After reading Six Crimson Cranes, I decided to reread The Six Swans collected by the Brothers Grimm and Birdwing by Rafe Martin.  The Six Swans is an odd tale.  I wondered about that lessons that could be found in it and I discovered there were many.  Be mindful of those you are with.  Value collaboration over competition.  Trust your gut ~ if it doesn’t feel right, pay attention.  Dedication and determination have their own rewards.  A curse, or a blessing ~ it’s your choice.  Girls, small and unnoticed have remarkable strength and capabilities.

I noticed those themes in Elizabeth Lim’s wonderful book, and I found them echoed in Birdwing.  This is the story of Ardwin, the youngest brother.  The one whose shirt remains incomplete as the six-year curse comes to an end. Because of this, he alone, remains part swan.  The other princes and the princess – his brothers and sister – go off to lead their parts of the kingdom and thrive.  Ardwin’s wing causes him to be seen as a freak.  He is bullied and shunned by some in the court.  Ardwin is different and he has many challenges.  With the bad, comes some good.  The wing allows Ardwin to experience nature more fully and understand the ways of animals more completely.  While his brothers want nothing more to do with their swan past, Ardwin remains connected to the flock.  As he grows, Ardwin seeks to understand his place and purpose.  He begins a journey to discover his personal truth.  On the way he loses his life-long friends and gains new understanding of the human race. He is rejected completely by some and accepted fully by others.  He discovers that leadership is not rooted in power and authority, but in service and wisdom.

Reading Birdwing made me wonder about hope, longing and our human tendency to consider “what-if.”  Have you ever considered magic – how did it come into the world and why did it leave?  Ivnuk’s the walrus parting words  struck a chord, “You never know how things will come out once you start, do you?”  It seems to me that starting is the important thing. What journey can you start today?


Six Crimson Cranes

I know it’s not good practice to judge a book by its cover, but I did.  This cover art intrigued me.  And what’s better, the gorgeous cover is a clear nod to the writing inside.  In Six Crimson Cranes, Elizabeth Lim has deftly woven East Asian folklore, dynamic characters and suspenseful adventure creating the vibrant Kingdom of Kiata.  Lim’s writing filled my senses and captured my heart from start to finish.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt and regret.  The water was so thick it was agony keeping my eyes open, but than the great gods I did.  Otherwise, I would have missed the dragon.”

So begins our journey with Princess Shiori’ama.  She is fiercely independent, dedicated to her family, impulsive, rebellious and … magic?!  How can this be?  Magic in a kingdom where magic is banned?!  Will her secret be discovered? Will  she be cursed and exiled, discovered and burned, safe and hidden?  None or all?

Silently Shiori travels across her kingdom to discover what fate has in store.  What can be completed?  What can be undone?  What is yet to finish?  Six Crimson Cranes is a joy you won’t want to miss… or to end.  Be patient.  The next part of the tale is planned for 2022.  I can’t wait!

Beginning Again

“Hi!”  It’s been a long time since I have written on this blog.  Ten years ago I learned about blogging when one of my students, a fellow book lover, asked me if I’d join him in beginning a book blog for kids.  I was game and so we began meeting twice a week to learn about blogging (with the support of our awesome tech teacher, Meghan Wyman) and to share books.

When we began in 2011 we wrote this on our About page:

We’re a teacher (teaching grade 3) and a student (6th grade) writing book reviews. We started reading books together 4 years ago and have been sharing ever since. We thought it would be great to have a place to go to find out about books and get recommendations. Historical Fiction and Realistic Fiction are our favorite genres right now. But we like to read all types of books too. Right now we are reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book Two – The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood. We LOVED the book The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. (We’re HUGE fans of the series!)

Ten years later in 2021 I added:

I’m a retired teacher who loves how reading adds to life.  Reading expands my life and helps me become a better person.  Reading teaches me about the world and the people in it.

I always have a book (or two or three…) with me wherever I go.  In the last few months, I’ve longed to share what I’m reading with others.  Books are better when shared and discussed.  So here goes…again.  If you find your way to this blog, let me know by subscribing or leaving a comment.  If you’ve got a book to share, please do.  Reading brings me joy, deeper understanding and renewed curiosity.  What does reading do for you?     Brenda

It’s been a wearying year for a number of reasons – all the ones you know from experiencing the trials of 2020/21, combined with my own.  I’m not in the classroom anymore.  I’m caring for my recently widowed, 90-year old mom and my 3- and 5-year old grandchildren .  I’m busy but, thankfully, I still have time for reading and journaling.  

