Posts Tagged ‘chapter books’

Meet Author Rebecca Lynn Morales

Posted on October 6th, 2016 by Carolyn Hart


Rebecca  Lynn MoralesRebecca Lynn Morales grew up in Northern California. She graduated college with a degree in theatre arts from California State University, Northridge. She now pens the theatrics in her mind to paper. Rebecca recently moved to Texas. She loves living there with her supportive husband, Gabriel, and spunky Jack Russell terrier, Carson. She gives glory to God for all that is good in her life.

Twitter account: @ArtisanRebeccaM
Facebook page:

Website URL: Walter Plume and the Dehydrated Imagination
Rebecca Lynn Morales

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

Walter Plume and the Dehydrated Imagination is a fun adventure through a dried-out, rule-bound land. The lead character, Walter Plume, is the wittiest, most imaginative, and just plain real kid you will ever meet. He is an eleven year old foodie, with taste buds that like both cranberry-glazed salmon and a plain ol’ corn dog. I know kids (and probably a lot of adults, too) will relate to Walter and his desire to use his imagination. (Middle grade novel, 7-12 years) Over the years, I have battled people and situations determined to dehydrate my imagination. But, I’m fully re-hydrated now!
I am most proud of the creative imagery and world building. It takes a big imagination to bring other people’s imaginations back to life.Walter Plume and the Dehydrated Imagination
Walter Plume was newly released last February and is available in paperback and as an eBook.

Walter Plume and the Dehydrated Imagination at

Walter Plume and the Dehydrated Imagination at

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?
Miraculously, my first novel was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. It was meant to be. However, I took the time to read about numerous publishers and what they were looking for, in order to make the best match. Not everything comes so easily, of course. I encourage any aspiring author to persevere no matter what and continue to grow as a writer.

When did you realize that you would be a writer? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from childhood. My dad gave me a thick (in size and language) classic novels to read. I plowed my way through those books page by page, not fully understanding all the words. However, the characters in those novels and the drama of their lives led me to attempt my first novel in the seventh grade. I only wrote three pages. But that was the start of an idea for my life that has never left me.

I knew I would be a writer after I was married because I finally had the support and encouragement I needed. My husband has a good editorial eye. He is the first person to read my work and give me feedback. And I chat his ear off every time I have a new idea or element for a story. He also helps me with the technical side of things: my website, marketing materials. He is my greatest support!

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing process look like?
I need to write in a quiet place, which is usually my office. Sometimes I sit at my desk, but mostly I write sitting in my favorite blue chair. It’s comfortable without being too cozy. I used to write sitting up in bed, but no matter how wonderfully my tale was unfolding I would eventually slide down in the bed, my head resting on the soft pillow and doze off. My brilliant writing tip: Write sitting up. I’ve also found that a cup of coffee or tea is inspiring somehow. They sit on the desk next to me for quick sipping access. The writing process itself varies. I have tried and tried to make a complete chapter-by-chapter outline before I begin a book and follow it closely with only a few detours. This doesn’t work for me. The things I know before I begin writing are: 1) How the book will end 2) My characters 3) I’ve created about ¾ of my world. The rest unfolds from there. I outline a few chapters at a time and then write them out. I get super excited about the ideas I come up with while typing. I also set daily word count goals to keep me motivated. (Usually, one thousand words per today).

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?
I enjoy staying connected with readers. I did a Barnes and Noble book tour last spring, where I did author signings at six stores. I love being able to answer young readers’ questions and encouraging kids to read and write themselves. When kids have the courage to come up and talk to me, I’m so proud of them because I was so shy as a child and I know how difficult it can be. I am active on social media and have two websites. You are welcome to contact me there if you have any questions. I also make weekly encouraging vlogs that I post on Facebook.

If you weren’t an author, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?
If I wasn’t an author I think I would be a counselor of some kind. I’m a developer at heart and I see great potential in people. Whatever I can do to help someone realize and live out their potential is a joy to me.

Do you do school or library presentations?

I speak at schools and libraries. With encouragement and fun games, I teach kids about various techniques I use to develop characters and write stories. My overall message is that we are all truly unique people with dreams, and those dreams will become reality if we remain true to ourselves.

Areas: Central Texas

Wrapping up the year… 2014 best books for middle grades

Posted on December 26th, 2014 by Jody


Best Books 2014 - 1prncs shares her favorite titles for middle grade readersI always say this but I can’t believe it’s the end of another year. How? Especially since so many of the days seemed so very, very long. Trying to remember what I did yesterday is painful, but I’m going to attempt to recap the best books I’ve read in 2014.

Middle Grade/ Young Adult

2014 best books for middle grades including The Shadow ThroneThe Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The final book in a trilogy that captivated not only my whole class, but me. A book I’ve recommended countless times. The main character is one that everyone can identify with in some way. The action is gripping as Sage/Jaron shows readers what being courageous really means.

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at

The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy at

My True Love Gave to MeMidnights by Rainbow Rowell

I should be honest and tell you that this author could write a to-do list on a paper towel and I would love it. There is something about every one of her books that grabs me so strongly, I have to remind myself that, she doesn’t actually know me, but somehow, she gets me. And then I remind myself that she doesn’t actually write her books just for me. Elenor and Park is in our elementary library but I think the subject matter is above grade six. However, this is one of those reads that would delight an early middle school reader as much as it did me. It’s a beautiful and sweet short story.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins

A new author for me that I discovered because she edited the collection of short holiday stories in which Midnight was the first. Aimed at teens and up, it was just absolutely delightful to read.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories at Amazon,ca

2014 best books for middle grades including Will Grayson, Will GraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

I can’t read Fault in Our Stars. I know my limits, I read within them. However, I’ve read just about everything else he’s published. This one is my favourite by him. It’s an excellent teen read that speaks to acceptance, diversity, adversity, and the amazing relationships that can stem from being in the same place at the same time.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at

Will Grayson, Will Grayson at

2014 best books for middle grades Including Are You There God? It's Me MargaretAre you there God, it’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I re read this for the first time in many, many years. I wanted to read it with my daughter and I was so pleased she enjoyed it as much as I did, both then and now. If there was a “what’s it like to become a teenage girl” book award, this would be it.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at

2014 best books for middle grades including Hook’s Revenge by Heidi SchulzHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz

This is a fun book with quirky characters that made the students laugh. Determined to avenge her father’s death, Jocelyn sets out on an adventure that teaches her as much about herself as it does about her past.

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 at

Hook’s Revenge, Book 1 Hook’s Revenge at

2014 best books for middle grades including Dork DiariesDork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

I started reading these with my daughter this last year. They are laugh out loud funny and so easy to connect with. Nikki is a great character and the teen drama she faces, and how she deals with it, is authentic.

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3) at

Dork Diaries Box Set (Book 1-3): Dork Diaries at

2014 best books for middle grades Including Sisters by Raina TelgemeierSisters by Raina Telgemeier

My 11 year old read this first and then I read it with my 8 year old. It’s funny and cute and true to life in that, it’s not always easy being a family. But, when you need them, they’re there.

Sisters at

Sisters at

2014 best books for middle grades Including FrindleFrindle by Andrew Clements

This is an awesome book. I read it with my 8 year old and it made me laugh even as it opened the door to great conversations with her. The main character makes up a new word for what we call a “pen”. A great read about the power of words and how they impact our actions.

Frindle at

Frindle at

2014 best books for middle grades Including Wonder Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I haven’t even finished this book but I can tell you without one tiny hint of doubt that it will be one of the best reads ever. Not just this year.

Wonder at

Wonder at

Picture Books

(contrary to some beliefs, these are not only for small children)

2014 best books for middle grades including This Plus ThatThis plus That: Life’s little equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

A sweet and fun read with adorable pictures that highlights math vocabulary even as it shows kids how things are connected. Me+ Writing= Happy.

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations at

2014 best books for middle grades Including Those ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Beolts

This one was read to me and I have to say, I still love being read to. This is a great one to open kids eyes to the power of empathy and giving.

