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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


Last Week’s Posts

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**


Tuesday: Books with a Love Story that We’ve Recently Read and Enjoyed

Wednesday: Heroes of Black History by Time Kids

Thursday: Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley

Friday: Kellee’s Classes’ Mock Caldecott Experience


 Last Week’s Journeys


Wow. Count Olaf is terrible! My student says to not give up, so I am moving on, but I am having a really hard time with all of the horrible things that are happening to these children. A table of my students who have read it and I had an interesting conversation about perspective: theirs vs. a mother’s/teacher’s.


Hi, all! I am away for the next two weeks and unable to post. I was at ALA Midwinter this past Sunday and Monday, and my sister is visiting from NYC this weekend through Wednesday. I look forward to catching you all next Monday!


This Week’s Expeditions


  • I am ready to make an official statement about something: I read books much more and much quicker when they are e-books, and I still comprehend them as well, and I like it! *gasp!* I had Mez’s Magic as a hardcover at home all week, and I just didn’t have a ton of time to read at home; however, I bought the ebook Saturday, and I have read more in 24 hours than I had all week. My phone is just everywhere with me, and I can easily read in bed, so it is just so much more efficient for me. That being said, I am loving Mez’s Magic, and I cannot wait to finish it now that I am chugging along. I had hoped to read one more Schrefer book before our Skype on Friday, but I don’t think that’ll happen, sadly.
  • I am moving onto Series of Unfortunate Events #2. I’m trusting my kids… We’ll see. So far the adults in the book aren’t failing the kids as much as in the first.
  • I have so much to choose after this. We’ll see!


Upcoming Week’s Posts

Tuesday: Ten of Trent’s Favorite Books as of His Fourth Birthday

Wednesday: Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental

Thursday: Tough Tug by Margaret Read MacDonald

Friday: They Didn’t Teach THIS in Worm School by Simone Lia

Sunday: Author Guest Post!: “Let Me Tell You a Secret” by Barb Rosenstock, Author of many nonfiction texts including her newest, The Secret Kingdom


 So, what are you reading?

Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

 Signature andRickiSig


Last year was my first year taking part in a mock award when my lunch book club did the Mock Newbery. I loved the process and the conversations, but I really wanted to move to a less stressful book club and make the process more focused and to get more students involved, so I decided to do a mock award with my class; however, I knew that doing the Newbery well is a very long process, so I thought the Caldecott would be interesting to try with middle schoolers. And I was right!

When I decided to do a Mock Caldecott unit, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I turned to my friends on Twitter who have done Mock Caldecott lessons before. I also turned to good-ole Google. With all of this help and a bit of hard work, I felt pretty good to start.

Choosing Books

To pick books, I completely trusted my PLN and myself, and I chose 20 books that blew them and/or me away. The books were:

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert, Ill. by Lauren Castillo
After the Fall by Dan Santat
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, Ill. by Mike Curato
Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, Ill. by Kadir Nelson
Claymates by Dev Petty, Ill. by Lauren Eldridge
Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, Ill. by Pascal Lemaitre
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Ill. by Fred Koehler
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
La La La by Kate DiCamillo, Ill. by Jaime Kim
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Water by Michael Mahin, Ill. by Evan Turk
Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares
The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, Ill. by The Fan Brothers
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, Ill. by Eugene Yelchin
The Wolf, The Duck, & The Mouse by Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, Ill. by Christian Robinson
Windows by Julia Denos, Ill. By E.B. Goodale
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Standards and Learning Goals

To justify a Caldecott Unit, I needed to tie it to middle school standards, and I chose to focus on the standards of citing textual evidence to support analysis and presenting claims and findings with relevant evidence. There were also five secondary standards that fit the unit.

LAFS.8.RL.1.1 2 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
LAFS.8.SL.2.4 3 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
LAFS.8.SL.1.1d Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.
LAFS.8.RL.1.2 3 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
LAFS.8.RL.1.3 3 Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
LAFS.8.RL.2.5 3 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
LAFS.8.RL.2.6 3 Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.


After determining the standards, I created a scale to help plan my timeline. I knew I needed to start with the students understanding the Caldecott criteria and end with students presenting claims and evidence supporting their claim.

