Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett


sam and dave

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published October 14th, 2014 by Candlewick Press

Publisher’s Summary: Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure  n this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.

About the Creators: Mac Barnett is the author of several award-winning books for children, including President Taft Is Stuck in the Bathillustrated by Chris Van Dusen, and Extra Yarn, illustrated by Jon Klassen, which won a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and a Caldecott Honor. Mac Barnett lives in California.

Jon Klassen is the author-illustrator of I Want My Hat Back, a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book, and This Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is also the illustrator of House Held Up by Trees, written by Ted Kooser, which was named a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book, and Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, which won a Caldecott Honor. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jon Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I just love the work that Mac and Jon do. I don’t think I have read any of their books that I haven’t enjoyed and haven’t found myself wanting to talk about. What I love most about their books is that they are unique and so, so, so smart. Their books are like no other, and this book is no different. It has nuances you have to carefully look for, it has an ending that you can debate about for a very long time, and overall is just so well done. I think this, along with the Hat books, may be the best open-ended picture books out there. Just like wordless books, open-ended books truly invokes conversing. When I finished, I immediately asked my husband to read it, so we could discuss the ending. Travis Jonker has a great post about the different theories about the ending, but I warn you: there are spoilers in the post! Think of all the great conversations or writing your students will have/do because of this thought-provoking picture book.

For some laughs, also check out Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen Make a Book: A Transcript.

Discussion Questions: What do you think happened at the end?; What do you notice about the dog as you are reading the book?; How is the ending different from the beginning?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

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**Thank you to Laura at Candlewick for providing a copy for review**

Touched by Paul Maurer



Author: Paul Maurer
Published February 6th, 2013 by New Libri Press

Goodreads Summary: Landmines. Quicksand. Class warfare. Now if Jimmy Parker could only find high school that simple. It only gets more complicated when a mysterious female classmate with a special gift enters his life. Jimmy finds out quickly that a simple touch of her hand allows her unwanted clairvoyance into his most sacred thoughts. Soon after the revelation adolescent sparks fly in directions that culminate in Jimmy’s admittance into the sinister Gritch Club. There he is confronted with social and sexual dilemmas that shake his very core. It is only when his classmate’s mental frailties bubbles to the surface he realizes seemingly harmless actions have powerful consequences that end one life and transform another.

My Review: This book’s ending was so shocking. I sat with my mouth hanging open, just shocked. It was so sudden and really caught me off guard.  The emotion I felt starts with the characters. Jimmy is a nobody in his high school until Renee enters his life. Renee is special. She doesn’t care about what others think, she stands up to the bullies, and she actually befriends Jimmy. Renee is who propels our plot. She gets Jimmy to get out of his comfort zone, she is mysterious so I was always trying to figure her out, and she was smart and beautiful.

Teacher Tools’ For Navigation: There is almost a sub-genre of books that Touched fits in, though I don’t know if it has a name yet. They all have smart or outcast main characters, and another character enters their life who helps them realize their identity. Teens who like those book will enjoy Touched as well.

Discussion Questions: How does Renee change Jimmy’s life?; What events caused the surprising ending to happen? Did you see it happen? Was their foreshadowing that could have given away the ending?

We Flagged: “Most of high school was about as thrilling as getting a Slushee brain-freeze. But in my first class after lunch a thin vein of gold appeared within the red bricks of the building. English Composition was taught by Clarice Weatherspoon, a wrinkly lady that just about everybody called Mrs. Spoon. She was about eighty years old and one of those teachers who probably probably taught during the depression and was never going to die. I could see her in a coma maybe, but not dead. I never cared much for writing but Mrs. Spoon was supposed to be different. Fun was too strong a word for her class, but at least it wasn’t supposed to bore the living crap out of you. She only weighted a hundred pounds caring a backpack full of Big Macs, but when she spoke she came on as tough as a leather boot. Probably tougher.” (Location 335, Kindle ebook)

Read This If You Loved: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott

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Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Just Call My Name

Just Call My Name
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published: August 5, 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: The happily-ever-after of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s acclaimed debut, I’ll Be There, is turned on its head in this riveting, emotional sequel about friends, enemies, and how those roles can shift in a matter of moments.

