Voice in the Park

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne is one of my favorite books to teach with!  Every year, my students are mesmerized by the illustrations and love to see how the different points of view are woven together.

I use this book teach point of view.  This year I used it to introduce a short writing unit that we are going to do between Thanksgiving and winter break which focuses on looking at a person from different points of view.  I divided the students into four equal groups and spread the groups out in the room and the hallway.  The book is told from four points of view, or voices, so each group was assigned to a different voice, and they were given a file folder with a copy of each illustration from their voice.

The students had time to look at all of their pictures and share what they saw.  After enough time for discussion, they were instructed to put the pictures in what they thought was a logical order, coming up with a story about what was happening as they worked.  When the groups were finished writing down their stories, I put the pictures up on the board in their order and they took turns telling their stories to their peers.  One of my favorite parts of this activity is when at this point, they realize that “their” characters are in someone else’s story, too.  After each group had gone, I gathered the students on the rug and read aloud the text.

I love this lesson for so many reasons.  The conversations at all stages are organic and each year I do this activity, there has never been a student disengaged on the sidelines.  The book provides an authentic discussion on how the point of view of the story can make such a difference, even with a plot as simple as going to the park.

If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at this book, I highly recommend you do.  I do this lesson each year with third graders and love teaching it every time!

The Significant Interview with Dusti Bowling

When I love a book, I can’t stop thinking and talking about it.  When I read my ARC of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, I must have driven my book loving friends crazy…I couldn’t stop raving about it.  I read this book over the summer and truly loved every page of it.  The main character, Aven, was such a real, believable character, who was born without arms, making her standout even more as the new kid when her family moved out west.  I was so intrigued to read her story.  But Insignificant Events was more than just a story about her life and unexpected relationships in her new school.  There was mystery, raw emotions, friendship, and so much more, neatly wrapped up in a little present.  Thank you for the gift, Dusti Bowling.

3 Questions about Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Aven’s disability is one that is not often, or maybe even never, written about.  Where did your inspiration come from?  

The seed was first planted in my mind to write a story about a child with limb differences after my cousin was injured in Iraq back in 2008. At that time, we were told he had lost his eye and was going to lose his arm. In the days following that phone call, I couldn’t stop thinking about what life was going to be like for him with only one arm. I did a lot of research about it and found there were almost no children’s books featuring characters with limb differences back then. But my cousin passed away a couple of weeks later, and I didn’t think about it again for several years. Then one day I saw a video of Barbie Thomas taking care of her baby, driving, folding towels, and working out at the gym. She did everything with her feet because she didn’t have arms. That video was really eye-opening for me. Over the next year or so, I kept thinking about this character who was really capable and strong and funny and unique. She wouldn’t have arms and would do everything with her feet. That character simply wouldn’t leave me alone until I put her down on paper. And as far as I know, Aven is the only character out there with both arms missing.

What kind of research did you do to ensure you were accurate in what Aven’s life would be like?  

I couldn’t find much written about life without arms, so I relied heavily on videos of people, particularly one series of videos called “Tisha Unarmed.” Tisha’s videos were incredibly educational for me, showing how she did everything without arms, from getting dressed to grocery shopping to carving a pumpkin. When I finished my manuscript, I reached out to Tisha to see if she would be willing to read it. Thankfully she agreed and really loved the story.

We’d love to know more about how the plot came to be for Insignificant Events.  Did it start out as a mystery? Was it always going to be about a child born with a disability or is that the way the story evolved?

The story was always about Aven born without arms from my very first thought. I wanted it to just be about her adjusting to a move and meeting Connor (who always had Tourette’s) and becoming friends. But the first draft didn’t have a mystery or even a western theme park! When I first queried the manuscript to agents, I got a lot of “I love your voice, but this story is too quiet” and “I love the characters, but this story doesn’t really have a plot.” I took all the advice I received and completely rewrote the manuscript. I was already thinking about writing a story set in a western theme park, so I decided to use that setting for Aven instead of saving it for another book. I added the mystery to move the plot along better, and it ended up becoming very meaningful to me. I’m so glad I listened to the feedback I received because it improved the story massively.

3 Questions about Dusti Bowling

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’ve always wanted to own a “dessert shop” where you can get just about any kind of dessert you want: pastries, pies, ice cream, candies, etc. It would also be a great place for tea parties and children’s birthday parties. I love baking, and I think this would just be so much fun. Maybe I’ll still do this one day!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Just one?!? I recently read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I loved the simplicity and beauty of the story so much. I won’t be at all surprised if it wins her another Newbery award.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

The giant jelly smear across the shelf.

