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Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Growing to Greatness)
Author: Vicki Conrad
Illustrator: David Hohn
Published August 13th, 2019

Summary: Just Like Beverly follows the life of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a successful writer who wrote stories, including the wildly popular Ramona and Henry Huggins series, for kids just like her.

As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.

Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.

Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary’s sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.

Praise: 

“Hohn captures her lively spirit through illustrations, reminiscent of those by Alan Tiegreen for Cleary’s own books, that will keep young readers entertained. A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“Conrad writes with clarity and features significant details that bring Cleary’s experiences and personality to life for kids today. Hohn makes good use of color, light, and pattern in his imaginative illustrations, which interpret the text sensitively. The artwork looks fresh and appealing while suggesting the period, the emotional resonance, and the upbeat spirit of Cleary’s books.”–Booklist, starred

“A celebration of Cleary, literacy, and the pursuit of ambitious dreams, this charming picture book will enhance any biography collection.”–School Library Journal

“Debut author Conrad’s storytelling is straightforward, ably conveying—in tandem with Hohn’s homespun, vintage-style illustrations—the various eras of Cleary’s life and her passion for writing and for nurturing readers.”–Publishers Weekly

About the Author: VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. When she is not writing or teaching, she is traveling the world, growing a garden, or searching for stories. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company. Just Like Beverly is her first book.

About the Illustrator: DAVID HOHN is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. His days are spent in the studio imagining what it would be like to be someone else, doing something else–and then he paints it.

Review: It was so wonderful reading about Beverly Cleary’s childhood! It truly showed how supportive teachers and parents plus some access to books truly can result in brilliance! It just took some guidance, praise, and confidence to make her bloom as a writer.

From a parent and teacher point of view, I loved that Beverly saw a issue in the children lit world and used a talent to work to try to solve that issue–what a great role model!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are three ways I picture this book being an asset in the classroom.

First, it is a wonderful addition to any picture book biography text set/mentor text set.

Second, it is a beautiful book to read aloud! And truly would lead to wonderful discussions.

Third, I could see it being used in conjunction with Cleary’s novels. How does her childhood story connect to the novels that she wrote?

Discussion Questions: 

  • When looking for stories about kids like you and your friends, what type of characters are you looking for?
    • [Writing prompt] Write a fictionalized story that you can relate to.
  • What character traits did Beverly have to be as successful a writer as she was?
  • What does Beverly’s pride in winning a contest that she was the only entry say about you?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose for writing this title?
  • How does Beverly’s story fit the theme of “Growing to Greatness”?
  • How is children literature different now than it was during Beverly’s childhood?

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Read This If You Love: Beverly Cleary!; Picture book biographies about writers such as Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet; A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert; A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant; Papa is a Poet by Natalie S. Bober

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Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 

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Tomorrow Most Likely
Author: Dave Eggers
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary:Rather than focusing on going to bed—and what kid wants to think about going to bed?—this book explores all of the dreamy, wonderful, strange things the next day might bring.

Prompts: 

Please view and enjoy the prompts I created for Tomorrow Most Likely: 

You can also access the writing prompts here.

You can learn more about Tomorrow Most Likely on Chronicle Book’s page.

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“The Picture Book That Started As An Assignment”

I still remember sitting at my school desk wondering what to write about. It was eighth grade and my teacher, Ms. Ribar, had asked her English class at All Saints Middle School to write a creative story. My classmates were scribbling away, but I was stuck. What should I write?

Every writer at every stage deals with the problem of coming up with ideas. Where do ideas come from? It’s very likely the most common question an author gets. Looking back, I can see that the idea for my story came from a combination of luck, life, and imagination.

As luck would have it, there was a pencil lying on my desk. When I glanced around the room for inspiration, the pencil caught my eye. It could have been a binder or a paperclip, but it wasn’t. No surprise then that a pencil features prominently in my story.

At the time, I was 13 and my life had been turned upside down by the arrival of a new brother. He was two then and I’m sure that he was disrupting my ever-so-important teenage world. So, it’s not surprising that a little brother was a key character (or should I say antagonist?).

Most importantly, the freedom to imagine and create in that classroom let me consider a range of possibilities. What if the pencil was magic? What if everything it drew became real? What if everything it erased was gone forever?

That idea and the inspiration of my eighth grade teacher stayed with me for a long time. When I was finally ready to commit to writing creatively, the story resurfaced. After weeks of rebuilding the story from memory and revising it to work as a picture book, it finally found a home. Fast forward to today, that story I wrote in English class all those years ago has become my debut picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde and published worldwide by EK Books in September 2019.

