J.D. and the Great Barber Battle: An Excellent Kids Book About Perseverance

J.D. and the Great Barber Battle, by J. Dillard (Copyright 2021)


J.D.’s mom gives him a terrible haircut before his first day of third grade. He gets teased by his friends and classmates for days. Then J.D. decides to do something about it. He realizes his artistic talents could also help him cut hair. He gives himself a sharp new haircut that makes him feel proud. Then he starts cutting the hair of his classmates. It doesn’t take long for J.D. to have a long list of kids who want him to cut their hair. Unfortunately, the man who owns the local barbershop doesn’t like that J.D. is stealing so many of his clients. He threatens to shut down J.D.’s in-home barbershop, but J.D. refuses to quit doing something he loves. J.D. and a friend think of a creative solution that helps the local barbershop get more business and allows J.D. to continue giving amazing haircuts to the kids in town. It’s a wonderful example of how creative thinking can benefit lots of people.

Teachable Moments

J.D. earns good money cutting hair. I love how the author writes the math equations that J.D. uses to calculate his income. However, J.D. gets the most joy from seeing how happy people are after he cuts their hair. J.D.’s first haircut is on his younger brother, Justin. When he finishes, J.D. thinks, “Making Justin happy with something I did filled me with a warm feeling. Like I’d just finished a plate of fried fish and French fries that my mom made every Saturday in the summer.”

I also love how J.D. thought of ways to fix his terrible haircut instead of just complaining about it. As he brainstorms solutions in the first few chapters, he realizes he’s always been good at drawing. He wonders if this talent will help him cut hair — and it does! J.D.’s self-talk throughout the book is great for your students to read. I also love how he hypes himself up when he gives his first few haircuts.

Finally, I hope your students see how important it is to encourage others. J.D. appreciates the support from his family throughout the book. It means the world to him as he starts cutting hair and when he is in the competition with the local barber.


I’ve created writing prompts and quizzes to help you teach this awesome book. You can check them out in my TpT store.

I hope you will have a chance to read J.D. and the Great Barber Battle with your students. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you so much for all that you do for your students.

The Great Pet Heist and The Newspaper Club — Kids Books About Pets and Friendship

If you are around kids who enjoy reading books where animals do brave things and act like people — The Great Pet Heist is a wonderful book for them.

If you are around introverted kids who are struggling to adjust to living in a new place — The Newspaper Club has characters who they should be able to relate to.

If you are around kids who just want to read fun books — I recommend both! Keep reading for more details about these books that are perfect for grades 3-5.

The Great Pet Heist The Newspaper Club

The Great Pet Heist, by Emily Ecton (copyright 2020)

Brief Summary

This story is about five pets who worry their owner will never return after she suffers a serious injury. A dog, cat, bird, and two mice team up to think of ways that they can keep living in an apartment without a human to take care of them.

They realize a neighbor has lots of coins. If the animals can get those coins out of this evil man’s apartment, they can have enough money to take care of themselves. They spend lots of time discussing detailed plans to get this money, some of which depend on a young girl who periodically stops by to take care of them. Their plans change drastically near the end when they realize this girl’s safety is more important than money.

Teachable Moments

I love the way each pet uses their unique talents to pull off the heist. It’s a cool way for kids to learn that working as a group can be a positive experience when everyone uses their own talents to achieve a goal.

I also like how the pets keep working toward their goal when their plans are not successful. There are several scenes where they spend a long time making detailed plans, but something goes wrong. They have to keep trying and revising their plan until it works. It’s a wonderful way for kids to learn why they should not give up.

Things to Keep an Eye On

The man with the bag of coins is NOT a nice guy, so it’s easy to cheer for the pets to be successful in their heist. However, one part of the book bothered me a bit. As the pets are gathering evidence to prove that this man isn’t nice, they see him not say anything to the doorman as he leaves the apartment building. This is one of several events that lead them to believe the man isn’t nice.

I’d make sure kids realize that seeing a person quietly walk past someone without greeting them is NOT a sign of that person being evil. There are several other scenes where the man’s actions show he’s not nice, like when he talks to the young girl in a super rude manner. However, I’d make sure kids understand that not saying “hello” to the doorman should not count as evidence that he’s a mean person.

Final Grade: A-

A review by School Library Journal on the back cover says, “A story sure to charm children who like to imagine what their beloved pets are up to when they are away.” This perfectly summarizes why The Great Pet Heist will be a hit with kids who love animals!


I’ve created 10 quizzes and 10 writing prompts to help you teach this book. They are available for $4.95 in my TpT store. These are great for quick comprehension checks and for helping your kids think about the events on a deeper level. Everything is in a Google Form too.

The Newspaper Club, by Beth Vrabel (copyright 2020)

Brief Summary

Nellie is a young girl who has to get used to some big changes in her life. Her parents used to work at a newspaper until they recently got laid off. Nellie, who loves journalism, misses visiting their newsroom and helping them with their stories. Additionally, her mom has decided to move them to a small town called Bear Creek. Nellie misses living in a big city, where there were parks, shops, and street vendors everywhere. Nellie has no idea how she’ll ever be happy in Bear Creek until she notices some suspicious activity at the park. Since the local newspaper won’t cover this story, Nellie puts her journalism skills to good use to uncover what is happening. She also makes friends with several kids who help her publish a newspaper that provides the locals with some much-needed news about Bear Creek.

