series and the Bug Diaries. Cyclone is her debut middle grade novel.

Here’s the book trailer for the novel:






Thursday, July 27, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – FINDING WILD by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Abigail Halpin

This is a great book to read aloud to enjoy the lovely poetic language. I love the idea that “wild” can be found anywhere!
 
Summary from the publisher:

A lovely, lyrical picture book with gorgeous illustrations that explores the ways the wild makes itself known to us and how much closer it is than we think.

There are so many places that wild can exist, if only you know where to look! Can you find it? Two kids set off on an adventure away from their urban home and discover all the beauty of the natural world. From the bark on the trees to the sudden storm that moves across the sky to fire and flowers, and snowflakes and fresh fruit. As the children make their way through the woods and back to the paved and noisy streets, they discover that wild exists not just off in some distant place, but right in their own backyard.

Finding Wild was written by Megan Wagner Lloyd and illustrated by Abigail Halpin. It was published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Opening:

“Wild is tiny and fragile and sweet-baby new.”

My Thoughts as a Writer:

If you’re interested in poetic language and making every word count, this is a wonderful book to study. I really loved the way the words created images in my mind, for example: “Wild creeps and crawls and slithers.”

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This book is filled with lovely language and would make a great introduction to learning about description and active verbs. It would be interesting to have students close their eyes as you read this book aloud and talk about what they imagine as you read. I really loved the idea that “wild” can be found anywhere. This might be an interesting book to pair with Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sidney Smith, to encourage discussion about spending time with nature.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  nature, senses, walking

Activities:

After reading the book, go on a nature walk and look for “wild.” Make a list of what you saw, smelled, touched, and heard.

Think of a time when you experienced visiting the “wild.” Draw a picture to show what you experience, and write five words that relate to your experience.

What is your favourite page in this book? Why?