Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Review of The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day! 
Click here to find a participating comic book store near you.

The Dumbest Idea Ever 

by Jimmy Gownley
Published 2014 by Graphix
240 pages
Genre: Memoir
Format: Graphic Novel
Disclosure: ARC provided by publisher

Goodreads Summary
Jimmy Gownley's graphic novel memoir about the "dumb" idea that changed his life forever!
What if the dumbest idea ever turned your life upside down?

At thirteen, Jimmy was popular, at the top of his class, and the leading scorer on his basketball team. But all that changed when chicken pox forced him to miss the championship game. Things went from bad to worse when he got pneumonia and missed even more school. Before Jimmy knew it, his grades were sinking and nothing seemed to be going right.
How did Jimmy turn things around, get back on top at school, and land a date with the cutest girl in class?

Renowned comics creator Jimmy Gownley shares his adventures as he grows from an eager-to-please boy into a teenage comic book artist. This is the real-life story of how the DUMBEST idea ever became the BEST thing that ever happened to him.

My Thoughts
I don't always enjoy graphic novels meant for older students, but I was really intrigued by this book. I think the fact that it is autobiographical made it interesting to me. Jimmy develops his talent and finds his passion at such a young age all while balancing the social awkwardness of adolescence. I think many students will be able to relate to his story and will find hope in reading about his struggles and accomplishments. Jimmy puts his mistakes and missteps out there for the reader to see. At times it is very funny to watch and other times you want to cringe in embarrassment. Because of some implied "romantic situations", I would recommend this book for grades 5 and up.  

Check out this book trailer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday-Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

My Friend Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts weekly link up to share Nonfiction Picture Books. Please visit her amazing website. 

Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers also shared this book a few weeks ago, but after I read it, I thought it worthy of another share. Click here to see their review.

Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
by Patricia Newman
Photography by Annie Crawley
Published 2014 by Millbrook Press
Genre: Nonfiction
48 pages
Disclosure: Review copy provided by

Goodreads Summary
These scientists are on a mission. As part of a research expedition known as SEAPLEX, they're studying the massive accumulation of plastic in the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As they use the scientific method to conduct their investigation, their adventures will introduce readers to the basics of ocean science and the hazards of plastics.

My Thoughts
As I read Plastic, Ahoy! I felt ashamed that I don't do enough to help the environment and I immediately wanted to DO something. I think that was the main goal of this book, to make us take a hard look at what we have done, and are doing, to our planet. I was drawn into this book and just had to keep reading to see what the scientists found. The author does a terrific job breaking down some of the complicated information into manageable pieces that kids (and adults) will understand. She also makes the scientific process visible by showing the questions that each scientist was trying to answer and how they collected and analyzed data and modified their hypotheses. The information is accompanied by excellent photographs of the scientists at work on their ship in the middle of the ocean. I would recommend Plastic Ahoy for students in grades three through middle school. 

Use this book....
as a nonfiction read aloud.
during a unit on ecology or the ocean. 
near Earth Day.
before a school clean up day.
to demonstrate the scientific process.
for close reading of nonfiction. 
to discuss the use of plastics and recycling.

PBS Need to Know video: An Ocean of Plastic

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? April 28, 2014

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

Sorry, no time to post reviews with the books I read this week. Click on the picture to go to the book's page on Goodreads and to see my rating.  I will be doing a full review on Plastic, Ahoy! and The Dumbest Idea Ever this week. I am hoping to do a review of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill soon. Enjoy your week!

Picture Book-Fiction


Graphic Novel


Middle Grade

Finished Listening....

Still Reading....

What Are You Reading Friends? 

Recent posts:

Visit this week for:
Nonfiction Wednesday-A review of Plastic, Ahoy!
Friday-A review of The Dumbest Idea Ever
Saturday-Celebrate this Week!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Celebrate this Week-April 26, 2014

Every week, Ruth Ayres over at Discover. Play. Build. invites people to share celebrations from their week.  Please visit and consider linking up your own celebration. 

I hope you all had many things to celebrate this week. Here are some things I am celebrating as I look back on my week.

This week we were on vacation here in Maine. Our family is so fortunate that we all get to spend our vacations together since both my husband and I work in schools (he is a school secretary). We stayed put this week and it was SO great! We did some much needed cleaning and organizing in our home, watched movies, read, did errands, played outside and just hung out. It was exactly the vacation I needed. 

