Currently viewing the category: "Illustrated Novel"

Ellie Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Published January 16th, 2018 by Bloomsbury USA

Summary: Ellie loves to build. She’s always engineering new creations with the help of her imagination and her best friend Kit. Unfortunately, with Kit’s birthday just around the corner, the French-braiding machine Ellie built turns out to be more of a hair-knotting machine. What’s Ellie going to do? Luckily, the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about Kit’s surprise – it must be the dog she’s always wanted! Ellie is struck with inspiration: she’ll build Kit the best doghouse ever! The project quickly becomes more than just a present for Kit – it builds a bridge between Ellie and those bothersome neighbor boys, as well as the other handy girls in her class.

Designed to look like Ellie’s notepad, with pencil-on-graph-paper illustrations of her projects interspersed throughout the book, Ellie, Engineer inspires creative and crafty girls to get hands-on with their imagination. Ellie’s projects range from the simple (using a glass against a wall to amplify sounds), to the practical (the doghouse), to the fantastical (a bedroom security system featuring spikes) – encouraging readers to start small but think big. Ellie’s parents support her engineering experiments, with important safety tips sprinkled throughout, and her relationship with Kit is a glowing example of positive female friendship. They share their hobbies – Ellie likes to get her hands dirty, while Kit prefers ballet – reminding readers that there’s no wrong way to be a girl. Ellie’s hand-drawn tool guide at the end explains basic tools in accessible terms, rounding out this fun and funny adventure, and giving girls everything they need to be their own Ellie!

About the Author: Jackson Pearce lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of a series of teen retold fairy-tales, including Sisters RedSweetlyFathomless, and Cold Spell, as well as two stand-alones, As You Wish and Purity. As J. Nelle Patrick, she is the author of Tsarina. In addition to The Doublecross and The Inside Job, her middle grade novels include Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, co-written with Maggie Stiefvater. Visit her at and @JacksonPearce (Twitter and Instagram).

ReviewI so often hear stories from women my age that share that they loved science or nature or math when they were younger but that they were steered away from that those interests in little ways that they don’t even remember, but they do remember just not loving science anymore. This is exactly the scenario that has raised awareness in the need for STEM or STEAM books, programs, and role models for young girls. Ellie Bell is a perfect girl for this mission! Ellie wants to be an engineer when she grows up and even has her own workshop where her parents give her free reign to work on projects (with the safer tools–power tools require supervision). Pearce has even set up Ellie Engineer to include drawings and plans for Ellie’s projects to show readers how Ellie goes from an idea to a project. And Ellie’s story is one that all readers will connect with as well, so it is a win-win in narrative and STEM!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Books like Ellie need to first be found more in classrooms and libraries. That is step one! After that, I think that using Ellie’s process for keeping track of her projects and how she brainstorms and plans could be an amazing exemplar for a classroom of students who are embarking on project-based learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of Ellie’s projects would you build?
  • How has the way Ellie’s parents parented helped Ellie become the engineer she is?
  • How did Ellie’s assumptions about the boys in her neighborhood stop her from seeing their real personalities?
  • What does Toby teach us in the story? The Presidents? Kit?
  • Compare and contrast Kit’s mom and Ellie’s mom.

Flagged Passages: 

Ellie’s plan for building her friend a dog house:

Read This If You Love: Ellie Ultra by Gina Bellisario; Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina; Bea Garcia by Deborah Zemke; Cody and the Fountain of Happiness and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe by Tricia Springstubb; Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins; The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills;Lola series by Christine Pakkala; Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Here’s Hank series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Bramble and Maggie series by Jessie HaasFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo; Eleanor series by Julie Sternberg

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters and to Bloomsbury for providing a copy for review!**

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Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Chronicle

Summary: In this heartwarming sequel to Laurel Snyder’s beginning chapter book Charlie & Mouse, the two brothers enjoy a special visit from their grandpa, Grumpy. Follow along as they discuss being medium, pounce each other, sing the wrong songs, build blanket forts, and more. Paired with effervescent illustrations by Emily Hughes, this touching, funny celebration of imagination and bonding will enchant readers young and old.

View our post about Charlie and Grumpy book one (with teaching guide) here!

Activities include: 

Bedtime Songs

Grumpy doesn’t know the right bedtime song to sing for Charlie and Mouse, so he tries to guess. Using the clues he gave, we can assume he was talking about “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, “Hush, Little Baby,” and possibly “Jump in the River” by Sinead O’Connor. Play these three songs for your students.

  • Which do you like the most? Why?
  • Which do you think would be the best bedtime song? Why?

After Grumpy guesses, Charlie sings the right bedtime song to Grumpy.

  • We don’t know what song Charlie sang, but what song would you have sung to Grumpy?

