Monday February 25th, 2013

It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I love Sunday nights when I reflect on my reading over the week and join Kelle and Jen’s meme to share books read from picture books to young adult novels.

Because I am really supposed to be writing report cards, my book descriptions will be shorter than usual. Report card writing has also interfered with my reading time. This week I only finished one novel: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a Printz title by Benjamin Alire Saenz. But, oh, what a novel it was . . . So much I loved about this book. It was a truly beautiful read. Loved the relationship between mothers and sons. The respect for family. The search for who exactly one might be. I love the contemplative narration. The vulnerability revealed. Oh, did I adore this book . . .

Aristotle and Dante- It's monday What are you reading?

Picture books I read:

Ten Birds by Cybele Young A great book to spark discussion! I personally love the illustrations. They are wonderfully quirky and odd. A counting theme but much more . . .

Ten Birds - It's Monday!

The Little Red Fish by Taeeun Yoo Library love and mixed up feelings of real and unreal as one travels literally, and not, through the pages of a book. Stunning!

littleredfish It's Monday!

These Hands written by Margaret H. Mason and illustrated by Floyd Cooper Such voice in the Grandfather teaching his little grandson what “these hands” can do. And then . . . what “these” hands cannot do because of racist ideas. Beautiful book. I need to own it.

these hands It's Monday!

Goal! written by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by A.G. Ford My students adored this book and wrote fantastic reviews. The illustrations are so full of life, the text beautiful to read aloud. I loved the celebration of play. These words in the text were my favourite: “When we play, we forget to worry. When we run, we are not afraid.”

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin

The Monster Returns by Peter McCarty A sequel to Jeremy Draws a Monster – don’t think it would be as cute if read as a stand alone. But as a sequel, charming.

The Monster Returns - It's Monday!

Looking for a Moose written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Randy Cecil Wonderful combination of energetic playful language and sweet images.

Have you ever seen a moose — a long-leggy moose– a branchy-antler, dinner-diving, bulgy-nose moose?”

Looking for a moose - It's Monday

Kite Day: A Bear and Mole Story by Will Hillenbrand Hillenbrand writes such whimsical, sweet stories. Adventure shared by two friends. Adorable.

Kite Day - It's Monday

Nonfiction titles:

Queen of the Falls by Chris VanAllsburg This was a fantastic read aloud that held my Grade 2 reading group on the edge of their seats. How could a 62 year old woman plan and execute a stunt such as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Here is the story of Annie Edson Taylor, determined to make her fortune by being the first person to go over the falls.  A compelling and sad story.

QueenofFalls - It's Monday!

Watch this video of VanAllsburg discussing creating the book:

Oscar and the Frog by Geoff Waring A cute little book that introduces concepts of growing and how different living things begin, grow and develop. I liked the connections between plants and animals.

Oscar and the Frog

I discovered that this book is part of an entire collection of Oscar books to introduce science/nature concepts to young readers. Would love to get all of the titles for my nonfiction collection.

Oscar Collection

Monday February 11th, 2013

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Join Kellee and Jen’s meme to share all the reading you have done over the week – everything from picture books to young adult novels! Connecting with the #IMWAYR community is such a great way to hear about fantastic books “new to you.”

I have been sick for 4 days. We all know the yucky things about being sick so I haven’t been thrilled about being ill this weekend. But, for a book lover, sick days mean book days so I happily read some great novels between naps and mint tea breaks.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King This is the second King title I’ve read (Ask the Passengers being the first) and I am fast becoming a fan of how she lays out characters and families and their sometimes strange, challenging but yet, connected dynamics. I sort of feel like I’m spying through a lit window at night into the intimate details of family relationships. Not always pretty. Sometimes all about the ugly and the weak. But so truly real.  A book with a theme of bullying and how it affects an entire family.


Crow by Barbara Wright This title is another great example of why I love historical fiction to learn about specific events in history I often knew nothing or little about – in this case, the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. This book is very much about Moses and his family. I loved his relationship with his spunky and wise grandmother Boo Nanny. The racial tensions and extreme prejudice are thoroughly explored in this story – going back in time to Moses’  grandparent’s experiences and forward to his father’s dreams for him. Some challenging moments in this book. A middle grade read that might be best as a read aloud where lots of discussion could occur. With room for many questions . . .


