In The Middle School Classroom: Talking About Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena


last stop on market street

So many of us were so happy to hear that Matt de la Peña won the Newbery Medal with Last Stop on Market Street though so many of us were quite surprised as well. Not surprised because the book didn’t deserve it, it did; surprised because it is a picture book winning the award for most distinguished piece of children’s literature. This means that the illustrations, which are phenomenal and also won a Caldecott Honors, could not be taken into consideration during the Newbery process. This left many people wondering how a picture book could beat out novels such as Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, two of the three honors books.

I was fascinated by all the conversations, and then I read a post on Facebook by my friend, Beth Shaum, sharing an activity she did in her classroom. She decided to let her student be the judge of the book and read Last Stop on Market Street aloud to her students without showing them the illustrations. She then asked them how it met the criteria of the Newbery. I loved it and decided to do it in mine as well. I didn’t plan on blogging about it, but the conversations that came with the activity and reading of Last Stop on Market Street with my middle school students was something that needed to be shared.

In my class, I read the whole picture book twice. The first time straight through. Then the second time I allowed for questions and we discussed it a bit. It was so wonderful to see how much inference needed to be done when the illustrations were excluded from the reading. When CJ says he wanted something a pair of teens had, students couldn’t see the photos to determine what it was. They also noticed the diversity of the book without seeing the photos because they pointed out that there was a blind man on the bus.

Finally, I asked my students to answer two questions. First, I asked them to tell me what made Last Stop on Market Street distinguished, and why do you think it won the Newbery. Then, after reading the book for a third time and showing the illustrations as well they had to tell me what the theme of the book was. (We are actually in a theme unit, so the text fit in perfectly.) Here are some answers I received:

What made Last Stop on Market Street distinguished? Why do you think it won the Newbery?

“This book won the Newbery award because it had so many positive things to teach kids. It shows many different things to think about.”

“Because of the author’s ability to use imagery, teach a valuable life lesson in a way where a child can understand, and it’s way of including racially diverse characters like the world we live in today. This book creates a story for children that let’s them think.”

“I think it won because the book teach you many lessons about homeless people and the different types of diversity that is in the world, also the book teach you that some people don’t have a lot of things and it is important to be thankful, the kid in the book was complaining about doesn’t have a car but some people don’t even have food.”

“This book is different from all the other winners for this award, but it still won maybe because the amount of detail in the story even without looking at the illustration.”

“I think this book won the Newbery prize because this shows us that deep down inside that little town it shines bright like the sun,so i think that this book won because it teaches life lessons for kids.”

“I think this won because the story was very well written. The setting and people in the setting were described very well. Even without the pictures I could imagine what the scene looked like. The one scene that really stood out was when CJ, his grandma, and the blind man, all closed their eyes and enjoyed the sound of the music the man with the guitar was playing. The author described this scene very well.”

“It won the Newberry medal because there was so much description in the characters and how the character talked about the setting how there was a arch of a rainbow, about the streetlamps, the graffiti, and even about the description of the characters were so much in detail, like this person was blind, and that the dog guided him around.”

“I think the Last Stop On Market Street won the Newbery Medal because of the way of the wording showed freedom, power, and beauty. It showed clever wording and hints that implied little things that made the world better and beautiful. It talked about how the world was ruined to some and looked wrong, but when you understood it, the world was beautiful. What made the book distinguished was how so little words meant so much and made you think about how the world was breathtaking, and what made it so special.”

“This book is distinguished because the characters are described well because it showed what they were doing and saying. The book also described freedom well and it showed the theme better because it said that his Nana found beautiful everywhere and he looks around after wondering that and it seems that he is appreciating the beauty of all the things around him. I think that this book won the Newbery because it (1) shows diversity, (2) it has an amazing message, and (3) the book doesn’t take place in a fancy school or luxurious house but on an old bus yet it still makes CJ’s time there seem great because he is enjoying the world around him and the people around him.”

“I think that the book won the Newberry because the characters are diverse, for example, the blind man with his dog on the bus. C.J and his Nana are also interesting characters, because Nana sees the beauty in a lot of things that C.J doesn’t see yet.”

“This book won the Newbery prize because it is very true and it gives people hope.”

What is the theme of Last Stop on Market Street?

“The theme is that whenever you are sad you have to keep positive and look at the good side.”

” Broken things still have their uses.”

“Don’t be jealous and want everything be happy that you are living the life you have. You don’t have to be like all the other people and be jealous. Who cares where you live and what you do or what you have. Like when the boy said he wanted a car instead of riding the bus. He wanted to go straight home instead of going to the homeless shelter. All those things he wanted but he should have been happy for what he has.”

