Books We Love: The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

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Huge thanks to Jodi Kendall for sharing a copy of The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle-grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

When I was a kid, my favorite book in the world was Charlotte’s Web. I remember spending hours flipping through the pages and falling in love with the story of Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern, and all the other amazing characters. It’s clear that author Jodi Kendall appreciates Charlotte’s Web just as much as I do, as her middle-grade debut is a heartwarming tribute to E.B. White’s classic.

When Josie Shilling sits down for Thanksgiving dinner, she expects to be sitting in her small city townhouse with her four siblings and two parents. She doesn’t expect, however, to be joined by a baby piglet. When Josie’s older brother Tom rescues a runt from a farm outside the city, Josie makes it her mission to save the pig’s life. While her life is busy with gymnastics, friendships, and a growth spurt, Josie soon adds one more item to her to-do list: persuading her parents to let her keep Hamlet.

This was such a well-crafted and heartwarming story – two traits that make this middle-grade book a must-have for classroom libraries. Josie, her friends, and her siblings are well-developed as characters. Readers can imagine what it must be like to live in the busy Shilling household! While all the characters are compelling, Josie is a fantastic middle-grade main character: talented and imperfect, empathetic and thoughtful, growing up and still curious. There is so much to love about this book, and I can’t wait to see what author Jodi Kendall does next!

Books We Love: Be A King

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Huge thanks to Bloomsbury Kids for sharing a copy of Be a King with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle-grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
– Martin Luther King Jr. 

When Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford opened with the above quote, I knew it would be perfect for the little leaders in my classroom. Be a King gives suggestions for ways kids (and grown-ups, too!) can pay tribute to Dr. King as they live their lives. James E. Ransome has illustrated scenes in civil rights history alongside suggestions like: “You can be a King. Have a dream. Make yours great enough to grow into.” On other pages, kids see illustrations of everyday situations in which they can take action and “be a King.”

In our classrooms today, we teach tomorrow’s world-changers, but we also need to have to have faith in their ability to take action today. There are so many ways in which our children can begin changing the world with their kindness and heart. There are so many ways in which they can begin to take action against injustice. This beautiful picture book gives kids practical suggestions for doing just that.

This book certainly deserves a place in classrooms as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day, but it also deserves a place in our classrooms year round. As Vera of The Tutu Teacher explains, “If January 15th is the first time you’re talking to your students about leaders of color, you’re doing it wrong.” We can all grow as educators as we work to incorporate civil rights history into our classrooms. There are so many ways in which we can all be Kings.

Books We Love: Stella Díaz Has Something to Say

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Note: Miss Magee’s Reads was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Thanks for reading!

Sometimes, you pick up a book, and you just know it will make a difference for your students. Stella Díaz Has Something to Say is, without a doubt, that type of book.

Stella Díaz is a third grade student with a lot to think about. Her best friend is in a different homeroom, she is attending speech therapy, and she wonders what life would be like if her family had stayed in Mexico City instead of immigrating to Chicago. Stella struggles with turning these thoughts into spoken words, and shyness seems to prevent her from saying what she wants to say. With the support of her best friend, her brother, and her mom, she is able to focus on her strengths. She is a talented artist, and she loves learning about animals. When Stella’s teacher assigns a research project with a 5-minute class presentation, Stella worries. How can she show the world what she has to say?

What I absolutely loved about this book is that Stella is, in so many ways, more than one thing. She has so many strengths and so many things she is working on. We have so many students in our classroom who are more than one thing, and they need to find themselves in books like this. My students whose families have immigrated will connect with Stella. My students who are in speech therapy will connect with Stella. My students who have ever wanted a new friend will connect with Stella. My students whose parents are separated or divorced will connect with Stella. I know that so many students will see themselves in Stella. I also know that through reading Stella’s story, students may begin to empathize with their classmates who are like Stella in some other way.

This book allows kids to celebrate all the things that they are. I can’t wait to put this book in the hands of my third grade students, who all have something to say.

Books We Love: The Doctor With An Eye for Eyes

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Note: Miss Magee’s Reads was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Thanks for reading!

Have you heard the story of Dr. Patricia Bath? Her many achievements have earned her a place in history books – from becoming the first US woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program to inventing the Laserphaco Probe to assist patients with blindness. Author Julie Finley Mosca’s Amazing Scientist series is allowing Dr. Bath’s story to make its way into classrooms and onto bookshelves.

Dr. Bath started her life in Harlem, NY, where she tried to keep up with her older brother and sparked an interest in science. Over the years, she was often the only woman in the academic spaces where she went to learn. She didn’t let it discourage her. Instead, her passions drove her to make medical advances in the treatment of blindness, which disproportionally affects people of color.

Dr. Bath’s story is one of perseverance, hope, and initiative. Julie Finley Mosca tells her story in a way that is accessible to young readers. She also includes extensive back matter, including a timeline and a bibliography, for readers who may want to learn more.

The students in my third-grade class love flipping through this book and learning all about Dr. Bath’s achievements. As they read, they become inspired by a woman who never took no for an answer, and in turn, gave the gift of sight to many.