Insurgent by Veronica Roth So first off, I must say that yes, I liked this book. Yes, I’m hooked on the adventure and very curious about what will happen next. But, while I appreciate adventure and fast paced plots, I need breathing room in a story. Time to reflect and ponder. Down time. There is little down time in Roth’s books. Which is probably what makes them favourites for others but not for me. I miss the space to think. Again, like I said with Divergent, it feels like I am reading a movie. With little mood music. Just go, go, go! But I like many of these characters and so yes, count me in as someone who will read the next title in this series!


Next up for me? Nothing but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. My children and I are loving The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. If my voice hadn’t been so rotten this weekend we would have read much more. Such an engaging novel! And for kids, it has it all – suspense, humour, mystery, action . . .

I continue to add board books to my classroom collection for when we have buddy reading with the kindergarten class. Two new titles added this week:

Pouch! by David Ezra Stein A sweet little title about a little joey almost ready to brave the world.

Pouch David Ezra Stein

Duck & Goose: Goose Needs a Hug by Tad Hills My students love sharing Duck & Goose titles. So sweet. Messages always so positive. Kids read them and smile.

duck and goose needs

I also read some great nonfiction picture books this week.

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin This book is quietly powerful which is often the very best kind. Full of quotes to read, share and ponder. The artwork is exquisite. And I love the message that peace needs to be everywhere (in our hearts, homes, schools, countries . . .) in order to impact peace everywhere else. A book to own.

peace book cover

Who Lives Here? written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Marc Boutavant I purchased Who’s Like Me? (read more here) a book in this same format and it quickly became very popular for buddy reading so I am excited to book talk this title next week. In this book, students learn all about different habitats. Very accessible for younger learners and fun lift the flap elements.


My favourite picture books of the week were . . .

Sleep Like a Tiger written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski This was the only Caldecott honour title for 2013 that I hadn’t read. I was completely smitten when I turned to the page of the whales. Oh, the whales! Such gorgeous pictures. Love the cityscape on the first page with the tiger carrying away the huge orange ball . . . Text and illustrations mesh beautifully. This would be such a beautiful book to give as a gift to those who appreciate the soothing power of bedtime books.

Sleep Like a Tiger

Bone Dog written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann I am a big Rohmann fan. My Friend Rabbit is one of my all time favourites. So I was intrigued by this title. It tackles death (of a pet) which most books shy away from so it gets automatic points. I always think we should talk openly with kids about death as a part of life. I once wrote a post ranting about this very thing. This title also has some very sweet elements to it. And when tested on a child (my son) evoked some giggles (when the proud little dog struts back with bone in mouth after a skeleton chase!)


The First Mosquito written and illustrated by Caroll Simpson. A dramatic First Nations story full of supernatural beings. My students wrote reviews of this book and I shared them here.

the First Mosquito


Have a happy reading week!

Likely to produce some tears . . .

I promised my student book club I would regularly update this blog with titles I’ve been reading this summer so that I can pass on recommendations throughout the holiday break. This week’s theme: realistic fiction, guaranteed to produce a few tears . . . All of these are middle grade reads.

One for the Murphy’s by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Carely Connors is released from the hospital into the care of the Murphys –  a family that is able to show her what looking out for family really means. The dynamics of her relationship with her new family are very believable. Not everything is smooth. Neither are Carley’s first few weeks at a new school. Friendship dynamics are explored in a believable and appealing way. Trying to decide just where she belongs, Carley watches the way the Murphys  interact and rethinks everything she has known about family. A highly emotional book, reminding us that we are always better people to have known each other, even when our time together is short. This book speaks to the power of unconditional love, the magic of resiliency and the need we all have to matter. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has crafted a story that will pull at every heartstring you have.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

Stella and Angel now share a secret when they only once shared a somewhat respectful disdain. Both girls have been in the care of Stella’s Great Aunt Louise. Angel is an orphan in foster care and Stella for a time, has been orphaned by circumstances. Her mother is “finding herself” and Stella is not part of the plans. When Louise dies, the girls decide to handle the burial themselves and tell no one in order to try and ensure the possibility of family security that both girls want so desperately. A secret this big, hidden in plain sight is all encompassing and caring for themselves and each other over the course of this important summer is more difficult than they first anticipated. How this story enfolds is heartbreaking, full of vulnerability but often delightfully humorous.

