Posts Tagged ‘picture books for older readers’

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 Lisa Manzione

Posted on September 18th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts interviews author Lisa Manzione

Author Website

Author Twitter account @BellaAndHarryGo

Author Facebook page

Book Series Website

The Adventures of Bella and Harry Lets Visit Maui by Lisa ManzioneTell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

The latest book published is Let’s Visit Maui!. The book series is perfectly suited for ages 5-10. I am most proud of the fact the series has been very well received by parents, librarians, teachers, but most of all, children!

Let’s Visit Maui!: Adventures of Bella & Harry (The Adventures of Bella & Harry) at

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

It was extremely difficult to get the first book in the series published. As a matter of fact, I had one publisher tell me the books were “too educational” for US children. Once I heard that comment, I was even more determined! I found a small publisher in South Florida and the first book was published. After attending Book Expo America, I realized I could publish the books on my own. I created my own company, hired a staff, and 14 books later, we are very pleased with our success.

As far as words of encouragement…Don’t give up! If you truly believe in our product, the right opportunity will come along. It just takes time and persistence.Bella and Harry Lets Visit Athens by Lisa Manzione

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?

I think the greatest joy is seeing how much children enjoy reading and learning about the world. I am just thrilled every time I speak to a youngster and they can tell me what Bella & Harry have taught them. I really love it when the child tells me they know even MORE about the cities/countries than Bella and Harry because they have done research on their own or with their classroom.

What are the biggest challenges of being an author / illustrator?

I believe the biggest challenge is keeping a child’s interest in a story. In the Bella and Harry series, the stories are educational. I think it is necessary to keep the story fun (which holds their attention), but to also have a significant amount of educational content which can be a huge challenge because I don’t want the book to feel like a history book.

Have any of your books been published electronically? If so, what was that process like? What sort of feedback have you had from readers?

Yes, the books have been published electronically through Reading Rainbow Kidz. There is an option with RRKidz…the book can be read aloud to you or you can turn that option off and read the book yourself.

The process with RR Kidz was a lot of fun! We have received tremendous feedback from readers, especially early readers who enjoy the narration option initially.

We plan to have additional e-books available in the fall, 2014.

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

If I could dine with anyone it would be James Patterson. I love his “women’s murder club”series!

Additionally, James Patterson lives in South FL and is very active in children’s literacy programs, which I just LOVE!

Do you do school or library presentations? If so, please briefly describe topics/ geographical limitations.

I love to do library and school presentations! Generally, I read one book during the presentation, followed by a question and answer session. Those that answer the questions correctly are given a prize…sometimes another book, a Bella plush stuffed animal, back pack, etc. At the end of the presentation I give each child a book from the series that we did not read. Depending on the age of the children, sometimes I autograph the books individually as well.

As far as limitations, if I have advanced notice, there really are no limitations. If advance notice is limited, I can always Skype. In this instance, I would send the book ahead, so we can still do most of the above.

Classic Picture Book: Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

Posted on September 16th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts features classic picture book Strega Nona by Tomie de PaolaStrega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola
Classic Picture Book originally published by Prentice-Hall, now Simon and Schuster

Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

When I reflect on the picture books we shared with our young sons, Strega Nona is one that I recall with special affection. It is a story that can be enjoyed by a wide range of children (and their adult caregivers). Preschoolers who are accustomed to hearing stories read aloud will enjoy the humor, kindergarten-age and primary grade students will also be engaged by the matronly and generous “Grandma Witch” and her well-meaning but accident-prone assistant. Storytime Standouts features Strega Nona including this illustration by Tomie de Paola

Strega Nona was getting old, and she needed someone to help her keep her little house and garden, so she put up a sign in the town square.

And Big Anthony, who didn’t pay attention, went to see her.

“Anthony,” said Strega Nona, “you must sweep the house and wash the dishes. You must weed the garden and pick the vegetables. You must feed the goat and milk her. And you must fetch the water….

The one thing you must never do… is touch the pasta pot. It is very valuable and I don’t let anyone touch it!”

Adapted from Sweet Porridge (also known as The Magic Porridge Pot), children who are familiar with foreshadowing will correctly predict Big Anthony’s ‘mistake’ and will relish the problem he creates and Strega Nona’s fitting solution to it.

Highly recommended for children aged four years and up.

The story of how Strega Nona came to be – on Mr. de Paola’s website

Bright Hub Education Lesson Plan Suggestions for First Grade

Scholastic lesson plan for Strega Nona

Teacher Vision ‘Predicting’ lesson plan

White Swan Theatre study guide

Caldecott Honor Book in 1976
School Library Journal “Top 100 Picture Books”

Strega Nona at

Strega Nona at

Strega Nona Pinterest Board

Follow Storytime Standouts’s board Strega Nona an old tale retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola on Pinterest.

