Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross


kiki and jacques

Kiki and Jacques
Author: Susan Ross
Published October 15th, 2015 by Holiday House

Goodreads Summary: Preteens prove that cultural differences can be overcome in this middle-grade novel about a native Mainer and a Somali girl who form an unlikely and supportive friendship.

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up.

About the Author: Susan Ross lives in Connecticut. She was born and grew up in the Lewiston, Maine, area. Susan was inspired to write this story by incidents in her childhood hometown when refugees from Somalia began to settle there in the early 2000s. Kiki and Jacques is her first novel.

Susan Ross recently was interviewed by HuffPost Live and wrote an article on the HuffPost Blog about Kiki and Jacques and the amazing refugee kids in Lewiston, Maine — and especially, the vital importance of teaching tolerance/ multiculturalism to children!

My Review: Kiki and Jacques is a perfect introduction to refugees for middle grade students. What makes the story work so well is that Jacques is just like so many middle school boys, so reading about Kiki and Mohammad from his point of view makes the story easy to connect with. The reader also gets to learn about the refugees and their lives and situations along with Jacques which makes it so students with no prior knowledge can live Kiki and Jacques story with them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Kiki and Jacques is a book that many different students are going to love reading for many different reasons. It is a book for sports lovers, realistic fiction fans, and students who want to learn about something and make a difference. It is a great book for classroom libraries.

Additionally, you can view a teaching guide for Kiki and Jacques which has many ideas for classroom uses: Kiki and Jacques Education Guide

Additionally, Mr. Gorman did an amazing activity with this novel using a mood meter. His blog post includes a wonderful writing activity.

Discussion Questions: How does soccer play a role in the story?; What did you learn about refugees in Kiki and Jacques?; What do you think the theme of the book is?; How does Jacques stay positive and “good” through everything that is going on in his life?; How does Jacques help Mohammad and Kiki?

We Flagged: “Frank Boucher broke out from the back and dribbled the ball toward the goal; in a minute he sliced it in. Boucher was tall, and broader than most of the kids. His bleach-blond hair was spiked marine-style, making him look even longer.

‘Holy crap.’ Jacques whistled. ‘That wasn’t bad.’

‘You’ll be captain,’ Sammy said. ‘Don’t worry. Boucher’s got muscle but your footwork’s better. And nobody trusts him.’

‘Wait up–who’s that kid?’Jacques nodded toward the far end of the field. ‘That big dude…is he one of the Somalis?’

A slim black teenager was dribbling toward them. Fast and accurate, the ball skipped effortlessly from side to side. The boy balanced the ball between his shin and knees, spun around and took a wild shot from mid-field. Tim O’Shea knocked his glasses off trying to stop it, but the ball slipped right past him into the goal.” (p. 6-7)

Read This If You Loved: Booked by Kwame Alexander, Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian; also middle grade books about refugees including Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Recommended For: 

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Q&A with the Author from Holiday House: 

Susan, this is the first novel you’ve written. Please tell us about it.

KIKI AND JACQUES is a story about kids from very different backgrounds growing up in a small Maine town. It’s about finding common ground and friendship in spite of cultural differences and challenges.

You were inspired to write this book when your hometown in Maine began to see an influx of Somali refugees in the early 2000s. Tell us a little bit about that experience and how the addition of Somalis to your home town changed the cultural landscape.

When I was growing up, we lived in the “twin cities” in Maine—the old mill town of Lewiston and its sister city, Auburn. My great-grandparents came from Russia and opened a store. Three generations later, my parents had a bridal shop in downtown Lewiston. The majority of the population was of French Canadian descent, and my parents often sold dresses speaking basic French. When I read a magazine article about the wave of Somali immigration to Lewiston, I thought that a small Maine town experiencing such profound cultural change would be an amazing setting for a middle-grade novel.

What kind of research did you do for this book? In researching, what did you find most interesting or surprising?

As with most things in life, I found the very best place to start my research was at the library. In this case, I went to the library in Lewiston and met with a librarian, who told me something very important: in her experience, teenagers of all cultures were more alike than they were different.

I spoke with a few Somali kids that day, who were at the library using the computers. I saw that they were on Facebook, just like my teenagers at home. Later, I met with other Somali teens and asked them to read chapters of my book. I was greatly inspired by how strong and ambitious these kids were, and I was touched by how glad they were to have an author listen and learn about their lives.

