Monstrous Fun: A Doodle and Activity Book by Travis Nichols


Halloween Button 2015

Monstrous Fun

Monstrous Fun: A Doodle and Activity Book
Author and Illustrator: Travis Nichols
Published: August 11, 2015 by Price Stern Sloan (Penguin Young Readers)

Goodreads Summary: You may think you know your holidays, but have you ever heard of Eggster? What about Fangsgiving? This fun-filled book has 64 pages of fantastic monster-themed activities, puzzles, and games, plus plenty of space to color, doodle, and imagine what these wild monster celebrations might look like. Get your pens and pencils ready, and start being monsterific-ly creative!

Ricki’s Review: We don’t typically review activity books on the blog, but we loved the way that this one takes a playful interpretation on holidays. Plus, it is Halloween week, so it is a perfect fit! This fun doodle and activity book is not intended for humans. The pages are designed only for monsters, and each activity flips a holiday on its head (from a monster’s perspective). This would be a great book for parents and teachers to get kids thinking about creatively reimagining the holidays. It would be a great kickstart to a creative writing unit.

Kellee’s Review: What I loved specifically about this activity book is the variety of fun it includes. For parents, kids, and adults alike, there are so many fun activities to do such as word searches, drawing & coloring, finding differences, mazes, hidden pictures, and more!

For teachers, I specifically like the Claws brothers trading cards which includes a photo, description, likes, and dislikes of each Claws brother. This would be a great start to writing a narrative or as a jumping off point for talking about characterization. There’s also Halloween songs that rhyme, made up holidays that could allow students to think out of the box and create their own, a comic to complete, and a page to design a machine that accomplishes a task. All of these activities are fun, but also have educational implications if done correctly. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Ask students to pick holidays they celebrate. Ask them to research customs and traditions of that holiday and to write a reflection about what that holiday means to them. Then, have all of the students design activities that creatively reimagine those holidays. This can lead to classroom conversations about perspective.

Discussion Questions: What are classic traditions behind holidays or traditions your family celebrates? How might these be different for other families?; How does the author take a monster’s perspective for this text? How might you use a different perspective in your own writing?; When creating a character, what should you think about?; What is essential in writing a comic?

We Flagged:


Image from:

Read This If You Love: Warning: Do Not Open this Book by Adam Lehrhaupt; The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone; Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems; Activity, Coloring, and Doodle Books

Recommended For:



**Thank you to Katharine at Penguin for providing copies for review!!**

What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada



What Do You Do with an Idea?
Author: Kobi Yamada; Illustrator: Mae Besom
Published: February 1, 2014 by Compendium Inc.

Summary: This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens. This is a story for anyone, at any age, who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.

Review: I read this book slowly and purposefully. By page two, I realized I had come upon something very special, and I wanted to savor the moment—because while we can enjoy books over and over again, we can never read a book for the first time twice. When I think of this book, I will remember reading it quietly aloud (cross-legged on the floor of the bookstore) as my son played with trains beside me. What Do You Do with an Idea? illustrates the complexity of ideas, which are inherently imbued with feelings of self-doubt. The child in this book learns to treasure his idea and comes to realize the beauty of its potential. After I read this book, I immediately mailed a copy to my younger sister (who works at Google) because her mind brims with ideas. This book is inspirational for people of all ages. I hope you find it to be inspirational, too.  

Check out Kellee’s review of this text.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The author and illustrator combine efforts to illustrate an abstract idea as a physical thing. Readers might consider how they do this with words and illustrations. Then, they could try to illustrated a different abstract idea in a story of their own.

Discussion Questions: Why might the illustrator have chosen to characterize the idea as an egg with a crown?; How is color intentionally used to tell the story?; Why might the author have chosen to use a first person point-of-view? How might the story have been different otherwise?; What is the author’s purpose?; Why/How might this book resonate with readers of all ages?

We Flagged: 

What Do You Do with an Idea 2

Image from:

Read This If You Loved: The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Journey by Aaron Becker

Recommended For:

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Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


Author: Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Published March 27th, 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Goodreads Summary: Die cut pages bring surprise after surprise in this magical new book from the “Queen of the concept book”—an intricate and satisfying homage to green, the color of all creation.
How many kinds of green are there? There’s the lush green of a forest on a late spring day, the fresh, juicy green of a just-cut lime, the incandescent green of a firefly, and the vivid aquamarine of a tropical sea. In her newest book, Caldecott and Geisel Honor Book author Laura Vaccaro Seeger fashions an homage to a single color and, in doing so, creates a book that will delight and, quite possibly astonish you.

Green is a Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book of 2012.