After gathering all of the bedtime songs discussed as a group, have students analyze the different songs (theirs and the three Grumpy mentioned) by having them (in groups or independently):

  • Identify rhyming words within the songs.
  • Does the author repeat any words? Why did the author choose to repeat these words?
  • How does the author supply rhythm in the song?


There are a few times in the book that the text doesn’t tell you what happened, but you can infer from the illustrations what occurred such as p. 17, p. 27, and p.37. Have students use the illustrations to see how each of these chapters concluded and have them write out what they see in the illustrations.


In the final chapter, it is raining while Charlie and Mouse say good-bye to Grumpy. Even though the rain seems to be happening because of the mood of the chapter, rain actually occurs because of the water cycle. After discussing the mood of the chapter (see discussion question), share the scientific reason for rain by sharing the water cycle. One activity that could be done to help students understand the water cycle is the “Simple Water Cycle in a Bag” experiment:

Discussion Questions include: 

  • The text never says that Grumpy is Charlie and Mouse’s grandfather, but you can infer he is. What clues from the text and illustration help you know that he is their grandfather?
  • In the final chapter, the author chose to have it be raining. Why does this type of weather make the most sense for this final chapter? What mood does it set for the chapter?
  • Using the clues throughout the book, how many days and nights did Grumpy stay with Charlie and Mouse? How did you know?

Teaching Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Chronicle’s website here.

Recommended For: 

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Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
Published September 5th, 2017

Summary: Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor.

There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them. Many said witches lived there — some with cold hearts, others with hot ovens and ugly appetites — and also dwarves in tiny houses made of stones. In this icy wood, a stepmother might eat a girl’s heart to restore her own beauty, while a woodcutter might become stupid with grief at the death of his donkey. Here a princess with too many dresses grows spiteful out of loneliness, while a mistreated girl who is kind to a crone finds pearls dropping from her mouth whenever she speaks. With empathy and an ear for emotion, Emily Jenkins retells seven fairy tales in contemporary language that reveals both the pathos and humor of some of our most beloved stories. Charming illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason add whimsical details that enhance every new reading.

Discussion Questions include: 

  • “Snow White”
    • At the beginning of the story, dwarves are included with witches and sprites, making them feel villainous. How is this
      different from the seven dwarves we meet later in the story? Do they fit the negative connotation or are they different
      from what the villagers assume?
  • “The Frog Prince”
    • After the frog leaves, Crystal is looking for him. Why does she miss his company? How is his company different from those of her ladies-in-waiting and family?
  • “Red Riding Hood”
    • What information that Red shared does the wolf use to his advantage? Do you think he would have successfully been
      able to get into Grandmother’s house without this information?
  • Author’s Note
    • Emily Jenkins explains her intention behind rewriting these stories in the simple way that she did. How did she adhere
      to the traditional stories while also putting her own spin on them?
  • Entire book
    • Consider the names of the characters throughout the book. How does each name give a clue to the character’s
      personality or looks?

Discussion Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Candlewick’s website here.

Recommended For: 

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Inspiring Stories

As a freelance business and technology writer I spent many years writing about the latest software or tech gadget. It was profitable and sometimes interesting work. But it wasn’t inspiring. It was a job. A job I needed to help support my family—my wife Alice and my two sons, Steven and Scott.

Then a funny thing happened. I became inspired by my sons to do something different. To try something new that has led me to completely change my career.

More specifically, I became inspired by my sons’ love of baseball and their desire to read mystery stories. Growing up, I wasn’t a great reader. I lagged behind classmates in learning to read, as did my first son, Steven. As parents, Alice and I tried all types of tricks to interest our kids on reading. But it wasn’t until they started reading Ron Roy’s A-TO-Z MYSTERIES that they both became hooked—and desperate for more mysteries. Fortunately for me, that happened at the same time they became enthralled with baseball: playing baseball, talking about baseball trading baseball cards, watching baseball. If it had anything to do with baseball, they were interested.

Since my sons loved baseball and mysteries, I looked around for children’s books that featured both sports and mysteries. But I didn’t find many that fit the bill. There were sports books and there were mystery books, but there weren’t many sports mysteries. That’s when I realized that there was something missing in the market—mysteries that were set in the dozens of really cool cities and ballparks around North America.

And like that, I had the inspiration for my BALLPARK MYSTERIES series of chapter books from Random House. The BALLPARK MYSTERIES are adventure/mystery books where the main characters (Kate and Mike) visit different major league ballparks to see a game, but end up solving a mystery. So far, they’ve been to fourteen of the thirty major league stadiums. The latest book in the series, CHRISTMAS IN COOPERSTOWN, is a Super Special that takes place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

The BALLPARK MYSTERIES books are great for boys and girls in second, third, and fourth grades and are well-suited for reluctant readers. Though the books are set in ballparks, readers don’t have to like sports or even know about baseball to enjoy them. Readers learn a little bit about each team, stadium, or city, as well as some of the quirky things that make baseball so popular (like the super-secret rubbing mud that’s used on each major-league baseball).

