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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: 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: 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!

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!

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

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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

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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: Read, Read, Read!

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There are certain poetry books that I return to over and over again in my classroom. Books with poems that reflect my students’ experiences show up as read-alouds every year. The books then find worthy places on our classroom bookshelves where they are adored by dozens of third graders. Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater may become an instant classic, too.

This book is a celebration of what it means to be a reader. Much of the book explores the magic of the written word and how we carry it with us as we grow. While many of the poems are inspiring, they are funny and clever, too. The poems are inclusive of many different reading experiences, from the child whose favorite reading material is on the cereal box to the child who lost a grandmother, but found healing in Charlotte’s Web.

As I read the poems, connections to students past and present were swirling around in my head. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has given us a gift: poems that will meet readers where they are on their reading journeys. Every child reading this book will find a poem that makes them feel celebrated. It is my hope that this book finds its way onto the bookshelves of classrooms and homes, and into the hands of young readers everywhere.


Read! Read! Read! will be released in September 2017 by Wordsong Books.

Huge thanks to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for sharing a copy of Read! Read! Read! 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!

Books We Love: Max Tilt Fire the Depths

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I’m often looking for books to put in the hands of readers who love adventure stories. Many young readers fly from page-turner to page-turner, seeking mystery and intrigue. I know those readers will find a favorite in Max Tilt: Fire the Depths, the first in a trilogy from author Peter Lerangis.

Max Tilt’s family is going through a tough time. Max’s mother has cancer, and unpaid bills are piling up. When Max’s mother and father go out of town for her medical treatment, Max’s cousin Alex steps in to care for him. Max and Alex discover a trunk in the attic that holds the key to a century-old mystery involving their ancestor, Jules Verne.

A fast-paced storyline takes Max and Alex across oceans, into caves, and onto islands as they seek to discover their family’s secrets. The children are up against a wicked foe, but they meet kindred spirits to help them along the way.

Max’s self-described identity of being “on the spectrum,” combined with his synesthesia, make his interpretation of social situations unique. His wit and his quick thinking make him the superhero of the book, while his cousin Alex is a worthy sidekick.

Readers who enjoy adventure stories will love being a part of Max Tilt’s universe. This trilogy is bound to be a great addition to middle grade classrooms.


Max Tilt: Fire the Depths will be released on October 3rd, 2017 by Harper Collins.

Huge thanks to Peter Lerangis for sharing a copy of Max Tilt: Fire the Depths 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!

Books We Love: Come With Me

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As I write this post in mid-August 2017, violent protests have broken out in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Over the past year, students have been walking into classrooms with more and more questions about the world. They feel fear. They feel confusion. They feel helplessness. Wouldn’t it be powerful if, every day, we could do something to replace those feelings with ones of kindness? Connection? Hope?

Come With Me by Holly McGhee tells the story of a little girl who feels scared by the images she sees every day. She’s not sure to engage with a world that scares her. With the help of her parents, she learns to step beyond her fear and build connections with others. While the things she does with her parents aren’t groundbreaking steps towards social justice (she goes to a grocery store and rides the subway), the little girl learns to celebrate togetherness over fear.

Like any book, this book alone is not enough. But it’s a start in discussing social justice and current events with children. As the dedication of the book states, “Come With Me is written in honor of friendship, bravery, and the fact that we aren’t powerless, no matter how small and insignificant we may feel.”


Come With Me will be released in September 2017 by Penguin Kids.

Huge thanks to Holly McGhee for sharing a copy of Come With Me 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!