Presentation links

Sunday, September 3, 2023

In our garden activities

 Do you need a great new book for a read aloud?  What about one that has wonderful connections to gardening and growing things, vegetables, team work and becoming a part of a new community?  Then 'In our Garden" written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Melissa Crowton is just the book you're looking for!  My new activity pack has Montessori language activities with vegetable three part cards and a compound word train with words from the story.

There are also comprehension activities-there's a cause and effect printable and a printable retelling frame.  There are science activities and math activities, there's so much there!  Click on the book cover and it will take you to Teachers Pay Teachers page!  

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Sparkly brand new speculative fiction for middle graders!

 I've been waiting and waiting to get to this part of my TBR pile-I have this HUGE stack of books that are being published in the next few weeks and I'm so excited to get to read them!  These were DEFINITELY worth the wait!

The first one is called Nimbus by Jan Eldredge.  The main character is Nimbus, Nim for short, an 11 month old black cat, who lives with a boy named Fletcher.  They live with Fletcher's aunt because Fletcher's dad is working so much.  Fletcher doesn't mind living with his aunt, but Aunt Connie is not a big fan of Nim but Fletcher rescued Nim when she was a really small kitten and had been hit by a car.  He took very good care of her and they are tightly bonded.  One night, Fletcher finds an old jar and tries to open it.  It turns out what's in the jar is REALLY bad-it's a nightmare demon and it's trying to suck out Fletcher's life essence.  Nim attacks the demon and thinks she's destroyed it, but she's also been badly injured in the process.  Aunt Connie sees the end of the attack and thinks that Nim is trying to hurt Fletcher, so she puts Nim in a box and takes the box to the dump.  Lucky for Nim, she's discovered by a super friendly rat who suggests that she goes to the human's house.  It turns out the human is a witch and there are several other cats there.  The witch is looking for her familiar and is hoping that it's Nim.  Nim hopes it's not because she really wants to get back to Fletcher.  There are some very creepy parts and I think that's one of the reasons kids will love this one.  There are also some great parts about past lives and dreams and the ethical treatment of animals that will spark the imagination of some kids.  The writing is compelling and characters are really interesting and well drawn.  I thought this one was terrific!  

The second one is just as terrific, or maybe more so.  I totally couldn't put it down!  It's called The Dark Lord's Daughter and it's written by Patricia C. Wrede.  This is the first one her books that I've read, but after this one, I can't wait to read more!  It has this really great premise-what if you were at the fair with your family (your incredibly annoying little brother and your loving adoptive mom) when a guy in a super creepy costume comes up to you and says you need to come with him right away because you are the Dark Lord's daughter and you need to come and claim your rightful place in the kingdom.  Like many of us, the main character, Kayla says "um, NO".  And then somehow, she and her mom and her brother end up transported to another realm, where she is the heir apparent to the Dark Lord's throne, about which she has no idea.  Their guide, Waylan, the second commander of the Dark Hordes of Zaradwin, is bound to take Kayla to the castle, where she will take the throne.  They've been waiting 10 years for her, because that's how long it's been since the Dark Lord (her dad) died.  The things Kayla and her family have carried with them to the fair have come through to the magical realm changed-her mom's ibuprofen has turned into a magical cure for practically everything, her mom's cell phone has turned into a message mouse and Kayla's brand new tablet has turned into a winged familiar that can answer virtually every question they have.  But things are scary-there's a skull that acts as a guard to the castle, the Dark Lord (or Lady) is basically expected to be completely ruthless-curse or kill enemies, steal what they need, attack neighboring communities, use their families as pawns to get what they want, which is more power.  Kayla's enjoying the power, but not really digging the ruthless part.  She makes friends with people that others see as rivals, she notices strengths that others view as weaknesses AND she comes up with some truly genius problem solving strategies that turn the whole Dark Lady role on its ear.  The characters are interesting and well developed and Kayla is such a likable character.  This was a really fun read.  It's going to be a great one for kids who like magic and things that are kind of scary.  I think they're going to love this one.

Friday, August 11, 2023

A new adventure!

 I'm pretty excited about some big changes here at my house.  My husband and I both decided to retire at the end of the school year and we've spent most of the summer traveling (not quite finished with THAT but since we're retired, it gets to be an ongoing thing, YAY!).  Also, being 'she of the short attention span', I had some ideas about things I wanted to be able to do once I retired, so here's the latest new thing-in addition to doing book reviews, I'm also writing lesson plans!  I started with the Sunshine State Young Reader Award Jr. books (because I'm pretty familiar with them and they are some amazing new books!) and they are now available on Teachers Pay Teachers!  I've created packets with librarians and classroom teachers in Florida in mind, so they're vetted by a certified school librarian (that's me!), they are tied to the Florida state curriculum (BEST standards, but handily, this also links them to other curricula), there are ideas for research projects, mini lessons, as well as having printable activities in case that feels like a good idea.  All of these are things I would have used with my own students, had I not retired. 

