Monday, April 1, 2019

BAT and the End of Everything

Hey Readers!

I'm so glad you're here on my blog for the continuing adventures of Bixby Alexander Tam known to those of us who have been with him since book one as "BAT".  If you haven't had the chance to read Elana K. Arnold's series then you are in for a treat. . . and if you have read the first two stories about BAT then you've been anticipating and also dreading this particular book.  But I get ahead of myself!

 It is June and BAT is finishing 3rd grade. His parents are divorced and BAT lives with his mom, a veterinarian, and his older sister Janie with "Every-Other Weekend " spent with his father. Although he is never officially labeled as such, BAT is a child with autism doing his very best to function and fit in. One of the greatest moments in BAT's life is when his mom brings home a baby skunk kit and allows BAT to be his caretaker with the full understanding the skunk will be released back to the wild. As you can surmise from the title, Bat and the End of Everything, that time has come and BAT is not ready to let his skunk, named Thor, go.

Several classrooms in my school use BAT as a read aloud.  As the receiving school for the entire district's special needs students, it is imperative that we educate our school community about the ins and outs of students with special needs. Books such as Arnold's help everyone truly step into the shoes and experience the world through different eyes. I liken her books to Jack Gantos's Joey Pigza books that helped us understand the viewpoints and reasonings of a child with Attention Deficit Disorder. As a teacher I have taught many ADD students and Gantos's book helped me understand these children better than any article, book or doctor. Arnold's go a long way to help us understand autism.

I can also see BAT's stories being used as a ONE BOOK ONE SCHOOL choice. His story is accessible to all elementary aged students and could create great discussions and connections. I encourage you to read BAT's story and then share it with others. :-)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly by Rebecca K.S. Ansari

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 Greetings Readers!

     You are in for a big treat today because I have a guest poster and he's a student in my school district, from Bonny Eagle Middle School. His name is Declan and he is one of my most favorite readers! We have been sharing and recommending books since he could read practically and he outreads me year after year. :-)
   After I read The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly by Rebecca K. S. Ansari, I put it in a stack of books for Declan and it was the first one he picked up. We are both in agreement that this is a unique story, unlike anything else we've ever read and that's a good thing! Here is Declan's book review, followed by mine. Enjoy!!!

        A couple of weeks ago I was given a copy of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly, at first I was skeptical of it, but it sounded interesting so I gave it a shot. The book immediately tells you that Charlie O'Reilly is an only child, which is why he makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about Liam his brother. Liam has been wiped from everyone's memories, along with every trace of his existence. He's so sure his brother is, or at least was real. So Charlie, his best friend Ana, and friend Jonathon head out to find him. They discover a woman has been taking children that wish they had never been born, and taking them to a magical orphanage that to most people looks like it burnt down many years ago. 
       Charlie, Ana, and Jonathon hatch a plan to get him out and quickly discover it's not going to be as easy as they thought. So they must use their strength, wit and friendship to make it back home. To find out more you must of course read the book. All in all it's an amazing book, filled with twists and turns. This book is truly like no other and I've never read anything like it. If you're looking for a book with mystery, suspense, funny and relatable characters, I highly recommend The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly.
                                                                                                                Declan, age 12, Bonny Eagle Middle School

     I have always loved fantasy so looked forward to reading Charlie O'Reilly. I found it a mash up of both fantasy and realistic fiction which often provides excitement along with interesting plots. I liked Charlie the minute I met him and I know you will too. From the opening lines, "Charlie O'Reilly was an only child.  It therefore made everyone uncomfortable when he talked about his little brother.", who can't feel empathy for a boy who is quite certain that he has a younger brother yet everyone else, except his best friend Ana, have no memory whatsoever of Liam. Although Ana doesn't remember him either, she is the only one who doesn't think Charlie's crazy. Although he is sent to counseling, his goal is to figure out what in the world is going on! Is he crazy? Why is his mother so depressed and his father so often gone on business?
     When Ana and Charlie meet Jonathon, the new volunteer for the baseball team, the mystery thickens. Who left the note in O'Reilly handwriting that said, TALK TO JONATHON. Who wrote it and what did it mean? What does Jonathon have to do with anything?
     Cross the threshold of fact and fantasy with Charlie, Ana & Jonathon as they follow leads and enter an apparently abandoned home, real to them, where it is winter all the time. The necklaces each child wear hold the key to something but what? Have Charlie and Ana made a terrible mistake in coming here?
     This book is definitely a page turner and a great debut novel from Ansari. I can't wait to see what she brings us next but while you're waiting, get yourself a copy of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly, and plunge into a fantastic adventure to find out if Liam is real, and if he is, where is he and how can they get him back?

 P.S. Here is a teacher's guide with a summary, discussion questions and activities!   CLICK HERE


Thursday, June 29, 2017


     I had the pleasure of kicking off my summer reading with a book that has a setting close to home - the beach! Although I'm from Maine and this story is set in Cape Cod, I could immediately smell the sand & surf and see the waves. Author Elizabeth Doyle Carey has a new summer series for us and it's a good one. The Cupcake Diaries'author writes a story that rings true as we get to know the four girls - Piper, Selena, Ziggy and storyteller, Jenna, all new to the teenage years.

