Noodles & Albie by Eric Bennett



Noodles & Albie
Author: Eric Bennett
Illustrator: Liz Bannish
Published January 1st, 2014 by Small Batch Books

Publisher’s Summary: Noodles, a young penguin, is on his first and very memorable adventure at sea in the mysterious Southern Ocean. When his fun takes a turn and Noodles discovers he is lost, he tries to find his way home before darkness sets in, meeting an
interesting cast of characters along the way. Noodles has nearly given up when he meets a friendly fish named Albie who knows the sea “like the back of my fin.” Together, they begin their journey. Children will go along for the ride while wondering if this duo will make it home to the penguin colony before dark. This charming and imaginative story is set against a backdrop of beautifully intricate watercolor illustrations that help bring it to life.

About the Author: A native of New York City, Eric Bennett’s passion for penguins began as a kid. After graduating Queens College, he opened the world’s first all-penguin shop at South Street Seaport. In time, Bennett began offering his retail rookery online when he launched “Penguin & Fish” was one of the many inspired stories Bennett would recite to entertain his daughters in car rides and at bedtime. Bennett showed the story to his artist friend, Liz Bannish, and soon Noodles & Albie came to be. Eric presently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his daughters and a few hundred penguins. This is his first book. Eric Bennett is available for interview. You may find out more about the author here:

About the Illustrator: Liz Bannish was raised in landlocked West Springfield, Massachusetts/Amherst and currently lives in Northampton. Bannish spends her time making art and thinking about her favorite sea creatures. You may find more of the author’s work at

Kellee’s Review: I love penguins, I love penguin books, and I love when I find a new, good penguin book. The penguin fan in me really loved that this book had the correct setting for penguins and included science about Antartica. The author also included a penguin Q&A at the end of the book which makes this book easily cross-curricular. Then the story goes into a picture book version of a hero’s journey filled with a side kick and lots of adventures. The teacher in me loved the journey, the descriptive language (great verbs and adjectives such as sleepy, cranky, stammered, yawned), and that the dialogue was colored in blue. Then underneath it all, a friendship theme runs deep throughout. Overall, a fun picture book that would be a fantastic read aloud.

Ricki’s Review: When I was a young reader, I remember that as books became more complex, there weren’t any pictures on the page. This was always disappointing to me. I particularly like this book because I think it would make a great transitional text for young readers. There are a lot of words on each page, but the illustrations are filled with just as much fun and adventure as the passages of text. Like Kellee, I loved the possibilities for interdisciplinary connections in the end matter. Kids will be inspired to learn more about penguins after reading this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be a wonderful tool to use as a reading/science cross-curricular text. For reading, you can focus on the descriptive language, dialogue, and plot arc. Then for science, the book includes great information about penguins and Antarctica.

Discussion Questions: What other animals could Noodles have run into when on his adventure?; What other questions do you have about penguins? What new things did you learn?; Which of the words in the book were adjectives? Verbs?

We Flagged: 


“”Hey, little penguin. Why so sad?” a voice called out. As Noodles looked around through the shadows a small fish swam toward him. “Are you lost?” asked the fish.
“I am,” said Noodles.” This is my first day in the ocean and I got separated form my friends and now I’m…I’m…”
“Lost,” the first said, finishing the penguin’s sentence.”

More Information About the Book and Author: You can find articles about the author and his book at Gazettenet and Mass Live.

Read This If You Loved: Penguin series by Salina Yoon, If You Were a Penguin by Florence Minor, Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton, Penguins by Seymour Simon, Tacky series by Helen Lester, A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Carol for providing copies for review!**

Winger by Andrew Smith (Kellee’s Review)



Author: Andrew Smith
Published May 14th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads Summary: Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

My Review: Andrew Smith sure knows how to write a teenage boy’s voice. He gets inside of adolescent male’s mind, and puts it all on paper for us. (It probably has something to do with teaching high school.) Ryan Dean’s voice and his story are so authentic. This book will make you cringe, laugh out loud, shake your head, and cry.  I am also so impressed with all of the themes that are dealt with in this book without ever feeling over done. These themes include bullying, absent parents, peer pressure, identity, sexuality, prejudice, and friendship.  In addition, Smith builds his characters, setting, and plot seamlessly. You fall in love with all of the characters, main and secondary. Even the antagonist. The setting itself is a character. And finally the plot arc was perfectly done, and was so unpredictable all the way to the end.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First and foremost, this book needs to read by teens. However that happens, it is the right thing. The easiest way would be to get it into libraries and classrooms. There are also parts of the book that could definitely be pulled out to be used in the classroom in may different ways. On that junps to mind right away is using Ryan Dean’s comics as mentor texts for writing comics to write narratives of everyday events. Ricki also has some great ideas for Winger in the classroom in her review.