KIKI AND JACQUES focuses on the importance of two kids respecting cultural, religious and racial differences, but still becoming friends. What do you hope young readers learn from this novel?

I hope that I’ve written a story that kids can relate to. Kiki and her brother Mohamed’s lives are very different than Jacques’s in many respects, but they also have a surprising amount in common—soccer, strong loyalty to family, and great loss (Kiki’s dad was killed in the war in Somalia and Jacques’ mom died in a car accident). Each kid is looking for a safe and permanent sense of home and  belonging.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I knew I wanted to become an author when I was in the fourth grade and liked to stay inside at recess and write. My first book was called Diablo, and it was about a wild horse with cruel masters. Not so coincidentally, I had just finished reading one of my  favorite books, Black Beauty. I became a lawyer, but after I stopped practicing law and my kids got older, I learned about the Somali immigration to Maine and thought, wow, this would be a wonderful and important topic to write about.

If you could give any advice to young authors, what would it be?

My best advice is simply that writers must write! Start a journal and keep it close, or take notes on your laptop or phone. Find a writing buddy and send ideas back and forth. Get your words down, whenever and however you’re inspired. Even if your writing isn’t close to perfect at first, it will get better, and you will learn and grow in the process—I promise!

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**Thank you to Susan for providing a copy of the book for review and for sharing the teachers’ guide and Q&A!**

A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery: The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman, Illustrated by Deborah Zemke


case of the missing carrot

A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery: The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake
Author: Robin Newman
Illustrator: Deborah Zemke
Published May 12th, 2015 by Creston Books

Goodreads Summary: When food goes missing on Ed’s farm, Detectives Wilcox and Griswold do what it takes to track down the thieves. In this case, Miss Rabbit’s carrot cake has disappeared. Has it been stolen? Or eaten? Or both? Who dunnit?

“Readers ready for chapter books will solve the crime and then be surprised by the twist at the end. Here’s hoping for more hard-boiled detecting from Wilcox and Griswold!”
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

My Review: This book starts with a letter to the reader about the two detectives who will be leading the case, and I automatically thought of Dragnet as soon as I read it, and that was the voice I heard all the way through the book which made it even more fun to read! I love how this book was crafted: set up like a police file with times of interviews, suspects, and clues throughout. The detectives are also quite humorous and the ending is just surprising enough though some students may be able to predict it if they follow the clues. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Case of the Missing Carrot is a perfect read aloud to practice inferring and prediction as students try to figure out what is going on at the farm. Students can keep track of clues and characters (suspects), and the book also gives opportunities to discuss sequence, vocabulary, dialogue, point of view, and voice. The text is just so much fun to read, but can also be a great discussion starter/exemplar for so many language arts topics.

Discussion Questions: (Thoughout the book) What clues did this section give us? Who is a new suspect? Who is no longer a suspect? How has your prediction changed? What is your prediction now?

We Flagged: 

case of the missing carrot illustration

“Captain, stop the car!” I shouted. “There’s something up ahead. It’s orange.”

The captain grabbed his magnifying glass and tweezers. He picked up the object.

“A carrot!” I said.

I ran back to the squad car to get the crime scene photos.

“This carrot matches the ones we found in Miss Rabbit’s kitchen. We’re onto something.”

The captain twitched his tail furiously. (p. 19)

Read This If You Loved: Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamilloThe Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, Lulu series by Judith Viorst

Recommended For:

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*Thank you to Creston Books for providing copies for review!**

Kellee’s NCTE Session: Humor and the Art of Engaging All Readers with Kim Baker, Caroline Carlson, Jennifer Holm, Kristen Kittscher, and Heidi Schulz




In a few shorts weeks, I am going to have the pleasure of chairing a panel with five amazing authors about the importance and ability of humor within middle grade books.  Within the session we’ll be touching on many aspects of humor including why the authors chose to write funny books, how humor can be used to help address tough topics, how humor is not just for boys!, different types of humor, and different ways humor can be intertwined in a novel. To see our PowerPoint and handout, check out my Slideshare at

I am looking forward to presenting with these wonderful ladies, and I wanted to take a day to share their wonderful (and funny!) books with you all.


Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
Author: Kim Baker
Illustrator: Tim Probert
Published September 4th, 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Goodreads Summary: This is the story of THE LEAGUE OF PICKLE MAKERS.

Ben: who began it all by sneaking in one night and filling homeroom with ball-pit balls.
Frank: who figured out that an official club, say a pickle making club, could receive funding from the PTA.
Oliver: who once convinced half of the class that his real parents had found him and he was going to live in a submarine.
Bean: who wasn’t exactly invited, but her parents own a costume shop, which comes in handy if you want to dress up like a giant squirrel and try to scare people at the zoo.

TOGETHER, they are an unstoppable prank-pulling force, and Fountain Point Middle School will never be the same.

My Review: Kim Baker has obviously spent some time with middle schoolers because her characters, dialogue, and story are spot on. Pickle is a hilarious, though sometimes serious, story about pranks and friendship and more pranks. What I love most about the book, though, is the characters. They are diverse, imperfect, and fully-developed–just like an actual middle schooler. Though some of the pranks and adults are over the top, the middle schoolers are reflections of what really kids are like.

verynearly1 verynearly2 very nearly honorable league 3

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
Author: Caroline Carlson
Illustrator: Dave Phillips
Magic Marks the Spot Published September 10th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Terror of the Southlands Published September 9th, 2014 by HarperCollins
The Buccaneers’ Code Published September 8th, 2015 by HarperCollins

Magic Marks the Spot Goodreads Summary: Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

My Review: If you have been following the blog, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed these books. I listened to all of them, and the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, is brilliant. Her ability to do the different voices and accents is just superb! Now, it does make it even easier to love because the books are so well done and so much fun! Hilary Westfield has become one of my favorite strong female protagonists because she just does not care what anyone else thinks or expects of her, she is going to be a fearsome pirate no matter who steps in her way. Additionally, the gargoyle is one of my favorite sidekicks in any book.

sunny side up

Sunny Side Up
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published August 25th, 2015 by GRAPHIX

Goodreads Summary: Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer.  At first she thought Florida might be fun — it is the home of Disney World, after all.  But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park.  It’s full of . . . old people.  Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around.  She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.  But the question remains — why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place?  The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .

My Review: Jennifer L. Holm does such a wonderful job in Sunny Side Up mixing a really tough situation with a very humorous story. It is the perfect balance. It isn’t over the top, because that would demean the serious topic, but it isn’t too serious either. And you can tell this is a story from Jennifer’s heart because the story is crafted so thoughtful with well-timed humor and well-timed conflict.

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Young and Yang
Author: Kristen Kittscher
Wig in the Window Published June 18th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Tiara on the Terrace Expected Publication January 5th, 2016 by HarperCollins

Wig in the Window Goodreads Summary: Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward).

At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her famous pickled beets! But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is.

Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. They might solve their case, but will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a REAR WINDOW twist.

My Review: I am in awe of Kristen Kittscher’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery! There are so many twists and turns throughout that I am sure the plotting of the book was so intensive! I really appreciate Young & Yang mysteries for three reasons. First, Young & Yang (& Bottoms) themselves. They are such unique yet normal characters. Normal in that they seem like regular middle school girls, but unique in literature because they aren’t anything that is stereotypical.  Second, I love that Wig in the Window and Tiara on the Terrace are both a little risque yet safe. Too often mystery books are too easy or boring OR they are so violent or sexual, and my middle schoolers just don’t gravitate towards them. Kittscher’s books are a perfect mix! Finally, as you can probably guess from the topic of the panel, they are quite funny! A mix of all kinds of humor, but throughout there are some ridiculous moments as well as some subtle puns.

hook's revenge hook's 2

Hook’s Revenge
Author: Heidi Schulz
Illustrator: John Hendrix
Hook’s Revenge Published September 16th, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
The Pirate Code Published September 15th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

Hook’s Revenge Goodsreads Summary: Captain Hook’s feisty daughter hits the high seas to avenge her father’s death at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile in Heidi Schulz’s spirited middle-grade debut.

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

The crocodile’s clock is always ticking in Heidi Schulz’s debut novel, a story told by an irascible narrator who is both dazzlingly witty and sharp as a sword. Will Jocelyn find the courage to beat the incessant monster before time runs out?