If you can forgive the pun, I’m having a ball writing sports mystery books for children, and I’m thrilled that my sons inspired me to take a chance to try something completely new.

About the Author: DAVID A. KELLY is a former Little League right fielder. These days, he can often be found enjoying a game at a major-league park. He is also the author of the MVP series and Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. For adults, he has written about travel and technology for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times, and many other publications. He lives near Boston’s Fenway Park with his family. For more information, visit and find him on Twitter at @davidakelly.

The World Series Curse
Christmas in Cooperstown
Author: David A. Kelly
Published September, 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers

The World Series Curse Summary: It’s the BIGGEST baseball mystery yet—at the WORLD SERIES!

Red Sox versus Cubs. Game five. It looks like Mike and Kate are about to watch the Cubs win it all. But then someone starts messing with the team—ruining equipment, getting Cubs players in trouble, and even stirring up an old baseball curse. Now the Red Sox are coming back! Who will win the ultimate baseball trophy? And can Mike and Kate make sure it’s won fair and square?

Ballpark Mysteries are the all-star matchup of fun sleuthing and baseball action, perfect for readers of Ron Roy’s A to Z Mysteries and Matt Christopher’s sports books, and younger siblings of Mike Lupica fans. Each Ballpark Mystery also features Dugout Notes, with amazing baseball facts.

Christmas in Cooperstown Summary: Mike and Kate get the BEST Christmas present ever–a mystery at the Baseball Hall of Fame!

After volunteering to wrap presents for charity, Mike and Kate get a special thank-you: a sleepover at the Baseball Hall of Fame! But when they’re sneaking around the museum late at night, their flashlight reveals that one of the famous baseball cards on display is a fake! Can they find the real card, catch the crook, and get the presents to the charity’s Christmas party on time? It’s up to Mike and Kate to turn this Christmas mess into a Christmas miracle!

Ballpark Mysteries are the all-star matchup of fun sleuthing and baseball action, perfect for readers of Ron Roy’s A to Z Mysteries and Matt Christopher’s sports books, and younger siblings of Mike Lupica fans. Each Ballpark Mystery also features Dugout Notes, with amazing baseball facts.


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The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locket Hero
Author: Rachel Renee Russell
Published: June 7, 2016 by Aladdin

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Max Crumbly is about to face the scariest place he’s ever been: South Ridge Middle School. There’s a lot that’s great about his new school, but there’s also one big problem—Doug, the school bully whose hobby is stuffing Max in his locker. If only Max could be like the hero in his favorite comics. Unfortunately, Max’s uncanny, almost superhuman ability to smell pizza from a block away won’t exactly save any lives or foil bad guys. But that doesn’t mean Max won’t do his best to be the hero his school needs!

Review: This book is the beginning of a soon to be very popular series. I suggest you purchase a copy of this book for your classroom library while you still can. In June, the 2nd book will be released and I have a feeling it will not be available on the shelf for long. This book has a very similar style to the “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid” series which children across grade levels love. This book introduces relevant themes to a middle grade reader such as peer conflict, coping with bullying, pop culture, relationships, friendship, surviving middle school, and learning to laugh at yourself. This book was an easy ready and would be ideal for a more reluctant reader or to read for pleasure.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is one of the rare few written in second person. Max Crumbly, the narrator, is writing journal entries addressing the reader as “you.” “The Adventures of Max Crumbly” would be an interesting text to explore point of view with your students. You could also use the text to highlight the use of exclamation and variation of font. Additionally, the text could be a resource when reviewing the writing process. There are entire sentences scratched out, arrows redirecting the narrative, edits, revisions, and inclusions in the final text.

Discussion Questions: Is this style of writing something you think you would be able to create?; How does the point of view of the narrator impact your perceptions as a reader?; What value did the illustrations add to the text—if any?; Are there any themes or topics in which you can identify/connect with?

Book Trailer: 

Online Resource:

Read This If You Loved: Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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Thank you, Emily!


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“Thank You, Teachers!”

There are two types of people I like to spend time listening to and talking with.  First are teachers, particularly elementary school teachers, who have consistently been the most important influencers in my life.   This started with my mother who was a public school teacher in Dedham, Massachusetts.

My mother, showing a snake to third graders while she was pregnant with me. Not shown here was a future-famous student of my mom’s, mega-bestselling author, Anita Shreve!

Teachers were the real heroes and celebrities when I was growing up. Every spring when I was a kid my mother would invite our teachers over for lunch and it was a real thrill to be able to socialize outside of the classroom with my teachers and hear their stories.  It sounds old-fashioned and corny now but back then, it was one of the most significant days of the year and just one of the many ways I grew up with total respect and appreciation for teachers.

