Karen's Latest Book Review (June 28, 2020)

Becoming Naomi Leon

Although published in 2005, I only recently encountered this book. From the author of Esperanza Rising, this is another worthy read. Immediately, I was drawn to eleven-year-old Naomi Outlaw who lives with her great-grandmother and younger brother. The unexpected return of her mother sends her searching for her voice and her roots. This is truly an inspiring story.

June 28, 2020

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Don’t Worry Little Crab

From the creator of Shh! and Little Owl Lost comes a new treasure about finding the courage to try something new. Teachers of primary students may want to consider this to start the next school year. (There also happens to be some fabulous examples of both onomatopoeia and alliteration!)

June 21, 2020

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Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat

Are you looking to expand your poetry collection? This is a great choice: both the poetry and illustrations are beautiful! I appreciate the variety of styles, poets, and topics within this book. If you have a CD player in your listening centre, this will become a popular choice for students.

June 14, 2020

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Seesaw Girl

Reading expands our experience. Venture into seventeenth-century Korea with Jade as she begins to question her identity and place in the world. This engaging novel will entertain our young readers while providing a glimpse into a time and place far from their own. Linda Sue Park remains one of my favourite authors for children.

June 7, 2020

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One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey

If you are not yet familiar with the work of Henry Cole, this book is a great start. His new wordless picture book is beautifully illustrated and appropriate for all elementary grade levels. Besides being a mentor text for an art lesson on texture, drawing, or the subtle use of colour, I would also use it to teach the concept of conservation. A wonderful book to share on Earth Day too!

May 31, 2020

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Harvey Comes Home

On the surface, this is the story of a lost dog: Harvey, a West Highland Terrier. This storyline alone will engage young readers. And yet, readers are in for much more depth than expected. The author manages to involve multi-generational characters, move between past and present, and alternate narrators, all leading to an unforgettable story. Once you fall in love with Harvey, be sure to read Harvey Holds His Own as well!

May 22, 2020

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Guys Read

I often recommend this series to schools and parents looking to engage boys in reading. Jon Scieszka invites authors to contribute to a theme. Each book is a collection of short stories on a common topic: Funny Business, Terrifying Tales, The Sports Pages, Heroes and Villains, True Stories, Thriller. Boys who may be a little more reluctant to read something longer can dive into one of these books. They look like a novel to their peers but the reader can choose to read one or more of the engaging short stories. Much more manageable.

May 18, 2020

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Baker’s Magic

I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy adventure! A strong heroine faces unexpected trials but along the way discovers she possesses a magical quality. A wonderful read for our upper elementary students.

May 10, 2020

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One-Dog Canoe

Children will certainly enjoy the silliness of this story. But, if you are looking to teach or reinforce the use of rhyme, this is your book!

May 3, 2020

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Written as a collection of poems from the perspective of Lonnie, an eleven-year-old in foster care, this book is yet another treasure by Jacqueline Woodson. Another must-have on our bookshelves in upper elementary.

April 26, 2020

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With Earth Day on April 22, I wanted to feature a book that would be an engaging, thought-provoking read for our students. If you have not yet encountered Life by Cynthia Rylant, now’s the time. With stunning illustrations by Brendan Wenzel, this book is a beautiful tribute to our natural world.

April 19, 2020

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Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Friends

Needing a feel-good book these days? What about this true story of an unlikely friendship between Tarra, a retired circus elephant, and Bella, a stray mixed-breed dog? Kids (and adults) are intrigued by this heartwarming tale. A must-have for animal lovers and an enjoyable read for all!

April 13, 2020

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Music for Tigers

Pre-order your copy now! This middle grade novel will get your students thinking and talking about the role of nature in our lives, animal conservation, and extinction. It will also have you and your students looking up many animals native to Tasmania: I know I was! An enjoyable read.

April 5, 2020

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Be You!

He does it again! Peter H. Reynolds has created another favourite to add to our shelves. And no surprise, this book will make as great a gift for the big ones in our lives as for the little ones…

March 29, 2020

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

The characters in this novel will stay with you even after you turn the last page. A humorous, engaging read about two kids with disabilities: Aven, a girl without arms, and Connor, a boy with Tourette Syndrome. A charming, unexpected read!

March 22, 2020

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The Girl Who Rode a Shark & Other Stories of Daring Women

Although I talk about being aware of our text selections with students, I realized my own unintentional bias on this website. Where’s the nonfiction? Let’s start with The Girl Who Rode a Shark.

