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missmagee

Books We Love: Smart Cookie

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

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

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

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

#bookexcursion, #DiverseKidLit

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!

Books We Love: Flashlight Night

Books We Love

When I first held up Flashlight Night for a classroom read-aloud, my students were fascinated by the cover alone. They quickly shared noticings around the shadow and light. They made predictions and connections simply because the book demands it. As I flipped through the pages, my third graders were riveted by the illustrations as well as the lyrical text.

Flashlight Night follows a group of children as they make their way through an after-dark adventure. What can be revealed in the light of the flashlight is completely different from what lingers in the shadows. It’s not until the ending that students will begin to understand the true magic of the story.

This is a book that will be hard to keep on the shelf – it’s far more likely to be seen in the hands of inquisitive children who will reread it again and again. Illustrator Fred Koehler dedicates the book “to the adventurers: this book is for you.” Flashlight Night will certainly speak to adventurers of all ages.


Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.

Books We Love: Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

Huge thanks to Sue Lowell Gallion for sharing a copy of Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat 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!


Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat is a sweet picture book about two friends who have different feelings when it comes to Halloween. Pig loves her costume, but Pug feels squished and squashed in his. When Pug abandons his costume, Pig is worried that she won’t have anyone to trick-or-treat with. Pug has to think outside the box to come up with a costume that works for him in order to help his friend.

A sweet story about friendship on Halloween night, Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat is perfect for pre-K and lower elementary readers. It makes for a comforting read aloud during the Halloween season. Readers will love looking at the facial expressions of Pig and Pug to see how they feel. The book might also start conversations about how to choose a costume that is both comfortable and fun. This book is a good addition to any Halloween-themed shelf at home or in the classroom.

Books We Love: A Rambler Steals Home

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

Huge thanks to Carter Higgins for sharing a copy of A Rambler Steals Home 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!


A Rambler Steals Home is a book about a lot of things: family, love, loss, friendship, and unanswered questions, to name a few. It’s a story with charm, character, and compassion. It’s a story with wit and wisdom, too.

Derby Christmas Clark spends her days traveling across the country in an RV with her father, Garland and her brother, Triple.. Each summer, she settles in Ridge Creek, Virginia: a small town most well known for its minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer family includes a cast of characters: a small-town boy named Marcus whose friendship means loads to Derby, a grown woman named June who almost fills in as a mama for Derby, and others.

Derby’s voice in this book is so incredibly strong. Author Carter Higgins does an incredible job of capturing the spirit, hope, and worries of a pre-teen girl, while at the same time giving Derby an edge of being wise beyond her years.

While Derby herself is a huge draw for this book, so is the town of Ridge Creek. Fans of baseball will fall in love with a town where the joys and disappointments of the game are the joys and disappointments of the community. Derby lives her summer life by innings and strikes, which gives her journey a fantastic pace.

I would highly recommend this title for middle grade readers and middle grade classrooms. I just know that readers will connect deeply with Derby, and also learn lots from her journey.

Books We Love: The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

Books We Love

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved reading mysteries. My favorite books, though, were part-mystery and part-heart. Clues and action were awesome, but they couldn’t dominate over friendship and family. Take all those attributes, add some paranormal activity, and you’ve got The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street.

When Tessa and her family move to from Florida to Chicago, everything seems to change. Tessa worries that she’s lost everything that makes up who she is. She’s living in an old Victorian house that just seems cold and creepy. She doesn’t have any friends in her new neighborhood. And quickly, unexplainable things begin to happen in her home: flickering lights, weirdness with her brother’s ventriloquist dummy, crying in the middle of the night, and more spooky stuff.

As Tessa works to find an answer to what’s going on, she also finds friendship. Neighborhood kids Andrew and Nina become her partner detectives as they seek to solve a mystery that seems to be a century old.

Young readers will find role models in Tessa and her friends. This book has a ghost, but it isn’t about ghosts. It’s about friendship. It’s about change. It’s about family. It’s about making the best of things. And most of all, it’s about heart.


Thank you to Lindsay Currie for sharing an e-ARC of The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street! Congratulations on an amazing middle grade debut. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street will be released on Tuesday, October 10th, 2017.

Books We Love: Kid Authors

Books We Love

When I was a kid, I loved reading biographies about famous leaders. I was fascinated by the childhoods of politicians, leaders, and celebrities. How did someone go from being a kid like me to being a world changer? David Stabler’s Kid Legends series answers that question with fact and humor.

From Roald Dahl’s childhood as a top-secret taste tester for Cadbury to Judy Blume’s ride in the Goodyear blimp, Stabler captures fascinating moments in the lives of famous authors. Along the way, he explores how their childhood experiences influenced their writing. Some authors, like Langston Hughes, sought freedom in the walls of the local library. For others, like Beverly Cleary, reading and writing didn’t come easily.

Students will love this well-told compilation of favorite authors’ childhood stories. I can see students returning to this book over and over as they read more books by the respective authors. It’s a great addition to classroom bookshelves.

