Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrate This Week - May 31, 2014

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week... 

1.  My friend's first of two surgeries went well. - I have shared in some other Slice of Life posts about my friend who has undergone some very difficult surgeries this year.  For the past few months, things were settling back to normal.  Recently, he was told that he was going to need a couple of surgeries.  The first of the two was this past Wednesday.  The surgery went well and his family celebrated that he came home on Friday evening. This week he will have the second surgery. We are continuing to pray that all goes well and also for his wife and children. It's been stressful for them all though they have been hanging in there surprisingly well.

2.  The 2013-2014 school year came to an end. - This is the first year that we have finished school before June 1st (and also the first time we started so early in August).  It was an odd year for me in some ways but also wonderful in others.  I still have six more days before I am officially off for the summer so still a lot to do but I know it will be here quickly.

3.  End of the Year conversations with teachers.  - On Friday, I stopped by several classrooms to chat with teachers that I have been working with. We had some wonderful chats about the work we started this year and the work we hope to continue the next year. I am looking forward to some possible conversations over lunch this summer in between everyone's planned vacation trips. 

4. Summer Vacation and Summer Learning - I talked about my summer goals in my Slice Post this past week.  I am so excited about the various goals and activities that I have for this summer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - The Scraps Book

Thank you everyone for all of the great posts each week for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2014.

Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (March 4, 2014)
Audience: K-3
Memoir * Women Illustrators * Art

Description from GoodReads:
The renowned Caldecott Honoree and illustrator of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom provides a moving, intimate, and inspiring inside look at her colorful picture book career.

Lois Ehlert always knew she was an artist. Her parents encouraged her from a young age by teaching her how to sew and saw wood and pound nails, and by giving her colorful art supplies. They even gave her a special spot to work that was all her own.

Today, many years and many books later, Lois takes readers and aspiring artists on a delightful behind-the-scenes tour of her books and her book-making process. Part fascinating retrospective, part moving testament to the value of following your dreams, this richly illustrated picture book is sure to inspire children and adults alike to explore their own creativity.

Reviews: Kirkus | HornBook | Publisher's Weekly | 100 ScopeNotes
Extra Material: HornBook's 5 Questions Interview with Lois Ehlert |  

My thoughts on this book:

"When I was little, I read all the books on the library shelf and I thought maybe someday I could make a book." - Lois Ehlert, The Scraps Book

When I began teaching my first books were by author/illustrators such as Tomie dePaola, Eric Carle, and Ezra Jack Keats. My collection also included dozens of books by Lois Ehlert.  As part of my curriculum, I created many learning activities tied into Ehlert's books. Though I never thought to do an author study on Ehlert, with the release of her incredibly creative memoir, The Scraps Book, I am already itching to do exactly that.

Today, Lois Ehlert is 79 years old and still creating art and books. Frankly, amazing anyway you look at it. When I opened up this book, I knew within a few pages that it was coming home with me. Ehlert shares with readers how her family inspired and supported her art. Readers are treated to little facts about the art and ideas she used to create her books.  I loved that she explains that "I'm mess when I work."

The Scraps Book celebrates the life and art of Lois Ehlert in only the way that she can do it with mixed media and scraps of all kinds and the images that made us love her over the years. As I mentioned earlier, I already want to create lessons and an author study with this book as the center of our inspiration.

An interview with Lois Ehlert (Reading Rockets):

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slice of Life - Summer Goals

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

Summer goals are different than New Year's Resolutions.  First, I don't think I ever manage to maintain any of my New Year's Resolutions.  However, with summer goals, I usually do a pretty decent job completing them. 

Some of these goals or activties are things that I look forward to doing each year because the schedule in the summer is so different. Other items are things that I want to learn but have difficulty making time for during the school year.  All of them provide a sense of structure for my summer.  

This summer, I am looking forward to the following things...

1.  #Bookaday Challenge - This will be my fourth year participating in Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge.  I have met so many amazing teachers and librarians who have become a significant part of my tribe through this challenge.  They have all made me a better educator and thinker.

2.  Presentations, Conferences, and Trainings - From June to July, I will be doing a couple of presentations, attending the American Library Association Annual Conference, and also a training on Project-Based Learning.