Emily Bell has it all. She’s in love with a boy named Sam Border, and his little brother has become part of her family. This summer is destined to be the best time of their lives–until a charismatic new girl in town sets her sights on Sam. Now Emily finds herself questioning the loyalty of the person she thought she could trust most.

But the biggest threat to her happiness is someone she never saw coming. Sam’s criminally insane father, whom everyone thought they’d finally left behind, is planning a jailbreak. And he knows exactly where to find Emily and his sons when he escapes…and takes his revenge.

Review: Holly Goldberg Sloan is an incredible writer. I enjoyed the first book in the series, but I liked this one even more. I appreciate the great depth of her characters. Often, coincidences are categorized as poor writing, but Sloan uses them intentionally and in a clever way—defying literary assumptions about quality writing. The book is quite suspenseful, and readers will have the urge to race through it to learn how the plot unravels. The way Sloan builds the plot details is very thoughtful and meticulous, and I found myself constantly reflecting about how intelligent she is. This sequel is well worth the read. It is a difficult one to put down! It reads like a very literary mystery and would be a great text for teachers to have in their classrooms. One aspect that I love about this series is it turns our concept of family on its head; it will teach readers about the power of a strong family unit—traditional or not.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a fantastic resource for teachers teaching plot, suspense, and foreshadowing. The way Sloan builds the events and details is admirable, and students would learn a lot from her design. While it is a sequel, I think this book could certainly stand alone. The ominous mood made my heart race! Check out more curricular connections here: Curricular Connections.

Discussion Questions: How does Sloan thoughtfully use coincidence to build her story?; What is Destiny’s role in the novel? How does Sam perceive her? Is he right? What does this tell us about Sam? Why does the author name her, “Destiny”?; How do the shifts in point-of-view add to your reading of the text?

We Flagged: “That happens to really happy people. They don’t notice the little things” (p.81).

Read This If You Loved: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan, We Were Liars by e. lockhart, YA Suspense/Mystery

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Period 8 by Chris Crutcher



Period 8
Author: Chris Crutcher
Published March 26th, 2013 by Harper Collins

Goodreads Summary: In this full-length novel from Chris Crutcher, his first since the best-selling Deadline, the ultimate bully and the ultimate good guy tangle during Period 8.

Paul “the Bomb” Baum tells the truth. No matter what. It was something he learned at Sunday School. But telling the truth can cause problems, and not minor ones. And as Paulie discovers, finding the truth can be even more problematic. Period 8 is supposed to be that one period in high school where the truth can shine, a safe haven. Only what Paulie and Hannah (his ex-girlfriend, unfortunately) and his other classmates don’t know is that the ultimate bully, the ultimate liar, is in their midst.

Terrifying, thought-provoking, and original, this novel combines all the qualities of a great thriller with the controversy, ethics, and raw emotion of a classic Crutcher story.

My ReviewNow, this is not a “normal” Chris Crutcher book, but like all of his books, it is raw, true, and sports plays a role of some sort. And this one is SO full of suspense for the last 25%. It is a hold your breath, read as quickly as you can kind of book there at the end. (I do wish that this suspense had been spread out to 50% of the book. This would have helped the pacing a bit and I think it would have given Crutcher more time to give information into the crime. Although the quick pacing at the end adds to the suspense, I think spreading it out a bit would have kept the suspense and given more time to delve further into the bad guys and the mystery.)

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I, personally, really loved how he chose to tell the story in 3rd person. Although it doesn’t give as much insight into one character, it gives you a little bit of insight into each one, and as you are trying to figure out what is going one, it is really fun to hear from all the different characters. (Some readers and reviewers have stated that having the multiple 3rd person point of views made it so the reader didn’t really know anyone, but I think it actually helped me get to know everyone a little bit. It also allows for the reader to get snippets of not just the mystery but of the characters allowing you to build the complete character in your head.)

Another brilliant think Crutcher did was include foreshadowing scenes right at the beginning of the novel that did not make sense until the end and then I had to go back and read it. Well done!

Also, if you ever need a mentor text on complex sentence structure or descriptive language–Crutcher is for you!

Mostly, though, this book will find its home in teens’ hands. It will be as loved as other Crutcher books.