Our family was able to get together on Easter at my sister's house. The cousins have an egg hunt and we all have a huge Easter dinner and talk at the table. TJ got alphabet letters in his eggs since he doesn't like candy, but he LOVES letters. here is a video of him reenacting Chicka Chicka Boom Boom in a tree outside. 

An Unexpected Meeting
On Wednesday morning my husband and I were dropping the kids off with Nana so we could go back home and clean the basement (romantic, I know). We ran into some dear friends when we stopped for gas and after chatting, we decided to meet at a local restaurant to have breakfast with them. It was so nice to get to talk to my friends and have grown-up conversation. Definitely a highlight!

Mother-Daughter Day!
On Friday my 12 year-old daughter Molly and I spent the day together. We had our hair done and went clothes and shoe shopping. Then we watched a girly movie together.  It was so nice to spend uninterrupted time with her. 
Molly loves her new do!

Generous Donations
This week I have felt the generosity of my community in two ways. First, I had a Donors Choose Project funded! My partner teacher and I submitted a $550 project for books (of course) and it was funded this week! I can't wait for my kids to see these new books. 
If that wasn't enough, my family is participating in the Walk for Autism to benefit The Autism Society of Maine tomorrow. Our friends and family have helped us raise over $300 so far! We are looking forward to walking together. I'm sure it will be in next week's celebration post. 

What are YOU celebrating friends?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review of If It Rains Pancakes:Haiku and Lantern Poems

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems
by Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Andy Rowland
Published by Millbrook Press
Expected publication May 1, 2014
32 pages
Genre: Poetry
Disclosure: Review copy provided by

Brian Cleary introduces the reader to the ancient poetry forms of haiku and lantern poetry in this colorful and fun collection. The book is divided into two sections dedicated to each of the two types of poems. He briefly describes a bit of history behind each form and directions for writing them at the beginning of each section. The poems cover many different topics from classic nature-themed poems to a pig doing karate. 

My Thoughts
I enjoyed reading this short book of poems. The variety and humor will interest young readers as will the colorful, cartoonish illustrations. Cleary lists a variety of helpful resources for teachers and parents to use in the back of the book. I would use this book to introduce students to haiku and lantern poems or as part of a poetry unit for grades 2-5.
Here is one of my favorite haiku's from page 17 called The Mind.

The Mind
Memory is like
a room where tiny boxes
hold our yesterdays.

Companion Texts

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Notebook of Doom Series

I am always on the lookout for books that developing readers will enjoy. In the fourth grade it can be hard to find books with a lower readability that 10 year olds, who are still developing as readers, will want to read. Recently, I found a series some of my students are really responding to. 
by Troy Cummings
Published by Scholastic

From Goodreads
This series is part of Scholastic's early chapter book line called Branches, which is aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!

Summary of book #1 The Notebook of Doom: Balloon Goons from Goodreads
Alexander has just moved to a new town where he is about to uncover all sorts of monsters! He finds an old notebook with the word "DOOM" inscribed on the front cover. The Notebook of Doom, which Alexander now holds, contains top secret information about monsters! In this first book, Alexander goes up against spooky balloon goons--unique and twisted arm-waving balloon guys! This book is full of humor, engaging black-and-white illustrations, and of course . . . monsters!

My Thoughts
I like this series for several reasons. Too often early chapter books have a low readability level, but the story is not exactly exciting. These books are written at about a second grade level but they have interesting plots and characters. The events are fast-paced and are accompanied with an illustration or graphic on each page. They are funny and suspenseful. At around 100 pages the books are long enough to feel like a chapter book, but not too long that developing readers are intimidated. 
With 4 books currently published and one due to be released in August, kids will have plenty of books to keep them motivated. I strongly encourage any parent or teacher to introduce students in grades 2-4 to this series. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stack It Up Sunday-April 13, 2014

I love for Sundays to be lazy days focused on home and family so I don't normally do a big post. However, I like to share the random piles of books around my house. I originally posted about my piles on this celebration post. I'm sure you have stacks of books piled around and as I like to say...
Each pile has its own story.

These are my bedside stacks. Many have been there for quite a while. I am not currently reading any of them, but I like to keep them close. 

 This is the stack on top of the bedside table. The top book was recommended by my principal, but I have not read it yet. Then be different is a book that I have started and not finished. Finally, From Norvelt to Nowhere is an ARC I received at NCTE. I loved the first one, but have not read this one yet.