Classic Picture Book – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted on July 22nd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts looks at Classic Picture Book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz
Classic Picture Book published by Simon & Schuster

Written in 1972, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is available in several formats (including board book). The copy that I have is a special limited edition that includes some color.

From the moment Alexander awakens until he finally falls asleep, things go wrong for him.

At home, before school, carpooling to school and while at school, it seems as though there is a conspiracy afoot: Make Alexander’s day as unpleasant as possible. Whether squished into the middle of the backseat enroute to school or comparing his lunch with those of his classmates, Alexander feels awful. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a classic picture book

On the way downstairs the elevator door closed on my foot and while we were waiting for my mom to go get the car Anthony made me fall where it was muddy and then when I started crying because of the mud Nick said I was a crybaby and while I was punching Nick for saying crybaby my mom came back with the car and scolded me for being muddy and fighting.

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I told everybody. No one even answered.

A great choice for older children, this is a classic picture book that will encourage reflection. Some of Alexander’s problems can be blamed on bad luck, others are due to poor choices. In any event, it is an opportunity for children and adults to reflect on the fact that we all experience some days that are terrible and horrible.

ALA Notable Children’s Book
George G. Stone Center Recognition of Merit
Georgia Children’s Book Award
Reading Rainbow book

Classroom activities from the Professional Development Institute

Lesson plan from Teaching Children Philosophy

Live Oak Media Activity Guide

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at

Quote from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Follow Storytime Standouts’s board Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on Pinterest.

The Very Inappropriate Word – Synonym Picture Book Fun

Posted on July 11th, 2014 by Jody


Storytime Standouts suggests The Very Inappropriate Word written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave Coverly The Very Inappropriate Word written by Jim Tobin and illustrated by Dave Coverly
Picture book about synonyms published by Henry Holt and Co.

In this all ages picture book, we learn about synonyms, how to expand our vocabulary, and the power that words have. The first line drew me in immediately: “Michael collected words”. I love words and we all have words we hate and love for whatever reason. The way it sounds on our tongue, for what it means, for what it rhymes with, etc. Words are fun and I think it is a great concept to introduce kids to the idea that there are so many ways to say the exact same thing.

Michael pays close attention to all the words that come at him every day– at school, at home, on television, and at baseball. The illustrations of the words that pop up in Michael’s day are entertaining in their presentation. For example, Michael likes “hard words for soft things” and the word “elastic” is stretched as though inside of an elastic instead of a speech bubble. My students and my own children enjoyed looking over the pictures repeatedly.

Michael likes to use the words he finds but when he hears a bad word on the school bus, his friends tell him that is not an appropriate word. The more he is told not to use the word, the deeper his desire to use it, until he finally yells it out at the top of his lungs. In class. Michael’s teacher asks him to stay after school and he is sure that he is in trouble.The Very Inappropriate Word

What happens next is unique and I truly enjoyed the lesson that the teacher wanted to impart in the book. Instead of detention or a long lecture, she asks him to find new spelling words. In essence, she lets him see how many words exist that are powerful and fun, while also being appropriate. She gives him a responsibility to help her and that trust, along with the wonderful task of exploring new words, diminishes the power of the inappropriate word.

Sometimes our actions are strengthened by the reactions of others. Michael’s teacher didn’t give him the reaction he expected. Instead, she showed him a different path and let him find his way. What we say is important but so is how we say it. I like that this book shows kids there are other ways, other words, to communicate what they are trying to say.

On another note, there are a number of fun activities that you can do with this book. In my classroom, I used the example on the first page where we see a picture of Michael, surrounded by “M” words. The students drew a self-portrait and tried to find as many descriptive words about themselves that started with the first letter of their name as they could. Not an easy task but upper intermediates will enjoy the challenge while they learn some dictionary and thesaurus skills. A second activity I tried was to give a word and see who could come up with the most synonyms. So, if I put “happy” on the board, they all had thirty seconds to write down as many words as they could that meant the same thing. This is a great way to do a quick check of their vocabulary understanding. Even if you just use the book as a fun read, the students will get lots out of it.

The Very Inappropriate Word at

The Very Inappropriate Word at

Learning About Chinese New Year – Highlighting Picture Books

Posted on January 21st, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


My First Chinese New YearMy First Chinese New Year written and illustrated by Karen Katz
Chinese New Year Picture Book published by Henry Holt and Company

An excellent introduction to the traditions associated with the holiday, My First Chinese New Year will be enjoyed by children aged three years and up. Highlighting traditional decorations, clothing, food, a large family dinner and a boisterous parade, colorful illustrations and text depict a family’s preparations for the special day and their joy in celebrating with family and friends.

We appreciate the ease with which Ms. Katz conveys information to young readers,

My sister and I sweep away the bad luck from last year. Now we are ready to welcome in good luck for the new year.

