Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning from Picture Books - How to Read a Story

This is the perfect book to read this fall to lead into a discussion about how to look at and read books in the library or classroom. But it's also a great book to give as a gift for a new parent who might be wondering how exactly to model reading while having fun with their child. 

Kate Messner, Mark Siegel
Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Step One: Find a story. (A good one.)
Step Two: Find a reading buddy. (Someone nice.)
Step Three: Find a reading spot. (Couches are cozy.)
Now: Begin.

Accomplished storytellers Kate Messner and Mark Siegel chronicle the process of becoming a reader: from pulling a book off the shelf and finding someone with whom to share a story, to reading aloud, predicting what will happen, and—finally—coming to The End. This picture book playfully and movingly illustrates the idea that the reader who discovers the love of reading finds, at the end, the beginning.

How to Read a Story was written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Siegel, published by Chronicle Books, 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

You’d think that a story about how to read a story would be a little dull, but this book is quite entertaining. It’s a good example of a book that uses a numbered step structure. Notice that this kind of structure helps propel you to turn the pages, to see what the next step is going to be.

I liked the illustrations because they were clear and would be great for viewing from a small distance in a group read aloud. The main character's reading buddy provides a lot of humor and interest. 

My thoughts as a teacher:

I love finding books that can be used in many different ways in the classroom. This book models procedures (Step 1, Step 2, etc.), how to read with a buddy, and also some strategies for reading, such as making predictions.

I decided to purchase this book for my personal collection, since it would be a great lead-in to a discussion on how to look at books in a classroom.

For another take on this book, visit This Kid Reviews Books.  

Themes: reading strategies, reading with a buddy,  procedures

Ages: 4 – 7

Grades: preschool - 2

Follow-Up Activities:

1. Choose a favorite book, find a buddy and read together!
2. Write out steps for something you like to do.
3. With a partner, make a poster for one of the steps for reading from the story.
4. Draw pictures in speech or thought bubbles to show something you found inside a book.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - My Secret Guide to Paris

If you haven't had a chance to take a trip this summer, reading this novel is almost like visiting Paris! It's a sad but sweet story about family, friends and learning to take chances.

Nora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she's never actually been there -- she's only visited through her Grandma Sylvia's stories. And just when they've finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora's dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia's things, she dares to dream again . . .

She's not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she'll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Shroeder, Scholastic Press, 2015.

My Take:

This was an emotional story about a girl coping with her grandmother’s death and taking chances as she develops a stronger relationship with her mother. Traveling around the Paris to find “treasures” was a fun way to keep the story moving and bring in interesting details about the city. 

If you write for children, consider studying this novel to see how to create an interesting setting without taking away from the story.

Opening Line:

“When you go to Paris,” Grandma Sylvie said to me, “you must ask for a baguette de tradition. That’s the good kind.”


“It wasn’t long before we stood in front of a big picture window, staring at silvery boxes filled with chocolates and unique chocolate creations like a high-heeled shoe and the Eiffel Tower.”

“I was beginning to see that grief was a lot like a rainy day. Sometimes the sadness was like a light mist around me, while other times it poured, mean and fierce.”

Good-bye is sad in any language.”

Other Info:

Lisa Shroeder is the author of over ten middle grade and young adult books. She lives near Portland, Oregon and has been writing since she was a child. Here’s what she says about why she loves to write: "Between the pages of a book, we can visit new places, make new friends, and when we're having a hard time, perhaps feel a little less alone in the world."

For more, visit Lisa Shroeder's website.

If you'd like a middle grade reader's perspective on this book, here's a review from Books with Nicole, who says she "learned a lot of things." 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Learning from Picture Books: Hermelin the Detective Mouse

Here’s a true confession about me: When I was around 10, I used to make little mice out of pipe cleaners and felt, and created entire families and little houses, complete with their family trees.  So it’s not surprising that I went to find this book right away when it became available at my library.

Mini GreyHere’s the summary from Amazon:

Hermelin is a special little mouse. He was born in a box of cheese and lives in an attic at 33 Offley Street. He can read books and type notes on his typewriter. Most importantly, Hermelin can solve mysteries. And the people of Offley Street are in need of a detective!

Again and again, Hermelin is on the case—the anonymous hero. But when his neighbors invite him to a thank-you party in his honor and find out who Hermelin really is—a MOUSE!—will he still be welcome on Offley Street?

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse was written and illustrated by Mini Grey, and first published by Alfred. A. Knopf in 2013.