Level Target Evidence
4 I can do level 3 plus I have appropriate eye contact, volume, and clear pronunciation and can think on my feet during a discussion. Mock Caldecott discussion
3 I can present claims and findings with sound reasoning, relevance, and cite evidence from the text that supports my analysis. Choose which potential winners they believe will be honored and present this claim using evidence from the text.
2 I can cite evidence from a text that supports my analysis (using a set of criteria). Analyze past winners for criteria.

Analyze potential winners for criteria.

1 I understand the criteria I will be using to analyze a text. Caldecott criteria presentation

Example Beekle analysis

The next step, in my Google searching, I found a wonderful Slideshare by librarian Steven Engelfried from Portland, Oregon. Over about 40 minutes in two days we went through all of the criteria. We also talked about some art elements vocabulary that they would need to know and use during the unit (and I found Quizlets on Elements of Art and Art Mediums!)

I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know where to go from here… Luckily, there is an amazing teacher from Illinois named Jessica Lifshitz who teaches 5th grade and wrote such a brilliant post about the Mock Caldecott unit in her classroom, and I finally felt like I could proceed with this unit and do it well–all because of this post! I’ve emailed Jessica to thank her, but I also want to publicly do it here–thank you, Jessica!

The next step was sharing books that already won or were honored for the Caldecott. We started with Beekle by Dan Santat as a whole class. Then, my students, in partners, got to browse a huge pile of Caldecott books, and I asked them to answer for each book: “Why did this book win over the others? How did it meet the Caldecott criteria?” I also had them rotate partners to make sure they were hearing different opinions and voices. Here are some examples of student answers:

Du Iz Tak? I think this book was honored over other picture books in the year it was published because the story is fun and in a made-up language which made us think about what they were talking about and try to translate it to English. She uses lots of space and colors. Some pages there are no words which make the pictures necessary to understand it. The medium she uses are gouache and ink.
Journey This book was honored over the others because the illustrations had such good creativity and were very unique. There was no writing, so you had to rely on the pictures to tell the story. The bird found the girl after she set him free, and led him to a friend. The story has a very good meaning, and a good purpose. It had a variety of contrasting colors, and showed the most important stuff in bright colors. It had a very powerful visual experience. It showed the plot, setting, and characters in illustrations. Her world was bland in the beginning, but after she came into the new world, everything explodes with color.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub I think that this book was honored because all of the illustrations in the book are very detailed and tell the story without words. If you were to remove the words from the book you would still know what was going because all the pictures are very detailed and have a lot of different colors on every page.
Where the Wild Things Are I think this book was honored by how realistic the illustrations are and for how fun the story is. I love the leading lines the illustrator uses how there are no words over the illustrations giving the book plenty of white space. All the spreads have plenty of  happy colors which for me makes the book very appropriate for kids.
Swimmy The book was drawn with watercolors. The illustrator was very meticulous and detailed when he was painting the pictures. It actually felt like some objects had a texture  that you could feel. It was very entertaining. Younger children would be fascinated with the drawings and would love the story. This was a great book in all aspects.
Interrupting Chicken I think this book was honored because it included other famous stories but with a plot twist. They included little red riding hood and she was on her way to go to her grandma when she met a stranger and the chicken said don’t talk to strangers. Then the story ended so fast. The style of the chicken’s drawing of his own story was like a child’s actual drawing. It was very kiddy and I liked that the story was kind of based off of what the dad was trying to do to the chicken. He kept telling him stories but he never fell asleep. Now the chicken told him a story about his dad not falling asleep but in real life the dad fell asleep before the story ended. The illustrations look like they are painted and the colors are very warm to make the room seem cozy.

Now that they were experts on the criteria and saw example of winners/honors, it was time to jump into our Mock Caldecott titles. To evaluate these books, I had them look specifically at each part of the Caldecott Criteria, and they had to answer how the book fit or didn’t fit the criteria. I set up a pretty clear close reading process for them to follow:

  • First read: Just read the book and enjoy!
  • Second read: Focus on the illustrations. How do they meet Caldecott criteria? What does the author excel at? Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts.
  • Third read: Focus on the narrative elements of the story. Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts on how the illustrations enhanced the narrative.