My Review: Heidi Schulz must have read my mind because I’ve always felt that Hook was the most interesting character in the Peter Pan stories (Peter himself is actually a bit obnoxious), and I wanted to know what ever happened to him. These books tell me not only that, but also the story of his feisty daughter. Jocelyn overcomes so much to finally become a pirate then, once in Neverland, she goes on quite an epic journey to avenge her father’s honor. Jocelyn is a spit fire and is ready to lead her crew on an adventure of her lifetime.

Recommended For: 

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Happy Birthday, Mercy Watson! Review and Giveaway!: Mercy Watson and Deckadoo Drive Books by Kate DiCamillo


Mercy Birthday

One of the most popular chapter book series for newly independent readers turns ten

And beloved creators Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen give fans even more reason to celebrate with a new spin-off series Tales from Deckawoo Drive

Mercy Watson, the best-selling early chapter-book series written by the two-time Newbery Medal winner and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Launched in 2005 the fun-filled stories aimed at readers age five to eight star Mercy Watson, Deckawoo Drive resident, lover of hot buttered toast and the most single-minded of pigs when it comes to the pursuit of adventure – and treats. Illustrated in full color by award-winning artist Chris Van Dusen in his signature retro style, the Mercy Watson books are a popular choice with younger readers making the transition from picture books to chapter books.

Although the sixth and final Mercy Watson installment was published in 2009, the series continues to attract new fans and is published in ten languages with sales of over two million copies worldwide. Last year Kate DiCamillo reunited children with Mercy and her neighbours in the first book in her spin-off series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive. Once more illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and with all the rip-roaring adventure of Mercy Watson, the series is aimed at older readers of six to nine. The longer chapters and fewer illustrations allow Kate DiCamillo to introduce another level of pathos and sentiment to this series of funny, touching stories starring some unforgettable, heart-warming characters.

The first title in the new series, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, became a New York Times bestseller and Amazon Best Book of the Year. Leroy and his rusty rather than trusty steed Maybelline star in this love story bursting with impassioned declarations and plenty of hilarious horsing around. This summer saw the release of book two, Francine Poulet meets the Ghost Raccoon, which also joined the New York Times Best Seller list earlier this month. Francine Poulet is the greatest animal control officer in Gizzford County – but it looks like she may finally have met her match. Funny, fast-paced and with an empowering message at its heart, readers are reunited with some familiar characters amid some riotous raccoon wrangling!

Tales from Deckawoo Drive is the perfect follow-on for original  fans who grew up with Mercy Watson and are ready to move on to a longer read. And for those readers new to Deckawoo Drive, this series is a wonderful introduction to a warm and witty world where readers are left feeling all buttery-toasty inside.

Mercy Watson

My Review: The characters in this story are so endearing. Even Eugenia! The antics of Mercy within these pages mixed with DiCamillo’s way of writing really push the Mercy Watson books past all the other early chapter books into its own league. No wonder Mercy is considered a porcine wonder!

Discussion Questions: What makes the Watsons love Mercy so much? What makes Eugenia dislike Mercy so much?; Did Mercy actually save the day or do you think it was all a coincidence?

We Flagged: 

Mercy Illustration

“Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson have a pig named Mercy.

Each night they sing Mercy to sleep.

‘Bright, bright is the morning sun,” sing Mr. and Mrs. Watson,
but brighter still is our darling one
Dark, dark is the coming night,
but oh, our Mercy shines so bright.

leroy ninker

Goodreads Summary: Yippie-i-oh! Saddle up for the first in a spin-off series starring favorite characters from Kate DiCamillo’s New York Timesbest-selling Mercy Watson books.

Leroy Ninker has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse — until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight. Maybelline loves spaghetti and sweet nothings, and she loves Leroy, too. But when Leroy forgets the third and final rule of caring for Maybelline, disaster ensues. Can Leroy wrestle fate to the ground, rescue the horse of his heart, and lasso loneliness for good? Join Leroy, Maybelline, and a cast of familiar characters — Stella, Frank, Mrs. Watson, and everyone’s favorite porcine wonder, Mercy — for some hilarious and heartfelt horsing around on Deckawoo Drive.

