Monday, February 8, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - JACOB'S LANDING

At first, I wasn’t sure I would relate to the characters in this story. But as I kept reading, I got more intrigued and wondered what might happen to Jacob’s eccentric grandparents. This is another book from the short list for the 2016 Silver Birch Fiction Awards from the Ontario Library Association.

Description from

Coping with the recent death of his father, twelve-year-old Jacob Mosher is sent to spend the summer with his aging, estranged (and strange!) grandparents in a rural seaside town. Reluctantly, he trades the security of his foster mum and a big city for a blind grandfather, Frank, who dresses like a sea captain and conducts flag-raising ceremonies, and a quirky grandmother, Pearl, who sometimes forgets her dentures.

Jacob has two short months to figure out how to deal with his ailing grandfather, the surging river tides and the family secret that’s haunting his newfound grandparents.

Jacob’s Landing was written by Daphne Greer and published by Nimbus Publishing in 2015.

My Take:

I haven’t read many middle grade novels where grandparents have such a large role in the story. At first, like Jacob, I wasn’t sure I’d like reading about them because they seemed so quirky and eccentric. But as the story went on and the conflict increased, especially Jacob’s wonderings about how they might cope after he left, I wanted to find out what happened. I really liked Jacob’s friend Ruby, who seemed bold and adventurous, though sometimes she acted a little too quickly before she thought about the possible consequences.

As a writer, I enjoyed the way the author created such distinct characters through the use of details and different personality traits. They really came alive for me through their actions and dialogue.

Opening Line:

“I, Jacob Mosher, am sentenced to two months and a day with Captain Crazy and his sidekick, Pearl.”


“I’m still not used to the fact that Frank can’t remember some things—obvious things, like me for example—but then other things, like how fast a ship goes, he remembers right down to the second.”

“My stomach still feels gross at the thought of the doctor yanking the needle through Frank’s flesh yesterday, like he was putting bait on a fish hook.”

“Bad stuff happens, but you can’t let it keep you frozen. You’ve got to do something with it or let go.”

Other Info:

Daphne Greer lives in Newport Landing, Nova Scotia.

Here’s what Daphne says about writing on her website: “The hardest is making it believable and meaningful for them. The best is when that happens.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Learning from Picture Books - HOPE SPRINGS

I didn’t know what to expect from the title of this book, but was immediately drawn in by the story.  This is a wonderful story of kindness and community – a great classroom read for all elementary grades.

Summary from

A drought has settled in the area around the orphanage where Boniface lives. There are long line-ups at the tiny spring where all the local people get their water, and suddenly the orphans are pushed to the back of the line, unwelcome. Boniface's houseparent, Henry, tells him that the people were mean out of fear--they feared there would not be enough water for their families. When the building of the orphanage's well is completed, Boniface has an idea to help the villagers.

A lovely story of kindness and heart, this story shows that, through compassion and understanding, true generosity can spring from unexpected places.

Hope Springs was written by Eric Walters and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. It was published by Tundra Books in 2014.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This longer picture book opens with a playful introduction to the children at the orphanage to hook the reader in and introduce the characters, even though the problem of not enough water is a serious one. This really began to create a lot of emotion and feelings for the characters, because of the weighty problems and realities of life they need to face.

The illustrator uses realistic, earthy tones that clear showing the details of the story and add to the emotional impact through the character’s gestures and expressions.  

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This is an important book to read to elementary students. Along with showing the realities of life in Kenya, the scarcity of water and how kids can help, it also shows how kids can take action to be kind and change their situation. 

I enjoyed reading the facts about the water and Eric Walter’s role in helping to bring water to the orphanage and village. This book could provoke a lot of discussion and would be great to pair with other books that show more about the water cycle, e.g., Water Is Water by Miranda Paul or about life in other places.

Themes: community, kindness, drought, life in Africa, water shortages

Ages: 6 – 10

Grades: Grades 1 to 5

Follow-Up Activities:
  • Talk about what your life would be like if there was a water shortage…would North American life be different? What would change?
  • Create a 3-D model to show one of the scenes in the story
  • Research your own “kindness” project and make a list of things you could do to raise money to help
  • Research the author and find out more about his organization The Creation of Hope

Friday, January 29, 2016

Learning from Picture Books: STOP, THIEF!

I have a soft spot for books about dogs, and this one is very cute. It is another one of the books nominated for this year’s Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association.