Students started in pairs again then we scaffolded off to working independently. I also had them leave the Post-Its in the books, so the students were seeing thoughts across classes. Students were asked to get to at least ten of the mock books. We did this for over a week to allow them time to read as many as they can and also time to evaluate properly.

At the end of the unit and the Thursday and Friday before the ALA Youth Media Awards, it was time to start making predictions. First, I had them rank the books they read from favorite for the Caldecott to least favorite. Using these predictions, I gave books numerical scores and figured out average scores. I also had students get together in groups of three to five to pick their collaborative four favorite books and awarded bonus points. With all of these scores, I was able determine the winners for each class as well as for all of my classes.

The last thing my students did before finding out who had won was complete a written response answering:

  • What book do you feel best met the Caldecott criteria thus you feel should win?
  • What criteria did it most meet?
  • Share evidence supporting your claims.
    • Use RATE: Restate, Answer, Textual Evidence, Explain/Elaborate!

Some student responses:

  • I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win because it does appeal to kids because it is very colorful, with much space so they can focus on what is important. The rest of the book is white except for the illustrations, which I think is easier for the kids to understand what is important. Also, the illustrator used a lot of artistic medium, with paint, pen, and other things, she made very good illustrations that connected with the story. They really made a visual experience, because if you just had the story, you would not know what was going on at all, and so you had to depend on the pictures to tell the story. I think that this book should win the Mock Caldecott award because I think that it deserves it with beautiful illustrations that have a good meaning and theme, and I think that they really appeal to kids, and so therefore should win the Mock Caldecott Award. The illustrations were very nice, and they tell the characters, and other narrative elements. There was a lot of line, space, colors and other things that made the illustrations very unique among other illustrations by other illustrators. The colors did change depending on many things, and the color choices were very good. I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win the Mock Caldecott Award.
  • I think After the Fall would win the Caldecott. The reasoning in this is because with the amount of detail put into the text more specifically the illustrations. The illustrations in the book show a big part of the story. It shows the sequence of events with the illustrations now that the egg falls then he lives a sad life without being able to climb due to his fear. You can see the emotion and detail with everything he does not like being grey or showing sadness. Then, in the end, he made an invention to be able to fly again a mini plane even with him having bandages and being injured after the fall. He tests it out and then it gets stuck on where he fell he decides to go up and with the pictures you could see how stressed out he was. Then at the end, you can see the light and feathers cracking showing that he is becoming a bird. But that’s not the first reference throughout the book it shows birds on every page giving reference to the end of it. Then you see him fly away into the sky after he hatches. That is why After the Fall will win the Caldecott.
  • The book Little Fox In The Forest is going to win because of its unique illustrations. These illustrations such as when the Little girl lives in a colorless world and brings her colorless fox to show and tell. When the little girl is swinging on the swing she finds the orange fox stealing her colorless stuffed fox . Now the little girl and her best friend is chasing the fox and follows the fox in the forest. Then all the sudden you start to see little experts of color, and then there was a very colorful magical forest. This book was such a good using of artistic medium and a very good visual experience this book definitely deserves to be on top.
  • I think Wolf in the Snow should win the mock Caldecott because of the detail in the illustrations. It has a story in the illustrations which is about a wolf cub and a girl who help each other out. The detail in the wolves and every picture is great, for example, the wolves breath due to the cold environment they are in. This book really appeals to kids because of the illustrations they are showing like when the wolf stares at the girl holding the wolf cub, and it creates a questioning of what will happen next. This book does not need words at all because you can already see the story from the illustrations. This means there is a great visual experience in the book.
  • The book that I think will win the Caldecott is Flashlight Night by Fred Koehler the illustrator of this book. I think this book will win because it tells the story with the imaginations of kids and uses lots of colors and is told amazingly. I think this book appeals to kids because it shows how you imaginations can take you anywhere. The art to make this book was very detail from one illustration to the next. The illustrations work amazing with the story because depending on what the illustration was the story would match up perfectly with it. This are some of the reasons why I think that Flashlight Night should win the Mock Caldecott this year.