Teachable Moments

As someone who graduated with a journalism degree, I loved reading about a young kid with a passion for writing. I feel like writing is a skill that kids don’t pursue often enough. Writing gets overlooked for sports, music, etc. Those are great, but I’m sure you have some amazing writers in your class too! Hopefully, reading Nellie’s story will help kids see that writing can be a terrific way to make friends, have a positive impact in the community, and build confidence.

As someone who is introverted, I also enjoyed reading a book where the main character describes her struggles to make friends. Nellie is in gifted classes at school, but when she’s around kids, she has a difficult time thinking about what to say. That’s a big reason why she’s never had friends her age — until moving to Bear Creek. It was heart-warming to see Nellie make friends through her newspaper work. It gave her something to work on with kids her age, which also helped her think of things to talk about. By the end of the book, Nellie has a solid group of friends and feels much better about living in Bear Creek.

I also loved that one of the main characters, Thom, has two moms. When Nellie meets Thom for the first time, his moms invite Nellie into their home for dinner. Eating a meal with Thom’s warm, welcoming parents is the first positive thing that happens to Nellie in Bear Creek.

Things to Keep an Eye On

There are a few characters who discuss having their parents die recently. If you have any kids who have lost a close relative, you may want to prep them about the topic being discussed in a bit of detail near the end of the book. The characters discuss how much they miss their parents and things they do to help them cope.

Final Grade: A+

As an introverted journalism major who likes to write, how could I not give this book the best grade possible!!??


I’ve also written questions and prompts for this book, which are available for $4.95 in my TpT store.

ALSO — There is a sequel to this! It is called The Cubs Get the Scoop.

Black Brother, Black Brother and The Disaster Days: Must-Reads for Kids and Adults

What are some things you do that are good for your mental health?

For me, reading books that are written for grades 3-8 is the perfect way to calm my brain amidst all the craziness going on right now. I love it when authors can write about complex topics in a way that kids can understand. What an amazing talent to have!

Jewell Parker Rhodes and Rebecca Behrens certainly have this talent. I just finished books by these authors and WOW. Just WOW. I could type about 2,000 words to describe each book, but I’ll do my best to tell you about them without taking up your whole day.

Black Brother Black Brother Disaster Days Books

Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Brief Summary

Donte is a middle-school student at a private school in suburban Massachusetts. He is the only visibly black student who goes there. Donte’s mom is black and his dad is white. Donte’s brother, Trey, is light-skinned and is adored by everyone at their school. Students and staff often ask Donte, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

In the first section (this book gets right into it) the school’s headmaster has Donte arrested for an incredibly minor incident. Donte is handcuffed and led into a police car during dismissal, which means the entire school sees it. He has to spend an evening in jail.

Donte thinks of ways to get back at a classmate named Alan, who makes lots of racist comments to Donte and never gets in trouble for doing so. Donte often gets in trouble for things Alan does, like the one that had Donte in the headmaster’s office at the beginning of the book.

Alan is the captain of the school’s fencing team, so Donte imagines how great it would feel to humiliate Alan by beating him at a fencing bout. Donte has never played a sport before, but he is determined to put in the work.

It is amazing to read about Donte’s transformation as he learns to fence. He loves pushing himself to get in shape. He appreciates having amazing observation skills that help him anticipate moves that his opponent will do before they do them. He enjoys being challenged by opponents who see him as an equal. He makes incredible friends, including a former Olympic fencer who coaches him. By the end of the book, he doesn’t even care about beating Alan. He has made people see him as a smart, hard-working, athletic young man. He has forced people to SEE HIM. The word “see” is important to Donte throughout the book.

Teachable Moments

This book has so many important things for kids to reflect on. In the second section, when Donte’s parents arrived at the police station to get him out of jail, notice how Donte’s dad is treated compared to his mom. Later, when Donte has to appear in front of a judge because of the arrest, notice how the judge’s demeanor changes when he sees Donte’s dad and brother. Even though the complaint against Donte is dropped, Donte still doesn’t feel good about his first experience in a courtroom. Finally, I hope your students see the confidence that Donte gains in himself as he learns how to fence. Hopefully, it will encourage your students to try new things so they can discover talents they didn’t know they had. It’s an amazing way to gain self-confidence.

Things to Keep an Eye On

You may want to tell your students that if they try something new, they may not experience the success Donte had. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try! Hopefully, your students notice how Donte felt after he lost his first bout — he felt great! He loved the challenge. The loss made him love fencing even more.

You may also want to make sure your students understand what’s happening during his court hearing because everything happens SO FAST. It is sad that a court hearing, which will have a major impact on Donte’s life, is an experience that happens in a matter of minutes. It’s also sad when the judge reads the complaint against Donte as if it’s 100% fact when it CLEARLY is not! That made me so angry.

Final Grade: A+

A must-read. Period.


Rhodes includes outstanding discussion topics at the end of the book, but if you need more, I’ve created resources that are available in my TpT store for $4.95. My 11 quizzes and 11 writing prompts are also available in a Google Form.

The Disaster Days, by Rebecca Behrens

Brief Summary

This book reminded me of Hatchet because it involves a young kid who is suddenly thrust into survival mode. Hannah, a 13-year-old girl, lives in a secluded area near Seattle. An earthquake that measures 9.0 on the Richter Scale hits when she is babysitting two kids. With no cell phone service, no electricity, and the threat of aftershocks that can happen at any moment, Hannah has to think quickly to keep everyone safe for several days. Since there are so few people who live in her area, and since transportation into the area isn’t possible, she has to do everything alone. Hannah works hard to keep the kids calm during some of the most stressful situations imaginable, like when a bear walks up to their tent at night. She also has to keep herself calm as she battles asthma attacks without her inhaler. By the end of the book, she has used every ounce of her strength and resourcefulness to lead them to a rescue boat that will get them help.