This is the stack on the bottom shelf of the bedside table. It contains various arc's and two books I plan to review. 

The cluttered kitchen counter usually has a stack or two. Right now it holds two books my daughter insisted she must have at the Scholastic Book Fair and a book about Greek Mythology by Ken Jennings (from Jeopardy). 

What books are in your stacks friends?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Celebrate this Week-April 12, 2014

Every week, Ruth Ayres over at Discover. Play. Build. invites people to share celebrations from their week.  Please visit and consider linking up your own celebration. 

Here are some of my recent celebrations.

A Patriotic Little Boy
I talk about my son TJ quite a bit in my celebration posts. He has autism and never ceases to amaze me. This week he learned how to recite The Pledge of Allegiance in his own special way. He gets some of the words and some is of his own creation. He puts his hand on his heart and it is beyond adorable. He is even saying it loud and proud with his class. 

The Magic of Harry!
It is no secret that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. You can imagine my excitement when a child in my class discovers JK Rowling's magical series. Some years I have a class that loves these books and others they just don't. It has been so wonderful for me to watch this year's class slowly become Potter Heads. The best part is that none of it (well not much anyway) has come from me. They have watched each other devour the books and decided to give them a try. Now I really need to replace the series in my room as they are becoming quite worn. The kicker came for me this week when a student who has vehemently, flat out refused to read the books picked one up off the shelf. I did a silent celebration because if I had made a fuss he would have put it back. He is on chapter two so I am holding my breath. I love these books and what they do to help create engaged, motivated readers. 

Let's go to the Movies
This event actually will be happening today so I will probably write about it next week, but I am really excited about it. Today our whole family gets to go to the movies together! A local Rotary Club sponsors a "sensory friendly" movie for families affected by autism once a year. Today it is Rio 2. It is so nice for the four of us to be able to go together. Here are some pictures from last year. 

What Are You Celebrating This Week?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday-April 9, 2014

My Friend Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts weekly link up to share Nonfiction Picture Books. Please visit her amazing website. 

April is Autism Awareness Month.  I posted a list of books to share with children with an autism theme earlier in the month. Click here to read it. 

by Daniel Stefanski
Published by Free Spirit Publishing
48 pages
This book is written by a young man with an autism spectrum diagnosis. In his book Daniel describes possible reasons why people with autism may act differently. He also offers advice on how to interact with a child with autism. Topics include how children with ASD's may struggle with personal space, sensory difficulties and may have intense interests.  
I really like this book because it gives real examples and strategies that kids can use when interacting with a child with autism. Daniel is very honest and writes in a way that students will understand. I would recommend this book for grades 3-6. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? April 7, 2014

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

Here is what I finished last week.

A Snicker of Magic 
by Natalee Lloyd
I read this book with a lunchtime book club and 
LOVED it. What a unique story!

Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book in my attempt to read the Newbery winners. I did not realize that it was the 4th in the series. It is an amazing and powerful story!

I finished listening to...
Flora and Ulysses
by Kate DiCamillo
This book was on my must-read-in-2014 list. 
I enjoyed the audio version of this Newbery winner.  

Currently Reading...
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill
by Megan Frazer Blakemore

What Are You Reading Friends?

Stack-It-Up Sunday-April 6, 2014

Every stack has a story. 

If you didn't read my Celebration post about book piles, you can find it here

Here are some of my current stacks around the house. 

Every time I go to my school library, our amazing library assistant Denise Asselin has a great new book rec for me. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is waiting for me in the dining room. 

This is my beside-the-couch pile. Sometimes when my husband is watching "his shows" I'll join him on the couch and read my "couch books". I got into The Dumbest Idea Ever a couple of days ago and Word Nerds is about teaching vocabulary.  I am only a bit into it, but it's good so far. 

There is always a pile of books waiting for me to protect them with contact paper or a plastic protector. This is the current pile down on the desk. 

What's in YOUR stack?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Picture Books to Share During April-Autism Awareness Month

This is a slightly updated post originally posted last April.

April is Autism Awareness Month.  While most people are fully aware of autism, I think it is time we also teach our young children more about this perplexing condition. As a teacher and a mother of an 8 year-old with autism, it is important to me that people move beyond tolerance to accepting and celebrating our children as they are.  Since the students of today will be caring for our kids as adults, it is important that they learn how to effectively interact with and accept people with autism.  Below are a few short picture books that could be shared as classroom read alouds (most of them are appropriate K-5). Some have sparked rich discussions in my classroom. 