Our Winners

The ALA Youth Media Awards

On Monday, February 12th, my classes watch the ALA Youth Media Awards either live or recorded, and it was so much fun to watch their reactions when they saw books they read or their disappointment when their favorites didn’t win. We were so excited to see Grand Canyon and Wolf in the Snow honored with the Caldecott, and the students who put them high on their prediction felt so validated. There were three Caldecott honor books that we hadn’t had in our pile, so we have them coming from the public library, and I promised them that we’d have a conversation on why those titles may have won over the ones that we chose.

This unit was one of my favorite lessons ever, and I was so impressed with my students and the quality of books! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this possible, and I hope that if you are reading this and never done a Mock Caldecott award that you now feel like you could because if I can, you can 🙂 


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Love, Mama
Author and Illustrator: Jeanette Bradley
Published January 9th, 2018

Summary: With a heartwarming story and tender illustrations, Jeanette Bradley’s debut picture book Love, Mama is perfect for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and any day when a child needs a reminder of the strength of a mother’s love.

When Mama leaves her young penguin Kipling, he knows she’ll return home soon—yet he still can’t help but miss her. After all, Pillow Mama won’t read, Picture Mama won’t laugh, and Snow Mama is too cold to cuddle.

But then Kipling receives a special delivery from Mama, including a note that reads:

My love for you stretches across the wide ocean, 
through day and night, 
from earth to sky 
and back again.

And Kipling knows that no matter where Mama is, he is loved. Soon, Mama comes home, and Kipling ends the day where he belongs—right in her arms.

Ricki’s Review: This is a charming book that is perfect for Valentine’s Day week. I was thinking of Kipling today when I walked into my son’s school, and he said, “Why did it take you so long to get here?” I remember always feeling like I was waiting interminably long for my parents to get to school. It’s very tricky for kids to understand a sense of time. This book is a great conversation starter between parents and kids. It might be particularly good for kids who are living across multiple houses due do a divorce. The note that Mama writes does a beautiful job capturing a mother’s love. 

Kellee’s Review: I am such a sucker for penguin books! And a penguin book about a son’s love for his mama? Melted my heart! And I can see so many different times this book will come in handy to read to Trent including when I have to leave for longer than a day, when he asks how much I love him, or if he asks why I need to leave. The author complimented her sweet text so nicely with soft, detailed illustrations that help support the mood of the story. Trent and I have already read this more than once, and I know there will be more reads in the future. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Kipling do while he waits for Mama? Does it help? What does he learn?
  • What personification do you see in Mama’s note to Kipling? Other figurative language?
  • What is the message of the story? What does Mama’s return teach Kipling?
  • Have you ever waited for someone you love? What did that feel like?
  • Who do you think the other adult penguin in the book is?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to write their own metaphor letters to family members to describe their love. This would be a great activity that teaches figurative language and also allows students to show their families their appreciation. Alternatively, teachers might ask students to compare and contrast the things that Kipling does to try to recreate Mama while she is gone. Then, they might think of other things that Kipling might do while he waits for Mama.

Flagged Passage:

Read This If You Love: Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Love by Matt de la Peña, Forever by Emma Dodd, If I Were a Penguin by Anne Wilkinson,

Recommended For: 


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Heroes of Black History: Biographies of Four Great Americans
Author: The Editors of Times for Kids
Introduction by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Published December 19th, 2017 by Times for Kids

Blog Tour Week 4’s Feature American:
Barack Obama

Summary: TIME for Kids Heroes of Black History presents the stories of four great American heroes every child should know about in one volume: Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama. Featuring an introduction by journalist and civil rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Heroes of Black History shines a light on the long fight for social justice in the United States as it highlights the accomplishments and personal histories of these four pivotal Americans.

Young readers learn about the life of Harriet Tubman—born a slave around 1820, she escaped to the North, but returned to the South nineteen times as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to lead 300 slaves to freedom. An incredibly gifted athlete, Jackie Robinson endured taunts, slurs, and death threats when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955 and paved the way for a Supreme Court decision that declared segregation on Alabama’s public buses was unconstitutional. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office as our country’s first African American president. 

Illustrated with a dynamic mix of photographs and illustrations, the biographies of these Americans delve deeper than their accomplishments to reveal details on their childhoods, early experiences, schooling, family life, and more. Sidebars about related topics—Underground Railroad routes, sports firsts, the Harlem Renaissance, and more—give context and additional insights for young readers. Heroes of Black History also gives readers a timeline overview of three centuries of African American history, beginning with the slave trade, touching upon the formation of the NAACP, the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, and other pivotal events, up through the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Brief profiles of more than twenty additional heroes of black history, a glossary of key terms, and a detailed index are also included in this comprehensive book.

ReviewWhen I was asked to take part in this blog tour, I knew right away that I wanted to be part of week 4 of the tour to focus on Barack Obama for a few reasons: 1) I need a reminder of modern heroism; 2) I’ve featured the other three Americans on Unleashing Readers before (Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks); 3) The Obamas, in my opinion, are the perfect couple to feature on a Valentine’s Day post.

Obama’s biography within this text reminded me that hard work, high ethics, kindness, love, and intelligence can lead to success and that being cutthroat or brutal are not the key features in heroes of mine. The biography, overall, was quite simple and focused on the main points of Obama’s life and presidency; however, it is a wonderful introduction to his life thus far and really ensures that readers understand how he got to where he is and how he changed history. It was so refreshing to read about a person that faced discrimination and resistance with such grace and resilience.

I also got to glimpse into the upbringing of Obama which I ended up knowing less about than I thought. I hadn’t realized he hardly knew his father nor that he lived in Indonesia for a while before returning to live with his grandparents in Hawaii. All of this lead to Michelle and him meeting while he was completing an internship–her stability appealed to him. And that was the beginning of a beautiful romance. And the beginning of a journey that neither of them probably saw coming.

The other sections in this text follow similar suits in that they are wonderful introductions of each historically significant American.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: This four-stories-in-one biography from Time has so many applicable uses in classrooms! The publisher created teaching guide shares discussion questions, topics for writing, a scavenger hunt, more heroes of Black history, activities for students for each biography, a cloze read book review, and fast facts for each hero.

The teaching guide can be accessed here.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Biographies, History

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall 


**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for hosting the blog tour and providing a copy for review!**

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This feature allows us to make lists, which may be one of our favorite things to do!

 Today’s Topic: Ten Books with a Love Story that We’ve Recently Read and Enjoyed


1. Love by Matt de la Peña

Have I mentioned how much I love this book? I LOVE this book!

2. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Adam beautifully captures love in so many forms in this text.

3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I REREAD this book for the sixth time this week to teach it. It is one of the most beautiful stories that I’ve ever read.

4. Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares

This recently published book is one of my favorite read-alouds. The love story is stunning.

5. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Okay, this one wasn’t very recent read. But I love it, and I REREAD it recently for one of the classes I teach.


Boo! It is so hard when Ricki beats me to TTT posts (and I know she agrees vice versa) because we try really hard not to overlap. Although I don’t know if I’d consider Love to be a typical love story, it definitely is a story about loving all of mankind, and it would have definitely been on my list, too. I also wanted to put Red & Lulu on my list, but alas, Ricki beat me. Luckily, I’ve read five other awesome books that include a story of love.  I must side note for all of these: None of them are romance books though. They just all have love included and enhanced their story.

1. Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Miriam isn’t seeking love and is actually trying to avoid it, but within her story of identity and family, a love interest enters and adds one more complication (or positive addition) to her life.

2. The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

Kyle does fall in love, but The Memory of Things is a story of loss and survival after 9/11 that has a love story within it.

3. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Both of Shusterman’s Arc of the Scythe books include elements of romance; however, they are all side stories, but they add more to the characters’ stories (or more conflicts!).

4. American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Love is a main theme in American Street including looking at love in an abusive relationship and love with hesitation.

5. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera


They love and they die at the end. Adam Silvera so knows how to write a love story that is different than others as well as stories that will rip out your heart.

Which love stories did you read recently and enjoy?

