Space Boy and His Dog by Dian Curtis Regan


Space Boy

Space Boy and His Sister Dog
Author: Dian Curtis Regan
Illustrator: Robert Neubecker
Published April 7th, 2015 by Boyds Mills Press

Goodreads Summary: Niko may live on boring old Earth with his family, but he’s always finding a new adventure. Using the spaceship that he built from a box in his backyard and a little imagination, he flies off into space with his robot, Radar, and his dog, Tag. The only one NOT invited is his sister Posh who keeps trying to insert herself into Niko’s story. In this first mission, Niko and crew (and maybe also pesky Posh) fly to the moon in search of a lost cat. Illustrated in comic–book style and featuring easy–to–read text packed with humor, Space Boy and His Dog is Niko’s first adventure, with two more books planned in the series.

About the Author: Dian Curtis Regan is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, including The Snow Blew Inn, Rocky Cave Kids, Monster of the Month Club, Barnyard Slam, and the bestselling Princess Nevermore. Her books have received many honors, including Best Books for Young Adults, Los Angeles Times Recommended Book, and Children’s Choice Awards. For more information on her books, and

Kellee’s Review: Regan and Neubecker do a great job in this picture book making Niko’s story come to life. It is a fun story with elaborate, bright full-page illustrations. I also like that it is a chapter picture book. It sequences Niko’s adventure into different “chapters” which would make it a nice introduction to the idea of chapter books. This is a story that will trigger interest in space! It would spur some really wonderful conversations about the moon, but there are so many exciting elements to discuss. I love that the book promotes imagination (reminds me of Faraway Friends by Russ Cox in that aspect). It shows that playing in the backyard and pretending can be so much fun! It would offer excellent opportunities to analyze the interactions between Posh and Niko, Niko’s voice, as well as the character traits of the two characters.

Ricki’s Review: After reading this book, I showed it to a middle school science teacher who loves everything related to space. She told me she is excited to use it in her classroom to introduce her unit on space. The book reads like a fantasy, so she plans to do a lesson at the end of her unit (after they study the different planets), and her students will imagine themselves on a planet. As an educator, I very much value interdisciplinary connections, and I think teachers would enjoy using this book to kick off or conclude a unit about space. Students can consistently refer to the book and ask, “What was real, and what was fantasy?” The books is quite clever and very funny, and I was smiling as I read it to my toddler. I recommend this book particularly for early elementary school classrooms, but I think it can be used at all levels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Monday, July 20th, is the anniversary of the first moon landing, so this is perfect timing to celebrate this book. It would be a fun way to start a lesson about the moon and would definitely be a jumping off point to discussing the atmosphere of the moon, how long it would take to get to the moon, and space ships.

A curriculum guide for Space Boy and His Dog is available here. The curriculum guide not only focuses on the space elements of the story, but also asks the reader to think about characterization, the interactions between Niko and Posh, author’s purpose, and how illustrations affect a story.

Discussion Questions: What would Niko and Post need to survive a visit to the moon?; How long does it take to get to the moon?; Looking at Niko’s spaceship, how does it compare to NASA spaceships?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Faraway Friends by Russ CoxSpace Encyclopedia by National Geographic

Recommended For: 

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

X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon



Authors: Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
Published: January 6, 2015 by Candlewick Press

GoodReads Summary: Cowritten by Malcolm X’s daughter, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world.

I am Malcolm.
I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me.

They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Review: If you’ve been reading the blog the past few weeks, my love for this book may feel repetitive (and I am not sorry!). Some books just stick to our bones and by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon will remain with me forever. It kept me awake late at night, and I was floored by the captivating writing. This is a very special book and well worth the hype it has received. I plan to use it in my future Methods classes because there are so many themes and topics for discussion. Most texts are written about Malcolm Little’s later life, but this book encapsulates his early years—this restless young man is dissatisfied with his circumstances and attempts to make a name for himself. He does not always make the best choices, but he learns from his many mistakes, and his spirit will inspire readers. I highly recommend this book for all readers. Malcolm has a lot to teach us.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book made me want to sign out Malcolm X’s autobiography from the library. I wondered what else I could learn about him. Teachers might ask students to research Malcolm X’s life. They might explore the ways Malcolm inspired troubled youth and why he made connections with them. Based on this text and others, it seems that many of Malcolm X’s actions may be misrepresented, so it might be wise for teachers to discuss his life, mission, and actions with students. This would allow students to form their own understandings of his later life.

Discussion Questions: If you could change one decision Malcolm made, what would it be? What do you think he should have done differently?; Malcolm may inspire us, but who inspired Malcolm?; How is Malcolm different from his family members? How does this impact him?