Recommended for preschool age children, the size and format is well suited to a group storytime.

My First Chinese New Year at

My First Chinese New Year at

Happy Happy Chinese New YearHappy, Happy Chinese New Year written and illustrated by Demi
(Non Fiction) Chinese New Year Picture Book published by Crown Publishing, an imprint of Random House

Unlike Ms. Katz’s picture book, Happy, Happy Chinese New Year will be best appreciated when read by one or two children. It could be used by a child doing research into the traditions associated with Chinese New Year. Detailed illustrations include numerous small, labelled figures preparing for a community celebration. A tremendous banquet is shown and is enhanced by a key that provides the name of each food item, in English and Chinese, as well as the significance of each of the dishes.

Part of getting ready for the Chinese New Year is making sure your home is neat and clean before the new year arrives. Tidy up your house and your room. Sweep out the old and bring in the New Year!

A good non fiction resource for primary grade children, this picture book offers considerable insight into the traditions associated with this holiday.

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! at

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! at

Demi was a nominee for the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize

Bluebird – Notable Wordless Picture Book Leaves Room for Discussion

Posted on January 6th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart


We have a special affection for wordless picture books and books that explore bullying themes. Bluebird does both.

Check out our page about other Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books

Bluebird wordless picture book by Bob StaakeBluebird created by Bob Staake
Wordless picture book published by Random House Children’s Books

A small bluebird flies through a city, past an apartment building and toward a school. The bird perches in a tree and watches as a young boy approaches the school. Unlike the other students, he walks alone with his eyes turned downward. Whereas other children chatter happily with their friends, he is slow to walk into his new classroom and take his place. Once he is seated, two classmates laugh and point. For some reason, he is a lonely outcast and the object of ridicule.

The hours tick by and, when the boy leaves school, he is surprised when the friendly bluebird initiates a friendship. The bird chirps at him and follows him through an urban neighborhood. They play hide and seek, they share a cookie, they watch as a group of children play soccer and they arrive at a park where the boy floats a sailboat in a pond. There is time for happy daydreaming and exploring before their adventure takes an ominous turn. The boy and the bird approach a wooded area and are soon met by three miserable bullies. One wants his toy sailboat and, to add force to his threats, he throws a stick, hitting the swooping bluebird. As the violent bullies run from the scene, the bereft boy stands, holding the injured bird.

Highlighted by light blue, grey and white Adobe Photoshop-rendered illustrations, Bluebird is best suited to children aged five and up. With an ending that is open to interpretation, the author-illustrator leaves many questions unanswered. The boy is very much a solitary figure, we don’t know why he is on his own in a large city. We also don’t know why he is ridiculed by his classmates and bullied by the children in the park. This is not a story that satisfactorily resolves bullying rather it is a celebration of friendship. Young readers will have questions and opinions. They will engage in the narrative and, with encouragement, will think about the impact of bullying behavior.

Bluebird at

Bluebird at

Check out our page about other Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books

Starred Reviews from
Booklist, April 15, 2013:
“Staake works out an impressive range of emotion… Without use of a single word, this book raises all kinds of simple profundities for kids to question, ponder, imagine, and discuss.”

Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2013:
“…believers and skeptics alike will find something deeply impressive and moving in this work of a singular, fully committed talent.”
Subsequently named a “Best Book 2013″ by Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2013:
“Like nothing you have seen before.”

Included in the Spring 2013 Great Reads from Indie Next List

Publisher’s Weekly interview with Bob Staake

Bluebird has been nominated for a 2013 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Award

The Quiltmaker’s Gift – a picture book about generosity and giving

Posted on November 26th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


picture book about generosity and giving The Quiltmakers GiftThe Quiltmaker’s Gift written by Jeff Brumbeau and illustrated by Gail de Marcken
Picture book about generosity and giving to those less fortunate published by Scholastic Inc.

“I give my quilts to those who are poor or homeless,” she told all who knocked on her door. “They are not for the rich.”

The quiltmaker lives high in the mountains and spends each day stitching beautiful quilts. Gorgeous richly coloured fabrics are carefully pieced and stitched into traditional designs. When the weather is cold, the woman visits a nearby town and searches for poor, homeless people. She wraps the beautiful quilts around those who are cold, sharing her love and compassion with those who are most needy.spread from a picture book about generosity and giving The Quiltmakers Gift

Not far away lives an unhappy, greedy king. He is never satisfied with the gifts he receives. Despite all of his riches, he always wants more. When the king hears about the quiltmaker and her beautiful quilts, he decides that he must have one of her marvelous creations. He is convinced that one of her quilts may be a key to happiness.