RickiSig and Signature


IMWAYR 2015 logo

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


Last Week’s Posts

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**


Tuesday: Books That Have Been on our TBR List the Longest

Wednesday: History’s Mysteries by Kitson Jazynka

Friday: SuperPowers! by M.H. Clark

Sunday: Author Guest Post!: “Art in Stories” by Nancy K. Lodge, Author of Mona Lisa’s Ghost (Lucy Nightingale #2)


 Last Week’s Journeys



  • Eliot Schrefer! I had no idea! I am sure you all know how much I love his Ape Quartet’s first three books and overall am just a huge fan of Eliot as a person and author. When I first read Endangered, I went and looked up his past books and saw that they were quite different than the new direction of his books, and I just never got around to reading them; however, Eliot is my book club’s February author, and one of my girls chose to buy The Deadly Sister and read it, so I made sure to also to allow for us to chat about it. Wow! What a dark, twisted story!
  • Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz lived up to all of the recommendations I’ve gotten for it. It is hard to talk about it with positive adjectives just because of the truly devastating story that Gratz shares with his readers. Jack Gruener’s story which is unbelievable yet was six years of his life. I highly recommend this novel (and I’ve already passed it onto a student!).

  • I found out a couple of years ago that Ferdinand was one of my husband’s favorite books when he was younger, and I tried to read it with Trent, but he had no interest. However, this week he chose it as one of his bedtime books, and he loved it! When we got done, he asked if it was the same as the movie, and I had a surprisingly deep conversation about the differences between the book and movie with my almost four-year-old.
  • Hoopla, through my public library, has so many audiobooks to chose from for kids; however, many of them are commercial like Disney or Nick, so I’ve been trying to listen, in the car, to the ones with Trent that aren’t brand name. I downloaded The Little Shop of Monsters on Monday, and Trent became obsessed. We’ve probably listened to it twelve times. Since he liked it, I also got the book from my public library, so now he can follow along.
  • Recently, Trent has switched from wanting to be a zoologist to wanting to be an astronaut. Part of this new love is a focus on our space books including Oh No, Astro! and Earth! which Trent really loved. I am so impressed with how these authors combined humor, narrative, and information.
    • Trent also recently got a “Moon in Your Room,” and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a young kid. Each day we look up what phase the moon is in, and we set it up to match (if you have an Apple Watch, you can look at it on there!). It then is a nightlight, but turns off after 30 minutes.

Hi, all! I am away for the next two weeks and unable to post. I’ll be at ALA Midwinter this Sunday and Monday, and my sister is visiting from NYC the following weekend for the long weekend. I look forward to catching you all soon!


This Week’s Expeditions

  • I have started the Series of Unfortunate Events since I finished all of the Whatever After books that are out, and it is a series that ALL of my fourth period class who has read it said I have to. So far so Bad just like the title says.
  • I have two more Eliot Schrefer books I hope to read this week. I’ve started Mez’s Magic, and I love Mez’s voice! I’m assuming The School of Dangerous Girls will be super different and super good.


Upcoming Week’s Posts


Tuesday: Books with a Love Story that We’ve Recently Read and Enjoyed

Wednesday: Heroes of Black History by Time Kids

Thursday: Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley

Friday: Kellee’s Classes’ Mock Caldecott Experience (and her reactions to the ALA Youth Media Awards)


 So, what are you reading?

Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

 Signature andRickiSig


Writing Science Fiction Fantasy for Middle Graders

I am thrilled to have this opportunity to talk about my books on Unleashing Readers. I came to fiction writing late, having spent most of my career as a professor at universities in the U.S. and in Italy. I have a PhD in Renaissance Art History, and it never occurred to me that I would someday write books for children. However, it must have been inevitable because my grandmother, Dorothy Kunhardt wrote some of the best-loved Picture Books of all time, the most famous of which is Pat the Bunny.

Learning to write fiction

Five years ago, I decided that I wanted to write books that would bring art and artists to life for children between the ages of nine and twelve. When I stopped teaching to write The Crystal Navigator, I knew nothing about writing fiction. However, I have been an avid reader all my life and to write well, one must be well read. Reading books by great writers like Ann Tyler, Flaubert, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, and of course, E.B. White is the most instructive way to learn how to construct a beautiful sentence without being flowery and sentimental, how to avoid using clichés, how to show rather than tell.