 

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street – Your Next Read!

 

As soon as October 1st hits, it’s time to break out the Halloween decorations!  Nothing says fall like pumpkins, skeletons, and anything spooky.  It’s also the best time of year to get my students hooked on one of my favorite types of books…scary stories!  I’m excited to share Lindsay Currie’s debut novel, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, with my students and fellow #mglit loving friends.

After seeing the cover and reading the teaser, I couldn’t wait to read this book.  It didn’t disappoint!  Tessa, and the rest of the characters, were well developed and believable, and the plot was engaging from the start.  Lindsay Currie’s talented writing balanced an engaging story line, with eerie, scary elements. And as a former resident of Chicago, it was fun to read about all of the history-rich places around the north side of the city.

I read this book on my iPad, and would often read while feeding my baby in the middle of the night.  There were some nights that I couldn’t put it down…and the next thing I knew, it was an hour later!  The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is the perfect combination of all things middle grade, and with the added elements of the supernatural, it should be your next read!  We won’t judge if you decide to leave your light on…

Three Questions about The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

We loved that you picked landmarks around Chicago as the setting in your story.  Was there any significance to the location of Tessa’s house?

Ahhh, yes. First of all, I’ve been a resident of Chicago for almost 20 years. I adore the Windy City – especially my neighborhood! In terms of Tessa’s house, although it’s on the fictional “Shady” street, the home itself is very much modeled after my own home and street! The descriptors of Tessa’s new graystone fairly accurately describe the exterior of my own building which was built in the late 19th century, and the street details are definitely based on my quiet, little tree-lined street in East Lakeview. Although I don’t find my home to be spooky like Tessa Woodward does, I am fascinated by the history of it and often find myself wondering about the families who lived in it before me.

Is any of the information about Graceland factual?  Are there any mysterious happenings?  A glass box?

YES! There are many ghost legends buried in Graceland cemetery, and some of the mysterious happenings in PECULIAR INCIDENT are based on real events that have been reported over the years. While I can’t go into detail on specifics without giving away the identity of the ghost, I can say that I wouldn’t want to wander Graceland in the dark for sure. There’s been reports of vanishing statues, eerie wailing, and mysterious cold wind for decades! In fact, the cemetery reports to having lost many folks from their grounds crew because they quit after deciding that cemetery is indeed . . . you guessed it . . . HAUNTED.

We know you love all things scary, but we feel like it would be a hard genre in which to write original ideas.  Where did you get your ideas for the book?  

It can be challenging, but I’m fortunate to live in an area where the history is so rich (and spooky) that I feel like I have a ton to work with. PECULIAR INCIDENT stemmed from one particular ghost legend that has always fascinated me. After doing some research and visiting the grave in-person (it’s only 10 minutes from my house), I was so spooked by the concept that I knew there was a book to be written on it! Fast forward through many trips to the Chicago HIstory Museum, many late nights up researching and writing, and VOILA! PECULIAR INCIDENT was born!


Three Questions About Lindsay Currie

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Oh wow. This is a hard one. Many years ago I was actually in flight school learning to fly planes so I could interview with the FBI for a Special Agent position. That would have been cool and all, but my life would have been so different! I’ll admit that asking my family to possibly move all around the country was never appealing. Plus, I never would have followed my dreams and attempted to write a book! Though doing the whole Jack Bauer thing still strikes a special chord in my heart, I’m incredibly grateful for the change in my career path years ago. I have always loved books and writing and having the opportunity to do what I love for a living is the best. Gift. Ever.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh my goodness, there are so many. I’d have to say that the book that most influenced me was Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it in fourth grade and it impacted me so strongly that i remember thinking (for the very first time) that i might like to try writing when I grew up. Although the author, Wilson Rawls, has passed on, I hope he knew what an incredible gift his book was to those of us who read and loved it!

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Probably olives. I LOVE olives. Garlic stuffed, spicy, greek . . . you name it and I probably have it in my fridge! And since I can’t have something salty without something sweet, there’s generally a frozen Hershey’s bar in my freezer, too. Sounds healthy, huh? 🙂

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street comes out October 10th!  Visit Lindsay Currie’s website to learn more about her and preorder your copy.

Win a copy of Where Oliver Fits!

We have generously been given a copy of Cale Atkinson’s newest picture book, Where Oliver Fits, to giveaway to one lucky reader!  Many thanks to Tundra Books for donating a copy, and if you haven’t read our interview with Cale a few posts back, you’re missing out.  Be sure to enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest ends Wednesday at midnight and a random winner will be announced on Thursday.

 

Put The Wish List On Your Wish List!

