The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Things were so much simpler for Ellie in elementary school. She didn’t have to worry about where to sit in the cafeteria, losing her best friend, or all the other changes middle school brings. Well, soon Ellie will have one more change…and this one will rock her entire world.

One day, Ellie’s mom brings home a strange yet oddly familiar boy. He bears a striking resemblance to her grandfather, but Ellie doesn’t know of any long-lost relatives who would just show up all of a sudden. So who is this odd, crotchety, young boy?

Well, as it turns out, this boy actually is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin. Through his research with jellyfish, he seems to have found the “cure” for aging, and this seventy-six year old man now looks like a teenager. (He still acts like an old man, though.) Melvin shares his discovery with Ellie and enlists her help in retrieving the research that he’s sure will win him a Nobel Prize.

Ellie is intrigued by her grandfather’s work, but, the more she learns about science and what happens after important discoveries–like Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb–the more she wonders if Melvin’s breakthrough is a good thing. Does the world really need a cure for aging? What would be the consequences if such a thing were available?

As Ellie explores the scientific possibilities with her grandfather, she’s also coming to grips the changes in her own life. Maybe it’s okay that she’s letting go of old friends and making new ones. Moving on is a part of life, right? Now, all she needs to do is convince her grandfather of that…

Pack of Dorks

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Lucy is pretty secure in her status as one of the most popular girls in the 4th grade, but her best friend Becky convinces her that kissing Tom Lemmings at recess will really make her cool. Lucy reluctantly agrees, and that action may just cost her dearly.

After the ill-fated kissing incident, Lucy quickly finds herself moving from the top of the heap in 4th grade to the bottom. Tom is no longer her boyfriend, Becky is being mean to her, and the other kids are laughing at her. And her situation at home isn’t much better. Her new baby sister has Down Syndrome, and Lucy’s parents are totally focused on the baby. They don’t seem to care at all about Lucy anymore. She feels all alone and doesn’t know who she can turn to.

Lucy eventually finds an ally in quiet Sam Righter. The two share a table at lunch and work together on a class project about wolves. Through this project, Lucy compares the behavior of wolf packs to the treacherous world of school life. She looks at the actions of alphas, lone wolves, and how the weak or different are treated in wolf packs. The similarities between wolves and the kids in her world are striking, and Lucy thinks about how she could form her own pack. A pack of dorks.

As Lucy learns more and more about wolves and grows closer to the other outsiders at school, she also thinks about her own behavior. Maybe she was not-so-nice in the past. She doesn’t want to be that way anymore, and she really doesn’t want her little sister to be the target of bullies just because she’s different.

Can Lucy change her ways and become the person she wants to be? Will her “pack of dorks” be able to stand up to the bullies that torment them? Will Lucy find her place at school and within her own home?

How will Lucy’s home and school situations be resolved? Find out when you read Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel!


In addition to being an excellent book for addressing topics like bullying, respecting differences, and handling conflict, Pack of Dorks is also great for teaching the concept of voice. Lucy’s voice in this book is engaging and authentic, and many readers–no matter their ages–will respond to that. This wonderful book would make an excellent read-aloud in upper elementary and middle grade classrooms.

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.

The Rookie Bookie

The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Mitch Sloan is the new kid at school, and he doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to fitting in. At his old school in California, he was bullied for being a nerd. He doesn’t want the same thing to happen here in Indiana, so Mitch tries out for the football team and attempts to tone down his love of math, money, and correcting people.

One person who seems to connect with Mitch immediately is Jamie, a girl who loves sports as much as Mitch does. She examines strategy just like he does, and he finally feels like someone finally gets him…and he absolutely does NOT have a crush on her.

One day, Mitch and Jamie take their love of sports to the next level, and they bet on a pro football game. Mitch uses his love of strategy and statistics to skew the bet in his favor, and, though Jamie is upset at first, an idea begins to take shape. What if they can get other kids at school to bet on some games? Mitch and Jamie could serve as middle-men–or bookies–and make a little money with no risk to their own wallets. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty soon, kids are lining up at Mitch’s locker to make bets and receive their winnings. Mitch and Jamie are making money, their “customers” are having fun, and Mitch feels what it’s like to be popular. He kind of likes the feeling, even though he wonders just how many of these people are really his friends.

Eventually, this business begins to spiral out of control, and Mitch and Jamie find themselves in more trouble than either of them have ever been in. (Who knew that operating a middle school gambling ring was against the rules?) Can their friendship recover from this huge mess? And can they find a way to redeem themselves in the eyes of their parents, their classmates, their teachers, and the whole school?

Answer these questions and many more when you read The Rookie Bookie!

Dog vs. Cat

Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Dog and Cat are both going to live with Mr. and Mrs. Button. Unfortunately, these two very different pets have to share a room. Everything starts out okay, but it doesn’t take long for them to start annoying each other.

Dog is messy, chatty, and likes to sniff everything. Cat is neat, quiet (except at night), and claws everything in sight. They decide to divide up their room, but that doesn’t end well, either.

When there’s a new arrival in their home, Dog and Cat realize they must put aside their differences and figure out how to deal with the situation–together.

Will Dog and Cat be able to find common ground? Will this new arrival change everything? Find out when you read Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall!

Dog vs. Cat is a charming book that will appeal to readers young and old. Young readers will enjoy the story of how Dog and Cat are different and eventually come together. Older readers will delight in the fun little details in the illustrations. With any age group, Dog vs. Cat is a wonderful read-aloud and is perfect for discussions about perspective, working together, and appreciating differences.

I created the book trailer below to promote Dog vs. Cat in my own library. Feel free to use it in yours!

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.

Anybody Shining

Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell is a nominee for the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Arie Mae Sparks wants just one friend to call her own. She’s hopeful that her cousin Caroline, who lives all the way in Raleigh, will respond to her letters one of these days–and be the friend she’s always wanted–but it’s not looking good at the moment. Still…Arie Mae keeps on writing, telling her cousin about everything happening in Bone Gap, North Carolina.

Though Arie Mae despairs of ever finding one true friend, newcomers in her little town may provide some hope. These new folks–who’ve arrived all the way from Baltimore, Maryland–have come to the mountains to learn about the nearby settlement school. Almost immediately, Arie Mae sees the potential for friendship in Tom, a boy who has a special shine about him.

Even though Tom has a bad leg and can’t do everything the other kids can, he and Arie Mae form a fast friendship. He doesn’t care at all that Arie Mae is not as fancy as his sisters or that her family doesn’t have as much as his. He simply wants to hear her stories and go on adventures with her.

Arie Mae is all for seeking adventure, but she soon learns that Tom has more difficulties than just a bad leg. His mother warns Arie Mae that her new friend has a weak heart and shouldn’t exert himself too much. Arie Mae worries about this, but Tom is determined to do just what he wants. What’s a friend to do?

Through her continuing letters to her cousin, Arie Mae reflects on her friendship with Tom, her feelings about his condition, her family and their life on the mountain, and all sorts of other things. She thinks about what makes her world so odd to some and so special to others. Can people be true friends when they see the world so differently?

Learn more about the power of friendship, reaching out, and overcoming differences when you read Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell.


If you’d like to share this book with your students, here’s a short book trailer I created for Anybody Shining.