Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading in 2021. Not the same. And a #mustreadin2021 update - 12.31.21

 2021 started out with so much promise.  I really thought this was the year that was going to push us past the pandemic.  Yeah.  That didn't work out so much.
When the pandemic started I thought a lot about what blogging was going to look like.  Ultimately, I decided to continue blogging because it was a way to feel normal, as well as help authors and publishers with getting titles out there.
I did notice my reading changed at the start of the pandemic.  I started reading more young adult than middle grade.  I don't ultimately know why - I needed a change?  Something that felt so different?  At any rate, I continued to read steadily through the early months, especially into the summer.   Once school started and we moved to a remote setting, my reading was interrupted, but again, once I got my footing, I was able to continue.
At the start of 2021, reading was definitely slower than pre-pandemic times, but I had a flow.  When I think about life March 2020-March 2021, there was a lot of home time.  We really did not do much.  My daughter had swim practice regularly, but being home from school and not going anywhere else allowed time for books.  April of 2021 gave us our first time for travel.  We had to travel for my daughter's first round of Paralympic Trials.  The travel was fine because again, really didn't go anywhere outside of our Airbnb.  The swimming did not go well.  From April to June (official Trials), things got a little more intense with swimming so reading slowed down.  Once she officially made the Tokyo team, I had the rest of June to live the dream.  That tension was off, school was done, and I made great headway into my reading piles.  
Then came July and if you didn't hear the screeching of the breaks to my reading game, well, I'm surprised.  Training was crazy. By the time August hit, between training and Tokyo prep, there was so little time to do anything.  And school was starting.
School 2021.  Even more different than school 2020.  You would think since we were back full time in the classroom it would be back to normal.  We all know that was silly to even think that.  I'm so grateful that in IL we are mandated to wear masks and have some distance.  Our school is even tested (optional) once/week through the Univ of IL Shield test.  But even with mitigations, it's so not normal.  And it's so stressful.  Reading?  Ha.  What's that?
Did I mention we also went through an entire first floor, leading up to the second floor renovation?  Because that wouldn't be any stress??
And now my daughter is a junior in high school, returning to school for the first time in 18 months, and having to go to classes, deal with COVID 19, pretend that isn't happening and keep up with all learning expectations, and figure out college, because shocker, that doesn't just fall in your lap.
A few weeks into the school year and I knew something had to give.  I couldn't keep it all up.  
So away went blogging.  I miss it.  But here's the other problem to that, blogger keeps changing what it allows and the newest thing is it took awhile subscribing by email.  So if you got this, thank you for subscribing awhile ago, because that is no longer an option.  I'm trying to figure out a new platform, but seeing as my technology goes no further than being fancy enough to use different fonts, setting up a blogging platform can be tricky.  Still working on that.  I'm looking into different options, but I still think it will end up as a summer project.
For the rest of 2021 I read what I could and was just satisfied with what I could do.
That means the stacks piled up, but I just look the other way.
Every year I keep track on Goodreads the number of books I've read.  Since I started keeping track in 2014, this will be the second lowest number of books read in a year.  In fact, I'll have read over 100 books less than I did last year.  I knew it was less but I was pretty surprised to see the actual number.

One of the reading communities I participate in is the #mustread community.  Late last year I chose books that are written by BIPoC authors.  Given how the start of 2021 began, these are books that need to be read and shared widely.  I started out well, but as my reading tapered, so did this list.  These are still books I will get to, but not sure when!  Here is how I did:

One day I'll get to the others on this list!
I've spent the last few days thinking about 2022 and reading and blogging.  I'll share my thoughts on that soon!
In the meantime, stay healthy and well, and continue to find time to read!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Our school's Mock Caldecott list - 11.18.21

It's November which means it's time for Mock Caldecott!  Excited to be celebrating books in person this year with our young readers!  Every winter, our 2nd-4th grade readers get to listen to and then do some further analyzing of books that are worth of Caldecott consideration.  It's always so hard to narrow books down and this year was no exception!  I'm grateful to have had a Caldecott selection committee (my fabulous colleagues Laura, Angie, and Terry) to help me get the list down to 12 books.  Here are the 12 books that our 2nd-4th grade students will be taking a look at this winter!