This book featuring 52 diverse women deserves a place on our shelves. Stories of artists, pioneers, scientists, activists, athletes, and seekers. Stories to educate and inspire. Striking digital portraits of each.

March 15, 2020

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The Serious Goose

The interactive nature of Jimmy Kimmel’s first picture book will have young children engaged and giggling as they attempt to make Goose break into a smile. An added bonus: proceeds of the book are donated to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

Students could write an interactive picture book mimicking the style of this book. Consider one class book or many books written in partners. Younger classes will be happy to include the book(s) as part of their own classroom library; older classes could create the book(s) to share with a younger class. You may be surprised at the level of thought and discussion involved in this process!

March 8, 2020

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Finding Langston

This beautifully written (award-winning) novel would be a wonderful read aloud in grade three and up. Langston, dealing with the recent death of his mother, a move north during The Great Migration, and bullies at school, eventually finds solace in a library and in the poetry of Langston Hughes. The characters are believable, the story engaging, and the book heartwarming!

There is also much potential for discussion about setting, the language use in different eras, and the genre of historical fiction. A must-have on my bookshelf!

March 1, 2020

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The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

This inspiring story is a wonderful example of determination to share with students. In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At 116 years old, she learned to read. She lived to be 121 years old. The conversations and reader response writing that follow the reading of this book are incredible!

February 23, 2020

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After the Fall

Written as an epilogue to Humpty Dumpty, this is a story about resilience, courage, and overcoming our fears. It has a spot on my bookshelf as a new favourite transformation story!

February 16, 2020

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Ebb & Flow

This beautiful novel is written in verse with characters you will root for and love. The writing is pure joy. Be sure to read this book yourself before reading it to your class: you will realize why.

February 9, 2020

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Front Desk

This is a story of hope and optimism! Mia, a fifth-grade girl, immigrates from China to the U.S. with her family. They soon realize that life in North America is not at all what they expected. Living in and managing a hotel to make their living, they face racism and poverty; they also struggle to learn the language and adjust to a new culture. Kelly Yang used autobiographical details to create a relatable and likeable character in Mia.

February 2, 2020

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Small in the City

This award-winning picture book is breathtaking. A story of love and loss, compassion and faith from the perspective of a young child in a towering city. The child is offering advice on how to stay safe and warm, on good places to hide and nap. It is only near the end that we realize who this young narrator is speaking to… but that is not to give away here.

The illustrations are also worthy of our time: interesting, layered, intricate.

January 26, 2020

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Pages & Co.: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

This sequel to Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers was much anticipated. Tilly and Oskar venture into the dangerous and unstable world of fairtytales. If you haven’t read the first of the series, be sure to begin there. These are a booklover’s dream!

January 19, 2020

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Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry)

This picture book reveals how Charlie Chaplin became the character we know and love. Consider using this book in upper elementary if you are teaching biographies. The descriptions of both people and place are effective and inventive. The narrative shows the tumultuous journey of his life all leading to the creation of his eventual persona. The whimsical, mixed-media illustrations created by Ed Young will also captivate readers.

January 12, 2020

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Kate Messner has delivered yet another enjoyable and relevant middle grade read. The main character, Nora, is looking forward to the upcoming summer. But when two inmates break out of a local prison, everything changes as the community is essentially on lock down. This stressful situation brings to the surface some surprising viewpoints and unexpected changes in both friendships and family dynamics.


As a teacher, I appreciated the use of various text genres throughout the book; the story is told through a series of letters, text messages, articles, and comics.

January 5, 2020

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Pick a Pine Tree

Written as a charming rhyme, this book will engage our preschoolers and young school-aged children sparking conversation about family Christmas traditions. Jarvis’ mixed-media illustrations may also inspire some Christmas artwork!

December 22, 2019

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Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas

Groove along with Pete the Cat with this rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas. It is sure to become a family favourite!

December 15, 2019

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The Crayons’ Christmas

A new companion to The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home, this Christmas edition includes envelopes with letters, games, ornaments… some kind of surprise every few pages!

December 8, 2019

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Nobody Hugs a Cactus

Hank the cactus is prickly: inside and out! The adorable pictures and engaging text reveal Hank’s eventual transformation.

November 24, 2019

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Shouting at the Rain

From the author of Fish in a Tree, this story explores both friendships and family dynamics through the eyes of Delsie. Living with her grandmother on Cape Cod, her fascination with the weather adds a metaphoric element as she deals with changing friendships and new understandings of what makes a family. Upper elementary students will relate to the characters and the struggles they face. A compelling read!