From the book jacket:

“Max,” said the farmer to his dog one day, “can you catch a thief?”

Of course he can! Max can catch anything! So off he runs to find the thief who’s been stealing all the carrots, berries, beans and cherries from the farmer’s fields.

Max is so eager to help that he convicts the first suspect he finds—a bug. But the bug escapes, and Max chases it all over the farm while the other animals “guard” the food. Unfortunately, Max is too busy eating and giving advice to realize they might be part of the problem!

Stop Thief was written by Heather Tekavec and illustrated by Pierre Pratt. It was published by Kids Can Press in 2014.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I really liked the concept of this story! It’s so much fun the way the dog is focused on one reason for the problem but the illustrations and other animals are telling a very different story. I wanted to turn the pages to find out whether Max figures out what is really going on.

The illustrations in this story are lovely and give the animals, and especially Max the dog, a lot of personality.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

At first glance, there appears to be a lot of text on each page, but the big, clear illustrations make up for that because readers at the back of a group will be able to see what is happening while the story is read. The story moves along quickly and I think the humor would hold students’ attention. During a second read through, it would be fun to discuss what clues Max should be noticing.  

Themes: animals, gardens, farms

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: preschool – grade 3

Follow-Up Activities:
  • Choose one of the animals in the story and find out about what they like to eat.
  • Make animal puppets using craft sticks and paper, and use them to retell the story.
  • Write the next page for the story – what do you think will happen when the animals wake up?
  • On her website, the author has some lovely sequencing cards that could be printed out to put in order for the story

To find more great picture books to read or to use in your classroom, visit author Susanna Leonard Hill's website for her theme-based summary of Perfect Picture Books posted by book-loving bloggers on Perfect Picture Book Friday.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - THE SURVIVAL GUIDE TO BULLYING

I don’t usually review nonfiction middle grade books, but I think this is an important book for middle schoolers to read, or to at least be aware of in case they need it. 

Description from

The Survival Guide to Bullying covers everything from cyber bullying to how to deal with fear and
how to create the life you dream of having. From inspiring "roems" (rap poems), survival tips, personal stories, and quick quizzes, this book will light the way to a brighter future. This updated edition also features new, never-before-seen content including a chapter about how to talk to parents, an epilogue, and an exclusive Q&A with the author.

The Survival Guide to Bullying was written by Aija Mayrock and published by Scholastic, Inc. in 2015.

My Take:

Since this book was written by a teen who was actually bullied, in the very least it will help other kids in similar situations realize they are not alone. Although there are other nonfiction books about bullying, this one contains the author’s own rap-style poetry which demonstrate one way to deal with negative feelings. I really liked the writing style and the voice of this book, because you feel like you are talking to someone rather than just getting advice. I wish I had a book to read like this when I was a teen. Highly recommend this book for any school library or teen’s bookshelf.

Opening Line:

“Bullying was the dark cloud over my head.”


“But if you can find at least one thing at school that makes you happy, it will power you through your entire day.”

“When I wanted to avoid bullying, I knew where to go. I was safe there. And I was the happiest that I could be at school.”

 “…it’s not easy to be who you really are. It’s not always comfortable or “safe.” But when it’s good, it’s really good.”

Other Info:

Aija Mayrock began writing the book when she was 16 and finished it when she was 19. She is now a writer, actress and filmmaker.

You can find out more about Aija and her book in this interview:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Learning From Picture Books - SUPER RED RIDING HOOD

This is another one of the picture books on the short list for this year’s Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association. I really enjoy fractured fairy tales and this one was a lot of fun!

Summary from the book jacket:

Ruby loves red things. She especially loves the red cloak her grandma made her. But unlike that other girl once upon a time, when Ruby puts on her red cloak, she becomes SUPER RED RIDING HOOD.

A delightful combination of something old and something new, Claudia Davila’s Super Red Riding Hood captures what it means to be an everyday superhero. 

Super Red Riding Hood was written and illustrated by Claudia Davila. It was published by Kids Can Press in 2014.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

I enjoyed the humorous voice in this story, for example, “This did not sound like an important mission to Ruby, but she could see that her mom meant business.” There are wonderful descriptive words used in the story, e.g., “the grumbly wolf skulked.”

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

The way Ruby used her powers through the story was fun. Any child could relate to her and I especially loved her as a role model as a strong girl. Fractured fairy tales are always fun because they can be read along with other versions for comparing and contrasting.

