Once Upon a Story
March 2, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

Happy Monday!

Y’all. It’s MARCH.


And though you wouldn’t know it by the snow that’s in my front yard, or the nice sheen of ice on top of it from the entire day of sleet and freezing rain we had yesterday…spring is coming.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

We actually didn’t get to the library last week, because I spent most of the week recovering from the holiday and 3 snow days we had the preceding week. So we’ve been reading from our own plentiful shelves, as well as books we checked out the week before.

A few new books for me, though.

For me:

Going Over

Beth Kephart

Another YA this week. I’m fond of Kephart’s lyrical prose, and this book, which tells the story of two young love interests, divided by the Berlin wall, caught my interest from the very first page.  I will say, though, that after reading All the Bright Places last week, and Going Over this week, I’ll be ready for something a little lighter next. Those teenage years are painful. And exhausting.

Jack at the Helm

by Lisa Doan, illustrated by Ivica Stevanovic

More coming on Wednesday, but I really enjoyed this third book in a new-to-me adventure series. Quick read, lots of action, lots of laughs.


That’s everything new!

Short and sweet, which is how I hope you day goes, friends.

Happy Monday!

What are YOU reading this week?

February 25, 2015

We’re having a big week.

We finally, FINALLY, had our 100th Day of School yesterday. This is after 3 snow days last week kept pushing back the celebration.

A celebration that, for one particular kindergartener in this house, was much anticipated. There was a 100 items guessing game, a writing activity for the hallway, and a special treat at snack time of trail mix comprised of ingredients brought in by the students (100 pieces each, of course).

And then during the day, they each answered this question:

Yeah, you know my husband and I both “awwww-d” over this, right?

We are so fortunate that she has a wonderful teacher who has so encouraged her this year. And y’all…the kiddo is so stinkin’ proud of herself and her ability to read independently. It sounds cliched, but it has opened up a whole new world for her.  And more than anything, that’s why kindergarten teachers (really, *all* teachers) are so important. The more confident those kids are, the more proud they are of their accomplishments (even the little ones), the harder they’ll push themselves.


Hooray for 100 days of reading 🙂

But then!

To add to the excitement of the week, it is also the 5yo’s turn to be the ‘Star Student’ in her classroom. This comes with all sorts of privileges, like having your own photo collage on the bulletin board, and being line leader, and getting a book at the end of the week from your classmates about all the things that make you special.

The other part of being the Star Student is getting to bring in a favorite book, and, if possible, a guest reader to share it. So this morning, I had lunch with a table of giggly 5/6yo girls, and then was a guest reader in the classroom.

This is the book we shared:

In her class of 25(ish) kids, about half had heard it. The other half were first-timers.

Any guesses what page was their favorite?

Hint: It’s always fun when an adult says, ‘naked’ and ‘underwear’ in school 😉

Hooray for kindergarten teachers (and all teachers) who make sharing a favorite book part of a child’s celebration.

And hooray for any teacher who can keep 25 5 and 6 year olds sitting criss-cross apple sauce and quiet.

They’re special people.



February 23, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

Hello from icy Virginia! After a week where the kids were only in school ONE day, the sun has come out and we’re back to our routine.

Thank. Goodness.

Fortunately, we did make it to the library last week before we got snowed/iced in.

Here’s what we’ve been reading.

For me:

All the Bright Places

Jennifer Niven

This YA book tore me apart. There are times where I wanted to stop reading just because it was so (emotionally) tough to keep going. But it’s beautifully, sensitively, and compassionately done. And so needed for today’s high school youth.

For the kiddos:

Magic Puppy: Classroom Princess

by Sue Bentley

It had a puppy and glitter on the front. No way was my 5yo going to leave it on the shelf.

The Book with No Pictures

by B.J. Novak

We’ve actually been reading this for 2 weeks now. “Monkey butt! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever

by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Alison McGhee

The 5yo is reading anything she can get her hands on lately. We read through the Mercy Watson series, now we’re on Bink and Gollie. Up next: Leroy Ninker

One Big Pair of Underwear

by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Smart, smart idea to lure them in with the promise of underwear…and then slip in some counting skills and a message about sharing.


by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

My 3yo knows more about construction equipment than I do. The Sally Sutton books are a favorite.