Put The Wish List on Your Wish List!

We were generously sent a copy of The Wish List:  The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever by Sarah Aronson, and I can already tell that it is going to be a hit in my third grade classroom.  It tells the story of Isabelle, a fairy godmother in training that doesn’t want to put in the work to learn all of the rules.  When Isabelle finally gets assigned her practice princess, she is less than thrilled to learn that she isn’t a princess at all, and needs to figure out how to grant her her wish when she isn’t a believer in the first place.  The Wish List is a light-hearted story of friendship and magic.  Continue reading to learn about the author behind The Wish List:  The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever, and be sure to look for her second book in the series coming out December 26th!      

 

3 Questions about The Wish List:  The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever

 What three words would you use to describe your book?

Oh no! You’re going to give me choices right off the bat? I am just like Isabelle—I over-think these kinds of questions. I don’t know if I can come up with just three words.

 Here’s my best try:

 Mostly this book is about happiness!

 But it’s also about:

 Sparkly wishes

Friendship and family

Girl Power

 Can I add fun?

And overcoming learning obstacles?

All of the above?

 This story is unique in that it is told from the fairy godmother’s perspective.  What gave you the idea for this new spin on fairy tale stories?

When I started brainstorming, I first focused on non-traditional princesses and what they had to do to get what they wanted. Along the way, I read tons of classic fairy tales—from all over the world. I discovered that fairy godmothers are not all that powerful! Having grown up with “bibbidy bobbidy boo—“ that interested me. It presented an interesting set of challenges.

 I thought about what today’s fairy godmother would need to help today’s princess achieve happily ever after and realized quickly—it wouldn’t be easy. Or traditional. I figured they would need a training program. And rules. And then I had an ah-ha moment! Having been a kid who had a hard time in school, I imagined that a fairy godmother trainee with learning issues (but spunk) would have a whole host of interesting problems. Even worse, I wondered what her story would be if she had a very smart sister, a mother with a history, and a very powerful grandmomma (with the emphasis on grand).

 As I’ve met with readers, I have realized something else about fairy godmothers. We all say we want someone to answer all our wishes. But life is better when we are fairy godmothers—when we do the granting—when we make others happily after—when we make our world better!

There was a lot of talk about their mother being gone, without it playing a major role in the story’s plot.  Will this come into play more in future books?  

YES! (But no spoilers!!!) Isabelle and Clotilda’s mom, the worst fairy godmother ever, changed this world! Her story will be part of every book.

 3 Questions about You

 If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

When I was young, I wanted to be Barbra Streisand! (There was only one problem: I didn’t have a great voice. And someone already had that job.)

 And even though being her (or Bette Midler) might be fun, realistically speaking, if I couldn’t write, I would teach. I love hanging out with kids! (It’s one of the best parts of being a writer!!

 What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

It’s so hard to choose!  Harriet the Spy has definitely stayed with me. (As a kid, I filled about five journals full of spying.) But The Carrot Seed is the book that I think about the most. I love books about determination—and kids who aren’t afraid to go for what they want—even when the odds are stacked against them.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Jalapeno peppers. I like everything extra spicy!

 

Be sure to check out our post on instagram to enter a giveaway for a copy of The Wish List:  The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever

Empathy and Friendship Book Recommendations

In our current society, it is important more than ever to teach children to be kind and compassionate.  By modeling how to be a good friend and teaching them how to be empathetic, the hope is they begin to exhibit these behaviors in their own lives.  There are so many wonderful books out there, but these are some of our favorites that we have used in the classroom and at home that have strong themes.  What are some that you would add to the list?  

Frazzled: Definitely Not a Disaster

It happens every time I walk by the “new books” section of the library…I grab every book that catches my eye, even though I have about thirty books at home waiting to be read.  I just can’t help myself!  That is exactly what happened when I walked past Frazzled for the first time.  The cover just sucked me in, and when I flipped through the pages, I knew that I both needed to read it, and pick up a copy at the bookstore for my classroom.  Trust me, you’ll feel the same.  I thought this book was spot-on to what middle grade readers would like and can relate to, with the combination of words and illustrations making it fun and enjoyable to read.  While at the ALA conference, I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Frazzled series, coming out September 26th.  It didn’t disappoint!  Enjoy our interview with the talented author and illustrator of Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, and Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes, Booki Vivat!  

 

3 Questions about Frazzled

What three words would you use to describe your books?

Funny – Abbie is a very expressive, dramatic character. That combined with all the complications of middle school life makes for some pretty hilarious moments. Plus, it’s full of lots of entertaining doodles that help get readers into Abbie’s head!

Honest – Writing Frazzled was a very personal experience for me. I wanted to capture the middle school experience as honestly as I could. Because of this, many aspects of Abbie’s story are rooted in my own experiences at that age. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, so much of her personality and feelings are influenced by who I was when I was younger and the memories I have from middle school!

Empowering – Abbie goes into middle school feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. At first, she really just wants to survive, but what she learns is that even in her angst and uncertainty, she has power and a voice and the ability to change the world around her. I hope readers will read this book and feel empowered in whatever they’re dealing with in their own lives!

 

When writing a hybrid book like this, what is the process to figuring out what the pages will look like?

My process for each page is a little different—and that’s actually what makes it so exciting and fun to write! When I first started the Frazzled series, I’d never written an illustrated novel like this before, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my writing process. It wasn’t until I began writing and drawing simultaneously that the whole process began to flow naturally. Sometimes I’d write a scene and figure out what I wanted to draw later, other times I had an image in my head and would write around that. Frazzled is heavily illustrated, but it’s much less structured than a comic or graphic novel. The layout and structure varies from page to page, so my creative process is constantly adapting and evolving as I tell the story.

Being in the publishing world, you’ve been around books quite a lot! What inspired you to take your doodles and turn them into something more?  

The idea for Frazzled actually came from a pretty dramatic drawing of me that said “I live my life in a constant state of impending doom.” It made me think about when I first started feeling that way, and I realized it all went back to middle school.

I knew that there were a lot of stories about the middle school experience, but growing up, I never really saw many characters who looked like me. I think, to some extent, that lack of representation and visibility was always at the back of my mind, so when it came to telling this story, it felt like Abbie Wu was the right character to help me do it. Through Abbie, I was inspired to not just explore those frazzled middle school feelings, but to write my younger self into a literary landscape where I hadn’t really existed before.

 

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Is it cheating to say that I would still want to do something with books and kids? I can’t imagine doing anything else! I’d actually love to be a children’s librarian. A good librarian can make such a huge difference for young readers. Growing up, I was really lucky to know some amazing librarians. They hosted book clubs, organized fun reading events, and always had a great new recommendation waiting for me when I finished a book. Plus, it would be really fun talking to kids and getting them excited about books!

 

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

The most recent book I’ve read that I can’t stop thinking about is Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. It perfectly captures everything I felt (and sometimes still feel) about growing up and not knowing what that means and having to do it anyway. It’s one of those books that asks all the right questions, but doesn’t necessarily prescribe answers. It lets readers figure those out for themselves, and I love that. It’s been a while, but I’m still thinking about how I felt when I read Orphan Island. Honestly, I want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!

Laurel Snyder talks a little bit about her book on The Nerdy Book Club blog here: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/what-i-was-thinking-about-by-laurel-snyder/.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

I always have some ice cream in my fridge… even though I live next door to an ice cream shop. (Really, I do!) I don’t know what that says about me, though. Maybe that means I like to be prepared. Or maybe it just tells you that I really like ice cream.

We All Need a Dog in Our Lives

img_9801-1.jpgI finished reading Dog Man Unleashed by Dav Pilkey and thought it was a great graphic novel. This is the second book in the Dog Man series and it tells more about how Dog Man fights the villians. My favorite part is when Flat Petey uses the magical spray to be bad and Dog Man beats him. I love the illustrations and how creative the story is. It is also very funny; even my mom liked it. Dav is also the author of Captain Underpants, another favorite series of mine. Dav is truly talented and I can’t wait for Dog Man #3 and #4 to come out later this year!

 

Charlie M. is a third grader who loves reading, video games, and playing sports.  And he loves chewing gum.

Choosing Kindness

If my children learn anything from me, it’s that they learn to be nice, good human beings. Sure, I work on letters, colors, shapes, but more importantly, I work on manners, showing kindness, and thinking of others. This I find to be the harder of the two. At four years old, my daughter, A, has plenty of time to learn the academics, and what she does know has come through books, play, and conversations. But it’s the social pieces, the pieces that I feel are way more important, take longer and are harder to develop. It might also be directly correlated with the amount of gray hairs popping up on my head.

I’ve been a teacher for fifteen years, have babysat, and now have my own children. So it’s safe to say that I’ve been around a lot of kids. And what have I learned about kids in all those years? That sometimes they suck. Kids can be so cruel and mean, and I often wonder where it comes from?  The other day we were at the pool and A recognized a friend, X, from school. I had the baby, so I was equally excited because that meant I could sit with him and she would be off playing. But it didn’t quite work out that way. As I sat far enough away to let her do her own thing, I was also close enough to see what was going on. And I witnessed her swimming after X, calling his name, as he continued to avoid her and hide. It broke my heart. This isn’t the first time, but it still stings just as bad. In swims this adorable little girl,

B, who bravely goes up to my daughter and asks her to play. Perfect, I think. But was does my darling daughter do? Tells her no, she doesn’t want to play with her. What? After all of our conversations about being a kind friend, she tells this kid no? Trying to avoid being a controlling mom, I call A over to simply have a conversation with her. When I asked her why she didn’t want to play with the little girl, she told me it was because she was playing with X. X, as in the kid that is swimming away from you and doesn’t really seem to want to play? Yes, she replied. After some coaching, she ended up playing with B, and had a blast.  But it was the in-the-moment guidance, me being very blunt in telling her that X is swimming away and doesn’t seem to want to play with her and that she has an opportunity to make a new friend and play with someone that seems interested in her, that helped her navigate through the situation.  And I won’t always be there to help, and she isn’t always going to want to hear her mother’s “lecture”. But if we don’t teach and model positive social behavior at an early age, they grow up not knowing. And I have a feeling these are the kids that I come across, the ones that have “encouraged” me to teach kindness.

So what better way to do this? With books, of course. It’s the conversations around books that offer up the best lessons. There are some books that you can pick out bits and pieces to talk about, where a sibling in mean, a child doesn’t share. I’ve even done voluntary lunch book clubs at school based on books with kids that are different and their struggles with their peers.  And then there are books where you want to frame every single page of the book as reminders of how to be a better a person. Where the book seems to have

IMG_9228

a glow around it and you want to shout, “This, this is what life is about.” So when my copy of We’re All Wonders arrived in the mail, and the light seemed to glow from inside of the box, I knew this one wouldn’t let me down. I’ve already read it to my daughter, and while she heard the message, I don’t think one time through will magically make her a kind and compassionate kid. It takes time. And it takes books like this as a starting point.

We have to teach our kids to be kind, to be accepting of others. Because if we don’t, who will? How will they learn that it’s ok to be different, that if we were all the same, life would be boring? They have to learn it from us. From our conversations, and more importantly, from our actions. When I pick my daughter up from preschool each day, I always ask her, “What is one thing you did today to show kindness to someone else?” Maybe it’s time we all start asking ourselves that.

Are there any favorite books you have that model kindness?

 

Painting rocks to spread kindness, helping her brother, baking Christmas cookies for the fire and police departments.

Early Chapter Book Favs

Growing up, I do not remember there being a lot of options for chapter books when I first started reading. I remember reading Frog and Toad, and Amelia Bedelia before I got into “real” chapter books that didn’t have any pictures. As I am now reading similar books to my four year old daughter, I have learned just how much has changed. There are so many wonderful options available, but I’ve narrowed down some of our favorites that would be just right for someone beginning to read chapter books, or like in our case, a good book for an adult to read at bedtime. The chapters are shorter, the font is bigger, and there are pictures to help tell the story. Last week I talked about the Dory Fantasmagory series on Instagram for #storymamasbookaday, and here are some others in addition.  Happy reading!

 

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van DusenIMG_9061

This series tells the adventures of a pig named Mercy Watson, and her human owners/parents, Mr. and Mrs. Watson. Mercy has a love of buttered toast and seems to get herself into a funny pickle in every book. There are six total books in the series, and they have colorful illustrations on almost every page.

 

 

Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van DusenIMG_9064

This is a spinoff series of Mercy Watson. It tells the stories of the other people that the reader was introduced to in the original series, such as Leroy Ninker and Baby Lincoln. Not to worry, the beloved Mercy Watson makes appearances in all of the books. There are currently three books published in the series, with the fourth coming out in October.

 

 

The Chicken Squad series by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornellimg_9060.jpg

This is a spin-off series from one of Cronin’s other series, The Trouble with Chickens. There are four chicks that make up the Chicken Squad, and despite being adorable and small, they are brave crime fighters, solving mysteries. These little chicks will keep you laughing throughout. The fifth book in this series comes out in November.

 

 

The Princess in Black series By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen PhamIMG_9065

This series tells the story of frilly and pink Princess Magnolia, who leads a double life as the Princess in Black. Her alter ego uses trap doors, wears a black ensemble to keep her in disguise, and bravely fights monsters. The character is a good, strong female role model for girls, and the illustrations truly make the story come to life. There are currently four books in the series, with the fifth coming out in early September.

 

Are there any early series that are favorites in your house? Stay tuned for more recommendations!