  • Watercress - illustrated by Jason Chin, written by Andrea Wang

  • Mel Fell by Corey Tabor

  • Strollercoaster - illustrated by Raul the Third, written by Matt Ringler

  • Have You Ever Seen a Flower by Shawn Harris

  • Wishes - illustrated by Victo Ngai, written by Muon Thi Van

  • Inside Cat by Brendan Wenzel

  • Shy Willow by Cat Min

  • Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

  • Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

  • Milo Imagines the World - illustrated by Christian Robinson, written by Matt de la Peña

  • The People’s Painter - illustrated by Evan Turk, written by Cynthia Levinson

  • We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier

Our school will have a school-wide book celebration following the ALA Youth Media Awards where they will learn the winners of our school-wide vote and what the actual Caldecott committee selected.  Yay for books!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Odd Beasts - book review - 11.16.21

Want to introduce your young readers to some fascinating animals?  While the tagline of the book refers to these animals as being nature's weirdest, I found them to be truly fascinating!

Odd Beasts:  Meet Nature's Weirdest Animals
written by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Gareth Lucas
published by Abrams Appleseed

The rhyming story inside this board book names an animal and an interesting part about them.  For example, did you know there is a spider with horns?  Yup, the long-horned orb-weaver spider has two long horn-like parts coming out from the end of the spider.  Or maybe the size of an ocean sunfish will find you inspired to learn more.  Because really, how big can a fish be?  No worries, you can get additional information about each animal in the backmatter of this board book.  That ocean sunfish is about a ton, or 2,000 pounds!  
I love that this book introduces young readers to these animals.  And the illustrations by Gareth Lucas are fantastic!  Bright, geometric patterns will draw the reader's eye to study these animals.  Want to see a photograph of each animal?  That's in the backmatter!   Yes, this is a board book, but one that is full of information that will appeal to many young readers.  I love that board books are being published with important information for so many young readers.  And they hold up well for lots of readings!
Whether you're gifting this book to your favorite toddler or making sure it's in the library for your littles and kindergartners and first graders to read, it's one that will be met with a lot of enthusiasm!

More about author Laura Gehl:

Laura Gehl is the author of more than two dozen popular picture books, board books, and early readers including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, and Except When They Don't. A former science writer and teacher, Laura holds a PhD in neuroscience. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and four children. To learn more, visit

Twitter: @AuthorLauraGehl

Instagram: @authorlauragehl

Extra! Find coloring sheets for Odd Beasts on Laura Gehl’s website

As always, happy nonfiction reading!

Friday, October 8, 2021

Susie B. Won't Back Down - review - 10.08.21

Writing books for kids can be tricky.  Generally, it's adults writing the books.  But if they try to get too "adult-like" it really doesn't work.  Kids want to read about real kid things and kids acting like real kids.  That means sometimes the kids aren't going to act the way adults want them to act or react.  That means sometimes the plot is going to be focused on what kids want to read, not the adults (ok, that should be all the time...).  That means sometimes friendships are going to get messy and not all endings are going to be sunshine and rainbows.  This is a book I think kids are going to enjoy because it will feel real to them.  Especially the main character, Susie B.

Susie B. Won't Back Down
by Margaret Finnegan
published by Atheneum

Summary (from Goodreads)
Roll with It meets Absolutely Normal Chaos in this funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president, told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president!

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure—no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.

My thoughts
This is a book I think you can hand off to kids and they are going to love meeting the main character and they will appreciate the storyline.  As I read the story, I kept thinking about how much kids will enjoy the book, even if I wanted to jump in and share my two cents with the characters!  The characters act just like kids today act.  The problems they face are problems are kids are facing today.  And that will make the story REAL to the readers.

The characters are real.  They talk like fifth graders.  They have problems - including unnamed ADD - like a lot of kids.  They will know the kids in this book.  They'll know the "usual geniuses" - the same kids who are chosen for everything (yeah, you know they exist at your school too).  They'll know the kids who aren't the nicest, but probably deep down have a reason why they act the way they do.  They'll know the kids who aren't the popular ones, the ones that are not chosen for everything, but are just nice kids.  This is a story that kids will be able to see themselves in.

The problems are relatable.  There are friendship problems.  And what I liked about them is they didn't get the "can't we all just get along" resolution.  That made it feel real.  There is discussion of sexism and racism and how they are not ok.  And Finnegan explores the big idea of how do you get what you want without having to compromise who you are?  Readers of this book are all figuring out their identities and who they want to be.  Figuring that out becomes more complicated as you grow older.  The exploration of this idea will resonate with readers.

I also enjoyed how the entire book is a series of letters written to the main character's hero, Susan B. Anthony.  The idea of heroism is explored through these letters.  It's also impressive to see how the letters move the entire storyline along.  Because Susie B. is writing to a historical figure, there is a piece of history that is explored throughout the book.  Just something that adds to the story!