Stay warm! And those of you who are already warm…don’t talk to me until Spring 😉

Happy Monday, Friends!

What are YOU reading this week?

February 19, 2015

22328530 Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

Published by: Balzer & Bray

Release date:February 2015

Ages: 8-12

From the publisher:

Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds for miles and miles—and Flor couldn’t be happier. But come the end of summer, unthinkable things begin to happen. Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously, whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor’s mother leaves to take care of Flor’s sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it’s a dangerous one.

Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.
My thoughts:

You would think that living on a small island in the middle of the lake would be akin to paradise. The quiet (once the tourists leave for the summer), the lack of traffic, the sense of community.
And for some, like Flor’s father, the island is a kind of paradise. But being isolated doesn’t mean you’re sheltered from growing pains, and those coming-of-age moments of awareness, as 11-year-old Flor is finding out. Let’s see how much of this sounds familiar:

As parents/adults, we look back on those adolescent years and remember: they’re hard. In Moonpenny Island, Tricia Springstubb has captured that voice of unrest and confusion in Flor. She’s young, a tad naive, desperately optimistic. But also worried, seeking stability, and hurt. Whether you live on an isolated island, or the congested city, these are universal traits all adolescents experience.

One of the tricky parts about writing middle grade is finding balance. To wrap everything up in a nice, neat box, with a happily ever after ending, is unrealistic. And cheats the reader, who identifies with the struggles of the characters, but then feels disassociated from the perfect ending. At the same time, this is an age group who needs hope, who needs to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s not the ending they hope for. Moonpenny Island recognizes this. There are some questions left unanswered, some wounds not fully healed. But there’s also an acceptance of change and the possibility of new things and we get the sense that Flor is ready to face what’s next. And that’s what’s most important.

With a unique setting, a strong voice, and the emotional rollercoaster of those almost-a-teen years, Moonpenny Island will resonate with its target audience. And with the parents who remember.


January 30, 2015

In Mary’s Garden by Tina and Carson Kugler

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Release date: March 17, 2015

Ages: 6-9

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

While the rest of her classmates were making pastries in cooking classes, Mary Nohl was making art—anything she fancied out of anything she could find. Inspiration struck Mary even when she wasn’t looking for it. Mary used common objects to make uncommon art. And one day, her garden was a gallery. 

        Mary Nohl passed away in 2001 at the age of eighty-seven. Her famous garden gallery is located in the front yard of her Fox Point, Wisconsin, home to this day.


About the Authors:

Tina and Carson Kugler both grew up in Milwaukee influenced by Mary Nohl’s garden of fantastical creatures. They blossomed into professional artists and created three rather loud creatures of their own. After years of dreaming about how to turn Mary’s wonderland into a book, Tina and Carson combined traditional and digital collage elements to capture the spirit of Mary’s art. The Kuglers currently reside in Los Angeles where Carson is a storyboard supervisor for Nickelodeon Animation, and Tina is a full-time children’s book illustrator. Visit Carson online at www.carsonkugler.squarespace.com , and Tina at www.tinakugler.squarespace.com.


My thoughts:

One of the wonderful things about social media is that you get to connect with people you might not get the chance to meet in real life.

Tina is one of those people. I “met” her on Twitter over a year ago (maybe? longer?) and have been admiring her art since then. You may recognize her  as the illustrator of The Change Your Name Store, which appeared here awhile back.

Now Tina is set to release her second book, a collaboration with her husband, Carson, and I’m so excited to be able to get an early sneak peek.  I know this book has been a work of heart for Tina, and it shows.

As with the best picture book biographies, this book focuses on Mary Nohl the way children will understand her best…as a child. Better yet, she’s a child with dogs. The Kuglers could have chosen to overlook this fact. It is, after all, Mary who ultimately creates these amazing garden sculptures, not the dogs. But the dogs were important to Mary, and so play an integral part of this story, too. Besides…what child doesn’t like a story with dogs?

It’s on an ordinary walk on the beach that Mary and her dogs first discover the little scraps of treasure. And then there’s more. And more. And more. Treasure most people would ignore, or throw into the trash, but that Mary uses to create her first piece of sculpture art. And after that piece, there’s more. And more. And more.