3. Teachers Write! - Kate Messner, Jen Vincent, and Gae Polisner started this as a virtual writing camp a few years ago.  I have always been a bit afraid to participate, but after doing this year's March Slice Challenge, I think I am ready.  I may have to keep saying this to myself so I won't lose courage, but it's my goal for now.

4.  Mock-Newbery Club - One of my favorite Indie Bookstores is Once Upon a Time in Montrose.  I will be helping out one of the staff lead a Mock-Newbery Club with students ages 9 to 12.  I have been working on a list of books to share with them and we have some special surprises.

5.  Reading & Writing Project - Based on all of my recent work, particularly with first graders, I will be planning for a series of workshops and trainings that I will be leading.  Additionally, I want to set up a space on our District's website for providing resources for the teachers that I am working with.  I have wanted to do this during the school year but unfortunately, kept running out of time.  Additionally, I would like to play with some apps that might benefit teachers as they work on reading comprehension and writing with students.

Finally, on the personal end of things...I have two simple get back into a regular exercise routine, and tackle a few household organization projects.

With summer vacation nearly upon us, I would love to hear what others are planning on doing?

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? From Picture Books to YA - 5/26/14

It's Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.  Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers have adapted it to focus on Picture Books to Young Adult Books.

As I get wrapped up with the final days of the school year, my reading for fun takes a back seat.  Looking forward to starting #bookaday on June 1st. 

Here is what jumped out of the stack...

Zoe's Jungle by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Arthur A. Levine, May 27, 2014) - Zoe and her sister have more fun and this time an adventure in the park. I love how Murguia captures exactly the feelings of the children and the mother in her Zoe series.

The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert (Simon & Schuster, March 4, 2014) - Many of us have used Lois Ehlert's books in our classrooms.  With her characteristic style, she has created a memoir of sorts that tells some of her life and lots of the stories behind her stories. 

Big Bug by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, April 15, 2014) - Beginning with a bug, Cole takes readers on a journey of big and little and how perspective can easily change.  Perfect for younger readers. 

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato (Henry Holt and Co., August 26, 2014) - A small elephant, an even tinier mouse, and you really need more?! Loved the artwork and this story on perspective. and friendship.  

So, what are you reading? 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Celebrate This Week - May 24, 2014

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week...

My typical Celebrate This Week focuses on five things that I want to celebrate.  As I thought about this past week, I decided that I wanted to celebrate one thing.

Over the past few months, I have regularly referred to a class of first graders that I have been working with.  Yesterday was my last time to see them for this school year.  I am going to really miss these 24 kiddos.  I am thankful for how the teacher and students welcomed me into their learning community.  When I come on campus, and I run into one of the students in the hallway (outdoor walkways in CA), I get huge grins and big hugs.

As part of what I have been working on with them, we have done a lot of writing. And having two adults in the room, has also allowed more time to conference with students about their writing. Students have grown as writers during this time.  While reading one student's reflection writing, I realized that he had gone from barely writing one line to now writing six or seven sentences.  He is also willing to ask for help, and by that I don't mean that he wants me to dictate what he should write, but instead, we dialogue about options and ideas for what he can write. Also, his drawings show an amazing amount of understanding about what we have read.

I am also celebrating those students who have started to write even when there are no sentence starters or the word they are looking for isn't on the word wall.  I praise their courage and willingness to take a risk.

And, I am celebrating those students who trusted me enough to dialogue about what challenges them most when facing a blank piece of paper and asked to write something down.  When they get even a couple of sentences down on paper, we celebrate their words.

Though I may not be working directly with these students next year, I want to work with this teacher again.  I believe we can do more to encourage authentic writing and that even our English Language Learners can become confident writers. For this, I celebrate teaching partnerships.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Baby Tree Review & Giveaway

by Sophie Blackall
Nancy Paulsen (May 1, 2014)
Interest Level: K-3

Description from the Publisher:
Cleverly revealing the basics of reproduction in an age-appropriate way, award-winning Sophie Blackall has created a beautiful picture book full of playful details to amuse and engage readers.

Sooner or later, every child will ask, Where do babies come from? Answering this question has never been this easy or entertaining! Join a curious little boy who asks everyone from his babysitter to the mailman, getting all sorts of funny answers along the way, before his parents gently set him straight.