Those Shoes at

Those Shoes at

The Invisible Boy by Trudy LudwigThe Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton

This story is a little bittersweet. You feel bad for the little boy with no friends, but love the fact that he’s okay in his own little world. Also worth noting, the color comes as friendship brightens his life which is beautiful, literally and figuratively.

The Invisible Boy at

The Invisible Boy at

Storytime Standouts suggests The Very Inappropriate Word written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave CoverlyThe very inappropriate word by Jim Tobin and Dave Coverly

Full of great vocabulary, this book is funny. I’ve read it several times and it’s a great way to get kids to look at the power of words and language.

The Very Inappropriate Word at

The Very Inappropriate Word at

What Do You Do with an Idea?What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

My school librarian shared this book with me and it is such a tangible idea to show how when your brain gets locked on an idea, sometimes you have to go with it.

What Do You Do With an Idea? at

What Do You Do with an Idea? at

Books I can’t wait to read in 2015

Fish in a TreeFish in a Tree – Linda Mullaly Hunt

The name is part of one of my favourite quotes so of course I’m drawn to it. That and the fact that her book One for the Murphys was one of my favourite reads of 2013.

Mark of the ThiefMark of the Thief – Jennifer A. Nielsen

I think I need to read this one on my own before with my class. When I read the Ascendance Trilogy, I got so hooked that we might have missed some math lessons.


What are some of your favorite kids reads this year? Anything you’re looking forward to? Also, in an openly shameless bid for self-promotion, I hope to one day make it onto one of your favorite lists. Either with the adult books I have coming out in 2015 or with the picture book, SWEET DREAM SISTERS, that will be available in 2016. Have a very, Happy well-read 2015.


Meet Author Jacqueline Guest

Posted on July 17th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts interviews author Jacqueline Guest Jacqueline Guest is an international award winning author with eighteen published novels. She has presented across Canada and in the United States to audiences of all ages including the University of Calgary; Manitoba Association of Teachers of English; Alberta Association of Library Technicians; MASC Conference Ottawa; University of Victoria; Cultural Diversity Institute North Central Teachers Association; Young Alberta Book Society; Wordsworth Writing Camp; Dreamcatcher Aboriginal Conferences; Saskatoon Reading Council Teachers Conference; Batoche Historical Site; the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre; Mamawenig; Back to Batoche Days; Fort Calgary’s Metis Cultural Festival, the American Indian Library Association, plus a host of other conferences and engagements. Jacqueline is the current Creator in Residence for the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. She has been Writer in Residence for the Marigold Library System and is the proud recipient of the 2013 Indspire Award for the Arts. With her experience in writing, editing, promotion, touring and the business aspects of being a writer, Jacqueline feels sharing her expertise can help new authors achieve their goals faster and with better results.

Twitter account @JacquelineGuest

Author website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

The Comic Book War by Jacqueline GuestThe Comic Book War is a great novel for readers of all ages. It tells the story of how one teenaged boy discovers a cosmic link between his comic book superheroes and his three brothers fighting overseas in WW2. It all starts when a meteorite falls from space in front of his eyes and he is able to find it…

This novel will make you believe in ‘What if?’, the biggest question in the universe. What if cosmic links do exist? What if we are all connected? What if we can tap into those connections to protect our loved ones?

This story is more than a coming of age novel, it shows us how we all cope with stress in different ways.

The Comic Book War at

The Comic Book War at

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favourite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?

Mark Twain was, is and always will be my favorite author. I have many other stars on my book shelves too numerous to mention, but Twain’s stories continue to entertain and resonate with me even after all these years.

Was it difficult for you to get your first book published? What suggestions/words of encouragement do you have for aspiring authors/illustrators?

First books are always hard, but don’t give up! Learning to write at a professional level is just like learning how to perform an athletic event at an Olympic level – it takes years of practice and dedication to achieve your goal, but it is so worth it. We will always need new books to inspire and entertain, and new writers coming up now will provide those wonderful books.

Outcasts of River Falls by Jacqueline GuestWhen did you realize that you would be a writer/illustrator? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

I have always wanted to be a writer, but was afraid to say it out loud when I was growing up in case I was ridiculed. After all, published authors don’t come from a small village like Turner Valley, Alberta, they come from New York, or Toronto, or Vancouver- big cities with fancy schools. Well, I’m here to tell you, authors do come from small towns everywhere and you don’t need an agent or fancy letters after your name. You just have to believe- and be willing to pay your dues.

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing / illustrating process look like?

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It is hours of grueling practice, then many more hours honing your skills, and finally putting all that practice to work as you sit in front of your computer for hours on end, creating a world where not only your characters can live, but your readers too. I sit for long hours writing, oblivious to everything around me, eating chips with one hand while the other hand juggles a cup of tea as I pound on the keys. It’s not magic, it’s hard work. ;)

I call the room where I write a ‘Scriptorium’, (I even have a sign on the door!). People who have 9-5 jobs work in an ‘office’; a writer doesn’t have such nice tidy hours, which is why I like ‘scriptorium’ better.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?Rink Rivals by Jacqueline Guest

One of the coolest experiences I have had was working at a First Nation’s school when a young boy in Grade 5 came up to me and told me he read Rink Rivals, a hockey novel about twin boys who scrap on the ice and off. I said that was great, and he became excited, telling me he read all the pages, right to the end and he was going to read another book now and that it was the first book he had ever read in his entire life! That was the ultimate compliment.

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

I love travelling to share my excitement about reading with students everywhere. To see a student’s excitement when they tell me about one of my books that they are reading and how the characters are so real, the adventure so exciting and the story so compelling, now, that’s worth the time, expense, long hours and effort. I wish I was better at social media and keeping my website up to date, but I’m not a tech type, and if anyone out there would like to work on my website for me, let me know!!!

If you weren’t an author / illustrator, what sort of work do you envision yourself doing? Have you had other careers or do you have another career now?

I have worked every job under the sun to support my writing habit: house cleaner, retail clerk, waitress, day care worker, core analyst in the oil industry and about a million more jobs I shudder to remember. I know how fortunate I am to have this dream job of being a writer.

If you could dine with any author/illustrator (alive or dead), who would you choose and why?

I would pay to dine with Mark Twain. Not only handsome, but the most talented writer ever!

Does music play a part in your writing/illustrating? If so, what sort of music do you connect with your work?

When I write, it has to be absolutely quiet. No music, no TV, no distractions. (I even shut the chimes off on my wall clock because it was driving me nuts!)

Do you do school or library presentations?

I travel extensively to schools and libraries everywhere. I recently was at two schools in Tanzania while there volunteering to teach an adult writing class. I have various presentations geared to tandem with curriculums. Here’s some information:

Belle of Batoche by Jacqueline GuestThe Era of the Fur Trade explores Canada’s past with a session that includes over fifty artifacts such as beaver pelts, bone fishing hooks, horn sewing needles, plus we learn the uses of the Metis Sash, and the laws for the buffalo hunt. It is very interactive with students from the audience assisting me as we paddle down the river with our canoe laden with furs or demonstrating how old fashioned aboriginal toys worked. Belle of Batoche and Outcasts of River Falls are great companion reads for this session.

Dinosaurs! This is geared for students in Kindergarten and grade one/two who dig dinosaurs. The PPT session includes fossils of bones, trees, dino poop and an actual dinosaur egg and comes complete with a coloring handout.

Ghost Messages: A Voyage with the Author, a sixty minute PPT session, tandems with my novel Ghost Messages and deals with laying the transatlantic cable in 1865,an event which changed the world for all time because it changed the way we communicate. Those texters in the audience need to know how this communication explosion we live in today started. Students see an actual piece of the first transatlantic cable, plus students can win a prize by decoding and answering a secret Morse Code question.