Luckily, I’ve been able to stay connected to past students.  We write letters (no internet at mom’s). One recent note made me pause.  The writer told me he was feeling stressed. I thought, “Oh, you too?!”  I wondered what I could do to change that.  “Maybe,” I thought.  “I’d find myself smiling more, and sighing less if I started sharing books more often.  It’s what I love.  Maybe reading and sharing would reduce the worry and the weariness.”

So, here I am revamping the blog Matt helped begin 10 years ago.  Let’s see how it goes!

Good Books, Good Times!  poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins is the book that first came to mind with this blogging idea.  I keep these poems “in my pocket.”  I read them so often with my classes, they are a part of me.  “I met a dragon face to face…”  “Books to the ceiling, books to the sky…”  “Good books, good times, good stories, good rhymes…”  This collection shares the joys and comforts found through reading.  They share how books and reading transport you to new places, fill you with new ideas and support you as true friends do.  Savor them all and enjoy!


Happy Reading!📚



A Grimm Warning

by Chris Colfer

for intermediate and middle grade readers who don’t mind a bit of romance mixed in with their magic and mayhem

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)The Enchantress Returns (The Land of Stories, #2)A Grimm Warning (The Land of Stories, #3)

I am a fan of books telling the backstory of fairy tale characters and combining worlds – past and the present. The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer is all that and more.  If you’ve not read books 1 and 2, you’ll probably want to get caught up before reading this next part of the series.

Ezmia has been defeated.  The kingdoms of The Land of Stories are being rebuilt.  Alex Bailey is by her grandmother’s side in the Fairy Kingdom and on the Fairy Council.  She is learning all she can about magic and wishes and dreams. It seems that growing up is challenging no matter where you are.

“Sometimes I don’t know if I should be a fairy.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love magic and I love helping people.  There are days I’ll get up and feel so good about what I’m doing for people, and then others when I feel like I’m just screwing everything up.  Some days I don’t think I’m helping enough people and then other days I don’t think people even want my help.  And when I don’t feel confident, my magic suffers – it becomes unpredictable.”

Conner is living in our dimension with his mother and step-dad, fulfilling his charge to keep stories alive by writing and sharing them with the world.  He’s discovered that he’s quite a good storyteller and that he truly enjoys writing.  Because of his skill and interest, Conner is offered an opportunity to travel to the University of Berlin for a Grimm Fest where the first reading of three Grimm tales from a two hundred year old time capsule will take place.

Conner misses his twin terribly, and despite recent challenges in talking to each other in their mirror, the night before he leaves he is able to talk to Alex.  At the end of the conversation they each snap off a corner of their mirrors so they’ll be able to communicate wherever they are.  That turns out to be an important thing because the new stories are much more than just stories.  They are a warning, and the worlds – both The Land of Stories and our own – and in grave danger.

It is up to Conner and his friend, Bree, to collect items in our dimension and for Alex, with Rook’s encouragement, to uncover and discover features of her magical world that can combine to be more powerful than anything before.  Throw in a wedding, an inaugural ball, elves, troblins (troll/goblins) unicorns, a dragon, a masked man and Napoleon’s Grande Armee along the way and you’ve got an amazing adventure.

“How are you taking all of this so well?  Don’t you think the idea of another dimension seems insane?”  Conner asks.

Bree answers, “Not at all.  I’m a writer too, Conner, and the reason I write is because I’ve always believed there is more to life than most people are willing to believe.  You’re just the first person to prove it to me.”

You’ll be convinced of this too as you read and when you’re done you’ll be looking for the next volume in the series hoping to find answers to remaining questions and that maybe, just maybe, Mother Goose will let her secret slip.

The Quirks – Welcome to Normal

16059382by Erin Soderberg

for intermediate readers who are interested in celebrating their quirks and finding the magic in differences big and small

A while ago I went to hear Kim John Paine speak about children and learning.  He is a psychologist who works with children and families with a wide variety of needs.  One of his points that stuck with me had to do with how we think about differences.  He asked us to think of all the people we worked with – our students and our colleagues – and he asked us to consider their quirks.   After a bit of time, he pointed out that we all have quirks.  They are the things about us that drive people crazy; and they are the things that make us special and endearing.  We smiled and nodded knowingly.  Next he reminded us that we could think of these quirks in in different ways.  We could take those quirks, acknowledge them, polish and highlight them so that over time were seen as gifts. A person with them becomes gifted.  Or we could take those quirks, worry them, flog and reshape them until they became raw so that over time they were seen as a disability. A person with them becomes disabled.