“I think the theme of the Last Stop On Market Street was to appreciate the little things in the world that make it special, rather than looking on the outside and wanting what you think makes the world better for you, not including others who may have less, but respect more than what you think the world is made of.”

“I think that the theme of the story is that people should appreciate what they have in life because beauty is everywhere no matter where you are or what you are doing.”

“I think that the theme of this book is that there is beauty in everything. I say this because C.J’s Nana said that the bus breathes fire, that a tree’s trunk is a straw, she also said that some people see the world with their ears.”

Thank you to my students for their beautiful and thoughtful responses.

Kellee Signature

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

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

Blog Tour and Review!: Catch that Cookie! by Hallie Durand



Catch That Cookie!
Author: Hallie Durand
Illustrator: David Small
Published August 14th, 2014 by Dial

Publisher Summary: Gingerbread men can play a mean game of sneaky tag!  Don’t believe it? Marshall didn’t either no matter how much his teacher, Ms. Gray, told him. But when the cookies go missing from the oven and the students find clues all around the classroom, Marshall can deny it no longer: Gingerbread men are real and they’re on the run!

From the author of the Dessert First Trilogy and Mitchell books, Hallie Durand, and Caldecott winner and two time honoree illustrator David Small, comes a tantalizing new tale that will have readers racing through the pages, eager to see where the gingerbread men have gone.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book has the potential to not only be a fun, interactive read for kids, but one that could definitely be used in a classroom. Since the reader, along with Mitchell, are given clues throughout the book, the reader can work with Mitchell to try to figure out where the gingerbread men went. It would be so much fun to read this with kids. The clues are rhyming with words left out, so they must use the context clues and rhyming skills to figure out the missing word. Also, to complete track the men down in the end, Mitchell has to make some inferences which would be a great discussion on how he figured it out. So, either in the classroom or at home, this book is definitely going to get some laughs and start good conversations.

Discussion Questions: If your gingerbread man could run, where do you think he would go?; Marshall gave his cookie six raisin eyes! Tell us how you would design your own gingerbread man.

I would make my gingerbread man look like a ninja so that he would be the hardest gingerbread man to find and he would always be where ever you weren’t looking!

Comment below OR share through Twitter using #catchthatcookie!

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Mitchell books by Hallie Durand, Help! We Need a Title by Herve Tullet 

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**Thank you to Rachel at Penguin for having us as a stop on the blog tour!**

Amulet Books Graphic Novel Teaching Guide



In January, I was contacted by a publicity and marketing associate from Abrams Books/Amulet Books out of the blue. In this email, I was asked to work on a teaching guide about their graphic novels: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Hereville, and the Explorer series.




I was beyond honored! And, of course, I said that I would definitely love to do it as I had read all of the graphic novels, and I am a huge fan of them.

First, they asked me to write an introduction about graphic novels and their importance in the classroom. I am a huge advocate for using graphic novels in schools, so I immediately began researching and writing. Here is the introduction:

What are graphic novels? The easiest way to describe graphic novels is to say that they are book-length comic books. However, a more complex definition that educators and librarians use is “book-length narratives told using a combination of words and sequential art, often presented in comic book style” (Fletcher-Spear, 37). Graphic novels are not written in just one genre; they can be in any genre, since graphic novels are a format/medium. Graphic novels are much like novels, but they’re told through words and visuals. They have all narrative elements, including characters, a complete plot, a conflict, etc.

Middle grade and young adult graphic novels cover a wide spectrum of themes and topics. Some common themes found in graphic novels for this age include the hero’s journey; overcoming hardship; and finding one’s identity. For example, in Hereville, we meet Mirka, an everyday girl who learns to use her brains and brawn to overcome her foes. In The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Salem is working on finding out just who she is (both as a witch and as a person) with the help of her friend Whammy. Graphic novels can cross curricular lines. One example is the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series—comical nonfiction that takes historical events and presents them in interesting ways, using graphics and humor that will make students want to learn even more about the historical time periods. In the Explorer series, stories include topics such as animal adaptation, volcanic eruptions, and the fate of humanity. Like novels, graphic novels offer opportunities in all subject areas to extend students’ thinking.

Over the past few years, graphic novels have become a hot topic, growing in popularity with both children and educators. While many teachers are beginning to include them in the classroom, there are still teachers, administrators, and librarians who struggle with including this format in their schools. So, why should you use them in your classroom and have them available for students?