We Flagged: “I did what I had to. Didn’t see anything wrong with it. Not a thing” (p. 36).

Read This If You Loved: The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Recommended For:

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Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber



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!

flight of the honey

Flight of the Honey Bee
Author: Raymond Huber
Illustrator: Brian Lovelock
Published September 10th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: Follow the flight of a honey bee as she searches for nectar to sustain her hive and, along the way, pollinates flowers to produce seeds and fruits.

A tiny honey bee emerges from the hive for the first time. Using sunlight, landmarks, and scents to remember the path, she goes in search of pollen and nectar to share with the thousands of other bees in her hive. She uses her powerful sense of smell to locate the flowers that sustain her, avoids birds that might eat her, and returns home to share her finds with her many sisters. Nature lovers and scientists-to-be are invited to explore the fascinating life of a honey bee.

Kellee’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for NavigationI love books that mix narrative and information nonfiction within one book. This text introduces Scout as she exits the hive and goes about her bee-siness (hehe!). This part of the story is told as a story. Then on each page, there is information about bees in general to help the reader understand Scout’s journey. This unique text structure mixed with the realistic yet artistic illustrations really makes Flight compelling to read. In addition to learning about bees and the vocabulary included in the book, this book could be a great addition to a lit circle inquiry group about insects or as a mentor text to create student narrative and informational mixed writing about a animal after researching. 

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I read this book aloud to my son while he was eating breakfast, and he was captivated by the illustrations and story. I immediately texted Kellee and told her we had to schedule a day to review it! I had a lot of fun following Scout on her adventure, and I know kids will become so engaged in this story that they will forget they are learning. I thought I knew a lot about bees, but I was surprised by how much information is packed into this text. Readers will cheer for Scout as she encounters obstacles. I try to integrate nonfiction into every unit, and this would be a great book to show students just how accessible nonfiction can be. Then, they could pick a creature or object in nature, conduct research, and write their own narrative nonfiction texts.

Discussion Questions: How do bees help the environment and humans?; How can we help save the bees?; What are the different types of bees? Why are they all important?

Flight of the Honey Bee Teacher Guide from Candlewick

We Flagged: 

flight of the honey page
(c) 2013 Raymond Huber

Read This If You Loved: Lifetime by Lola M. Schaefer, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce SidmanThe Alphabet of Bugs by Valerie Gates

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Candlewick for providing copies of the text for review!!**

Review and Teaching Guide!: Harzadous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale



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 Underground Abductor
Author and Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Published April 21st, 2015 by Amulet Books

Goodreads Summary: Araminta Ross was born a slave in Delaware in the early 19th century. Slavery meant that her family could be ripped apart at any time, and that she could be put to work in dangerous places and for abusive people. But north of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery was illegal. If she could run away and make it north without being caught or killed, she’d be free. Facing enormous danger, Araminta made it, and once free, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. Tubman spent the rest of her life helping slaves run away like she did, every time taking her life in her hands. Nathan Hale tells her incredible true-life story with the humor and sensitivity he’s shown in every one of the Hazardous Tales—perfect for reluctant readers and classroom discussions.

My Review: I love this entire series! Nathan Hale has taken history and made it accessible (with a dash of humor!). If you don’t the concept of the series, it revolves around Nathan Hale the Revolutionary War spy who, in the first book, was eaten by a history book so now knows all that has happened in history and is sharing it with the hangman and British officer who are guarding him before he is executed. The first book is Hale’s own story and then each of the following are his telling of different times in history.

This installment of Hale’s graphic novel series may be my favorite so far. I found it to be the most intense of his stories even though it is up against stories of wars, but Harriet Tubman’s story is one of one person’s resilience in the face of pure doom. Although it is evident through any story you hear of Harriet how truly brave she was, Nathan Hale’s story immerses you into Harriet’s life and shows you how much she truly did and faced.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is written to start discussions (in reading/language arts OR social studies)! I was lucky enough to write the teaching guide for The Underground Abductor (as well as the rest of the series!), and I have included some of my discussion questions below.

I could also see Hale’s Hazardous Tales being used in lit circles with each group reading a different one of the tales. This could lead to wonderful discussions about each time in history. Students could then present their history to the rest of the class.