The quiltmaker is unwilling to give the king a quilt. She knows that he is very wealthy. She instructs him to give away all of his possessions and tells him that, once this is done, she will have a beautiful quilt for him. He is angered by her response and decides to punish her. He sends her away and later regrets the punishment only to discover that the quiltmaker’s compassion has kept her safe.

Beautiful, detailed watercolor illustrations highlight this thoughtful picture book about generosity and giving. Best-suited to children aged five years and up, The Quiltmaker’s Gift offers tremendous opportunities for quilting-related extension activities and discussions about social responsibility.

Link to The Quiltmaker’s Gift Website

image of PDF icon  Quilt Interlined Paper

Quilt theme interlined paper for children, could be used alongside The Quiltmaker's Gift

The Quiltmaker’s Gift at

The Quiltmaker’s Gift at

Book Sense Children’s Book of the Year (2000)
Publishers Weekly “Cuffy” Award Favorite Picture Book of the Year (1999)

Subsequently published prequel -
picture book about generosity and giving The Quiltmakers Journey

The Quiltmaker’s Journey at

The Quiltmaker’s Journey at

Bully by Patricia Polacco – A Terrific Anti Bullying Picture Book for Older Readers

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts recommends Bully by Patricia Polacco, a thoughtful examination of middle grade bullying and cyber bullying. Bully is an excellent anti bullying picture book for older readers and a valuable resource for middle grade classrooms.

image of Bully cover art an anti bullying picture book for older readersBully – written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco 
anti bullying picture book for older readers published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

When Lyla’s family moves house, she and her brother each switch to new schools. Lyla feels anxious about the transition but soon meets a new friend and is very happy to discover that he is in her homeroom class. Jamie and Lyla get along well so Lyla is not isolated but before long she discovers the many cliques at her new school: Geeks and Nerds, Toughs, Skateboarders, Athletes and the Celebrities.

As Lyla gains confidence at her new school, she starts to earn some very good grades and a spot on the cheerleading team. Jamie warns her, “That’s Gage, Maeve and Kenyon’s territory, Lyla. Be careful!”

Lyla settles in to her new class and appears content but she does notice that almost all of her classmates have cell phones. Jamie urges her to get a cell phone, a laptop and a Facebook account. Soon Lyla and her brother are trying to convince their parents to allow them to have phones. Their parents agree but warn that, if not used properly, the online privileges will be lost.image of Bully spread an anti bullying picture book for older readers

Jamie helps Lyla and her brother to set up their Facebook accounts and Lyla takes pride in their friendship and his position of trust at school.

Gage, Maeve and Kenyon were actually starting to be nice to me. I wasn’t good enough to sit at the celebrity table, though, until the Mid-Year Awards Assembly…Gage usually got this award, but she seemed really happy that I got it. That’s when she invited me to sit with them at the celebrity table at lunch..

Initially, Lyla finds the attention from the coolest girls exciting – she so wants to enjoy their popularity. The friendship sours, however, when the girls spend time surfing Facebook and commenting on classmates’ pages. They call this “scum dumping.” Lyla knows the bullying behavior is wrong and is especially upset when horrible comments are made on Jamie’s Facebook page. Lyla’s friendship with the Celebrities ends when she stands up for Jamie but the girls warn her, “No one dumps us, Lyla. We do the dumping.”

Sadly for Lyla the bullying does not end there. When an important test is compromised at school, Lyla is wrongly accused of stealing it and she becomes a victim of cyberbullying.

Bully is an excellent anti bullying picture book for older readers and a valuable resource for middle grade classrooms. Ms. Polacco’s depicts a racially diverse student population. As well, she presents a realistic and complex social situation without lecturing. She invites her readers to consider the question, “What would you do?”

Bully at

Bully at

PDF Curriculum Guide to Ms. Polacco’s books (does not include Bully)

Bully 101 – Asking Some Tough Questions

Posted on July 11th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


image of cover art for Bully 101Bully 101 written and illustrated by Doretta Groenendyk
Anti bullying picture book published by Acorn Press

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children.

Want to ensure you get your way?
Just mess up another kid’s day.
Push them and shove them and give them a scare.
Our bullies love fear and thrive on a dare.

Students who attend a class called Bully 101 learn that the best solution to feeling poorly about themselves is to make another child feel terrible. Bullies steal notebooks on the school bus, damage clothing, ostracize good students, spread rumors and make jokes. Sometimes they even resort to physical violence. For those who feel badly about their ‘course selection,’ there is an alternative class: Kindness 202.

Suited to primary and middle grade students, Bully 101 includes rich language: demoralize, humiliate, thrive and striking collage illustrations that will appeal to older readers.

Best at identifying bullying behaviors, Bully 101 implies that Kindness 202 is a happier, more inclusive choice. It does not problem-solve suggestions for victims or bystanders. Essentially the story suggests that choosing kindness will have a happier outcome for all – including those who are currently making poor choices.