The Comic Book War: WW2, Meteorites and Comic Book Superheroes involves my new novel The Comic Book War. Students learn about the home front war effort including savings stamps, rationing, victory gardens and a host of other helpful facts. Plus, we explore the possibility that we are all connected on a cosmic level. Could a meteorite found by our hero connect comic book super heroes here in Canada with three soldiers fighting overseas? ‘What if?’ the most powerful question in the universe!

Jacqueline Guest’s books are published by Coteau Books, Orca Book Publishers and James Lorimer and Company. She also works with Scholastic, Pearson Canada and Rubicon for short stories and levelled reading.

Good Things Come In Threes; The Ascendance Trilogy

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by Jody


Good Things Come In Threes; The Ascendance Trilogy

The False Prince,  Book One of the Ascendance TrilogyThis isn’t a scientific fact but it is a completely accurate statement when applied to Jennifer Nielson’s Ascendance trilogy. After Carolyn recommended The False Prince, I wrote a post (okay, gushed shamelessly) about the book. I have never, in thirteen years of teaching, read an entire trilogy or series of books to a class. For one thing, there’s the time factor. I tend to read, at least, one book per term for read aloud. I try to do a selection of books, based on student interest. This year, we started the year with One for the Murphy’s and I planned another book for after The False Prince. I didn’t plan to finish four full novels before Spring Break. I also didn’t plan to fall head over heels for Jaron or for my class to be so captivated by his story that even my most reluctant reader, the one who claimed he would rather do anything before read, that we couldn’t focus until we knew how it all played out.
The Runaway King,   Book Two of the Ascendance TrilogyWe read through the second book, The Runaway King, even more engaged. More action unfolded and we knew Jaron now, cared about him. We read every single day, without fail. If I had a substitute teacher in for me, I wouldn’t let them read to my class. I would tuck the books away so the kids didn’t say, “Oh, she reads that to us every day.” I’ve never done that. I also made a promise to my class because they love that I hadn’t already read the books- I told them I would not read ahead. I would learn Jaron’s story along with them. Perhaps that is part of what made them connect to the story. My reactions were real and in the moment and the kids like that- they like seeing their teacher as a real person- one who gets outraged when the main character is suffering or maybe sheds a few tears when something heartbreaking happens. It gives them the freedom to attach strongly to the books as well. While we are reading, we are part of that world. Which is why, when Runaway King finished with a cliff hanger, we had no other option. We had to know. So we moved on to Shadow Throne and as much as I loved the first two, this one was my favorite. I loved watching who Jaron became, how my students reacted to what was happening, learning how it all unfolded and came together. My reluctant reader? He bought all three books and told me that he “didn’t make the same silly promise to not read ahead”. He brought them in to show me. As much as I loved these books, connected with them, the fact that they reached so many students, even the ones that did not want to be reached, made me love them more.
The Shadow Throne, Book Three of the Ascendance TrilogyI have posted before about how important I think sequels and trilogies are for reluctant readers. If you can find something they can latch onto, get immersed in, then you want to know there’s more waiting for them. Though there are no more in this series we loved, the students are now looking around the library differently. They’re looking for the next book that they will fall for the way we did these three. And while they’re looking, they’re reading. Reading is a gift. No matter how many times I tell my students this, the ones who just haven’t found the book that pulls them all the way in will never fully believe it without proof. This trilogy was proof for some of the students in my class. It spurred discussions, connections, and debates. Each book made us want more and the most important thing is, they delivered. There are many series where you read the first, love it, and then move on and the second one just doesn’t have the same draw as the original. One of the things that continuously got to me during the readings, was how far Ms. Nielsen pushed her characters and her readers. These stories are amazing tales of courage and redemption. Of making something out of nothing and of finding the way out of even the most harrowing situations. When the students look back, when I look back, these three books will be a large piece of what made this year special.

The False Prince at

The Runaway King at

The Shadow Throne at

The False Prince at

The Runaway King at

The Shadow Throne at

The Runaway King

Posted on February 8th, 2014 by Jody


The Runaway KingThe Runaway King written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Chapter book for middle grade readers published by Scholastic

There are some books that change you. Some books that no matter how many books you read after, they will always stand out. The False Prince was one of these. When an artist– song writer, author, movie maker– puts out something incredible, there’s always the skepticism that the follow up cannot possibly surpass the greatness of the original. That’s why Oceans 11 is awesome and Oceans 13…not so much. This is completely not the case with Jennifer A Nielsen’s series. I read the False Prince because Carolyn recommended it so highly and I always want books that will engage the students, especially those reluctant readers. It was every bit as good as Carolyn had said. The students decided that we absolutely must read The Runaway King immediately after. I gave them other choices (all the while wanting them to choose The Runaway King) but it was a unanimous decision–we needed to know what happened to Sage/Jaron.

We fell into The Runaway King so far that we may or may not have skipped a few math lessons. When students are telling you: “We will work extra hard if you just read us one more chapter”, it is really difficult to say no. So I didn’t. And today we finished the book. We were all excited because yesterday we looked at the Scholastic order and saw that The Shadow Throne (the third in the trilogy) is now out. When we finished today, I immediately said, I will order the next one today. One of the students, who can often be hard to engage, said, “Can you order it right now so you don’t forget?” That– is what a book should do. It should make you forget that other things exist, keep you on the edge of your seat, root for, cry with, and grieve with the characters as though they are your friends.That’s what The Runaway King does.

At the end of The False Prince, Jaron has accepted his title as King of Carthya. We know more is coming but it was a good wrap up to the wonderful story of how Jaron made it back to the throne. The Runaway King not only showed a maturing of our main character, it expected the reader to mature as well. The stakes, the intrigue, the deception, the pace, and the connection deepened in this book to an amazing degree. I am always in complete awe of writers that can pull you this far into a story, write in a way that makes you think there is absolutely no way for the character to come out of the hole they are in, but then, in the most unexpected and beautiful ways, the story goes where it obviously meant to. Nielsen is an incredibly gifted story teller. She manages to show an understanding of the insecurity and uncertainty that a normal fourteen year old boy would feel after losing his family and compounds it with the immense weight that is put on Jaron’s shoulders. He must fight not only the people that want to take Carthya from him, but people that are supposed to be his loyal supporters and subjects. The very interesting thing to me is that the kids are usually wary of any love interest at this age (you get a lot of ‘ews’ from grade fives if there are any mushy scenes) but the friendship that forms between Imogen and Jaron is so much more than just your typical boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they can’t be together story. Imogen is Jaron’s person. So you root for him to be with her (or I did- the students probably enjoyed the dueling with pirates more than anything) but then there’s Araminda, the betrothed princess. In many stories, it’s easy to choose: I want the character to choose X. It’s not cut and dry for Jaron though because Nielsen does such a wonderful job creating likable characters that we can’t dislike Araminda any more than we can help like Imogen. She has the rare ability to make you like a character you were sure you hated.

This story has everything: friendship, heartbreak, action, bravery, suspense, love, betrayal. Sage/Jaron is one of the best characters I’ve ever known. He is funny, humble, frustrating, and honorable. He is the flawed protagonist that anyone who is a writer wishes they could write. He is a King but the kids can see themselves in him– in his choices and his hardships, in the loyalty he has to his friends and the loneliness that often swamps him. There are no dragons or wizards, underworlds, demigods, or alternate universes, but still, this book was completely magical.

The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy at

The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy

SPOILER ALERT – do not watch unless you have already read The False Prince

One for the Murphys – an outstanding chapter book

Posted on December 8th, 2013 by Jody


One for the Murphys outstanding chapter bookOne for the Murphys written by Lynda Hunt
Outstanding chapter book published by Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin

There have been two books in my teaching career that have made me cry in front of my students. The first is Tuck Everlasting. At the end, I got a little teary; nothing major. One for the Murphys, however, got me more than a little teary. I had to stop reading it. Not because it isn’t excellent, but because it is so well written and so authentic, that I was completely immersed in the lives of these characters. I was the torn and scarred foster child, I was the foster parent who just wanted to connect, I was one of the children who didn’t quite understand why my parents brought a new child to our home. It is an amazing feat for an author to make you connect to each of the characters. This book had the unique ability to place me in the shoes of any character at any time. There is nothing forced in any of these relationships, not with the reader and not between the characters. In fact, each of the relationships is hard earned.