Finally, this is a perfect book to read with students if you use Beers' and Probst's Notice and Note Signposts.  I found so many great ones to talk about!  You could use this as a read aloud or in a reading group.

Check out the fun mock newspaper, The Susie B News--available for download here!


Kirkus Reviews had this to say about Susie B.: “Susie is energetic, breathless, enthusiastic, and genuinely, charmingly funny.”

And it's a Junior Library Guild Selection!

More about author Margaret Finnegan

Margaret Finnegan is the author of the middle-grade novels Susie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Her writing often focuses on themes on inclusion, hard choices, and being true to yourself. She also makes a really good chocolate cake. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

* thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for the review copy *

Would you like to include this book in your library?  Atheneum/Simon and Schuster has generously donated a copy for a giveaway (US addresses only).  Enter by Friday, October 15th for your chance!

Friday, September 24, 2021

review of Pony by R.J. Palacio - 9.24.21

I'm still on a blog break (oh, you should see my downstairs... torn up and dust everywhere), but I had to jump on and tell you about this wonderful story!

Like so many of you, Wonder was a book that stayed with me long after I closed the pages.  Auggie and his family and their journey was one that made me want to be different in life and always choose kindness.  Since Wonder, author R.J. Palacio has given us more stories from Auggie's world, but now we finally have a new story.

Pony by R. J Palacio
by R.J. Palacio
published by Random House Children's Books
publishes September 28th

You might be like me and not want too much information about the book.  You might want to discover all of the book on your own, without preconceived notions.  Before starting the story, I really didn't know much about it.  I wanted the story to unfold before me.  If that's you, then continue on with this paragraph.  I'll give you plenty of notice when I'm going to tell more.  For those of you won don't want to know more, here's the little bit I'll give you.  Like the covers of the books, this story differs from Wonder.  The writing is beautiful, but in a very different way.  It takes place in a different time and setting, and while the characters will stick to you, it's in a different way.  The careful planning that went into the writing is shown in the meticulous way the story unfolds.  It's a historical setting, without it being a historical fiction novel.  I can't wait for you and your readers to meet the beautiful characters in this story and fall in love with Palacio's writing all over again!

Now, for the blog readers who want to know a little more without any spoilers... Read on!

This is a story about how love transcends and comes to us in ways we cannot imagine.  It's about how life endures and carries on even when you think all is lost.  It's about how the connection between humans and animals can be lifesaving.

Do I have you hooked yet?  Let me tell you a bit more about this story.

In this story, we meet Silas.  Silas lives with his Pa, a loving father, and a very intelligent man.  Silas' mother passed away in childbirth, but Pa has nothing but beautiful and loving things to say about her.  When we start the story, some unsavory men have come to their house to take Pa away.  They keep calling him by a different name and tell him that their boss has a job that only he can do.  The men have two extra horses, one for Pa to ride and one for Silas, but Pa convinces them to leave Silas out of this.  Pa leaves and gives Silas firm instructions to stay at home.  Not long after, the pony that had been meant for Silas to ride comes back to their home and Silas takes it as a sign to go find Pa.  Silas has a friend that only he can see, Mittenwool, who tries to convince Silas not to leave.  However, Silas is determined and he leaves with the pony.  Mittenwool travels with them.  Their first task is to make it through the Woods.  Silas has history with the Woods and we discover that Silas can actually see ghosts of people who have passed, and the Woods are full of them.  Silas meets an older man in the woods, a US Marshal named Enoch Farmer.  It turns out Marshal Farmer is actually looking for the same people that took off with Pa.  Marshal Farmer reluctantly agrees to take Silas with him.  This sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads Silas onto a journey that will impact the rest of his life.
While this story takes place in the past (1860s), it's not a book about the past.  The setting and time period is important to the plot of the story, but it's not meant to be a historical fiction novel.  Yet another decision by Palacio that makes perfect sense for this story.
The book is separated into eleven parts.  People who remember the quick chapters in Wonder will also like the fast chapters in this story.  I kept saying "just one more part"!  At the beginning of each section, there is a photograph, or what I thought were regular photographs.  Part of the story has to do with photographs and how they were developed and created at that time.  It was another unique and interesting part of the novel.
This book will appeal to fans of Dan Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage.  This is a book that I sincerely hope the Newbery committee is looking at very closely right now.  It has all the feels for me!
Pony publishes this coming Tuesday, September 28th.  I highly recommend preordering this one and probably having multiple copies on hand!  