Bully 101 takes a simplistic approach to the terrible problem of bullying that will not be appropriate in every circumstance but there are good reasons to use it as a discussion-starter in a primary or middle grade classroom. As well, Ms. Groenendyk’s fascinating illustrations could be used as a jumping off point for exploring this timely theme with young artists.

Bully 101 at

Bully 101 at

10 Ways to help upper elementary students enjoy reading

Posted on May 25th, 2013 by Jody


10 Ways to help upper elementary students enjoy reading

There’s a great quote by Oscar Wilde that says: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”. It’s a powerful quote and similar to the question: “Who are you when no one’s watching?” Both quotes/questions, I think, speak to being yourself, in your actions and in your choices. This includes reading and writing. One of the best ways to get middle grade students involved in reading and writing is to encourage them to learn more about themselves and go with what interests them.

What are some other ways to engage your middle grade / upper elementary students? Here’s what’s worked for me this year:

1. Get to know your students and their interests. Most kids who say they don’t like to read haven’t found a book that fits with who they are. Sometimes they are a little unclear on what appeals to them. They might not realize how many genres there are or that even if they are into sports, they might prefer mythology to sport related books. Case in point: I play absolutely no sports and have no athletic ability, but love to read books and watch movies where atheletes are the main characters.Storytime Standouts' guest contributor shares an Oscar Wilde quote and 10 ways to help middle grade students enjoy reading

2. Choose with them. Students like attention and we don’t get much chance for one on one or small group. When you go to the library with them, utilize the library time. Look through the shelves with them. Ask what some of the kids have chosen, show interest, show them some you’ve found. Check in with them or pick a few you think they might like. It gives you a chance to connect with them and get some insight into how they choose.

3. Take their suggestions. It is a big thing when a reluctant reader comes to you and says, “I think you would like this book I read.” READ IT. They read it and now are furthering their connection with you; even if you don’t like it, you can discuss the parts you did or didn’t enjoy with them and engage them in comprehension, oops, I mean conversation.

4. Be honest about your struggles and strengths as a reader. I have two struggles that constantly come up: I am a terribly slow reader and I don’t read aloud very well. Picture books are one thing but I stumble a lot reading novels aloud. The kids feel more relaxed about not being perfect if we’re honest about the fact that we aren’t either. We don’t encourage kids to only play sports they excel at if they get true joy from a certain one. Likewise, you don’t have to be ‘the best’ at reading to enjoy it.

5. Challenge them in unique ways. Kids love competition (well, most kids). Do a teacher vs. student challenge for who can read the most, give prizes or reading points when milestones are reached, celebrate reading at an individual and classroom level. I do Reading Bingo with my class and depending on how many bingos they get, they can get out of an assignment or choose a brand new book from scholastic. The bingo is mandatory but what they do with it (bare minimum or all out) is up to them.

6. Read a book to your class for the simple pleasure of reading. For my read aloud, I tend to shy away from making them do writing activities or exercises. I want them to see that books can be just for fun and the excitement of getting involved in the character’s story. Generally, if I have a writing assignment, I will use our read aloud as an example. This week, we made character pamphlets. I chose the character from our read aloud to demonstrate the process but they chose from their guided reading books.

7. Read them picture books. Kids of all ages (and adults) love picture books. They have strong messages, great rhythm, and are often funny. They enjoy looking at the pictures and there are endless activities at the upper grades you can do using picture books.

8. Teach them how to decide if a book is not working for them. Kids think that adults expect them to finish everything they start and lots of times, we do. But, I’m unlikely to finish a book that I really don’t connect with or enjoy. If it’s curriculum related and it must be finished, then that’s just life. But, if it’s for silent reading or read aloud, it’s perfectly fine to pick up a book, realize it’s not for you, and take it back. In fact, it shows strength as a reader to recognize what appeals to you.

9. Just let them read. We focused on non-fiction a lot this year as an intermediate team at my school. Until this year, I’ve always said that silent reading was for reading our ‘within our reading level’ books. Once we started focusing on how to teach non-fiction and how to get kids to choose these books, I wondered why, especially when I just want kids to READ, I was limiting them. Now, they can read anything that is appropriate at school. We do need to make time for their ‘grade-level’ reading but in the end, if they read, they improve at reading.

10. Show them the connection between reading and writing. In my class, we use writing every day to do this. They have become stronger readers and writers through the process. Those that struggled with reading out loud are getting stronger. They are recognizing errors in their writing, finding topics to write about because they have broader interests, trying new genres like poetry and non-fiction. They don’t have to write something every time they read but ask them to think about and share the connection they see between reading and writing.