My Review: Leroy is just so darn loveable. His personality shines through the pages and you just are so happy that Leroy and Maybelline found each other. Also, Kate DiCamillo has a way with voice! I can always hear her characters talking in my head, and they each are so very distinct. I also love her use of vocabulary and humor–perfect! This one is going to be loved by many!

Discussion Questions: Why do you think that Maybelline is the perfect horse for Leroy?; Was Leroy truly prepared to have a horse? How do you know?; Why does Leroy want to be a cowboy?

We Flagged:

leroy ninker

“Leroy Ninker said ‘Yippie-i-oh’ because Leroy Ninker had a dream. He wanted to be a cowboy.

On Wednesday nights, the Bijou Drive-In Theater ran a Western double feature, and Leroy Ninker Stood and watched in wonder as the great white expanse of the Bijou screen filled with purple mountains, wide-open plains, and cowboys.

The cowboys wore ten-gallon hats. The wore boots. They carried lassos. The cowboys were men who cast long shadows and knew how to fight injustice. They were men who where never, ever afraid.

‘Yippie-i-oh,’ Leroy Ninker whispered to the screen. ‘That is the life for me. A cowboy is who I was meant to be.’”

francine poulet

Goodreads Summary: Deckawoo Drive’s intrepid Animal Control Officer meets her match—or does she? A funny, heartfelt, and fast-paced romp from the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Francine Poulet is the greatest Animal Control Officer in Gizzford County. She hails from a long line of Animal Control Officers. She’s battled snakes, outwitted squirrels, and stared down a bear. “The genuine article,” Francine’s dad always called her. She is never scared—until, that is, she’s faced with a screaming raccoon that may or may not be a ghost. Maybe Francine isn’t cut out to be an Animal Control Officer after all! But the raccoon is still on the loose, and the folks on Deckawoo Drive need Francine back. Can she face her fears, round up the raccoon, and return to the ranks of Animal Control? Join a cast of familiar characters—Frank, Stella, Mrs. Watson, and Mercy the porcine wonder—for some riotous raccoon wrangling on Deckawoo Drive

My Review: Kate DiCamillo has a special way of writing stories. Her characterization is amazing which leads to truly full characters. Her vocabulary always pushes the reader yet never leaves the reader out of the story either. Her voice rings throughout the pages to where you can hear the narrator in your head. In this book, Francine Poulet is a character that all readers will love. She is determined, good at her job, and loves what she is doing. But then she faces her adversary. What happens after is what truly shows what type of person Francine Poulet can be.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Francine does her job because she loves it or because she felt pressured to do it because of her father and grandfather?; What vocabulary words do Kate DiCamillo use throughout the book to add more descriptive language and imagery to the book?; How would you describe Francine? Frank? The raccoon?

We Flagged: 

Francine Poulet Image

“Francine put the net on the ground. She took the binoculars. She held them up and looked through them. She saw the raccoon sitting on the roof, staring at her.

The moon was bright, and it was shining on the raccoon’s fur. The raccoon shimmered.”

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers’ Guides for Mercy Watson, Leroy Ninker, and Francine Poulet can be found on Candlewick’s website:

Mercy Watson:

Leroy Ninker:

Francine Poulet:

Read These If You Loved: Lulu series by Judish Viorst, Frankie Pickle series by Eric Wight, Bramble and Maggie (series) by Jessie Haas, The Princess in Black (and #2!) by Shannon Hale

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**Thank you to Alice at Candlewick for providing copies for review and for giveaway!**


Review, Author Q&A, and Giveaway!: The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills


Trouble with Ants

The Nora Notebooks: The Trouble with Ants
Author: Claudia Mills
Illustrator: Katie Kath
Published September 22nd, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: Science-obsessed fourth grader Nora has ants all figured out—now she just has to try to understand her fellow humans!

The trouble with ants is . . .
. . . people think they’re boring.
. . . they are not cuddly.
. . . who would ever want them for a pet?

Nora Alpers is using her new notebook to record the behavior of ants. Why? Because they are fascinating! Unfortunately, no one agrees with her. Her mom is not happy about them being in the house, and when Nora brings her ant farm to school for show and tell, her classmates are not very impressed. They are more interested in cat videos, basketball practice, or trying to set a Guinness World Record (although Nora wouldn’t mind that).

