Red & Lulu
Author & Illustrator: Matt Tavares
Published September 19th, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Separation and miles cannot keep a determined cardinal from his loved one in an ode to serendipity and belief that is destined to be a new Christmas classic.

Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each another again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . .

From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.

Review: Wow, Matt Tavares! So much is going on in this book, and it is all beautiful. First, we meet the stars of our book: Red & Lulu, and you’ll love them right away. Their love flies off the page. And the scene when they are separated broke my heart! And since I don’t read summaries, I had no idea what was going to happen, and it was so sad, but Red would not give up.

In addition to the story of love and separation, it is also a story of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. Tavares includes back matter about the tree, its history, and traditions. Through its inclusion and the repetition of “O, Christmas Tree,” the mood is set and you are transported to NYC at Christmas time.

Finally, I cannot forget to mention the AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL illustrations. They took my breath away. They are edge to edge, inclusive, and so detailed.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Red & Lulu is going to be an instantaneous Christmas classic! And I loved the discussion of Rockefeller Center which allows for a historical and American tradition conversation around the book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is so special about the very final page of the book?
  • How can you tell the difference between Red & Lulu? Why did the author choose to illustrate them that way?
  • How did the author’s repetition of “O, Christmas Tree” affect the mood of the book? And what did the lyrics indicate in the story?
  • Before you knew where Lulu ended up, what clues did Matt Tavares include to foreshadow where Lulu was?
  • Which spread of illustrations is your favorite? Why?
  • What did you learn about Rockefeller Center and its Christmas Tree from the book? What would you like to learn more about?

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 


Read This If You Love: CHRISTMAS!, Birds by Kevin Henkes, Bluebird by Bob Staake, A Christmas Wish for Corduroy by B.G. Hennessy, Other titles on my student Maria’s Top Christmas Books List

Recommended For: 


**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review!**


Tagged with:

Inky’s Great Escape: The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
Published: November 7, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Inky’s Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape .
Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.

In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?

Ricki’s Review: Inky! This is a fun, thrilling text that will surely entertain a classroom of kids. I can imagine all of the questions that would accompany a read-aloud of this book. When my son and I read it, the first thing we did was research Inky’s story on the internet (see Kellee’s review for more info about this). We talked about all of the exciting ways that an octopus might escape from an aquarium. I love how the author creatively interpreted Inky’s story and made it a sort of challenge from Inky’s friend Blotchy. This made me chuckle. This text is versatile and could be used in many ways in the classroom, and it has high appeal. Kids will love it.

Kellee’s Review: Although Inky’s Great Escape is a fictionalized version of the events that happened at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016, if you go and research about the escape, you’ll learn that the Inky truly is one incredible octopus! Although Lyall used creative freedom to build up Inky’s backstory (he’d retired to the aquarium after many daring escapes, and only escaped from the aquarium because Blotchy challenged him), much of the escape sequence was what truly transpired when Inky made his escape. Kids will fall in love with Inky’s bravery, personality, and with his contrasting friend, Blotchy, who stayed behind. With colorful full page illustrations and two octopuses with character traits and personalities that will start conversations, Inky’s Great Escape is going to be a favorite read aloud and classroom library book in elementary classrooms (and would be a great companion to a cephalapoda discussion!).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might take some time to point out New Zealand on a map and to research the habitat in New Zealand. They might specifically look into Inky’s story and how the author took a bit of creative license to interpret the truth a bit. Teachers might also ask students to create their own escape stories with another animal. They could illustrate these and bind them into books!

Discussion Questions: Why does Inky decide to escape? What does he do?; What is Blotchy’s role in the story? How might we compare this to situations in our lives?; What is the true story? How did the author creatively interpret that story?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Loved: Prince and Pirate by Charlotte Gunnufson; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Tagged with:

Musnet series
1. The Mouse of Monet
2. Impressions of the Master
3. The Flames of Limelight
4. The Tears of the Painter

Author: Kickliy
Published August 2nd, 2016; November 1st, 2016; April 11th, 2017; October 10th, 2017 by odod books

Summary: A young boy mouse travels the country side looking for work and happens upon the Monet’s garden. He takes on a job and becomes inspired to learn to paint. Will he paint in the classical ways, or in the new style of the impressionist? Which way will his brush sway?