He created this continuum:  D    ………………..     Q   ……………….    G

Reading The Quirks- Welcome to Normal made me think of this presentation.  The Quirks are a family of six.  Grandpa has the ability to rewind time.  Grandma is a fairy grandmother (literally) living in a small house in the willow tree.  Mom has the ability to make you think what she wants you to think.  Penelope’s imagination runs wild and comes true in real life. Finn is invisible to everyone but Molly, Penelope’s twin. And Molly’s quirk?  She doesn’t have one.

Because of their quirks, the family has moved around a lot.  They’ve lived in twelve states and twenty-six towns in nine years (and three quarters.)  Things get out of hand and the Quirks move on.  Just recently they have moved into Normal, Michigan.  Fourth grade will begin in a day or two for the twins.   It’s an anxious time.  Molly longs to fit in and stay in one place.  Penelope wants that too.  She is working very hard to keep her mind calm and empty, her imagination under control.   It is a lot of work to fit in and hide your family’s quirks.  It’s scary and frustrating and hard!

The most exciting day in Normal is the fall festival.  Every year the town does something extraordinarily abnormal to try to break a record.  They’ve made more pancakes at one time than any other town, and they’ve built the longest graham cracker staircase in the world.  So far, the town has never failed to meet the goal.  Each year they collect suggestions from the townspeople, one is selected at random and then they all come together to celebrate the wild and wacky on Normal Night and break a new record.

At least that’s how it normally works.  They’ve never yet, but they’ve never had the Quirks in their town before either – five people who are able to do real magic, and it’s Finn’s suggestion that has been chosen.  “This year, the town of Normal will by trying to build the world’s largest ball of A.B.C. on record.”   This all has to happen in one night – before 10 pm.  Read The Quirks- Welcome to Normal to see if the Quirks can manage their quirks so they will be able to stay.  Will they polish their quirks or the quirks or hide them away?

Absolutely Almost

18225037by Lisa Graff

for intermediate  and middle grade readers, for teachers everywhere – there’s no one who shouldn’t read this book

If there is one thing I learned this year, it is that kindness is a super power and that true kindness, is exceptional.  To me true kindness means acting compassionately for the betterment of others with no thought of yourself because it is just the right thing to do.   In my world, generous hearts and selfless souls are precious and rare.

Albie struggles in school.  He can’t read as well as everyone else, but he does okay.  He can’t spell as well as everyone else, but he works super hard.  Math…just totally does not make sense.  Because of this, Albie is asked to leave his private school that upsets and concerns his parents greatly.  He’s not sure of the exact reason why he has to leave, but he’s pretty certain it is because he is almost at everything.   No matter what he does at school or with friends, it’s never quite good enough.

Albie doesn’t have many friends.  His one true friend is just down the hall.  The cool thing is that from Albie’s apartment 8A, he can flash his light to say goodnight to Erlan when he’s in his bedroom in 8F.  Now that Albie doesn’t go to the same school as Erlan he doesn’t get to see him everyday.  And also Erlan’s family is starring in a new reality TV show.  Erlan is one from a set of triplets who have older sisters who are also triplets too.  Their time together at home now is pretty limited too.  The cameras are always everywhere.

In and around all these changes enters Calista, Albie’s new nanny, babysitter or someone to hang out with – whatever you want to call her.  Where Albie’s parent worry and want him to be like other 5th graders, she just watches him and helps Albie become more.  When Albie’s parents are too busy with worry and work, Calista has time to notice and see.  She sees who Albie is and how hard he tries.  She cautions him when he tries to follow the rules to become cool.  She cares and is always there helping Albie to navigate 5th grade, friends and parents – almost.

Everyone should read Absolutely Almost to discover all the places where kindness resides.  It can be in red gummie bears, math camp jokes, newly labeled book covers and coffee cup towers.   Absolutely Almost helps us see how that is so. Absolutely Almost is a must read book – not just once, but over and over.  Kindness is a super power – rare and precious.  I think this book could help us change that.  Read it and lets us know what you think.


