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

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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: 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

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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 or follow her on Twitter at Thank you so much, Sarvinder, for sharing your thoughts with us!

Books We Love: My Brigadista Year

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Did you know that in 1961, 100,000 Cuban youth between the ages of 10 and 19 left school and moved to the countryside to serve as literacy teachers? Did you know that their work raised the literacy rate in Cuba from between 60% and 76% to 96%?

I didn’t, either.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but in taking a closer look at the books I’ve read, most of my historical fiction reads tend to be about American history or European history. I was so excited to read the Katherine Paterson’s latest title, which takes place in Cuba in the 1960s.

Lora, a thirteen-year-old from Havana, decides to leave the only place she’s ever called home in order to serve as a literacy teacher in the countryside. Her journey requires leaving the comforts of home behind in exchange for demanding physical labor and no electricity access. While in the country, she lives with two host parents and their three children. Luis Santana, the father, simply wants to learn to write his own name so he no longer has to sign with an “x.” Having a brigadista in the household, however, may bring danger to the Santana family and to Lora herself.

While the Cuban Literacy Campaign came about under the rule of communist politician Fidel Castro, whose administration oversaw numerous human-rights abuses, the mission of the brigadistas was to bring education to everyone regardless of class. The experiences of the main character in the book represent the experiences of tens of thousands of volunteers who left their homes in order to serve their country and the ideals they held true.

I learned so much about Cuban history from My Brigadista Year, and I am sure this book will drive interest in a fascinating time period of Cuban history.

Classroom Connections

This middle grade title discusses the transfer of power before the administration of Fidel Castro. It may pair well with The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! and other tales from Carmen Agra Deedy. Deedy is a children’s book author who arrived in the U.S. as a Cuban refugee in 1964, just three years after the events of My Brigadista Year.

My Brigadista Year will be released in October 2017 by Penguin Random House.

Note: I received a digital Advanced Review Copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

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: After the Fall

Books We Love

We talk so often with children about the importance of “trying again.” We expect children to pick themselves up and jump back in after they fail. While we focus on the importance of not giving up, we sometimes gloss over the challenge of processing failure. We don’t acknowledge the lasting emotional damage that can come from a difficult situation. We, as teachers and parents, have the opportunity to show children that learning from your failures can help you try again.

I don’t want to spoil this one for you, because it’s just too good. Dan Santat has already established himself as a favorite author in my third grade classroom, and this latest book does not disappoint. In classrooms, this book will lead to many conversations on the meaning of failure, and the importance of perseverance. It is also a great fit for adults, as Santat describes the book as a metaphor for his wife’s struggles with anxiety. After the Fall is inspiring for all ages.

For more on After the Fall, see the starred Kirkus review, and the cover reveal interview.

After the Fall will be released in October 2017 by Roaring Book Press.

Note: Huge thanks to Roaring Book Press for making an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of this book available to read at the International Literacy Association conference. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!