Review: The limited words on each page allow the reader to get lost in the beauty of the illustrations of this gorgeous children’s book. I was expecting the typical greens but was pleasantly surprised to see the clever takes on wacky green, slow green, and no green at all. I glided from page to page, appreciating the clever cutouts and visual appeal of this incredible children’s book.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This text could be used at a variety of levels. In my reading, I felt it is really asking readers: “How many different ways can you look at the color green?” We see objects, colors, and basic things in our world one way, but how can we interpret them differently? I would love to see this used in a creative writing classroom.

Discussion Questions: Where do we see the color green in our world? Go beyond the expected interpretations.; How does the author creatively present this book? What makes a book with so few worlds so very powerful?

Read This If You Loved: A Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

Recommended For: 

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Press Here by Hervé Tullet


press here

Press Here
Author: Hervé Tullet
Translator: Christopher Franceschelli
Published March 20th, 2011 by Chronicle Books

Goodreads Summary: Press the yellow dot on the cover of this book, follow the instructions within, and embark upon a magical journey! Each page of this surprising book instructs the reader to press the dots, shake the pages, tilt the book, and who knows what will happen next! Children and adults alike will giggle with delight as the dots multiply, change direction, and grow in size! Especially remarkable because the adventure occurs on the flat surface of the simple, printed page, this unique picture book about the power of imagination and interactivity will provide read-aloud fun for all ages!

Review: This is a wonderfully innovative book. It asks the child to interact with the story—pressing, tilting, shaking, etc. at each page. I am not ashamed to admit that I was smiling and following the instructions, eagerly wondering what awaited me on the next pages. I suspect I am going to have a very active child (based on the stories about my husband), and this book will allow him to wiggle and jump as he reads. This is a book that makes reading fun.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I could see this being a great book for buddy/paired reading. It will evoke a lot of laughter and giggles from kids. I also wonder how this might be used to teach writing to middle and high schoolers. It is certainly innovative, and I bet teachers might use it to teach creativity and breaking the mold of typical writing.

Discussion Questions: What might the author’s purpose be for writing this book?; How does the author creatively reach readers? How can this be incorporated into your own writing?

We Flagged: “There. Well done. Now tilt the page to the left…just to see what happens.”

Read This If You Loved: Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas

Recommended For: 

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Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett



Battle Bunny
Authors: Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Matthew Myers
Published October 22nd, 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: Alex has been given a saccharine, sappy, silly-sweet picture book about Birthday Bunny that his grandma found at a garage sale. Alex isn’t interested; until he decides to make the book something he’d actually like to read. So he takes out his pencil, sharpens his creativity, and totally transforms the story!

Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny, and the rabbit’s innocent journey through the forest morphs into a supersecret mission to unleash an evil plan; a plan that only Alex can stop.

Featuring layered, original artwork that emphasizes Alex’s additions, this dynamic exploration of creative storytelling is sure to engage and inspire.

My Review: This book made me laugh out loud! What a perfect insight into the mind of a young boy (reminds me of so many doodles I’ve seen on papers over the year!).  Also, I was blown away by the creativity of Sceiszka and Barnett.  I wish I was teaching in a classroom because it would have been a book that I would have brought into the classroom to share with kids (yes, even my middle schoolers. Actually, definitely my middle schoolers.) because it is just so awesome!

Teachers Tools for Navigation: This picture book would be so much fun as a read aloud (original story than the modified one). Also, I can also picture bringing in picture books (maybe older ones or bought at a used book store) and letting the students modify their own! And so much creativity, vocabulary, cleverness, imagination, etc. are needed to transform a text the way Alex did–it’d be such a fun yet tough activity.

There is even a Battle Bunny website ( where you can make your own story. They give you the original Birthday Bunny text and let you make your own. They actually provide PDFs of the entire text!  Also on the website are educators information that includes a curriculum guide.

Discussion Questions: What other stories could you build around Birthday Bunny?; (Writing activity) Using the picture book you were given, create a new story by changing words and adding photos.

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Scaredy Squirrel books by Melanie Watts, Bananas in my Ears by Michael Rosen, The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka, You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown

Recommended For: 

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The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley



The Dumbest Idea Ever!
Author and Illustrator: Jimmy Gownley
Expected Publication February 25th, 2014 by GRAPHIX

Goodreads Summary: Jimmy Gownley’s graphic novel memoir about the “dumb” idea that changed his life forever!

What if the dumbest idea ever turned your life upside down?

At thirteen, Jimmy was popular, at the top of his class, and the leading scorer on his basketball team. But all that changed when chicken pox forced him to miss the championship game. Things went from bad to worse when he got pneumonia and missed even more school. Before Jimmy knew it, his grades were sinking and nothing seemed to be going right.

How did Jimmy turn things around, get back on top at school, and land a date with the cutest girl in class?