Teachable Moments

Behrens does a fantastic job of showing Hannah’s inner dialogue. There are several times when Hannah’s mind — understandably — starts imagining worst-case scenarios. “What if our parents were killed in the earthquake?” “What if there’s no way off the island?” She tells herself to “stop spiraling” and adjusts her thinking to things they can do, which is pretty remarkable for a 13-year-old in that situation.

Behrens also shows Hannah process the things she does wrong. At one point, Hannah thinks that she has been more dangerous to the kids than the earthquake has (insert broken-heart emoji here). Thankfully, she works on giving herself credit for the things she has done right, like getting the bear away from their tent in the middle of the night. Hopefully, your students will apply this same attitude when they are feeling critical of themselves. Sure, Hannah makes some mistakes, but she shouldn’t forget about ALL the brave things she does right in an impossible situation.

Things to Keep an Eye On

If any of your students have experienced an earthquake, this book may have some triggering scenes. If any of your students have had to scramble for basic necessities after a natural disaster, like a flood, tornado, hurricane, etc., you may also want to keep an eye on how they react to Hannah and the kids fighting for survival after the earthquake. It may be a good idea to give your students a heads up about some of the things they will read about in this book.

Final Grade: A+


I’ve created 11 quizzes and 11 writing prompts for this book. This resource is available in my TpT store for $4.95. Everything is available as a Google Form and PDF.

So much for keeping this brief! I hope you can read these books with your students or enjoy them on your own. Kids and adults can certainly benefit from reading books like these.

Great Books for Grades 3-6: Midnight at the Barclay Hotel and The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter

I just read two amazing new books that are perfect for kids in grades 3-6. Both involve ghosts and mysteries. They also have great characters who bravely help others and discover more about themselves in the process. The books are:

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, by Fleur Bradley

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter, by Aaron Reynolds


Midnight at the Barclay Hotel

Brief Summary

Five guests are invited to spend a weekend at a historic hotel in Colorado, which is rumored to be haunted. Two of the guests have kids who get to come, much to the delight of a young girl who lives at the hotel with her family. The guests arrive expecting a relaxing weekend, but instead, they are thrust into a murder mystery involving the hotel’s owner. The kids work together to find several important clues that help the adults solve the mystery.

Teachable Moments — People are More Than a Label

One of the girls, Penny, is primarily known as a quiet, timid child who only enjoys reading. The text states, “Everyone saw her as ‘Bookworm Penny,’ but she wanted to be more.” She was determined to solve the mystery, even if it meant putting herself in dangerous situations. The other two kids gained tremendous respect for Penny’s detective skills. Penny proves to herself that she is more than a “bookworm.”

Things to Keep an Eye On — Several Plot Twists

Your students may need help keeping track of several big plot twists. Penny and her friends uncover lots of information that help them solve the mystery, but there were a few times when I had to flip back a few chapters to remind myself of some key details. The author does an outstanding job of tying up all the loose ends at the end, but some kids might need help remembering things that happened earlier in the book.

Final Grade: A-

This was a fun read and the characters are amazing! There were a few great one-liners where the kids gave funny perspectives about adults. When the boy was trying to persuade his mom to accept the invitation to the hotel, he repeatedly told her it had a hot tub. He thought, “Most adults are suckers for hot tubs. It’s like going swimming without making an effort.” As an adult who loves hot tubs, I CRACKED UP at this line!


I’ve created 11 quizzes and 11 writing prompts for this book, which is one for every five chapters.  The full resource, which includes each quiz and prompt in a Google Form, is available for $4.95 in my TpT store.

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter

Brief Summary

Rex has always dreamed of owning a dog. He thinks he’s finally going to get one on his birthday, but instead, his parents give him a pet chicken. Rex is devastated. Then he gets cursed after losing a mysterious arcade game with the Grim Reaper. Because of this curse, Rex becomes the go-to guy for the ghosts of animals who have recently died at the zoo. Rex is overwhelmed at the thought of helping these animal-ghosts, then he slowly starts to piece together some clues about how they were killed. By the end of the story, Rex and these animals make a fantastic team that stops a person from harming animals. He never gets a dog, but he realizes his pet chicken is the best pet he could possibly ask for.

Teachable Moments — Sometimes, It’s Okay If You Don’t Get What You Want

At the beginning of the story, Rex makes it very clear that he wants a dog more than anything else in the world. By the end of the story, he barely thinks about it. He has so many memorable experiences with the ghost-animals. He learns that more than one thing in life can make him happy. His “ghost-pet” chicken, Drumstick, becomes his new official “sidekick” at the end of the story.

Things to Keep an Eye On — Rex’s Sarcasm

I love Rex’s honesty. He doesn’t hold back on expressing his thoughts throughout the book. However, there are a few times when the sarcasm might go over your students’ heads. It’s also important to teach your students when it’s appropriate to THINK something as opposed to SAYING it.

Final Grade: B+

The ghost-animals are a lot of fun! Rex can hear them speak because they are dead and he is the only person who can see them. He even brings them to school. I also enjoyed seeing how Rex matured during the story. By the end, he accepts responsibility for a poor grade on a report, telling his parents he could have done more research. He also tells his parents that he understands if they don’t get him a dog.