See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

It’s difficult to write about this book without giving away important plot points. This is a story of a family whose daily lives are defined by the family owned restaurant they operate. But a busy family with four children means that there are many relationship dynamics to explore. The third daughter Fern tells a story that is hard to tell. When something happens that changes everything, the family must navigate their way both alone and together to the “moving on” side of life. Guilt and grief and hope are intertwined. Knowles reminds us that love is holding close and letting go. I adored Fern. She is humble and true. She stands on the brink of young adulthood and feels so much. She is far from perfect but she is so so good. The ideal narrator for this story. It’s an emotional ride, this book. But in the end, somehow, one is soothed.

Dramatic middle grade adventure novels – fantastic to read aloud

Highlighting the adventure genre:

One of the many interesting things about having boy/girl twins is selecting books that will have read aloud appeal for both of them. The books below are selections from recent read alouds that we have particularly enjoyed together.

In the mood for . . . Adventure? Suspense? Mystery? These titles will capture you!

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Hugely suspenseful yet beautifully lyrical, Kirby’s tale pulls the reader into a frozen land cut off from the world by ice. It is a landscape that protects and threatens Solveig, her siblings and those warriors sent to protect them while their father battles an enemy on a distant battlefield. When it is clear that a traitor resides amongst them, everyone becomes suspect. Solveig navigates the world through observation and a mystical connection to her dreams and possible prophecies. Not beautiful like her sister, or valuable as the future king, like her younger brother, Solveig slowly discovers that her talent lies in the power of words. She apprentices with Alric to be a skald (storyteller) and ends up wielding as much power as the weapons of war with her carefully crafted tales. Nuances of old Nordic tales with suspicions of treachery, much mystery and beautiful prose, Icefall held us spellbound.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel has crafted a story full of adventure, fantasy, suspense and high drama aboard the Aurora, an airship sailing through some sort of alternate history. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy who is more at home in the air than on the ground and calls the Aurora home.  He meets passenger Kate de Vries who has come aboard to find out if the mysterious creatures her grandfather spotted from his hot air balloon might exist. Matt is intrigued by the possibility and attracted to Kate’s independent spirit. These two characters find themselves beginning a quest of proportions they would never have dreamed about. Pirates. Mysterious creatures never before discovered. Storms. Seemingly deserted islands. Shipwrecks. And villians you would never want to encounter. Airborn is the first book in a trilogy.

Alabama Moon by Watt Key

Moon is 10 years old and for as long as he can remember, has lived in the forest with his father who is determined that they have minimal contact with the outside world. They need to avoid the government, depend on no one and always be prepared for “someone coming for them.” When Moon’s father dies, Moon tries to carry out his father’s wishes and head to Alaska to find others who will be like him. But getting to Alaska from Alabama alone is not an easy feat. Along the way, Moon is caught and placed into the system – a boy’s home on lock down. His escape attempt is successful but nothing else is simple. Friends and enemies enter into this new world in ways he is not at all prepared for. He can make a shelter, eat from the forest, “whip up on anybody” but how does he deal with this outside world that he might in fact need?  A real story of survival. Compelling.

Book a day and then some more!

My ambitious holiday reading list:

My feeling is that if I put it in print, it is hard to not follow through!

My holiday plans! Happy Reading to me! I will cross off titles as I complete them 🙂

For students looking for recommendations, #2 and #17 are Young Adult selections. I have marked them YA. All of the other titles would be appropriate for book club members to read although I am considering #1 #3 #5 and #10 to be potential book club books in the future so don’t read any of these titles yet! I hope everyone spends lots of time at their public library this holiday reading through the stacks! Give yourself a reading challenge too and see how many titles you can read! Happy Reading!

# 1 Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback

#2 This World we Live in by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA)

#3 Happenstance Found (Books of Umber) by P.W. Catanese

#4 The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

#5 An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

# 6 Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

#7 The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

# 8 Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

#9 Scumble by Ingrid Law

#10 Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

#11 Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron

#12 Lucky for Good by Susan Patron

#13 Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

#14 Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

#15 HeartBeat by Sharon Creech

#16 The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes by Greg Swearingen

#17 Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (YA)

The Prince of the Pond

We started out first (novel) read aloud today. I am so excited to introduce this class to one of my all time favourite books to read aloud – The Prince of the Pond written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner.

I explained that Napoli is wonderful at taking well known tales and giving them a unique twist. Some students were able to figure out from the cover and the title that this story would be based on the story about the prince who gets turned into a frog by a witch and must be kissed by a princess to regain his human form.

Today we met the curious frog who can’t seem to hop very well or communicate in any way that makes much sense. We met the horrid hag who transformed the Prince into a very confused frog. Do we think we know where this story is going? Maybe. . .

I happen to know we are well on our way to being entertained by a master story teller and to learning all kinds of amazing facts about frogs. I also know that my students are in store for a lot of laughing and many surprises. Let our story begin . . .

Summer Reading inspired by Ms. Hong

Ms. Hong, now the Teacher-Librarian at Strathcona Elementary used to work at Seymour and ran the Book Club with me. She is beautifully passionate about books and a voracious reader. I have a constant list of books to read inspired by Ms. Hong’s blog. She often posts young adult titles that I might not have come across and I love that she recommends so many fantasy stories. This summer I made good progress reading through my “must reads” recommended by Ms. Hong.

These titles are definitely for mature readers only, not suitable for my primary students but older members of book club may be able to handle some of these soon.

On one summer trip I devoured Graceling the debut novel of writer Kristen Cashore. Katsa, a young Graceling has the power to inflict deadly force on the victims the King sends her to punish. She meets Po, a prince from a neighbouring kingdom who turns her world upside down. Well written, engaging, impossible to put down. I requested Fire (the sequel/prequel) from the public library and enjoyed it as well.

On my last trip I woke up early one morning to admire the gorgeous sunrise. Everyone else slept in and so I read. A few hours later I had finished The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This is an intriguing dystopian science fiction story – fast paced and dramatic, it was hard to stop reading. Thomas wakes up remembering nothing but his name surrounded by boys who arrived to the Glade just like him – memories seemingly wiped clean and in a strange world. Will solving the Maze enable them to escape?

The book that impacted me the most though was Life as We Knew it written by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This is a story told by sixteen year old Miranda through a number of diary entries. The moon is hit by a gigantic meteor and is pushed closer to Earth. The tides and the weather are dramatically affected and everything in the world changes. How will the world survive? We get an idea by following the details of what happens to Miranda and her family. Compelling. We are pulled into Miranda’s world and experience this post apocalyptic world through her story.


Thanks Ms. Hong!

Five Reasons I love Audio Books

In the summer,  our family often borrows unabridged books on CD –  recorded books that entertain us all.

Last summer we listened to Beyond the Deep Woods (the Edge Chronicles Book 1) created by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. The audio book read by Clive Mantle. We were transported to the Deep Woods,  a mysterious place full of odd creatures and many dangers as we followed the adventures of Twig on a quest to discover his true identity.

A thrilling fantasy!

Why are these recorded stories so wonderful? My top 5 reasons:

1. We have discovered many great authors through this process and have gone on to read other titles they have written (i.e. This is how we met the character Clementine and quickly went on to devour all of the Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker)

2. An audio book is a great way to introduce the first in a series and have your child read  the rest of the series independently. My son read all of Cornelia Funke‘s Ghosthunters after we listened to Book 1 as an audio book.

3. A story becomes a shared family experience. We still read aloud to our children but it is usually one of us reading to them while the other parent finishes dinner clean up etc. While it is lovely to have a story just shared between a few of us it is equally lovely to all listen to a story together – lots of conversations happen throughout the day when we are listening to a story together. Predictions, debates, questions. We have enjoyed many stories together and we all get the references if we talk about the book in the future.

4. Think about long hours in a car or even short hours in a car with arguing children . . . Press play and all of the bickering instantly ends as the story takes over. What could be better?

5. I love reading aloud but sometimes it is really great to let someone else do it! And usually they are really awesome narrators, often with very cool accents and they have the dramatic pause down to an art.

Some of our favourites:

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM written by Robert C. O’Brien (winner of the Newbery Medal in 1972)

We just finished listening to this audio book narrated by Barbara Caruso (who has more than 100 recorded books to her credit). Enter the world of Mrs. Frisby, a widowed fieldmouse who needs to move her family to their summer house but her youngest son Timothy, has pneumonia and is too weak to travel. Mrs. Frisby must enlist help from the mysterious rats of NIHM. She gets much more than help from these brilliant rats.

A wonderful adventure story.

The Talented Clementine written by Sara Pennypacker

This story is narrated by Jessica Almasy who has the ideal voice to read this story – full of energy, young and perfectly animated. Read more about her here

Highly humorous, Clementine’s second adventure is well worth a listen. Clementine is convinced that she is the only untalented student in her third grade class and she is panicking as the evening of Talentpaloosa: Night of the Stars approaches. Laugh out loud funny. We highly enjoyed this story.

The Secret of Platform 13 written by Eva Ibbotson.

This story was narrated by Angela Thorne, possibly our absolute favourite narrator. We could have listened to Ibbotson’s magical tale forever. In this magical fantasy, the beloved baby prince of the Island is kidnapped and cannot be rescued for nine long years until the gump opens again between London and the Island, a magical place inhabited by delightful creatures. The rescue party faces many obstacles – the most difficult perhaps – tolerating the nine year old prince, raised and horribly spoiled by the awful Mrs. Trottle.

After listening to this story last summer, I went on to read the book to my class and it was a favourite.

Head off to your local library and check out some audio titles. Happy listening!


We just returned from a week away where I did a lot of reading – starting with Mockingbird by Kathryn Erksine – the final book on one of my summer reading lists.

This is a difficult book – difficult in that it forces you to confront some challenging topics – grief, violence in a community (a tragic school shooting) and finding closure. At the same time, this book looks at the difficult aspects of seemingly simple things – forming friendships, demonstrating empathy, forgiveness. All of it all the more challenging as we live this story through the eyes and thoughts of Caitlin, an eleven year old girl with Asperger’s syndrome who has just lost the brother who has always helped her navigate the world.

Yet, difficult as the subject matter might be, I found this book very readable and Caitlin extremely likeable. Her confusion about social interactions and her uncomfortably blunt manner allow us to rethink social conventions and really consider the qualities we want to exude.  Intersting that the person who “gets” Caitlin best is Michael, a little boy she befriends during the less intimidating little kid recess. Michael is – as children are –  not so encumbered with the drive to behave appropriately and is just open and honest with Caitlin asking and answering questions in a totally natural way. Caitlin and Michael learn a lot from each other. Erskine did a lovely job of communicating Caitlin’s struggles to show her emotions and the courage she demonstrated as she helped her community begin to heal.

A wonderful read. This would be a fantastic read aloud as there is much to discuss but also for more mature readers, a book to really fall into.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead has quickly become one of those books that I know I will recommend (in my not so subtle you have to read this kind of way) again and again. I am also looking for any excuse to revisit this book – perhaps it should become a book club selection? I will definitely read it to my own children in the next few years (when they hit about 10 years old I think).

It is difficult to categorize this book – it blurs many genres – mystery, fantasy, science fiction (with elements of time travel and frequent references to Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time) but really, it reads mostly as realistic fiction (although set a few years back – 1979) This book explores the life of sixth grade Miranda and focuses on her relationships and her understanding of how others struggle with life and interactions all in their own ways. This book tells the story of mysterious notes relaying information to Miranda that no one could possibly know because they have yet to happen. The first note is both thrilling and scary:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter. Second please remember to mention the location of your house key. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.

Miranda struggles to make sense of who is sending these notes and why. How everything plays out in the end is absolutely fantastic and Stead is able to tie up many loose ends even if the reader has to work to follow the threads and not tangle them up. But don’t try too hard – just let them weave together – as the character Marcus points out:

Einstein says common sense is just the habit of thought. It’s how we’re used to thinking about things, but a lot of time it just gets in the way.

I love how there is a sub plot of Miranda and Richard (Mom’s boyfriend) helping Miranda’s Mom prepare for the show The $20,000 Pyramid. There is so much emphasis on giving the appropriate clues and thinking fast to figure things out. Miranda spends the book figuring things out in a much more organic, subtle way. It is very clever of Stead.

There are so many layers to this novel. The storyline is interwoven with mystery and clues – turns and full stops – but not hugely dramatic – just calm and lovely. The characters are interesting and likeable – even those that don’t feature hugely in the story. I love Miranda’s Mom – her intense love for Miranda, her challenges about committing to her boyfriend and how her level of job dissatisfaction is conveyed by how many office supplies make their way (permanently) into her home.  Anne Marie’s Dad has lovely quirky elements – elaborate food making when procrastinating but a deeply protective nature over his daughter. The children in this book have many more freedoms – it being 1979 and not 2011 but the parents are portrayed as very solid figures. Many more interesting characters inhabit this book- the laughing man, Wheelie, the school’s secretary, Alice Evans who is not brave enough to excuse herself to go to the bathroom and compulsive Jimmy who owns the sandwich shop. All play important roles as Miranda navigates her way through the complicated puzzle of friendships, forgiveness and truly heroic deeds.

Highly recommended! On my Middle Grade favourites list.