My thoughts as a writer:

The delightful illustrations of what was happening in the town, with small speech bubbles and “notices” captured my attention. But I also loved the charming voice of Hermelin, right from the opening line: “Well, I was trying out the new binoculars that I’d found in my breakfast cereal this morning.”

This will be an interesting book for both writers and illustrators to study. For writers, it’s an interesting example of a story told in first person, which is not that common in picture books. It’s also a mystery! Although I’m not an illustrator, I noticed lots of creative design elements in this book, such as notes typed on a typewriter, speech bubbles, labels on packaging, newspaper clippings, invitations, a dictionary and banners, as well as visuals that show a mouse’s perspective.

My thoughts as a teacher:

This would be a fun story to encourage students to pay attention to the world around them. It would be useful in teaching perspective-taking, and could be compared to the movie Ratatouille. Because of all the small signs and details, I think slightly older elementary students would enjoy it too.

Themes: detectives, being observant, city life, making friends

Ages: 4 – 8

Grades: K – grade 3

Follow-Up Activities:

Create your own detective character, and think of a mystery for them to solve. Create clues! Or, write about what mini-mystery Hermelin and Emily might solve next!

Study some different labels and see what words you can find!

Create a piece of art using labels, pieces of newspaper, lists and wrappers.

Draw a picture or write a story that describes how the world looks to a creature that is very different from yourself.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Podcast Picks for Children's Writers July 2015 - Social media tips + writing non-fiction

Social Media Tips for Writers with Frances Caballo – The Creative Penn Episode Episode #225


I learned a ton of new stuff about social media in this interview with Frances Caballo from

My thoughts:

Probably one of the most useful podcasts I’ve ever listened to!! 

Lots of great information here about using social media, no matter what level of experience you have. Afterward, I immediately checked out Frances Caballo’s blog. I really love that this is geared specifically for writers. I also noticed that she has her own podcast for writers.

Frances Caballo: "So images are really important and because we have a short attention span, images are easier to absorb than text."

In case you don’t have time to download the podcast, The Creative Penn always posts a transcript – very useful in this case for finding all the resources Frances mentions.

Miranda Paul: The Long Journey of Storymaking - The Picturebooking Podcast Episode #31


Miranda Paul is an author of two amazing new non-fiction picture books (ONE PLASTIC BAG and WATER IS WATER). She is also doing some amazing work for children’s literature through SCBWI, and We Need Diverse Books.

My thoughts:

Hearing Miranda Paul talk about her books with host Nick Patton left me inspired to think about my own writing goals. It was so interesting how her books have developed from her own experiences and philosophy about life. I especially enjoyed listening to her read a short excerpt from her book WATER IS WATER. It reminded me of how fun it is to come up with new angles for traditional subjects, in this case, the water cycle. 

The excerpt also convinced me that her book would be a great addition to my classroom library!

On a side note, I have used Miranda's and found it very useful for finding out about strengths and weaknesses of my manuscripts.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Kinda Like Brothers

Summer is speeding by! Even though I was hoping to catch up and even get ahead on my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, I find I'm doing more writing than reading. This book appealed to me because I didn't know much about what it would be like to be part of a foster family.  

Here’s the Amazon description:

Jarrett doesn't trust Kevon.

But he's got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett's mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it's different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother -- a kid Jarrett's age named Kevon.

Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends -- but that's not gonna happen. Not when Kevon's acting like he's better than Jarrett -- and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon's keeping some major secrets.

Jarrett doesn't think it's fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He's gotta do something about it -- but what?

From award-winning author Coe Booth, KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don't get along -- but have to find a way to figure it out.

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, published by Scholastic Press, New York in 2014.

My Take:

This is a strong contemporary novel with realistic characters and problems. The characters came alive for me, especially the main character, Jarrett. I really enjoyed his project of making a horror movie trailer. Since I have two brothers, I could relate to the struggles he had to get along with Kevon. It was fun reading about his attempts to impress Caprice. 

For writers, this is a great example of a novel with an authentic voice. The author blended in real world issues in a very natural way.

Opening Line:

“He’s leaving. Kevon. He’s in the corner of the room, throwing stuff in that stupid army bag he got, trying to be real quiet.”


“I wished they would let me read the kinda stuff I wanted to read. Like, if I could have a book about horror movies or something like that, I would do good on all the tests.”

“Sometimes a guy had to do big things for the girl he loved.”