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites - book review - 9.14.21

Concept books used to be books - often board books - that would be all about a concept that is important for young readers to learn.  Alphabet and numeral books, books about colors and shapes, opposites and preposition words and phrases.  There weren't stories included in most of these books, usually they were more about the illustrations in order to make the concept be very clear.  However in recent years there has been a shift in these stories.  They are still usually very clear in teaching a concept, but as the reader goes through the book, a story emerges through the illustrations.

Cat and Dog by Tullio Corda
Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites
by Tullio Corda
published by Red Comet Press

In Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites, each layout has two words that are opposites (inside, outside and slow, fast).  However, as the reader goes through the story, we see there is more that is happening with our main characters - a dog and a cat.  It starts with introducing them as being awake (the cat) and asleep (the dog).  But as the brave cat wakes up the afraid dog, we see their personalities start to emerge.  The dog isn't thrilled with the cat's decision, but the cat clearly wants someone to play with it.  My favorite page shows the dog quite upset and the opposite side of the layout has the cat licking it's paw and the word is "unconcerned"!  But when the animals eventually go outside, it's the cat who gets a little scare and the dog that ends up the hero.  So even though the entire story is told in single or two word phrases, there is actually a story line within the illustrations that creates an actual plot line for the book. I also appreciated that the author didn't stick to typical opposite words, but has some unconventional ones inside, like the above example of "upset" and "unconcerned".  I'll let you discover some of the other fun ones!

If you are thinking about using this book in your classroom, be sure to check out this downloadable activity kit!

Check out this YouTube video of the author explaining more about this fun book!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

Happy - and definitely not sad - reading!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Once Upon a Camel blog tour - 9.01.21

A story about the power of story.  How telling a story can save a life.  How a story can pass time.  And how a story can make a difference.

Once Upon a Camel
written by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published by Atheneum
publishes 9.07.21

Summary (from Goodreads)
An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

My thoughts
Usually when I start talking to kids about books I'll ask about their reading preferences.  It's funny how readers are often definite realistic fiction readers or fantasy readers.  Personally, I gravitate towards realistic fiction, but I can be a sucker for fantasy.  The kind of fantasy I don't usually pick up?  Animal stories.  Especially if the animal is narrating it.  However, there are a few that hold my interest.  I'll be adding Once Upon a Camel to that list.  In fact, I'll go as far as saying author Kathi Appelt is a queen at writing animal-narrated-fantasy stories.  I really think this one may be her best.  I love that it featured a camel as the main character, such a different character from what we typically see.  When the story first started and the haboob was coming, I really didn't understand how she was going to feature an entire story with this as the problem.  I love the way she wove Zada's past history into stories that literally helped the baby kestrels stay calm and survive.
The book is a trim size - it may seem like a long story, but because of the size of the book, you'll find you get through the book much faster than you may have thought.  I also loved seeing Appelt's humor come through in this story.  I laughed out loud several times!  The chapters are relatively short and despite it taking place in the past and in locations that are probably not as widely known, Appelt makes everything feel comfortable no matter what the background knowledge the reader comes to the book with.  I think this book would make an excellent read aloud.  Short chapters, action, heartwarming and touching story, with some humor... yes, kids are going to enjoy this one!
The story is also full of illustrations by the immensely talented, Erik Rohmann.  No surprise but his illustrations really made the story come to life!

Using it with novel study groups?
  • doing a closer look at settings?  Track how the setting affects the story.  What details did Appelt use to show this story takes place in the past?
  • study the cause/effect plot lines
  • there are three storylines to follow: Zada's current trek, Pard and Perlita's journey, and Zada's stories from the past.  How does the author keep them different?  How do the storylines intersect?
  • think about the concept of story.  What stories are told?  Why are they important?  How did the author use this concept within the story itself?
I am so excited to get this story into the hands of readers next week (Tues., Sept. 7th)!  I know readers are going to fall in love with Zada... they'll laugh with her and perhaps even shed a tear.  Make sure you have this one on your release radar!

More about author Kathi Appelt:

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at

Find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest!

Would you like to own a copy of this gorgeous story (the answer is yes!)?  Atheneum has generously donated a copy for giveaway (US addresses).  Fill out the form for your chance to win.  A winner will be selected on September 8th.

Monday, August 30, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 8.30.21

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures

It was the last Chapter Book Summer series - books about cooking!  Make sure you enter the giveaway!

Don't miss any of the Chapter Book Summer 2021 series posts.  Catch them all here.

Picture Books

Twinkle Twinkle Little Kid
Twinkle Twinkle Little Kid
written by Drew Daywalt
illustrated by Molly Idle
We all know to make a wish upon the first star we see, but did you ever imagine a star making a wish on the first kid they see?  Find out what happens when a young boy and a star make a wish upon each other, but won't reveal their wishes.  Cute story with fun illustrations from Molly Idle!  Look for this one on Sept. 7th!

