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?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SPACED OUT by Stuart Gibbs

Stuart Gibbs is one of my favourite authors of middle grade books. I really enjoy his JUNGLE FUN mysteries as well as these MOON BASE ALPHA mysteries.
 
Description from the Publisher

There’s nowhere to hide on the world’s first moon base. After all, it’s only the size of a soccer field. So when Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, mysteriously vanishes, the Moonies are at a total loss.

Though he may be just twelve years old, Dashiell Gibson is the best detective they’ve got. But this confusing mystery pushes Dash to his limits. Especially since Dash accidentally made contact with an alien and has to keep it a secret. With the fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance, will Dash be able to solve the mystery of the missing Moonie?

Spaced Out: A Moon Base Alpha Novel was written by Stuart Gibbs and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2016.

Why you want to read this book… 

It’s a great mystery and a well-paced story with lots of action as well as the usual middle grade problems with bullies. I really enjoyed all the details about living in space in the excerpts from The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha included with each chapter. I also loved all the unique elements that add to the fun of a story set in space. For example, you've probably never read a book before where a toilet is used for self-defense!

“Slopes are difficult to navigate in low gravity, even when you’re not running for your life.”


If you’re a writer… 

This is a great example of a middle grade mystery with an interesting setting. I also thought the characters were realistically portrayed, and there’s a lot of humor in the novel through the main character’s voice in this first person narration.

“One of the most unnerving things about having an alien beam herself into my brain was how abruptly she could appear.”

If you’re a teacher…

This is a great option to offer students who might be a little reluctant to read for pleasure. If you're learning about space, students could look for details in this book about life in space and do research to see if they can expand on them. A fun activity would be to try to draw their own plan of how they envision the base based on reading the book.

“Something was definitely wrong with my suit. I was losing oxygen way too fast.”


Opening Line:

“If I hadn’t made the mistake of showing Star Wars to an alien life form, I never would have ended up fighting Patton Sjoberg with the space toilet.”


Other Info:

The first book in the Moon Base Alpha series is Space Case. The next book in the series Waste of Space, is schedule for publication in April 2018. Check out the new cover and description here (I can hardly wait for this one!)

Books in the Fun Jungle series by Stuart Gibbs include Belly Up, Poached, Big Game and Panda-monium.

Stuart Gibbs also writes the Spy School series, including  Spy School, Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, Spy Ski School. Spy School Secret Service is coming in October 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Learning from Picture Books – JABARI JUMPS by Gaia Cornwall

I loved this story! It’s a perfect summer read, since so many kids are facing their own swimming pool challenges at this time of year. When I read this book to my kindergarten students in June, they really enjoyed it!

Summary from the publisher:

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash.

Jabari Jumps was written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. It was published in 2017 by Candlewick Press.

Opening:

“I’m jumping off the diving board today,” Jabari told his dad.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story has the kind of simple but perfect concept that many picture book writers are looking for. Most kids can relate to some kind of swimming challenge, whether putting their head under or jumping in, or, like Jabari, trying the diving board. I really loved how the author portrayed the relationship between Jabari and his dad. The support of Jabari’s family is with him, even when he’s making his own decisions.

I also loved the size of this book, the diversity of the characters and the subtle but playful use of different textures in the illustrations.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

There's a lot of scope for lessons related to this book! I might have students make predictions about what will happen in the story, and talk about emotions and feelings based on Jabari’s actions and expressions. It would also be a great way to start a discussion about discussions about fears and strategies for coping with them, beginning with Jabari’s strategies of taking a deep breath or taking his time to think and be ready. 

Although this is probably not the intent, adults can learn a lot from this book too, in the way that Jabari’s dad calmly lets Jabari make his own decision about whether to jump or not.

Ages: 4 - 8

Grades: K - 3

Themes:  swimming, facing fears, bravery, family

Activities:

What challenges have you faced when learning something new? What did you do when you felt scared?

Think about something you are scared to try. Draw a picture to show how you might do it or write a list of steps to get past your fears.

Check out this interview with Gaia Cornwall about the book:




Monday, July 3, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – THE GREAT TREEHOUSE WAR by Lisa Graff

I have always wanted a treehouse. Wouldn’t it make a great writing studio? I had so much fun reading this, I read it in one afternoon (on my deck, since I don’t have a treehouse, but I could pretend). 

 
Description from the publisher:

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids vs. grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things get pretty complicated! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff was published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2017.


Why you want to read this book… 

Although the situation with Winnie’s parents and their exact schedules seemed pretty extreme, I think many kids will relate to feeling caught between two parents who aren’t getting along. And when the solution is making up your own rules and living in a treehouse – this whole scenario makes this book so much fun!

I really enjoyed the different personalities of Winne’s friends, and her cat, Buttons, but Winnie’s character and her predicament was what kept me reading to see how she would deal with her parents arguing (and not fail fifth grade!). This book also has lots of fun ‘sticky notes’ with comments from Winnie’s friends as well as ‘how-to’ instructions for different projects (e.g., making friendship bracelets).

“It turned out that having ten kids in a treehouse, without any adults to tell them what to do, was even better than Winnie could have imagined.”


If you’re a writer… 

It was really interesting to see how Lisa Graff incorporated all of Winnie’s ten friends, her parents, her uncle, her teacher and her cat into the storyline. That’s a lot of characters to worry about! The ‘sticky note’ comments help to reveal more of her friends’ personalities. A lot of humor in this story is created through the strategy of exaggeration and it’s very effective in making the story fun even though the underlying problem of feeling torn between divorced parents is a serious one.

“The book’s unlined pages seemed full of possibility, inviting Winnie to draw any doodle she wanted or tell any story that popped into her brain.”


If you’re a teacher…

This would be a great book to start discussions or projects about government and how countries are run. This might be interesting to read along with the picture books, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney (HarperCollins, 2004), and How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt & Fred Rix (Kids Can Press, 2009).  I might encourage students to work in a group to create their own country, drawing designs and making up rules.

“Some folks—grown-ups, mainly—were horrified by the idea of children living in their own country, with nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted.”


Opening Line:

“There are a lot of things you should probably know to understand why a bunch of kids decided to climb up a treehouse and not come down.”


Other Info:

Lisa Graff is the author of several other middle grade books, such as A Tangle of Knots, A Clatter of Jars, Absolutely Almost and Double Dog Dare, among others.

Listen to an interesting interview with Lisa Graff about the book from Follett Learning #BehindtheBook

*In case you're wondering why you haven't seen any middle grade book reviews from me for a while, I've had several life-changing events happening in my life and it has been hard to find time to read any books at all. I'm excited and hopeful that I will catch up on my reading and writing this summer!