Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Your First Day of Circus School

I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I like to change up my special occasion books, to keep it fresh for ME! 

Thanks to all the teachers, libraries, and bookstores posting recommendations, I’ve added a few new picture books to my collection, and I’m really excited to read them to my students next week!

Your First Day of Circus School (2019) by @taralaser Tara Lazar, takes us through a little boy’s first day of Circus School. He’s got a big brother attending the same school who guides him through the day.

The text sounds as though the author is describing a perfectly normal school day, but the pictures are most definitely about a circus. Children, animals, and circus performers fill the pages, matter-of-factly juggling, walking on stilts, swinging on the trapeze, and being shot out of a cannon.

The illustrations, by @mcrowton Melissa Crowton, are 6-color and filled with simple, bold shapes, and interesting detail that you’ll want to let children have plenty of time to digest. I already know my 3rd & 4th graders will lose it when they see the steaming pile of animal đŸ’©.

All in all, a fun new BTS book for your class or your family. Enjoy!

Website for author Tara Lazar
Interview with Tara Lazar

The Very Last Leaf

I just love this story! Lance Cottonwood is the star student in his class, scoring top marks in cleverly-named classes such as: Wind Resistance and Photosynthesis 101. He is brimming with enthusiasm for school and learning until the end of fall semester grows near and he begins to worry about the final exam - falling off the tree.

Lance is anxious and refuses to let go. He watches all of his friends let go, land, and decides he is going to stay on the tree all winter, just like the nearby evergreen leaves.

His friends encourage him, and his teacher listens to his fears (landing in a gutter, on a windshield, or in a pile of dog poo) and they brainstorm outcomes that wouldn't be so bad (being part of a pile of leaves for kids to jump in and being part of a child's autumn craft).

The report card on the last page is clever, and the author has included facts about leaves within the story. Lance is a lovable character and children will root for him.

Davison's illustrations are adorable! The pages are filled with autumn colors and lots of texture to show the movement of the leaves. I particularly like the picture that shows Lance and his friends in their graduation caps.

This book will be a wonderful addition to your family or classroom library, 
When Lance finally lets go and lands with his friends, he feels like he's back at the top of his class.

Other Back to School books:

Website for author Stef Wade
Interview about The Very Last Leaf with Stef Wade
Website for illustrator Jennifer Davison

Our Class is a Family

This Back to School book is 2020’s must-have book for teachers.

The rhyming text and bright, friendly illustrations are engaging and show many types of families, and then reminds us that a "family doesn't have to be who you're related to."

The author then takes us through the many facets of classroom life - a teacher who wants it to feels like home away from home, teacher and classmates supporting us on our tough days, making mistakes as we learn, appreciating the ways in which we are unique and the things we have in common.

In our Spanish Immersion program, the students are together K-4, so they really do become a family. The COVID separation has been hard on them, so I know they will understand and relate to this sweet message about making a classroom a comfortable place to spend each  day. I can't wait to read it to them next week!

Other Back to School posts:

Website for illustrator Sandie Sonke

Friday, August 21, 2020


If you have ever read Pam Muñoz Ryan’s work, it will come as no surprise that I highly recommend this book.

With everything that is happening in the world right now, reading this novel with your child will give you the perfect opportunity to have some great conversations about family relationships, love, refugee life, immigrants, and separated families.

Eleven year-old Max lives in Santa Maria, a sleepy village watched over by the stone tower La Reina Gigante, with his PapĂĄ, his grandfather Buelo, and his beloved dog Lola.

He has always wondered what happened to his mother, but no one in the family will talk about it. He hears the derogatory whisperings about his family in town, and pushes to know the  truth.

PapĂĄ is too protective for Max’s taste, but Max has a good life, surrounded by his Buelo’s siblings, learning the family trade of building stone bridges, and sharing stories with Buelo each night. His favorite is the one he has heard so often that he has it memorized - The Secret Bridge and the Guardabarrera - a story Max believes to be a product of Buelo’s imagination.

