Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

This wonderful book introduces young readers to the moving story of Ivan, a gorilla who was captured by poachers as a baby and sold to be an attraction in a shopping mall. Eventually, Ivan, with the help of concerned citizens and animal welfare activists, was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he lived out the rest of his days.

Those who’ve read Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan already know much of Ivan’s story. This picture book both gives a closer look at Ivan’s early years and serves as a springboard for reading more about Ivan and how gorillas and other animals are treated around the world.

Ivan is an excellent book for read-alouds with children who are learning about animals and those who are beginning to think about issues like animal rights and habitats.

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

Lou can do almost anything. She can be an adventurer, run really fast, build fortresses with her friends, and rescue animals. Lou is pretty sure she’ll have a thrilling job one day; she may even be a pirate.

But when her friends want to make the tree outside into their own personal pirate ship, Lou isn’t so sure about this adventure. She’s never climbed a tree before, and she doesn’t exactly want to start now. She tries to get her friends to reconsider this plan, and, when that doesn’t work, she comes up with any excuse she can think of to stay out of that tree.

Eventually, though, Lou realizes that maybe it could be fun to climb the tree and join her friends. Can she possibly get up there without actually having to climb? Probably not. It looks like she’ll have to learn to climb. It won’t be easy, but Lou is a determined young lady. She may not achieve her goal right away, but she’ll keep trying.


The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, beautifully written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, is a wonderful book for anyone, child or adult, who’s ever been afraid of doing something. In Lou’s case, of course, it’s climbing trees, and she goes through some very realistic thought processes in trying to avoid this task. (I totally get it. I’ve never climbed a tree in my life, and I don’t intend to start now.) Substitute anything fearful for Lou’s issue with climbing trees, and all readers will be able to relate.

This book, which comes out on May 2nd, is perfect for emphasizing concepts like courage, perseverance, encouragement, compassion, handling failure or challenges, and using one’s imagination. It is a must-add to any library that serves children.

Masterminds

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!

Here Comes the Easter Cat

Here Comes the Easter Cat, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda, was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Cat thinks it’s time to give the Easter Bunny a bit of competition. While the Easter Bunny is hopping around delivering eggs, Cat will hop on his motorcycle and give boys and girls some chocolate. He’s not prepared, though, for just how tiring all his preparation is. Cat is ready for a nap.

Imagine Cat’s surprise when he learns that the Easter Bunny doesn’t get naps. He has to do all that work with no rest? Well, that simply will not do. When the exhausted Easter Bunny comes by to deliver eggs to Cat, Cat takes it upon himself to help his tired new friend.

Will Cat give up his plans for Easter domination? Or does he now have even loftier ambitions? Find out when you read Here Comes the Easter Cat!


I’ll be reading this book aloud to my K5 students this week ahead of our Spring break/Easter holiday. I hope they find it as charming as I do, and I hope it tells them a little about being kind, problem-solving, and, yes, having lofty ambitions.

Here Comes the Easter Cat may lead young (and older) readers to explore even more “substitutes” for holiday or other famous figures. What if, instead of Cupid on Valentine’s Day, we had a porcupine or something? The possibilities are as endless as the imagination.

If you’d like to promote this book to your young readers, feel free to use the book trailer below:

A Horse Named Steve

A Horse Named Steve by Kelly Collier is all about a horse who wants nothing more than to be exceptional. And he thinks he’s found a way to be extraordinary when he finds a gold horn lying in the forest. Ol’ Steve fastens the horn to his head and struts around, showing off his new look to all of his friends.

Pretty soon, other animals are tying odds and ends to their heads in an effort to be exceptional, just like Steve. But what will Steve do when he discovers that his gold horn, the item that made him unique and wonderful, has gone missing? Will he mourn the loss of his horn, or will he find a new way to be “exceptionally different?


I love the central message in this book. “Dare to be rare!” In a world that seems to want everyone to look and act like everyone else, that message is needed more than ever. I tell my students on a regular basis that normal is boring and that they should embrace what makes them different. A Horse Named Steve helps me to spread the word in a new, fun way.

This wonderful book, with hilarious words and pictures by Kelly Collier, will be released on April 4th. It is a must-add to any library that serves children.

Rain Reign

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Fifth grader Rose Howard loves homonyms, prime numbers, rules, and her dog Rain (whose name has two homonyms). Rain is the one of the few gifts Rose’s father has ever given her, and their bond is a strong one. When nearly everyone else–including Rose’s father–gets irritated by Rose’s obsessions, Rain is always there to provide a comforting and calming presence.

Comfort and calm is something that Rose will sorely need in the days to come. Hurricane Susan is making a beeline for Rose’s small Massachusetts town, and her precious routines will be tossed to the winds. The power goes out, creeks turn into rivers, bridges are washed out, trees fall…and Rose’s father lets Rain out of the house without checking on her return.

When the storm finally passes through, Rose realizes that her dog is missing. Did she forget her way home in the horrible storm? Was she carried downstream by the powerful currents? Where is Rain? Rose doesn’t understand how her father could have let this happened, but she’s determined to find her beloved dog…even if that means letting go of her routines.

Rose searches high and low for Rain. She enlists the help of her uncle, her teachers, and even her classmates. Rose does everything humanly possible to find her dog, but how will she handle it when she finds more than she was looking for? Will her world be thrown into yet another storm, and how will Rose–a girl who needs routine and consistency–deal with the fallout? How will she handle the many changes to come? Read Rain Reign by the brilliant Ann M. Martin to find out.


Rain Reign is a phenomenal book with wide appeal–to students, educators, and parents of autistic children.

Rain Reign is also a great book for students who have fondness for word and number play. This could even come into play in language arts or math lessons. Class studies of this book could include looking for homonyms that weren’t mentioned by Rose or finding prime numbers out in the “real world.” And don’t even get me started on how this book could be used to illustrate character’s voice. Read one chapter, and you’ll see that for yourself.

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

EIEIO: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (with a Little Help from a Hen)

EIEIO: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm (with a Little Help from a Hen), written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Matthew Myers, is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

EIEIO is a new take on an old favorite. Many kids may know the tale of Old MacDonald and his farm, but how did he get that farm in the first place?

As it turns out, it all started because Old MacDonald didn’t like to mow the lawn. First he got a goat to help him out, but that didn’t totally solve his problems. Luckily, things started to change with the help of Little Red Hen, a brilliant bird who knew a little something about ecology.

Old MacDonald and his hen began to transform the yard, but it wasn’t a pretty process! It involved hard work, mud, trash, poop, worms, and, finally, lots of seeds. Those seeds, planted in raised beds, eventually grew into vegetables that Old MacDonald enjoyed and shared with his neighbors. What began as a simple lawn turned into a wonderful organic garden!


EIEIO is a good book for introducing the concept of plant ecology and organic gardening to young readers in a fun and familiar way. I can see it being an especially great read-aloud in the spring, when many gardens are being planted, or as part of Earth Day celebrations.

Feel free to use the book trailer below if you’d like to promote this book in your classroom or library!