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.


Opening:

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

Activities:

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.




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.