Blizzard by John Rocco is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

In Blizzard, author/illustrator John Rocco tells the tale of his experiences in the 1978 blizzard that hit New England. His hometown in Rhode Island got over 50 inches of snow, and the snowplows didn’t arrive for a week!

The snow was exciting at first, but it soon became worrisome. John’s family and their neighbors were running out of food, so John, who had read all about Arctic survival, knew he had to do something. So he strapped on some snowshoes, grabbed his sled, and did what needed to be done.

As a nominee for the South Carolina Picture Book Award, Blizzard may open up a whole new world to some children in the state. It’s rare to get more than a few inches of snow the entire winter. A blizzard, like the one presented in this book, is not something most children here experience, so it could be interesting for them to think about how they would fare in similar circumstances.

The outstanding illustrations, when paired with accessible, easy-to-understand text, makes Blizzard a perfect choice for winter-time and weather-study read-alouds. It will definitely be a hit when there’s a potential snow day in the forecast!

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Stella by Starlight takes place in the segregated South during the Great Depression, and it doesn’t shy away from the racism, hatred, and fear that was so prevalent at the time. (Anyone who is paying attention would agree that these things are still prevalent.) But this book also emphasizes the power of family, community, faith, and courage in the face of adversity.

The book begins with Stella and her brother, JoJo, witnessing something disturbing in the woods next to their home late one night. They see men and horses in white robes. They see a burning cross. This sight can only mean one thing–the Ku Klux Klan. Stella and JoJo race home to tell their parents what they’ve seen, and the people in the community immediately come together to discuss what it might mean.

With the threat of the Klan looming over everything, the people in Stella’s community wonder what they can do to combat such a seemingly powerful force. They’ve always dealt with racism, but this feels much more sinister. When several men, including Stella’s father, decide to stand up for themselves in the voting booth, the threat becomes even greater.

Through all of this turmoil, Stella examines her own feelings through writing. Stella admits she’s not the best writer, but she practices late at night in the hopes of getting better. She has so many thoughts about what’s going on around her, and she wants to get them down on paper. She writes about her family, school, and community. She writes about the prejudice she experiences and sees around her. She writes about the people, both black and white, who come together and take a stand when times are hard. She writes about her hopes for the future.

Stella by Starlight is an excellent piece of historical fiction, and I hope that many teachers and students will use it to supplement their understanding of racism, both in the segregated South and in the present day.

I also see this book being used to help students with their writing…or whatever else they may be having trouble with. Stella freely admits that she is not a great writer and needs practice. Students need to see that it’s okay to make mistakes. What’s important is to keep trying and working to get better.

Librarians, teachers, and parents who want to explore themes like bravery, integrity, empathy, tolerance, and respect with their students should definitely take a look at Stella by Starlight. It’s an extremely powerful book that will stay with all readers long after they’ve finished it.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, written by Bob Shea and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

The town of Drywater Gulch has a bit of a problem with a gang known as the Terrible Toads. What they need is a sheriff. And that’s just what they get. A kid sheriff rides into town–slowly–on his tortoise. Now, this sheriff doesn’t seem to know much about the Toads, but he knows an awful lot about dinosaurs. How can that possibly help the town, though?

As it turns out, this sheriff’s knowledge of dinosaurs may help to catch the Toads and rid the town of these pests for good. How, you ask? Read Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads to find out!

Reading this through the eyes of an adult is very different from reading it as a kid, I imagine. While the book is funny, I think a lot of the humor may go over the heads of most young readers. They may like how the kid uses his knowledge of dinosaurs to fight crime, but I doubt they’d see the understated humor in the book’s situations and dialogue.

I don’t think this book would be my pick for a K5 or 1st grade storytime. Not only wouldn’t my younger readers understand some of the humor, but it’s just a tad uncomfortable having to explain to students why a gang of outlaws might be kissing cattle. (Honestly, I’m not sure why they would be, and I really don’t want to have that conversation with my kiddos.) If students want to take this book home to read with their parents or by themselves, that’s fine, but I will not be handling cattle-kissing questions on my story carpet.

If you’d like to promote this book in your classroom or library, feel free to use the book trailer below.

