Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Books of 2017

I've read a lot of children's literature this year and it was not easy to choose my favorites. I narrowed it down to a manageable number, but there are many other fantastic books that are not on my list. If you or your students haven't read any of these, definitely check them out.

Fifteen Favorite Middle Grade Books

  • Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold
  • Bird & Squirrel On Fire by James Burks
  • Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary Lambert
  • The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff
  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
  • Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
  • One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman
  • The Losers Club by Andrew Clements
  • Superstar by Mandy Davis 
  • The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall
  • Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari
  • The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! (The Wish List #1) by Sarah Aronson
  • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Six Favorite Early/Transitional Readers

  • Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes
  • Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder 
  • Fergus and Zeke by Kate Messner
  • The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper
  • The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid by Kara LaReau
  • Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence

Ten Favorite Picture Books

  • After the Fall by Dan Santat
  • The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Plan Can Change the World by Katie Smith Milway
  • The Book of Gold by Bob Staake
  • Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds
  • It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk
  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
  • The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt
  • Pax and Blue by Lori Richmond
  • Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio
  • The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

I hope you find some good reads in 2018. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2017


In January, I made a list of "must reads" for 2017 along with Carrie Gelson of There's a Book for That and a community of other bloggers. Throughout the year we have written blog posts with updates on our progress on our must-read lists. You can read the blog post in April here and the one in September here. Today's post is an end-of-the year update. 

My #MustReadin2017 List

Middle Grade Books

The middle grade titles on my list were all titles published in 2017. I read all of them except for one, Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern. Since the end of the year was coming and I wanted to complete my must-read list, I looked for it at the library last week, but it is checked out to someone else. Hopefully, it will be available in the next few weeks so I can finally read it. Of all the books on my list, I think A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold was my favorite. Bat is such an endearing character. I am looking forward to reading the second book, Bat and the Waiting Game in the new year. I think the most popular book with my students is CatStronauts by Drew Brockington. There are now three books in the series and I constantly have students checking them out. 

Professional Books

I had four professional books on my list to read this year. I read the following:

This week I started the one other professional book that was on my list: Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't and What Can Be Done About It by Mark Seidenberg. This book is interesting, but it is packed with research and scientific information about reading. This is a book that I find I am reading slowly because there is a lot to digest and I often have to go back to reread. The author, a cognitive neuroscientist, states, in the first chapter, that there is a gap between what is known about learning to read based on science and how reading is taught in schools. How the brain learns, in general, and how the brain learns to read are areas that fascinate me. I am amazed with the human ability to learn to read considering that reading is such a complex skill and one that our brains aren't naturally wired to do. Even though this is a heavier professional read than other professional texts I have read recently, I am enjoying it. 

With the exception of one book, I have read all of the books on my must-read list. Not bad! In addition, I have read lots of other books, children's literature and some grown-up reads, throughout the year. I look forward to more reading in 2018!

Monday, December 18, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada

As with Kobi Yamada's previous two books, What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With an Idea?, this book will spark important discussions. The boy in the story shows readers what can happen when presented with chance. The boy's feelings change from regret to embarrassment to excitement as he learns that chances are worth taking. The message of this book, about letting go of one's fears, is inspiring.

Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required (Toy Academy #1) by Brian Lynch

Grumbolt's not quite sure what kind of toy he is, but he really wants to learn to play so he joins the Toy Academy. Grumbolt struggles with fitting in and mastering the lessons he is taught. Despite his challenges, Grumbolt is determined and he finds a way to become a hero. With humor, silliness, and a battle between good and evil this book has lots of kid appeal. There are pictures on most pages which will attract reluctant readers and those readers who have not yet built the stamina for longer chapter books.

The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

This is a fantasy in which two sisters find themselves in another world where one must save the other. The world the girls find themselves in is magical and their quest takes them on an adventure with very high stakes. The sisters have an imperfect relationship, but their love for each other is apparent. This is an exciting read with heart. This book publishes in February.

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares

Two cardinals, Red and Lulu, live in the branches of an evergreen tree, but are separated when the tree is cut down and delivered to New York City for the holidays. Despite their home being taken away, the cardinals find a way to be together again. The sweet story, along with the gorgeous illustrations, will bring the magic of the holiday season to readers' hearts.  This is sure to become a Christmas favorite.