Musnet wants to be the best mouse painter that ever was. But, he’s caught between two worlds. On one paw, Musnet loves the classical style of his old teacher, the squirrel Remi. On the other paw, Musnet can’t help to be drawn to the fresh and new art of the human master, Monet. Which path will the Mus choose?

It’s dark season in Musnet’s world. His adoptive family faces eviction, his Master Remi is deathly ill, he’s chased by snakes, cats, and vampire bats, and—on top of all that—Musnet faces the most challenging painting commission of his life! Can he rise to challenges and brush them all away?

As snow and ice chill Monet’s garden, even colder things await Musnet this winter season. Mya, Musnet’s best friend, gets her own adventure. Chiby, the Japanese spider, gets in a tangle with a certain muscular rat. Is there even any room left for our vagabond mouse? Drama, action, adventure, abound in the final volume of the award nominated series.

Musnet is drawn and painted in a beautiful, lush and inky style popularized by Paul Pope and French comics masters such Blutch and Christophe Blain.

“It’s a really enjoyable story that brings Monet’s paintings to life through some incredibly sweet and memorable characters. It’s challenging and imaginative, and I’m sure it will spark an obsession with painting (and maybe also mice).”—Girls Like Comics

“This new series revolves around a painting mouse found in Monet’s famous gardens in Giverny: the nameless, orphan mouse is befriended by Mya and her mouse family, who live inside the artist’s house. Introduced to painting after he begins working for Remy, an old squirrel painter, he is enchanted by Monet’s work. Beautifully painted […] charming tale of humour, art, and adventure, as the little mouse grows to find his meaning and place in the world.”—The Guardian

Musnet: The Mouse of Monet is a gorgeous and friendly story about a mouse discovering his calling in life and also what he wants to be called. Take a friendly and likable orphaned mouse, place him in a beautifully rendered watercolor and ink medium with miniature Monet masterpieces and you get a stunning and engaging story of a mouse learning to become an artist. He makes friends, finds a mentor, and even gets to sneak a peek inside Monet’s studio. It’s incredibly well executed, entertaining, informative, and absolutely absorbing. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year.” —The Picture Book Review

Review: After I read book one of this series, I could not wait to share it with everyone I talked to: “I love when books include art history in them because it makes me feel at home since I grew up in art museums as a museum director’s daughter. Musnet is no different. As soon as I realized that Musnet had ended up in Monet’s famous garden, I was fascinated with Musnet’s story and his journey to becoming an artist. Kickliy’s artwork pays perfect homage to Monet’s work and is a beautiful backdrop to Musnet’s story.” And I was really excited to read the rest of the books in the series.

Luckily they did not disappoint! Book one was just an introduction to the characters who continued to mature throughout the arc of the story. Musnet’s situation fluctuates causing the reader to quickly move from relief to panic which ensures the reader wants to keep going through the series. Although the series begins with Musnet just looking for a home, it ends with Musnet looking for what life has in store for him as an artist.

But what makes this series even more unique is the level of graphics. Kickliy’s ink, watercolor, and oil illustrations are reminiscent of the period in which Monet lived–it is like reading art. Kickliy even paints little oil paintings for the book for whenever a Musnet or Monet work is shown.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: “Musnet lives in Monet’s garden. Was there a roach under Van Gogh’s bed? Or a fish behind Munch’s Scream? If so, what would their story be like?” Have students create stories of animals that ‘live’ in the background of famous paintings. They’d need to research the art styles for illustrations and the time period/place of the painting for their setting, so this activity would be a perfect cross-curricular for writing, reading, art, and history.

Parts of the book would also be really great assets for engagement and information in art classrooms. Remi, Monet, and Musnet are talented artists who share insight throughout the series.

Discussion Questions: 

  • After book one, did you think Musnet was going to become a successful artist?
  • How does Kickliy’s illustrations fit the period of the book’s setting?
  • Which conflict in Musnet’s story affected Musnet’s conclusion the most?
  • Why do you think Kickliy chose Monet as the artist inspiration for his book?
  • What artist would you want to meet?
  • How did meeting Mya change Musnet’s life? Remi? Chiby?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Art, Graphic Novels, Monet, Mira’s Diary by Marissa Moss, The Museum by Susan Verde, Babymouse series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Redwall by Brian Jacques, The Museum by Susan Verde

Recommended For: 


Tagged with:

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

Today we let TTT be taken over by one of my students as the post she wrote at the end of last year was focused on Christmas, so we held on posting it until now!