The rules laid down by the how-to write books- never use adverbs, stay away from adjectives too, don’t begin a book with a dream, waking up, walking on a beach- paralyzed me. Once I decided to forget them and wrote without worrying about rules, my writing became much better. However, it takes practice to be a good writer, and it takes time to learn how to edit. I had to teach myself not to get sidetracked with things that had nothing to do with the story. Every sentence must move the action along or the reader will get bored.

I think there are two ingredients that that make a good writer. First, great writers have read enough great literature to have internalized the rhythms of the written word. If you know what a sentence should sound like, you’ll be able to write sentences. Second, all great writers are great storytellers, and it’s the storytelling who keep us up at night. “Stylish writers make you admire them, but storytellers force you to read the next chapter.” I can’t remember where I read this, but it’s helpful. It takes a huge burden off my mind. Just allow yourself to write the story and worry about the writing later.

My Aim

My aim is to inspire a love of reading and spark of lifelong love of art. There are so many wonderful stories about the lives of great artists -what they were like, and the circumstances surrounding their most famous paintings-I knew would delight children.

A Literary Upbringing Helps

I grew surrounded by books. I gobbled up the Oz books, Alice in Wonderland, and I was addicted to Nancy Drew. Although I don’t think it makes a writer, I think it helps to grow up in a literary family. My maternal grandmother was a Lincoln scholar and author of fifty children’s Picture books. My father was a professor at Harvard Business School, who wrote books about ethics and economics. His father, Henry Cabot Lodge wrote about his experience in Viet Nam. And my great grandfather, George Cabot Lodge was a poet.

Plot and Characters Development for Mona Lisa’s Ghost?

Usually, I have a hard time coming up with a plot, but it was easier in the case of Mona Lisa’s Ghost. There are three sources of inspiration for the book. In 2004 I read an article about the Louvre Museum’s plans to scan the Mona Lisa to measure the paint layers. I thought ‘how ludicrous and yet how typical of art historians.’ On the other hand, what a great starting point for a mystery. A monstrous and deadly Spectrographic Scanner zooms into the Mona Lisa and causes a ghastly molecule-destroying syndrome. The second source of inspiration was the otherworldly landscape in the background of the Mona Lisa. It is truly a fantasy, where snow-capped mountains exist alongside sunlit rippling lakes and streams. I thought how wonderful it would be to enter the painting at the horizon-line, so I wrote about portal into the background of the painting. Finally, I was inspired by Einstein’s idea of creating our own reality was the third inspiration.

My character, Lucy is probably pretty much a self-portrait. She is braver than I am, but her impatience and humor are mine. My character Sam, the eleven-year-old genius is inspired by a dear cousin. Sam is an inventor with a wide knowledge of physics, communications, and Einstein. I had to read articles about physics, underground rivers, sound waves, how the telephone works, hence ‘faulty feedback loops.’ I like to think up interesting, fun things for Sam to invent, such as his program called Roving Tentacles, a digital, steerable telescope thingy and can go around corners and investigate or the Plasma Pinch, cloaking a person with plasma-like sound waves.

The Books

Drawing on my knowledge of art history, I have written the first two books in the Lucy Nightingale Adventure series about an eleven-year-old girl, as she learns to value herself and others. In both The Crystal Navigator and Mona Lisa’s Ghost, I incorporate art historical fact into a fantasy world where children travel alongside my protagonists, Lucy and her magical guide Wilbur. I want them to feel the exhilaration of flying though a star-crowded night and feel the spongy grass under their feet, as Lucy and Wilbur jump onto Sandro Botticelli’s flower-strewn meadow in his painting, the Primavera. I wanted children to imagine what it would be like to be hurled into the night sky over the little village in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night or to find a portal into the background landscape of the Mona Lisa.