Carly’s mother let her down in a way no mother should ever let their child down. She’s placed with the Murphys while her mom recovers in the hospital. She has a gigantic rock on her shoulder, no self-esteem, and a jaded view of people. Mrs. Murphy changes the dynamic in her home, where she and her husband are raising three boys, to foster Carly. After a very bumpy start, Carly starts to learn things about family, friendships, and forgiveness that she’s never been exposed to. She starts to learn the subtle nuances that exist between people that care about each other. Much to her devastation, she begins to truly care back. This makes her feel divided in her loyalties because, eventually, her mother will come for her. While she didn’t want to be placed in this home, she becomes uncertain about whether she ever wants to leave.

This book is funny, sweet, and yes, emotional. It captures the feelings of each of the characters in a meaningful, powerful way. A way that had me stopping a few times and taking a deep breath before I could continue reading out loud. In the end, one of my students read the last few pages because I couldn’t do it without tears. That might be the mom in me or my empathetic nature, but truthfully, I think it’s because of the author’s strength in making this book come to life. While the students didn’t cry, they enjoyed it, rooted for Carly, and felt sad when it was over.

I would definitely recommend this book. Just keep some tissues nearby or a kid that can read without becoming emotional in case you need them to take over.

One for the Murphys at
One for the Murphys at

Video trailer posted by the author

The False Prince – Delivers Adventure, Mystery and Suspense

Posted on August 21st, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen - terrific middle grade fiction

Storytime Standouts recommends terrific middle grade fiction including The False Prince

The False Prince written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Juvenile fantasy/adventure novel, the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy published by Scholastic

There’s nothing better than enjoying a terrific book while on holidays and I had the good fortune to tuck The False Prince into my bag when we went away last month. We were headed camping and our beach site was gorgeous. It wasn’t long before I sat down on and entered the captivating world of The False Prince.

King Eckbert, Queen Erin and Crown Prince Darius all die under very mysterious circumstances and one of their noblemen initiates devious plan. His intention is to substitute an orphan for the king’s long lost son and only remaining heir. Conner envisions the orphan will impersonate Prince Jaron, return “home” and ascend to the throne. Once installed, he imagines the orphan will have no choice but to do his bidding.

Conner scoops up four orphans from the streets and takes them to his vast residence. Once there, they share a room as they learn to sword fight and ride horses. The boys are schooled in King Eckbert’s family history and are taught to read. In short, Conner will not be satisfied until each of the boys learns to behave as a prince should.

Sage is the most outspoken and defiant of the orphans. He challenges and annoys Conner whilst outwitting the other potential impostors. Sage moves about secret passageways while his rivals are sleeping and he is punished repeatedly for his misdeeds.

Connor lifted my face and inspected it for cuts and bruises. “You’re none the worse after a stay in my dungeons. I hope the experience humbled you.”

He took the blank expression on my face as an answer and continued, “You’re a difficult young man, Sage, but I suspect that comes from your lack of discipline and supervision, which means I can train it out of you.”

Well suited to middle grade readers, including reluctant readers, The False Prince is an exciting, accessible fantasy/adventure that will have special appeal for boys. Highly recommended.

The False Prince is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook and ebook formats.

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy at

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy at

The False Prince won a 2012 Cybil Award in the Fantasy & Science Fiction Category

Forever Four is fantastic

Posted on August 20th, 2013 by Jody


Storytime Standouts guest contributor recommends Forever Four for tween and middle grade readers

Forever Four written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Part of the Forever Four series for middle grade readers/tweens published by Grosset & Dunlap, an Imprint of Penguin

More book suggestions for middle grade readers

I’m always equal parts wary and excited to start a new kids novel. Will I like it? Will my ten year old? Will my class? What messages are there and how can I tie it into curriculum? Sometimes, I read novels specifically to enhance curriculum but many times, I read for the pleasure of reading with my kids and find myself entranced. Children’s books are a hidden treasure that we think we outgrow in adult hood but we don’t. There’s no way to outgrow strong characters that you connect with, make you laugh, and find themselves in relatable situations.

The novel that my daughter and I read this summer (in the few moments she wasn’t reading Harry Potter) was Forever Four by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. It was delightful for several reasons. First, it spanned a collection of cliques that exist in school and in life. The cool girl, the new girl, the slightly annoying/dorky girl, and the girl that doesn’t know how to label herself. The main character in this story, Paulina, is the one trying to figure herself out. She’s easy to connect to and the relationship she has with her younger brother, Kevin, is really a pleasure to see. So often, we see sibling rivalry and anger but in this book, Paulina pitches in while her psychologist mom is busy and affects Kevin’s life in a positive and realistic way. Their exchanges are very sibling like but Paulina’s soft spot for her brother makes me think of how I want my girls to connect with and rely on each other.

The four girls are thrown together for a competition that each of them wanted to win on their own. The task is to create a school magazine that speaks to the student body. The winning group will receive money for a school club of their choice. Tally, with her funny accent and bubbly ways, is a bit overwhelming for the girls in the group, but sweet nonetheless. Miko, who I will return to later, is the popular allstar that everyone envies. Her group the PQuits (Prom Queens In Training) is both revered and feared. Ivy is the new girl from New York that wants friends but isn’t willing to change who she is to make them.

The story is about the challenges they face individually and as a group as they work on the contest. It’s about first impressions, second impressions, and having an open mind. It’s about realizing that there’s more to all of us than meets the eye. Miko impressed me most because she starts as the typical, “too-cool” girl and what she reveals about herself (I won’t spoil it) humbles your previous judgement.

Perhaps the best thing about the story, to me, as a mom and a teacher, in the age of the internet, is the effective way that the author deals with social media, social bullying, “going viral”, and problem solving. The girls start a blog as a way to get fan support for their magazine idea and another group twists some facts to say that they are cheating. Of course, they do this through the blog so word spreads like wildfire. This introduces a number of challenges to the girls: do they fight back, defend, challenge the other group? They end up tackling the issue head on and I was really happy to see that. We have instincts from the get-go in life. As we grow, we learn to pay attention to them and in some cases, heed them. The girls follow their instincts throughout the book and it creates a fun, realistic read.

My very favorite part is Paulina’s contribution to the magazine. She does an article about the internet that I plan to read to my students even if I don’t read them the whole book. Here’s a snippet:

We live in a world our mothers probably never dreamed of when they were kids…We can be in touch with one another almost anytime we want…All this technology connects us and gives us the opportunity to stay in touch, to reach out, and to be closer to our friends and family than any generation before us. All these wonderful inventions, from email to smartphones, have the potential to build us up. Unless they tear us down first.

I want to put the whole article that she writes here because it is so real and powerful. It’s exactly what we’re trying to teach kids now that they have immediate access 24/7. The author does this through a character she has created that kids will connect (yes, mostly girls but that’s okay) to and that has more power than any lecture ever could. Even if you don’t read the book (which you should), find it, read pages 114-117 and then make your kids (pre-teens and teens) read it over and over and over again. Then finish the book cause it’s a really sweet read.

Forever Four at

Forever Four at

Summer Reads for Tweens

Posted on August 5th, 2013 by Jody


image of cover art for Dork Diaries Summer Reads for TweensThis summer, we brought home a stack of books to read but have moved rather slowly. My daughter has made her way through the sixth Harry Potter, reminding me that I should read the series again. She’s so immensely caught up in the story that she walks into a room spouting random facts as though we’d been having a long winded discussion. I’ve had to “make” her read other books with me because I like a little variety. A couple of surprises turned out to be Dork Diaries and Forever Four. I have seen Dork Diaries several times: in the classroom, the library, Scholastic, and the hands of students. I have even suggested it to students who prefer the graphic, comedic, preteen reads. However, I have not actually read them. I can’t read every book I recommend to students because I simply don’t have time (and I read slower than you can possibly imagine). In my attempts to persuade my oldest to try something other than the wizarding world, just briefly, I found that I was making quite an excellent recommendation.

Rachel Renee Russell‘s main character, Nikki, is adorable, self-depricating, authentic, and, I suppose, a bit dorky. She’s the kind of dorky that exists in all of us that weren’t into cliques and created from a mold of self-confidence. She’s the kind of kid, girl, pre-teen that is relatable. The best characters are the ones in which we see pieces of ourselves. This is definitely true of Nikki. Even at 37, I found myself charmed by her friendships, her crush on Brandon, and the karma that befalls the ever present ‘mean girl’.

I think that in the world of Hunger Games and Percy Jackson (admittedly excellent reads) it’s nice to remember that there’s some humor to be found in every day, real-life, situations that our kids face. As they move up through grades, they are going to have crushes, feel like dorks, be uncertain in social situations, have enemies and frenemies and Russell’s portrayal of this is lighthearted and fun but also something to which kids can connect.

I meant to do a joint post on Dork Diaries and Forever Four but it turns out I like each of them so much, I’ll have to do separate posts.

Dork Diaries website

Dork Diaries at

Dork Diaries at

Summer Reading List – for middle grade students and adults

Posted on June 30th, 2013 by Jody


As usual, I have piles of books waiting to be read in my house. I have too many to count on my Kindle, along with a stack of paperbacks and hardcovers. Being a writer and reader of various genres is both a blessing and a curse. My brain gets a little overwhelmed with all of the different things I want to read and write. So, it’s good to have a goal or a focus. Along with visiting the new library in my city, I have some books that are on my To Be Read Summer Reading list:

As Simple As it Seems by Sarah Weeks

When Verbie discovers some harsh truths about her parents, she wonders who she really is inside. She meets a boy, Pooch, who thinks she is a ghost. Since she’s uncertain of her real self anyway, she goes along with his belief. This book looks and sounds fantastic. It deals with coming of age, friendship, and finding yourself.

Pie by Sarah Weeks

Alice inherits a secret pie recipe which puts her in the middle of a tug of war between people who covet the world-famous recipe. A story about friendship and discovery, I look forward to getting into this one.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

I’m drawn to stories about attachment and when I read the back of this one at the book fair, I couldn’t put it down. Carly is used to foster homes and moving on, which makes becoming attached to the Murphy family even harder when her real mom decides she wants her back. A story of struggle, fitting in, and family, this one is probably going to make me cry.

image of cover art for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceThe Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

The beginning of the end in a series of seven, I’m reading this one because I promised my ten year old daughter we could read it together this summer. I’m worried though because I know the darkness that it reveals and the sadness. Are we ever really ready to say goodbye to our favourite characters? We’ll wait until closer to the end of the summer.

Persephone the Daring by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (not out until August 10th)

If I haven’t done a post on the Goddess Girl series, I should. I love it. Yes, it’s meant for children and I read it with my ten year old, but I think they’re adorable. They incorporate the mythical with the real. Real friendship and boy struggles mixed into life at Mount Olympus Academy, where Athena’s father, Zeus, is principal. I look forward to this one.

I read a quote by C.S. Lewis the other day:

C.S. Lewis

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

And it’s true. Picture books, children’s books, and middle to youth books are extremely enjoyable and as an avid reader, should be part of your list. All of the themes that we relate to in life: friendship, relationships, fitting in, and acceptance play huge roles. These things never stop mattering to us, so to not read these books because they are meant for children is a shame. Some of the best books I’ve read this year have been aimed at an audience in the 9-14 age range. Maybe that says something about me, but I think that if a book hooks you and pulls you in, makes you connect to the characters and the story, it actually says more about the book.

What are you reading this summer?

The same but different: Sixth Grade Secrets

Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Jody


image of cover art for Sixth Grade SecretsSixth Grade Secrets written by Louis Sachar

Chapter book for middle grade readers republished by Scholastic

One of my favourite read alouds is Louis Sachar’s Sixth Grade Secrets. The main character, Laura, starts a secret club. This leads to a variety of themes including: inclusion, exclusion, friendship, crushes, and cliques. To sum it up: it’s sixth grade as all of us knew it. The thing about Louis Sachar’s writing is that it is laugh out loud funny. The things his characters say and do make you laugh because you can imagine yourself doing them. This is true of adults and kids. When you can see yourself in characters or their situations, you connect.

What surprised me this year, was how aware I became of language, tone, and subject matter. I read the book for the first time about six years ago. I didn’t read it last year or the year before so when I went back to it this year, I just remembered that it’s this funny book about two clubs that get started in a school where no clubs are allowed. The characters are quirky and endearing and draw you in. All of this still holds true. The book has not changed. This means that we, or I, have.

There are parts in the book that I now won’t read out loud that I’m sure I would have before. I don’t know if that is because of my teaching, my audience, the parents of my audience, or a societal change. When the girls start talking about being “flat-chested”, I omitted it. When they collect insurance for the secret club so no one will talk, I found myself uncertain if I wanted to say the word “underpants” (which is what they make one girl give to insure she keeps quiet. What really hit home I think, is the hands on bullying behavior that I worried about reading out loud. At one point in the novel, they “mustardize” Gabriel, the main boy and the Laura’s nemisis/crush. In the past, certainly when I first read it, I found it quite amusing. This time, however, I used that moment to talk about the bullying that was happening in the scene. How did they feel? How did the characters feel? What would be the result of actions like that?

I realized that times have really changed. The book came out when I was in grade seven. At that time, you probably could have ‘mustardized’ someone and feared only the retaliation of a similar sort. Perhaps getting egged or ‘nicky-nine-doored’. Whether it’s kids growing up faster, technology, increasing levels of bullying and awareness, and/or school violence, I couldn’t just read this funny book and glaze over the deeper issues. Where in the past, the book was about reading a light and easy end of year book before sending my students to grade six, it has become a teaching tool.

There’s actually an ongoing issue in the book where Laura says she never tells a lie. Laura has very unique and creative ways of looking at the definition of ‘lying’. Gabriel sees Laura as a chronic liar. This was an excellent opportunity to talk to my students about things like lying by omission, telling the truth, and how others perceive you. Big themes from a book that I’d always kept light. But as time changes, so do the needs of our students. We need to communicate with them and connect with them. What an interesting opportunity to get to know my students in a new way, just by asking who considers Laura to be a liar and who does not.

In closing, it’s a great book. I no longer feel comfortable with some of the language, though it’s not necessarily bad, but I just skip or adlib what I don’t want to read. Regardless of those few spots, it is an engaging tale that the kids love, laugh at, and listen to. If it sparks conversation and debate, that’s a bonus.

Sixth Grade Secrets at

Sixth Grade Secrets at

Sixth Grade Secrets was published as Pig City in the UK.

Pig City at

Freckle Juice – a fun chapter book for children aged 7 and up

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 by Jody


Storytime Standouts Looks at Freckle Juice by Judy BlumeFreckle Juice written by Judy Blume
Chapter book for children aged 7 and up originally published by Four Winds Press, a Division of Scholastic. Now published by Ingram Book & Distributor.

I received a free copy of Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume, as part of a Scholastic order that I placed for my classroom. I had not read this yet and when my seven year old asked to borrow a book from my classroom library, it seemed like a safe one. She read it on her own and then asked if we could read it together with her sister who is ten. All of us enjoy a wide variety of books and have different tastes. All three of us, however, were in complete agreement that Freckle Juice was, as Blume typically is, funny, charming, and cute.

Andrew thinks that if he had freckles his life would be a lot easier. A classmate offers him a solution to this problem for fifty cents. This evoked some conversation with my girls, as Andrew tells us that fifty cents is FIVE weeks of allowance. Little details like this made the girls connect to the story and talk about things like: Would you give up your allowance for someone to share a secret with you? Do you think the classmate really knows a secret? Why do you think fifty cents was a lot of money then but isn’t now? Pretty interesting and driven forward by the girls. I love book talk so I enjoyed listening to them and talking to them very much.

What we didn’t talk about but a connection that I made was to a favourite series of picture books; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Dog a Donut, and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. I loved the opening of Freckle Juice where Andrew deduces that if only he had freckles a series of events would take place. Also, because he doesn’t have freckles becomes his explanation for a variety of issues, such as paying attention in class. If he had his own freckles, he wouldn’t have to count Nicky’s and then he would be able to pay attention in class and then he wouldn’t get in trouble. I love that chain of cause and effect rationalized by the main character. It’s the same cause and effect that we see in the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books. It’s such a creative way for kids to look at all the different places one simple choice can lead. It creates a great discussion about whether or not you really think something would or would not happen as a result of one tiny event or detail.

I also loved that the teacher in the story plays along when Andrew decides to teach Sharon a lesson and gives himself freckles. The teacher could have just told him to wash them off but she, instead, uses it as a teachable moment and manages to boost both Andrew and Nicky’s self-esteem.

It’s typically Blume: sweet, relatable, and simple in the message it delivers to children. Often, I get caught up in the newest series, struggling to find away to pull in those reluctant readers, to hook them. We forget the treasures we grew up with and the timeless pull they have on readers. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl…these books still hook children the way the used to, with their characters and stories of friendship, choices and childhood. Whether freckles, curly hair, or crooked teeth, every person has something they wish they could change about themselves and Blume finds a way to tell readers that we are all perfect, just the way we are.

Freckle Juice at

Freckle Juice at

Freckle Juice Comprehension Questions from Gigglepotz

Comprehension Questions from Leaping Into 5th Grade

Mini Unit from Easy Fun School

Elizabeth Messick’s Website

Is there such a thing as too much reading?

Posted on April 1st, 2013 by Jody


Storytime Standouts' guest contributor asks Is there such a thing as too much reading?  We all want to see our children reading. Even parents who don’t love to read, (such as my own dad who refuses to) like to see their children enjoying reading. We know that it’s part of what makes us successful in life. Reading and comprehension open not only figurative doors, but literal ones as well. Having your child be able to read and understand what they are reading is a necessity. However, having your child read just for pleasure and the magic it provides, is a gift. As much as we try or don’t try, we can’t always determine whether our children will love the act of reading; of falling so far into a story that you feel like you’re part of it.

What if, however, your child is falling so far into the story that they refuse to come out of it. For those of you that struggle to get your children to read their 15 minutes a night, this might not sound like a problem. However, I’m facing a dilemna that I don’t know how to solve. My husband, myself, and our children LOVE to read. We read constantly. Both of our children read far above their grade level and while I would love to say that’s our influence, (and, in part, it might be) I don’t think that’s the only factor. I say that because I know parents who foster a love of reading and it’s still a chore to get their kids to read. So, I’m very grateful that my children love their books. They are more likely to choose a book for a long car ride than their iPods. They’d like the iPods too, but are content with a pile of books. So how can this become a problem?

This morning, my oldest daughter, who is caught deep in the trenches of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Lightning Thief saga, came downstairs, hugged me, went straight to the couch and crawled back into her book. When we spoke to her, she didn’t hear us (most likely because of how loud the cyclops and strange animals in the book are), when her sister asked her to play, Polly Pockets seemed a ridiculous choice over the half man-half dog that she was reading about. When we made her put down the book, she was less than impressed, in the way only a preteen, emotional girl can be.

Cover art for The Lightning Thief

Now I’m hovering between pride, that she loves this book so much, and irritation because she won’t do anything else. I felt absolutely ridiculous telling her to put down her book and spend time with her family. I told my husband that I felt like I was punishing her for reading, which is the very last thing I want to do. How can I be irritated that she’s reading?

Then I started to think about the books that I have on the go; several, as always because I can’t read one thing at a time. Also, I currently have two manuscripts I’m working on open on my computer. I’ve got cleaner on the table because my plan is to spend some, much needed time cleaning. There are waffles on the counter because my youngest was desperate to have them. It would have been nice to stayed tucked up on the couch reading my own book, but the youngest is rather persistent. The point is, even though we want them to love reading and know that it will give them so much pleasure as they get older, balance is still the key. We have to still be able to attend to our lives, even in the midst of a great book.Reading and Comprehension open not only figurative doors but literal ones as well.

I understand my daughter’s obsession very well; she gets it from me. When I get into a book, reading or writing, it can consume me. If my characters are unhappy, my mood is affected. Likewise, if they are happy, so am I. It’s wonderful to feel this much a part of a book and a great cudos to an author that they brought you into their world so completely. Still, we cannot forget the world around us that inspires and creates these stories. We cannot lose ourselves so completely that we miss out on what is right in front of us. It bothers me to tell my kids to put down a book but I have to sometimes, the same way I’d tell them to put down their DS or iPod. Okay, maybe not the same way; I’m far more likely to let hours go by just reading than I would be to let hours go by on the electronics. All the same, the world is still going on around us and it is very easy to forget when we aren’t paying attention.

I don’t think I’ve solved my quandry because I still feel both guilty and justified over making her put down the book. Plus, now I have to see what’s got her so hooked. She has not loved a set of books like this since Harry Potter. Anyone who knows how obsessed my daughter has been with Harry Potter knows: that is saying something. She has decided that Rick Riordin is her favourite author and is reading anything she can get her hands on by him. She talks about his characters as though I’ve read every page with her; she starts telling me about something and only when she mentions half-animal bodies do I realize she’s not telling me something about her friends at school. She is IN those books. I love that; more than I can possibly say. But I still need her to be IN our life; playing with her sister, helping around the house, laughing and talking with us, and being a part of our day.

I suppose, like anything else, we have to teach her how to employ that balance. If the author didn’t come up for air sometimes, hadn’t had the experiences he did, if he hadn’t loved mythology, or had a desire to share stories with his own kids, she wouldn’t be reading these books that have her so captivated. Living our lives is what makes for great stories. While it’s an amazing treasure to get lost in the stories that someone else has created, we have to remind ourselves that real life is pretty cool too.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians website

The Lightning Thief at

The Lightning Thief at

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by Jody


Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Young adult fiction published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House

I swear, I’m not the Paula Abdul of book reviews; I do not think that every book I read is amazing and moving and captivating. It just so happens that, this year, I have been incredibly fortunate to choose book after book that is amazing, moving, and captivating. Eight Keys, by Suzanne LaFleur, is beautiful. It weaves together the themes of finding yourself, knowing yourself, experiencing loss, friendship, bullying, acceptance, and family. Elise is a young girl who lost both her parents. She lives with her aunt and uncle, who I wish I lived with because they’re real and tangible characters. She has a best friend who she thinks she may have outgrown. She gets bullied mercilessly by the popular girl at school.

In the midst of all this, she is turning 12, which in itself can be life changing. She discovers a key and eight doors in her uncle’s workshop. The key opens one of the doors. The book follows her journey, as she unlocks each of the doors and discovers something about who she was, who she is, and who she could be. Each room also gives her insight into where she comes from. The most touching and heartwrenching part, for me from my parenting perspective, was that, knowing he was going to die, her father spent his final days putting each of these rooms together for her. As she explores all of them, she gets to know the mother and father she doesn’t remember. She also gets to learn about the people who have raised her.

Elise is such an honest and real character. There are parts of the book where we didn’t like her very much (my class and I) but the honest part comes from the fact that we know Elise doesn’t like herself very much at those moments either. The class had great discussions around different topics, such as: what do you do if you think a friendship is over? Do you always have to get along with a friend? What do you do when you are bullied? Has a friend ever changed on you so that you felt like you didn’t know them anymore? These are real things that I can remember dealing with in my teen years and I think they are things we still deal with as adults. Life is about change and it isn’t easy. People come into your life for different periods of time. We don’t always know if they’re in our lives for the long term. Even as adults, we can struggle to make and keep friends because we change.

