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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book
Authors: Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong
Illustrator: Franzi Paetzold
Published January 11th, 2017 by Pomelo Books

Summary: Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book is a story in poems and a writing journal designed to help kids think about social change. It contains 12 PowerPack sets featuring Ameera, David, Jack, and Jenna, a diverse group of kids working together to make an impact in their community. Sylvia Vardell’s inventive PowerPlay activities make it easy for writers to get inspired, while her Power2You writing prompts extend learning. Vardell also created extensive back matter resources for young readers, writers, and activists.

Praise: “This interactive book and the abundance of resources provided will motivate students to take action through words and ideas to make their world a better place—a must have for today’s classrooms.” —Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, Authors of Mentor Texts

“I absolutely love this book! The invitations are inspiring and offer opportunities to think about the world and respond both personally and critically.” —Mary Napoli, Associate Professor of Reading, Penn State Harrisburg

“This book will allow all sorts of emotions and thoughts to bubble forth, including difficult and painful ones . . . and that will be a source of healing.” —Ed Spicer, Educator and literacy expert

“Really glad and excited that this book will be in the hands of young people.” —Jeana Hrepich, Core Faculty, Antioch University Seattle

This book is a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” selection for January 2017 and the second Poetry Friday Power Book. The first book in that series, You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, is a 2017 NCTE Poetry Notable.

About the Authors: Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book features the work of the dynamic team of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, plus 12 poets: Ibtisam Barakat, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Robyn Hood Black, David Bowles, Joseph Bruchac, Kate Coombs, David L. Harrison, Renée M. LaTulippe, Naomi Shihab Nye, Margaret Simon, Eileen Spinelli, and Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations by Franzi Paetzold.

Sylvia M. Vardell is Professor at Texas Woman’s University and teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature. She has published five books on literature, as well as over 25 book chapters and 100 journal articles. Her current work focuses on poetry for young people, including a regular blog,, since 2006.

Janet Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who became a children’s poet. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other shows. She is the author of 30 books for children and teens on chess, creative recycling, yoga, superstitions, driving, and more.

Together, Vardell and Wong are the creative forces behind The Poetry Friday Anthology series.

About the Book (from the authors): Why is this a “Poetry Friday Power Book”? Because we believe in the power of poetry to express our deepest feelings, and our most powerful experiences, and to inspire us to use our words to create change in teh world. Plus, we want you to discover the power of poetry in your own thinking and writing with the PowerPlay prewriting and Power2You writing prompts that pull you into poetry and inspire you to get your own ideas on paper–creatively, whimsically, powerfully, and immediately–right now in this book…

This book offers you several choices for reading, thinking, writing, and responding. Overall, it’s a story in poems, but all of this is also organized in PowerPack groups that help you get a “behind the scenes” look at how poems work and how poets write and think. In each of these PowerPack groups, you’ll find five things:

-PowerPlay activity
-Anchor poem (from an outside source)
-Response poem
-Mentor poem
-Power2You writing prompt

Have fun reading and thinking about poetry and learning about how poetry uses just a few words but says so much and can inspire us to take action. Ready? Let’s “power up” and get started!

Review: I have an interesting relationship with poetry. I overall love it. I love writing it, and I love reading it, but I really have trouble with the analyzing aspect. It is in this very serious analyzing step that kids get afraid of poetry, but I think books like Here We Go help students learn to love poetry instead of being afraid of it while still teaching about the beauty and importance of poetry.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Here We Go is a book that is made for classroom use! There are 12 PowerPacks, each with a different anchor poem and focus. Some PowerPacks work on rhyming, some work on format, and others focus on inspiration. There are so many different ways these PowerPacks could be organized to be used in the classroom! They can be daily during a poetry unit or weekly for half of the school year–whatever works best in your classroom, but this book is begging to be in children’s hands as an inspiration for our future poets.

Discussion Questions: What inspires you to write?; What is your favorite season? Why?; What are your favorite rhyming words?; How can you use your daily life to inspire you as a poet?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Writing poetry; Any poetry anthology including Out of Wonders by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth and When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

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can you canoe

Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs
Author: The Okee Dokee Brothers
Illustrator: Brandon Reese
Published April 19th, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Can You Canoe? invites you to journey cross-country with The Okee Dokee Brothers through twelve of their irresistible, boot-stompin’ tunes. You’ll encounter hungry black bears and tall-tale spinners; quiet canoes and cozy camping tents; a jumpin’ jamboree and a bullfrog opera. As you listen to the songs and follow along with the illustrated lyrics in this collection, you might even be inspired to head out on some outdoor adventure of your own!

Kellee’s Review: We love music in my house, so anytime a book and music can be connected really makes me happy. I think the Okee Dokee Brothers’ music is catchy, knee-slapping, sometimes funny, and have great messages. I love how they all promote the out doors and adventure. And just when you think it cannot get any better, you see the illustrations. Brandon Reese’s illustrations are perfect! They are so colorful and loud and cartoon-ish. Just the type of fun you think would be in a book by the Okee Dokee Brothers. 

Ricki’s Review: This book is pure fun. My toddler was bouncing around the room as I played the CD. My husband is an outdoorsy guy, so he particularly liked the messages within the songs. The rhymes are great, and they will help my son learn the lyrics as we listen/read. I’ve never been to an Okee Dokee concert, and now I want to go to one! We’ll be bringing this CD along for long car rides. Below, we include an illustration, and you can see the pure beauty of this text. I will be buying it as a gift for my music-loving friends.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We love using music during my poetry lessons because it helps students hear poetry and not be as afraid of it like they are with classics. Starting with music and lyrics allows you to help them understand how to read poetry differently than prose while using something they can easily understand. Can You Canoewould be a perfect text to use this for because you can analyze for poetic elements and meaning, but the Okee Dokee Brothers also have a field journal in the back which help give background information about each song making analyzing them less of a guessing game.

Can You Canoe? would also be a wonderful poetry mentor texts. The authors talk about how they find ideas for their songs and many of their songs have a format that could be emulated (like Jack in Love that Dog) if you wanted to go that route in class.

Discussion Questions: How do the authors use rhythm and rhyme in their lyrics?; What is a time that the authors used descriptive language to help the reader imagine the scene they are describing?; What is a time the authors used figurative language to add imagery to their songs?

Flagged Passages:

“There’s a country store
In a country town.
Every Friday night
The people dance around.
It don’t look like much
And it ain’t no chore,
But while they’re dancin’
They polish that floor.

They play this song
Right on key.
They play this song –
It’s called JAMBOREE.”



Check out their You Tube channel to hear some of their music:

Read This If You Loved: Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise BrownFresh Delicious by Irene Latham

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**Thank you to Lauren at Sterling Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

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Big Book Summer Challenge is a challenge hosted by Sue at Book by Book. The inspiration behind the challenge is to push the bigger books to the top of the TBR pile during summer time.

The Details:

  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 22 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 7 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal.  Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with over 400 pages this summer to participate! (Though you are welcome to read more, if you want.)
  • Choose from what’s on your shelves already or a big book you’ve been meaning to read for ages or anything that catches your eye in the library – whatever peaks your interest!
  • Sign up on Book by Book.
  • Write a post to kick things off – you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to Book by Book.
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you’ve read…but you don’t have to!  There is a separate links list below for big book review posts.

Today, we are combining the last three bullet points–we both have finished our big books!



Author: Deborah Wiles
Published May 27th, 2014 by Scholastic Press
538 pages

Goodreads Summary: It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded.  Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote.  They’re calling it Freedom Summer.

Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too.  She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe.  And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool — where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.

As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel Countdown, award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place — and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right.

*A 2014 National Book Award Finalist

Kellee’s Thoughts: What is so amazing about this book is that it doesn’t feel like a big book. Well, it FEELS like a big book because it is heavy and thick, but when you are done reading, it doesn’t feel like you had to trudge through anything. Not once did I feel like there were too many pages. Wiles does an amazing job filling each and every page with important information for the historical context, characterization, or plot development.

Revolution is a perfectly-crafted look at one of the toughest times in American history. What Wiles does is truly delve into the emotions felt during the Freedom Summer and some of the smaller actions that may not have made the history books. One of my favorite things about Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy books is that she includes historical resources throughout the book that truly puts the story in context. The primary sources/stories and other embedded pieces of history really show that the narrative she has created is not truly a work of fiction. It may include fictional characters, but the setting, the feelings, the conflict, the time period, the history–those are all fact.

Revolution couldn’t work without the Sunny and her cast of characters though. This book could have gone terribly wrong if the voice, thoughts, and feelings of our protagonist were not so believable since Wiles was having us learn about such a tumultuous time through the eyes of a child. However, no need to worry about that because Sunny is perfect. She is easy to connect to and seems true. My favorite characters are those around her that push her and help change her: Annabelle, Jo Ellen, and Ray. Annabelle is so patient, truly loves Sunny, and has some of the best lines in the book; Jo Ellen is so head-strong, forward-thinking, and intelligent; and Ray is just crazy but also overwhelmingly brave.

I am part of an informal Twitter book club, and our June read was Revolution. Deborah Wiles even stopped by to chat with us! If you are interested in reading it, I archived it here. Warning: There may be spoilers if you haven’t read the book. Some of my favorite quotes from the chat that truly show the impact of the book are:

“What a brilliant idea Deborah Wiles had with these books–to embed all of the history.” -Carrie Gelson

“Sunny’s story hit my heart.” -Michele Knott

Countdown and Revolution are like…seeing beyond the headlines.” -Cheriee Weichel

“So hard to read how something you think people could do (register) but couldn’t because of effects (lose job, name in paper, etc.)” -Michele Knott

“It took Sunny witnessing the civil unrest to grow up and realize how to accept her own life.” -Kellee Moye

“There is so much about the Civil Rights Movement that seems like it should be easy, but ignorance stops it.” Kellee Moye

“Immerse as much as possible.” -Deborah Wiles, referencing part of her research process

Favorite quote from the book: “Everything is connected. Every choice matters.Every person is vital, valuable, and worthy of respect.” pg. 361

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I also plan to tackle Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, as well, but I am not sure if I will make it by the end of the summer. East of Eden was quite an epic read!

east of eden

East of Eden
Author: John Steinbeck
Published in 1952
601 pages

Goodreads Summary: Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Ricki’s Thoughts: I’ve had this book on my to-be-read list for several years. In fact, I realized I own three identical copies of it, so I have considered reading it for quite some time. I love Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. In fact, I love the six or so Steinbeck books I’ve read. I’d heard this book was related to the Cain/Abel story, so I never got around to reading it because I thought I knew the ending. As an aside, I didn’t, but even if all of my predictions were accurate, it still would have been well worth the read.

The book consists of several interwoven stories and families. Two good friends (who aren’t avid readers) listened to this book in the car, and they continually urged me to read it. When I finally started, they kept saying, “We know which character you will love.” Sam Hamilton is a good man–a salt of the Earth kind of man. He reminds me of Slim for Of Mice and Men. Essentially, he teaches us what it means to be good to the very hollows of our souls. Another character who will stick with me forever is Cathy. Phew. She is quite a complex character—a sociopath, I would say—and her evilness makes my skin crawl. She is unlike any other character I’ve ever read. I could continue forward and describe more characters, but it feels as if I won’t do them justice.

The story does meander at times, but anyone who appreciates Steinbeck’s work knows that this is, in fact, a positive quality. His stories feel very true to life. We don’t follow plot diagrams. I will never forget reading this book. The story and its characters will stay with me forever. I highly recommend it.

A few great quotes that depict the beauty of Steinbeck’s words:

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”

“All great and precious things are lonely.”

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”

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Thank you to Sue for hosting the challenge and pushing us! 

What big books do you have planned for the summer? You should join in the challenge too!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

winter bees

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Rick Allen
Published November 4th, 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: In this outstanding picture book collection of poems by Newbery Honor-winning poet, Joyce Sidman (Song of the Water Boatman, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night), discover how animals stay alive in the wintertime and learn about their secret lives happening under the snow. Paired with stunning linoleum print illustrations by Rick Allen, that celebrate nature’s beauty and power.

My Review: Alyson and Carrie both nominated this book for our Mock Sibert Award, so I knew it was a book I had to read. After requesting that my library purchase it, I was so happy to finally receive the book. This book is beautiful. Each aspect of the book can stand alone: the poetry is full of imagery and figurative language, the informational aspects are interesting and fact-based, and the illustrations are exceptional and bring the animals to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, this book can be used as a mentor text for poetry. Many different types of poetry are represented and each poem is different. Second, I think this book can be a great jumping off point for an inquiry-based project where students research an animal, write a poem about it, and also write an informational piece of text to accompany the poem. This book is also a great companion to Kate Messner’s Over and Under Snow and other animal survival books which would cause for a great unit as well.

Discussion Questions: Which of the winter animals has the best plan for survival?; What fact in Winter Bees surprised you the most about how an animal survives during the winter?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Firefly July by Paul Janeczko, Feathers by Melissa Stewart, Born in the Wild by Lita Judge, Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Over and Under Snow by Kate Messner

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
***Yes, poetry counts as nonfiction! Ask Dewey :)**

bathtub stillbathtub
Take Me Out of the Bathtub
Author: Alan Katz
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published May 1st, 2001 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

I’m Still Here in the Bathtub
Author: Alan Katz
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published April 1st, 2003 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Take Me Out of the Bathtub Goodreads Summary: Remember… “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”?  Well, forget ’em!

Songwriter and comedy writer extraordinaire Alan Katz has turned those and other old favorites on their ears and created new nonsense songs kids will love. With zany, spirited pictures by illustrator and cartoonist David Catrow, this kooky collection guarantees laughs and plenty of silly dillyness for kids everywhere!

I’m Still Here in the Bathtub Goodreads Summary: If you like… “Wheels on the Bus” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” you’ll go NUTS for “The Meals at My Camp” and “Tiny Baby Brother”!

Songwriter and comedy writer par excellence Alan Katz has done it again! He’s turned fourteen favorite songs upside down and created new nonsense songs kids will love. With hilariously funny pictures by illustrator and cartoonist David Catrow, this new collection promises giggles, guffaws, and hours of silly dillyness for kids everywhere!

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I really enjoyed these books. I found myself singing out loud just so I can figure out how to make Katz’s lyrics fit with the original songs. I love the idea of singing these silly songs with students to the tune of classics. I think it gives a great opportunity to talk about the classic songs, where they came from, and their meaning. Then, the silly songs give you a chance to look at rhyming, rhythm, other poetic elements, and humor. I think it would be a fun activity to have students then emulate Alan Katz’s songs by writing their own fun songs.

Discussion QuestionsWhat other nursery rhymes or songs could you “silly-fy”?; Can you just choose any words to fit into the songs or do you have to be careful? How can you decide what words to choose?

We Flagged: “Take Me Out of the Bathtub” (To the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame)

Take me out of the bathtub
Take me out of the suds
I’ve been here soaking since half past two
I feel so sudsy and wrinkle-y, too
Oh, I washed all over my body
My head, my toes, in between
I used one, two, three bars of soap
Take me out….I’m clean.

Read This If You Loved: Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger, Bananas in my Ears by Michael Rosen

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presidential misadventures

Presidential Misadventures: Poems that Poke Fun at the Man in Charge
Author: Bob Raczka; Illustrator: Dan E. Burr
Published: January 27, 2015 by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: A spoonful of poetry helps the mockery go down! This collection of presidential poems is historical and hysterical.

The clerihew is a simple poetic form specifically invented to make fun of famous people—and who is more famous than the misbehaving presidents of the United States? Here are forty-three poems teasing the commander-in-chief that are fun to read aloud and even more fun to write yourself. From the author of the incredibly inventive Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word comes a new collection filled with zingers, humdingers, and Presidential Misadventures.

Review: As a student, history was always my least favorite class. But yet, I would go home and cuddle on my couch with historical fiction. Admittedly, presidents have never interested me much (and I am not proud to say this). This book is FUN. The poems made me giggle, and I found myself googling the facts in the poems to learn more about the background of the stories. After reading this book, I was inspired to reserve Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word because the author is quite clever. I read this book aloud to my son and husband while we were eating dinner, and I kept holding out the book and saying, “Oh my goodness. Look at this drawing!” Those who are knowledgeable about presidents (like my husband) will likely know many of these stories, but kids will enjoy learning about history and be inspired to learn more about the presidents.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Each of the poems in this book is discussed in depth in the back matter. I would have my students each take two poems and perform them in front of the class. Then, they could briefly describe the history behind the story. This would help students practice speaking skills, and the poems would stick in the other students’ minds. Of course, having students research their own facts about presidents to create poems would also be fun!

Discussion Question: Which presidential story was your favorite? Look up one more fact about that president and write a short poem to reflect the information. Be prepared to share this fact with the class.

We Flagged: 


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Read This If You Love: History, Humor, and/or Poetry

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**Thank you to Macmillan for sending this book for review**

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