Little Red Writing by Joan Holub



Little Red Writing
Author: Joan Holub
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Published September 24th, 2013 by Chronicle Books

Goodreads Summary: Acclaimed writer Joan Holub and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet team up in this hilarious and exuberant retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, in which a brave, little red pencil finds her way through the many perils of writing a story, faces a ravenous pencil sharpener (the Wolf 3000)… and saves the day.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I really think these wonderful woman created this book for just for teachers. It is a perfect, perfect, perfect book for a read aloud AND for a mentor text!

First, the book is a direct allusion to Red Riding Hood and is a great book to throw into the mix when looking at different versions of Red Riding Hood. I can just picture this book, with a version of the original story, Hoodwinked the movie, and Lon Po Po. Wow! What great discussions and activities you could do with this.

Second, this book is not just an awesome narrative and it includes a great lesson about writing a narrative. Red, our main character, is given the job to write a story and the book takes us through her journey of writing the story where she needs to include characters, setting, trouble, and fixing the trouble. A perfect opportunity to discuss narrative elements.  Taking this even further, it would be so much fun to look at the ideas that each of the other pencils had for their stories and write the entire story. You would have to look at each pencil’s personality and think about how s/he would write the story.

Finally, the book also deals with some parts of speech and how to use them. First are verbs where Red looks for more interesting verbs. She then looks for adjectives to add description. Then learns the importance of conjunctions (but watch out! They can lead to run-on sentences). Finally came adverbs with a bit of punctuation and capitalization discussion. Each part of speech is discussed in a nonboring way and the introduction could be a jumping off point to a deeper discussion.

Discussion Questions: How did Red use adjectives throughout the story to help you visualize the action?; What ended up being Red’s trouble, how did it get worse, and how did she fix it?; Pick one of the other pencils’ stories. How do you think it would end?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Red Riding Hood by Brothers Grimm, Lon Po Po by Ed Young, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Recommended For: 

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Locomotive by Brian Floca (Ricki’s Review)



Author and Illustrator: Brian Floca
Published September 3rd, 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: The Caldecott Medal Winner, Sibert Honor Book, and New York Timesbestseller Locomotive is a rich and detailed sensory exploration of America’s early railroads, from the creator of the “stunning” (BooklistMoonshot.

It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean.

Come hear the hiss of the steam, feel the heat of the engine, watch the landscape race by. Come ride the rails, come cross the young country!

My Review: Filled with a beautiful array images (watercolor, ink, acrylic, etc.), this incredibly well-researched book takes readers on a journey through the summer of 1869. It took my husband and me three nights to read this title to our son because we needed to pause and take in its magic. After I closed the last page of the book, a library copy, my husband looked at me and mouthed (because our son was asleep), “Let’s buy this one.” There is a wonderful balance of factual information about the train and lyrical language that brims with gorgeous figurative language. This book is a standout and well-deserving of the accolades it has received.

**A special thanks to Kellee, who texted me that I had to read this one. You can read her review here.**

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would use this text in any grade level. I envision the eager eyes of elementary school students as their curiosity is piqued… middle schoolers, suddenly interested in trains and this time in our history…or high schoolers, researching the different parts of the train and learning how effective figurative language can be in writing. This book would be a great mentor text to teach creativity. The layout of the pages is so very purposeful, which pave the way for great classroom discussions.

Discussion Questions: How does Brian Floca grab the readers’ attention? How is his writing purposeful?; In what ways does Floca manipulate language?; How does the second person point-of-view add to the story?; What does this book teach us? Go beyond the obvious.; How do the pages differ in their visual appeal? Why do you think this is?

We Flagged:

Rather than including a quote here, I wanted to show you a few of the gorgeous spreads with this book. These pages are pulled from images posted on Amazon.

locomotive1 locomotive2 locomotive4 locomotive3

Read This If You Loved: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Recommended For: 

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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

Recommended For: 

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Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle



Let it Snow
Authors: John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
Published October 2nd, 2008 by Speak

Goodreads Summary: Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

My Review: You cannot go wrong with those authors! What I found was not only a romantic, funny book, but a perfect holiday read! Let it Snow is like those movies where you follow three very different stories and then eventually they intertwine and everything seems to follow into place. I loved reading each story, wanting to learn more about a certain character and then realizing the next story was about them! The authors also did a fantastic job throwing in aspects of Christmas and pushing the holiday cheer without shoving it down your throat. Let is Snow is one of those books that I want to curl up and read by the fire while it snows outside.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I would love to read this book in its entirety with students and then try to make a timeline of the three stories and how they overlap. It would be a great discussion of connections and sequence. Also, you could look at the voice of characters and how each author made theirs distinct (and how the others authors kept them distinct in their sections). This could also lead to a great discussion about style.