Here's an example of one of them- Bug on the Rug by Sophia Gholz.  This is the cover. 

Here are some previews of some of the printables.  There are story frames for retelling.

For this book, which has a rhyming text, there are three different rhyming word activities on different levels. This one is a matching activity with predictable words.

This one is a little book that you can print out and have the kids read.

If this looks useful, can you please go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store and follow me?  I would appreciate it very much!  

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

What's new in middle grade realistic fiction? Check these out!

 I'm playing catch up on blog posts because while we were away I was reading madly but we often had kind of sketchy internet connections AND there was more wine involved than usual (it was France, what can I say?).  Anyway, here are two new realistic fiction books you should definitely look for.

The first one is by a favorite author, Gary D. Schmidt. He's written some of my perennial favorites-The Wednesday Wars, Orbiting Jupiter, Okay for Now...  there are lots more and he has such a gift with voice! His characters always ring so true and that's exactly how this new one is.  It's called The Labors of Hercules Beal and it's so great.  It's about Hercules, who at 12 is dealing with a big loss-his parents were killed in a car accident and his brother has come home to run the family business, a nursery on Cape Cod. When school starts, Hercules is given an assignment by his 6th grade social studies/language arts teacher, Lt. Colonel Hupfer.  The assignment is a Classical Mythology Application Project (I kind of love this idea!)  Hercules is meant to consider each of the 12 Labors of Hercules and how they might look in today's world.  And so the story begins.  Hercules Beal finds out that the first labor of the mythical Hercules was a task to help him overcome the grief from losing his family.  Since Hercules Beal is dealing with that same grief, it feels like a good place to start!  Hercules Beal gives a modern retelling of the first labor (which, if you don't know this part of classical literature, like I didn't), is all about Hercules killing the Lion which had been terrorizing the Nemeans.  Hercules Beal finds a group of feral cats that are living in an abandoned house and figures out a way to deal with them.  Get the idea?  The whole book is like that, with completely ordinary modern events, but drawing connections to this historical piece of literature.  It's brilliant!  On top of it, Gary Schmidt has created the most amazing characters that anyone would love spending time with.  I was totally bereft when I finished the book because I couldn't hang out with this awesome crew anymore.  This would be a wonderful book to use in middle school or high school literature classes to help kids draw connections between classical literature and modern literature or even modern events but it's also just a really great read.  Don't miss this one!

The second one is called The Fire, The Water and Maudie McGinn.  It's written by Sally J. Pla.  You might remember one of my favorites called The Someday Birds.  Anyway, this new one is terrific!  It's all about Maudie, who lives with her mom and stepdad during the school year and her dad in the summer.  Maudie is neurodivergent (she's autistic) and her mom has spent a lot of time and energy trying to get Maudie to be more normal.  Maudie sometimes gets really overwhelmed with too much input (too much noise, too many people) and has big meltdowns, but now as a teenager, she's getting a better handle on it and she really loves spending time with her dad.  She's looking forward to being out in his cabin, helping him build things, but a wildfire comes through and they have to leave.  Maudie and her dad end up staying in an old trailer that an old friend agrees they can use until they can figure out what comes next.  It's not really very nice (especially compared to the luxury condo with her mom and stepdad) but they are close to the beach and Maudie loves to swim.  One more morning, Maudie is out on the beach and notices a woman surfing.  Maudie really wants to learn how to surf and eventually works up the courage to ask the woman to teach her how.  Maudie also makes friends with a girl, Paddi and her big dog Leonard.  Paddi has ADHD and Paddi's mom runs a school for kids who are neurodivergent.  Maudie hears about a contest for new surfers, with a $1000 prize and decides she wants to try to win the contest to help her dad get back on his feet financially.  It also turns out that Maudie has a secret that her mom has asked/demanded that she keep, which Maudie hints about as story unfolds, but comes blaring out in the forefront, right at the end of the story.  This is one of my new favorite books.  I loved Maudie's character.  I loved how she explained what it's like to be overwhelmed by stimuli and draws connections to how lots of people cope with that overload, both well and badly.  I loved how Maudie explained how some of the therapy that her mom took her too felt like punishment but she kept going to try to be the person her mom wanted her to be.  I love how Maudie found her own path and her own family through surfing and through the community her dad was a part of.  Ultimately, this is such a hopeful story-hope that people will find their own voice, hope that people will find a community that supports and loves them for who they are, hope that people can find something that they are passionate about and good at and want to get better at.  In other words, the best possible kind of story.  I was sad to finish this one too!  But so excited to think about others getting to meet Maudie and her crew.  Don't miss this one either!

And here's an interview with Sally about the book!

Sunday, July 2, 2023

The latest speculative middle grade fiction

 We've been traveling and in my opinion, long plane rides plus great books equal a really great trip.  These two brand new titles were great to have a long to keep the plane ride from getting boring! 

The first one is called The International House of Dereliction.  It's written by Jacqueline Davies who wrote a series of books that started with The Lemonade Wars about a brother and sister who have a disagreement and decide to solve the problem by raising money through a lemonade stand.  It was a very popular series in my elementary school library, but this one goes in a really different direction.  This one is about Alice, who lives with her very loving parents.  Her mom is a professor and her dad is a building inspector and loves to fix things.  Their family history is long and well documented and Alice, who is home schooled, has strengths from both sides of the family.  They move often because they do such a good job fixing up the properties that the college gives them, that the college is able to sell them for a lot more money after they've lived there, so when the family is asked to move AGAIN, they decide NOT to fix anything, which is hard!  But it turns out, the house next door is abandoned and ready to be torn down, so Alice decides to go over there and see if there's anything she can fix.  It turns out that there are ghosts living in the house and the ghosts proceed to school Alice in the after life-there are Past Dues, Settled Ones, Wanderers, and Captives.  Each different kind of ghost has a different job to do before they can move on.  The ghosts in this house are also ruled by the House, which can make things happen if it's unhappy.  Alice works very hard to try to help each of the ghosts and each one has an interesting story and an interesting solution.  I really liked this story.  The characters were quirky and some were almost cartoonish, but in a good way.  The solutions to each ghost's story were compelling and because they were each from different historical time periods, it was fun to see how Alice solved their mysteries by doing research and talking to different people who worked at her mother's college.  This is a not too scary ghost story and I think kids are going to like this one a lot.  It would be a fun one to use to talk about the importance of careful research as well as comparing and contrasting different time periods in history.  Don't miss it!

The second one is called The Hunt for the Hollower.  It's written by Callie C. Miller.  If you check out her website, you'll see Callie's been super busy on lots of different kinds of projects, but this is her first book.  The Hunt for the Hollower is about Merlynda and Percy, who are twins.  They are descendants of Merlyn the Magician, and it's believes that ONE of them is going to be the Septimum Genus-a super magician.  Everyone is sure it will be Percy because Merlynda struggles with even the simplest of magic and Percy often has to clean up after her.  Merlynda has a best friend named Neci.  Neci's parents own a successful root vegetable business and are expecting Neci to follow in their footsteps, but Neci REALLY wants to be a knight.  Merlynda and Percy's parents decide to go on an extended trip to study and give lectures on magic, they invite Uncle William to come and supervise the twins.  The twins have their own ideas about what they're going to do-not sit and study and read like their parents told them, but summon an elemental stone, a super powerful piece of magic, to try to get Merlynda's magic under better control.  Would you be surprised to hear that things don't go exactly the way the twins think it will?  Not me either!  But what does happen is that Merlynda summons her familiar (a magical animal assistant) and is told that SHE is going to be the Septimum Genus, which everyone thinks is a big mistake.  Percy disappears through a portal and Merlynda is off on a quest to save him.  OF COURSE, she needs her knight, Neci, by her side and together they try to figure out how get Percy back.  This is a super fun ride.  The dangers the pair face together are formidable and surprising.  Some of it is scary and some of it is hilarious but all of it centers around Merlynda being able to harness her own power, in spite of years of hearing and feeling like she's inadequate.  Kids who like magical mysteries are going to love this one.  It would also be a great one for comparing to other adaptations of traditional stories, like the Rick Riordan books.  Don't miss this one either!
Check out this gorgeous cover! 

Here she is reading an excerpt! 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Realistic middle grade fiction to look for! 2023

 The publishers seem to be trying to play catch up after COVID.  There are SO MANY new books coming out, it can feel overwhelming to see my TBR pile.  Or maybe I'm just too greedy!  Anyway, here are some that are coming out soon.