Max is also practicing for fĂștbol tryouts, wondering if he will ever be as good as PapĂĄ and Buelo, who were both members of the national team.

When PapĂĄ leaves the village to get a copy of Max’s birth certificate, a requirement for fĂștbol tryouts, Max has the opportunity to learn the truth about his family and live the story of The Secret Bridge and the Guardabarrera.

Ryan’s rich, descriptive language helps readers visualize Max’s village, family, friends, and invites us into his head and heart. She is a gifted writer and this book is a must-read!

Thanks to Scholastic Inc and Pam Muñoz Ryan for providing this advance copy to Kid Lit Exchange.

Here’s a link to Pam Muñoz Ryan's website (be sure to look at her Reader's Theatre Scripts)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts

Over the years, I’ve had many students who were obsessed with dinosaurs - they would have loved this book! 

Written in graphic novel style, this non-fiction book covers dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, eras of time, includes definitions, pronunciation guides, how-to guides for drawing your favorite dinosaurs, dino jokes, a field guide, and uses standard non-fiction text features to highlight important info.

This is the perfect book for older children. They are ready for more information, but still want colorful illustrations and an engaging format. Lowery fills their needs with this delightful dinosaur book.

Thanks to Scholastic Inc. and Mike Lowery Studio for sharing a copy of this funny, fact-filled book about dinosaurs with Kid Lit Exchange. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Running Wild: Awesome Animals in Motion

Thanks to @annick_press and Galadriel Watson for sharing and advance copy of Running Wild: Awesome Animals in Motion with @kidlitexchange - due to be released 4/14/2020.

I’ve always been a fiction lover, so it took me by surprise when my children truly enjoyed nonfiction. When I became a teacher, weekly library visits revealed that my kids weren’t the only ones - MANY of my students check out nonfiction books every single week. Now, as a grandma, I see the same love of informational lit in my grandchildren. I’m still a fiction girl, but it’s easy to see that nonfiction is the perfect match for the boundless curiosity of children.

Running Wild, illustrated by Samantha Dixon, is aimed at older children, and teaches them about all of the ways animals move.

Walking, running, hopping, crawling, climbing, swimming, jumping, gliding, flapping, hovering, rowing, walking on water, staying buoyant, undulating, using hydrofoils, and shooting with jet propulsion - all of these are covered, using common animals such as penguins, fleas, and chimpanzees as examples.

The text is broken into digestible pieces with clear headings and subheadings that allow readers to easily find particular information.

The author finishes up by offering ways this newfound knowledge can be applied in the real world.

This book is a great next step for kids who love learning about animals and want to go beyond the basics of obvious physical characteristics, habitat, diet, etc...

Galadriel Watson website
Samantha Dixon website

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique

Thanks to @runningpressbooks and @eileenmoskowitzpalma for sharing a copy of The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique with @kidlitexchange - to be released 4/14/2020

Bea and Maisy have been best friends forever, but the summer before their last year of elementary school, confident Bea finds herself ghosted and spends the school year utterly alone as anxiety-ridden Maisy joins the biggest clique on campus, the M&Ms.

Unfortunately for both girls, they end up in the same cabin at summer camp, and Maisy gets a taste of how Bea felt for the past year.

To survive the summer, Maisy proposes a pact - if Bea will help Maisy become popular at camp, Maisy will help Bea become popular with the M&Ms.

As the girls each figure out how to hold up their end of the bargain, the author gradually reveals clues as to why Maisy disappeared from Bea’s life.

While acknowledging the social fears of tweens, the author also shows young women grappling with divorce, parental addictions, parental pressure to perform in sports and academics, parents finding a new partner, being invisible to a parent who has started over with a new family... 

Bea keeps her part of the pact, and the book leaves us with a cliffhanger that makes us wonder if Maisy will be able to fulfill her end of their agreement.