  • Graphic novels can make a difficult subject interesting and relatable. (Cohen)
  • Students are visual learners, and today’s students have a much wider visual vocabulary than students in the past. (Karp)
  • Graphic novels can help foster complex reading skills by building a bridge from what students know to what they still have to learn. (NCTE)
  • Graphic novels can help with scaffolding when trying to teach higher-order thinking skills or other complex ideas.
  • For students who struggle to visualize while they read, graphic novels provide visuals that shows what good readers do. (NCTE)
  • Many graphic novels rely on symbol, allusion, satire, parody, irony, and characters/plot and can be used to teach these, and other, literary devices. (Miller; NCTE)
  • Often, in between panels (called the gutter), the reader must make inferences to understand how the events in one panel lead to the events in the next. (McCloud)
  • Graphic novels can make differentiating easier. (Miller)
  • Graphic novels can help ELL (English Language Learners) and reluctant and struggling readers since they divide the text into manageable chunks, use images (which help students understand unknown vocabulary), and are far less daunting than prose. (Haines)
  • Graphic novels do not reduce the vocabulary demand; instead, they provide picture support, quick and appealing story lines, and less text, which allow the reader to understand the vocabulary more easily. (Haines)
  • Research shows that comic books are linguistically appropriate reading material, bearing no negative impact on school achievement or language acquisition. (Krashen)
  • Students love them.

Although you can find graphic novel readers at all reading levels, graphic novels can truly be a gateway to the joys of reading for reluctant and struggling readers. Reluctant readers often find reading to be less fun than video games, movies, and other media, but many will gravitate toward graphic novels because of the visuals and the fast pace. Struggling readers will pick up graphic novels for these reasons as well but also because the graphic novel includes accommodations directly in the book: images, less text, etc.

All in all, graphic novels can interest your most reluctant and struggling readers and also extend all of your readers, including your most gifted.  


  • Cohen, Lisa S. “But This Book Has Pictures! The Case for Graphic Novels in an AP Classroom.” AP Central. CollegeBoard.
  • Fletcher-Spear, Kristin, Merideth Jenson-Benjamin, and Teresa Copeland. “The Truth About Graphic Novels: A Format, Not a Genre.” The ALAN Review Winter (2005): 37­–44.
  • Haines, Jennifer. “Why Use Comics in The Classroom?” Comic Book Daily. N.p., 20 Mar. 2012.
  • Karp, Jesse. “The Case for Graphic Novels in Education.” American Libraries. N.p., 1 Aug. 2011.
  • Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. 1993.
  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Northampton, Mass.: Kitchen Sink, 1993. 
  • Miller, Andrew. “Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom.” Edutopia. N.p., 11 Jan. 2012.
  • NCTE, comp. “Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” The Council Chronicle September (2005)

 I then began reading and rereading the graphic novels and planning activities and discussion questions that could go along with each book. I was asked to come up with activities for all subjects, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit; however, I loved trying to figure out how these amazing books could be used throughout all classes.  Some examples:

  • Salem Hyde [Science]: At the end of Spelling Trouble, Salem and Whammy have to rescue a whale, but it is done in a very unconventional way. How would real scientists rescue a whale in distress?
  • Hazardous Tales [Language Arts/History]: The Provost (a British soldier) and Nathan Hale disagree about the cause of the Revolutionary War. Based on One Dead Spy, what events caused the Americans to revolt? Do you agree with the Provost or with Nathan Hale about the causes of the war? (This could also be used as a debate question in class.)
  • Hereville [Math]: On pages 31–32 [of Hereville 1], Mirka is given a math problem: Three people are splitting a cake, so they cut it into thirds. But then a fourth person shows up. How can they cut the cake so that each person gets an equalamount of cake? (Mirka comes up with a solution, but are there others?) What if two more people had shown up? Three more? Four more? 
  • Explorer [History]: On page 84 [of The Mystery Boxes], in The Soldier’s Daughter, the man says, “War is a dark power.” Where in history have we seen war consume someone? Have there been wars that did not need to be fought? Research past wars and determine if a war was started because of the need for power or if there was a legitimate reason for it. 

These are just some examples.

I am happy to share the entire teaching guide with you. It can be found at along with other teaching guides. The direct link to the PDF is

I hope you find it useful as I am very proud of it,


A Big Guy Took My Ball! & I’m a Frog! by Mo Willems



A Big Guy Took My Ball!
Author and Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published May 21st, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion


I’m a Frog!
Author and Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published October 15th, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion

A Big Guy Took My Ball! Goodreads Summary: Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

In A Big Guy Took My Ball! Piggie is devastated when a big guy takes her ball! Gerald is big, too…but is he big enough to help his best friend?