Discussion Questions: How does swimming help Paulie deal with his problems?; At what point did you figure out who the “bad guy” in the group was?

We Flagged: “He hits the water, involuntarily sucking air as the cold leaks in. The colder the better. He deserves this. Even so, he pees in self-defense, his only means to counter the ice-watery fingers creeping around his ribcage and into his crotch. He swims away from shore for about a hundred yards as his body heat warms the water inside the suit. He turns parallel to the shore and strokes, finding a candence he can hold over the next two hours. He knows how to play games to allay the monotony; fifty stroke hard, fifty strokes easy; a hundred strokes hard, fifty easy; a hundred-fifty hard, fifty easy, and on and on. An hour up and an hour back. He has taught himself to breathe on either side in order to keep the shore in sight and swim a relatively straight line. On this morning, working on zero sleep, he holds an even pace; no intervals. Just his sweet Hannah wedged in his frontal lobe. His gone Hannah.” (p. 3-4)

Read This If You Loved: Any other Chris Crutcher book, Shine by Lauren Myracle, Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

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Blog Tour, Review, and Author Interview: Double Vision: Code Name 711 by F.T. Bradley



Double Vision: Code Name 711
Author: F. T. Bradley
Published: October 15th, 2013 by HarperCollins

Summary: Twelve-year-old Lincoln Baker isn’t a great student, and he often gets into trouble, but one thing is for sure—he is a great spy. In his last adventure, Linc went on an undercover mission in Paris and saved the world, but this time, Washington D.C. needs his help. A dark car pulls up to his road, and Pandora tells him they need his help. The president and her family have received a death threat, and they need Linc to help save her life. Worse, George Washington’s coat, which is believed to protect the wearer from harm is missing. Unfortunately for Lincoln, his doppelganger, Ben Green is also asked to help with the mission, and Lincoln wants to solve the crime first.

Review: Readers will enjoy this adventure through Washington D.C. and learn about the different museums and pieces of America’s history. Linc’s journey is action-packed and is sure to engage reluctant readers. I was actually visiting Washington D.C. while I read this book, so it was fun for me to learn more about the museums as I visited them. I haven’t read the first book in this series yet, but I was able to follow along with the details of this second book very easily. I enjoyed the hooks at the end of each chapter and was engaged in this detective story.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Middle school students will have a lot of fun with this book. I’d love to see it in American history classes, where teachers might use the book side-by-side with units about our history. Many schools take field trips to Washington D.C., and this would make for a great read-aloud on the bus ride! Or perhaps, teachers might assign it as required reading for the trip. As another alternative, teachers might make a Webquest for students to learn more about our country’s history as they read this book. The great foreshadowing at the end of chapters would be great to teach students how to make predictions.

Discussion Questions: How do 12-year-olds make for great spies?; Why does Linc’s nemesis, Ben Green, play an important role in the story?; Which characters were suspicious? Cite reasons why you found each of them to be suspicious.; How does the setting add to the color of the story? Pick a different setting and tell how the story might the story be different if it were in this setting.

We Flagged: 

“Agent Stark got out of the car and gave me a little nod. And I knew my gut was spot-on: Pandora was back.

I got off my board and carried it as I walked toward her. ‘Hey, Agent Stark. You must be here for my mom’s spaghetti dinner'” (Chapter 1).

Please note: The above quote is from the Advanced Reader Copy. The quote may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: The 39 Clues series published by Scholastic, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowtz, or detective/spy middle grade novels

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Interview with F.T. Bradley!

F.T. Bradley--photo

Websites: and

Twitter: @FTBradleyAuthor

How did you become interested in writing detective/spy novels?

I’ve always loved mysteries, from when I was young, and was given an Enid Blyton Secret Seven paperback. When I was a kid, there wasn’t a YA section in my library, so I moved on to Agatha Christie novels after that. I love the puzzle in mysteries. My interest in all things spy didn’t come until later, when I watched movies like Sneakers. Spies are cool.

When did this story come to you? When did you realize that you wanted it to be a series?

The Double Vision trilogy really started with Linc: what if a regular kid (and a troublemaker with a sense of humor to boot) had to take the place of a lookalike spy? Linc really drives the story; when I sit down to write, I just let him take a run with it and hope for the best. So far, the story is a hit with kids—but that’s all Linc, I swear.