In The Crystal Navigator, Lucy goes back in time to meet and helps famous artists. For example, she helps Leonardo da Vinci achieve the right expression on Lisa’s face. Lisa is a fun-loving, somewhat naughty teenager. Leonardo is at his wits end trying to stop her from making funny faces. He is about to give up when Lucy whispers to him, “Why not ask her husband to surprise her? Maybe she will smile the right way.” Sure enough, when Lisa sees her husband, her eyes light up with love and she smiles in the mysterious way that allows Leonardo to capture her soul.

On the rainy evening Lucy and Wilbur visit Michelangelo in his leaky hut in Rome, they find him in a particularly grumpy mood. He is furious because it’s always too dark for him to sculpt when he gets home from painting the Sistine Chapel. Lucy thinks of an ingenious way to help him see his sculptures at night. “Glue a candle to the visor of a wide-brimmed hat and you will have plenty of light to see your sculptures.”

Her last visit is with Vincent van Gogh in the year 1889 at the asylum in St. Remy, France. Vincent shows Lucy his panting, Starry Night and asks her what she sees. Lucy tells him she sees a “stormy painting, everything moves like ocean waves. The cypress tree is like a sea monster.” She marvels at the thick paint, the choppy lines of his brushstroke, and the smear where he dragged his finger through the paint. He tells her about his fears and she tried to comfort him.

Kirkus Reviews wrote this about The Crystal Navigator, “… Throughout this entertaining, fantastical debut, the author brings the artists and their paintings to life with resonant, informed vignettes. Each funny or soulful encounter gives Lucy opportunities to realize that she’s also an original, smart thinker…A vividly written work of juvenile fiction that mixes fantasy and suspense with messages of empowerment, history, art, and science.”  The book won a Mom’s Choice Award and Readers’ Favorite Best Educational Book of 2015.

This year, while editing Mona Lisa’s Ghost, book two in the series, I was lucky to have a group of bright sixth graders from a local school to help me with dialogue and plot. The book revolves around Leonardo da Vinci’s mysterious portrait of Lisa Gherardini and combines themes of reincarnation, science, and the theft of the Mona Lisa. Lucy and her best friend, Sam have formed SLARP, (Sam and Lucy’s Anomalies Research Project,) to investigate odd happenings in the universe. They find their first case while watching a class video about the newly-scanned Mona Lisa. The experiment to measure the paint layers with a Spectrographic Scanner has had terrible consequences. Lucy and Sam are horrified when they see that the painting is in chaos. A purple storm engulfs the sunny landscape, Lisa is crying, and letters float in her right eyeball.

If those weren’t reasons to investigate, one of their classmates, shy Melissa Blackwood, claims to be the reincarnation of Lisa Gherardini, the real Mona Lisa. She tells Lucy that she has come back to get the portrait her husband paid for, but which Leonardo never delivered to her. Then the painting vanishes without a trace and Lucy and Sam embark on a perilous chase to find it before the molecule-destroying syndrome destroys it. With Sam’s superphone, the Quetzal, a gadget equipped with a shape-shifting key, micro tracking chips, and deactivation program called Roving Tentacles, Lucy travels with Wilbur through the phantom-infested catacombs under Paris, down underground rivers were evil monsters flick their tails against Wilbur’s little boat, and back to sixteenth-century France where Leonardo is working for the French king.

In the end, SLARP’s first case is a success. They solve the mystery of who stole the panting and how it got fixed. If the details of the case were ever made public, it would stun the world and change the face of Quantum Physics forever.

One editorial reviewer wrote this about Mona Lisa’s Ghost: “Art historian Nancy Kunhardt Lodge’s Mona Lisa’s Ghost takes readers on a thoroughly researched, mesmerizing, and magical journey, incorporating a mix of art history, time-travel fantasy, communication across time, reincarnation, high-tech devices, science, and the mystery of the letters in the eye of the Mona Lisa.”

Mona Lisa’s Ghost was awarded a Gold Mom’s Choice Award. Both books have been published in Spanish by Madrid publisher Editorial Kolima.

In the end, the only critics who matter are the children we write for. I value all the wonderful letters I’ve received from children telling me how much they loved my books. They are the real reward. Thank you so much for giving me a chance to talk about my books.

Thank you, Nancy, for this wonderful post sharing your books and goals!


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