The Girl with Big, Big Questions
The Girl With Big, Big Questions
written by Britney Winn Lee
illustrated by Jacob Souva
This would be a great book to use when introducing a Wonder Wall at the beginning of the year.

Pride Puppy!
Pride Puppy!
written by Robin Stevenson
illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
An ABC book that cleverly tells the story by going through the alphabet.  A family is getting ready to go to a local Pride Parade and when they get there, their dog gets loose.  We see the puppy going through the parade and it's a mixture of chaos and celebration!  I like at the end of the book there are more words in alphabetical order that you are supposed to go back and find in the coordinating illustrations.

Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Shalom!
written by Douglas Florian
illustrated by Hannah Tolson
This board book tells in simple rhyming phrases about a family celebrating the Shabbat.

Moth & Butterfly: Ta Da!
Moth and Butterfly Ta-Da!
written by Dev Petty
illustrated by Ana Aranda
A compare and contrast about moths and butterflies in a narrative style that is accompanied by beautiful and bright illustrations by Ana Aranda.  I love the way Petty adds lots of facts into this story that will be a delight to read aloud.

Middle Grade

Not a Unicorn
Not a Unicorn
by Dana Middleton
I've seen a lot of books about self-identity and learning to like yourself, but this had a unique take on the subject.  
Jewel is in eighth grade, she enjoys being with her friends, and loves sharing a graphic novel series with her friend.  And she's a girl who has a unicorn horn.  And she doesn't like it.  She doesn't like the attention.  She doesn't like the accidents that have happened because of it.  The biggest positive is it comes with her own unicorn, Carmen.  Other people can't see Carmen, but she's there for Jewel.  Bottom line?  Jewel wants her horn gone.  She's even done some secret research to find a doctor who can remove it.  But will that come at a cost?
This story about self-identity will be enjoyed by readers 5th gr+ and I like that it takes a new spin on this concept.
Publishes Sept. 21st, thank you to the author for the review copy!

Born Behind Bars
Born Behind Bars
by Padma Venkatraman
I absolutely adore how this author crafts her stories and I will continue to always read what she writes!  I'm grateful she has given us another story that takes place in India (and readers of The Bridge Home will get a fun surprise) as it truly is a window for letting readers understand a different living experience.
This story follows Kabir who literally was born behind bars, since his mother is jailed due to false accusations.  It's the only life Kabir has known, and while not ideal, his loving mother has cared for him and taught him and given him all the support he has needed so far.  But when it is decided he is too old to live in the jail, Kabir must leave with an unknown uncle and live outside of the jail.  Unfortunately, the "uncle" is only using Kabir to see him, so he runs away before that can happen.  Kabir soon meets Rani, another child living on the streets of India.  She teaches Kabir how to manage living on the streets and to keep following your dreams.
With quick chapters, this book was hard for me to put down.  Another must have for middle school readers.
Publishes September 7th.

What About Will
What About Will
by Ellen Hopkins
This is Hopkins' second middle grade novel in verse and she continues to show that she is adept at writing not only powerful YA novels, but also important MG stories, as well.  
Trace's older brother, Will, had a brain injury due to a powerful hit during a football game.  It left him with depression, anger control issues, facial tics, and an inability to move his facial muscles.  Will is pulling away from Trace and the rest of his family, and is gaining friends from the wrong crowd.  Trace is worried about Will, especially when he seems to be stealing items and money.  But with an absent mom and a dad who seems to be more into his new girlfriend than his family, Trace ends up taking on too much by himself.
A very strong novel about a family dealing with a child addicted to drugs and dealing with an injury, this story is an important one for middle school readers.
Publishes September 14th.

Currently Reading

How to Find What You're Not Looking For
how to find what you're not looking for
by Veera Hiranandani
Looking forward to this middle grade story!

Wow, what a summer we had!  As soon as my daughter made the Tokyo Paralympic Team this past June, it was nothing but swim.  I'm surprised I read and blogged the amount that I did!  She had an amazing experience in Japan.  Her swim didn't go quite how she wanted it to go, but as a 16yo, she has a lot of swimming in front of her.  The experience and all that she learned will only help her grow.  Not too many people can say they made a Games Team, and I know she is proud of that!
Now it's fall and school has started.  And we're getting our kitchen and a lot of our first floor done!  Nothing like continued chaos!  I'll be taking a break from blogging in order to have time to get the daily things done at home.  I'll still be reading and posting some must-read books on Twitter and I'll be back to blogging later this fall.  I have some posts that will be going up later this week.  After that I'm hoping to have my new blogging site up and ready.  It's been tricky to get it changed over to the new platform!  I hope you'll follow me there!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

#road2reading Challenge - Chapter Book Summer series - books for foodies! - 8.26.21

You've made it to the final Chapter Book Summer series post!  I hope you have found these posts to be helpful and you've found loads of chapter books for your readers this fall.
Today's focus is on food!  Maybe you should introduce these books after lunchtime!