My thoughts on the book:
Where do babies come from? A common question from young children especially when parents announce that there will be a new baby on the way. So, how do you answer it.  In Sophie Blackall's new book The Baby Tree, the narrator asks several adults in his life.  The responses are at times based in partial truth, and nearly always funny.

From his babysitter, the main character learns that "You plant a seed and it grows into a Baby Tree."  Hospitals, storks, and even from eggs are some of the responses. And this curious little boy finds himself to be "very confused". 

 Finally, his parents provide the information that he needs in a clear, age-appropriate manner.

Blackall's illustrations bring the story to life and add to the humor of the book.  She also includes some additional questions and answers at the end of the book to help parents with more specific questions that children may have. A nice addition to a library collection on explaining babies/pregnancy/sex to young children. 

Other Reviews: Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly | Hornbook

Watch the Official Trailer:

About the Author/Illustrator:
SOPHIE BLACKALL is the illustrator of several award-winning books, including Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, Meet Wild Boars by Meg Rosoff, Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, and the Ivy and Bean books by Annie Barrows. Her artwork has also appeared in various magazines and exhibitions. Previously she lived in Sydney, Australia, and has had jobs in a shoe shop and a robot factory.

Where to find Sophie Blackall:   blog | facebook | twitter

Other articles of interest: Seven Impossible Things | The Horn Book - Five Questions for Sophie Blackall

Have fun with Penguin Young Readers book bundle Giveaway!

One (1) winner receives The Baby Tree, Maple by Lori Nichols and Corduroy by Don Freeman Prizing & samples courtesy of Penguin Books USA 
Giveaway open to US addresses only 

You must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address to enter the Giveaway.  To submit and official entry, please enter the rafflecopter below.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra

Thank you everyone for all of the great posts each week for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2014.

by Chris Raschka
Candlewick Press (May 13, 2014)
Audience:  Grades 2nd to 5th
Biography * Jazz Musicians *  African American Musicians

Description from GoodReads:
Jazz musician Sun Ra (1914–1993) always said that he came from Saturn. Being from another planet, he was naturally intrigued by everything earthly — especially music, because music is the one thing on Earth most like the stars. Earthlings themselves confused Sun Ra, the way they sorted themselves by color and fought wars against one another. So he made music. And he traveled with other musicians and singers, calling themselves the Sun Ra Arkestra, playing, singing, and dancing for people all over the planet. Because music, he said, is what holds us all together. Join acclaimed author-illustrator Chris Raschka in celebrating a legend of the jazz world who was truly one of a kind.

My thoughts on this book:
As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I knew I had to find it.  On Monday's What are you Reading post, I said that this book was "Interesting and a bit out there.  However, I suspect that Sun Ra, the musician, was also a bit out there."  After watching the video that I included below, I can certainly say that Sun Ra was "a bit out there."  

Not knowing much about Sun Ra and his band, I wasn't sure what to expect.  After learning a bit more and reading The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra, I felt that Raschka captured the personality and flare of this very unique jazz musician claiming to be from the planet, Saturn. 

Since I am not sure that I can do justice to this book, I have included links to reviews by Kirkus (a starred review) and Publisher Weekly.  The author's note, found on the Candlewick website, provides further information for readers. Finally, check out the videos included in this post to develop a better sense of who is Sun Ra.

Reviews:  Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly

Additional Material: Author's Notes

Check out the official Book Trailer:

Sun Ra Night Music - 1989 Video Interview & Performance - A Taste of both Sun Ra and his music.

After reading Raschka's The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra, I would like to check out some of  his other Jazz biographies.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Mysterious Thelonious (Scholastic, 1997)

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews:

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? From Picture Books to YA - 5/19/14

It's Monday! What are you reading? is hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.  Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers have adapted it to focus on Picture Books to Young Adult Books.

Just as I thought I was getting back into the swing of things, I have a week where I spent nearly every night out.  However, I did manage to squeeze in some fabulous books.

Here is what jumped out of the stack...

Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler; Illustrated by Vivienne To - Click on the title to go to my post on this book.  There is also a giveaway happening.

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy; Illustrated by (Walden Pond Press, April 29, 2014) - It is so sad that the series is ending. I have really enjoyed this one and frequently hand sell it to people wherever I am.  If you click on the link, you can go to my post on this book and enter to win a copy.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (First Second, May 13, 2014) - I feel like I have been waiting so long for this book, and I am so glad it is finally here.  It is the final installment in the trilogy, and I will miss Zita and her wonderful attitude.