I’ve created 10 quizzes and 10 writing prompts for this book, which is one for every four chapters. The full resource, which includes each quiz and prompt in a Google Form, is available for $4.95 in my TpT store.

Charlie & Frog (Another Fun New Book I Just Read!)

If you’re looking for a new book to read with your students, I highly recommend Charlie & Frog, a book by Karen Kane that was published in 2018.

Charlie & Frog

It’s a feel-good story about a young boy who finally finds friends who want him around and a young girl whose determined spirit is helpful throughout the story’s plot. It’s also a fun mystery that will have your students always wanting to read more.

Since several of the characters in the story are Deaf, Kane describes how they use American Sign Language to communicate. Your students are likely to remember a few words in ASL after they finish this book. The illustrations at the beginning of most chapters show how to make the sign for a word or phrase. Kane does an outstanding job during the story of describing how the characters make signs to communicate.

The story is about a young boy (Charlie) and girl (Frog) who work together to solve a mystery in a small town. Charlie, who can hear, works hard to learn ASL so he can communicate with several of his new friends. He makes lots of new friends during his adventure while learning the importance of communicating in different ways and being there for the people you care about.

Charlie & Frog is another awesome book from the 2021-22 Florida Sunshine book list for grades 3-5. This annual list of 15 newer books always give me great ideas for new books to check out. There’s a list of books for grades 6-8 too.

I’ve created resources to help you teach Charlie & Frog with your students. My quizzes are great for quick comprehension checks. I’ve also written prompts that work well for writing assignments and/or discussion starters. Everything is in a Google Form as well. It’s available in my TpT store for $4.95.

I can’t wait to keep reading more books for kids this summer! I hope you have some time to read some good books too, but if not, feel free to keep an eye on my blog for more book recommendations.

Florida SSYRA Book Summaries (2019-2020, Grades 3-5)

One of my favorite things about teaching in Florida was reading SSYRA books with my students! It was always an excellent list of 15 newer books, most of which I had not read before.

If you want to learn more about each book, but don’t have time to read them all on your own, I’ve written short summaries of each one. I hope this will help you pick which books would be the best to read with your students. I’ve also linked to novel study units I’ve created for each book so you can use them in ELA lessons, small groups, or however else you want. Just click on each book’s title to see those resources.

If you don’t teach in Florida, I hope you’ll check out a few of these new books if you’re looking for something different to read with your students. They are all amazing books!

These books are on the SSYRA (Sunshine State Young Readers Award) list for grades 3-5. There’s also a list of 15 books for grades 6-8.

The Bicycle Spy is about a young boy, Marcel, who lives in France during World War II. When German soldiers arrive in his town, he notices everyone is a lot more tense than normal. When a new girl arrives in his class, they bond over their love of cycling. However, when she reveals a secret about her family, Marcel works hard to keep their secret, even if it means putting himself in dangerous situations.

There’s a good chance you have a few students in your class who can relate to the main character in Stella Diaz Has Something to Say. This third-grade girl, whose family is from Mexico, is not confident in her ability to speak English. Other girls tease her about this, which makes Stella even more hesitant to speak. She gets incredibly nervous when the teacher assigns a project which involves a five-minute presentation. Stella’s friends and family give her excellent advice that makes speaking a less-daunting task. Their advice and encouragement help Stella feel much more confident in her speaking ability by the end of the book. Your students who feel nervous about speaking will learn some EXCELLENT tips. Your students will also learn the power of kind words and encouragement.

Bob is a heartwarming story about two friends who go to great lengths to help each other learn more about their past. The main character is an 11-year-old-girl named Olivia. When she visits her grandmother in Australia for the first time in five years, Olivia finds an old friend, Bob, whom she had forgotten about. Why can’t she remember him? Why can’t he remember where he came from? Why did Bob spend five years waiting for Olivia in a closet in Olivia’s grandma’s house? Olivia and Bob work together to figure out these questions in a book that is sure to keep your students turning the pages.

EngiNerds is about four boys who love intellectual challenges. The main character, a boy named Ken, receives a mysterious package full of metal pieces. Those pieces are used to build a robot that has the ability to consume all the food in Ken’s house! At first, Ken thinks it’s amazing to have his own robot. Eventually, he realizes that taking care of a robot is much more challenging than he first thought — especially when more of them appear around town. Ken and his friends have to use their creativity to figure out a way to prevent the robots from destroying the town.

Ben Franklin’s in my Bathroom also begins with a mysterious package arriving at the main character’s house. This story is about Nolan and Olive, a brother and sister, who open the package to see an old radio. Once they figure out how to make it work, Ben Franklin suddenly appears in their house. Nolan wants to figure out a way to get Ben back to the year 1784 ASAP, but Olive and Ben want him to maximize the experiences he has in the 21st century. All three of these characters learn valuable lessons from each other by the end of the story.

Cosmic Commandos is about a young boy, Jeremy, who uses a special power to save the world when enemies from his favorite video game attack in real life. There is also a nice subplot about Jeremy learning how to get along with his twin brother, Justin. In the end, Jeremy and Justin gain a newfound respect for each other that they didn’t think was possible.