Lunch Will Never Be the Same! #1  Farm Fresh Fun #2  A Passport to Pastries! #3  Cooking Club Chaos! #4
Phoebe G. Green series
written by Veera Hiranandani
illustrated by Christine Almeda
A series for young foodies!  In the first book, Phoebe can't help but drool at the foods her new friend Camille, who happens to be from France, brings to school.  Chickpeas, goat cheese, and... duck!  She makes it her mission to be invited over to Camille's house to try even more delicious food!
Each book in the series has something to do with food and it also shows the characters (third graders) going through some pretty typical problems that other readers will be able to connect with.  Whether it's friendship or telling the truth, readers will see themselves within the pages of the book... even if they haven't tried the fancy food!
Illustrations are featured throughout the chapters and the books are a trim size, coming in at just over 100 pages.  I have so many books about foodies and bakers and cooking, but this is the first chapter book series for these young gourmet readers!
for read aloud: grades 1-2
for independent reading: grades 2-3

Aven Green Baking Machine by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green Baking Machine
written by Dusti Bowling
illustrated by Gina Perry
This is the second Aven book this month and the second "Green" series of this post!  I just love her - she is such a real character!  I love her sassiness.  I love the way she says what she thinks.  I love the way she makes mistakes and learns from them.  
Aven has given up her detecting and switched to baking.  She is determined to win the baking competition at the county fair and she going to enter it with her three best friends.  They each decide to bake something and then choose one of the recipes for their entry.  But Aven won't keep her mind open to selecting anyone else's choice, just hers.  And she doesn't understand when not everyone agrees.  Her opinions continue to turn people away when she even upsets a classmate at recess over baking ideas.  But with some great advice from great-grandma, Aven learns to keep her mind open and be ok with trying some new experiences.
I love Gina Perry's illustrations and I know they will help give readers images that will support their understanding.  Quick chapters will keep readers turning the pages!
for read aloud:  grades 2-3
for independent reading: grades 2-4

Want to win a copy of Aven Green Baking Machine?  Sterling Publishing has generously donated a copy for giveaway (open to US and Canada residents)!  Winner will be selected on September 2nd.

I hope you've been able to follow along on this Chapter Book Summer!  If you have missed any posts click here to find a roundup of them!  Throughout the year I post books similar to this and for even younger readers.  Follow along with the hashtag #road2reading.  

Thursday, August 19, 2021

#road2reading Challenge - Chapter Book Summer series - Time for School - 8.19.21

While it may feel like summer out there, some of us have started back to school!  So this week I have chapter books that take place in school!

Twins vs. Triplets #1 by Jennifer Torres
Twins vs. Triplets: Back-To-School Blitz
written by Jennifer Torres
illustrated by Vanessa Flores
This is the first series from the Harper Chapters series I am featuring this week.  I really like the series, they are similar in length and complexity to series like Horrible Harry or The Magic Tree House, but feature a more diverse cast of characters.  At the end of each chapter there is a list of chapter numbers and after completion of the chapter, the number is colored in.  Just one way kids can celebrate the amount of reading they are doing.  At the end of each book, it celebrates reading in numbers - how many chapters, pages, and words the child read.  Finally, there are some ideas to continue the fun in the story.
This first book in the series introduces us to our narrator, David.  He is getting ready to start the third grade and he is super excited to join the Globetrotters, a geography club at school.  He's even found a way to make sure that he won't be in the same classroom as his archrivals that live on his street, twins Ash and Iris.  But little does anyone know, the twins are about to meet their match because triplets - Bird, Bennie, and Beckett - have moved in to a house on their street and things are about to get interesting!  Unfortunately they are in David's class and they do bother him, but what bothers the triplets the most is the territory the twins have covered at recess... the slide!
One thing I did not like is David's friend Edith is Asian and there are two illustrations drawn with her eyes being slanted in a line.  I was surprised with the illustrator's bio saying she is a strong advocate for representation, yet it lacks integrity with Asian representation.
for read aloud: grades 1-2
for independent reading: grades 1-4