I’m a Frog! Goodreads Summary: In I’m a Frog! Piggie has some ribbiting news! Can Gerald make the leap required to accept Piggie’s new identity?

Review: I love Elephant and Piggie. They are such amazing friends through all sorts of scenarios. Elephant keeps Piggie grounded and Piggie helps Elephant think/move outside of his box. Just a wonderful combination of character traits and they make for such funny books. And you know that they are good, they both won 2013 Early Reader Nerdy Awards!!!

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Elephant and Piggie books are, of course, amazing for read alouds and will be loved by everyone who reads them. However, the books also have very few words and it is up to the reader to use inference (using the illustrations) to read even deeper into the story.

Discussion Questions: In A Big Guy Took My Ball! what did Elephant assume about the guy Piggie was talking about?; In I’m a Frog! how does Piggie help Elephant?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Any of the Elephant and Piggie books, Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel

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The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple


NF PB 2013

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!


The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History
Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
Illustrator: Roger Roth
Published August 1st, 2000 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: In 1920 a missionary brought two young girls to an orphanage in India. The girls didn’t know how to talk, walk, or eat from a plate. Some people thought the girls had been abandoned by their parents. Some people said the girls were brought up by wolves in the wild. Still others thought that the missionary who ran the orphanage made up the story about the girls. No one knows for sure.

Become a detective as you read this true story, study the clues, and try to figure out the fate of the wolf girls of Midnapore. The Unsolved Mystery from History series is written by acclaimed author Jane Yolen and former private investigator Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple. Read carefully and check your clues. You might be the first to solve a puzzle that has baffled people for years.

My Review: This story was fascinating as I had never heard of the wolf girls and came in with no prior knowledge about the mystery. It was so much fun to be full on submerged in the mystery and following the clues that are given throughout the “case notebook”.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is set up just like the Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History and could be used the same way in the classroom: This book promotes studying history, inquiry, and vocabulary. The book begins with an introduction to a young girl who enjoys unsolved mysteries from history and then the book is set up like her case notebook. Each page of the case notebook includes a narrative nonfiction section, an informational nonfiction section where facts about the story are explained even more in detail, and then there are vocabulary words from the two sections defined for the reader. Finally, in the back of the book the different theories about what could be the answer to the unsolved mystery are shared and briefly discussed. The set up of this book leads to infinite possibilities of being used in the classroom. Students could debate, write research papers, could do their very own case notebook about a different mystery, etc. Another option is to get all of the Unsolved Mystery from History books and have students get into lit circle groups and have each group read a different mystery then research and share.

What I like particularly about this one is that there is so much to debate as there aren’t many clues given throughout the story. Many of the eye witnesses are unreliable and there aren’t many facts shared throughout the book. I think this book would lead to a great discussion about primary and secondary sources as well as reliability.

Discussion Questions: Which theory do you believe about the wolf girls?; Do you think a journal written a year after an incident is reliable?; Many of the scientific facts and theories shared are from the 18th and 19th century, are these facts still what science believes?; Why do you think the missionary’s wife never spoke of the wolf girls?; Why do you think that Singh’s accounts were different than his daughter’s?; Singh said he did not want to exploit the girls yet he let people come to see her – is this exploitation? Do you think what he did was wrong?

We Flagged: Narrative nonfiction “After nursing the two girls back to health, the Reverend Singh loaded them into the cart and drove them for eight days to his orphanage in Midnapore. But the wolf girls were so weak and emaciated, they could not move about, so at first no one outside of the orphanage saw them. Singh wrote in his journal, ‘They were accepted simply as neglected children.’

Informational Nonfiction Singh wrote in his journal that the girls were mud-covered, with scratches, scars, and fleas. The heels of their hands were callused from running on all fours. Their ears trembled like a dog’s when they were excited. Their brows were bushy and long. Each had arms almost reaching their knees. Their teeth were close-set, uneven, with fine, sharp edges, the canines longer and more pointed than is usual in humans. However, Singh took no scientific measurements and invited no scientists to examine the girls. He took photographs that were fuzzy and indistinct. Years later, his own daughter, when interviewed, did not remember the distinctive teeth or exceptional ears or terrifically bushy brows.

Vocabulary Emaciated: thin and feeble due to disease or poor food; Neglected: not take proper care of” (p. 20-21)

Read This If You Loved: Yolen’s other Unsolved Mystery from History books

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What mystery from history do you wish Jane Yolen had written about?