The text reads easily. There’s a smooth rhythm to it that parallels the day in and day out passage of time that leads us from finding that first scrap, to the magnificent sculpture garden that eventually surrounded the Nohl family’s lakeside cottage. The illustrations, like the sculptures, are a blend of colors, textures and mediums. We see what Mary sees: her scraps of paper with her big ideas, her colorful travels, her beloved lakeside cottage, her magnificent garden.

The garden where she always had room for “one more stone, one more shell, one more friend.”


You’ll have to wait a little longer to hold this book in your hands. But In Mary’s Garden is available for preorder now.


Have a wonderful weekend, friends.



January 26, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

For me:

The Witch’s Boy

Kelly Barnhill

I’ve been reading this until I fall asleep every night, wishing I could stay awake longer.

This One Summer

written by Jillian Tamaki, illustrated by Mariko Tamaki

I’ve been exploring the new-to-me genre of graphic novels. This one falls solidly under the category of YA, including its content and degree of intensity. Still, a very quick read and I’m finding myself emotionally attached to the main character.

For the kiddos:

You and Me

by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Because I’ll read anything and everything Reynolds puts his name to. And never be disappointed.

Nana in the City

Lauren Castillo

Flat-out adorable read with an urban setting. Huge hit with both of my kids, even though it’s a “quieter” book. Which just proves there’s still the need for those types of stories. My 3yo calls this, “the superhero book.” 🙂


by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

You remember the game of Telephone, right? Adults can tell from the get-go where this story is going. It does require a little bit of sophistication to get the punchline. It went right over my 3yo’s head, but my 5yo got it. And then asked to read it again.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

by Dan Santat

For child, or loved one of a child, whose had an imaginary friend.

The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

Mo Willems

Can’t go wrong with a Willems! At least not in this house.

The Baby Tree

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall eloquently and age-appropriately tackles the age old childhood question of, “Where do babies come from?” And her illustrations are, as always, stunning. Backmatter also includes suggestions for continuing the conversation.

Stay warm this week, those of you in the Northeast!

Happy Monday, Friends!

What are YOU reading this week?

January 19, 2015

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Published by: Schwartz & Wade

Release date: January 2015

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 40

From the publisher:

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled. 


About the Author:05_lauriethompson_PhotoByMaryBalmaceda (2)

Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice, Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel’s Dream is her picture-book debut. Visit her at lauriethompson.com.
A CCSS-aligned curriculum guide for Emmanuel’s Dream is available here

My Thoughts:
Happy Monday, all!
For those of us in the U.S., it’s also Martin Luther King Day. For many, it’s a day off of work, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on ourselves as a nation, and a man who believed that facing adversity did not mean ‘impossibility.’
Which also makes it the perfect day to share with you this story of not only diversity, but also plain ol’ hard work and strong spirit.
Emmanuel’s Dream is the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. Today, Emmanuel is recognized as an athlete, an activist, and a philanthropist. His life (thus far, he’s only 37) has been made into a documentary (also entitled Emmanuel’s Gift), and he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
But before all that he was a kid in Ghana. A kid who wanted to do what the other kids did, and a kid whose mother believed he should do what all the other kids did. While this book contains moments that will make young readers gasp in surprise, or make round ‘o’s of awe, what also comes through is how normal of a kid Emmanuel was. Don’t most kids like to play soccer at recess, or ride bikes with friends?
I had the chance to ask author Laurie Ann Thompson what she would like her readers to take away from Emmanuel’s story. Here’s what she said:
What would you like to see children learn from Emmanuel?
I want children to learn that they, too, can be brave, creative, and determined enough to go after their dreams, no matter what challenges they may face in their lives or what other people might tell them along the way.
But we all know that picture books aren’t just for the young.  What would you like to see adults take away from Emmanuel’s Dream?
I hope adults take away that same message of empowerment for themselves, of course, but that they also understand the broader message of everyone having the potential to change the world. I think keeping that in mind would make us all a little more tolerant, a little more accepting, and little more supportive of one another. And that would be a very good thing.
I love her responses. Have faith, keep working, and be supportive of one another.
It does, indeed, seem like that would be a very good thing.


Thanks to Schwartz and Wade, ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a copy of EMMANUEL’S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls. (U.S. addresses only). Enter below by 11:59pm on Monday, February 2nd.