I love how Elise came to her own conclusions. Her aunt and uncle guided her and supported her. They didn’t like some of her choices, but they were firm and fair with her and, as a result, she saw herself more clearly.

Eight Keys is a beautiful book. It is the kind of book that an author should aspire to write. It held the audience captive, created discussion, allowed for introspection, and connected us to the main characters. At the end of the book, I found myself wanting to know Elise ten years from now. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her and neither did the kids. When I read the last line of the book, one of the students said, “What? There’s no more?” I felt exactly the same.

Eight Keys at

Eight Keys at

Our School Book Fair – A winning opportunity

Posted on December 2nd, 2012 by Jody


Cover art for Line ChangeToday was the end of the Book Fair at our school. I love the Book Fair (perhaps a little too much). I love walking in and just browsing the tables, running my hand over the covers (I’m sure the librarian loves that), reading the backs of the novels, flipping through the picture books, and seeing all of the different books, just sitting there, waiting to be chosen.

I had already made several purchases this week and had promised myself I would not buy anymore. Luckily, I was able to keep that promise because at the end of every book fair, one student wins $25.00 worth of books for their family and $25.00 worth of books for their classroom. That student was in my class this year.

I’m sure it was mostly amusing to the students to see how excited I was over the books, but it was genuine, so it’s okay. Winning something always feels good; winning books felt great. I took two students with me and we chose a ‘boy book’, a ‘girl book’ and a ‘class book’. Truthfully, I think all three books will be enjoyed, regardless of gender. It was very gratifying to have students pick out books they thought we’d all like. Was it just the cover that appealed? Was it the synopsis? The author? In the end, I think it was a combination. An inviting cover always gets your attention. A good summary of what the book is about will make you want to know more.

Cover art for Genius FilesWe chose Line Change by W.C. Mack, The Genius Files by Dan Gutman and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Having two students help me choose made me realize how much they are learning about each other. It’s one thing for me to know them and find ways to help them achieve success, but it was very powerful for me to realize that they know their classmates as well. They chose Line Change because they know a couple of the boys are reluctant readers but love hockey. They chose Breadcrumbs because they thought we might all enjoy it as a teacher read aloud. We also started learning about fables and morals in fairytales today so it was very fitting (Breadcrumbs starts with Hazel and Jack, best friends, who meet some trouble in the woods. It is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story). The Genius Files was a rather amusing pick; it does sound like a funny story but really, they chose it because the main characters are named Pepsi and Coke. I may have a slight addiction to Diet Pepsi that my students like to tease me about. They decided it was a must have for our class. I guess they know their teacher pretty well too.

Cover art for BreadcrumbsBack in the class, we excitedly shared our choices. The student who actually won, shared his $25.00 with his brother. This boy had fun picking out his book, even though reading might not be his top choice activity because he was caught up in the class excitement. Both he and his younger brother chose a novel and some fun scholastic trinkets.

So, because of my natural enthusiasm for 1) winning anything and 2)  reading, the students had the opportunity to get caught up in the simple pleasure of books. They took part in adding to our classroom library after considering our class needs. As most of the class had to stay behind while we visited the Book Fair, I left with the expectation that I would return to a quiet room. A bit surprisingly (they’re ten year olds), I did! They were quietly, and patiently, waiting to find out what we bought. I know that on Monday, when the students who were away today return, they will relive that enthusiasm and want to share our new books.

It’s good for kids to see us enjoy something and be excited. Having it be related to reading is a bonus.


Remembering Harry Potter’s Magic

Posted on August 13th, 2012 by Jody


Remembering Harry Potters Magic A Guest Post by @1prncs

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor takes another look at Harry Potter and the magic delivered in J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series.

I am reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my oldest daughter this summer. I have read the series once after a friend, who has read it, literally, dozens of times, insisted that I could not put it off any longer; I had to read it. So I did. And I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when it originally came out. I remember listening to how much everyone loved it and the movies are among my favourites. Waiting did have one advantage, however; by the time I read the books, they were all published so I could read them all back to back.

Now, as I reread Harry Potter with my daughter, I’m remembering all of the things I loved about the books. I am completely absorbed in the story once again and so is she. Lately, all of her playing is geared around wizards and wizardry. All of their dolls are currently attending Hogwarts. As I’ve watched her get wrapped up in the story of Harry and his friends, I realized that only one of my students was reading Harry Potter this year. This could be because the kids have read it when they were younger, but it seems unlikely that they have read all seven books by grade four or five. I am hoping that with series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Warriors, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter is not being forgotten in this age group. I think grade four is a great age for the first book. I think I will have to poll my class in September to see how many have read the series or at least some of them.

Harry Potter came out 12 years ago. The Deathly Hallows came out in 2007. It’s entirely possible that with the hype of so many new books over the years, that Harry is not the most sought after character at the library. It would be a shame to forget how magical and amazing JK Rowling’s books are. Unlike the Twilight series or The Hunger Games, children get to grow and mature with Harry. As he becomes older, the conflicts and challenges he faces become more involved and difficult. The intensity builds with each book. Not that the intensity doesn’t increase with each of the books in the other series, but the intensity is there from the beginning. Katniss* is fighting for her life from chapter one. Bella and Edward** are drawn to each other immediately.

In Harry Potter, we meet a young boy poorly treated by relatives that do not want him. The first story captures our hearts and interest by letting us connect to him and feel the same amazement that he does as he learns about his wizarding background and accepts his future at Hogwarts. Harry has an innocence that Bella and Katniss do not. Of course, they are entirely different books, but I know that they were the central focus of my grade five classroom not that many years ago. Now, based on what I’ve seen my students borrowing from the library, that focus has shifted.

I don’t actually read Harry Potter in the classroom. But this year, I think I will make an effort to see how many kids have read it on their own or with their families. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s class, who would have been born in between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Pheonix, are familiar with the novels. Since they became readers, the “Harry Potter Hype” has lessened, as all hype does. Regardless of which books are grabbing the most attention today, we need to remember that there are some books (many) that should always be on a person’s “Must Read” or “Have Read” list. The Harry Potter series should definitely on those lists.

*The Hunger Games

The Nature Of Monsters – Clare Clark

Posted on August 1st, 2012 by Teen contributor


Storytime Standouts’ teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of Monsters

Storytime Standouts' teen contributor writes about young adult fiction title, The Nature of MonstersThe Nature of Monsters – written by Clare Clark
Young Adult Fiction published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In 1718 Eliza Tally arrives in London to work as a maid for an apothecary, a position arranged to protect the father of her unborn child from scandal. But why does her master want another maid when he already has one, a half-wit named Mary? And why is she never allowed to look her master in the face, or enter his study where he pursues his experiments? Soon Eliza realizes the nature of his obsession and must act to save the child, Mary, and herself.

Though not the most light and happy way to start off my summer reading, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the imagery in this book. It made me really feel that I was in that world. The whole novel is very descriptive, creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. The story its self is haunting and scary, the author paints a very real picture of what London must have been like for the common people in the eighteenth century. Overall I really enjoyed this book. It has a different, mysterious plot line that would be enjoyed by fans of both the gothic and historical genres.

The Nature of Monsters at

The Nature of Monsters at

Clare Clark @ 5×15 from 5×15 on Vimeo.

Young Adult Fiction – Different worlds…or not

Posted on July 21st, 2012 by Jody


Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at the Morbid Storylines in Young Adult Fiction

I brought home 5 young adult fiction books from the Scholastic Book Fair to read this summer. It is always difficult to make a choice and I could easily get into serious financial trouble if given free rein in a book store. But since I’m fairly fond of my marriage, I limited myself. While making my choices, I was struck by the rather morbid story lines.

The selections included plots that dealt with the afterlife, ghosts, sibling deaths, parent deaths, autism, disease and similar horrible afflictions and topics you can think of. Most of the books sounded excellent, despite the rather grave subjects. More than that, the books were definitely capturing interest; many of my students chose stories that I had decided against because I wanted something lighter.