Some of the stories developed as I worked with my agent and editor, once it was sold to Harper Children’s as a three-book series. For the second book, Double Vision: Code Name 711, we started with the Washington D.C. location, which is the center of the spy world. From there, I began researching George Washington, since Linc would be on the hunt for a mysterious double of Washington’s coat.

Once I found out George Washington was a spy, the pieces just fell into place. The history of Washington as having the code name 711 in the Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War is just so awesome, it fueled Double Vision: Code Name 711 from there.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

For each book in the Double Vision trilogy, I usually start with a cool location (like Paris for the first book, Washington D.C. for the second), and then try to think of an interesting historical figure and magical artifact. Next, I’ll think of my bad guy/lady: who is the antagonist, and what is at stake? Since it’s a thriller I’m writing, I try to make the stakes as high as I can. I’m putting Linc’s life on the line on these missions after all.

Once I have those elements nailed down, I plot the book as best as I can, trying to think of the most daring things Linc can do on his quest. Like jumping from an airplane onto the Eiffel Tower’s gardens in the first book.

And once that plot gets the thumbs up from my editor, I start writing, and brace myself for what Linc will do. I never quite know, and that’s the best part. Linc is a cool and funny dude.

How did you settle on Lincoln’s age for your book? Did you always know it would be a middle-grade book?

Linc is twelve, which is a solid age for middle-grade. It’s important that he’s not too old, but not so young that he can’t go on his missions.

From the start, I wanted the Double Vision books to appeal to reluctant readers, especially boys who might give up on reading by the time they hit the double digit birthdays. Although I love award-winning children’s books, mysteries and thrillers kind of get forgotten, or are looked at as less somehow. I want to write MG thrillers that mirror the great books written for adults, those that hit the bestseller list because they’re entertaining, moving, sweep you away on a mysterious quest. I want kids to read for fun, and keep reading into adulthood. It’s important that this type of reading—reading for entertainment, whatever the book is—gets more respect.

What were your favorite books as a child and middle schooler?

I was a huge Roald Dahl fan–the BFG was my favorite book. Pippi Longstocking I loved because she did exactly what she wanted. Once I hit middle-school, I moved to the Agatha Christies. As a kid, I loved going to the library, and devoured books.

During my teens, I became a bit of a reluctant reader. There was so much required reading (I grew up in Europe, where there’s a lot of it in high school), and I stopped reading for fun. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I got back to reading when someone gave me a paperback thriller. That reignited the passion for books in me, and eventually I worked on writing them (for many years…).

You could say I came full circle: I’m now back at my library every week, leaving with a stack of books.

What are your current favorite middle grade or young adult books?

I’m all over the place with my reading… In MG, I recently loved Wonder, and Eion Colfer’s latest The Reluctant Assassin. In YA, I loved Rat Life by Tedd Arnold, Seconds Away by Harlan Coben.

I’m forgetting titles, I’m sure of it. 🙂 There are so many books, I wish I could just read all day sometimes…

Tell us a little bit about your family.

My husband is in the Air Force, which makes us professional nomads. The cool part about this is that I get to meet new people all the time, and that I have friends all over the globe. My two girls are tweens, and they keep me sharp. My family is so amazingly supportive of my crazy writing career, I thank my lucky stars every day.

Also, I have four cats, so there’s always one to keep me company as I write. The secret to my success is cats, honest.

Is there any reason you chose to use F.T. Bradley instead of Fleur Bradley as the specified author name for your books?

Because the Double Vision books are meant to appeal to boys, we decided to play it safe and go with initials instead of my (sort-of-girly) first name. To be honest, I think I sold today’s boys short. When I do book signings or go on school visits, they couldn’t care less if my hair was green or my name was Bob. We talk about our favorite books, donuts, and what would make a good spy gadget. And the girls join right in.

Kids today are amazing, funny, smart, open-minded, and utterly inspiring in their enthusiasm. They’re why I love to write middle-grade.

Thank you to F.T. Bradley for providing me with a copy of Double Vision: Code Name 711 to review and for this wonderful interview!