I would like to thank the Autism Society of Maine and its lending library for providing me with some of the books below.  Please visit ASM here.

Click on the titles to learn more about the book on

Books About Siblings

Ian's Walk by Laurie Lears

This book follows big sister Julie as she takes her brother Ian for a walk through the park.  Ian is not interested in things that many children like.  He is more interested in a ceiling fan at a restaurant along the way and smelling the bricks than the baseball game, flowers and food carts at the park.  This book does a great job with describing the differences in sensory processing that Ian demonstrates.  When Ian wanders off, Julie panics and must think like Ian in order to find him. 

by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete
Holly Robinson Peete is well know and respected in the autism community as a fierce advocate and parent supporter.  This book was written with her daughter and is based on Peete's son who has autism.  I love this book because it touches upon Charlie's challenges, but it also highlights his strengths. He can play the piano beautifully, knows a ton about airplanes and can name all the US presidents! 

by Alexandra Jessup Altman

In this touching story, Alexander is the older brother of Benjamin who is diagnosed with autism.  Alexander wants Benjamin to play with him, but Benjamin does not know how to play like most children.  As Benjamin starts to get therapies in the home, Alexander has to deal with his feelings of jealousy and frustration.  It has a nice ending as the two brothers find ways to relate to each other.

Friendship and School-Based Books 
The Friendship Puzzle:Helping Kids Learn About Accepting and Including Kids with Autism
by Julie L. Coe, Jennifer Maloni and Rebecca Landa
Illustrated by Sondra L. Brassel
Dylan is a new kid at school who has autism. Mackenzie tries to befriend him, but is confused about why he does not respond to her. Mackenzie and her helpful mother try to solve what they call "the friendship puzzle". I really liked how this book showed that it can take some creativity and persistence to figure out the best ways to include friends with autism. 

 How to Talk to an Autistic Kid
by Daniel Stephanski

Daniel is a child with high functioning autism.  In his book he describes some reasons why people with autism may act differently.  More importantly, he offers advice on how to interact with a child with autism.  Topics include personal space, intense interests and sensory difficulties.  

by Celeste Shally
I highly recommend this book.  It is a great example of how one understanding friend can make a world of difference in the life of a child with autism. It provides great examples of ways to make a friendship work through compromise, compassion and acceptance.

Looking After Louis
by Leslie Ely
This is the story of Louis and his wonderful, supportive class.  Louis has autism and his class wants to include him more at school.  Through some creative thinking and a special soccer game, the students find a way to connect with and include him. 

by Andreanna Edwards
I like this book because it takes some mystery about how some students with autism spend their day at school. Many students wonder what activities a child with autism might be involved in when they leave the classroom.  This book shows some activities and gives a glimpse of what a school might look like for a child with autism.

by Kate Gaynor 
When Simon arrives at a new school, his classmates must learn to accept and embrace his differences. This book focuses on acceptance and how a child with autism can positively contribute to a classroom community. 

Other Books 
I am Utterly Unique:Celebrating the Strengths of Children with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism
by Elaine M. Larson
This book is written in a simple alphabet format with big illustrations. It serves as a great reminder of the gifts and talents of children with higher-functioning autism.

by Janet C. McGregor
I really like the fact that the main character in this book is an adult.  He likes to watch cars go by and is thrilled when anyone honks or waves.  I think it is a great reminder that it only takes a simple gesture to make someone else happy. 

by Roz Espin
This book is one of my new favorite picture books.  It is not specifically about autism, but about differences.   Alphie is a computer that is "wired differently". He has trouble performing  required tasks adequately. He begins to think that he is defective and worthless until he meets a human who believes he is worth fixing.  Finally Alphie realizes that he has much to offer and that his differences make him special.  

Here are a few sites that you might like to check out. A nice, simple explanation of autism.

Books I love as a parent and teacher: 

I bought several copies of this book after my son's diagnosis and made all our family members read it. Click on the cover to learn more about it. There is also a newer updated version.

Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew is a valuable resource for teachers of all ages. 

Anything books by Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison are very helpful for adults trying to understand autism. 

There are so many books out there and these are just a few. Which books about autism do you like to read with your students or children?