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?
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.
I 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.
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
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.
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 Dusen
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 Dusen
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 Cornell
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 Pham
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!
3 ?s about Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
What three words would you use to describe your book?
Imagination, friendship, adventure
What made you decide to change gears and write middle grade books?
I guess it wasn’t so much as I decided to write middle grade books as it was that I had a specific idea, and the best way to execute that idea was through writing a middle grade book. It was a pretty big learning curve for me, with many drafts over several years, but a lot of fun! I worked on it in between other projects.
How did you get the ideas for Momotaro? I know you visited Japan for your research, but how did you arrive at the Japanese fantasy genre?
I’m half Japanese and I had a Japanese board book about Momotaro that my mom would read (translate) to me. I thought the story could be compelling for Western audiences and I wanted to find a way to present it to them.
Xander’s biracial because I am, and I didn’t read about any biracial characters while I was growing up. I also thought it’d be a way for a Western audience to relate to the Japanese cultural stuff– Xander’s a bit of an outsider and raised in the West, as well. I was also raised in San Diego, with only my mother as the link to the entire Japanese culture.
Additionally, I wanted to explore some ideas about being mixed race, and also what that would mean for a mythological hero that was always the same race. Will his powers be weaker? Stronger? Different? How does his mother’s heritage affect him? It parallels ideas and fears people have in the real world about races and cultures intermingling. And, I wanted to leave open the possibility that Xander’s mother’s myths would cross-pollinate with the Japanese myths.
3 ?s about You
If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?
A detective, because I observe things and make connections other people commonly do not, and I am extremely nosy!
What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
That is like the #1 Impossible Question for writers! I will say THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie because after I read it, I had a breakthrough about Momotaro.
What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?
The big ol’ jar of coffee.
You can learn more about her and her other books by visiting www.margaretdilloway.com
This was a busy week! We wrapped up our first series of giveaways and shared a lot of great titles. Click on the links below to learn more about the authors and illustrators from this week.
7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar
Illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Super Narwhal and the Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton
Chalk by Bill Thomson
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
You Can’t Take a Ballon Into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman
Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
When Life Gives you OJ by Erica S. Perl
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall
The Gingerbread Man series by Laura Murray
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Last spring I was able to attend the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue. The book nerd inside of me jumped for joy when I was approved to go to the conference with my librarian friend. It was a day spent listening to authors, filling my bags with their latest ARCs, and having a chance to meet and chat with some of them. Many of these books have found their way to my classroom library bookshelves, including the book Giant Squid. Written by Candace Fleming, or better known as “The Muncha! Muncha! lady in our house, Giant Squid is a wonderful narrative non-fiction text. My students love reading about “gross” things, and this book presents the facts in an engaging, accessible picture book with dark, realistic pictures by Eric Rohmann, which only add to the mysterious feel of the giant squid. Books like this should be on the shelves of classroom libraries in every school.
And lucky for me, I work in an amazing school district that values the importance of rich literature in the classroom. While finishing up the tail end of my maternity leave, I noticed a small blurb at the end of an email about book purchases, make a list, get a P.O., etc., etc., etc. I found myself rereading the email…money for books? Sign me up! As it turns out, each teacher was given a generous amount of money that we can spend as we choose to purchase books for our classroom libraries. I love shopping for books and have been scouring websites over the past few weeks and have found some amazing titles to add to my already plentiful library.
Building up and maintaining a classroom library is a labor of love, and can easily put you in some serious debt. However, over the course of my fourteen years of teaching, I’ve found that having a well-stocked, relevant library makes a world of difference. In some areas that I taught, the books taken home from my library were the only books in that child’s household. I had one student that would bring home picture books so his younger, non-school aged sibling could have books to read. I also spend a lot of my free time reading the books that I have in my collection so I can talk the books up to students, make appropriate recommendations, and have meaningful conversations about books. I recently turned a student onto a series that was screaming his name and by doing so, I helped a reluctant reader become a child that couldn’t put his book down.
I’m proud of my library. Just this year, another staff member walked into my room and commented on what an impressive classroom library I have. Another teacher used to send one of her students over to borrow a book. If I expect my students to become voracious readers, then I have to provide them with the means to get there. As my newest selections arrive in the mail, I plan on reading as many as I can so I can recommend them to my students with confidence. And so I can enjoy them, too.
Need help building your library up without spending your entire paycheck? Here’s some frugal tips.
1. Your local library. Most public libraries have a section where donated books are for sale, and in most cases, you can buy them used for a quarter. We typically go to the library every week, and it’s become our routine to look for books for “mommy’s classroom”. Just today I found a Minecraft book. A quarter well spent.