Penelope Crumb – Never Forgets

Penelope Crumb Never Forgetsby Shawn K. Stout

for intermediate readers puzzled by friendship and the ways of the world – Penelope’s  often in trouble, but it’s really not her fault

Now that Penelope has discovered (in book 1 – Penelope Crumb) that her grandfather is alive and living a metro ride away, she has begun helping him and is curious about his work as a photographer.  He’s traveled everywhere and had his photographs published in famous magazines like LIFE and National Geographic.  His pictures spill out all over in his apartment.  Each one has a story and Penelope likes to know them and discover the details that are remembered about them.

Penelope wonders about memories. On her field trip she wonders about the stories behind the collection of artifacts displayed in the Portwaller History Museum.  What were the people like who ate off these plates or hugged this teddy bear or wore those shoes?  While she is wondering about these people from the past, she notices that most of the kids are in the gift shop.  Most of the kids have not even looked at most of the artifacts in the museum.  Penelope doesn’t think this is right and she decides to ask her best friend, Patsy Cline about it.  And that’s when she notices that Patsy and Vera are buying best friend necklaces.  If they are doing that, then Penelope must not be Patsy’s friend anymore.  That hurts and not taking time to notice things in the museum seems disrespectful.  When Penelope says so in a voice that her teacher, Miss Stunkle thinks is too loud she is asked to spend the rest of the field trip on the bus waiting with the driver.

Penelope decides then and there that she will not forget the people who are important to her.  She decides to turn her closet into a museum in honor of all the people who are important to her.  She calls it her Museum of Forget-Me-Notters and she collects things to display.  Unfortunately they are things that the people she cares about needs.  Her grandfather needs his camera.  Her mom needs her sketch book and Patsy needs her necklace back.

Penelope has a lot of problems to solve.  You’ll be surprised when you find out how everything unravels in the end.  Here’s a teeny peek:

Mom is quiet most of the way…”It’s not easy being you, is it?”  I shrug.  “I don’t know how to be anybody else.”  She nods and gives me a half smile.  “I guess that’s true.” …”What’s it like being you?” I ask.  She squints her eyes like she’s really giving her brains a workout and takes a while to come up with an answer.  When she pulls up to the curb outside of Grandpa’s apartment, she says, “Challenging.  Some of the time.”  She strokes my hair.  “But also pretty wonderful.”  “Maybe it’s not easy being anybody. Even dead people have the problem of being forgotten,” I say.  “And also the problem of being dead.”

I like Penelope.  I hope you will too.

Flying the Dragon

18240265by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

an exploration of cultures, disappointments, loss and joy – a perfect mix for intermediate grade readers

I would like to learn more about the traditions of kite building and flying.  I am sure it is far deeper and more complex then I can imagine.  Reading Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi has piqued my interest.  Hiroshi and grandfather stand in the wind from Tachibana Bay flying their dragon kite.  They kite they built together for Hiroshi’s first entry in the annual rokkaku kite battle.  Finally old enough, Hiroshi will fly the kite this year, while grandfather minds the reel.  Their kite is beautiful as they test it in the wind for the first time, excitement tingling down the line.

Skye is a lead scorer on her team.  She also has great vision on the field and knows how to pass and place the ball for her teammates to succeed.  Finally she has been invited to be part of the all-star team.  Skye plans to finish this season as strongly as she can so she’ll be ready for stiffer competition the new team will bring.

Hiroshi has spent years preparing for this battle.  He will take his place among the great kite fliers of his family.  Skye has practiced for years to make the all-star team and now she has qualified.

Hiroshi and Skye, one from Japan and one from Washington DC, are cousins.  They are each 11.  Their fathers are brothers, twins and eldest sons of the Tsaki family. Grandfather has cancer and it is decided that he will receive the best treatment in Washington DC.  Hiroshi’s family will move.  Skye’s family will help them adjust and care for grandfather.  This means Hiroshi must leave his dream of winning the rokkaku battle behind and Skye must go to Japanese school on Saturdays rather than play for the all-star team.

Hiroshi and Skye feel anger and resentment over their losses.  They despise the changes they must make, but they love their wise and gentle grandfather.  He loves his family and can see how challenging it is for them to make adjustments in their lives.  Kites and the stories competitions and battles unite the generations.  Grandfather uses them to extract a promise from them that they will form a team and enter the rokkaku competition held during the Cherry Blossom Festival on the Mall.