November 17, 2019

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What Does It Mean to Be Present?

If you teach young students, you might enjoy this addition to your library. It speaks to the idea of mindfulness and being present in the moment. It is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about words and their multiple meanings.

Before reading the book, begin by asking students to draw what they think of when they hear the word present. Chances are they won’t use the meaning from the book! After reading the book, ask them to do a second drawing, next to the first, illustrating their new understanding of the word.

November 10, 2019

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Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature

This is one book within a series of non-fiction books with the same structure: two out of every three chapters are true, and one a lie. Readers have to determine which are which. Use a chapter to hook students at the beginning of your science class, or simply as a read-aloud to generate discussion and critical thinking. These books deliberately encourage students to become discerning, critical readers and draw attention to the internet as a possible source of false information. Our upper elementary students will be captivated!

November 3, 2019

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The Unicorn in the Barn

Teachers often ask for appropriate read alouds for grades 3 and 4: this book is a wonderful option! With magical creatures and elements of fantasy, and yet realistic issues of change, love, and loss, it is a story that will appeal to many.

October 27, 2019

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“When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.” Alex Gino gives us a heartfelt story about a ten-year-old girl struggling with her identity and figuring out how she fits into the world. The daily interactions between George and the adults in her life, as well as with other kids, help the reader better understand the obstacles George faces and may also help contribute to a developing sense of empathy.

October 20, 2019

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A Stone Sat Still

From the creator of They All Saw a Cat comes a second book about perspective. Children listening to or reading these books are challenged to think deeply and see things from a different point of view. As a classroom teacher, I would use the two books in conjunction with each other; they may also inspired a shared writing experience.

October 14, 2019

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I Hate My Cats (A Love Story)

This charming book explores the love-hate relationship between a pet owner and his cats. Told with humour and a dash of sentimentality, it is an enjoyable read. With a class of students, the book can be explored for the author’s opinion and how that opinion is communicated through words.

October 6, 2019

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The Tiger Rising

Kate DiCamillo knows how to tap into our emotions by creating relatable and flawed characters and putting them in some difficult situations. The Tiger Rising is a book that could easily be used as a class read-aloud in grade five or six stirring up much discussion. It may also spark student interest in this author’s other books as well.

September 29, 2019

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The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon

I stumbled upon this book this weekend and I’ve already read it to my favourite five-year-old. When I finished the last page, she immediately turned back to the first page and said, “Can we read the whole thing again?” It captivated her. The words, the pictures.

After reading this with a class, I would take the time to explore word choice and especially the many words with the short vowel ‘u’.

September 22, 2019

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Are you looking for a read aloud for grade 3 or 4? Katherine Applegate delivers another excellent option. Although this book deals with the serious topics of poverty and homelessness, Applegate is able to keep the tone light and heartfelt. Crenshaw – a large, imaginary cat – provides comfort and humour to both Jackson, the main character, and the reader, too. This is an enjoyable read about friendship and resiliency.

September 15, 2019

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The Dog Who Wanted to Fly

I fell in love with the illustrations in this book even before I read the story. But the story did not disappoint. This is a fun tale of perseverance: Zora the dog is determined to fly!

What do your students want to do? What inspiration can they take from Zora?

September 8, 2019

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New Kid

This graphic novel is an engaging read! We know the medium appeals to kids; the content will as well. Jordan is a relatable character whose experiences echo those of many of our students who are new to a school. Although it tackles complex issues, it does so in humorous and accessible ways.

September 1, 2019

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Perfection is hard to live up to! Experience the antics of an eraser trying to maintain perfection in his world. He meets his match with pencil (and his many friends). Eraser is forced to reimagine his idea of perfection. Use in conjunction with Beautiful Oops and Ish to help establish a growth mindset in your classroom.

August 25, 2019

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Just Read!

Do you teach primary? Are you looking for a book to begin the school year and inspire your students to love reading? This visually engaging book would stay up on my bookshelf near the reading corner all year long. Surely a book kids will return to time and time again!

August 18, 2019

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Anna at the Art Museum

Some children are not as engaged at art museums as we might hope them to be. This book shows the initial disinterest of Anna, a reluctant young visitor, until one day a guard helps change her experience with art. The charming illustrations include many representations of famous artwork from galleries around the world. Primary teachers, this might be a good introduction to art class this year!