 Today’s Topic: Ten Favorite Christmas Books

from Maria N., 7th grade (now 8th grade)

1. Letters from Father Christmas

It is unique because it is written in letters.

2. The Snowman

A traditional book that every kid dreams of hearing.

3. Father Christmas 

Something you would not expect from Santa.

4. A Christmas Carol

A traditional Christmas book.

5. The Polar Express

This is a unique Christmas book that kids love. 

6. One Wintry Night

Betters the Christmas Story.

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Dr. Seuss!

8. The Christmas Tree

A traditional Christmas book that has a good theme behind it. 

9. 12 Stories of Christmas

This book has different stories in it, and they are all perfect. 

10. The Night Before Christmas

The perfect traditional book that kids love.

Thank you, Maria!
And happy holidays, everyone!



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**

top ten tuesday 

Tuesday: Ten New Authors We Met at NCTE/ALAN 2017

Wednesday: Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briaere-Haquet

Thursday: Prince and Pirate by Charlotte Gunnufson

Friday: Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens

Sunday: Author Guest Post!: “Talking to Kids about the Sixth Mass Extinction” by Laura Perdew, author of Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds?


 Last Week’s Journeys


  • I was a bit worried about Knock Out by K.A. Holt because House Arrest has quickly become one of the books I rave about the most, and I didn’t know if a sequel would be able to stand next to it in my mind and heart, but MAN! It does! Knock Out takes place years later and the main character of House Arrest is now a secondary character. I don’t want to tell you much more because the premise of Knock Out spoils the end of House Arrest (in my opinion…K.A. Holt says you could read them in either order, but I’m partial to the publication order because it adds more suspense in both).
  • The Whatever After series keeps surprising me! Although the main premise is formulaic (Abby and Jonah go through a mirror and mess up a fairy tale, so they have to fix it and it changes), the actual stories have each been very unique! I can definitely tell why this series is so popular! Bad Hair Day is about Rapunzel, and within the first 20% of the book, Abby has cut off Rapunzel’s hair, so they have to figure out how to fix that one.

It’s finals week, so I’ve been reading all of my students’ writing. Many of them are creative writing majors, and their work is wonderful!


This Week’s Expeditions

My life has been full of so much fun lately! The holidays are my favorite because we get to celebrate family and friendship and kindness and goodness. Oh, and I love Christmas music! But that also means my life is full of non-reading things thus affecting my reading life.

  • I am almost done with Cold as Ice, Whatever After #6, and I cannot wait to find out how it ends! It is a retelling of “The Snow Queen.”
  • I actually am surprising myself that I haven’t read Thunderhead yet. I don’t know if I am psyching myself out of starting because 1) then I’ll have to wait even longer for the final book in the trilogy, 2) It is going to be a time-suck of a book because I won’t want to stop, 3) I just am so worried that it is going to not be what I want after Scythe. But I need to get reading because I have students and teachers all waiting to get their hands on my ARC (however, at this rate, they may just have to buy their own copy in January). We’ll see how it goes…


I am finally reading American Street by Ibi Zoboi and am loving it.


Upcoming Week’s Posts

Tuesday: Ten Favorite Christmas Books from Maria N., 7th grade

Wednesday: The Musnet Series by Kickliy

Thursday: Inky’s Great Escape by Casey Lyall

Friday: Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares


 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


“Talking to Kids About the Sixth Mass Extinction”

I think that when most people hear the word ‘extinction,’ dinosaurs come to mind first. But the truth is, billions of species have gone extinct in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history.

Many of these were background extinctions, a normal part of life on this planet. There have also been five mass extinctions—events that wiped out more than 50 percent of species at one time. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the asteroid that hit the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out those dinosaurs.

What is not well-known, however, is that there is a sixth mass extinction currently underway.

The normal background extinction rate for mammals is one extinction every 100 years. But in the past 100 years, there have been more than 40 extinctions. Looking at all species on Earth, everything from the smallest microbes to the largest mammals, scientists estimate that the current extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000 higher than normal. But unlike the previous five extinctions, this one is our fault.