 “The truth is, my brain was spilling over, like lava coming outta a volcano, all because of what I’d heard on that laptop.”

Other Info:

Coe Booth is a full-time writer and part-time writing teacher, living in the Bronx.

Kinda Like Brothers is her first middle grade novel, but she has written three other YA novels.

In an interview at EI Space – The Blog of L. Marie, Coe Booth says: “My hope is that I can write something that can grab kids who don’t like to read and possibly change the way they think about books, too.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Learning from Picture Books - Kenta and the Big Wave

This book was on the list of nominees for the Blue Spruce Award from the Ontario Library Association this year, but I was absent the day the librarian read it with my class. I'm sorry I missed all the interesting discussion that undoubtedly took place! I'm so glad I can share it here, because it would be a wonderful addition to any classroom or school library. 

Here’s the summary from Amazon:
Ruth Ohi

When tragedy strikes Kenta's small village in Japan, he does all he can to hang on to the things that matter to him most. But amidst the chaos of an emergency evacuation brought on by the tsunami, Kenta and his family must quickly leave their home. Climbing to safer ground, Kenta watches helplessly as his prized soccer ball goes bouncing down a hill and gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again... that is until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, into the hands of a child who takes it upon himself to return the ball to its rightful owner.

In this evocative picture book, Ruth Ohi's glowing art transports the reader to Japan with gentle images that offer reassurance amidst the background of an environmental catastrophe. Inspired by true stories of personal items being washed ashore thousands of miles away after the tsunami of 2011, Kenta and The Big Wave is about the strength of the human spirit and the power of Mother Nature. An afterword explains tsunamis to young readers.

Kenta and the Big Wave was written and illustrated by Ruth Ohi, published by Annick Press, 2015.

My thoughts as a writer:

The opening line drew me in: “When Kenta heard the warning siren, he ran to school.” The text has a lovely, poetic rhythm that fits with the serious mood of the story. I really liked the subtle way this story showed how people triumph by making do as best they can. It shows children that even though the world is much bigger than they can imagine, they can make a difference to another person.

My thoughts as a teacher:

This would be a thought-provoking story to read and discuss with students or your child. It could be used to start a discussion on many different topics:
-  tsunamis and geological-related events
-  what life is like in Japan or other cultures
- what other things might be floating in the ocean (and the environment).
-  ways to be kind

Themes: tsunamis, kindness, global awareness

Ages: 4 – 7

Grades: preschool - 2

Follow-Up Activities:

Visit Ruth Ohi's website to try a message writing activity. 

Make a list of other things that might be washed away during a tsunami. Think about what you might be able to do to help.

Draw or write about something important to you that you would miss if you lost it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - We Are All Made of Molecules

This is one of my favourite middle grade reads so far this year!

Here’s the Amazon description:

Award-winning author Susin Nielsen has created two narrators who will steal your heart and make you laugh out loud.

Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.

Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen was first published by Scholastic Press, New York in 2015.

What I Liked as Reader: 

This story was funny, touching and even made me angry at times – and I love it when I can feel so much emotion as I read. I definitely felt connected to the characters. At first I was drawn more to the (nerdy) character, Stewart, but by the end I saw popular Ashley in a whole different light. I also really liked that this story includes some of the complicated situations that come up in everyday life. 

What I Liked as a Writer:

What a great example of a novel told by two voices! Both voices were distinct and, though I read fast and tend to ignore chapter headings, I was never confused about which narrator it was. I’d read this again to think about how the author deal with contemporary issues such as homophobia, without them taking over the whole story. The dialogue and humor was very natural. 

Opening Line:

“I have always wanted a sister.”


“I needed them to see things from my point of view for a change, and instead it was all turning into a big joke.”

“When I walked through the front doors of the school, it would have been perfect if it had been filmed in slow motion, with a wind machine blowing my long brown hair back, and a great pop song playing in the background.”

“I followed his gaze, and a truly awful day became worse. A single word was spray-painted in big black letters on the side of his laneway house for the world to see.”

“Sometimes my eye for fashion is a curse, because being at Borden Secondary is a daily assault on my eyes.”

Other Info:

Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver, and is a television writer as well as an author. Some of the other books she's written:

Word Nerd

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen

To learn more about the author, find out what inspired her books or see cute pictures of her cats, check out Susin's Neilsen's website.

If you're looking for more good middle grade books, visit author Shannon Messenger's blog for a list of bloggers featuring their picks for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.