This book is also loved by students and should definitely be in teen libraries.

Discussion Questions: Think of a time when you were stuck somewhere that you didn’t want to be and couldn’t really do anything about it, how did you feel? What did you do to keep yourself busy? Did something happen that you would not have expected or that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t stuck or stranded? 

We Flagged:
From “The Jubilee Express” by Maureen Johnson

“‘Oh my god!’ said one of the Ambers. ‘Is this not the worst trip ever? Did you see the snow?’
She was a sharp one, this Amber. What would she notice next? The train? The moon? The hilarious vagaries of human existence? Her own head?
I didn’t say any of that, because death by cheerleader is not really the way I want to go.” p. 22

From “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle” by John Green

“I dashed upstairs, my socks sliding on the hardwood floor in the kitchen, and stumbled into my bedroom. I tore open the closet door and began feverishly sorting through the shirts piled on the floor in the vain hope that inside that pile there might be some wondrously perfect shirt down there, a nice striped button-down with no wrinkles that said, ‘I’m strong and tough but I’m also a surprisingly good listener with a true and abiding passion for cheers and those who lead them.’ Unfortunately, there was no such shirt to be found. I quickly settled on a dirty but cool yellow Threadless T-shirt under a black v-neck sweater. I kicked off my watching-James-Bond-movies-with-the-Duke-and-JP jeans and hurriedly wiggled into my pair of nice, dark jeans.” p. 131-132

From “The Patron Saint of Pigs” by Lauren Myracle

     “Being me sucked. Being me on this supposedly gorgeous night, with the supposedly gorgeous snow looming in five-foot drifts outside my bedroom window, double-sucked. Add the fact that today was Christmas, and my score was up to triple-suck. And add in the sad, aching, devastating lack of Jeb, and ding-ding-ding! The bell at the top of the Suckage Meter couldn’t ring any louder. Instead of jingle bells, I had suckage bells. Lovely.” p. 215
Read This If You Loved:
Recommended For: 
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Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal



Exclamation Mark
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
Published March 1st, 2013 by Scholastic Press

Goodreads Summary: From the bestselling creators of Duck! Rabbit!, an exciting tale of self-discovery!

He stood out here.

He stood out there.

He tried everything to be more like them.

It’s not easy being seen. Especially when you’re NOT like everyone else. Especially when what sets you apart is YOU.

Sometimes we squish ourselves to fit in. We shrink. Twist. Bend. Until — ! — a friend shows the way to endless possibilities.

In this bold and highly visual book, an emphatic but misplaced exclamation point learns that being different can be very exciting! Period.

My Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Rosenthal and Lichtenheld have given us a little piece of gold in this book. Not only would it be so much fun to read aloud (I would love to change my emphasis depending on the punctuation), but what a great introduction to ending punctuation! It wold be one of those “trick” books where students learn really enjoying themselves because the story and humor will win them over.

Discussion Questions: When are periods used vs. exclamation marks and question marks?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld, Other grammar game/story books

Recommended For: 

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Anubis Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Shecter



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!


Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter
Illustrator: Antoine Revoy
Published October 1st, 2013 by Boyd Mills Press

Goodreads Summary: Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of death and mummification, takes the reader on a personal tour of the “Dark Lands”–the Egyptian afterworld. While touring, Anubis explains ancient Egyptian death practices and escorts the reader onto Ra’s “Night Boat,” where they must battle the evil demon of destruction, Apophis, so that Ra can be reborn in the morning as the sun disk.

Based on Egyptology research–particularly the Book of the Dead, The Book of Apophis, the Book of Caverns and others–Anubis Speaks gives middle-grade readers a fun yet factual look at ancient Egyptian beliefs, rituals and practices.

My Review: I was introduced to Vicky Alvear Shecter when I read Cleopatra’s Moon and was struck by her way to intertwine fact, mythology, and fiction into a fascinating story. I’ve recently (once I started teaching it) become a very hug fan of mythology though mostly Greek and Roman; however, with my reading of Cleopatra’s Moon (then the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan), I jumped into Egyptian mythology head first and began learning more and more thus realizing how fascinating all mythology is.