Mostly they are distracted by the assignment their teacher Coach Joe has given them—to write a persuasive speech and change people’s minds about something. Will Nora convince her friends that ants are as interesting as she thinks they are? Or will everyone still think of ants as nothing but trouble?

With real science facts, a classroom backdrop, an emphasis on friendship, and appealing black-and-white interior illustrations from artist Katie Kath, The Nora Notebooks is perfect for newly independent readers—especially budding scientists like Nora!—and adults who want to encourage awareness of STEM subjects in young readers.

About the Author: Claudia Mills is the author of over fifty books for young readers. She does not personally keep an ant farm, but she does have a cat, Snickers, with whom she curls up on her couch at home in Boulder, Colorado, drinking hot chocolate and writing. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides for her books, visit her website at claudiamillsauthor.comClaudia Mills, Philosophy photo by: Larry Harwood

My Review: I love books that promote girls being smart and doing well in school. This book goes even further and promotes girls finding a love in science and, specifically, insects. Nora is a girl that I hope that lots of readers find a connection with and strive to be like. She is a role model for all kids. She is smart, doesn’t mind being a bit different, and has great friends and family. I also love that she is at the heart of it a normal girl who just happens to be smart and like science. The story is more than just her science and ants. It is about growing up.  There is so much you will love in this book: Nora, her parents, her teacher, her friends, and, of course, Precious Cupcake.

Author Q&A: We are so excited to host Claudia today! Thank you for taking part in the Q&A.

Do you like ants as much as Nora does?

No! But some ants somewhere must have read my book and gotten the wrong impression, as I had my first-ever invasion of ants in my pantry as the book was going to press. It was hard to convince them that I much prefer to have them outside in their usual habitat. But I had a pang thinking how much Nora would have come to their defense.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

The research was a challenge. Most of my books are contemporary school stories. It helps that I love going to schools on author visits where I pay close attention to the details on how the classrooms are organized, what kind of work the kids are doing, and how classmates interact. But I don’t need to do any other research. Here I had to try to equal Nora’s knowledge about ants, and that meant reading about ants, interviewing a leading ant scientist, and combing the internet for promising ant experiments.

What’s next for Nora?

She is going to star in two more books. In The Trouble with Babies she devotes herself to the scientific study of babies as a new a-u-n-t; in The Trouble with Friends she wants to replicate Mendel’s experiments on the genetics of peas in the class garden, but finds herself instead learning the limits of her own scientific approach to life.

Thanks for hosting me today, Kellee!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love the cross-curricular aspect of this novel. You can use aspects in science and in language arts. I love Nora’s example of an experiment and persuasive essay. I also think having an ant farm while reading the novel would really add an extra aspect to the reading.

Discussion Questions: What are the steps to doing a science experiment?; Why did all of Nora’s ants die?; How is Nora different than her friends? How does their relationship show that different types of people can be friends.; How did Nora’s parents influence her?; Why do you think Dunk acts the way he does?; What was so special about Nora’s classroom?

We Flagged: “Nora loved scribbling down all kinds of facts in all kinds of notebooks: big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, spiral ones, and now this new super fancy one.

She had waited to start her new notebook on the first day of the new year.

‘Fascinating Facts About Ants,’ she now wrote on the first blank page with her blue ballpoint pen.” (p. 2)

Read This If You Loved: The Categorical Universe of Candice McPhee by Barry Jonsberg, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb


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Recommended For:

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway and also a big thank you to Claudia Mills for taking part in the Q&A!!**

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Author and Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
Published March 10th, 2015 by Dial Books

Goodreads Summary: For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

In her graphic novel debut, real-life derby girl Victoria Jamieson has created an inspiring coming-of-age story about friendship, perseverence, and girl power!

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: How did I not read this book the instant it came out?! First, it has eye-catching, colorful artwork which is my favorite in graphic novels. Yes, everyone is comparing it to Raina’s work, and I can see why, because they are both just so well done and fun to read. Second, it is such a girl power book. Not an over-the-top girl power book, but it is a book about being a girl and being awesome at it. Third, it has roller derby in it! I love that we get to learn about the sport with Astrid. Fourth, the book has an awesome mom! Even when Astrid is complaining about her, she is being awesome (like taking her to poetry readings and the art museum). Fifth, this book is also about friendships and the ebbs and flows that come with teenage friends. Finally, it is about putting your mind to something and doing it! Astrid works her butt off, and it pays off.  I think Roller Girl is also a great jumping off point to talk about bullying, friendship, and working hard to meet a goal.