My goal is for students to realize the amazing journeys they can have just from reading a book. We live in a digital age and yes, technology is essential and important. However, if we can get kids curled up with a good book, turning pages, reaching for the sequel, we are encouraging them to become stronger at a skill that is not only essential but can bring them endless enjoyment. Never underestimate the power of a great book.

Fun ways to create art from recycled trash: Make It!

Posted on April 14th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


 make it! a picture book about creating art from recycled trashMake It! designed by Jane Bull with photography by Andy Crawford
Picture book about creating art from recycled trash published by Dorling Kindersley Limited

Nicely designed with bright, colourful photographs and an enthusiastic, conversational tone Make It! by Jane Bull challenges readers to check their garbage cans for all sorts of “found” art materials rather than buying new. Highlighting the the importance of recycling, Bull estimates that half of the contents of a typical garbage can has the potential to be recycled. She encourages readers to sort the materials into paper, plastic, metal and fabric. inside spread from Make It! a picture book about creating art from recycled trash

The cheerful, inspiring art projects in Make It! have been organized according to source materials. Colourful photographs show examples of ways to fold and weave paper, to make a pot from newspaper, to create 3D art and to convert junk mail into mâché bowls and jewelry.

The plastic section of Make I! shows us how to make a fun rainbow frame and also many creative ways to reuse water bottles, bubble wrap, candy wrappers and plastic lids from bottles. Metal can be recycled to make robots, rockets and aliens, mirror mobiles and moving pictures. Wool gloves and hats are transformed into stuffed creatures and fabric is woven into mats while garments become purses and soft cushions.

Readers will be on the hunt for bottle caps, stray gloves, newspapers, paper scraps, empty tin cans and too small clothing as they discover fun ways to art from recycled trash.

Great ideas for children aged six and up.

The copy we examined was hardcover and “Made with Care” using FSC certified paper. The paperback version has recently been released.

Make It at

Make It! at


Anti bullying graphic novel, Babymouse Queen of the World!

Posted on November 5th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart


Babymouse Queen of the World! Created by Jennifer L Holm and Matthew Holm

Anti bullying graphic novel

published by Random House Kids

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

Babymouse burst onto the scene in 2005 in Babymouse Queen of the World. Since then, enthusiastic readers have flocked to the series of fifteen graphic novels for middle grade readers.

Babymouse Queen of the World introduces a strong female character. Babymouse has a vivid imagination, she loves cupcakes, reading and scary movies. She longs for adventure, glamour and excitement and hopes for straight whiskers and no homework. Instead, Babymouse is stuck with chores, tons of homework, a locker that sticks and some very annoying curly whiskers.

When Babymouse hears about an upcoming slumber party to be hosted by Felicia Furrrypaws, she is willing to do almost anything to secure an invitation. When Felicia fails to complete a homework assignment, she acquires Babymouse’s book report in exchange for an invitation to the her party. Babymouse ditches her best friend, Wilson the Weasel, misses their scary movie night and goes to the slumber party.

In a case of “Be careful what you wish for” Babymouse discovers the party is quite what she had envisioned

This is so boring.
We’re out of popcorn. Go make yourself useful, Babymouse… And bring extra butter.

Middle grade readers will be drawn to this boldly illustrated anti bullying graphic novel. They will connect with Babymouse’s dreams and identify with the frustrations and challenges she faces.

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World! at

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World! at Amazon,ca

Anti bullying book for beginning readers: Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl

Posted on November 4th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart


Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl written by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser and Ted Enik
Anti bullying book for beginning readers published by Harper Collins Children’s

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl is part of Harper Collins Children’s I Can Read series. Ranked by Harper Collins as “Beginning Reading Level 1,” it is generously illustrated and includes words such as appetite, splendid, speechless and canceled.

Field Day is just around the corner. Most of Nancy’s classmates are excited about the upcoming races but Nancy is not. She is dreading Field Day because she is not good at running and last year, when her team lost, she was teased. When Nancy discovers that Grace is on her team, she is doubly concerned. Grace is sometimes mean.

Nancy trains hard for the relay race but her training is too little. too late. She decides a different tactic might work. She pretends she has injured her foot and she begins limping. Nancy’s dad is not convinced by her limp and he questions her about it. Finally, Nancy confides and explains why she is upset.

After a conversation with her dad, Nancy feels better and she approaches Field Day and Grace with a plan. She speaks to Grace

“I will run as fast as I can.
But if we lose,
don’t say mean stuff.
You are a good runner.
But you are not a good sport.”

Fans of the Fancy Nancy series are sure to enjoy this anti bullying book for beginning readers. The story is engaging. Both Nancy’s problem and the outcome are realistic. Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl could lead to discussions of teasing and bullying as well as sportsmanship and doing one’s best in a difficult situtation.