The Great Escape by Alan Katz     The Zoo Switcheroo (S.O.S.: Society of Substitutes, #2)
S.O.S. Society of Substitutes series
written by Alan Katz
illustrated by Alex Lopez
The next series in the Harper Chapters line is written by an author I enjoy because of his great sense of humor!  In this series, Noah the part time classroom pet, part time evil pet mastermind is going to get quite a few laughs!  
Meet Milton Worthy, second grade student who is more focused on what he is forgetting to do than what is really going on.  And he misses some big things with Noah the ferret.  But never fear, Mrs. Worthy, Milton's mom, is here to be the substitute teacher.  Milton learns that Mrs. Worthy is actually part of the Society of Substitutes and they know about about Noah and his evil ways.  Whether they are chasing him around the school or a zoo, S.O.S. has it under control!
for read aloud: grades 2-3
for independent reading: grades 2-4

Geeger the Robot Goes to School by Jarrett Lerner     Lost and Found: Geeger the Robot
Geeger the Robot series
Geeger the Robot Goes to School and Lost and Found
by Jarrett Lerner
This is part of Simon and Schuster's Quix lineup, which I have reviewed other series from this line as part of Chapter Book Summer.  This series has a couple of more chapters than the other books, but still includes larger font, a decent amount of white space, and lots of illustrations.  It also has a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, a glossary and discussion questions at the end of the book.  The series keeps the same, familiar characters and has a plot line that is easy for young readers to follow.
The first book in the series has Geeger going to school for the first time.  Because he is a robot that needs to eat a lot of food (which we learn in the first book is old, moldy food that he is able to recycle for energy for the town), the first lesson he has to learn is you don't eat everything!  This translates to needing to stop and think about your actions before doing them!
The second book is a reintroduction to Geeger.  The nice thing is if this is the first Geeger book a reader picks up, they'll be fine to read it out of order.  In fact, there are not numbers on the spines, so those of us who have issues with reading books in order even when you don't have to, won't get as caught up in that problem :)  The new problem in this book is the class pet has gone missing.  We see Geeger continuing to grow some (human) social emotional skills because he saves some moldy bananas to feed to the class hamster, however, the hamster disappears right after Geeger feeds him.  Could Geeger have eaten Fudge the Hamster???
Lucky for us we have even more Geeger coming our way!  At least two more books are publishing this fall and late winter!
for read aloud: grades 1-2
for independent reading: grades 1-3

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins
Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School
written by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Pete Oswald
I thought this was a picture book so I was really surprised when I picked it up from the library and it was a sizable chapter book!  It's larger in size (wider) and longer, coming in at 226 pages.  It's full of colored illustrations, on almost every page.
The story is written in diary format, yet it's also broken up in to chapters.  The plot takes us through the first 100 days of school.  Experiences will be very familiar to school-age readers.  There are some positive things - talking about why we call it Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day, they have a Storybook Costume parade instead of dressing up for Halloween to be cognizant of classmates who don't take part in the holiday.  The discussion of families and how they are different and they don't all look the same happens at the beginning of the school year.  Common fears and problems that occur in school are explored.  
There was one thing that bothered me.  One character keeps snapping the waistband of the main character and threatening to pull his pants down.  Eventually the main character uses his voice and tells him to stop.  I was bothered that an adult was not aware that this was taking place over and over.  While I am sure this is also a realistic situation, since it happened over and over, I wish an adult had found out.  This would be a part of the story that I would discuss with readers and make sure they understand the importance of telling an adult when that happens.
for read aloud: grades 2-3
for independent reading: grades 1-3

Like what you see here?  Be sure to stop by every Thursday for more chapter book suggestions!  If you want to see all of the posts in the series, click on "Chapter Book Summer Series 2021 under the "Labels" section, located on the right side of the blog.  See you again next week!

Monday, August 16, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 8.16.21

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures

Last week was the annual Picture Book 10 for 10 day.  Here are 10 (+1) books about identity!

Hard to believe the Chapter Book Summer series will be coming to an end soon!  Don't miss these chapter books about dogs!

Picture Books

What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns
What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns
written by Katherine Locke
illustrated by Anne Passchier
These books are needed so readers hear these experiences being told in stories.  I do think there needed to be a bit more explanation, especially for readers who are just starting to understand that pronouns are something we identify with instead of are assigned to us.  I have to imagine it's a challenge to explain it without it sounding like an explanation! 