We spend a lot of time talking about climate change, but we also need to pay more attention to the species that are dying off because of that and other human-related causes.

It’s time to spread the word. Before I wrote Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds?, there weren’t any books for kids that talked about the sixth extinction or what they can do to help slow this trend. Kids need to know what’s happening to the planet they are inheriting. And they need to be empowered to take action. In some ways, it seems a daunting task to stop extinctions. But history has proven that one person can make a difference in the world, and that together we can do even more.

It’s important to start the discussion with kids and to show them that even at their age, there are things they can do to create positive change. Here are some ideas!

Activity: Start the Discussion

If the scientists’ predictions are right, three out of four species will go extinct over the next few hundred years. What will the world be like? Take students outside so they can get a better understanding of this prediction. Have students list the different species they observe. Encourage them turn over rocks, crawl in a garden, think about what is underground, or look in a tree. Remind them to include insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, trees, and plants. Can they find 10? 20?

Once they have a list, ask students to cross out three out of every four of those species on it. For this activity, those crossed off species are the ones that will become extinct.

Questions for discussion:

  • Are the extinct species part of the food chain? What will happen to the other species that rely on that species for food or shelter?
  • What will happen to species when their main predators die off?
  • Can the ecosystem can be healthy, even with those missing species? Why or why not?
  • Can some of the surviving species adapt? What adaptations would they need to survive?

 Activity: Taking Action

Another way to get kids thinking about extinction is to have them think about their own carbon footprint. Start with a discussion of the terms “carbon footprint” and “carbon emissions.” Then, discuss and list the things humans do that require burning fossil fuel. Each of these activities contributes to global warming and ocean acidification, and ultimately to increased extinction rates. But there are things we can do to reduce carbon emissions.

There are many online resources that can help students research this, including NASA’s Climate Kids website (, and other carbon footprint calculators. The purpose of the activity is to have students identify their own actions that contribute to carbon emissions and what actions they can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

Questions for discussion:

  • What can you do in your home or community to reduce your carbon footprint?
  • Will making changes in how you live be easy or difficult?
  • Calculate the carbon emission reduction if everyone in the class took one step to reduce their carbon footprint. What would the savings be if each student could also convince three other families to do the same thing? How about if 1,000 families in the community took steps to lower emissions?

Activity: Planning for the Future

Tell students they are a team of engineers for a new town that’s going to be built. All that’s there right now is a mix of prairie and forest. Their job is to make it as green as possible. They must find a way to balance the need of humans and the needs of the environment and the species that live there.

Start by researching what makes a city green. Also, students must consider all the things in a town that people need—homes, schools, food stores, etc. They can even discuss their own town or city as an example of things you want to include (or omit) in the town they design and build. Possible activities include collages, models, dioramas, or drawing. The focus should be on the green details.

Questions for discussion:

  • What was easy about creating a green city? Difficult?
  • What was difficult about balancing the needs of the environment with the needs of people?
  • What can be done in their own town or city to move it towards being more green?

Discussions and research lead to awareness. Awareness leads to action. And action creates change!

Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? (with 25 Projects)
Published September 15th, 2017 by Nomad Press

About the Book: Have you seen a dodo bird recently? Do you have mastodons playing in your back yard? Not likely—these species are extinct. In Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, more than 5 billion species have gone extinct, some of them at the same time. In Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? readers ages 9 to 12 learn about the scientific detective work scientists perform to find the culprit behind mass extinctions, including the present-day, sixth mass extinction.

About the Author: Laura Perdew is an author, writing consultant, and former middle school teacher. She has written more than 15 books for the education market on a wide range of subjects, including the animal rights movement, the history of the toilet, eating local, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators. Laura lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Thank you, Laura, for pushing us to start this conversation with our students!


Tagged with:

Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books

Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.

Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?

Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.

About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily ShoutsSalon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at

Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
  • Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
  • How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
  • Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
  • If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
  • Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?

Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.

There was something lurking in the darkness.

She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.

It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .

‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’

‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’


He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’

‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’

‘Mobile?’ said Emily.


‘A mobile. . . Stone?’


‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’

‘Right again.’

‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’

‘You seem fixated on that.’

‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’

‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)

Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket

Recommended For: 


**Thank you to Tracy at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

Tagged with: