Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New and Improved Website!

I'm so excited to report that my new and improved website is up and running! I'm going to leave all my past posts here too, but come check out for future book reviews, science activities, and other fun stuff. Thanks!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Coming Soon(ish): Awesome Things!

As you may have already noticed, I'm taking a little hiatus from the blog and working on a new and improved website as well as some writing projects I'm really excited about. In the meantime, you can always look at all the book spotlights, science activities and other resources at

Thanks so much for visiting!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Author Interview with Anna Staniszewski!

Today I'm thrilled to share an interview with Anna Staniszewski, author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, and the newest book in the series, My Sort Of Fairy Tale Ending, which released just last week! Welcome, Anna! And now, on to the interview...

One of my favorite things about this story is Jenny, especially all her sass and spunk. Which did you come up with first: Jenny the character, or her story?
I'm usually a story-first writer, but in this case, the character definitely came first. The earliest scene I ever wrote about Jenny featured her coming home to find a talking frog sitting on her bed. She was so annoyed by the sight of the talking frog--she actually threw him out a window!--that I knew I had to find out more about her.
In what ways are you like Jenny? How are you two different? And who would win in a crazed-unicorn jousting competition? In a cheesy-saying competition?
Jenny is the kind of person I wish I could be. She's brave and spunky while I'm pretty shy and wimpy. We do share a similar weird sense of humor, though. Jenny would definitely have the upper-hand in a crazed-unicorn jousting competition, but I think we'd be pretty evenly matched when it came to a battle of cheesy sayings.
Jenny grew up a lot from the beginning of book 1 to the end of book 3. What do you think she'll be doing when she grows up even more?
It's been so much fun to see Jenny growing up and embracing her adventurer identity. I imagine that one day she might even mentor young adventurers just like Dr. Bradley has done for her.
Can you tell us what you're writing next? Will Jenny or any of her friends from the magical worlds show up in future books?
I think Jenny is relieved that I'll be leaving her alone and moving on to torturing different characters! Up next is the first book in my next tween series, The Dirt Diary, which comes out in January. The new series is realistic fiction, but I think it has the same type of humor that UnFairy Tale fans have come to expect.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Never stop writing! I speak from experience. I've loved writing for most of my life, but for a few years, I let myself get distracted by all the other things I had on my plate. If you love to write then always make it a priority, no matter what.
What advice would you give to young adventurers (even if they are stuck in this world)?
Hang in there! I know life in a non-magical world can be a little boring, but you can find adventure in our world, too. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open, and always be ready to save the day with a cheesy saying or two. :-)

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.
When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life and its sequels, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail and My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending, all published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Very UnFairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski

From Goodreads: You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They're lies. All lies. I've spent my life as an official adventurer. I travel across enchanted kingdoms saving magical creatures and fighting horrible beasts that most of you think are only myths and legends. I've never had a social life. My friends have all forgotten me. And let's not even talk about trying to do my homework. So -- I'm done!! I'm tired and I want to go back to being a normal girl. But then along comes "Prince Charming" asking for help, and, well, what's a tired girl like me supposed to do?

My Two Cents: This book is a great pick for girls who are looking for a little adventure. Jenny is smart and strong, but also totally relatable and an authentic tween. From the opening sequence (involving crazed unicorns!) to the final chapter, this book kept me smiling and turning the pages.

Grade Level: 3-6

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Anna Staniszewski's website
  • Jenny has a special bracelet with purple gemstones. Check out this online gemstone guide and see what you think it was made of. Which are your favorites?
  • Jenny loves to play mini golf. Practice a round here, then go outside and make your own course!
  • The animals in this book have a hard time communicating. Learn lots of cool facts about how real animals communicate from Animal Planet.
  • One of the dangerous things Jenny faces in this book is a poisonous flower. Could there be poisonous flowers near you right now? Find out here.
More to Read:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Witches by Roald Dahl

 From Goodreads: This Roald Dahl classic tells the scary, funny and imaginative tale of a seven-year-old boy who has a run-in with some real-life witches! "In fairy tales witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs. That is why they are so hard to catch." Witches, as our hero learns, hate children. With the help of a friend and his somewhat-magical grandmother, our hero tries to expose the witches before they dispose of him.

My Two Cents: I remember being delightfully scared when my teacher read this to the class in elementary school, and I had much the same reaction as an adult. (Okay, not quite as scared, but definitely delighted.) Like all of Dahl's books, this one is funny and a little naughty and unbelievably imaginative.

Grade Level: 2-6

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Roald Dahl's official website. You might be surprised how many books he wrote!
  • Try one of these fun witch crafts (not to be confused with "Try witchcraft!")
  • Some of this story takes place in Norway--learn more about this cool country from National Geographic Kids. Does it seem like a good place for witches to you?
  • There are some...unusual mice in this book. Learn more about regular mice in this animal encyclopedia.
  • Check out this trailer for the movie based on this book.
More to Read:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homemade Gears

In this week's book, some of the characters had body parts made of tiny, intricate gears. Today we'll make our own gears and learn a little about how they work!

Gears are wheels that turn each other. To start out, make some wheels by cutting different size circles in cardstock. (We traced ours from the bottom of cups, but a compass would be even better because you'd know the exact center of the circle.)

Most gears have teeth to help them spin each other. Take another piece of cardstock and fold it into a fan. Make the folds as even as possible so your teeth will be as even as possible.

Next, cut the fan into strips. These will be the teeth of your gears. Cut a small notch down the center of each strip of teeth, then slide this notch over the edge of your circle. You will probably need multiple strips of teeth to go around even your small circles. Try to space out the teeth as evenly as possible.

When your gears are finished, put a pin through the center and stick them to a corkboard. Now you can make a gear train--a series of gears that turn each other! Watch your gears as they turn. The one you're pushing is the driver gear, and the others are follower gears. Do they all turn the same direction? Can you predict what direction they'll all turn if you change the direction you're turning the driver gear? Is it easier to turn a small gear or a larger gear? Which one goes around the fastest?

For more great info on gears, check out this video or this website. Have fun!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

 From Goodreads: In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.

Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.

This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced adventure that is sure to satisfy.

My Two Cents: This National Book Award winner is magical, inventive, and very creepy. Rownie himself is immensely likeable and endearing, and even the creepiest characters are fleshed-out and fascinating. This book would spark interesting discussions and ideas about good guys and bad guys and impossibly amazing inventions. A great pick for kids in the mood for something strange and a little dark.

Grade Level: 5-7

Additional Resources:
  • Visit William Alexander's website.
  • Watch this video of the author reading a section from this book. (He even wears a fox mask for a minute!)
  • Read this fun summary of ten goblin legends from around the world. Which one reminds you most of this book?
  • One of the creatures Rownie encounters is a fish that swims in dust. Watch this video about mudskippers, a real fish that hangs out on dry land.
  • Some of the characters in this story get around on gearwork legs. Watch this great introduction to gears from the Children's Museum of Houston.
  • There are lots of birds doing strange things in this book. Watch the birds around you by going on a bird behavior scavenger hunt.
More to Read:
  • Another magical, fantastical tale of a transient group of misfits: Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
  • Another story with amazing gearwork and a lost, lonely boy: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • A less creepy tale of "magic, mystery, and a very strange adventure": Horton's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
  • Another boy who is surrounded by magical creatures and up against almost-impossible obstacles: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Monday, October 7, 2013

October: Spooky Stories

October is here! A new month means a new theme, and this month, I'll be featuring some spooky (but still kid-friendly) stories on the blog! This month's books feature goblins, ghosts, witches, and...creepy fairies! We'll also have an author interview, and, of course, some fun science activities.

And while I was taking a break last week, I missed my one year blog anniversary! Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and caring about books and kids and science! It's been a great year. :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Making Recycled Paper

In one of my favorite scenes of Ida B (this week's book), Ida B's dad tells her that they need to take care of the Earth. One of the best ways to do this is by recycling! Let's make our own recycled paper to help take care of the Earth just a little.

  • newspaper
  • water
  • aluminum foil
  • flat strainer
  • corn starch
  • leaves, glitter, or pressed flowers (optional)

 First, take your newspaper and cut it into very small pieces. (We used a paper shredder to speed up the process a little.) Put all the tiny pieces of paper into a bucket or large bowl and cover with warm water. (The ink from the paper might stain the bowl, so maybe don't use your fanciest one.) Let the paper/water mixture sit overnight.

Once your mixture has taken on sort of a lumpy-oatmeal texture, it's called pulp. And once you have pulp, you're ready to make paper! Spoon some of the pulp onto a sheet of aluminum foil and spread it into a thin layer. Remove as much of the water as you can by pressing a flat strainer over it. (We used a pizza pan with holes in it, but you could also make a strainer by poking holes in a piece of foil.)

When you've removed as much water as you can, cover your pulp layer with another piece of aluminum foil and flatten it with a rolling pin or heavy books. Carefully peel off the top piece of foil, then leave your project somewhere warm and safe to dry! (This is the part where you can decorate your paper by adding flat leaves, flowers, or even glitter.)

Once your paper is totally dry, just peel off the foil! Then check out this site or watch this video to see how paper is recycled on a much bigger scale. Thanks for helping take care of the Earth!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

 From Goodreads: Ida B. Applewood believes there is never enough time for fun.

That's why she's so happy to be homeschooled and to spend every free second outside with the trees and the brook.

Then some not-so-great things happen in her world. Ida B has to go back to that Place of Slow but Sure Body-Cramping, Mind-Numbing, Fun-Killing Torture—school. She feels her heart getting smaller and smaller and hardening into a sharp, black stone.

How can things go from righter than right to a million miles beyond wrong? Can Ida B put together a plan to get things back to just-about perfect again?

My Two Cents: Ida B is such a compelling character with such a darling, distinctive voice. I don't often re-read books (too many new ones to try!), but I read this one again. And it was every bit as funny and sweet and touching as the first time around. A great example of how kids can be kind and strong and vulnerable all at once.

Grade Level: 3-6

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Katherine Hannigan's website, including this reading group guide for Ida B
  • Ida B's dad tells her to take care of the earth. Learn ways you can help take care of the earth here.
  • If Ida B were an apple, she'd be a McIntosh--"tangy with a thin skin." Check out this directory of apples and decide which kind you'd be and why. (Who knew there were so many?)
  • Id B has some tricks for helping Ronnie remember his multiplication tables. Check out some more multiplication memory tricks here and here.
  • One of the characters in this book has cancer but fights it really well. See how you can help the fight against cancer here and here.
More to Read:
  • Another remarkable book about a kid making the change from home schooling to public schooling: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Another great middle grade pick by Ida B's author: True (...Sort Of) by Katherine Hannigan
  • Another book about a girl who has to start school while her family is changing: Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Apple Science

In this week's book, Sierra got in big trouble when she brought her mom's lunch bag by mistake because there was a knife in it. The knife was probably there so Sierra's mom could cut her apple right before she ate it so it wouldn't go brown. Do you agree? Let's see if we can come up with another way that Sierra's mom could keep her apple fresh!

  • apple slices
  • lemon or lime juice (sugar water works too, but for different reasons)
  • plastic wrap
  • fridge and freezer

Cut the apple into slices and decide what you're going to do with each one. We kept one just on the counter (as the control in our experiment.) We put one in the fridge, one in the freezer, and one outside. Then we wrapped one in plastic wrap and coated another in lime juice. The rest of the apple slices were part of our taste test program--and they tasted great. :)

Then all we had to do was wait and observe! We took pictures of our apples after 24 hours:

And after 48 hours:

After two days, the only one that still looked edible was the frozen apple slice. (The plastic wrap one was close.) It didn't take days to see a difference, though--we definitely started to notice changes in our apples after just a couple of hours! But why? What was happening?

Cutting the apple actually damages the cells on the surfaces where you slice it. That damages the cells on the surface and exposes some of the enzymes, and these enzymes react with the oxygen in the air. These reactions slow down in cold temperatures like in the fridge or especially the freezer. And they should slow down when there's lemon juice on the surface because it has antioxidants (chemicals like citric acid and ascorbic acid that slow down oxidation reactions like the ones happening on the apple.) Plastic wrap keeps most of the oxygen away from the apple too. (Check out this article for more information, or visit this site.)

You can try your own ideas for keeping apples fresh too, or try the experiment with other fruits or vegetables. Have fun!