Posts Tagged ‘school life’

I wanted to love this book – The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

Posted on July 18th, 2016 by Carolyn Hart

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The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian RobinsonThe Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson
Antibullying Picture Book published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons: An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA)

You’ve really got to love a recording artist who has a very popular kids’ CD titled, Meltdown! and another called Not Naptime. The album titles alone are enough to bring a smile to a weary parent’s face. So, I wanted to think that The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade was terrific.

And, I do think it is a good book but, there are ways it could have been better.

Sally McCabe is both young and small. She is in the lowest grade at her school and she is the smallest child in the class. Kudos to the illustrator for depicting a racially diverse group of children in the classroom and at the playground. It would have been excellent to see similar diversity in terms of mobility (perhaps one child in a wheelchair or using crutches, for example).Illustration from The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

Sally is unusually observant. She notices a kite that is tangled in a tree and she notices that the janitor’s ring has twenty-seven keys. Unfortunately, this is where my evaluation of the book begins to drop: one illustration of the janitor’s ring only shows seven keys and another shows five keys. I completely understand that twenty seven may have been essential to the rhyme BUT the illustrations should be true to the story. If the ring has twenty seven keys – the illustration of the ring should show us each one of them! Young children will pick up on this sort of disparity. They will want to know where the other twenty or twenty two keys are and the omission will detract from the important antibullying message the author is attempting to share.

When a bully pushes Sally’s classmate, the story tells us that he begins to cry but in the illustration, he is dry-eyed. These seemingly minor disparities really do make a difference and discerning young readers will notice them.

Adults may understand the (metaphorical) significance of wildflowers tipping toward light and cats meeting together in a parking lot but I doubt that, without guidance, young children will see any connection between the cats or the flowers and Sally’s story.

Essentially, Sally, observes bullying on the playground, in the hallway at school, in the classroom and in the school cafeteria. Eventually, she speaks up. She announces, “I’m tired of seeing this terrible stuff. Stop hurting each other! This is enough!”

This prompts all of Sally’s classmates and school staff members to point their fingers in the air in solidarity. Soon the school is a much more harmonious place. A somewhat “magical solution” to bullying? Yes, but, this is story that could be used to initiate discussions about bullying and social responsibility.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade at Amazon.com

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade at Amazon.ca


Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh

Posted on May 21st, 2016 by Carolyn Hart

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Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie WalshIsaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh
Picture book about a child with Asperger’s Syndrome published by Candlewick Press

Written from the perspective of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! is a cheerful, positive and reassuring picture book that explains how Isaac’s thoughts and behavior sometimes differ from those of his friends. Well-suited to preschool-age children or early primary classroom use, bright, bold illustrations are visually appealing and will be easily seen and interpreted in a group or classroom setting.

Friends, family members and classmates will discover that children with Asperger’s Syndrome may have different interests, energy levels and ways of interacting than others do. For example, they may like to bounce rather than play team sports or they may fidget with a toy in order to relax and listen in class. They may have difficulty understanding jokes or some in social situations. Insights are shared matter-of-factly, with respect for both the Asperger’s child and a child who does not have Asperger’s.

Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! spreadUsing meaningful examples and fun illustrations, Walsh helps young readers to understand that children with Asperger’s Syndrome have strengths including a great memory for facts, curiosity and a heightened awareness of sounds. She also shows the special relationship an Asperger’s child can have with pets and family members.

A great addition to a personal or professional library, end papers include a list of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome links.

Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! at Amazon.com

Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! at Amazon.ca

Read our reviews of other picture books about Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Storytime Standouts Shares Asperger Syndrome and Autism Picture Books












Anywhere but Here – written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts writes about #YAlit Anywhere But Here by Tanya Lloyd KyiAnywhere But Here written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Young Adult Fiction published by Simon and Schuster





I feel compelled to share some aspects of my personal life before I write about Anywhere but Here. I was attending university and living with my folks when my mom died four days prior to surgery that had been scheduled to repair a heart valve. It was shocking and devastating and, without a doubt, the most difficult experience of my life.

Weeks later, my dad began dating. When I say ‘weeks,’ I mean less than three months later. While still grieving the sudden loss of my mom and feeling as though my life had been turned upside down, I was watching as my dad began a relationship with a woman he would eventually marry. Dad’s second marriage was an enduring one. To be honest, I am not sure which of his marriages was longer: he celebrated twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries twice.