 Good luck!

Follow Emmanuel on the rest of his tour:

Mon, Jan 12
Great Kid Books
Tues, Jan 13
5 Minutes for Books
Wed, Jan 14
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Jan 15
Fri, Jan 16
Cracking the Cover
Sat, Jan 17
Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 19 (MLK Jr bday)
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20
Wed, Jan 21
Geo Librarian
Thurs, Jan 22
Nonfiction Detectives
Fri, Jan 23
The Fourth Musketeer AND  Kirby’s Lane
Mon, Jan 26
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27
Teach Mentor Texts


January 14, 2015

My daughter has had a break-through over the last two days.

She’s my avid reader. Or listener. She was using short phrases at her first birthday. She went to her first toddler storytime at 18 months and always sat through quietly. By the time she was two, she was listening to longer picture books. By the time she was four, it was chapter books.  When she started kindergarten in September, her ability to read independently took off.

She’s my verbal kid.

And then we hit a wall.

The “I can’t read this many words on a page” wall.

I noticed. I knew her ability. I knew it was a confidence thing. I encouraged, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

She stuck to her guns.

I showed her books at the library that I thought she could handle.

She reached for simpler ones, and I rolled with it.

Last week, I brought home two books from the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen.

She resisted. She didn’t want to read about a pig.

So I was surprised when she asked to read a little bit before bedtime last night. I read the first page. She read the second, then asked me to read the next page. We took turns for the first 2 chapters.

Between last night and lunchtime today (thank you, snow day) she finished it. All by herself.

She’s so stinkin’ proud.

Embedded image permalink

“Take a picture of the last chapter!”

Confidence plays a big part in this reading game.

You know what else does?


Let me introduce you to my son, my 3yo.

He was born in 2 hours and 45 minutes, start to finish.

He hasn’t slowed down since.

He does not like to sit on your lap and cuddle while you read. He does not like to sit still, period.

For the first 2.5 years of his life he would choose just about anything over listening to you read a book. Around the age of 2, we were able to settle him into a routine of listening to a story at bedtime, after he’d been bathed and dressed for bed, and was getting drowsy.  But during the day? Forget it.

About six months ago, he started bringing a book to me occasionally.  They were mostly interactive and there were lots of (loud!) interruptions, but it was nice to see his interest.

His ability to sit and listen really expanded, though, when his sister started reading. Because of all the people in the house, she is the one he most idolizes. And he’ll sit still for her.

Now we’ve started a practice of reading while dinner is cooking, the three of us. It starts with the 5yo reading the leveled reader she brings home from school every day. And then they take turns picking. And now, at three, he’s starting to actually enjoy this time.

The Washington Post recently published this article about pushing kindergarteners to read. I have my thoughts on that, but I think it starts before kindergarten. We’re guilty, sometimes, us parents. We get stressed and caught up in competition.

He/she doesn’t like books.

He/she should know all his letters and sounds by now.

What should I buy to teach my child to read?

The kid across the street is reading on his own, and he’s only four. Why isn’t my child doing that?

You’ve met my kids now. I’ve got one of each. One whose verbal skills have always been impressive, and one whose fine and gross motor skills have always been ahead of the curve (but who has a hard time sitting still).

They’re both doing just fine.

It comes.

Or it doesn’t, and you cross that bridge when you come to it.

In the meantime, I firmly believe in just plugging away. Even if it does mean you have to read the same Arthur book 1, 247,968 times.

Ask me how I know.

January 9, 2015

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Published by: Harcourt Brace

Release date: January 2015

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 40

From the publisher:

Apart from sticker burrs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful. He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy. They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay–Cardell is mostly used to it. Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a “grrr “form in his throat. Otis can’t make jalapeno flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy. And so Cardell waits for Mama to say “”Adios, ” Otis.” But what will happen if she doesn’t?


About the Author:Kathi Appelt photo

Kathi Appelt’s perfectly wonderful stepfather was a terrific storyteller, and she grew up to become a teller of stories, too. She is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her picture books include Oh My Baby, Little One, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath, which was also a Newbery Honor Book. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To download a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide, visit Kathi’s website at kathiappelt.com.