Renowned comics creator Jimmy Gownley shares his adventures as he grows from an eager-to-please boy into a teenage comic book artist. This is the real-life story of how the DUMBEST idea ever became the BEST thing that ever happened to him.

My Review: I own many of the Amelia Rules series, but I had not read them before; however, when I got Jimmy Gownley’s memoir graphic novel, I knew I had to read it. I am always looking for ways to get my students to read more nonfiction and a graphic novel autobiography (like Smile) is definitely one of the ways to get them more interested in nonfiction. And, like Smile, Jimmy’s story is one that students will definitely connect with and, hopefully, enjoy. It deals with not only Jimmy’s journey of writing his graphic novel but also many the transition to high school and first love.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book will be a definite motivator for students and really shares that a teen can do anything. And on top of the message, it is a well-written, funny story that students will enjoy.

I can also see it being used as a mentor text to have students write their own memoir graphic novel. You could use Jarrett Krosoczka’s writing mountain video ( to help write an in-depth story, work on deciding on life moments to write about, and then maybe use to story board the story.

Discussion Questions: What circumstances helped make Jimmy write his comic?

We Flagged: “Look at this! There must be dozens of new books here! Hundreds! War comics and humor comics…Horror, crime, sci-fi, romance… and not one of them look appropriate for a kid my age. AWESOME.” (p. 60)

Read This If You Loved: Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Amelia Rules! series by Jimmy Gownley, Zebrafish by Peter H. Reynolds

Recommended For: 

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Website: Stories for My Little Sister


A couple of months ago, I was introduced to a wonderful website and today I wanted to share this site with you as I think it is a great resource and would be a lot of fun to use at home and in the classroom. 


At Stories for My Little Sister, two sisters, Samantha and Diana, share stories that Samantha writes that are illustrated by Diana. These stories are all so much fun! Each story includes a fun animal such as Pink Ethel the elephant and Moochie the turtle. David Goes Green, a story about a goldfish, is written in rhyme, My Friend Stinky, about a skunk, is about friendship. Each story has something that makes it special.

My favorite part of the site, though, is probably Harrison’s Blog. Harrison is a hamster and his blog is filled with his stories and opinions. As Harrison says, “The opinions I express on my blog are my own. I don’t want you to think that I represent hamsters in general. Well, I couldn’t, because I am totally and utterly unique and I could not possibly know what another hamster might be thinking. More importantly, I don’t represent gerbils at all. I could not, in any way, shape or form, even attempt to represent gerbils. That is because I am not a gerbil. I am a hamster!”  I love the idea of taking a character and having a blog for him/her is such a great activity for a classroom and Harrison’s Blog would be a wonderful mentor text for showing an example.

After being introduced to “Stories for My Sister,” I was so interested in learning more. Because of that, after being in touch with Samantha and Diana, came up with a Q&A to learn more about this site:

Unleashing Readers: I love that when you both were younger Samantha used to tell Diana her stories. What is Diana’s favorite story that Samantha used to tell her? What was Samantha’s favorite story to tell?

When we were little     Now we are grown up

Samantha: I’m not sure exactly how it came about, but a long time ago, I started telling Diana that she was an alien from a faraway planet.

Diana: And I loved it!

S: She really did.

D: I must’ve been about two years old…

S: Anyway, the story started from there, and it’s been growing ever since. Her real name is Hora, she’s from a cuboid planet called Horic (its edges kept perfect as all the inhabitants take turns to sand them), and you can fall off – that’s how she got here in the first place.

D: And you can get pushed!

S: I’ve told Diana a lot of stories over the years – I don’t think I could ever stop – but there is and always has been a comfort in visiting Horic every so often and remembering an old adventure or spinning a new one. We’d love to turn it into a book someday.

D: It’ll have to be a series! And I want to put some real science in there, too…

UR: Tell us more about your childhood. Did you both always know you were going to be an author and an artist?

S: No, not at all. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a doctor! Storytelling was just something that I always did. The themes of my stories tended to be a few steps removed from my real life, yet imbued with my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. I’ve always loved animals, so I guess that’s why they feature so heavily.

D: I had lot of dreams as I was growing up. I wanted to be a cartoonist – but I also wanted to be part of the crew on the Starship Enterprise! One of my earliest memories of school is of being given a sheet of paper and told to draw a picture. We could draw anything we wanted. I had a red crayon and I drew a page full of random red dots. I remember very clearly how much I enjoyed creating that picture and how pleased I was with it. I still get that feeling when one of my drawings or paintings works out the way I plan.

UR: Tell me a bit about your background as an author (Samantha) and artist (Diana).