The author doesn't appear to have a website, but you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram,  and Twitter.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Queen Bee and Me

Thanks to @bloomsburypublishing and @gillianmcdunn for providing @kidlitexchange with an advanced copy of The Queen Bee and Me, due to be released on 3 March 2020.

This middle grade novel is delightful!

Meg is a quiet, anxious preteen who has been swept along in her best-friend-since-kindergarten’s wake. She found comfort and safety in their friendship throughout elementary school, but as they entered the angst-ridden middle school years, Meg finds herself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the mean Queen Bee tendencies that Beatrix is exhibiting.

When Hazel moves to their small town of Willow Pond, Meg reluctantly realizes that her friendship with Beatrix is no longer what she believes it to be. 

McDunn helps the reader see the parallels between a beehive and the social systems of a typical middle school. As Meg and Hazel’s science project about honey bees unfolds, Meg begins to recognize those connections. She struggles to figure out what role she wants to play in the middle school hive, and in life.

Watching Meg’s evolution is reason enough to read this book, but the other primary characters are also well-developed, and any female who has lived through middle school will recognize the character types, perhaps recognize themselves, and thank heaven that those days are gone 😂

Add this to your must-read list or gift it to your favorite middle-schooler. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author! #kidlitexchange

Gillian McDunn website

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thanksgiving Picture Books

If this isn't your first visit to my blog, you know I love my holiday picture books. There are far fewer books about Thanksgiving than the other fall and winter holidays, but I have found a few that my students and I love to read year after year. 

My colleague, Anna, introduced this one to me a few years ago, and I've happily added it to my collection. 

Turk and Runt live on Wishbone Farm with their parents. The farm animals look forward to fall when visitors flock to the farm to get apples, pumpkins, and turkeys. Runt appears to be the only turkey who is aware of the reasons those visitors are selecting turkeys and, as the author reminds us several times, "no one ever listened to Runt."

Their parents are so proud of Turk for being "the biggest, strongest, most graceful bird" on the farm that they insist he show off his dance and football moves to the visitors. Runt, however, ruins each chance Turk gets to be chosen by a visitor and no one understands why he would do that to his wonderful, amazing brother.

But the reasons become clear when Runt becomes the object of a little old lady's attention, and the family finally believes Runt and bands together to save him from a Thanksgiving table fate.

My students love my nerdy Runt voice, and giggle at all of his asides. You will too - add this to your holiday picture book collection.

Author Lisa Wheeler's website
Interview with Lisa Wheeler

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my many favorite authors. She is best-known for her YA fiction that tackles tough topics like sexual violence and eating disorders in an open, honest manner using a touch of humor and the sensitivity she would like each of us to extend to those struggling with these issues.

She has also written a popular book series for younger readers - Vet Volunteers, as well as some wonderful historical picture and chapter books like the one I read to my class today.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving informs readers about the 38 year battle of Sarah Hale to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. The illustrations by Matt Faulkner are detailed and had my students begging for me to wait "just one more second" to turn the page.

There is much in this book to generate great discussions. My students had questions about the Civil War, the power of the pen, slavery, and we repeated over and over a favorite quote: "Never underestimate dainty little ladies," which has been added to our "Wit & Wisdom From Our Favorite Authors" wall.

Sarah Hale is a fascinating woman and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about her many accomplishments and campaigns.

I had the privilege of hearing Laurie Halse Anderson speak at the BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers back in 2010. She is an engaging and passionate speaker, talented writer (listen to her talk about her bumpy start with reading and writing in the Reading Rockets interview below) and a powerful advocate for intellectual freedom and the victims of sexual assault.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson's website
Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson by Reading Rockets
Illustrator Matt Faulkner's website

This book is new to my collection this year. It's funny, silly, and clever. Thanksgiving day is fast approaching, and the people of Squawk Valley don't have a main course. So they cook up a plot to entice a turkey to enter their midst as a model for the arts and crafts fair.