Anywhere but Here is the story of a young man, still in high school, who is coping with the loss of his mom. Cole finds life in a small town stifling. He is eager to finish high school and make a break from his acquaintances, friends and family. He has ended a two year relationship with a girlfriend and finds her behavior and that of some classmates confusing. His family life is in ruins. Cole’s dad drinks heavily and meets an exotic dancer. Before long, she is pregnant and Cole’s dad explains that she will be moving into the family home along with her young daughter.

With the encouragement of a school guidance counselor, Cole considers enrolling in a post secondary cinematography program. As part of his application, his must create a short film. It is while filming that Cole examines his community and gains perspective.

Beautifully written, Anywhere but Here accurately depicts the turmoil and confusion that occur when one parent dies and the surviving parent enters into a new relationship – especially when the surviving child(ren) are young adults. I especially liked the authenticity of Cole’s voice and the relationships between Cole and his guidance counselor, his mom’s former nurse and his classmates. This is a novel that begs for a sequel and I very much look forward to reading it.

Anywhere But Here at Amazon.com

Anywhere But Here at Amazon.ca

Classic Picture Book: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Posted on September 10th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts recommends Classic Picture Book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

In honor of International Dot Day (September 15th), this week we are highlighting classic picture book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds









Storytime Standouts Features Classic Picture Book The Dot by Peter H. ReynoldsThe Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
Classic Picture Book published by Candlewick Press

One of my favorite picture books, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds will strike a chord with children, teens and adults who lack confidence in their ability to ‘make art.’ Vashti doesn’t believe she can draw or does not want to draw. She sits through an entire art class but does not make a mark on her sheet of paper. Vashti’s teacher is understanding and she encourage’s Vashti,

“Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Vashti grabbed a marker and gave the paper a good, strong jab. “There!”

Undeterred by Vashti’s reluctance, her teacher asks her to sign the page. She does sign the paper and leaves the classroom. When she returns a week later, her ‘artwork’ has been framed and is hanging near to her teacher’s desk. Upon reflection, Vashti decides that she is quite capable of improving on her first dot.

Before long, she is confidently experimenting with watercolors and larger sheets of paper. She creates an entire collection of artistic dots – every size and color.

A wonderful resource for children and adults who are reluctant to “make their mark.” The Dot and Mr. Reynold’s inspiring illustrations should not be missed.

Dot activities – from Peter H. Reynold’s website

The Dot at Amazon.com

The Dot at Amazon.ca

Our Pinterest Board for The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Follow Storytime Standouts’s board The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds on Pinterest.


International Dot Day

International Dot Day is September 15

Anti Bullying Solution: A Bug and a Wish

Posted on July 26th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Those of you who have explored Storytime Standouts will know that we frequently write about antibullying picture books. Sad to say, we have read many more “antibullying” picture books than we have shared with our readers. The reason for this is simple: many antibullying picture books do not actually provide a realistic solution to the problem of bullying. Many antibullying picture books rely on a magical solution to bullying. Rather than empowering a victim of bullying, some books provide very little help.

A Bug and a Wish by Karen ScheuerA Bug and a Wish written by Karen Scheuer with illustrations by Kalpart
Antibullying picture book published by Strategic Book Publishing

Tyler is not happy about going to school. He rides the school bus and as he walks to it, he hopes to avoid an encounter with two bullies. Unfortunately, he does not escape their teasing and he is upset when he takes a seat next to his friend.

Danae explains to Tyler than he ought to give them a bug and a wish. Tyler thinks about Danae’s advice and he tries to interpret her words but his guesses are not correct.

Danae suggests The next time the boys tease you… Tell them, ‘It BUGS me when you tease me, and I WISH you would stop.’ Danae’s advice is simple and Tyler takes it to heart. He is ready the next time the boys tease him and he is pleasantly surprised by their response.

Cartoon-like illustrations do a reasonable job of depicting Tyler’s emotions and will appeal to some children. We like the straightforward approach to dealing with teasing. Tyler learns to speak up and to explain his point of view.

A Bug and a Wish will be most effective when used as a starting point for discussions about teasing and bullying.