If I Had a Raptor by George O'Connor (Candlewick Press, May 13, 2014) - O'Connor is well known for his Olympian Graphic Novels, but I have to say I really enjoyed this one. I love the illustrations in this book, and it would be a good choice to use when discussing with students the difference between what the text says and what the visuals are communicating.

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, May 13, 2014) - Interesting and a bit out there.  However, I suspect that Sun Ra, the musician, was also a bit out there. The illustrations are amazing.

It's An Orange Aardvark by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, April 22, 2014) - Hall uses his characteristic style to create a fun story with repetitive lines and the need to make predictions.

So, what are you reading?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie Blog Tour with Interview & Giveaway

Thank you to Chronicle Books and Megan Jean Sovern for inviting me to be a part of this Blog Tour for The Meaning of Maggie.  

So, first can I say where was this book when I was a couple of years older than Maggie and my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? 

If THE MEANING OF MAGGIE had existed way, way back then, it would have been my favorite book and you would have been my favorite author. (I still think you are really cool. =>) I really felt that no one understood especially since my mother's MS wasn't as visible in those early years but it still significantly impacted my family and me.

It’s just so curious because I really struggled with whether or not it should ever be revealed that Maggie’s dad has MS. I just didn’t think enough people would be able to relate to it. I was always the only kid with a parent who had it. And to be honest, I never felt a real connection to the illness. I heard those two letters a lot around my house but I never really knew what they meant. My dad could have had a really prolonged case of the chickenpox for all I knew.

But in the end it seemed most right to share that he had MS. We didn’t want to keep readers in the dark especially when we were asking so much of them. This story is a big emotional investment. That’s why I advise reading it with chocolate in close proximity.

As you were writing the story, were you thinking about the story that you wanted to tell or did you also think about how it might resonate with other readers who had their own experiences with a family member with MS?  I know that everyone's story/experience is different but when I meet someone who had a parent with MS I feel a certain connection with them. 

When I started writing I didn’t consider the reader as much as I considered the story. And how this story about these people being challenged by this disease was one worth telling. I didn’t think as much readers because I didn’t know if there would ever be any readers. It was just a Word Document for such a long time. One that I kept coming back to not knowing if I would ever let it see the light of day.

This story was in my bones because I lived it in many ways and because I just couldn’t walk away from it. No matter how hard I tried.

But now that it is out in the world, I’m so happy people with similar stories feel connected to it.

You chose to set the book in 1988 (not sure if that makes it historical fiction or not?!), but was there a reason to tell the story in that time period vs. the present day? From reading some things on-line and in the acknowledgements, it seems that the story is very autobiographical and I was wondering if that played a part in the decision for the time period? 

I mostly set the book in 1988 because I didn’t want Maggie to be able to Google every single thing. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding her life that could be easily solved with the Internet. I also set it in 1988 because that’s when Spaceballs came out on VHS and it was really important to me that Maggie like Spaceballs.

In one review on-line, someone mentioned that it felt odd that Maggie's family would have kept her in the dark about her father's condition. Since my mother tried to keep her diagnosis hidden for a while, I could relate to Maggie and also to her discovery of what MS is. Do you feel that families are more open to talking about these kinds of issues or concerns with children today than they were 20+ years ago? 

I don’t know if families are more open about sharing big issues today because they want to. I think it may be out of necessity. Again, kids just have access to so much information and I think you want them to be informed in an educated and responsible way. The Internet is a scary place for everybody. Except for cats. I feel like cats have a really safe and cozy home on the Internet.

I noticed that Chronicle has included the soundtrack ( ) for the book? How did you select the music?  

Every book should have a soundtrack. We should really try to get this signed into law. The music we chose is pulled from the pages of Maggie. Her dad is such a dedicated hippie fan of rock n’ roll and the scenes they share over music are some of my favorites. I also listened to so much of it while I was writing. The Rolling Stones have some mellower melodies that are perfect for writing. Just put on Wild Horses and heat up a muffin and you have a perfect day of revising ahead of you.

To shift directions some, do you have other stories that you plan on sharing with readers? Any projects that you are working on that you can share with us? 