Decades later, as President of Scholastic Book Clubs, my job is to listen to teachers and partner with them in any way possible to help them get wonderful books into the hands of all students. I trace my career path directly back to those elementary school lunches.

The second category of people I like to spend time talking with are kids who aren’t great readers.  I enjoy most young people, but I particularly like to hear from kids who don’t like to read; those who say “I am just not a reader,” who can’t find a book they like, and thus become practically allergic to books and reading.  These kids don’t have the skills or the vocabulary or the confidence to keep up with complicated chapter books and they don’t want to be caught reading “baby books”. So they often get left behind or opt out.  I spend lots of time talking with many such kids when I visit classrooms around the country.   My interpretation of what I hear is that they need to connect with books that are funny, interesting, sometimes edgy, relatable, and easy enough for them to read and feel successful.

For years I thought about writing such a book myself but I had neither the self-confidence nor a specific idea.  One day, one phrase popped into my head: “Bob the Slob.”  It took me months to get over being self-conscious about actually sitting down to write (I would literally fall asleep from stress when I first sat down at my desk) but bit by bit, weekend by weekend, I pushed my self-doubt aside and kept at it.

Eventually, I developed that one phrase “Bob the Slob” into a rhyming chapter book about a family of slobs named Bob and a family of neat-niks named Tweet. These two families unwittingly move to the same place—Bonefish Street– and their not-so-friendly-neighborly adventures begin.

But the youngest in each family, Dean Bob and Lou Tweet, are not like the rest of their clans.  Dean Bob is fastidious and orderly; and Lou Tweet loves rock ‘n’ roll and never cleans her room.  They each struggle with their families’ extreme lifestyles and so it is lucky and wonderful when they meet each other and become best friends.

I found Kristy Caldwell, an illustrator on the SCBWI website and together we have been working on developing these characters and the world they live in and creating a series of funny, rhyming, fully illustrated chapter books geared for those kids who aren’t such great readers and have trouble finding something they want to read. Needless to say, we were thrilled when Meet the Bobs and Tweets was chosen by kids for the ILA Children’s Choices 2017 Reading List.

There are several themes that are important to me that run through these books: that kids can find creative and successful ways to navigate the nutty worlds of their families; that you can be best friends—like Dean and Lou—with someone who is very different from you; and that wonderful, creative teachers like Lou and Dean’s teacher, Ms. Pat, can make all the difference in a child’s life.

In Perfecto Pet Show, the second book in the series (pub date: June 27) readers meet Ms. Pat, Lou and Dean’s pet—and children’s literature—loving teacher.  Ms. Pat brings her pets to school, (her cat, Donald Crews; Mandy, her hamster; her Piglet named Pippi along with a few others) to announce her idea for a Kid-Pet Talent Show.  Like many great teachers I know, Ms. Pat is excited to find new ways to help her students express their creativity. Lou and Dean are dubious, and they dread the embarrassment of having their families come to school.  But Ms. Pat prevails and the Kid-Pet Talent Show is, as the Bobs would say very loudly and in unison:  PERFECTO!

Ms. Pat, the kids and their pets after a very successful Kid-Pet Talent Show!
(Illustration by Kristy Caldwell)

Ms. Pat is the latest in a long line of wonderful teachers in my life.  I am scheduled to go back to my elementary school alma mater, the John Ward School in Newton, MA and meet with students and share the Bobs and Tweets books with them. I will explain to them that my much of my inspiration for Ms. Pat came eons ago from teachers I had when I was sitting in the very classrooms they are in now.

I will also ask the students to fill out a very short survey letting me know whether they are a Bob or a Tweet—and why. We have been sending out surveys about these books to kids from the beginning and the answers we get are wonderful and inspiring, and are helping to shape future books in the series.

I recently surveyed a classroom of kids and received heartwarming responses like this one:

And even ideas for my next book!

And some that make me smile and keep me humble.

Thank you to all the wonderful teachers who are part of my family, my education, my career, and my own children’s books!  And to all the kids I have met and hope to meet in the future. You all inspire me.  I hope you will enjoy the Bobs and Tweets as much as I do!


To learn more about the books, see Kellee’s review of the first two books of the series!

“Short chapters and funny, rhyming text will help engage young readers…The flat, colorful illustrations are full of humorous details that add to the story.” Children’s Literature
“Caldwell’s energetic, full-color, Sunday-comics illustrations are satisfyingly chaotic.” Kirkus
“Colorful and appealing!” School Library Journal

About Pepper Springfield 

Pepper Springfield was born and raised in Massachusetts. She loves rock ‘n’ roll, chocolate, reading, and crossword puzzles. Illustrator Kristy Caldwell received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts and lives in New York City.

Thank you Pepper for the guest post and Larissa at Claire McKinney PR for setting us up together!

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