Space Boy and the Snow Monster by Dian Regan

Space Boy and the Snow Monster is a picture book written in a graphic format. Niko is playing in the snow in his backyard with his dog, Tag, when he loses his copilot, Radar, who is actually a small robot toy. Niko imagines he travels to Planet Ice where he searches for Radar and has to defend himself from a snowball attack, a killer bunny, and the Snow Monster, who looks a lot like his sister. The story is fast-paced with a lot of action and shows the fun of using one's imagination. I'll put this book out for my students this week and I imagine, with the first snowflakes of the season having just fell this weekend, that this book will be scooped up quickly. I won this book in a giveaway on the Unleashing Readers blog, so thank you to them and Blue Slip Media.

Grilled Cheese and Dragons #1 (Princess Pulverizer) by Nancy Krulik

Princess Pulverizer, her birth name Princess Serena, would rather be a knight than a princess. Her father tells her she must be smart, brave, and kind to be a knight and sends her on a Quest of Kindness. To prove she has what it takes to be a knight, Princess Pulverizer must complete eight good deeds. As she begins her quest to complete her first good deed, she gets locked in an ogre's castle and makes new friends. This is an amusing adventure about three characters, a princess, a knight, and a dragon, who don't quite fit the mold they are meant to fit. This is a book for transitional readers who enjoy fantasy and humor. This book publishes in January.

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

There is so much to love about this middle grade novel. The characters are wonderful and true-to-life, the plot is interesting and magical, and it will be a book that is relatable to middle grade readers while also giving insight to some who may be reading about a culture different from their own. Read my review of this book, which publishes in January, here

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

Leo is an eleven-year old many middle grade readers will be able to relate to. She has four older siblings and is constantly told she is too young. She really wants to help with her family's bakery, but she is never allowed because of her age. Leo is determined to convince her family that she can help out. When she discovers a family secret, she has the perfect opportunity to prove herself.

Leo discovers that, not only are all the women in her family bakers, but they are also brujas, or witches. The brujas of Leo's family get their power from magic combined with love and the sweetness of their baking. Even though Leo is not old enough to practice her magic, she tries her hand at the magical recipes. One problem leads to another when Leo's magic does not go as planned. Leo is a true-to-life character, good-intentioned, but not always making the best choices. Many young readers will be able to relate to the fact that, without meaning to, Leo has gotten herself into a really big mess. The element of fantasy and magic make Leo not just believable, but also interesting.

There is warmth to this book, as well, as Leo's family support and learn from each other. The story also gives insight into the Mexican-American culture of Leo's family. Reading the book may give readers a craving for something sweet and luckily there are a few recipes included at the end. This is a charming and fun read.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book at the National Council of Teachers of English convention, thanks to HarperCollins Publishers. The book publishes in January.

Monday, December 4, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers wrote this book when his son was in his first two months of life. In the book, Jeffers talks directly to the reader, telling about the planet earth and giving tips on how to live and be within the world. The simplistic, but meaningful advice Jeffers gives is just what our children need to know to navigate our world. The illustrations are as wonderful as the message. The details within them show much about life. I've already bought a second copy of this book to gift to parents-to-be.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgess

Dragons, chocolate, and adventure! This is a delightful fantasy. Aventurine is a dragon who leaves her family's mountain cave to prove she is big, fierce, and can take care of herself. Instead of catching a human like she intended, she is turned into one. As a human girl, who has developed a passion for chocolate, she sets out to become an apprentice at a chocolate house. Aventurine learns about friendship, finds her place in the world, and becomes a heroine.

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Annie's life is challenging. She is the youngest of nine siblings and she has some learning difficulties, but she also does not want her friends to know what her family life is really like. The book shows how a young girl deals with some tough issues in her life. This book turned out to have a much more serious topic than I first thought. It is set in 1985, which I found interesting having grown up during the 80's. The book is marketed for grades four to seven, but I think the sophistication of the themes and the language used throughout the book make it more appropriate for the upper end of this range. This book publishes in January.

Granted by John David Anderson

This is a book I put on my to-read list as soon as I heard about it, so I was glad to pick up an advanced reader copy at NCTE a few weeks ago. It's an enchanting and magical fantasy. It's very different from the last two books I read by Anderson, but just as interesting and well-written. Read more about my thoughts here. This book publishes in February.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Granted by John David Anderson

John David Anderson became a favorite author of mine after I read Ms. Bixby's Last Day. It was inspiring, but heart-wrenching. I knew it would be a sad story, but I was surprised by the humor. I loved his book Posted, too. The message of the book is an important one. It's also relevant in today's world and to the lives of middle graders. Being a fantasy, Granted is a very different book from Anderson's previous two. I am amazed with authors who are able to write so well across genres and topics.

In Granted, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy, but also a Granter. As a Granter, she must travel beyond the Haven to the human world, and grant whatever wish she has been assigned. She has finally been given a mission to grant her first wish. She must find the coin the wish was made on and then her magic will work to grant a girl a purple bike. Ophelia is sure that she will be able to grant this wish easily, but then she gets to the human world and finding the coin is harder than she thought it would be. It's also a lot more dangerous than she thought, but Ophelia is determined to grant a wish even if it means risking being seen by humans and breaking a wing.

Ophelia is a spunky and courageous character. She not only shows determination, but also a caring, warm heart. There is lots of humor in the book as well. Many places made me smile, especially the parts with the dog, Sam. He's friendly, well-meaning, and a loyal friend. John David Anderson's writing is beautiful, pulling the reader into the magical world of the fairies. This is an absolutely enchanting book. After reading it, you may find yourself grabbing a coin, tossing it into a fountain, and making a wish.

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Read This Week...

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart

On my way home from the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English last weekend, the airport shuttle dropped me off three hours before my flight was to depart. To kill time, I popped into a restaurant in the airport and was delighted to be seated at a table next to author Melissa Stewart. We chatted about our experiences at NCTE, authors, books, and writing and she graciously gave me a copy of her latest book. Thanks to Melissa, my three hour wait definitely flew by! Written in a question-and-answer format, Can an Aardvark Bark?, gives interesting facts about the sounds of various animals. The end encourages readers to think about the sounds they make. I can hear my students making animal sounds as they read this book. Steve Jenkins illustrations of the animals are wonderful, too. Melissa Stewart has a website with many resources including minilessons for writing informational text. Visit her website here.

Love by Matt de la Pena

While at NCTE, I attended a breakfast hosted by Penguin Random House. At the breakfast, attendees were given a bag of a few books selected by the publisher, one of which was this one. Since this book has been on my radar, it was a treat and a surprise to get a copy. The book is poetic and beautiful. The message is simple, but powerful. The illustrations, which show the journey through life, are diverse and gorgeous. This is a book you'll want to read again and again and one that you'll want to give to others.

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies by Jonathan Rosen

Devin has a new neighbor and he and his cousin Tommy think he's a warlock. The neighbor gives Devin's sister a Cuddle Bunny, a popular toy, and it comes to life. When Devin tries to explain what is going on nobody believes him. In fact, they start to think he needs some counseling. It's up to Devin and his cousin to save their town from Cuddle Bunnies. This book is fast-paced and hilarious. It's also both evil and heart-warming. I think middle grade readers will be amused. Thanks to Wendy McLeod MacKnight, author of It's a Mystery, Pig Face!, for sending me a copy.

A Book to Look for in 2018

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

This book has a winning combination - a quirky family, seven siblings each born on a different day of the week, an evil villainess, and some fun and magic. The Problim Children have returned to House Number Seven in Lost Cove just before it was to be auctioned off. The house is rightfully theirs, but they must prove it. Their neighbor, Desdemona O'pinion, wants the Problim Children out of the house because she believes there is a treasure in there that belongs to her family. The Problim Children must put their charm, determination, and sense of adventure to work to keep what is theirs. This is a fun start to a series that has family at its heart.

Monday, November 13, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

Maurice the Unbeastly by Amy Dixon

Maurice does not behave like a Beast should, but he wants to fit in so he goes to The Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts. Although Maurice tries hard, he just is not beastly enough. Maurice is about to give up until he has the opportunity to show everyone he has a useful skill. Maurice, may be less than beastly, but he is charming and shows that it's okay to be oneself.

Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman

The lemmings repeatedly jump off the cliff (the side of the S.S. Cliff, a ship that is actually a whale) and Foxy repeatedly saves them. If the lemmings would read Foxy's book about lemmings, they would know they are not supposed to jump off cliffs. If the lemmings are going to read they book, Foxy will have to teach them how. I love the lesson about the power and wonder of reading, but there is also much to give readers a laugh in this book.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

In the second book in the Track series, Jason Reynolds tells the story of Patty, who is new to the track team and very competitive. When she's running she can escape from a less than ideal life situation. She and her sister are living with their aunt and uncle after their father died and their mother became confined to a wheel chair. This book gives a glimpse into the life of a character dealing with the challenges of fitting in and striving to make sense of what life has given her. Patty is a resilient and strong character who readers can learn from.

A Book to Look for in 2018

The Uncanny Express (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters Book 2) by Kara LaReau

Jaundice and Kale are happiest when they are at home darning socks, tying knots, and cleaning. Their parents, who are off having an adventure, send them to meet their aunt at the train station. When Jaundice and Kale show up, they are whisked of on the Uncanny Express as assistants to a magician, an adventure their parents planned for them. Their adventure soon turns into a mystery. There's a lot of wordplay and Jaundice and Kale's over-the-top dullness is amusing. Jaundice and Kale may be bland, but their adventures are not. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

Windows by Julia Denos

A boy and his dog take a walk at dusk, noticing the windows on the buildings in his neighborhood. This is a warm, sweet story that shows if we take the time to observe there is much going on around us. The colors in the beautiful illustrations slowly change to show the passage of time as the day turns into night. Lovely book, which is actually based on a city in my state of Massachusetts, where the author and illustrator live.

Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The Wish List #2) by Sarah Aronson

In the second book in the Wish List series, Isabelle continues her fairy godmother training, but she is now in level two which is proving to be much harder than the first level. While Isabelle is trying to master her fairy godmother skills, she's also worried that others will find out she broke one of the godmother-in-training rules by leaving a jar of sparkles with Nora, her practice princess who is actually a regular girl. Now Isabelle needs to get her sparkles back and grant a happily-ever-after to her new practice girl without making her friend unhappy. Those who enjoy magic and fantasy will find Isabelle's situation delightful. Even though a fantasy, Isabelle faces realistic problems and situations with friends that young readers will be able to relate. Isabelle is always determined, warm-hearted, and well-intentioned as she figures out how to meet the challenges she's given in order to become a fairy godmother. This book publishes in December, but while you wait you could check out the first one in the series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Caleb has cystic fibrosis. One day he is out walking in the woods and he meets Kit. Kit is mysterious and intriguing and Caleb is quickly drawn to her. The two become friends and their friendship gives Caleb an escape from his overprotective mother, his perfect brother, and his distant father. As Kit's family situation is slowly revealed to Caleb, it becomes apparent that she has secrets of her own. This is a book that can help readers build understanding and empathy for those who are facing difficult situations. It also shows the power of friendship. 

Curse of the Harvester (Dream Jumper, Book 2) by Greg Grunberg

I had to read this book quickly because I have students who have been eagerly waiting for this one after reading the first Dream Jumper book. Ben learned in book one that he is a dream jumper, meaning he can jump into other's dreams and save them. Ben and his friend, Jake, continue their dream adventures in this book and Ben faces some threatening challenges. There is lots of excitement, action, and interesting characters. Based on the ending, I believe there will be a third book, and hopefully there is because the first student who borrowed the book is already asking about it.

A Book to Look for in 2018

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

This is an enchanting, magical, and chilling fantasy that publishes in January. You can read more of my thoughts about the book here

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

I remember, as a child, making shadow puppets with a flashlight. My brothers and I, usually while camping in a tent, would twist our hands and fingers into various shapes and shine the light on them to amaze each other with shadows that mimicked animals and other creatures. Emmeline, in Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly, has an uncanny ability to control shadows that extends beyond simply making shadow puppets. She can weave shadows into almost anything she can think of, use them for her own protection, and even communicate with her own shadow.

Emmeline is proud of her shadow weaving, but not everyone appreciates her magic. Her parents decide to send her to Lady Aisling, who promises to cure Emmeline so she will no longer have her magical abilities. Emmeline and her shadow, Dar, run away into the woods where they meet a boy, Lucas, with his own form of magic. Not only are Lady Aisling's guards looking for Emmeline, but Dar wants to become a real girl and needs Emmeline to help her. Emmeline becomes torn between her shadow friend, Dar, and Lucas and his family who have helped her to escape danger.

The plot of Shadow Weaver is both mysterious and thrilling as Emmeline and her new friend Lucas must defend themselves from those who want to harm them. In the midst of Emmeline's fight to keep her magic, she also struggles with decisions she has to make about where her loyalties lie. Emmeline also learns an important lesson: friends may not always be well-intentioned. With magic and the juxtaposition of light versus dark and good versus evil, this fantasy is a little creepy, but also enchanting. This is an intriguing book for readers looking for an imaginative and magical story that will give them a bit of a chill. There is a second book planned as the ending leaves readers anticipating a sequel. 

I thank the author, MarcyKate Connolly, for providing me and my book review group, #BookExcursion, with an advanced reader copy of the book. The book publishes in January.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Literacy Night Cafe: Now Serving Books

Spreading the love of reading and getting students interested in books is one of the parts of my job that I am most passionate about. A book tasting, not an original idea, but one that is widely written about on various literacy blogs and websites, has been an effective way to help students learn about books that interest them and motivate them to try out new titles, authors, and genres. For the first time, I hosted a literacy night at my school based on the idea of a book tasting. Watching students interact with their families as they "sampled" books and listening to them talk about books they may like to read was a joy. To a literacy specialist, there is nothing better than witnessing this excitement about reading.

Before students returned to school at night with their families, the school cafeteria was set up to resemble a restaurant. Five tables were covered in red and white checkered tablecloths and set up with battery-operated candles and platters of books. Each table was designated for one of the following genres or types of books: realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, mystery, and graphic novels. A "Now Serving" sign, stating the book genre for the table, was placed on each of the five tables. 

 As families entered the cafeteria, Italian dinner music played and a virtual "fire" crackled on the projector screen. Students were given a "menu" which served as a place for them to record book titles they were interested in reading, a raffle ticket for the opportunity to win one of three book prizes, and a bracelet with the words "I Love to Read". Parents were given a handout with ways to encourage reading at home. For the first fifteen minutes, students visited the raffle table and a table where they could help themselves to bookmarks, stickers, and pins related to various books and reading. Many of the freebies available were provided by generous children's authors who I reached out to through Twitter. Students enjoyed cookies and juice that were donated by local supermarkets.

When families finished their snacks, I spoke briefly about the importance of reading and letting students choose what they want to read. I played this Dav Pilkey video in which he shares research about reading for fun. Then I explained the book tasting to families. I told them that similar to food, you don't know if you are going to like a book until you "sample" it. I also explained that sampling a book is like sampling food, meaning that you read only a little bit, such as the description on the back or the first page or two. "I Love to Read" pencils were passed out to each student and the book tasting began.

For about eight minutes, families "sampled" the books at the table where they sat. Students jotted down titles of books on the "menu" they were given when they arrived. There were a variety of levels of books on the tables, from picture books to early readers to chapter books, for families to peruse. When the designated time was up, families moved to the next table. Families had the opportunity to visit all of the tables. In between table rotations, two students told a book-related joke. After families visited all the tables, raffle winners were chosen and students had the opportunity to sign-out any of the books they were interested in borrowing to read. I think families left for the night feeling excited about books and reading.

Some of the books at the "Mystery" table. 
The planning for this night involved gathering books to place at each of the tables. I chose mostly recently published titles. Being a reader of children's literature, these were books I know and love. I also made sure to include those books that tend to be popular among students. I purchased the books through a grant from an organization I am a member of, the Southeast Regional Reading Council, a local council of the Massachusetts Reading Association. With this grant, I was also able to purchase some of the supplies needed for the night. Thanks to SERRC, the generosity of children's authors, local supermarkets, and the teachers who assisted me with the event, the first family book tasting event at my school was a success.