Discussion Questions: 

  • When Araminta heard the story of Moses and the pharaoh, she envisioned Moses as a slave and the pharaoh as an owner (page 15). How does Moses’s story compare to a traditional story of a slave? Harriet is later called “Moses” or “Black Moses.” How does Harriet’s story compare to Moses’s?
  • How did Nat Turner’s rebellion affect slave laws (page 21)? He meant to make a positive change, but it actually turned negative. How? Why?
  • On page 44, Nathan Hale personifies debt as the ghosts and men Minty had been dreaming about. Why is debt shown as a terrifying thing? How did Mr. Brodess’s debt affect Mindy and her family?
  • Complete a character web with adjectives describing Harriet Tubman. What type of person was she that allowed her to overcome a debilitating injury and slavery?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Hazardous Tales series by Nathan Hale, March by John Robert Lewis, Stolen Into Slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin, Elijah Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Morgan at Abrams Books for providing a copy of the book!**

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou



Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer
Author: Lisa Pliscou
Illustrator: Massimo Mongiardo
Published: April 20, 2015 by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

GoodReads Summary: What was Jane Austen like as a child? What were her formative influences and experiences, her challenges and obstacles, that together set her on the path toward becoming a writer?

Drawing upon a wide array of sources, including Austen’s own books and correspondence, Lisa Pliscou has created a “speculative biography” that, along with 20 charming black-and-white illustrations, offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of young Jane Austen. Also included is a richly detailed, annotated version of the narrative and an overview of Austen’s life, legacy, and the era in which she lived, as well as a timeline of her key childhood events.

Young Jane Austen is sure to intrigue anyone interested in Jane Austen, in writing and the creative process, and in the triumph of the artistic spirit.

Review: I enjoy the way this book is formatted. The first half (or so) tells the story of Jane Austen as she grows up—before she became a writer. It gives a strong historical background of the expectations (or lack of expectations) for women at the time. While much isn’t known about Jane’s early life, the author does an excellent job creatively interpreting events with what we do know. The next section is an annotated version that reveals the author’s decisions for the text, and the last portion discusses Jane Austen’s later life as a writer. Readers will be inspired to take on some of Austen’s novels after reading this book. The beautiful paper and illustrations of this book made me wish that more books were creatively printed. I felt as if I was reading a text from the time period of Austen’s life, which made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Please note: I tagged this book as historical nonfiction and narrative nonfiction because it bridges both genres. It is a creative nonfiction, and the later portions of the book are more informational. These kinds of books make genre-sorting seem a bit silly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text begs for readers to conduct research. They could delve into Jane’s novels to connect her life details with her works. They might also research more about the time period or another favorite author’s early life. The annotated section is particularly interesting to me. I would love to have my students annotate a text looking for the author’s purpose.

Discussion Questions: How was your life different from Jane Austen’s life? How do the expectations for females impact Jane?; What adjectives would you use to describe Jane? Why?; How does the format of the book enhance your reading? Do you know any other books like this?

We Flagged: 

young jane austen 1

I couldn’t help but share how beautiful the inside of this book is. Image taken from:

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Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


Roller Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Flagged: 


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

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Blog Tour with Review and Author Guest Post!: Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw



Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog’s Tale Told in Haiku
Author: Lee Wardlaw
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
Published: March 17, 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Goodreads Summary: Won Ton has a happy life with his Boy, until…
Ears perk. Fur prickles.
Belly low, I creep…peek…FREEZE!
My eyes full of Doom.

A new puppy arrives, and nothing will be the same.Told entirely in haiku and with plenty of catitude, the story of how Won Ton faces down the enemy is a fresh and funny twist on a familiar rivalry.

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A Review in Haikus:

Quite Adorable
Fun for All, Especially
Middle Grade and Teen

Will Teach the Crowds to Love Words
Fantastic Must-Read

Recommended for
Use as a Mentor Text for
Creative Writing

The Illustrations
Capture the Fun of this Tale
Or Should I Say Tail?

Kellee’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Well, Ricki sure one-upped me on this one! But I think she showed a really great example of what you can do with this book. I think it is a perfect introduction to haiku. It makes poetry accessible and fun which is the opposite of what students think when they think of poetry. I actually shared the first Won Ton book with my class at the time, and we wrote our own haiku about our favorite animal. Lee Wardlaw also includes very descriptive and specific vocabulary which would lead to a wonderful conversation about word choice and imagery.

I loved the first Won Ton book (see my review here), and I was happy to see that Lee Wardlaw had written a second so I could see what Won Ton was up to now. I am completely a cat person, so I love how Lee captures the nuances and thoughts of Won Ton.

Bonus Features: Activity Kit for Won Ton and Chopstick and Teacher’s Guide for Won Ton and Chopstick

Discussion Questions: How do the author’s haikus add to the complexity of this tale?; How does the vocabulary enhance the story?; What did you learn about friendship?; How do the illustrations enhance the themes of this book?; How does Won Ton’s feelings for Chopstick change throughout the book?