Oh gosh, I do have another story I am working on but it’s in the very early Post-It note and scrap paper stages. But I have high hopes it will take shape. Other than that I am doing my best to share Maggie with the world. I am also trying to keep three tomato plants alive. I don’t have such high hopes for them.

Finally, were there any questions that you wish I had asked? If so, what was it and what would be your answer? 

I wish you would have asked me my favorite thing about cinnamon rolls. And I would have said I love EVERYTHING about cinnamon rolls.

By the way, I truly appreciate your choice and the choice of Chronicle Books to donate a portion of the sales of the book to the National MS Society. 

I think I cried more buckets when Chronicle Books told me about this generous donation than when they actually bought Maggie. It just means the world. They are good people. Yes, indeed.

Side note: The nature of this book just hit me on a much more personal level then most books do that my questions were of a much more personal nature and I appreciate Megan's willingness to answer them. Here was her final comment...

I just can’t believe there are others out there like us! I really hope you felt at home in this story. It has been such a nice thing for me to come back to whenever I need to revisit all those many moons ago. MS is a terrible, horrible thing. But it does offer a few beautiful moments. Watching my dad give it his all shaped my whole entire life. I’m sure you feel the same way about your mom. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

by Megan Jean Sovern
Chronicle Books (May 6, 2014)
Audience: Ages 8-12

About the book:
As befits a future President of the United States of America, Maggie Mayfield has decided to write a memoir of the past year of her life. And what a banner year it’s been! During this period she’s Student of the Month on a regular basis, an official shareholder of Coca-Cola stock, and defending Science Fair champion. Most importantly, though, this is the year Maggie has to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and finally learn why her cool-dude dad is in a wheelchair, no matter how scary that is. Author Megan Jean Sovern, herself the daughter of a dad with multiple sclerosis, writes with the funny grace and assured prose of a new literary star.

A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this book will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Read a chapter here:

Meaning of Maggie by ChronicleBooks

Watch the Official Book Trailer:

Additional resources: Discussion Guide
click on image to go to PDF

About the author:

Megan Jean Sovern is a purveyor of fine teas, old time-y music and hugs. Recently she was in a bad break-up with muffins and her life hasn’t been the same since. She’s often mistaken for a seventh grader but don’t be fooled, she is very grown-up. A grown-up who watches television past ten o’clock and everything.

Before her first leap into fiction, she was an advertising copywriter for many moons where she worked with top-notch talent mostly named Matt or Karen.

She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Ted and his near complete collection of Transformers. He doesn’t like it when she says, “Zoinks.”

Her website: 

Additional Blog Tour Stops:

5/13/2014          Chronicle  
5/14/2014          VVB32 reads   
5/15/2014          Mother Daughter Book Club    
5/16/2014          Actin' Up with Books   
5/17/2014          The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia       
5/18/2014          Kid Lit Frenzy 
5/19/2014          The Children's Book Review    
5/20/2014          Let's Get Busy podcast

Thank you to Chronicle Books, one lucky reader will be selected to receive a copy of The Meaning of Maggie plus a set of Maggie buttons.  You must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address.  Please enter the giveaway by filling out the Rafflecopter below.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Celebrate This Week - May 17, 2014

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week, and well last week too...

I missed being able to do a Celebrate This Week post last Saturday.  As a result, I am sharing my celebrations from the past two weeks.

1.  Debut Author Launch Parties - In Southern California, I am fortunate to meet and get to know and interact with a number of Children's and Young Adult authors.  Recently, I was invited to attend the Book Launch Parties for Tracy Holczer (The Secret Hum of a Daisy) and Catherine Linka (A Girl Called Fearless). Both of these authors are super nice and their books are amazing.  I was thankful for the opportunity to celebrate their books with them and their friends.

Tracy Holczer does a dramatic reading of The Secret Hum of a Daisy.
Catherine Linka talks about her book, A Girl Called Fearless.
2.  End of the Year School Open House - Not this past week, but the week before, I had the chance to attend Open House at several of our elementary schools. I love going and watching children and parents visit classrooms and celebrate learning with their teachers.  It is certainly a time when teachers get to shine and show off all the wonderful things that they have been doing with their students.