Wedgie & Gizmo tells the story of two animals with completely opposite personalities who are forced to live in the same house. When Gizmo’s family moves in with Wedgie’s family, Gizmo is forced to adjust his evil plan to take over the world. At first, he views Wedgie as a dog who he needs to get rid of in order to accomplish his plan. However, by the end of the story, Wedgie is no longer Gizmo’s #1 enemy. While the narrative focuses on these two animals, you’ll also read about how a young boy adjusts to living in a new home and how these animals help him out.

Ghost Attack is a terrific story about the importance of teamwork. Two cousins, Alex and Sarah, work together to clear the name of a person who was wrongly committed of a crime long ago. Their week at their grandparents’ country home is full of surprises as they deal with mysterious rashes, a ghost that only they can see, and a town that has lots of hidden secrets. Alex and Sarah constantly share ideas with each other, which is why they are town heroes by the end of the story.

Sled Dog School is the perfect book for students who are self-conscious because they are bad at math. The story is about a sixth-grader named Matt who has always struggled in math class, but he is terrific at guiding his dogs while dogsledding around his home in northern Michigan. Matt is in danger of failing math and being sent to remedial math class, so he jumps at his teacher’s extra-credit assignment to create a real business. Matt’s dogsledding talents help him start a helpful business, but he makes lots of mistakes along the way. By the end of the story, Matt has learned from his mistakes, made two terrific friends, and realizes he should feel good about his talents instead of dwelling on things he’s bad at. BONUS — the story includes an amazing scene of Matt standing up to a kid who’s bullied him for a long time. It’s a terrific way to model how kids should stand up to bullies!

If you like stories that are written in different styles, then Annie’s Life in Lists is the book for you! Annie is a fifth-grader who loves writing lists, so the story is written as a series of lists from Annie’s notebook. The author, Kristin Mahoney, does a fabulous job of telling the story this way. Annie is a young girl with an amazing memory, but it gets her in trouble one day at school in Brooklyn. Annie spends months after that trying to blend in, stay quiet, and hide the fact that she can remember lots of things about people. The story also describes her family’s adjustment as they move from Brooklyn to a small town. This book has lots of good lessons about accepting who you are, adjusting to a new city/town, and working with your family to help you do these things.

I taught so many students who loved reading about the Titanic. Now, kids can read a story about what it was like for animals who were on the ship. Survival Tails: The Titanic, is written from the point of view of a dog and cat who were on board. These animals have very different owners, which affects their experiences on the ship, but they end up coming together to help each other in ways they didn’t think were possible. Students will learn a lot by reading what the animals did before the ship hit the iceberg. Kids will also gain a unique perspective by reading what the animals saw and experienced as the ship sank. The end of this story does an amazing job of showing what it was like for those who survived this tragedy.

If you’re looking for a book with unexpected plot twists, check out The Ambrose Deception. Three middle school students — to the surprise of their counselors — are chosen to participate in a competition for $10,000 in scholarship money. They have to solve three mysterious clues that require them to do a lot of research and explore their hometown of Chicago. The three students are told to work individually, but once they start working together, they learn that they are participating in something much bigger than a scholarship competition. This is a longer read, but each section is short, so there are plenty of places you can pause while you’re reading this. Side note: I LOVED the characters in this story!!!

If you’re a fan of Rules, you should like Superstar, which is a book written from the perspective of a fifth-grade boy who has autism. Lester loves science, watching meteor showers with his mom, and reading books at the library, and being taught by his mom at home. However, when Lester’s mom gets a full-time job, Lester is forced to attend public school for the first time. He has a difficult time adjusting to the schedule, teachers, rude classmates, and cafeteria noise. Thankfully, Lester is surrounded by teachers who help Lester feel more comfortable at school. As Lester learns more about school, he also learns more about himself — like how his knowledge of science can help him get better at kickball.

Tumble & Blue is one of the longest books on this SSYRA list, but if you have the time to read it, it’s well worth it! This is a story about two kids who learn that they are cursed. Blue always loses. Tumble wants to be a hero, but she always ends up being the one who needs to be saved. Blue’s great-grandmother holds a long competition where her huge family competes against each other. She chooses the winner, who then gets to learn how they can change their fate. Blue refuses to participate in this cutthroat competition. Instead, he takes his fate into his own hands. As Tumble does everything she can to help, she realizes she needs to join Blue and do the same. By the end of the story, Tumble and Blue feel a lot better about themselves. You’ll love reading why!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a terrific way to model positive self-talk for your students. The main character, Adventurine, is transformed from a dragon into a human just as she discovers that chocolate is her passion in life. She works hard to learn how to interact with humans, make friends, and become an apprentice at a chocolate house. At one point, Adventurine makes a terrible mistake. She is devastated because she thinks she will never be allowed to make chocolate again. An entire chapter describes the self-doubt she has. After that, the book describes how she motivates herself to get back in the chocolate-making business. Through sheer determination and positive self-talk, Adventurine discovers that she is more powerful than she could ever imagine while making enemies become friends. I LOVE the way this story shows the exact words that Adventurine speaks to herself to give her the confidence to pursue her passion and NOT listen to all the doubts she has about herself.

If you’d like novel studies for all 15 books, you can save money by purchasing my bundle.

The Perfect Book for Teaching Growth Mindset

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

Hatchet is the perfect book to help students understand the benefits of developing a growth mindset!  The story is about a 13-year-old boy, Brian, who survives a plane crash.  Then through sheer will power and determination, he survives in the wilderness for months until he is rescued.  Reading Brian’s story of survival gives you plenty of ways to teach your students growth mindset because Brian never gives up.  He forces himself to keep trying even when he fails.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating how Brian talks to himself as he wills himself to accomplish tasks.  Brian is the perfect character for your students to read about as you teach them to develop a growth mindset.

In this blog post, I’ll give you three ways your students can learn why it’s important to develop a growth mindset after reading Hatchet.  After that, you’ll see three discussion topics that you can use with your students after they read Hatchet to reflect upon the growth mindset lessons they learned from Brian that they can apply in their lives.

Growth Mindset Lessons

Brian is never successful at first when he tries something new.  But the harder Brian works to achieve something, the more pride he feels when he accomplishes it.  

Brian finds berries to eat within a few days after crash landing.  Then he figures out how to catch fish.  But nothing compares to the pride he feels when he cooks his first bird and eats delicious meat.  Several chapters give details about Brian building tools to catch animals.  Then he improves those tools over and over again until they work.  In chapter 15, Brian starts craving meat.  So he figures out a way to finally catch birds that he calls “fool birds.”  It takes him a long time to figure out how to catch one.  Brian fails the first several times he tries to catch a fool bird.  But he never gives up.  When he finally catches one to cook, he says the meat tastes better than anything his mother has ever cooked.  Brian feels tremendous pride because he worked so hard to catch it.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating all the work that went into catching a bird and the immense pride Brian felt when he was eating it.  This is a tremendous example for your students to see that nothing compares to the satisfaction of working hard to accomplish something.


Brian is a normal kid, but he learns a lot about surviving in nature because he is willing to learn from his mistakes.

The text is clear that Brian is not a genius or expert outdoorsman.  Brian is used to living in the city.  He had problems doing simple bike repairs before the plane crash.  He survives because he keeps trying to learn new things and realizes that failure is part of learning. In chapter 14, a skunk sneaks into Brian’s shelter at night and steals food.  Brian realizes he was foolish to bury them in the ground where any animal can get it.  After this failure, Brian realizes he needs to store his food in a high place where animals can’t steal it.  He finds a place, then he has to use tree branches to build a ladder for him to reach this place.  Once he has his food out of reach, he feels extremely proud.  He never has any more food stolen for the rest of the book.  It’s an outstanding example of Brian learning from a mistake.  There are MANY scenes like this where Brian fails, then learns from it.


Facing problems head-on becomes a habit for Brian.

The story is full of challenges for Brian.  But instead of getting discouraged by them, he always forces himself to think of solutions.  In chapter 16, Brian was attacked by a moose.  Later that night, his shelter was destroyed by a tornado.  But the next morning, Brian started thinking about how he would rebuild his shelter.  He realized he was “tough in the head” because he had gotten so used to facing problems rather than getting discouraged by them.  It had become a part of who he is.  This is an outstanding lesson for your students.  Just like working out can make you stronger physically, forcing yourself to solve problems rather than getting discouraged can make you stronger mentally.

Discussion topics:

In chapter 18, Brian retrieves a huge bag of supplies from the plane that crashed into the lake.  The bag is full of incredible things that will help Brian tremendously.  But the text in chapter 19 said the pack “Gave Brian up and down feelings.”  Why would Brian feel “down” about the contents of this bag?

Possible response:  Brian had spent about two months surviving on his own in the wilderness.  Other than his hatchet, he built everything on his own.  He figured out everything on his own.   These supplies are like a bunch of shortcuts.  Nothing about the last two months has been a shortcut for Brian.  Students may also think Brian is sad that he didn’t have these supplies at first.  But I feel like most of the text evidence suggests that Brian is not fond of using supplies that will make things like hunting, catching fish, and starting fires, a lot easier.


At the beginning of chapter 8, Brian is attacked by a porcupine in his sleep.  Besides the pain of the needles in his leg, why does he start crying?  Then what makes Brian realize that crying accomplishes nothing and how does that help him during the rest of the story?

Possible response:  At the end of chapter 7, Brian falls asleep feeling more content than he has since the plane crash.  He has a shelter and he’s full from eating a lot of berries.  But in the middle of the night, a porcupine gets into Brian’s shelter and shoots several sharp needles into Brian’s leg.  The pain is bad, but Brian feels terrible because he hasn’t figured out how to make fire yet.  He wonders what will happen if a larger animal gets into his shelter at night.  Then he feels like he will never be able to survive and starts sobbing uncontrollably.  When he’s done, the text states, “Later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.  It wasn’t just that it was the wrong thing to do, or that it was considered incorrect.  It was more than that — it didn’t work.”  When Brian had problems later in the book, he didn’t cry.  He just kept thinking and trying new things until he found a solution.


After the rescue plane flies away in chapter 12, Brian feels like all hope is lost.  Then in chapter 13, the text states, “In measured time, forty-seven days had passed since the crash.  Forty-two days, he thought, since he had died and been born as the new Brian.”  Summarize what this means.  How has Brian become “the new Brian?”

Possible responses:  The rescue plane came a few days after Brian’s initial crash.  After Brian watched it fly away, he realized no one was coming for him.  He felt incredibly depressed and tried to kill himself.  But he didn’t.  The text states Brian returned to his shelter that night and realized, “He was not the same.  The plane crashing changed him, the disappointment cut him down and made him new.  He was not the same and would never be again like he had been.  That was one of the true things, the new things.  And the other one was that he would not die, he would not let death in again.”  This flashback that Brian has in chapter 13 happened 42 days earlier.  Students could also point to the fact that Brian never even thinks about quitting and never stops until he has figured out a way to accomplish what he sets his mind to.

I have created quizzes and writing prompts to help you teach Hatchet.  The prompts are excellent ways for your students to connect with the events in the book.  The quizzes are a quick way for you to ensure your students are comprehending the story.   Click the image below to see the novel study in my TpT store!

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

I hope your students enjoy this book and become more determined to get “tough in the head” just like Brian did!

Four Books That Fifth Graders Won’t Stop Reading

Books Your Fifth Graders Won't Stop Reading

(Yes, that’s my daughter reading Hoot.  My legs are still sore!)

The best part of teaching fifth grade is watching kids get really excited about a good book.  It’s such a shame that reading “experts” in so many districts require teachers to use test-prep passages to teach reading.  Fifth graders are at an age where they crave relationships.  They love reading good books because they feel a connection with the story’s characters — something that’s impossible to do with a 2-3 page test-prep passage.

I’ve got about 8-10 awesome go-to books that I know fifth graders love.  But I always struggled to find time to read new books.  Then if I found a good book, I had to find resources to help me teach the standards using that book.

My goal with this blog post is to give you a brief description of four books and link you to resources I’ve created that can help you cover the standards while using quality literature.  I want you to be able to enjoy these books with your class, not worry about finding activities.

I know you can Google the synopsis of these books, but I will explain a few reasons why fifth graders will enjoy them.  Click the images if you’d like to see the novel study resources I’ve created for each book.

Ungifted, by Gordon Korman

This is about a boy (Donovan) who gets sent to a new school so he can avoid a huge punishment.  But then he surprisingly ends up enjoying this new school way more than his old one.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Donovan does not fit in at his new school because he’s not as smart as everyone else.  But he finds ways to fit in, earn the respect of his new classmates, and show that intelligence is not something that is only measured by grades on a report card.

–Donovan is very loyal to his family.

–Donovan is not afraid to take risks.  Here’s a response from one of my 5th graders who loves that Donovan is not a “normal” character.

Five Books Fifth Graders Will Love


Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen

This is about a boy named Roy who helps two other kids stand up to a major corporation so lots of animals will be able to keep their home.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Roy’s new friends delay this corporation’s project through some creative and funny methods, one of which involves putting gators in port-a-potties.

–They are protecting adorable baby owls.

–Roy stands up to a boy who is bullying him, but not by fighting him.

–At first, Roy has problems adjusting to his family’s move from Montana to Florida.  I’m sure you have students who have moved and miss their old home.

As you can see from the picture above, my daughter couldn’t put this book down!  Here are the novel study resources I’ve created that gave my students things to write about and discuss as they read Hoot.

Books fifth graders will love


Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

This story does a brilliant job of illustrating the life of an African-American family living in Mississippi in the 1930s.  Students will learn how racism affected the lives of African-American families during this time.  Students should realize how racist comments and actions have a devastating impact on people’s lives.  Hopefully, after reading about Cassie’s family, your students will think twice about making racist comments and/or posting hateful messages and images on social media.

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Cassie is a very strong-willed young girl who stands up for what is right.  She has to make many difficult decisions.  Sometimes she regrets her choices.  But she always tries to do the right thing.

–Cassie’s parents and grandmother refuse to respond to racism with violence.  Instead, they come together in support of the entire black community.

–Your students have probably heard, or been the victim of, racist comments.  Cassie and her family will help your students learn the importance of standing up against racism, and ways of doing so without fighting.

–Your students will develop a STRONG connection with Cassie’s family.  They will feel angry and sad about the racist things that are done in the story.  Prepare for some deep questions and strong emotions as your students read this…which is exactly what we want when kids read, right?

There are LOTS of ways for your students to respond to this book!

Books Fifth Graders Will Love


Pie, by Sarah Weeks

This is a fun book about a girl’s mission to carry on her aunt’s legacy of baking wonderful pies as a way to unite her community.  The girl, Alice, also mends her rocky relationship with her mom, solves a mystery, and gains a lifelong friend.  If you’re looking for a new book to try with your class, I highly recommend Pie!

Fifth graders will love this book because:

–Every chapter starts with a pie recipe!  Don’t read this book on an empty stomach!

–After Alice’s Aunt Polly (the famous pie chef) dies, many people try to get their hands on her secret recipes.  There are several mysteries that Alice attempts to figure out regarding this recipe.  Alice also has to figure out who is trying to steal these recipes.

–In the end, Alice learns to be content with whatever life gives you.  She gets along much better with her mom.  And she carries on her aunt’s legacy of baking pies to unite the community.

–This book was selected by Florida students in grades 3-5 as the best book on the state’s 2015-16 SSYRA list!  Every year, the SSYRA (Sunshine State Young Readers Award) committee selects 15 awesome books for students to read that year. Then  kids across Florida who read them vote on a winner.  It’s a really cool process!  I taught fifth grade in Florida for five years and always loved the books on the SSYRA list!

–Again, discussion and response topics are numerous with this book!

Four Books Fifth Graders Will Love

I know the pressure to teach test-prep passages is enormous.  It’s a shame that lots of teachers feel like they have to “sneak” good books in during their reading block instead using those boring passages.  But I hope you are able to read these books with your class this year.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each book.  For Hoot, I also have made vocabulary pages, cloze activities, and task cards with discussion topics.  Click the picture below to check them out!  They are available together at a discounted price, or individually if you’d prefer.

Novel studies for books that fifth graders love



Five Books About Determined Girls

Books about determined girls

I just finished reading five books that are awesome for the girls in your class!  Each book’s main character is a young girl between 10-13 years old who shows incredible determination in accomplishing an important goal.  These girls all overcome incredible challenges and don’t allow setbacks to keep them from accomplishing something they’ve set their mind to.  Even though they are hurt when people say rude things to them, they don’t respond with anger.  They are a great example of how to persevere when life gets difficult.   This drawing (not my original idea!) summarizes what each girl faces:

Five books about determined girls

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (AR level 3.7)

Main character:  Ally, who is dyslexic and a brilliant artist.

Problem:  Ally gets teased often at school because she has problems reading.  She does not like herself and gets in trouble often.

Ally’s class gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels, in the middle of her sixth-grade year.  This teacher helps Ally realize that even though she has trouble reading, she is talented at many other things.  Ally starts to believe in herself a little more each day.  She starts working harder in school.  Mr. Daniels tutors Ally after school and uses many different techniques to help her learn to read.

Ally always assumed that her classmates hated her.  But by the end of the book, it is clear her classmates have noticed how hard Ally has been working.  They respect her artistic talents.  They appreciate the way that she treats people kindly.  By the end of the book, it’s clear that Ally is one of the most respected students in the class.  She still struggles with reading, but she is getting better.  Her determination has helped her gain new friends and a newfound respect for herself.  She realizes she is a person who has many talents.  She stops defining herself as someone who can’t read.

Serafina’s Promise, by Ann E. Burg (AR level 3.6)

Main character:  Serafina, a girl who lives in Haiti.

Problem:  Serafina desperately wants to attend school so she can become a doctor when she grows up.  But her family needs her at home to help with the daily chores.

Problem #2:  Once Serafina starts school, she starts to dislike it because they are required to learn French, a subject that Serafina feels is pointless.

Hopefully, your students will gain an appreciation for their ability to attend school every day after reading Serafina’s Promise!  Serafina wants to attend school more than anything in the world.  Serafina has to persuade her parents, but she also has to help her family rebuild after a life-threatening flood and earthquake.  After she helps her family build a new home after the flood, Serafina learns how to plant an herb garden.  Instead of complaining that her mother won’t let her attend school, Serafina becomes determined to use this herb garden as a way to earn more money for her family.  Her parents eventually allow Serafina to attend school.  Her mother says how impressed she has been that Serafina has earned extra money while keeping up with all of her other daily chores.

But once Serafina attends school, she gets discouraged because they have to learn French.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but by the end, Serafina becomes determined to do her best during these French lessons because that will allow her to accomplish her bigger goal of becoming a doctor.

All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman (AR level 6.0)

Main character:  Gladys, who is an incredible chef and a talented writer.

Problem:  Gladys has parents who don’t want her to cook because they feel like that’s not something kids should do.  Gladys also feels like her interest in food makes her an outcast at school.

Gladys is determined to write a restaurant review for a major New York City newspaper!  She mistakenly receives an assignment from an editor.  Even though she’s in sixth grade, Gladys feels like she’s talented enough to write this review. But Gladys feels like if her parents find out about this, they won’t let her write it.  Gladys goes to great lengths to secretly get to this restaurant, but her plan hits lots of road bumps.  Ultimately, her kindness toward a mean girl enables Gladys to get to the restaurant and write this review.  By the end of the story, Gladys’s parents respect her culinary and writing talents and encourage her to cook more.  There were several times during the story when Gladys could have given up her desire to cook and write, but her determination helped her achieve her goal.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners (AR level 5.4)

Main character:  Gabby, who is incredible with children and a talented musician.

Problem:  Gabby must take care of a child whose life is in danger.  Additionally, if Gabby can keep this job a secret, she will earn a lot of money that she can save to help her attend her dream college in London.

Gabby is a famous babysitter.  Celebrities around the world send limos and private jets so Gabby can babysit their kids.  But Gabby gets a unique job offer to take care of alien children.  Gabby is excited because this job pays extremely well.  She is being raised by her mother and knows the extra money would really help her family.  It will also allow her to save some money so she can attend an awesome music college in London.  But there’s one big catch — Gabby can’t tell anyone about this top-secret job of watching aliens.

This becomes even more challenging when Gabby is told to babysit an alien child during school.  Thankfully, the child can change forms.  But as the school day progresses, an evil person finds out and tries to hurt the kid.  Gabby’s love for this child puts herself in several dangerous and embarrassing situations.  But her determination to protect this child ends up saving the child’s life and helping Gabby accomplish her musical goals as well.

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord (AR level 4.5)

Main character:  Lucy, who is an amazing photographer.

Problem:  Lucy wants to use her photography skills to make a friend’s grandmother have a memorable final summer at their lakeside cottage.

Lucy’s family has just moved to a small cottage near a lake in New Hampshire.  Lucy becomes friends with her neighbor, Nate, whose grandmother suffers from a mental disability.  Lucy decides to enter a photo contest and donate the money to Nate’s grandma if she wins.  But there are many challenges for Lucy to even enter this contest, much less win it.  Lucy experiences many setbacks in her plan.  But through it all, she remains determined to help Nate’s grandmother have happy memories during her final summer at the lake.

Florida teachers — These books were on the 2016-17 grade 3-5 SSYRA list!

My goal is to help teachers read quality literature with their students.  I have created writing prompts and quizzes for all of these books.  Click the image below to check them out!

Novel studies for books about determined girls