A Bug and a Wish at Amazon.com

A Bug and a Wish at Amazon.ca

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

Posted on July 22nd, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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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 Amazon.com

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

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.

Meet Author Crystal Vaagen

Posted on June 26th, 2014 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts' Interview with Author Crystal VaagenCrystal Vaagen is an educator and author of the children’s book, Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero. In her free time, she likes to read French poetry, go on nature hikes, and bake cookies. Her latest project includes writing the second book in the Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero series which will be published this year.





Twitter account: @robbiezero
Facebook page:
Website URL

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?
Robbie Zero Supergirl Hero written by Crystal VaagenMy latest published book is Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero. It’s an anti-bullying book and the first published book in the “Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero” series. The book is about a girl, Robbie Zero, who gets constantly picked on by a classmate named Tommy, but when Tommy needs help, it is Robbie Zero who ends up saving the day. It’s a book about turning situations that are negative into something positive and about empowerment. It also delves into the psychology of why some people are bullies. Children of all ages should read it and as well as their parents. It is important to start a conversation about issues that children face at school. What I am most proud of is when my book is read to children in classrooms and they can relate with the characters. I’m also pleased when I hear people tell me how much it meant to read it to their families and how it started a discussion that might not have otherwise taken place.

Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero at Amazon.com

Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero at Amazon.ca

Thinking back to your own childhood, is there a particular author or illustrator who was a favorite? Why do you suppose that person’s work resonated with you?
I have a few authors/illustrators that resonated with me. Peggy Parish (author of Amelia Bedelia) was a favorite in my youth. I always thought her stories were funny because of the constant play on words (i.e. draw the draperies where the phrase was taken literally by Amelia). Looking back, her books were very well-written. Misunderstandings are a part of everyday life and her books allow her readers to get involved, something I try to create with “Robbie Zero” books. One illustrator/writer who I have always admired is Charles Schulz. I’d have to say he’s my all-time favorite. I connected with his work because the themes were adult like, characters didn’t have to talk to make a statement, and there were no adults ever shown, to my knowledge, in any of his comic strips.

When 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?
The first time I ever wrote anything was in 2nd grade. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Fields, who allowed us to create. She basically told us that we could put on plays for the class when our work was finished. Inspired, I went home and wrote a small play, grabbed a few classmates to help with the characters, and we put on a fabulous play. I thanked her recently for allowing us to use our imagination, when I happened to met her some 30+ years later.

I wrote my first book when I was nine years old, which I thought was fun. It’s still sitting in a box somewhere. It was about the Lewis and Clark expedition because I was fascinated by how two people could change the face of the nation. It was a small book. In my high school years, I wrote for the school newspaper. After I graduated high school, I ran into my journalism teacher and told her how imperative it is in the real world to know how to write and communicate effectively. She asked me to come back and speak to her class. I never did for some reason. I wish I would have. I kept my writing on the backburner, writing mostly poetry, but decided that there needs to more morally themed children’s books available.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?
I have donated Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero to a few schools, especially when I find out that they have limited access and cannot afford them. There was one school in Mobile, AL that received my book. A 5th grade teacher read it to her class and said that some students in her class “wanted to cry because they felt bad” for one of the characters. I didn’t know how to react. The topic of bullying is touchy, but it needs to be discussed. I felt like the story reached her kids, but felt bad that they wanted to cry. It IS a feel good book, after all.

What are the joys of being an author / illustrator? What do you derive your greatest pleasure from?
I like to share my experiences to help others. When you go through things in life, sometimes you wonder, “Why me? Why is this happening?” But when you look back, you realize that it was a lesson learned. This is what I hope to bring to my books, not to necessarily prevent someone from experiencing the issue, but to help them overcome the issue.

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, Robbie Zero, Super Girl Hero has been published electronically. The process was easy. Before even writing the book, I watched a video on how to publish it via Amazon, and basically taught myself everything else on other publishing pages. When you have the curiosity to learn, you can do almost anything. The feedback I have received from readers and fans is great. Most people find it easy to download a book on their ipad, iphone or pc. I have been asked by a few people to print my books because there are those who like to actually hold a book. It is something I am still considering, but the demand is not as high as it is for books published digitally, it seems. We’ll see.