Watch the WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA book trailer (created by Kathi’s own two sons!) :


My thoughts:

I’m a big advocate for books that handle the tough stuff. As parents, we often want to protect our children from life’s challenges. Sometimes we can get away with that, at least for awhile. But inevitably, that tough stuff comes up, and when it does, it’s nice to have those books we can read with our kids. The ones that show children peers, families and situations like their own. It normalizes tough stuff, and makes whatever that child’s thinking,feeling, and experiencing “okay.”

When Otis Courted Mama is the story of a blended (coyote) family. Right from the start, it’s made clear that Cardell, is a well-loved kid (um, coyote). Even though his parents live in different parts of the desert, and even though each household is different, Cardell’s life is “mostly wonderful.” He doesn’t mind sharing his “perfectly good daddy” with his stepmother, Lulu, and his stepbrother, Little Frankie. And he doesn’t even mind the other coyotes who have come to court mama. They never stay around long, and then Cardell has his “perfectly good mama” back to himself.

So it’s a bit of a shock when Mama doesn’t say “adios” to Otis, who arrives one day with flowers and cactus candy. Cardell is confused. And defensive (this coyote is not like his perfectly good daddy!). And even a little protective of mama.  All emotions one might expect to see in a child whose parent begins a serious relationship with a new adult.

And while those relationships don’t always work out, some do. The adults who, like Otis, work hard to win the child over and who include the child, and who wait patiently…sometimes those adults become someone special. Not replacing mama or papa, but in addition to. And that’s the message Appelt delivers.

Jill McElmurry, who also illustrated the Little Blue Truck series, captures the essence of the Southwest that she grew up in.  From the golds and browns of day, to the purples and blues of night, to the bright red bandanna themed endpapers, every page explodes with color. And her subtle use of expression allows the reader to feel the full range of emotions, both Cardell’s and his mama’s, without Appelt having to put it into words.

A special book, especially for children of blended families, but also for children in other kinds of families, as they explore the different family dynamics the world has to offer.

And now:

EVERYONE can find a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables at kathiappelt.com.

 Thanks to Harcourt Brace, ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a copy of WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA.  (U.S. addresses only). Enter below by 11:59pm on Friday, January 23rd.

 Good luck!

 Renee F., you’re a winner!

Follow sweet Cardell on all his tour stops!

Mon, Jan 5
5 Minutes for Book
Tues, Jan 6
Cracking the Cover
Wed, Jan 7
Thurs, Jan 8
Unleashing Readers
Fri, Jan 9
Once Upon a Story
Sat, Jan 10
Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 12
Geo Librarian
Tues, Jan 13
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog AND NC Teacher Stuff
Wed, Jan 14
Teach Mentor Texts
Thurs, Jan 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 16
The Fourth Musketeer


January 4, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

For me:


Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Meg Medina

I’ve heard Meg speak twice, and she’s as authentic as they come. So is her writing.

This is real, powerful, important, stuff.

 Rain Reign

Ann M. Martin

When I think of Ann M. Martin, I immediately think of The Babysitter’s Club. I’m a child of the 80s. I can’t help it. But she’s written so much more, including this, her most recent. And I love her for creating a character who is so beautifully atypical.

What the Moon Said

Gayle Rosengren

My newest pick, just started last night.

For the kiddos:

Benny and Penny in Lights Out!

Geoffrey Hayes

We are currently a little obsessed with Toon Books, an imprint of Candlewick, who produces graphic novels specifically for younger readers. My 5yo is reading (devouring!) the level 2 books independently. We picked up a couple of the Benny and Penny books at our library last week. Though the genders are reversed from what is in our household, I think she she’s herself and her brother in the sibling relationship.

Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly

Grace Lin

I’ve read Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, but didn’t realize she’d also penned this early reader series. We’ll be back for more!


Let’s Go for A Drive

Mo Willems

Because we’re always, always, always reading an Elephant & Piggie book 🙂


Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters

Jane Yolen, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Simple, descriptive, rhyming text. My 5yo has been reading this to my 3yo.

Sebastian and the Balloon

Philip C. Stead

You can always count on Stead to write those quieter books that have a timeless feel, both in text and illustration. They make perfect bedtime/quiet time stories.

Happy Monday, Friends!

What are YOU reading this week?

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