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile

This first book in the Eddie Red Undercover series is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Edmund Xavier Lonnrot is not a typical sixth-grader. He has a photographic memory and the ability to draw nearly anything that passes through his field of vision. This gift comes in especially handy when Edmund and his dad are witnesses to a crime. Edmund is able to show the police exactly who and what he saw, and this ability gives the police an idea. Maybe they can use Edmund to help catch a notorious gang of art thieves.

It takes a bit of convincing, but Edmund’s parents finally agree to let him help the cops…as long as he’s not placed in any danger. And that’s how “Eddie Red” comes to be. Working undercover at various museums on the famous Museum Mile in New York City, Eddie Red takes note of any and all faces he sees and passes his notes and drawings along to the cops. Some people seem familiar, but, for the most part, Edmund’s job is kind of boring…at first.

Edmund knows he could figure things out if he had more information and a bit of help, so that’s exactly what he gets. He uses his photographic memory to take mental snapshots of the case files, maps, etc., and he works with his hyperactive best friend, Jonah, to piece together this confusing puzzle. But how can two kids hope to solve this mystery when the cops are stumped?

Never underestimate a couple of genius-level sixth-graders with a mystery in front of them…

Edmund and company are getting closer and closer to discovering the truth, but danger is also making its way nearer to Edmund. He could be headed for more trouble than he ever anticipated. What is Edmund to do?

Will Edmund give up his quest for the truth and ensure his own safety? Or will Eddie Red throw caution to the wind, try to expose the bad guys, and put himself in the line of fire? What would you do?

If this first Eddie Red Undercover book sounds like something you’d enjoy, you may also want to take a look at the second book, Mystery in Mayan Mexico, and the third book, Doom at Grant’s Tomb.

For those wanting to promote this book in their classrooms or libraries, feel free to use the book trailer below.


Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is a nominee for the 2016-2017 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Mrs. Poodle loved her four puppies, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston. Three of the puppies stayed very small, had lovely manners, and were very graceful. Then there was Gaston. Gaston didn’t look like the other puppies. He had to work very hard to be like them, and things didn’t always go his way. But they were a family, and they loved each other.

One day at the park, the Poodle family came across the Bulldog family. It didn’t take long for them to realize that something was amiss. It seems that Gaston, who was actually a bulldog, may have been mixed up with Antoinette, a tiny member of the Bulldog family who was actually a poodle.

Mrs. Poodle and Mrs. Bulldog decided to let Gaston and Antoinette choose where they belonged, and they quickly discovered that, though they might look similar to their new “siblings,” they acted very differently. What if they were right where they were supposed to be all along?

Gaston is an adorable book that is perfect for children (and adults) who are adopted or part of blended families. Its message of belonging with the people who love and accept you is a great one.

Gaston is a great read-aloud, and I think young readers will love comparing and contrasting the poodle and bulldog families, even though there is a bit of stereotyping involved here. (Poodles are supposed to be feminine and tender while bulldogs are masculine and tough.) Gaston and Antoinette challenge those stereotypes, but teachers, parents, and librarians might want to give those misconceptions a bit of attention.

If you’d like to promote this book in your classroom or library, here is a short book trailer I created.

A Million Ways Home

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.

I’m My Own Dog

I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

In I’m My Own Dog, readers meet a dog who is his own master. He fetches his own slippers, walks himself, tells himself to roll over, and throws sticks for himself. He even gives himself a good scratch from time to time. There’s just one problem. This dog has an itchy spot on his back that he just can’t reach. What’s a poor dog to do?

When he simply can’t stand it anymore, the dog lets someone scratch his back for him. After that, the little guy follows him home. Well, the dog can’t just leave the fella out in the rain, so he lets him come inside. Eventually, the dog trains the guy. The dog gets a leash to lead his new friend around, he shows him interesting things like squirrels, and he teaches him how to throw a stick.

The dog realizes that his new human may come with some problems–like constant yapping and making messes–but maybe he’s worth keeping anyway.

All readers–no matter their ages– will find something to love in this book. It is a wonderful twist on the typical pet story, and it could lead to some interesting discussions on perspective. It is sure to be a hit as a read-aloud with young students, and any dog lover will find something to chuckle over.

I also think that I’m My Own Dog may also be a good fit for readers who see themselves as loners. (I’m including myself in that group.) Yes, it’s good to be independent and comfortable with oneself, but having a friend or a helping hand sometimes is just what a person–or dog–needs.

If you’d like to use the book trailer I created for this book, see below. Just remember to give credit!