Discussion Questions: What kind of social challenges does Ryan Dean have to overcome since he is 14 but a junior?; Were you able to predict the end of the book?; What are some traits about Ryan Dean that made him easy to connect to?; How does Opportunity Hall and the rest of the school become a character in Winger?

We Flagged: 

winger2(p. 21)

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

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Review and Giveaway!: Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake by Julie Sternberg


bug juice

Like Bug Juice on a Burger (Eleanor #2)
Author: Julie Sternberg
Illsutrator: Matthew Cordell
Published April 2nd, 2013 by Amulet Books

Goodreads Summary: I hate camp. I just hate it. I wish I didn’t. But I do. Being here is worse than bug juice on a burger. Or homework on Thanksgiving. Or water seeping into my shoes. In this sequel to the critically acclaimed Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Eleanor is off to summer camp. At first she’s excited to carry on the family tradition at Camp Wallumwahpuck, but when she gets there she finds icky bugs, terrible food, and worst of all: swim class, where she just can’t seem to keep up with everyone else. But as the days go on, Eleanor realizes that even the most miserable situations can be full of special surprises and that growing up is full of belly flops. 

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book definitely brought back memories! I loved the idea of summer camp and many of the activities, but I hated the bugs and the food and the changing in front of other people. There are many times when I was away that I just wanted to go home; however, there were things that saved me- specifically, like Eleanor, the animals. I loved working in the barn with the horses and it is what saved me and then got me going back year after year. I remember walking into the barn and being able to be part of these horses’ lives and the scene where Eleanor meets Cornelius the goat brought me right back to that moment. 

This book would be a wonderful read aloud for right before summer because even if students are not going to summer camp, there is probably something new and scary that they will try this summer and this book will definitely cause discussion about how something new may be scary, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it eventually. Julie Sternberg’s writing also lends itself to some amazing discussions about free verse poetry and, in this one, letter writing. Maybe use the letter writing part of the book to segue into writing a letter to next year’s class. 

Finally, I love the idea of the Wall of Feelings! The Wall of Feelings is where the campers put up how they feel about camp; however, Eleanor is given the job of writing about how she used to feel about camp and then how she feels about camp now. What a great way for students to express themselves! This would be a great formative assessment for looking at how students feel about reading or school or some other topic at the beginning of the year vs. the end. 

Discussion Questions: Think about a time in your life when you did something you were scared to do. How did you overcome your fear/nervousness? How did it turn out in the end?  

We Flagged: “The bus was bumping
down a gravel road
with bushes and trees and weeds all around. 
This isn’t beautiful
I thought. 
This is creepy
I missed sidewalks full of people
checking their phones
and walking their cute dogs. 
I missed paved roads, too, 
filled with taxis and bik riders.” (Chapter 5) 

Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake_cover (1)

Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake
Author: Julie Sternberg
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Published March 18th, 2014 by Amulet Books

Goodreads Summary: I did a mean thing.
A very mean thing.
I HATE that I did it.
But I did.
This is worse than
carrot juice on a cupcake
or a wasp on my pillow
or a dress that’s too tight at the neck.
In the third installment from the team who created Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and Like Bug Juice on a Burger, Eleanor’s relationship with her best friend, Pearl, experiences its first growing pains. When a glamorous new student transfers to school, at first Eleanor’s excited about the possibility of a new friend. But when Pearl is assigned to be the new girl’s buddy, Eleanor fears she can’t compete. To make matters worse, Eleanor’s been chosen for the lead role in the springtime musical, which means she has to sing a solo in front of the entire school!
From overcoming stage fright to having a secret crush, young readers will relate to Eleanor as she navigates the bittersweet waters of growing up.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book has multiple levels going on at the same time. There is the story of Eleanor and Pearl’s friendship and their first speed bump. Then there is Eleanor getting the lead in the play, and dealing with the fear of singing a solo. Eleanor dealing with her puppy having trouble getting house trained. And finally, the Eleanor and Nicholas story. But Sternberg balances it all because it is just all part of Eleanor’s life. Julie Sternberg is so great at writing in an elementary student’s voice. It is so authentic and well done!