Themes: fairytales, sharing, good deeds, superheroes, bravery

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: preschool – grade 3

Follow-Up Activities:
  • What superpowers did Ruby use in the book? Draw a picture showing Ruby using another superpower.
  • Brainstorm ideas for ways you could be a superhero and do good deeds like Ruby did.
  • Draw a design for your own superhero cape. What would you call yourself as a superhero?
  • Read another Red Riding Hood story. How are the two stories different? What is the same about them?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - ROCKET BLUES

I am not a big fan of hockey, or most sports, so I don’t read many sports-related novels. But even though I tried to put this one down a few times, I ended up reading it straight through. This is one of the nominees for the 2016 Silver Birch Fiction Awards from the Ontario Library Association.

Description from

When Rocket gets cut from his AAA bantam hockey team, he needs to re-evaluate his priorities. Bryan Rockwood (aka "Rocket") is faced with the unthinkable: being cut from the Huskies — the AAA hockey team he has played on for three years. With no other teams interested in him, Bryan reluctantly joins a AA team, the Blues, at his best friend Maddy's insistence.

Things only get worse when Rocket sees that the Blues don't take hockey seriously. Facing the Huskies in the round robin will give Rocket the chance to prove his skills, but in order to keep his hockey dreams (and his friends) Rocket will have to realize that while hockey is his passion, it is not his entire life.

Rocket Blues was written by David Skuy and published by Scholastic Canada Ltd. in 2014.

My Take:

A great read for any kid who loves hockey! This book is full of exciting hockey moments with lots of details about the action in the game. I liked the main character, Rocket, and was rooting for him to get on a team and win some games. His optimism and kindness made him a likeable character. He sorted out his friendships with members of his old team in a believable way.  Rocket’s friendship with Maddy made me think about different kinds of families and family relationships.

As a writer, I was impressed by the way the author wove in different subplots to make a compelling read, even for someone who doesn’t enjoy hockey.

Opening Line:

“Rocket grabbed his hockey jacket and sticks and headed to the elevator.”


“After everything, all the practices, the working out, the championship, the trophies, it was all over—after one stupid tryout. Just like that.”

“Rocket took off like a racehorse bursting from the gate.”

“And maybe, for the first time in his life, he’d felt, at least a little, that there was more to his life than hockey.”

Other Info:

David Skuy has written several middle grade books about hockey and a series about soccer. His middle grade novel, Undergrounders, won the Silver Birch Award in 2012.

Here’s what he says on his website about why he writes contemporary fiction: “I write for kids who want to relate to something in their own lives, who want to lose themselves in the drama; and while my books have a general sports theme, I really write for all kids, boys and girls alike, who love to read about the world they live in.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Learning from Picture Books - BUTTERFLY PARK

The unique illustrations in this book really stand out! It’s on the list of books nominated for this year’s Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association.

Summary from

When a little girl moves to a new town, she finds a place called Butterfly Park. But when she opens the gate, there are no butterflies.

Determined to lure the butterflies in, the girl inspires her entire town to help her. And with their combined efforts, soon the butterflies—and the girl—feel right at home.

Elly MacKay's luminous paper-cut illustrations and enchanting story encourage community,

friendship, and wonderment in the beauty of everyday life.

Butterfly Park was written and illustrated by Elly Mackay. It was published by Running Press Kids in 2015.

My Thoughts as a Writer:

This story is a good example of a plot where a main character starts with a problem – why are there no butterflies in Butterfly Park? The attempts to solve the problem are appropriate for the girl’s age level. I liked that it was written without a name for the main character, so anyone could put themselves in her place.

What really stands out for me with this book are the illustrations. They are created using a unique style of photographing her drawings which she sets up in a miniature theatre. She talks about her process in the trailer for her book If You Plant a Seed:

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

This story may spark a lot of discussion about taking care of the environment and ways children can work on solving problems. It’s also a good model for talking about story structure. There is lots of detail in the illustrations, so it would also be a good book for demonstrating how pictures can tell a story.

Themes: environment, community, good deeds, butterflies

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: preschool – grade 3

Follow-Up Activities:
  • What is your favorite page from the book? Why? Draw or write about it.
  • Write a mini story and create your own paper theatre diorama to illustrate it.
  • Create the life cycle of a plant using a paper cut out art technique.
  • Make a paper garden with paper flowers and butterflies.
You can also find an art extension activity on Elly Mackay’s website.