This book is going to be loved by fans of Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo, The Dumbest Idea Ever!, Astronaut Academy, and Cleopatra in Space. It is definitely going to make the rounds in my classroom library!

Discussion Questions: How should Astrid had dealt with Nicole not going to derby camp?; Have you had a friend like Nicole?; Astrid really wants to learn roller derby; Nicole wants to get better at ballet–what is your passion?; How did Rainbow Brite help Astrid?; What do you think about Astrid’s mom?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece BellThe Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley, Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman, Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack

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Jellaby: The Lost Monster & Jellaby: A Monster in the City by Kean Soo


jellaby 1

Author & Illustrator: Kean Soo
Published February, 2008 by Hyperion Books for Children
(Rereleased in 2014 by Stone Arch Books)

jellaby 2

Author & Illustrator: Kean Soo
Published April, 2009 by Hyperion Books for Children
(Rereleased in 2014 by Stone Arch Books)

Jellaby Goodreads Summary: Quiet, brilliant Portia has just moved to a new neighborhood with her mom. Adjusting to life without a father is hard enough, but school is boring and her classmates are standoffish — and even Portia’s mom is strangely distant. But things start looking up when Portia mounts a late-night excursion into the woods behind her house and discovers a shy, sweet-natured purple monster. Life with Jellaby is a lot more exciting, but Portia’s purple friend has secrets of his own; secrets that may even lead to the mystery of Portia’s father’s disappearance!

Jellaby: Monster in the City Goodreads Summary: As Portia, Jason, and Jellaby continue their journey through the city of Toronto, Portia is torn between her friendship with Jellaby and her duty to help the sweet monster find his way back to his home. How can Portia say goodbye forever, when Jellaby has become her best friend?
But the clues leading them to Jellaby’s origins begin to turn sinister. When a hooded wizard introduces them to another monster like Jellaby, Portia and her purple friend are in for a gruesome shock — this monster befriends children, too — and then she eats them Now Portia must find a home for Jellaby, save Jason from the grasping tentacles of his new “best friend,” and come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of her father. It’s a lot to take on, but Portia is mad, bad, and ready to kick some monster butt.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am a big fan of the mostly single color comics (ala Babymouse, Lunch Lady, etc.) and Jellaby is one as well with primarily purple in its illustrations. Also, Kean Soo’s style of illustrations are perfect for the story he is telling. They are very comicy, but realistic and filled with emotions.

This little graphic novel has a lot of heart in it. Portia, Jason (her classmate) and Jellaby all feel abandoned and the story is not only about finding where Jellaby belongs, but also helping Portia and Jason feel like they belong as well.

You will want the second one as soon as you are done, so make sure you have it available! And luckily, this sequel is a continuation of the first Jellaby because that one definitely left you hanging and the story does not disappoint. You see the characters growing so much through this journey even when they encounter obstacles that they shouldn’t be able to overcome. I, personally, didn’t like this one as much as the first one because I wish it had more answers, but I truly loved the ending. I am sad that there is no more Jellaby, but luckily the author has extras on his website!!  I will be buying both for my classroom.

Discussion Questions: Portia doesn’t feel like she fits in at her new school- when was a time that you felt like you didn’t belong? How did you deal with the situation?

We Flagged: “I hope you like Tuna.  I remember mom making me a tuna sandwich for my first day of school.  It was terrible.  My first day of school, I mean, not the sandwich. We had just moved out here, and I didn’t know anyone at all.  Everyone was so strange and they all had their own friends anyway.  I really didn’t want to be there, so I snuck out at lunchtime and ate my sandwich out on the bleachers.  Now whenever I smell tuna, I always think about that first day.” (Jellaby p. 28-29)

Since the snatch doesn’t give you the full picture, below you will find the an interview with Kean Soo to give you an idea of the drawing style:

Read This If You Loved: Bone (series) by Jeff Smith, Zita and the Spacegirl (series) by Ben Hatke, Sidekicks by Dan Santat

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**Thank you Netgalley and Stone Arch Books for providing the e-galleys**