Willow Finds a Way, a picture book about dealing with a classroom bully

Posted on December 12th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts looks at Willow Finds a Way, an anti bullying picture bookWillow Finds a Way written by Lana Button and illustrated by Tania Howells
Anti-bullying Picture Book published by Kids Can Press


We originally met Willow in Willow’s Whispers. She is a soft spoken young girl and, in her first picture book, she finds a way to make herself heard.

In Willow Finds a Way she is facing a different challenge. Willow and her classmates are excited when Kristabelle invites them to her birthday party but the invitation has ‘strings attached.’

At snack time, Kristabelle waved the birthday list in the air and said, “If you want to stay on my birthday list, come sit at my table!”

Initially, complying with Kristabelle’s demands seems okay but before long Kristabelle is dictating outdoor play and who gets to stand at the front of the line. Eventually one of the party invitees dares to contradict Kristabelle. His name is crossed off the list of party guests. Willow thinks about standing up for her friend but she can’t quite bring herself to say the words. Before long she is worrying that her name will be crossed off the list too.

It is clear that Kristabelle’s threats and controlling behavior are a problem for Willow. She knows that Kristabells is treating her classmates badly. Eventually Willow finds a way to make her opinion known. She is no longer a bystander – she has taken a stand. When Willow’s classmates decide to take the same approach, Kristabelle rethinks her position.

Ms. Button’s depictions of Kristabelle, Willow and their classmates are pitch-perfect. We know children like these – those who make friendship conditional and who threaten exclusion (both forms of ‘relational bullying’) and those who know what is right but have difficulty speaking up. Simple, colorful illustrations are an excellent match for the text and feature a racially diverse classroom.

An excellent discussion-starter for preschool and kindergarten classrooms, highly recommended for children aged four and up.

Willow Finds a Way at Amazon.com

Willow Finds a Way at Amazon.ca

Read our review of Willow’s Whispers

Awards
2013 – Best Books for Kids and Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre
2012 – Publisher’s Weekly’s Selected Listing for Bullying Resources

Top Ten Comments About Reading

Posted on September 19th, 2013 by Jody

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Top Ten Comments About reading from My Middle Grade StudentsInstead of focusing on the fact that there are 42 weeks until summer break (I really DO love my job…but who doesn’t like summer break?), I’m sharing the top ten comments about reading that I’ve heard in the seven days since school started.

10:Can I read with a friend?

9: (about non-fiction) Can we please just look at a few more maps and try to find stuff?

8: Did you know that (insert more facts that you can possibly imagine about Wizardology)?

7: I love when the last sentence in a book is the book’s title.

6: Oh, I’m totally getting that book.

5: Can we say what we’d do if we were the character?

4: We’ll keep working if you’ll keep reading to us.

3: We really just want to read.

2: Would it be okay if we did less math so we can read?

1: I’m just going to put it (the book) down because I don’t want it to be over.

Editors note – Our fabulous guest contributor, Jody describes herself as a happily married mom of two girls. She is an elementary school teacher. She loves books and feels very fortunate to be able to read so many different genres and authors as both a mom and a teacher.

If you love books and reading as much as we do, you might enjoy our Books and Reading board on Pinterest.

 

 

Forever Four is fantastic

Posted on August 20th, 2013 by Jody

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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 Amazon.com

Forever Four at Amazon.ca

Back to School? Picture Books to Help Your Child Start the Year Right

Posted on August 13th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts shares Back to School picture books and free printables for kindergarten

Storytime Standouts highlights three special picture books for youngsters headed off to school and back to school in September and has a free printable picture dictionary and writing paper for a back to school theme.






For many adults, books are a great source of information as well as entertainment. Whether searching for a delicious recipe, researching an upcoming family vacation or deciding if a visit to the doctor is necessary, books can be inspiring, entertaining, informative and reassuring.

Just as adults seek information from books, children gain understanding and confidence as they explore new and unfamiliar situations through books. Whether beginning preschool or heading off to school in September, there are many delightful picture books available to help you and your child make the transition with relative ease.