Recommended for children aged six and up.
Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl at

Fancy Nancy And The Mean Girl at

Note – my copy of Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl is a (hardcover) First Edition, copyrighted 2011. There is a typo on page 16: “That’s means I’m not hungry”

Story People by Brian Andreas

Posted on September 22nd, 2012 by Jody


On a trip through an airport, Jody discovers the work of Brian Andreas and his Story People

While passing time at the Sea-Tac airport, I wandered into one of those everything-and-then-some stores. In between the hand-crafted cards, joke gifts, and eclectic jewelry, an interesting and colorful print caught my eye. Really, it seemed more like a scrawled version of a stick person. But it was the words that accompanied the image that grabbed me. It said:

I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.

Just like that, I was fascinated. Along with dozens of prints, all showing oddly shaped figures and sketches and sharing beautiful words, there were books. I had never heard of the author, Brian Andreas before. Flipping through his books, I was amazed at the power of his words and the fact that he could be so moving without truly defining characters. Somehow, without even giving them names and using, what seem like, pieces of conversation, he pulls you in and makes you feel like someone understands. I used all of my “mommy-needs-a-few-minutes-to-look-around-by-herself” time standing at that small shelf reading everything I could and trying to decide which print was my favourite. It’s not often you can read a few paragraphs that have the power to make your heart skip or your eyes tear; well, for most people, anyway.

As I read these little snippets of conversation between unidentified characters, I felt completely drawn in and captured by them. Some of the conversations had an almost “Time Traveller’s Wife” feel to them. Then there are sketches that accompany the words; sketches that should be amusing, but with the words, just seem beautiful. There’s so many times in life, as kids and adults, that we feel alone, that people don’t ‘get it’. It’s part of what makes a good book so important~connecting to characters makes us feel validated, understood, accepted, and “normal”. Reading through Mr. Andreas’ book Trusting Souls, I felt that way. It was so compelling that I bought it for my husband, who I’m sure would have rather had something else, from another store entirely. However, sometimes someone else has already written the words we feel we can’t express properly. When that happens, as adults and as children, it matters. It stays with us.

On his website, Mr. Andreas says “we are all story people”. I like that. Because we are. We’re all just trying to do our best, make connections, and make sense of what we see and think and feel.

His books and prints show the power words can have and I think that, in the classroom, that’s a strong message. Words matter. How we say them or write them or think them. The words we hear or see can leave a lasting impression on us. This is why it’s important to choose wisely what we say and what we read.

Here are a few pieces that will stay with me; that matter:

“Is there a lot of things you don’t understand? she said and I said pretty much the whole thing and she nodded and said that’s what she thought but it was nice to hear it anyway and we sat there in the porch swing, listening to the wind and growing up together”

With this phrase, he draws an interesting picture and scribbles that it is a “doorway that only lets some stuff through, but you never know what it’s going to choose so it’s hard to plan for the future”.
“Remember to use positive affirmations. I am not a dork is not one of them.”

This one is called “Anxiety Break”:

“things have been going so well that she’s taking an anxiety break to keep centered”

One more, from “Mostly True” :

“We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”

Story People at

Story People at

Trusting Soul at

Trusting Soul at

Mostly True at

Mostly True at

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – A Surprisingly Dark Picture Book

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts looks at I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen - A Surprisingly Dark Picture BookI Want My Hat Back written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Picture book published by Candlewick Press

Poor Bear, he has lost his pointy, red hat. He searches the forest, politely asking, “Have you seen my hat?” He meets Fox, Frog, Rabbit, Turtle, and Snake. None has seen his hat. Bear is bereft and despondent. He frets that his hat is gone forever.

When Deer finally asks, “What does your hat look like?” Bear remembers something important.

Picture book, I Want My Hat Back is a breath of fresh air with a hint of mystery and a touch of revenge.

Best suited to older readers, adults and children (aged five and up) will thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to “read between the lines” and enjoy Klassen’s gallows humor.

Would I read it to a group of three year olds? “Maybe not.” Would I read it to a group of jaded six year olds who think they know all there is to know about picture books? “You betcha!”

Storytime kit from Candlewick Press - includes I Want My Hat Back activities.

I Want My Hat Back at

I Want My Hat Back at

Also check out my comments about Jon Klassen’s Cat’s Night Out

A Look at How Paul Gauguin Discovered His Magic

Posted on October 20th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart


This thought-provoking picture book introduces a young Paul Gauguin. As a child, he sails with his family from Denmark to Peru. While onboard ship, his father dies and Paul feels lost. He does not mourn like his mother and sister do. He watches as the giant sun sinks below the horizon and imagines his father’s heart. When his ship arrives in Peru, Paul, with the help of an elderly man, discovers that one can bring things to life with a paintbrush.

Best suited to children aged 6 to 9, Mr. Gauguin’s Heart in an insightful and reflective look at grief and passion.