We Flagged: 

“Master of escape!
High-flying, dog-defying
acrobatic cat!”

Read This if You Loved: Won Ton by Lee Wardlaw; One Leaf Rides the Wind by Celeste Davidson Mannis; If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky; I Haiku You by Betsy E. Snyder; Dogku by Andrew Clements

Check out Won Ton and Chopstick at the Other Stops the Blog Tour:
Mon, Mar 30
Library Fanatic
Tues, Mar 31
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Apr 1
Teach Mentor Texts
Thurs, Apr 2
Fri, Apr 3
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Sat, Apr 4
Booking Mama
Mon, Apr 6
The Children’s Book Review
Tues, Apr 7
5 Minutes for Books
Wed, Apr 8
Cracking the Cover
Thurs, Apr 9
Unleashing Readers
Fri, Apr 10
Word Spelunker
Sat, Apr 11
Bermuda Onion
 Recommended For: 

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Author Guest Post:

“Eight Things I Learned from My Cats about Writing Haiku”

by Lee Wardlaw

1. There is no yesterday; there is no tomorrow. There is only you, scratching me under my chin right now.

Haiku poems focus on a right-this-instant experience—or from a memory of that experience. So remind your students to write in the present tense.

2. When poised at a hole, remain still—and use your ears, eyes, nose, whiskers and mouth to detect a lurking gopher.

Observation is crucial to haiku. It’s hard for children today to quiet their minds, especially when they’re constantly bombarded with TV, internet, iPhones, video games, etc. So take them outside, away from all of that! Encourage them to sit alone on the playground, under a tree, on a sunny bench, whatever, and use all five senses to absorb, appreciate, and anchor the moment.

3. Be patient. Then, when least expected—pounce!

Haiku captures ONE moment in time, revealing a surprise . . . or evoking a response of a-ha! or ahhh. This pounce helps the reader awaken and experience an ordinary moment or thing in an extraordinary way.

4. Most cats have 18 toes—unless we’re polydactyl; then we might have 20, 22, even 28 toes!

Japanese haiku feature a total of seventeen beats or sound units: five in the first line, seven in the second, five again in the third. But this 5-7-5 form doesn’t apply to American haiku because of differences in English phonics, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. Too many teachers focus only on the 5-7-5 because they use haiku as lesson about syllables. Please don’t! When children force an unnecessary adjective or adverb (or a bunch of adverbs) into a haiku simply to meet the 17-beats rule, it ruins the flow, brevity, meaning, and beauty of a poem. It’s not a poem at all, just a laundry list. You end up with poems like this:

My cat is so cute.

He’s really, really, really

cute and so fluffy.

Encourage your students to experiment with any pattern they prefer (e.g. 2-3-2, 5-6-4, 4-7-3)—provided the structure remains three short lines. Remember: what’s most important here is not syllables but the essence of a chosen moment.

5. When I’m out, I want in; when I’m in, I want out. Mostly, I want out. That’s where the rats, gophers, lizards, snakes, bugs and birds are.

Traditional haiku focus on themes of nature, and always include a kigo or “season” word. This doesn’t mean you must be explicit about the weather or time of year. A sensorial hint (e.g. a green leaf indicates spring; a russet leaf indicates fall) is all that’s needed.

6. What part of meow don’t you understand?

Tease a cat and it won’t bother to holler—it will bite and scratch. It shows its annoyance rather than tells. Good haiku follows suit. Instead of explaining, haiku should paint a picture in the reader’s mind of the feeling it evokes. So encourage children to show the reader how cute and fluffy their cat is instead of just telling us.

7. If you refuse to play with me, I will snooze on your keyboard, flick pens off your desk, and gleefully shed into your printer.

Yes, haiku has “rules,” but remember to play! Encourage students to use words like toys, to frolic with them in new ways to portray images, emotions, themes, conflicts and character.

8. When in doubt, nap.

Good writing comes from revising. But before working on a second (or third . . . or fourth!) draft, both the students and their haiku need a “nap.” Set aside the poems for a few days (a few weeks is even better!). What needs revising will be much more obvious if the poems are read again with rested eyes, alert ears, and a fresh mind.

 About Lee Wadlaw:

Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was “kitty.” Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time) and published 30 books for young readers, including Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and many other honors. Lee has a B.A. in Education, an AMI-Primary Diploma from the Montessori Institute of San Diego, and is finishing her M.Ed. in Education/Child Development. She lives in Santa Barbara with her family.


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