Storytime Standouts shares Special Picture Books for Children Starting School and Going Back to School including Ready Set Preschool
Ready, Set, Preschool! – written by Anna Jane Hays, illustrated by True Kelley
Picture book about preschool published by Knopf Books for Young Readers an Imprint of Random House Children’s Books



Ready, Set, Preschool! features stories, poetry and detailed illustrations that will enable youngsters to explore a typical preschool classroom, experience a field trip, observe playground activities and more. As well, the illustrations and text offer opportunities to practice counting, identifying colors and shapes, recognize rhyming words, the alphabet and letter sounds.

Extensive notes for parents provide helpful suggestions of ways to extend learning and prepare young children for their very first school experience.

Ready, Set, Preschool!: Stories, Poems and Picture Games with an Educational Guide for Parents at Amazon.com

Ready, Set, Preschool!: Stories, Poems and Picture Games with an Educational Guide for Parents at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts shares Special Picture Books for Children Starting School and Going Back to School including Off to First Grade
Off to First Grade – written by Lousie Borden, illustrated by Joan Rankin
Picture book about starting first grade published by Margaret K. McElderry Books



I can still recall vividly a recommendation that was made when I attended my eldest son’s kindergarten orientation: make sure your child is not expecting to ride the school bus to school unless he actually is going to climb aboard)! It was great advice. In those days he was captivated by large vehicles. Discovering at the last minute that he would not be riding the bus off school could have been terribly disappointing. The transition from kindergarten to grade one is explored thoroughly and with thoughtfulness in Off to First Grade. The author tells the story from a variety of perspectives. We discover some children will ride the bus and others will walk. Some are eager to begin grade one and a few think they would rather stay in kindergarten. Mrs. Miller is hoping to remember everyone’s name, the school bus driver is excited and the principal wonders which book to read aloud to the new grade one students.

Off to First Grade at Amazon.com

Off to First Grade at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts shares Special Picture Books for Children Starting School and Going Back to School including How Do Dinosaurs Go to School How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? – written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
Picture book about school life published by The Blue Sky Press an imprint of the Scholastic Trade Book Division.



For children heading off to school, the best How Do Dinosaurs title by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague is How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? Here the reader visits a conventional elementary school. The school, its staff and students appear quite unremarkable except for eight or ten extraordinary pupils. Enormous creatures from the Jurassic period demonstrate proper behavior enroute to school, on the stairs, in the classroom, during show-and-tell and at the playground. Lots of funosaurus for dino fans who are heading off to school soon.

How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? at Amazon.com

How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? at Amazon.ca

Our Free Back to School Printables

image of our free printable school picture dictionary for children

image of PDF icon  School Picture Dictionary

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


image of our free printable back to school interlined paper for children

image of PDF icon  Writing paper for kids - Back to School

Back to school theme interlined paper for beginning writers.


My First Day of School Interlined Paper

image of PDF icon  My First Day of School 'Boom'


Summer Reads for Tweens

Posted on August 5th, 2013 by Jody

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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 Amazon.com

Dork Diaries at Amazon.ca

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

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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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 Amazon.com

Bully at Amazon.ca

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

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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 Amazon.com

Bully 101 at Amazon.ca

Top Ten Literacy Highlights of My Year

Posted on June 12th, 2013 by Jody

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Image of cover art for SlobWe all have our strengths in the classroom. Mine, as you may have guessed it, is Literacy. It’s because we are good at what we know and love. This is my area of passion so it translates well to most of the kids. That doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing all the time or effortless; but when you love something so much, even the struggles can seem engaging. So, to recap another year that has gone by incredibly fast, I’m sharing my top ten literacy moments from this school year.

10. Almost every student in my class of 30 improved their reading level.

9. Several students recommended books they thought I should read and told me why.this

8. Forgetting the first book I read this year and having a student bring it up while making a connection the other day. Ellen Potter’s Slob left a lasting impression on them.

7. Starting a blog site where the students talked about their favourite books, questions, predictions, and started writing a group story.

6. Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper.

5. Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

4. Writing Every Day. Especially on the days where I say I’ll give them a break and they say “NO! We want to write.”

3. Listening to the creative ways students express themselves. One of my students made a list called: Ten Reasons I hate to write. Another wrote a Wanted Ad for a perfect teacher.

2. Our class did a write and pass. So each student wrote one sentence then passed their sheet. The next person read that sentence, added a new sentence that made sense and continued the story. We did this in two groups of fifteen.

