Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Little Author in the Big Woods - MG biography review

Did you curl up with little Laura Ingalls as a kid?
Do you eagerly share Little House on the Prairie titles with your children and students?
Do you know anyone (including you) who is fascinated by Laura or her sisters?

Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Hardcover, 176 pages
Expected publication: September 16th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ISBN 080509542X (ISBN13: 9780805095425)
Source: Advance copy from publisher in exchange for my honest thoughts.

Many girls in elementary and middle school fall in love with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What they don’t always realize is that Wilder’s books are autobiographical. This narrative biography describes more of the details of the young Laura’s real life as a young pioneer homesteading with her family on many adventurous journeys. This biography, complete with charming illustrations, points out the differences between the fictional series as well as the many similarities. It’s a fascinating story of a much-celebrated writer.

My Thoughts:
I'm not usually excited about biographies. While I am always interested in learning more about fascinating characters in history, I tend to not be able to sit through an entire chapter book dedicated to the life of one individual. This one read more like a story, though.

Laura Rocks: The best thing about reading this book was finding out how amazing Laura herself truly was. I loved hearing how she decided to NOT include "obey" in her marriage vows. Her belief that homesteaders worked together and were truly equal made me smile. This author was just as independent, caring, and prone to getting into mischief as the Little House books made me believe.

Illustrations: The simple line drawings that are scattered throughout the book kept the old-time feeling alive. It made me want to pull my old books out (or find them at the library) and see how they compare to the novel illustrations.

Back Matter: I loved the wide variety of information provided at the end of the book. The back matter included:
  -- quotes by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  -- descriptions of games she would have played as a child
  -- directions for making a corn husk doll
  -- recipes for gingerbread, Johnny cakes, and homemade butter.

While this wasn't exactly a picture book - it certainly included pictures! So I'm going to link up to the weekly Non Fiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by KidLitFrenzy. Be sure to visit that blog every Wednesday for wonderful nonfiction titles!

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's Monday September 15th

Welcome back! I do love sharing what I've been reading. I hope you enjoy adding to your reading pile!

Don't forget to visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to see other amazing books for your home and classroom.

Let's start with some fabulous picture books! I've seen these two on other Monday posts, and I'm so glad I took the time to snag them from my local library. I'll be using them to reinforce some of the tenants of my class code... (I guess I should write a post about that... maybe for Slice tomorrow!)

"Be Cooperative"

Julia's House for Lost Creatures - by Ben Hatke

This is a fabulous story about a girl who invites lost and lonely creatures in to stay. They have to learn to work together to keep things running well. I adore Hatke's art (from Zita the Spacegirl, in particular) and the story is amazing!

Source: library

"Be Persistent" 

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

First, this is an excellent wordless story. The illustrations have just the right amount of detail to get the plot across, and I think kids will enjoy discussing what the girl does. She wants that bicycle, and she shows stick-to-it-iveness all along the way.

Source: library

Graphic Novels:
This was a trifecta of amaze-balls graphic novels! Something for every kind of reader.

Cece Bell shares her memories of growing up with hearing loss. I loved how she was able to communicate her feelings. I also appreciated the end note where she shares that each person's experience with hearing loss (or other things) is unique.
Source: Purchased

FANTASY and SCIENCE FICTION! If your students aren't already hooked on this series.... it's time to pick them up and get them in front of the kids.
Source: Purchased

Another wonderful memoir by Raina Telgemeier. All kids will eat this one up - whether they experience sibling issues or not.
Source: Purchased

Beautiful novel-in-verse describing Woodson's life as a child. A perfect pairing for civil rights units or even just units learning about families.
Source: Purchased

Saying goodbye to Origami Yoda isn't easy, but this final book in the series was absolutely wonderful. Looking forward to seeing what Tom does next!
Source: Purchased

I wasn't as excited about this installment as I have been with MANY of the other Bad Kitty stories. Still, it has a solid tale about Puppy and a good message about adopting animals.
(Comes out in January - I won it from Macmillan in a contest)

What have YOU been reading?

Previous Posts:
How to Make a Planet - full review for NFPB 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Make a Planet - NFPB review

Be sure to visit each Wednesday for a fabulous selection of nonfiction titles!

Sometimes a nonfiction book comes along that just totally knocks your socks off. It has just the right amount of information combined with style that would make a fabulous mentor text. Here is one of my favorite books of the year!

How to Make a Planet: A Step-By-Step Guide to Building the Earth

by Kids Can Press Inc
by Scott Forbes (author) and Jean Camden (illustrator) Hardcover, 64 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Kids Can Press
ISBN 1894786882 (ISBN13: 9781894786881)

Summary from Goodreads:
Young readers can follow along as two children perform an experiment in which they create a new planet, replicating in ten steps the exact processes that formed Earth. Within that context, author Scott Forbes manages to clearly explain basic concepts that span the science curriculum, including: chemistry (atoms, protons, neutrons, elements), physics (gravity), astronomy (star formation, supernovas, galaxies, the Milky Way, black holes), earth science (temperature, atmosphere, the water cycle, surface plates and how they've changed) and biology (cells, single-celled organisms, evolution, extinction).