Now, as a new author, I get to bring my story full circle – back to the classroom. I like to think that Arabella and the Magic Pencil belongs there. Hopefully, it offers young readers a sense of endless possibility. Students can imagine their own stories about a magic pencil and the class can problem solve together figuring out how to get your brother back if you’ve erased him. (Yes, Arabella really does erase her brother.)

I reconnected with Ms. Ribar to acknowledge that this book began in her classroom. As always, she was encouraging and supportive. I hope that young learners appreciate the teachers who are there every day helping them discover their talents before they even know what they are.

Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Author: Stephanie Ward
Illustrator: Shaney Hyde
Published September 10th, 2019 by EK Books

About the Book: Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything a little girl could want. That is, until her brother, Avery, the master of mayhem, comes along. While she certainly loves him, she finds that it’s sometimes very hard to like him. So she spends her days creating marvelous, magnificent things with her magic pencil, and trying to ignore him. But when he spoils her perfectly proper tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! But things aren’t the same without him — can she get him back?

Arabella and the Magic Pencil is a charming story, which will appeal to any child coming to terms with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics, as well as those who love fantasy and engaging, alliterative language.

“A magical story with luscious language, whimsical illustrations and strong emotional core that will surprise and delight young readers.”
– Debra Tidball, award-winning author of The Scared Book and When I See Grandma

About the Author: Stephanie Ward is an award‐winning children’s author and reviewer who splits her time between London, Seattle and Sydney. She spent 15 years in public relations before deciding to dedicate herself to what she loves – writing stories for children. Stephanie has five award‐winning picture book manuscripts.

About the Illustrator: Shaney Hyde is an Early Childhood Teacher from Melbourne who runs art workshops for children and draws inspiration from her own playful childhood. Arabella and the Magic Pencil is the first book Shaney has illustrated, fulfilling a long‐held dream.

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at how one assignment can change everything!

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Barkus: Dog Dreams
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Barkus is back! With new tricks. New friends. And lots more fun.

The lovable Barkus and his lucky young owner romp through the pages of this delightful series from Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The simple text told in short chapters is just right for children ready to take their first steps toward reading on their own.

View my post about Barkus to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Barkus series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Barkus on Chronicle Book’s Barkus Book 2 page.

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The best way to learn what kids are thinking & feeling is by listening to them, so I am happy to share my students’ voices!

We Shouldn’t Be… by Monika & Jordan, 7th Grade

We shouldn’t be scared, 
scared of the guy with the bullets
who can end our lives with a push
of a trigger. 
Shouldn’t be scared of the people
who have jobs to protect us, yet murder
us without thinking what we’re up to. 

We shouldn’t be scared
scared of the big bad men
who look at us like we’re a meal
and lick their lips hungrily.
Shouldn’t be scared of being beautiful
even though we were all made gorgeously. 

We should be scared
Scared of loving the wrong person, 
scared of THEM who will judge us
because of who and what we love. 

We shouldn’t be scared 
Scared of being judged by what we wear
or how we do our hair instead
of being judged by how we act
and hand situations. 

But guess what? We are. 

We are scared of the bullets that are
out there in the wrong hands. 

We are scared of being beautiful
because those men would kill for us. 

We are scared of loving because 
THEY end up hating us. 

We are scared of wearing the 
wrong thing or saying the wrong thing
because of THEM.

They, them
It’s the world. 
We are scared of the world. But we shouldn’t 
be anymore. Let’s stop being scared. 
We are strong. We can overcome the 
fear, only if we come together. We 
don’t have to constantly be in fear. 

We need to listen.

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The best way to learn what kids are thinking & feeling is by listening to them, so I am happy to share my students’ voices!

Why Teachers Should Let Students Read Manga by Luis, 8th Grade

Mrs. Moye let me read manga for most of the year. I read a huge variety of awesome mangas, but some teachers don’t like manga for different reasons. But I feel like I have the right to read whatever I want. Manga isn’t just fighting cartoons, some of them have a better plot than books. For example, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has a better vampire plot than other vampire books out there. Some have great love stories or more realistic action. Manga is truly something that teachers should let their students read and enjoy. And who knows–they may even learn Japanese!