2. Annual public library book sales. My library has a huge fundraiser every year where they have a book sale for a couple of days. Same great 25 cent price, just a much bigger selection. I’ve checked out ones in neighboring towns, as well, and found one that would probably rival any other sale. My very pregnant self waddled out of there this past fall with as much as I could carry. I’ll have a better plan of attack this coming year.
3. Garage sales. I scour garage sales over the summer. Most books are inexpensive and they are in great shape because, chances are, their kid read them only once. I also look on a lot of the Facebook virtual yard sale sites. Almost every town has them. I look at what people have posted, and I also specifically ask for books that I’m looking for. Last year I scored about ten “Who Was…” books for less than a dollar per book.
4. Scholastic warehouse sales. Twice a year, typically around the winter holidays and as school is getting out in June, Scholastic will have its warehouse sale. All books are on sale for 50% off, minus a handful of exceptions. If that’s not enough, there are coupons, and perks if you sign up to volunteer. A $10 gift certificate for each hour you volunteer can really help.
Building up a classroom library doesn’t have to happen overnight and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. If you have any other tips on how your have filled your shelves with books, I’d love to hear!
Right before the holidays, I was fortunate enough to win a book giveaway from @readbrightly on Instagram. Christmas came early when the box arrived with seven holiday themed books, ranging from board books to chapter books. There was one that squeaked past the others as a favorite by the young people in my life, and I strongly recommend adding it to your holiday book list for next year.
“Little Baby Mouse and the Christmas Cupcakes” by Jennifer and Matt Holm, was an instant hit. After I read it to my daughter for the first time, she put it back in the pile of books we were reading so that we could read it again. The pictures are bright and colorful, and the graphic novel style helps to tell the story. I often find graphic novels difficult to follow, but my daughter and her two elementary-aged cousins loved it. Clearly the Holms know their target audience. Baby Mouse is an independent character that marches to the beat of her own drum, which is demonstrated by her actions throughout the story. The book celebrates her uniqueness and the story is easily relatable by children. It was a well-loved story that had the kids laughing and smiling.
I plan on adding this book to our collection of holiday books. And speaking of such, as the holidays came to a close, so did our book advent calendar. While my daughter is only three (almost four), I know I have done a good job so far when she got just as excited to open her wrapped book each night as she was her chocolate. This is the second year I’ve done the book advent, and will continue to do it for years to come. I’d love to think of another time or theme to do this at a different point in the year, and would welcome any suggestions!
With a new baby comes a lot of quiet time at all hours of the night. It’s a time for me to think, a time to snuggle, a time to troll the internet, and a time for me to binge watch Netflix on my iPad. Sorry books, but I’ve fallen asleep on more than one occasion. When I’m not glued to watching the entire series of Gilmore girls, I’ll often peruse Facebook and Twitter, catching up on the latest scoop. The other night I saw a tweet by Candlewick Press, asking, “What made you a child of books?”. Where do I begin?
The question itself elicits so many thoughts in my head. I love the idea that my own children will be surround by and raised on books. I love it so much, I have a poster promoting Oliver Jeffers latest book, (signed by him and Sam Winston, which makes it even cooler) in my son’s room. My son doesn’t know it yet, but he too will be a child of books. My three year old is surrounded by stories, whether from books or simply ones from our imaginations. “Tell me a story”, she often says. And we abide. When she isn’t behaving, we threaten to take away a book before bed. We’ve only had to follow through once, and I’ve never seen her little heart so broken. When we go to a restaurant or a doctors appointment, there is always a book in the toy bag. My favorite is when she brings the Frozen chapter book that she took from my classroom over the summer, solely because Anna and Elsa were on the cover. She “reads” the book cover to cover, using intonation and voices for the characters, retelling the plot of the movie. It makes her teacher mama proud. We have books scattered around our house; they are in every room. My children are literally children of books.
Then I started thinking about myself as a reader. I don’t remember actually learning to read, it was just a natural hobby in our house. Growing up, my dad and my sister were wonderful role models of what voracious readers look like. Still to this day, there hasn’t been a single Christmas where books weren’t wrapped beneath the tree.
When I think back to what made me a child of books, it wasn’t just having good role models, or a mother that would take me to the library whenever she could, but it was the actual books themselves. I don’t remember how old I was, but one year for my birthday my aunt and uncle had bought me my first chapter book series, the original “The Kids of the Polk Street School.” I had crossed over from picture books and I was in the big league with my new chapter book series. They started my love affair with books, and to this day, they are proudly displayed on my bookshelf at home. There was something about these books that fulfilled my infatuation. They were a series, they were just right, they had actual plots and continuation, and they were sparkly and new. I was hooked. Other books have come and gone, other series became the “it” books of the time, and other favorites have emerged. But I’ll never forget those kids of The Polk Street School. They’re forever in my heart.