S: I have to say that when people call me an author, I tend to turn around to see who’s standing behind me! I studied psychology at university, but somehow ended up in a series of admin-related jobs. My stories – their invention, revision, telling and retelling – have always been my escape, and ideas are constantly bubbling away in my head. Sometimes there’ll be a theme I want to explore; sometimes a character seems to materialize in my mind, fully formed; sometimes it all starts with a snatch of text that I know fits perfectly somewhere. Perhaps the term ‘storyteller’ is a better fit for me.

D: I have always loved creating art. When I was about twelve years old, my mother noticed what she thought was a little spark of talent and bought me a beginner’s set of oil paints. I just sort of experimented and taught myself, trying out new media as I went along. I don’t have a formal art education: I studied physics at university and worked on space missions for many years, but painting and drawing have always been a big part of my life. In the last few years, with encouragement from friends and family, I began selling my fine art and am now represented by a couple of galleries online.

UR: What made you two decide to combine your forces and make Stories for My Little Sister?

S: Well, having a website was very much Diana’s idea.

D: Yes, and I started work on setting it up on my own at first, but Samantha has a habit of nosing around to see what I’m up to (by the way, Samantha, that’s annoying!) and when she found out…

S: I was happy, but with tears in my eyes!

D: But then she washed her face, rolled up her sleeves and got to work with me to get our website online. I don’t think we ever really decided to join forces as such…

S: It was more something that grew naturally out of what we had always enjoyed doing. It would have been great if we’d had the Web when we were growing up…

D: We’re older than the World Wide Web!

UR: Tell me a bit about the mission behind Stories for my Little Sister.

S&D: We didn’t really have what you’d call a mission when we set out on this journey, building the website, just a love of writing and illustrating together that started in childhood and a spark of hope that maybe there were kids out there who might enjoy our stories.

At the end of our journey, if we were to find ourselves able to say that we’d left some stories in this world that made kids happy, that would be enough; if we were able to say that we’d created a website that made our enthusiasm for storytelling contagious, that would be amazing.

UR: I know it is hard to pick favorites, like picking a favorite child, but which story is your favorite on the website Samantha? Diana?

D: Cricket and Watson – they are a two little birds that want to fly, but they’re not big enough yet. I identify with Watson (sometimes Cricket, but mostly Watson). Cricket is constantly coming up with new schemes to launch them into flight, but she has a habit of trying her ideas out on her long-suffering brother, Watson. She is well intentioned, but she does get them (especially Watson) into a few scrapes. I love the action in the book – it was really fun to illustrate – and I love the message of never giving up.

S: Everybody has a Jar (Harrison’s Blog, Post No. 25) is the one that pops into my head. Just the way the whole situation escalates so rapidly as Harrison jumps from conclusion to conclusion makes me smile. Harrison does manage to get himself into a lot of muddles, but that one was pretty spectacular, even for him! And the pictures of Harrison and Kimster in their prison stripes crack me up every time.

Harrison Hamster I behind bars

May I also sneak in an honourable mention for Tuppence for Christmas? I think the illustrations Diana created for the book are very special. Just check out the vast frozen beauty of the South Pole and Tuppence’s wonderfully expressive face – especially that moment of wide-eyed panic when she’s flapping her wings and finds she can’t take off. Don’t we all have moments like that?

UR: Your website not only has stories, it has coloring, puzzles, and more. Are the two of you in charge of all aspects? Anything else you hope to add in the future?

S: Yes – we create everything on there. It’s exhausting, but we love it!

D: Luckily we come from different educational and work backgrounds, and so we bring complementary skills to the table.

S: We’ve already got plans for more puzzles – not least because we both enjoy designing them. The lovely details in Diana’s pictures lend themselves to ‘spot the difference’ puzzles, and we’ll definitely be creating some of those.

D: We have to make one featuring Harrison’s ugly clock! And we’re also working on a way to find a permanent home for the captioned pictures from Harrison’s ‘On my mind…’ feature.

S: Not to mention more books and blog posts – we’re all about the stories. Of course, the printables are important too, in terms of challenging and engaging kids – and, most especially, inviting them to use their own creativity. So you’ll be seeing every aspect of the website growing.

D: We should probably just ask you to ‘watch this space!’

UR: Anything else you want to add?

S&D: We both believe that reading changes everything – it wakes up your brain, opens your eyes and makes you see the possibilities, both in the world around you and in yourself. In the words of others you can find inspiration, new ideas, comfort, hope and whole new ways of thinking. Words from another place or time can resonate with you and help you navigate your life; they can make you laugh or cry; they can make you want to shout out in dissent, or nod your head in quiet agreement.

We are proud to have Stories for My Little Sister featured on a blog whose mission is to ‘unleash readers’: we believe that once a reader is unleashed and free to roam, their potential is limitless and there is no place they cannot reach. To play a small part of that process in anyone’s life is the greatest privilege we could possibly have.


Thank you so much to Samantha and Diana,
and I hope you all will check out Stories for My Little Sister.