Classroom Connections

This book can serve as a strong mentor text for writing biographies. Stabler’s writing is clear, but also humorous and engaging. Students who are writing their own biographies will benefit from using Stabler’s writing as a mentor for pace and structure.

This book would make a great nonfiction read aloud in middle grade classrooms. The chapters are manageable for daily read aloud, life lessons are taught through the stories, and students may be inspired to pick up the authors’ books after reading. I’ll be adding this to my third grade read aloud shortlist for this school year!


Kid Authors will be released in October 2017 by Quirk Books.

Note: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Books We Love: A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider

Books We Love

My love for E.B. White’s stories has existed ever since my first grade teacher read Charlotte’s Web to our class. It wasn’t until Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer was released that I learned the story behind the beloved children’s author. It’s a story of a man who was brilliant, smart, and above all, an unrelenting optimist.

I’m so excited that Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo have teamed up to bring White’s story to younger readers. This well-written biography tells of White’s journey from childhood to literary fame. Readers who loved Stuart Little and other books will adore this look into the life of an incredible author. Lauren Castillo’s gorgeous illustrations are a perfect fit for the story.

Classroom Connections

This book would serve as a strong mentor text for biographies. Herkert’s text clearly explains the events of White’s life and celebrates his significance.

For paired middle grade texts, Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer! is an obvious and perfect choice. Sweet’s words add depth to Herkert’s strong overview. Students might also find enjoyment in Kid Authors by David Stabler (my review coming to the blog this Tuesday!).

Author Interview: Blue Sky, White Stars

#DiverseKidLit, Author Interviews, Diverse Books Club

When I picked up Blue Sky, White Stars on a whim this summer, I was so taken by its representation of the American experience. The words of Sarvinder Naberhaus and the illustrations of Kadir Nelson included so much of what we love about our country. From the Grand Canyon to an old front porch, we can find pieces of America everywhere. In the young boy who goes to a baseball game and in the woman who stands on a graduation stage. In the story of Betsy Ross and the history of Abraham Lincoln. There is so much to celebrate about who we are and who we can be as a nation.

This month, the Diverse Books Club read Blue Sky, White Stars. When both adults and children submitted questions, author Sarvinder Naberhaus generously agreed to do an interview. We find hope and inspiration in her words, and we know you will, too!


Did you have an intended audience for Blue Sky, White Stars? Who do you hope will read the book?

Great question! My original intended audience is always picture book age children. However, when this book was finished, I also felt it was just as much for adults. I always feel picture books are appropriate for all ages. Everybody loves reading picture books. I think they are for all ages, don’t you?

Do you have a favorite page in the book?

Yes, I love Abraham Lincoln’s face with each worry and burden, every fallen soldier etched in the lines of his face.

What inspired you to write about freedom when there are so many topics to write about? -Alexa, Age 11, 6th Grade

I don’t always get to pick my ideas. They come to me, and I usually like them, but I can’t always make them work for the length of a picture book. I was able to come up with enough ideas to make this 32 pages. I feel my ideas pick me.

It’s so important to represent diversity in a book about America. I feel that it was done exceptionally well in Blue Sky, White Stars. Did you carefully place specific characters on particular pages or leave it all in the hands of the illustrator Kadir Nelson? – DBC Member Jeanell

The nice thing about having Kadir Nelson as an illustrator is that you don’t have to tell him to represent diverse people. That being said, when I pictured the illustrations, I did picture different groups of people. I had revised it to include Sacagawea but I was too late in sending to my editor, so maybe she will have to be in my next book. I also wanted to include George Washington and the farmers of the Dust Bowl. I did try to represent a diverse group of people since that is who makes up America and I did write it with that in mind.

What does this book mean to you personally? – Miguel, Age 11, 6th Grade

It means a lot of different things to me. As an American, it represents freedom and the height that freedom can take us (to the moon). As a writer, it means that all my hard work and dedication was worth the years of toil and trouble.

What was going through your mind and how did you feel while you were writing Blue Sky, White Stars? – Aricin, Age 12, 6th Grade

When you write something, you have no idea if it will get published. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have an agent when I wrote it, and it got a few rejections until my editor took interest. So you never write it expecting it will get published or that anybody will ever see it but you. At the time you are writing, you are just thinking about the story and trying to write it all down as fast as you can so you don’t forget it. I thought it was a pretty neat idea when it came to me, but the words were so few, I knew I would have to include a lot of illustration notes so people would understand what I was talking about. I wrote the illustration notes right along with the words.

What effect do you think it would have if every classroom read this book? – Alexandria, Age 11, 6th Grade

I do hope every class will read this book. I hope they enjoy it. I hope it stirs something within them – whatever their America means to them. My hope would be that we could heal as a nation and come together and love one another. I actually want to ask you that same question. What effect do you think it would have?


To connect with Sarvinder online, you can visit her blog at http://sarvinderauthor.blogspot.com/ or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SarvinderN. Thank you so much, Sarvinder, for sharing your thoughts with us!