The contrast between the tension and bitterness both cousins feel toward each other and in school learning new languages and new cultures and the ease and wonder they experience in the wind with the kite is striking.  When the kite swoops and swirls higher with each breeze and gust it blows away the feelings of humiliation, failure and worry.  Kites can’t do everything – will it be enough?  There is much to love about Flying the Dragon.  It reminds us of the importance of family, forgiveness and taking time to appreciate both traditions and new beginnings.

I Kill the Mockingbird

18465605by Paul Acampora

There is so much to love about this book for middle grade readers.  Have fun!

The end of 8th grade is just around the corner and the summer between all that is known and all that is unknown (high school) is just about to begin for Lucy, Michael and Elena.   The final reveal of 8th grade is the summer reading list.  There are seven titles ranging from David Copperfield to Fahrenheit 451 to Enders Game to To Kill a Mockingbird.    What’s striking about this list, is not that the books are tedious or unreadable – in fact Lucy, Michael, and Elena have already read most of them.  It’s the length.  At the beginning of 8th grade their English teacher, Mr. Nowak, had announced that the only book for summer reading would be To Kill a Mockingbird.  He said that he hoped by then they’d all “be good enough readers to appreciate it.” Mr. Nowak defined a good reader as someone who “starts to see what an entire book is trying to say.  And then a good reader will have something to say in return.  If you’re reading well, you’re having a conversation.”  That definition stuck with Lucy – she was already a good reader, wasn’t she, but what about the conversation?

Mr. Nowak passed away quite suddenly and they’d finished English with Miss Caridas, not nearly as dynamic as Mr. Nowak, but bearable.  That’s how the summer list had grown from one book to seven.  Best friends since kindergarten, Lucy, Michael and Elena have always loved books.  They always have at least one to read.  They have read them over and over and argue and discuss them.  Elena thinks that David Copperfield is a “sleeping pill.”  Michael can’t believe that.  “What are you talking about?  Dickens novels are like roller coasters.  You have to enjoy the ride…Plus, he puts the whole story right there in the first sentence.  That’s real writing.”

These three love reading and great writing and they want books to matter.  They know they’re weird and they’re okay with that.  Still books should be read.  They devise a plan so they can “speak for the books” and get a conversation going – a conversation that Mr. Nowak would be excited to be part of.  Thus, is created.  It starts slowly at first, but suddenly books become a topic of discussion way beyond West Glover, Connecticut.  The I Kill the Mockingbird campaign crosses the country.  How do you stop something once it has taken on a life of its own?  How will it end?

Read I Kill the Mockingbird as a lover of reading AND a lover of life.  Enjoy it funny twists and turns. Life and reading is always better with true friends, understanding family and great books.  This one gets added to the list.

One for the Murphys

12926804by Lynda Mallaly Hunt

a perfect intermediate and middle school book – and one that every teacher should read as well

I don’t know if everyone has a TBR pile like mine.   It’s nearly as large as Everest.  Some of the titles have been there for several years.  Each summer I vow to catch up before I think of getting new books – but then a new title comes out that I know I must read and if I don’t get it now, it’ll be out of print…  If you’re addicted to books as I am, you’ll know every excuse in my mantra.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt was one of those books that have been waiting patiently for me to pick it up.  Nudged by the July2, 2014 Nerdy Book Club post I began.  If you have not read it yet, please don’t wait any longer.  Go to the library, go to the bookstore, find it wherever you can and read it.

It is the story of Carley Connor who seems to have lost everything.  Released from the hospital into foster care, Carly feels frightened and alone.  She sees herself as officially an outcast and feels completely out of place with the Murphy family.  This perfect family that is everything she is not.  Three boys – Michael Eric into super heroes and pretend, Adam into matchbox cars and Daniel into basketball and totally angry with Carley for taking his mother’s time and attention.  Mr. Murphy, a Sox fan, is a fire chief and so it not always home and then there’s Mrs. Murphy, Julie, who’s always home, always listening and always genuinely seeming to care.  At first, Carley can’t seem to understand the angle.  She doesn’t fit and she doesn’t want to.  But with time she learns a lot about courage, honesty, kindness and compassion.  She learns the power of family and friendship.  She discovers the strength of caring and tears.

It is amazing how a life can change when someone pays attention to you first. I learned so many things by reading One for the Murphys that will stay with me about bravery, heroes and unconditional love.  I will be a better teacher because of this book.  I will slow down and take time to notice the wonderful gifts shared by my students each day AND I will let them know so they can become even more.  One for the Murphys is a gift to read.