Art from one first grade classroom.
3. Screening of The Fault in our Stars - Earlier this week, I received an email from my Penguin Book Rep asking if I would like to attend a special screening of the movie version of The Fault in our Stars. I jumped at the chance to go with several other book buddies. It is one of those rare times where the movie adaptation of the book is well done, and I was glad for the opportunity to see it with friends. The movie releases on June 6, 2014.  Even if you have not read the book, you should still go see it, and then read the book afterwards. 

4. Cross Country Collaborations - Social Media may seem strange to those who do not understand it but for me it has opened up some amazing doors to collaborate with colleagues across the country.  Those collaborations have resulted in new friendships, great discussions, and opportunities to speak at conferences such as the American Library Association Annual Convention (June 2014) and the National Council of Teachers Annual Convention (November 2014). I will be sharing more about this in future blog posts.

5.  Local Collaborations - Alethea (@frootjoos) and I had dinner last night with our friend, Non (@subjectplusverb).  Last night, we talked about various book and literacy projects that we were engaged in and the possibility of collaborating on future ones. One of the things, we talked about was what we loved to spend time doing.  I suspect that Alethea, Non, and I will never be on some fast-track to becoming billionaires, but our priorities were certainly in the right place.  I, especially, loved hearing Non talk about those things that were most important to him, such as, the time spent building his relationship with his wife, or doing projects or volunteer work that were meaningful and made a difference. I am so thankful for those that I have encountered in this journey called life that understand what is really important, and are willing to celebrate that with others. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw Blog Tour: Character Introduction & Giveaway

Thank you Walden Pond Press and Christopher Healy for allowing to once again be a part of The Hero's Guide Blog Tour.  I am frequently placing this book series in the hands of teachers and students, and hand-selling it at my local indie bookstore.  So, of course, when I was asked to participate I had to say "yes".

by Christopher Healy
Audience: 9 to 13 year olds
Fiction * Fantasy * Adventure
Walden Pond Press
April 29, 2014

About the book:
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. The Princes Charming, along with Ella, Snow, Rapunzel, and Princess Lila are caught and arrested for the murder of Briar Rose. The heroes are simultaneously shocked and sad to hear of this news. But a series of suspicious events leads them to believe that not only is Briar still alive, but some unseen evil is working its way into the throne rooms of all thirteen kingdoms. It’s up to the League to break out of prison, find Briar, and uncover the nefarious plot before the entire country is destroyed.

This year I am introducing:

7. Erik the Mauve

Occupation: Bounty Hunter
Affiliation: Gang Greenfang
Kingdom of Origin: Jangleheim
Current Residence: A mongoose farm on the shores of Lake Stoutness
Father: Erik the Beast-Master (stage name)
Known Partners: Greenfang, Periwinkle Pete, Orangebeard, Corin Silversword, Norin Black-Ax
Longtime Rival: Dorcus the Red, the bounty hunter who took the name-color Erik was hoping to use
Likes: Bullwhips; trivia night at the Skewered Seahorse; giant mongeese
Dislikes: Fleas; bugbears; people who say “mongooses”
Signature Move: The Growl-and-Pounce Giant Mongoose
Attack Quote: “Oh, I ain’t gonna hurt you. The mongeese, though? Well, I can’t speak for them.”
Little Known Fact: Erik’s father was once a mongoose trainer for the Flimsham Brothers Circus. He was fired after an unfortunate incident that resulted in the final performance of Flimsham’s resident snake charmer.

Check out the book trailer:

About the author:
Christopher Healy is the author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which the New York Times selected as one of its best books of the year, calling it “charming—a quest that recalls at moments the Musketeers and at others the Marxes”; as well as its sequel, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, which Publishers Weekly hailed as “uproariously funny” in a starred review. He is also a reviewer of children’s media. Chris lives with his wife and two children in New Jersey. You can find him online at

Check out the Hero's Guide to Being a Blog Tour 

5/1 - The Book Rat
5/5 – Icey Books
5/8 - The Book Rat
5/16 - KidLit Frenzy
5/19 - Mundie Kids
5/23 - Novel Novice
5/26 - Mundie Kids
5/28 - Small Review
5/30 - The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia


Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (The League of Princes #3). Thank you Walden Pond Press for sponsoring the giveaway.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mouseheart Review & Giveaway

by Lisa Fiedler; Illustrated by Vivienne To
Audience: Ages 8 to 12 years
Fiction * Adventure * Animal Fantasy
Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster
May 20, 2014

Hopper is just an ordinary pet-shop mouse—until he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization. 