Mr. Gauguin’s Heart at

Mr Gauguin’s Heart at

The Painted Chest – Share this picture book for older children and let it speak to your heart

Posted on September 21st, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Adults and young readers will enjoy this thought-provoking fable, The Painted Chest, a picture book for older children

The Painted Chest - Share this picture book for older children and let it speak to your heart
The Painted Chest written and illustrated by Judith Christine Mills
Picture book about the value of music and art published by Key Porter Books

The Painted Chest is a lovely fable that has an important message for both children and adults… In this picture book for older children, stars twinkle above and wildflowers bloom in the fields but life in Maddie’s village is barren and grey. A distant memory of famine casts a worrying shadow. The villagers toil day after day, focussed only on growing food.

One day, while clearing rocks from the fields, the villagers unearth a large object caked in mud.

The long-lost painted wooden chest has an important message for the townsfolk:

Days will all be long and cold, If you nourish body but not soul.

Once opened, the musical instruments and dancing shoes from the painted chest bring renewed joy to the small community.

Share this lovely, thought provoking story with a child and let it speak to your heart.

The Painted Chest at

The Painted Chest at

Special Wordless Picture Books to Enjoy with Your Child

Posted on August 19th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart


Wordless picture books are great for encouraging language development in young children. These books usually tell a story, clearly depicting a series of events. Before attempting to tell a ’story’, children should be encouraged to look through the entire book and get a sense of what is about to happen and how the story ends. Many children delight in the discovery that there are no words to ‘read.’ This can make for an exciting role reversal as young children have an opportunity to ‘read’ the pictures and ‘tell’ the story to an adult or another child.

Our page about Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books

I am happy to introduce two new special wordless picture books…
Once Upon a Banana written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by David Small
Almost Wordless Picture Book published by Simon and Schuster

In this (almost) wordless picture book, hilarious events are set in motion when a small monkey tosses a banana peel onto a sidewalk. Before long it would appear that the entire town is upset – dogs break loose, a cyclist goes flying, a grocery cart is upended and, oh no, look at that baby carriage! Terrific fun.

Once Upon a Banana at

Once Upon a Banana at

Flotsam created by David Wiesner
Wordless Picture Book published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Here, we join a boy and his family as they spend a day at the beach. Clearly an enthusiastic scientist, he arrives equipped with binoculars, a magnifying glass and a microscope. As he searches for interesting ‘flotsam’, a huge wave crashes over him and leaves an old underwater camera just above the waterline. The boy races to a nearby shop and waits as the film is developed. When handed the photos, he can’t believe what they reveal. Flotsam is truly a ‘treasure chest’ of visual delights.

Flotsam (Caldecott Medal Book)at

Flotsam at

Storytime Standouts offers dozens of early literacy printables, All of the printables are in PDF format. Here is a sampling of our beach-related printables. Check the tab above for more resources.

image of PDF icon  Beach Picture Dictionary

Free printable picture dictionary for readers and writers in kindergarten and grade one.

image of PDF icon  Writing paper for kids - Sandcastle

Beach theme interlined paper for beginning writers.

My Secret Bully – Exposes Emotional Bullying on the Playground and at School

Posted on April 11th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart


Storytime Standouts looks at antibullying picture book My Secret BullyMy Secret Bully written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Abigail Marble
Anti bullying picture book published by Tricycle Press

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

“It all started a few months ago, during school recess. I noticed Katie whispering to a group of girls and looking at me. I went up to them and asked Katie what they were talking about. She said, “Oh nothing, Mon-ICK-a. I’ll tell you later.” then some of the other girls giggled like it really was something, and that made me feel bad.”….

“Things didn’t get any better after a while. in fact, they got worse. Much worse. It got to the point where no one would play with me at recess.”

My Secret Bully explores “relational aggression” or “emotional bullying.” In this instance, the relational aggression includes exclusion, humiliation and manipulation. Katie bullies Monica until no one is willing to play with her at recess. Monica is bewildered by her ‘friend’s’ behaviour and worries that something is wrong with her. When she finally confides to her mom, she says, “She’s really nice to me when we’re playing alone, but really mean to me when we’re around other people.”

Monica’s mom is a great listener. She acknowledges that this will be a difficult problem to overcome and then she suggests some role-playing. Monica practices some ways to respond to Katie and is ready when faced with Katie’s whispers. Resisting a fairy tale ending, My Secret Bully provides a reasonable resolution that empowers Monica to find new friends and to enjoy her time with them.

Suitable for children five and up, My Secret Bully offers all sorts of extra materials including a forward by Susan Wellman, founder of The Ophelia Project, notes for parents and teachers, suggestions for what to do if you are a target, discussion points, additional resources, websites, recommended readings and a list of ten ways to be a better friend.

My Secret Bully at

My Secret Bully at

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