Now to Anubis Speaks! What I enjoyed most about this book was how it was put together. It isn’t just another nonfiction book that lists facts and myths and hope that students find it interesting. Instead Shecter made sure to make the book entertaining and different and intertwined myths with a fun narrative from the Egyptian god of the dead. (YES! The whole book is told from the point of view of Anubis making it quite hilarious at points and making it more interesting than just an informational nonfiction book.)

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book fits perfectly into a mythology unit. It can be used as a whole or parts taken out. It is a great resource for any teacher teaching Egypt or Egyptian mythology. Also, because it is written so entertainingly, it can definitely be used as a read aloud.

Discussion Questions: Which other Egyptian god/dess’s point of view would you like to read a book by?; Which myth that Anubis shared was your favorite?; What part of Egyptian history that Anubis shared did you find to be the most interesting?

We Flagged: “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Anubis—the Egyptian god of the “Mysteries of Embalming,” the “Guardian of the Veil of Death,” “Opener of the Ways of the Dead,” and if you are “bad” . . . Your. Worst. Nightmare.

But do not fear. I will not snatch your beating heart from your chest and toss it to my good friend, crocodile-headed Amut the Destroyer for a squishy snack . . . not today anyway. Instead, I will guide you through my world of deep magic, strange gods, and gruesome monsters. I will show you how my people, the ancient Egyptians, prepared the dead for eternal and evil—every night—to keep you safe.” (p. 8)

Read This If You Loved: The Kane Chronicles (series) by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians (series) by Rick Riordan, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Aphrodite the Diva by Joan Holub, Who Was King Tut? by Roberta Edwards and other nonfiction King Tut books, Athena’s Son by Jeryl Schoenbeck, The Gruesome Truth about the Egyptians by Jillian Powell and other nonfiction Egyptian books

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Vicky Alvear Shecter and Teresa Rolfe Kravtin for sending me a copy!**

Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich



Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist
Authors: Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrator: Matt Mahurin
Published March 1st, 2013 by Wordsong

Goodreads Summary: What were all those fairy-tale characters thinking? Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich answer this question in paired poems, with sometimes startling results. The Princess claims all those mattresses kept her awake–“not” a silly pea–while the poor pea complains that the princess snores. One Snow White begs the witch to settle by the bay and throw that mirror away. Another boldly tells the mirror she “won’t be guided by a glass that’s so one-sided.” Grumbles from the Forest is a bewitching brew of voices–grumbling, pleading, bragging, reminiscing, confiding–that bubbles with magic and wonder. The spectacular paintings that tie the poems together are full of surprise and intrigue. This stunning collection includes end notes that briefly describe the tales and their history and an introduction that invites readers to imagine their own poems from unusual perspectives.

My Review: Jane Yolen just doesn’t make bad books. Every time I read one of her books, I know I am reading a piece of great literature. This book is no different. Grumbles from the Forest takes 15 different fairy tales and then has a poem from two different perspectives for each fairy tale. Some are two different characters: Cinderella and her stepsisters, the frog and the princess, the wicked fairy and Sleeping Beauty, etc. including some characters who didn’t have a voice in the original fairy tale like the pea from The Princess and the Pea. Some are from one character, but two points of view: Snow White talking to the witch and with the magic mirror. I was fascinated with all of the poems they came up with!

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: This book was built for being used in the classroom. First, each fairy tale section could start its own discussion about what the poem is saying vs. the original fairy tale. Second, the poetry itself stands alone. Look for figurative language and other poetic elements and there is even a haiku and cinquain. Third, we are always trying to get students to see things from different points of view and this is a perfect way. The introduction of the book even invites readers to: “Why not try writing a fairy-tale poem yourself? Pick a character or an object—maybe the bridge in Three Billy Goats Gruff, or Beauty’s father or the chair that Goldilocks broke. Imagine. Enchant. Write a poem that rewrites the tale. Make a little magic.”

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the authors chose to write from ____’s point of view? Do you agree with the point of view they gave the character/object? What would you have had them say instead? Who/what would you have written about instead?

We Flagged: Thumbelina 

“Thumbelina: A Cinquain”
small has its down-
side, but what, pray tell, is
the choice of a little missy
at birth?

“Little Big: A Haiku”
I am just a bit
Of a proper young lady,
Still I got my prince.

(p. 34-35)

Read This If You Loved: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, and other fractured fairy tales; Stories told from different points of view like The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp

Recommended For: 

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