But all is not as it seems. Hopper misses Pinkie and Pup, the siblings he lost in the escape attempt. Atlantia is constantly threatened by roving rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere, cats who would normally eat a rodent in a second, but leave the rats unharmed . . . and no one can seem to answer why. 

Soon Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of an epic battle, one that spans generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets. Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends. 

And one powerful secret about himself.

When I first heard about Mouseheart, there was a comparison to the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.  Surprisingly, for someone who does not typically like animal stories, I loved the Redwall Series. It was fantasy at it's finest and a great cast of animals, with epic stories and battles and journeys.  As a result, I was curious to read this book.

Whereas, Redwall is completely set in some medieval time period, Mouseheart begins in a pet shop in of all places Brooklyn, New York.  Soon though, readers follow Hopper as he escapes with his siblings and ends up in a medieval setting under Brooklyn. Atlantia of course has rats and mice and  felines.  There are those that are friends and those to be leery of, and Hopper has to decide who is friend and who is foe.

Adventure stories are also journey stories and for our very unlikley hero, Hopper, he must find the strength and courage to overcome his fears, and discover who he really is.  As a warning, Mouseheart is the first book in a series and does leave readers with some unanswered questions, and a desire to read the second book. 

The artwork in the Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) was not complete, so, it will be interesting to see the final artwork.  I know from speaking with my ARC Group (several students who gather to read ARCs and book talk to other students), though the cover art is stunning, it did scare away some of my more timid readers. It is true that there is some suspense and definitely some worrisome parts, but I have certainly read scarier books geared for the Middle Grade audience.  Consequently, it may be helpful to read bits and portions from the book, in order to draw in readers who love fantasy adventure but may be concerned that the book is too scary for them.

The bottom-line: Students who love animal fantasy and adventure stories will thoroughly enjoy Mouseheart.

Professional Reviews: Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Lisa Fiedler is the author of several novels for children and young adults. She divides her time between Connecticut and the Rhode Island seashore, where she lives happily with her very patient husband, her brilliant and beloved daughter, and their two incredibly spoiled golden retrievers. 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Vivienne To has illustrated several books, including The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins and the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer. As a child, she had two pet mice escape. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia, with her partner and her ginger cat. Visit her at

Check out the official website here.

About the Giveaway:

One lucky reader has a chance of winning a special prize pack, which includes a copy of MOUSEHEART, THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, and BELLY UP.

Prizing & samples courtesy of Simon & Schuster.  You must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address to enter the Giveaway.  To submit and official entry, please enter the rafflecopter below.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Sea Turtle Scientist

by Stephen R. Swinburne
HMH Books for Young Readers (January 7, 2014)

Description from GoodReads:
Dr. Kimberly Stetwart, also known as the Turtle Lady of St. Kitts, is already waiting at midnight when an 800-pound leatherback sea turtle crawls out of the Caribbean surf and onto the sandy beach. The mother turtle has a vital job to do: dig a nest in which she will lay eggs that will hatch into part of the next generation of leatherbacks. With only one in a thousand of the eggs for this critically endangered species resulting in an adult sea turtle, the odds are stacked against her and her offspring. Join the renowned author and photographer Steve Swinburne on a journey through history to learn how sea turtles came to be endangered, and what scientists like Kimberly are doing to save them. For the complete selection of books in this critically acclaimed, award-winning series, visit  

About Scientists in the Field: Where Science Adventure Meets -
The Scientists in the Field series shows people immersed in the unpredictable and dynamic natural world, making science more accessible, relevant, and exciting to young readers. Far from the research laboratory, these books show firsthand adventures in the great outdoors—adventures with a purpose. From climbing into a snake den with thousands of slithering snakes to tracking wolves, swimming with hammerhead sharks, and collecting bugs, readers experience the thrill of discovering the unknown.

The Scientists in the Field series has been deemed consistently excellent, imaginative, engaging, and informative. The series provides a broad range of curricular opportunities that will both teach and entertain children.

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| Discussion Guide for Sea Turtle Scientist

My thoughts on this book:
Lately, I seem to be partial to all things Scientist in the Field and National Geographic.  I have been trying out some activities with first and second graders using a variety of nonfiction titles. 