Pete applies for the job and poses for the artists creating turkeys from soap, rope, oatmeal, potatoes, and anything else they can get their hands on. They plan to invite Pete to judge their entries and then pop him in the oven. But Pete is too smart for them and disappears after he announces the winners. He is able to camouflage himself among all of the entries and escape with his modeling fee - the oatmeal turkey.

Delightful, rhyming text and bright, bold illustrations make this picture book an engaging read for all ages.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own.

Elizabeth Webster is a fairly average American teenager. She lives with her mother, stepfather, and younger stepbrother, loathes going to middle school, and wonders when she'll get to see her father again.

She resists all attempts to get her involved in anything that might draw attention to her, but when popular athlete Henry Harrison walks right up to her in the cafeteria and asks her to tutor him in math, all eyes are on her.

When she arrives at Henry's house, she discovers that he doesn't need help with math, he needs help with a ghost who is haunting him. The ghost asks Elizabeth to save her, and that sets Elizabeth, Henry, and their friend Natalie on the path to figure out what that means.

But the ghost's problems are competing with Elizabeth's desire to know more about her father. She decides to search through personal papers in her mother's home office and finds a letter of apology from her father to her mother, and with it, a business card that reads Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned.

She and Natalie go to address on the card and find that her grandfather is running a law firm right in the same town and has been waiting for her to come and take her place in the firm.

As Elizabeth, Henry, and Natalie dive deeper into the mystery of the murder of Beatrice Long, they discover that solving Beatrice's case leads them closer to finding Elizabeth's missing father.

This book has suspense, adventure, a bit of romance, and, if your middle grader loves the unearthly, it's got an abundance of that.

The ending leaves the reader with lots of unanswered questions, providing the perfect set up for a second book.

William Lashner's website

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Girl Under a Red Moon

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book - all opinions are my own.

This middle grade novel focuses on a small window of time during the Communist Cultural Revolution. Da Chen paints a bittersweet picture of the life of a family in a small village during the reign of Chairman Mao.

For many years, the Chen family has lived in Yellow Stone, owning a chain of storefronts and acres of land that they rented to others for a third of the profits. When Mao took power, he killed most of the landlords, and the ones that survived were sentenced to hard labor. As this story begins, the Chen's father is serving in a labor camp, and the rest of the family are living on moldy yams, caring for two aging and sickly grandparents, and being treated as traitors by their community because of their Grandfather's wealth.

Younger brother Da, focuses on the events in the life of his older sister, Sisi during this time. She is not only a beloved sister and daughter, but an important student at their school, serving as class monitor, one of a trio of singers and dancers who performs at school and community functions, and she is fully expecting to be honored with a place in the Red Guard at the upcoming ceremony.

Instead, she is not only snubbed at the Red Guard ceremony, but is humiliated in front of the crowd, shoved off the stage, and ordered never to return to school again. She must bear the shame of her ancestors' wealth and privilege.

Her family knows this will not be the end of her persecution, so they arranged for her to go to another village, Bridge Town. Her younger brother goes with her and they find refuge and work at the school.

At first, they enjoy the beautiful setting and the kindness of the adults that are charged with their care, Principal Jin, Mrs. Lin, and Ya Ba. They work in the kitchen, serve meals to visitors, work in the fields, and Sisi gains a new best friend, Su Lan.

When a member of the People's Liberation Army is sent to the school as a political advisor, their safety and security are once again at risk. Commissar Lai is a young man and he immediately seeks the company of Sisi and Su Lan. The three of them spend evenings enjoying the outdoors together, laughing and playing. The girls soon become sullen, their conversations quieter, and Da notices them reading Communist literature.

At a school gathering called to condemn Principal Jin, the girls are called upon to denounce their principal in front of the entire school. Su Lan tells the audience that the principal raped her. Sisi, who has clearly been told to tell the same story, tells the truth instead, that he is a good man who has been kind to her and Da. She and Da are immediately locked up in the school office with Mrs. Lin, and brutally injured Principal Jin and Ya Ba.