August 11, 2019

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Town is by the Sea

Are you travelling to a town by the sea this summer? Well, this book allows you to do so at story time! The repeated line—”it goes like this”—helps to create a cadence and rhythm that engages the reader, drawing us in to the town by the sea. The illustrations are intricate and alluring as well.

August 6, 2019

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How to Read a Book

Check out this new release by two award winners. Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet team up to create a book about reading books: a wonderful addition to our primary classrooms or our preschoolers’ bookshelves!

July 28, 2019

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The Wild Robot

If you or your middle grade reader, haven’t yet encountered The Wild Robot, why not put it at the top of your summer reading pile? Then, the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes, can be the second book on the pile. Peter Brown, known for his picture books (Children Make Terrible Pets being a favourite), writes a unique first novel: a robot washes ashore on an island after a storm. Journey with this robot as she discovers her new world and learns to survive among the wild animals.

June 23, 2019

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Jane Goodall (Little People, BIG DREAMS)

This is one of many books in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series. Choose one because the topic is of particular interest, or choose a few to expose the children in your life to simple biographies of interesting people: Mother Teresa, David Bowie, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Stephen Hawking, or Maya Angelou, just to name a few. The writing style and quaint illustrations engage even the very young.

June 16, 2019

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Wolf Hollow

This beautifully written book is told from Annabelle’s point of view. Living on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, her life is fairly uneventful until a new student arrives in class: Betty Glengarry. Betty’s arrival disrupts everything. A thought-provoking, gripping read appropriate for grade 5 and up.

June 9, 2019

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Whiffy Wilson: The Wolf Who Wouldn’t Wash

An enjoyable read aloud for young children but also an opportunity to discuss into alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme for children of all ages!

June 2, 2019

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A Family is a Family is a Family

A teacher asks her students to describe what makes their families special. Students respond by describing the dynamics of their own families. Without being preachy, this book shows that families come in all shapes and sizes. Use as a discussion starter in your classroom to help students accept their own family situations and also understand the diversity of experiences.

May 26, 2019

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Inside Out and Back Again

This story, inspired by the author’s own refugee experience, is beautifully written in verse. We journey with ten-year-old Ha as she experiences the Vietnam war, time in a refugee camp, her family’s journey to America, and the adjustment to life in Alabama. I especially appreciate the insight into her experiences learning the English language. This book would be a powerful read-aloud to an upper elementary or grade seven class providing many opportunities for making connections, exploring the author’s craft, and discussing the intricacies of the English language.

May 20, 2019

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Say Something

I am a long-time fan of Peter H. Reynolds. His newest book, Say Something, is one that I am especially excited about. Reynolds invites kids to use their unique voice (through words, art, music, poetry, courage, or even their presence) to make a positive difference in the world. Many schools look for a book to send off their grade sixes; this would be my choice for this year!

May 12, 2019

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Zoey, a seventh-grade student, has much more on her mind than typical seventh grade stuff; she deals with significant responsibilities with her siblings, a complicated relationship with her mother, and the daily realities presented by poverty. Zoey’s perspective is a welcome addition to the bookshelf providing a voice and mirror to many students who sit in our classrooms. An excellent read for upper elementary and junior high students.

May 5, 2019

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How to Give Your Cat a Bath: in Five Easy Steps

Last week I featured a book of how-to poems (The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog); this week’s book puts a different spin on how-to writing with step by step instructions. Using How to Give Your Cat a Bath as inspiration, students could each choose their own “How to…” idea. In addition to the instructions, they can create pictures and include speech bubbles as was done in this hilarious book.

April 28, 2019

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The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems

I encourage teachers to share at least one poem with their students each week. This collection of poems will be a wonderful addition to your bookshelf with poems from a wide variety of poets yet all with a how-to approach. Topics range from how to be a mole to toasting marshmallows!

April 22, 2019

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Things to Do

Things to Do

This charming picture book is a wonderful mentor text and inspiration for writing poetry. The author features poems about a variety of topics such as dawn, birds, a snail, the sky, rain, boots, scissors, and even an eraser. Students could choose someone or something as a focus and then emulate the style of the prose within. It is National Poetry Month after all…

April 14, 2019

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Z is for Moose

Z is for Moose

Looking for another alphabet book for your collection? This may just become a favourite. Both the illustrations and the story will have your students captivated. It is truly a hilarious read!

April 8, 2019

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