1. One of my two main reluctant readers (the boy) asked me if he could skip the free time they’d earned so that he could read (**insert teacher doing cartwheels here**). My other reluctant reader (the girl) came to me and said I need a book. I said, ‘Okay. How about this?” She’d read it. “This?” She’d read it. This? Read. This? Read. This went on for several books. She’s read over a dozen books since September.

There is absolutely no better feeling as a teacher than knowing you helped a child connect to books. Books open doors, minds, hearts, and worlds in a way nothing else can. These journeys are powerful and I feel so grateful for the ones my students took me on this year.

The same but different: Sixth Grade Secrets

Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Jody

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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 Amazon.com

Sixth Grade Secrets at Amazon.ca

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

Pig City at Amazon.ca

10 Ways to help upper elementary students enjoy reading

Posted on May 25th, 2013 by Jody

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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.

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

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 by Jody

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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 Amazon.com

Freckle Juice at Amazon.ca

Freckle Juice Comprehension Questions from Gigglepotz

Comprehension Questions from Leaping Into 5th Grade

Mini Unit from Easy Fun School

Elizabeth Messick’s Website


Spring Break and Winter Break – An opportunity for homework?

Posted on January 10th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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Spring Break and Winter Break - An opportunity for homework

Last year we visited the Mohave Desert on Spring Break

My sons’ school district is currently conducting a survey about Spring Break and whether it should be two weeks (or one). This year and last, the students have been afforded a two week Spring Break. When the change to the school calendar was initially approved, it was subject to review every two years.

I completed the school district survey. I love spending time with my kids and I feel that we usually manage to use these breaks well. I am solidly in favour of a two week Spring Break.

After answering three “yes” and “no” questions, I was asked if I wanted to share any comments. Those who know me well, will understand that I could not let an opportunity to express my opinion pass. This is what I said about homework assignments while high school students are on Winter Break and Spring Break:

I would like to point out that “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” should be considered “breaks” for students as well as for administrative and teaching staff. I do not expect my children’s teachers to be working during these breaks. Having said that, I feel strongly that these breaks ought to actually be breaks from school work for my children. My eldest works (almost full time) when he is not in school and my younger son is involved in Rep hockey. Neither boy benefits from homework assignments over so-called breaks. “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” homework assignments create pressure and defeat the purpose of taking a break.

It is one thing to ask students to do reading while on holiday – mine would do that anyway – but asking for lengthy reading responses is ridiculous and counter-productive. One does not instill a love of reading by forcing students to write responses after every chapter they read. For goodness sake, just let them read for pleasure and have a break from “making connections” and analysing everything they read.

My eldest son had a group project to work on over Winter Break. Fortunately for him and his group, we had not planned an out of town holiday. I do, however, wonder what might have happened if we had gone away for two weeks. Would he have lost marks? Or, would his group have had to do his share of the work?

We never “waste” breaks from school. We travel to interesting places, we like to go to the theatre or sporting events and we enjoy family time together. Teachers do not need to add onerous homework assignments to the mix.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on whether students should be given homework assignments to complete on Winter Break and/or Spring Break.

My Brother is Autistic, A Picture book about Autism

Posted on December 13th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

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image of  a picture book about autismMy Brother is Autistic written by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos and illustrated by Marta Fabrega

Picture book about autism

part of the Let’s Talk About It! series published by Barron’s

You will also be interested in our page featuring picture books about Autism and Asperger Syndrome

Written from the perspective of an older sibling, My Brother is Autistic looks at the realities and challenges of being the brother or sister of a child with autism. Usually Billy and his brother get along reasonably well but, when a classmate frustrates Billy and makes him angry, his older brother is embarrassed by Billy’s reaction. He runs away from the scene in the school cafeteria. Help is not far away as he encounters his teacher in a hallway. She listens to him explain what happened and she has empathy for the frustration he feels.

I told my teacher that I wished more kids understood autism, because if they did, then maybe they’d give kids like Billy a chance!

With a consderable amount of text, this picture book is best suited to children kindergarten age and up. A Note to Parents provides general information about autism, characteristics typical of people who are autistic and suggestions for helping siblings of children with autism.

My Brother is Autistic at Amazon.com

My Brother is Autistic at Amazon.ca


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