Let’s Talk Kid Lit: 2017 Favorites & Looking Ahead to 2018

Let's Talk Kid Lit

Yesterday, my friend Madeleine and I got together to host an Instagram Live all about Kid Lit! It was so amazing to chat all things children’s literature with the Bookstagram community. Thanks so much to the 700+ of you who watched our video!

Madeleine and I have been friends since 2012 when we took a class together in college. In the years since, we’ve both become elementary educators, book bloggers, and huge fans of kid lit. Since Madeleine loves middle grade and I’m in love with picture books, we thought we would team up to bring you a series called “Let’s Talk Kid Lit!” Each quarter, we’ll be sharing books we’re loving and new releases we’re excited about.

We both believe that kid lit isn’t just for kids, but for grown-ups, too. Our hope is that no matter who you are, you can find joy in the messages of the stories we share. For our first chat, we focused on some books we already love, as well as books we’re looking forward to reading in the first few months of 2018. Below is a list of the picture books we shared, and you can head over to Top Shelf Text to check out the middle grade titles!

Picture Books I Love

This gorgeous picture book from Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson draws parallels between our country’s flag and our country itself. My third-grade students called it “peaceful” and “inspiring” – high praise from eight-year-olds! You can check out my interview with the author here.

This fantastic collection of poetry allows every young reader to connect. For the child who struggles with learning to read, for the kid who gets lost in a book for days, and for the child who turns to books in times of grief, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has given the gift of a poem. Click here for my full review.

This picture book fills its pages with beautiful prose and awe-inspiring illustrations. Drawing parallels between humans and animals, Rylant shares how we all have to get through a little wilderness every once in a while. Child readers will love looking through Wenzel’s illustrations, and the message will stay printed on their hearts for a long time.

Picture Books I Can’t Wait To Read in 2018

I’m a huge fan of picture book biographies. Often told through compelling narratives, they capture so many aspects of character and teach huge life lessons. I can’t wait for this upcoming biography of Mae Jemison from author Roda Ahmed. It’s sure to teach kids tons about curiosity, determination, and hard work! Mae Among the Stars will be released on January 9th.

What does love look like in your life? Chances are it takes many different forms. Matt de la Peña and Loren Long explore the ways love can fill your life in their new picture book. I can’t wait to add this one to my classroom bookshelf! Love will be released on January 9th.

If you don’t know the names Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, you should. Author Margot Lee Shetterly has turned her incredible adult nonfiction book into a picture book, and I can’t wait to share it with my students. We have a responsibility as educators to tell the stories of those who changed history, and the story of these ladies is one we should be telling in our classrooms year round. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race is out January 16th.

What books did you love in 2017, and what new releases are you looking forward to in 2018? Let us know in the comments below!

Books We Love: Hope in the Holler

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Huge thanks to Lisa Lewis Tyre for sharing a copy of Hope in the Holler with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Sometimes, a book takes you by surprise. I knew I was going to love Hope in the Holler, but I didn’t realize it was going to become a heartprint read for me – one of those books that leaves a lasting impact on you, and one that you can’t stop thinking about hours and days after you’ve finished reading.

Wavie is a sixth grade girl who has just lost her mom to cancer. Just when her future seems up in the air, the aunt she never knew she had sweeps in to take ownership of Wavie – and her social security money. Wavie is uprooted to her mother’s hometown, where the grim reality of poverty has taken a toll on the townspeople. While Wavie thinks returning to her mother’s roots might answer some long-standing questions, it just seems to leave her with even more.

This book drew me in with its air of mystery, and grabbed my heart with its charm and wit. Wavie’s unshakeable spirit and her valuable friendships with two classmates are huge highlights of this middle grade read. I can’t wait to see what happens when this book lands in the hands of young readers.

Hope in the Holler will be released on January 9th by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Books We Love: Biographies by Tracy Nelson Maurer

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As an elementary school teacher, I love picture book biographies. At their best, they include compelling narratives, well-crafted language, and fantastic examples of character traits. John Deere, That’s Who! and Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, both by Tracy Nelson Maurer, include all of these attributes and more.

John Deere, That’s Who!, published March 2017, explores the story behind a household name. Maurer shows her ability to build historical context as she masterfully explains what life was like in the 1830s. Throughout the book, Maurer makes use of rhetorical questions and repetition to keep readers engaged. By the book’s end, readers are left with an understanding of how hardship led to innovation.

Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, published April 2017, is a standard biography with a creative twist: “Noah” himself serves as editor. Fake hand-written sticky notes throughout the text show what Noah may have said to expand on or correct Maurer’s text. This move makes the book even more entertaining, but it also pushes the book into the historical fiction category, as Mary Ann Cappiello of The Classroom Bookshelf explains. This book can inspire students to explore our linguistic history and will leave them wanting to learn even more about the man behind our dictionary.

In both of her new picture books, Maurer has earned a place on kids’ bookshelves.

Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of these books – all opinions are my own. Thanks for reading!