The principal is in dire need of medical intervention, and Mrs. Lin gets villagers to take him away. When his escape is discovered, the others are freed, but they don't feel free. Sisi learns that Su Lan has been raped by the Commissar, and Ya Ba has arranged for her to be transported home. He agrees to deliver Sisi and Da to their home on the way.

They are welcomed home and their life as farmers quietly continues.

This book released September 3, 2019, is a quick read that gives a vivid, first-hand
look at this tumultuous time in Chinese history. Chen's descriptions are simple, yet beautiful - "The dirt road...was covered with gleaming morning dew. Each wet pearl carried the whole earth within its full liquid moon..." He has a great talent for storytelling and, in this case, I find him to be remarkably candid and far more civil than most victims of such persecution and poverty would be.

The continuing ebb and flow of tranquility versus brutality in the story gives readers a glimpse of the underlying uncertainty the Chinese people must have felt during this time.

Most booksellers list this novel as being appropriate for ages 8-12, however, I would caution that the story contains violence and talk of rape, which parents may not feel is suitable for the younger end of this age range.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

This middle grade novel by Dan Gemeinhart, was wonderful. Read it. That is all.

Just kidding, you know I can't stop there. This compelling story chronicles the 5 year physical and emotional journey of 12 year-old Coyote Sunrise and her father Rodeo.

Coyote shares their story with the reader and it is immediately apparent that she is independent, intelligent, and street smart. She reveals herself to us slowly, peeling away the layers of street tough and pain, and as she does, we begin to understand how she and Rodeo came to live in a renovated school bus, driving from place to place on their wims.

Coyote and her grandmother, who lives in Washington, speak on the phone every Sunday, and it is during one of those calls that Coyote discovers that the neighborhood park she loved as a little girl is being bulldozed to become a parking lot. This news catapults Coyote into action and we soon learn that 5 years ago, she, her mother, and her two sisters buried a time capsule of sorts in that park and Coyote, who is, at the moment, in Florida, is determined to get back to Washington and retrieve the box before it disappears forever.

But, there is a considerable obstacle - Rodeo. He refuses to return to their hometown, or even speak of it. So how will Coyote convince him to take her back to Washington and save the time capsule in less than a week? No spoilers here.

As the will-they-get-there tension rises, Coyote begins to confront her past and, in turn, forces Rodeo to do the same. A cast of characters joins them as they cross the United States and each one adds depth to the story and introduces the reader to some of the tough topics and difficult choices we must make in life. One of the key events toward the resolution seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but it did make for an exciting chapter.

I love the way Gemeinhart resolved their story. With no shortage of events on both the rising and falling action sides of the story arc spectrum, it could have ended up in numerous ways, but his ending is satisfying and will help middle grade readers feel closure.

His books deal with tough subjects and this one is no different - mental health, death, parentification, breaking up with someone you love, coming out, dishonesty, and domestic abuse are all touched on in this novel. The difference between Gemeinhart and many other MG authors is that while he does not sugar coat things, he isn't graphic or offensive in the way he addresses the topics. If you'd like to hear him explain this, see the interview link below.

Researching Gemeinhart led me to the fact that he also lives in Washington, in the small town of Cashmere. He used to work as a teacher librarian, which gave him the opportunity to not only read tons of children's and teen literature, but gave him an inside look at what they like, what they are curious about, and the books that meet those needs.

Whether you choose a regular book, an e-book, or an audiobook, please read this story.

Dan Gemeinhart website
Interview with Dan Gemeinhart (scroll down for interview)
Interview with Dan Gemeinhart about his book Good Dog - it's a 27 minute segment, and worth watching, but if you want to hear his take on writing for middle graders, start at 9:26 and go to about 13:10.