What I love so much about all of the “Eleanor” books are that they are written in verse, and Eleanor is an amazing poet. I love that it is free verse and includes such beautiful language, but it never comes off as anything but authentic. Teachers could definitely take Eleanor’s writing and use it as a mentor text for students to write about their own experiences.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever hurt a friend’s feelings? What did you do to make it better?; How was Eleanor able to overcome her stage fright?; Why was Eleanor so scare and jealous of Ainsley?; Do you think Eleanor likes Nicholas?


Read These If You Loved: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg, Marty McGuire and Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner, Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli, Go Out and Play! by KaBoom!, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett Kroscozka, Camp Babymouse by Jenni and Matt Holm, Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo, Ramona books by Beverly Cleary

Curriculum Guide for All of the “Eleanor” Books Can be Found Here.

Both Books Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review**

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider



The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Published August 27, 2013 by Katerine Tegen

Goodreads Summary: Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

My Review: Another novel filled with smart high schoolers—that makes me so happy!! I hope this is a trend because I love seeing brainy characters in my book and not stereotypical ones. The Beginning of Everything is described as witty, and it is very much so. The sarcasm and wit just bleeds out of this book. I found myself laughing out loud at parts, and usually just because a character had the audacity to say something they shouldn’t have.

In The Beginning of Everything, I actually connected more with the secondary characters than the protagonist. They were so well established and had such unique voices while Ezra sounded like any good-0le boy; however, I will say that by making his voice less distinct allowed for him to grow even in his prose. As he found his new, true identity, his voice became to ring out more true. I am not sure if the author did this on purpose or not, but either way it worked!

Oh, and the final pages. Guys, they were so good! Although it felt a bit rushed to me, the lyrical writing got me in the end. Perfect.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Although this book’s main home is in teens’ hands from a classroom, school, or public library, there are definitely parts that can be pulled out to be used in a classroom.

Since the characters are intelligent, many of the conversations have allusions to literature (Mary Oliver, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Frost) or their topics are quite deep (connecting organic chemistry to life, panopticon, Banksy, German insults). Also, there are debate topics that would be so interesting to look into such as imperialism, capitalism, and the economy.

One fun activity that I would definitely pull out of this book is fake debates. When Ezra, Toby, Cassidy, etc. were at their debate tournament, they had fake debates where they had to choose a side of quite silly topics like “Should vampires be allowed to vote?” This would be a great activity to do in classes to work on persuasion and arguments. (However, be careful about actually reading aloud the scene this is in as they also make it a drinking game.)

Discussion Questions: Do you feel like we live in a society similar to the panopticon? [If you don’t know what this is, it is quite fascinating:]; Do you think Cassidy made the right choice in the end?; Ezra truly connects with The Great Gatsby because of all the changes his life is going through. What book to you connect with and why?

Flagged: “Her face was inches from mine. I could see the freckles that dusted her nose and the gold flecks in the disquieting blue of her eyes.” (p. 111)

“My admirable opponent argues that vampires do not deserve suffrage, as many great yet misinformed politicians have done before her while calling for the continued marginalization of women, or other minorities.” Cassidy began. “Yet vampires were, at some point human. At what point can a man’s voting rights be revoked, if he is proven to be of rational mind?” (p. 157)

Read This If You Loved: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Kiel, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green

Recommended For: 

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The Fox in the Library by Lorenz Pauli


the fox in the library

The Fox in the Library
Author: Lorenz Pauli
Illustrator: Kathrin Schaerer
Published August 1st, 2013 by NorthSouth

Summary: Fox didn’t come to the library to read a book–he came to catch a mouse! But  Mouse offers the fox a book, Fox gets all sorts of creative new ideas.  Like eating chickens!  Until Chicken points out that chicken bones are dangerous. But then all the animals must band together when the chicken eating, hating-Farmer walks into the library.

Review: I am a sucker for books about bookstores, books, and libraries. I imagine this is the same for all book lovers. The illustrations in this book are bright, and it was very fun to read it to my son. I don’t think you can read too many books about books to kids. They need to understand that there is a world of books out there, and going to the library is cool! Some books lend themselves to silly voices—and this is certainly one of those books. The mouse even mocks the fox for calling the library a “lie-berry.” I suspect that kids won’t ever forget the pronunciation after hearing this book.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This would be a great book to read to children before a trip to the library. It would stir their imaginations and make them excited to discover all of the creatures that may lurk while they visit.