When Lola Visits
When Lola Visits
written by Michelle Sterling
illustrated by Aaron Asis
Celebrating Lola's visit and the many special things they do together before the end of summer and start of the next thing.  It's celebrating those special moments together, but also feeling those sad and empty feelings when a loved one leaves.  This story captures the high and lows and how life continues to move on.

This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth
This Very Tree
by Sean Rubin
There are a few books that are being published about the "Survivor Tree".  I like that this book recognizes the tragedy of 9.11, but doesn't dwell on the terror of it for young readers.  It focuses on the story of this tree and what it represents to the survivors, the people of New York, and America.  Something else that is unique is that it's narrated by the tree.

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree
Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree
written by Ann Magee
illustrated by Nicole Wong
Another story about this important tree.  While the story is essentially the same, the illustrations show a comparison of the tree changing and growing with a young girl.  The girl is first shown on 9/11 as a young girl, but as the tree grows, the girl does as well.  

Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality
Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality
written by Susan Hughes
illustrated by Nicole Miles
Add this book to your changemaker list.  A story about how a kid started making a difference.  Twins Victor and Linesi have different places to be during the day.  While Victor attends school, preparing himself to have a job in his future, his twin Linesi does not get to attend school, as she must do the tedious work of getting water for their family.  Inspired by his teacher talking about gender equality, Victor stands up in order to make a difference.

Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight
Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight
written by Margaret Muirhead
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
We all know about the frisbee, but where did it start?  While there isn't a definite answer, Muirhead focuses in on one person, in particular - Fred Morrison, in California!  Fred got his start by flipping a popcorn tin to his girlfriend after a Thanksgiving dinner!  They moved on to pie tins eventually, and it caught on quickly!  But did it start somewhere else first?  On the east coast, kids were buying pies from someone named Joseph P. Frisbie and using the empty pie tins to flip to one another.  And of course there's the famous Greek statue featuring a man getting ready to throw a disc.  
This fun book makes you see where some of the origins of this popular toy started!

My Two Border Towns
My Two Border Towns
written by David Bowles
illustrated by Erika Meza
This is such a powerful story.  Told from the perspective of a young boy, he goes between two towns that are on either side of the US/Mexico border.  The young boy is happy to see people on both sides, in towns that seem almost mirror images of each other.  But on return, the boy and his father stop on a bridge and he gives necessary items to a family that is stuck in between - a family that is seeking refuge from the United States but is unable to get in.  
This beautiful story paints a realistic picture from a child's view of living in a United States border town, while having the freedom to visit back and forth.
Publishes Sept. 14th.  Thank you to Penguin for the advanced review copy.

Middle Grade

by John David Anderson
A different genre for Anderson as he pens his first science fiction novel!  I read this one as an e-galley, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I had a physical copy.  When I read digitally, it's in smaller segments spread out over a couple of weeks.  This was a novel I wish I could have had longer time periods to read, especially since it is lengthy (close to 400 pages, which is a fairly typical amount for Anderson).  This story has a lot of adventure - I mean, there are space pirates - a lot of heart, and a great moral dilemma.  You won't get everything answered as there looks to be a sequel.  I really enjoyed reading his Nerdy post about this one.  I recommend this one to 5th grade and up because of some mild language (again, if you've read Anderson's previous books you won't be surprised) and the length.  
Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the e-galley.

Young Adult

This Is My America
This Is My America
by Kim Johnson
Wow, powerful book.  When I read Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, it helped me understand that racial injustices for a Black person are not easily solved.  There are so many parts that a Black person deals with that I, as a white person, never never understood.  For me, you're wrong (shooting someone) and you should go to jail.  That is so not the case (as we see time after time after time...) and it helped shed light for me.  The same goes for this novel, except we're digging more into the justice system when fingers are pointed to a Black person for committing a crime.  Too often decisions are made before there is any evidence.  Loosely based on Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative, this book is brilliantly told from a teenage girl who is doing her best to help her father, and now her brother, escape from a system that wants to put Black people away.

Adult Novel

The Last Thing He Told Me
The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave
This one was good!  I thought it was well thought out and the plot keeps you turning the page.  It's not one that I could guess what was going to happen - in fact I had several incorrect guesses because it didn't fall back on typical cliches that you see in mysteries.  I thought it had a smart ending that I certainly did not see coming.  It was a real page turner for me, I finished it in 2 days, which is really fast for me these days!

Currently Reading

Once Upon a Camel
Once Upon a Camel
by Kathi Appelt
Appelt is so good at animal stories.

Thank you to all the well wishes for my daughter.  It was such a stressful week making sure she was ready to go.  She landed in Tokyo and is settling in at training camp!  It's going to be a busy two weeks!