Why 6th Graders Should Be Allowed to Read More Mature Books If They Want by Star, 6th Grade

I believe 6th graders should be allowed to read more mature books. It allows the kids to venture into a world they still have a while to actually enter. They allow kids to feel more emotions, such as sadness in love. For example, in the book The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Hazel and Augustus express such love for each other despite their differences. And when something sad happens at the end of the book, it causes the reader to be sad. Another reason 6th graders should be allowed to read more mature books is because they get kids into more real world situations before they have to experience it themselves. For example, in the book Orbiting Jupiter the author throws the reader into a real life situation. 

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Books by Paola & Amy, 7th Grade

Book banning: The horrible act of taking a book deemed “inappropriate” for students and then restricting access to that book. This has been done for years and many people actually think that this helps keep children from certain material. While it actually causes problems. 

It Keeps Important Topics Away From Kids

The biggest problem with banning books is that most of the banned books talk about very important social topics. While many people think that exposing kids to these topics will hurt them, the opposite can actually be said. The more kids learn about these topics, the better educated they are. They could then form their own opinions and even come up with ideas to help other people. Additionally, by keeping these materials away from teens and kids, they might make bad decisions because they’ve never thought about it. And by banning the books, people are making the topics more intriguing.

Why I Like Books About Social Justice by Alex, 8th Grade

I think that social justice books are the best to read for multiple reaasons. One big reason is that social justice is a very relevant topic that goes on daily, whether between a cop and an unarmed man or people of different races experiencing racial tension. I think that no matter what the situation is, it’s always interesting to see it unfold. After reading a book that deals with heavy teantion, I like to put myself in that persn’s shoes and think about how I would have handled the situation. Another reason why I believe that social justice books are interesting is because I have never had to deal with much oppression in my life which is why I think it is good to learn about other people that have dealt with oppression beacuse it makes me feel like I am not ignorant about the situations in our society. Just because I don’t deal with  them, doesn’t mean I should know about them. 

My top social justice books:

  • Ghost by Jason Renolds
  • I Am Alfonso Jones
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Yummy by G. Neri
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Why I Like K.A. Holt Books by Maya, 6th Grade

My first ever K.A. Holt book that I read was House Arrest, and ever since then, I have fallen in love with her writing. After I read House Arrest, I read Knockout, Redwood & Ponytail, and Rhyme Schemer. I love how her books are written like a verse of a poem because not many authors write the way she does and it captures emotions. I also love how in House Arrest she wrote the book over weeks to follow along. Also, I love that House Arrest, Knockout, and Redwood & Ponytail are in a series but you don’t have to read them in a certain order. Redwood & Ponytail was an amazing book to me; it has an important message which is never be afraid to show who you are no matter what others think. Thank you, K.A. Holt, for writing amazing books!

Reasons Why I Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Axel, 6th Grade

I like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series because it is fun to know how Greg lives his life and learn about him. It also includes comedy which makes me laugh time to time while reading it. Greg’s family is really funny and weird and sometimes do embarrassing things which is fun to read about. Greg and Rowley do funny things too–usually activities for their own purposes that always end up as a disaster because Greg tries to imagine how to make everything perfect for him and when he tries to make it perfect, something goes wrong. All of these are why I like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series. Oh! And every year a new book comes out, and so far each one I’ve read is great!

Book Stereotypes That Are NOT TRUE! by Cooper & Jacob, 6th Grade and Mrs. Moye

  • There are girl and boy books.
    • This stereotype has lasted for many years and is still believed vy people. There is no such thing as a girl or a boy book. 
  • Long books are boring
    • Long books are not boring because a long book just has more action and fun in it. 
  • Graphic novels are for children.
    • Graphic novels are for everyone. They have life lessons and the images bring it all together. 
  • Books are the same as movies. 
    • Movies have to cut things out because of time. To get the full story, you have to read the book. 
  • Cool kids don’t read/Only nerds read.
    • Smart people read.
  • Judge books by their cover. 
    • The cover isn’t even chosen by the author and sometimes covers are so misleading!
  • Non-fiction books are boring.
    • Then you aren’t reading the right nonfiction books for you! Try a different kind. 
  • “I don’t have time to read.”
    • Yes you do. You aren’t making time to read. Just 20 minutes a day can impact your life in such a positive way!
  • Children’s books aren’t good. 
    • Any children’s book will prove this wrong because they have a huge impact on the reader. 
  • Independent reading doesn’t help you learn anything./Books are a waste of money.
    • Books can help the reader learn! Instead of playing and buying video games, buy books!

Thank you everyone for your great essays!

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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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