Discussion Questions: How does Mouse outsmart the fox?; What do the animals learn in their trip?; What kinds of books appeal to each of the animals?


We Flagged: “‘Nothing here belongs to you,’ Mouse said with a giggle. ‘You can only borrow things here. And I’ll never be yours. This isn’t the forest; this is the library'” (6).

Read This If You Loved:  Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, The Boy who was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris, Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Recommended For: 

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Kellee’s Review)



Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published September 10th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Press

Goodreads Summary: A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?  And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Ricki’s Review: Ricki was lucky enough to read this book before me and wrote a wonderful review in December, so check that one out too!

Kellee’s Review: You know a book is good when in the first 5 pages you already know and feel for you main character. Cath is like many college freshman–afraid. She has known one world for so long and everything around her is changing. This book is about her figuring out her way. Anyone that went to college will connect with Cath and her struggles of finding a balance between who you were in high school and who you are becoming. I really appreciate Rainbow Rowell’s main characters and how they are not perfect–this makes them so much more relatable. (I just give a shout out to the Emergency Dance Party scene–this made me love Cath so much!)

Oh, and the dialogue! I love the way her characters converse. The banter is hilarious and just perfect. Also, I cannot review this book without giving props to the secondary characters. They are so solid and thought out. Although Cath is the main character, no one feels like Rainbow Rowell didn’t put love and time into them. I especially love their father who is probably the most flawed character but is so full of love. (Oh, and Levi. Who cannot love Levi?!?!?!)

[As a teacher, I also liked the look into Levi’s struggle with reading yet his amazing intelligence. I think it is a great conversation starter and a great example of many of the students I encounter. Pg. 168 is Levi’s explanation of his struggles–powerful.]

And all of the book love! Anyone who has ever loved a book or series will adore the fangirl moments. Although an obvious allusion to Harry Potter, Cath and Wren’s love of Simon Snow will make any reader think about their favorite novel which they lose themselves in.

Also this book is about writing: the beauty of good writing and the struggle of good writing. Cath can write in the world of Simon Snow, but struggles in finding her own world. This actually runs parallel quite beautifully with her finding of her self. She is literally and figuratively trying to find her own voice. (And I love that a teacher plays a role in this.)

Overall, a just-right book. I read it in one sitting and didn’t want to put it down. (It did remind me a lot of Anna and the French Kiss–did anyone else feel this way?), but it really was a solid story filled with just enough love, nerdy, and soul searching.

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: I can see how many aspects of this novel could be used in a creative writing course. So much of Cath’s story revolves around writing and different scenes or pieces of fanfiction could be pulled out to use in class. I especially like the discussion about “Why write fiction?” on pg. 21-23.

I also would love to analyze more the excerpts that are put before each chapter and how they connect with the chapter. Many have theme connections or direct character connections. They were placed very intentionally and discussing why would be so interesting.

Check out Ricki’s recommendations here.

Discussion Questions: Cath loves to write, but often finds it hard; what is something you do that you love, but often find challenging? How do you overcome this?; How does Simon Snow compare to Harry Potter?

We Flagged: “Cath wasn’t sure how she was going to keep everything straight in her head. The final project, the weekly writing assignments–on top of all her other classwork, for every other class.  All the reading, all the writing. The essays, the justifications, the reports. Plus Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays writing with Nick. Plus Carry on. Plus e-mail and notes and comments… Cath felt like she was swimming in words. Drowning in them, sometimes.” (p. 100)

Read This If You Loved: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes, You Against Me by Jenny Downham, My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

Recommended For: 

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Romeo and Juliet by Garth Hinds



Romeo and Juliet
Adaption and Illustrator: Gareth Hinds
Author: William Shakespeare
Published September 10th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

Review and Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: This graphic novel does for Shakespeare’s text what Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo and Juliet film did for the play. It makes it so accessible and helps the reader SEE what is going on in the play so that the Shakespeare’s words are easier to interpret. This graphic novel should be in every classroom and school library and should be used whenever the play is.  I also found Garth Hinds’s afterword very fascinating and gives a deeper look into Verona.

Discussion Questions: Gareth Hinds decided to make his characters multicultural to show the universality of the story. How does making his characters multicultural make the story more accessible and show the universality?; Garth Hinds had to abridge the play a bit to fit it into the graphic novel. After reading the play and the graphic novel, what did he remove? Does it change the story?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, The Odyssey by Garth Hinds

Recommended For: 

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