Books We Love: Smart Cookie

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It’s not often that a book about loss leaves your heart feeling full. Somehow, Smart Cookie manages to do just that. Frankie Greene lives with her dad and grandmother at the Greene Family B&B in a small Vermont town. She has a great friend named Elliot, some great cookie recipes, a pet hedgehog, and a beagle named Lucy. However, things don’t seem to be quite right. Business is slowing down at the bed and breakfast, Frankie’s former best friend is causing trouble for her, and Frankie doesn’t think she’ll have a “full” family in time for the Winter Family Festival Parade. Frankie’s determined to find a new mom, save the B&B, and “complete” her family – but she doesn’t have much time!

Elly Swartz’ storytelling makes Smart Cookie a standout for middle grade readers. Her incredible ability to describe people and places turn the book into a model for imagery. Readers will fall in love with Frankie, her family, and the cast of characters in Dennisville, Vermont. Readers will feel Frankie’s losses and joys, her victories and her defeats. Swartz brings readers along for the ride in a remarkable way.

In addition to being a powerful story, Smart Cookie explores some powerful questions about love and loss. Readers will question what it means to be a family, and they’ll be reminded how love can show up when you are least expecting it.

Smart Cookie will be released on January 30th, 2018 by Scholastic Press.

Huge thanks to Elly Swartz and Scholastic Press for sharing a copy of Smart Cookie with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Top Ten Kid-Recommended Picture Books to Celebrate Kindness

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Happy World Kindness Day! Every November 13th, we have the opportunity to celebrate kindness, while recognizing that kindness is important every day of the year. Today, during snack, my third graders and I started discussing books that fit a theme of kindness. This launched a fascinating conversation that stretched into our literacy block and throughout the rest of the day. My students compiled the following list of Top Ten Kid-Recommended Books to Celebrate Kindness. Enjoy, and be sure to let us know how you celebrate kindness in the comments below!

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev was one of our read alouds on the first day of school. Telling the story of a boy and his pet elephant, this book captures the isolating feeling of exclusion as well as the joyful feeling of including others. My third grade readers said the message of this book can be expressed in just three words: “All are welcome.”

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi is an absolutely gorgeous wordless picture book. It’s fitting that this book has no words, as it communicates a feeling that can be so hard to articulate: the feeling of genuine friendship. While friendship can be messy and hard, it can also be beautiful. My third grade readers love the colors and creativity with which this story is told.

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio captures the feeling of longing to belong – something that we all experience at some point in our lives. In the same way that her novel asks students to “choose kind,” Palacio’s picture book encourages readers to see the strengths that we all hold inside ourselves.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts makes me cry every time I read it aloud! It can feel so isolating to be the only one who is “missing out” on the newest thing. This book celebrates the people in our lives who try to give us the world, and teaches us that it’s okay when we can’t get everything we want. In fact, what doesn’t work out for us might be the perfect thing for someone else.


Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh chronicles young Sylvia Mendez’s fight for quality education in the 1940s. When a student proposed it as a book about kindness today, he pointed out that being fair and inclusive is necessary in order to be kind. This nonfiction text reminds us that justice for all is another way to show kindness towards all.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes just effuses kindness. A little gardener, no bigger than a worm, puts his whole heart into helping his garden. While he doesn’t look like much, he makes an impact a million times larger than he could imagine. This book is a celebration of kindness towards the environment and kindness towards each other.


The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a gorgeous wordless retelling of an Aesop fable. Today, our class discussed how kindness can circle back towards you when you least expect it. If you put kindness out into the world, you may get a little bit (or a big bit!) back.


The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister shows how unkind behavior like bragging and excluding others can harm everyone. Celebrating our strengths and using them to bring joy to others is the way to go! My students have such fond memories of reading this book for the first time in kindergarten or first grade. It’s definitely a kindness classic!


One by Kathryn Otoshi is such a great read aloud for any grade level, K through 12. My students love the playful way in which the colors learn to stand up for themselves, and eventually stand together. This is a book we return to again and again throughout the year as we explore ways in which we can speak up and stand up.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is a heartprint book that always leaves my third graders thinking. Every day, we take actions that create hurricanes or sunshine for others. How will you bring sunshine to the lives of those around you? Each Kindness reminds us of the importance of considering this question every single day.

Books We Love: Sam and Eva

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Huge thanks to Debbie Ohi for sharing a copy of Sam and Eva with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle-grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but Sam and Eva drew in my third graders before I flipped to the first page.

Sam and Eva captures a common friendship problem: when one person wants to join in the fun, but the other person would rather work (or play) alone. Sam draws creative creatures and crazy scenes, but Eva always feels she can top his latest creation. As the tension escalates, readers begin to wonder how the friends will ever find common ground. Sam and Eva surprise us just in time.

From the bright colors to the brilliant illustrations, the visual aspects of Sam and Eva make it the type of book children will pull off the shelf again and again. Author Debbie Ohi does such an amazing job capturing a common childhood moment and turning it into something magical and meaningful. I just know this book will be one my students ask me to read again and again!