Young Adult Fiction title Heaven by V.C. AndrewsI started thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be exposing the students, our kids, to these topics. I don’t really want my daughter reading or asking about the afterlife, wondering what terrorism is, or thinking about the dangers that exist for kids trying to find themselves in middle school. It’s one of those balance issues again because if my kids ask me about things, I’d rather be honest. I don’t want them completely unaware or in the dark, but a little unaware until they’re older seems okay with me. But most kids aren’t; unaware that is. They have access to far more information through social media and technology than I ever did at the same age.

Young Adult Fiction title Sweet Valley HighIt was this thought that made me think about what I was reading at their age. Surely it wasn’t about disease, terror, and end of the world chaos! I had to have been reading something that protected my unjaded 12 year old view of life. Only it wasn’t. I didn’t watch the news or have access to high speed internet at 12 so maybe I wasn’t as “aware” as kids are today. However, I was reading Heaven by V.C. Andrews and vividly remember reading it over and over again. No terrorism there. Just a girl growing up dirt poor, in a shack, hated by the father that eventually sells her, forcing her to go out into the world and discover the truth about her past. Nope. No terrorism there. Of course, I was also reading Sweet Valley High. What could be more innocent than Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield? The perfect Wakefield twins and their friends who experienced drugs, death, kidnapping, and a whole host of other over the top tragedies. I say that fondly, as I remember being completely addicted to the series. Just as, I would imagine, today’s young adults are addicted to the engaging plots and twists found in Hunger Games, Speak, Twilight, Abandon, Sold, Stargirl, Slob, and so many other well-written, attention-grabbing, heart-twisting young adult fiction titles on the best sellers list.

I didn’t take enough Psychology courses to truly dissect why, as both kids and adults, we are  drawn to stories that present that edge of darkness. Having said that, you don’t need Psychology courses to recognize that each of these books have common elements. The main characters are flawed, allowing the audience to connect with them. The crisis or darkness that each of them must confront seems overwhelming but they manage. They don’t escape the darkness without scars but are stronger for what they have faced. They aren’t perfect, but they survive. So maybe, the solace we all find in the dark is actually hope. Hope that we are strong enough to face what comes our way. Strong enough to be the people we want to be, despite the obstacles in our way.

In light of recent real-world tragedies, it seems to me that hope is never a bad thing. We can’t control real life and we can’t predict the outcome. But there’s a comfort in knowing that when the darkness comes in the book, somehow everything will be okay. I wish we could make the same assurances in life. I wish that in life, like in books, we knew, in the end, that the boy will get the girl, justice will be served, and good will trump bad. But life’s not like that. And sometimes, the only way to deal with that reality is to fall into a good book, with amazing characters that maybe remind you a little of yourself, and know that, in the end, things will work out.

I hate when things are over…summer reading beckons

Posted on June 28th, 2012 by Jody


Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor reflects on the school year and looks forward to summer reading

One of my favourite lines from the song Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something is “And I hate when things are over/ when so much is left undone”. At the moment, it sums up how I feel about the end of the school year. Though I look forward to the summer, the break, the rest, and the, hopefully, nice weather, I know I’ll spend time thinking of all the things I didn’t manage to do this year.

Rather than think about all of the things I could have done better or more of, I thought I’d recount some of my favourite books from this year and share my summer “to read” list. The books I like most from this year are the ones that excited the kids. So while they may not have been MY favourite books, the following is a list of books that engaged my students, hooked my reluctant readers, and caused many classroom discussions.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Warriors by Erin Hunter (actually a pseudonym for a number of contributing authors)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Wayside Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The Fire Ascending by Chris D’Lacey

There were others. Many, many others. My students from this year loved to read. They read a variety of genres and authors and tried books their friends loved or that I suggested. They were open to new books and different types of writing, such as Poetry.

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to this group and in September, I will have a new class. I look forward to the reading adventures they will take me on and the books they will introduce me to. Of course, I have a few of my own that I plan on introducing them to as well. Some I have read already, such as Riding Freedom, but others, I will read over the summer. My “to read” list for this summer includes:

My life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

Slob by Ellen Potter

United We Stand by Eric Walters

Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson

The Little Prince by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (I’ve read this one but am looking forward to reading it to my nine year old this summer).

I could go on…and on…and on because there are so many different books I’d like to read before the summer ends. However, in addition to Children and Young Adult fiction, I plan on reading a number of other books as well. So here’s to a summer of reading, re reading, and relaxing.

A Text Connection

Posted on April 23rd, 2012 by Jody


As a want-to-be writer, I find it fascinating that some authors can slip back and forth between genres and age groups. It shows a wide range of talent when an author produces a best selling thriller and then follows it up with a highly entertaining graphic novel. James Patterson and John Grisham are powerful examples of authors who show this flexibility on a regular basis. What really shows their strength as writers, however, is that the books they write for their younger audiences are so appealing to adults as well. Aside from providing more great reading material, authors such as these are also providing a unique way for parents (or teachers) and children (or students) to connect.

Patterson’s latest young adult novel is Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. The quick and fun chapters, along with the sketch graphics and the humor of two friends trying to get through their first year of middle school make it a great read. I laughed out loud at parts, remembering my own middle school days. While it connects with many of the students in the upper elementary grades, it definitely reaches out to boys.

Finding things in common with our kids (and students) is extremely important. They live in a fast-paced world of texting, Facebook, and instant messages. They are “connected” in ways that we never were. We need to jump on the opportunities to share meaningful conversations with them whenever we can. Taking an interest in what your kids are reading can be a way to start these conversations.

I had a Teacher on Call come in for me last week for a half day. I showed up right before the lunch bell and we were discussing how the morning went. I asked about a few students in particular and she made a comment that got me to thinking about this post: she had brought in the book The Mocking Jay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, so that she could read it while waiting for a friend after work. When a few of the students noticed she had it, they began asking her whether she liked it, had she finished it, did she like the others. The fact that she was reading a book that many of them are absorbed in right now created an instant connection, which is not always easy to do as a teacher on call.

Kids always find it a bit surprising when they realize that you may enjoy some of the same things they do. I have had wonderful conversations about Harry Potter, Holes, Twilight, Hunger Games, and a variety of other books that kids are hooked on. My enthusiasm is real and the kids respond to that. They want to know what you think, what you liked, and if you got to a certain part yet. I tell the kids how I feel about the books that we have in common and they feel open to sharing their thoughts. My class knows that even though I really liked Hunger Games, I stopped reading the trilogy because, for me, it was too sad. We ended up having a conversation about what makes us put down a book, what makes us go back to it, or what makes it so we absolutely cannot put it down.

I believe that connecting with kids strengthens our relationships with them and makes teaching them more successful. Try reading something your child is reading; aside from connecting with your child, you’ll likely find yourself reading a great book as well.

More News

Learning the Alphabet

Awake Beautiful Child by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Gracia Lam

Awake Beautiful Child by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Gracia Lam

Awake Beautiful Child written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Gracia ...

Classic Picture Book: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom written by Bill Martin Jr. and ...

Alphabet Recognition Game for Preschool

[caption id="attachment_16404" align="alignleft" width="300"] Diecuts With A View Alphabet Scrapbook ...

Phonemic Awareness

Storytime Standouts Tips for Getting Ready to Read While in the Car

Storytime Standouts Tips for Getting Ready to Read While in the Car

Some of the keys to learning to read are noticing ...

Developing Phonemic Awareness: How’s Your Nose, Rose?

You won't regret using wordplay to support your child's phonemic ...

Phonemic Awareness – Questions for Your Child (2)

The focus of our last few posts has been phonemic ...

Rhymes, Songs & Fingerplays

Songs for a Summertime Storytime

This summer I presented two different early literacy programs for ...

Father’s Day Wordsearch Printable

Here is one of our many free PDF printables for ...

Kindergarten Springtime Fun – Writing prompts, printables and more

Celebrate warmer days with some kindergarten springtime funHere are some ...

Translate »