The first one is called When Giants Burn by Beth Vrabel.  Beth has a real gift for telling stories about interesting characters - two of my former favorites are Blind Guide to Stinkville and The Newspaper Club, if you missed them.  This new one is no exception.  It's told in two voices-Gerty and Hayes.  Both are being seen by the school counselor for interpersonal issues.  Gerty's family are survivalists and are doing their best to be independent from government influences.  Hayes lives with his grandmother, his younger brother and his mom, who has recently been released from jail. Neither of the kids feel like they have any friends and so find some connection to the other.  Gerty is trying to build an ultralight airplane so that she can fly away, anywhere.  She feels trapped by her parents, particularly her dad and spends a lot of time trying to figure out different ways to connect to her parents.  Hayes is really angry at his mom for the choices that led her to jail, but ultimately, blames himself for her imprisonment.  The adults in the story are really interesting too-Gerty's highly controlling grandmother who is helping her to build the ultralight, her highly controlling but passive aggressive dad, her mom who seems stuck between the two of them.  Hayes' family is interesting too, his supportive and loving grandmother, his mom who's trying to find her way back to the family and into a professional role as well.  I don't want to spoil anything because the way the story unfolds is so lovely, but suffice it to say, both kids made questionable decisions and end up places they never imagined.  Each of them supports the other in ways they never imagined and they end up being able to connect with their own families in ways they each thought were impossible.  Both kids blame themselves for things that they have no control over and finding a way to heal from that is big.  This is book about dealing with trauma and finding ways to deal with the decisions that other people make that we may or may not be happy with.  I really liked this story and I think lots of kids will find connections to it in surprising ways.  

The second one is called The Order of Things and it's written by Kaija Langley.  This is her second book and since I hadn't read the first one, this was my introduction to her writing and it was great!  This novel in verse is about April.  She lives her mom and her best friend, Zee, lives right next door, with his dad.  The families support each other with food and friendship, since both are single parents and both have jobs that require extra time.  Together they make it work.  Zee and April are super close but this year, they are going to do different schools.  Zee got into a special school for music and April did not.  April really wants to be a drummer but has made choices to make her drumming less of a priority.  Now that she and Zee are separated, she's determined to work hard and get into his school too.  So she's making new friends, which is strange.  She's working hard to find her own voice and drumming style, while asking for help from Zee's dad, a very accomplished musician.  And then some big things happen and because it would totally spoil the plot, I'm not going to tell you!  But April has to find a way through some pretty hard things and she does.  This is a wonderful story with some big social issues, including dealing with death, parental dating, drug abuse, and child neglect.  Middle graders are going to love reading about April and how she deals with all of them.  This is a great story, don't miss it!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

New middle grade speculative fiction

 FINALLY finding my way back to doing some reading!  Here are two good new ones I found.  

The first one is called The Book of the Stolen Dreams by David Farr.  It's about a brother and sister, Robert and Rachel, who have been tasked by their father to find a book of stolen dreams and use it to bring down an evil dictator, Charles Malstain.  The book, it turns out, holds the secret to the line between the living and the dead, allowing the person who controls the book to potentially, live forever.  There are a number of protections set up for the book (it's been around awhile and the family that helped create it knew the power that it had, as well as it's potential for abuse) so a really wonderful part of the book is watching Rachel and Robert try to figure out who they should trust.  This is a very exciting book with lots of plot twists.  The evil villain is wonderfully evil, in a way that some readers will draw parallels to things that are happening today.  I thought this one was great.  Reading this one will leave with readers with lots of options for conversations about life and death and living forever as well as how rulers can change over time and how the idea of term limits maybe isn't a bad idea.  Don't miss this one.

Here's the author introducing the book.

And here he is reading an excerpt.  

The second is called Abeni's Song.  It's written by P. Djeli Clark.  It's about Abeni, who is just 12 as the story starts.  The Harvest Festival is starting and Abeni really wants to move onto her grownup life, but the adults in her community are determined to protect her innocence as long as possible.  She has been having strange dreams about a song that is so compelling, it makes her want to leave her family and community and as she starts talking to her friends, they have also been having the same dream.  It turns out that a magical woman, who helped Abeni come into the world, has been protecting the village.  The dreams she sent were a warning, but the adults of the village are not listening.  As the woman, Asha, tries louder and louder to send the warning message, a storm approaches that includes strange warriors.  Asha offers to take one child and protect the rest and Abeni's mother offers Abeni.  The entire village is wiped out and the children dance off to the strangely magical song.  Abeni is angry and wants to go back to her family but finds that the village has been destroyed and so she makes her home with Asha, with a promise that Asha will train her so that she can go and find her family,  The rest of the book is a magical quest with some amazing characters (a panther and a porcupine!) as well as some super scary villains.  The story has a satisfying but not completely resolved ending, so I'm hoping there will be more!  Abeni and Asha are both wonderful characters and I'd really love to read more of their adventures.  This story is set in Africa and one of the things I liked about this one a lot was a conversation about what had happened to the parents of the kids who escaped and what kept coming up was that the parents had been sent on ghost ships to a land faraway from which they would never return.  It doesn't take a big leap to make that into how Africans were kidnapped from their homes and sent out on ghost ships to a land from which they would never return.  The folklore around that part of history is pretty sketchy so having a story to hang that historical context on awesome.  The fact that the story is told by kids and that the kids are not only the heroes, but the villains is also pretty amazing.   I really liked this story and I hope you're going to like it too!

Check out this gorgeous cover!