In Sea Turtle Scientist, Stephen R. Swinburne focuses on the work of Dr. Kimberly Stewart.  As I read about her work, I found myself not wanting to put the book down but instead to stay up late reading.  Additionally, I was struck by how hard it is to really observe and do research on sea turtles given their lifestyle and way of moving 1,000's of miles through the sea.  

For many of the first graders that I have been working with, Sea Turtle Scientist would be a challenge even as a read aloud.  However, the photographs tell their own stories and I found that by reading the text beforehand, I could summarize the text and use the photographs in a way that the students benefitted from the book.

We talked about Dr. Stewart and the type of education she would need to be a sea turtle scientist and also, how fun it would be to work on a beach and wear flip flops. It was a bit hard for students to understand why she would need to check the nests and also examine all of the egg shells.  I would love to bring in some flippers, sand and ping pong balls to help the students really begin to experience how difficult it is for the mother sea turtle to come from the sea to lay her eggs.  

I would highly recommend this book for grades three and up, but it could make a great read aloud for an attentive group of first and second graders. Below, I have included a few Sea Turtle Videos that you may want to use to front-load information for students or to supplement the books you are reading with them. I have also included some of my favorite Sea Turtle books for Kindergarten to Second grade.

All About Sea Turtles Video by Sea World:

Turtle Hatching:

Other Sea Turtle Books for Younger Readers:

Sea Turtles (National Geographic Readers) by Laura Marsh (National Geographic, 2011) - As with all of the super readers by National Geographic, this book does a great job of introducing younger students to sea turtles.

One Tiny Turtle: Read and Wonder by Nicola Davies; Illustrated by Jane Chapman (Candlewick Press, 2005) - I love this story and also the combination of narrative text with fact.

Scholastic Adventures With Books: One Tiny Turtle Classroom Activity Guide.

I'll Follow the Moon by Stephanie Lisa Tara; Illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi (Stephanie Lisa Tara Children's Books, 2012) - This fictional story in verse helps readers connect on a different level to the journey of baby sea turtles must begin when hatching from their nest.

On Kiki's Reef by Carol Malnor, Illustrated by Trina L. Hunner (Dawn Publications, March 1, 2014) - A 2014 release, On Kiki's Reef provides a narrative look at the journey of a sea turtle and the reference to the life cycle of sea turtles.

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Slice of Life - A Scattered Stream of Consciousness

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

In March, I did a #slice14 challenge post that was just random thoughts.  Someone suggested that I pick one thing and write about it.  Now that suggestion might have worked on that day.  My brain did not feel scattered.  Unfortunately, today, I am scattered.  Here's a glimpse at my evening...

I read a picture book that arrived in my mail today, and log it into GoodReads.

I check twitter. I post to twitter. I get caught up in a conversation on twitter.

I do the same on Facebook.  It seems that everyone I know is celebrating their NCTE '14 proposal news. I am not complaining. I am celebrating too, since I will be presenting with two wonderful teacher/librarians, Cynthia Alaniz and Lisa Morris-Wilkey

One of my best friends lives next door.  While I stop in to drop off some books for her youngest daughter, I soon find my friend demanding the follow up to Cinder by Marissa Meyers. I warned her it ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts. As I am sitting around, I tell the middle child that I was invited to a screening of The Fault in Our Stars. She received a copy of the book for her 13th birthday and read and loved it. Before she can be too annoyed that I am going to the screening, she switches over to telling me about This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl.  Somehow we get onto talking about Unwind and trying to convince her mom to read it.  When I head home, she follows me back so she can search my bookshelves for more books by Green. I think I have created a nerdfighter. As typical for my evening, I am missing my copy of Scarlet, but we did find Cress and several John Green books. I send Jax back with the stack and a promise to look at my bookshelves at work for Scarlet.

Once I am settled again at my laptop, I go back to several rounds of checking email, responding to emails, checking twitter, checking facebook.  I should be writing this post, or working on a project for tomorrow.  I am restless and can't settle down.  I head down rabbit holes as I look for a link or see an alert pop up on my screen.

Somehow, I manage to write something down.  Though I won't call it my best writing, I will say it is coherent, which is better than I could hope for at the moment.  And before I find another rabbit hole to follow, I am going to end this crazy ramble.

How many days until summer break?