My Thoughts:
How to Make a Planet has it all.

Information: How to Make a Planet is a great starting point for so many types of science. As mentioned in the Goodreads summary, it manages to touch upon almost everything that would be covered in an Earth & Space science course. While it can't get into a huge amount of detail on each topic, the author is still able to explain each concept clearly and concisely. I can imagine some students being more than satisfied with these descriptions, and others being motivated to seek our more in depth information.

Organization: While packed with amazing scientific information, the book is chunked into ten manageable "steps" with catchy titles like "Begin with a Bang!" and "Bake to Perfection". Each step is a few pages long, and is also well chunked with interesting subtitles, creative graphics, and fun factoids. I love the "time check" portion that helps kids get a feel for the immense stretches of time represented by each step.

The overall style is what really sold me on this book, though. The writing is spot on. Forbes is able to clearly communicate very complex information while still making it all sound so... cool! The kids who are learning how to "make a planet" are drawn as active, interesting children. The main character, illustrated in color, is first shown on a skateboard with a ringed planet on his shirt. I love that the illustrator, Camden, doesn't feel the need to make science kids fit any stereotypical appearance. Two other children appear throughout the story (drawn in shades of greenish blue). One is a boy and the other is a girl. They are also shown in active, engaged poses. It would have been nice to see a little more variety in physical types, though, as all three children appear to be caucasian.

Back Matter:
Rounding out the book is a solid back section. There is a page of "Amazing Facts", which are also well organized. There is a three page glossary with excellent definitions and an index at the end.

Recommended for:
Classes: Based on my district's current science program, this title would fit perfectly in the fourth grade classroom. It is sophisticated enough in concept to go into early middle school.

Students: You know you always have a few kids who are just gung-ho about space, right? Be sure to have this title on hand for them!

Classroom Uses
Science units on space and the formation of the Earth
Mentor text for "how to" writing
Pair with science fiction titles like Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Monday September 1st

Wait... what? Did that title really include the word "SEPTEMBER"?? That's just not right! Why does it seem like time speeds up each year?

Anyway - with summer now officially behind me (I was back to work for professional development last week, but students return this Tuesday) I'm hoping to get back on a more regular "It's Monday" posting schedule. I'm also hoping to tackle the stack of books I need to review....

Enough chatter, right? Time to get to the bookish thing.

Also - I forgot to link up last week's post. So here it is.

I love Enola Holmes. Add in the mysterious and fascinating Florence Nightingale, and this story is a big winner!

Wow! This is a great way to introduce science fiction to younger readers. The text isn't too difficult, and the setting is current day, so you can eliminate some of the hurdles kids often face as they tackle science fiction. I loved the story about the "fountain of youth" idea, and there's plenty of science and people in science to encourage readers to seek out more information after the book is complete. I plan to do a full review of this one coming up soon...

Best picture book this week:

I read a few, but my favorite had to be

Hardcover, 40 pages
Published August 27th 2013 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
ISBN 1442435828 (ISBN13: 9781442435827)
If you loved The Monster at the End of This Book (as I did), you'll love this one.

Don't forget to look at the back of the book as you close it!

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Monday August 25th

So, it's the last Monday of the summer.

Technically, though, my summer ended yesterday. I am back at work and ready to get another amazing year started! Somehow it seems to be easier to get these posts written when I am in a work-a-day mode. This post represents several weeks of reading... and I know my reading volume will slow considerably now that I'm back to work.

Don't forget to check out the tag #IMWAYR on Twitter and to visit and for the roundups of posts!

** (Must read 2014)
Amazing historical fiction. I loved the WWII setting and the powerful friendship between two amazing women. So glad this was on my Must Read 2014 list!

I love Gail Simone's run on Batgirl. This was a nice stand-alone story.

Not out out - but put it on your radar for September. A great introduction to the life of one of my favorite authors from childhood. I didn't know just how progressive and independent she was! I'm also looking forward to the adult memoirs from her diaries coming out soon.

** (Must read 2014)
Very dark tale of superheroes gone bad. For upper high school and adults. The art is fabulous, but the story doesn't feel as highly developed as I had hoped.

** (Must read 2014)
I'm glad I read it - but it didn't really do it for me. I loved the science fiction parts of the story a LOT... but the more realistic portions of the story rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like the story jumped all around and it made me a little seasick.

** (Must read 2014)
Did I mention I love Simone's Batgirl? I'm still catching up - there are 4 volumes out now. Very dark but Batgirl rocks the world.

Another September book to keep on your radar. This is a middle grade fantasy. Gaining magical powers makes for a rough transition to the teen years, and losing your beloved dog is even worse. Very well done story that I think kids will really like!

I love Young's artistic style, and I adore puffins. Your primary kids are going to get a huge kick out of this tale. (late September release date)

** (Must Read in 2014)
I just adore this series. Mixing science fiction with seriously fractured fairy tales is clearly my jam. I can't wait for Winter and Fairest!

Peek into the mind of a young man intent on murder-suicide. I listened to this one and it just about gutted me on a daily basis. So important - I think high schoolers and teachers from middle school on up should all read this book.

Silly and fun - a wonderful early science fiction novel for upper elementary. Pair with the picture book How to Make a Planet!

Middle grade fantasy/steam punk. It has fascinating world-building and intriguing characters. While it was not consistently well-paced, I was hooked on the world and the story by the end and will definitely continue this series.

Update on Must Read...

2014 - I have 9/44 left to read. Will I make it? Since I started with 36 and then added more, I won't be TOO hard on myself if one or two of the books slip to the 2015 list..

2015 - I've already started marking books for my Must Read 2015 list. I won't formalize it until the end of December, so some books may get removed and others may get added. Here's what I have so far...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stand up and Stand Out! Picture Book 10 for 10

It's time, once again, to dive into the stacks and pull out some favorite picture books.

Head on over to Reflect and Refine for the information on how to participate, then share your own Top Ten or just check out other lists!

When I started sorting through some of my favorite picture books from the past year, a few distinct themes jumped out at me. Most of them were biographies of amazing people. Others emphasized creativity and self-expression. So I'm going with the theme...


Let's get kids to recognize all the hard work it takes to earn and keep the rights and freedoms we sometimes take for granted.



My Country 'Tis of Thee uses the variations in this well known American song to share the history of the fight for equality in America.   (Full Review Here

Brave Girl is the perfect book to show how even young women can help change the course of history.

Elizabeth Leads the Way describes how one woman helped gain the rest of us the right to vote.

Pair either of those titles with Uprising - a young adult novel of the beginning of unions and early suffrage movement by Haddix.

(Find more titles that focus on HERstory here)  



The Noisy Paint Box - See the world your OWN way. Vasily Kandinsky found his way, sharing his artistic visions with the world.  Perfect to pair with A Mango Shaped Space - middle grade realistic fiction by Wendy Mass.

The Pilot and the Little Prince shares the story of the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince.   (Full Review Here)
Star Stuff - Okay, so this is a little bit of a tease (Sorry... not really sorry) because Star Stuff doesn't release until mid October 2014. Since I just finished reading Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass, where Sagan has a little chat with the characters, I couldn't resist putting this title out there. Get it on your radars!



Beekle - Get out there and find your tribe... your clan... or just the "one in particular" who will help you feel loved.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild - Express yourself in whatever way suits you. Sometimes that may mean you need to go a little wild.

The Most Magnificent Thing - Have you ever known just what you want to make, but it just doesn't come together? Isn't that the most frustrating thing? I loved how this book explored creativity, persistence, and the joy of making.

And one more.... "for luck"

You didn't think I'd get through TEN books and never mention Star Wars, right?

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's Monday - August 4th

Soo.... yeah... I haven't been doing such a great job on the blogging front this summer. You'd THINK that having more unstructured time would mean I would be MORE likely to get these posts done, right?


I have been busy. I'm tutoring, cleaning the house, and ran a month long online writing camp. Not as busy as during the school year, though. So what's the deal? I wish I knew. Still, I'm going to share some of my favorites from the past month today and hope that I can get back into the swing.

Don't forget to hit the sites of Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. THEY do a great job of posting frequently and sharing books!

I got hooked quickly on this one (though it had some flaws). Edie wants revenge on high school bullies and is sucked into a world where higher powers scheme and plot. Reminded me a lot of the demon law firm on Angel.

You KNOW I liked this one! Another good tale of fitting in and managing bullies.

LOVED IT! I'm not usually as happy with how authors wrap up their series, but I really loved what Bardugo did here. Excellent young adult fantasy series!

Ahh... Jeffrey Brown. Little kids will love the silly pictures. Big kids will love the Star Wars references that span the entire Star Wars Universe.

McBride has a talent for this kind of urban fantasy. I adore her snarky humor and the worlds she creates. If you like Butcher - definitely grab this and the Necromancer books!

Must Read in 2014 progress

I only read ONE of my "must reads" this past month.... (13 left to go out of 43!)

Only two (so far found?) male creatures are left after a mysterious something fells everything with a Y chromosome all over the world. Interesting setup, but I thought the arc ended in an odd place. I will be reading more in this series.


I also finally made time to read the first volume of this series! Teens discover that their parents are actually villains, and they run away to try to find a way to stop them. Excellent start to a series - I can't wait to read more!

Recent Posts:

Schneider Award Blog Tour - A Mango Shaped Space

Ooo.... that's it. That's the only post I had up since my last It's Monday post on July 14th... Ouch!
Blog design by Imagination Designs using images from the No Monsters Under My Bed kit by Lorie Davison