     The four friends decide to spend the summer together as they try out for the Junior Lifeguard program, in this first of the series, Junior Lifeguards The Test. The usual trials and tribulations of teen angst were realistic and engaging. I realized as I neared the end of this first story, that I wanted  to know more about these girls and their lives. Carey leaves a bit of a cliffhanger in this first book, which I hope will be addressed in the next one. No spoiler alert here, you'll have to read the book to find out! 
     Middle grade readers will be wanting more as they read about these girls' problems, friendships and fears. The main characters are interesting and likable. Take this book to the beach, give it to your tween reader and let them enjoy a summer in Cape Cod vicariously through kids their own age.
     Win an autographed copy of the first three books in the series of Junior Lifeguards by joining my blog or if you are already a member, leave a comment below please!You can also retweet on Twitter, just make sure to include my handle @litcoachlou! 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sputnick's Guide To Life On Earth by Frank Cattrell Boyce

     Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a delicious mash-up of fantasy and realistic fiction. It is a rambunctious, funny and, at times, poignant story of a silent boy named Prez, an alien named Sputnik, a foster family and a forgetful grandfather.
         Prez doesn't talk . . . at least not to anyone at the summer foster home he is staying at on a farm in the country. But when Sputnik appears, things get a bit wonky! Who is he? Where did he come from and why in the world can he read Prez's mind?!
     Trip along on a fascinating ride as Sputnik tries to save planet Earth, marked for destruction, by creating a guide highlighting the top ten great things about Earth. He enlists the help of Prez but he and Sputnik don’t always agree on what is great on Earth and what isn't. Witness Sputnik's excitement and delight over the discovery of a remote control but how totally unimpressed he is with the Taj Mahal. 
     This book will resonate with children and adults alike and would be an ideal read aloud for classroom teachers. Students will relate to Prez's inner thoughts as he worries about his grandfather, tries to fit into a family for the duration of a summer only and be responsible for an unexpected alien that a family falls in love with, seeing him as a friendly and lovable dog. 
     Boyce Cantrell has hit a home run with Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth. Put this one on the top of your TBR lists for the summer - you won't be disappointed then give it to one of your favorite readers.
     Win your very own signed copy of Boyce Cantrell's superb new novel. Follow my blog, leave a comment if you already do and/or tweet and retweet about it, including @litcoachlou!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Anderson does it again!

       John David Anderson nails middle school relationships and interactions truthfully and poignantly in his second novel Posted. The struggles to find your place, your identity, your true self, amidst the turmoil of how truly cruel kids can be, is a tough job and one that most will keep to themselves – parents and teachers are not told. As I got deeper and deeper into Anderson’s newest novel, I was literally brought back to my own 8th grade year, .  . . the year my “friends” decided I was no longer part of their group and I was ostracized and not invited to any of the outside weekend activities organized by my former crowd. Just like that - I was out - and I had no idea why or what I did to warrant such treatment. It was a miserable year and I think everyone who has ever attend middle, or in my case, junior high school, will be able to identify with this superb novel.
        As this story opens we meet four friends, Frost, DeeDee, Bench & Wolf,  who have formed their own tribe and try to cover themselves with a cloak of invisibility, especially in the dreaded lunchroom. We all probably remember, where you sit and whom you sit with, make all the difference in the social status created by the middle school population. And don’t think you can just sit down with anyone – there is territory in a middle school cafeteria and lines that can never be crossed.
Frost, our narrator, nicknamed for Robert Frost after winning a poetry contest in 5th grade, feels safety in the four points that make up their invisible square of indifference and unity at their lunch table. Everything is tolerable, at least until a new student crashes their table, a girl no less, a girl named Rose Holland, who is like no girl they have ever met – not that they have met or talked to any. Rose is loud, brash, friendly and physically a very tall, big girl whose physique has led to many unpleasant nicknames including Moose. Rose Holland reminds me a bit of Star girl  by Jerry Spinelli, fearlessly marching to her own drummer.
     When phones are banned in school, students are lost without their social media accounts that cannot be accessed and used during school. But just as time is eternal, kids will always find a way and these kids are no different. Pretty soon post-it notes start slowly popping up on lockers, bathroom stalls, gym walls, more and more each day. Many are trite or kind but as I’m sure you are already inferring, many turned ugly and mean.
       The student population soon realizes the old aphorism, Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me, is just not true.  As we build up to the climax of this story (and make sure you are ready to read the last third of the book straight through in one sitting as you won’t be able to stop) we witness the blood that words can draw.
       Anderson is a master of character development. We know and sympathize with these kids and I bet everyone who reads this book will identify with at least one of these characters or will immediately remember students in their classes like these five. The first time I ever heard about “finding your tribe” was when speaking with the very talented E. B. Lewis at an NCTE conference in Boston. He said no matter what, kids would find their “tribe”, the people who accept them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing – depending on your tribe, but you will find it. As we all remember from tough experiences,   your tribe may change – members drop out or are added – a lesson our kids learn the hard way.
       This is an important book. Bullying and making fun of others has always been around but today, with the advent of social media, there are many more opportunities to antagonize – even outside of school.
Words are weapons and can be just as deadly.

Win a signed copy of Posted by John David Anderson either by tweeting about it - include me @litcoachlou or by joining my blog! 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and Charles Santoso

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy, (ARC), from  @WaldenPondPress of A Boy Called Bat, written by Elana K. Arnold, with illustrations by Charles Santoso.This is a warm, tender, enchanting story of a third grade boy nicknamed Bat, for the initials in his name, which stand for Bixby Alexander Tam.
Bat’s mom is a veterinarian and Bat wants to be one when he grows up. He loves animals and finds that he can often relate to them better than people. Although it is never specifically mentioned, the reader will realize that Bat is not like every other 3rd grader. He has trouble making eye contact, occasionally flaps his arms when frustrated and struggles with any type of change, including every other weekend at his dad’s.
When Bat’s mom brings home an orphaned skunk, with the intention of fostering the baby kit until he can be returned to the wild, Bat has a different idea! He desperately wants to keep the baby skunk, now named Thor, as a pet, and sets out to convince his mother that he is old enough and responsible enough to do so.
Although on the surface it may appear to be an animal book, Arnold takes us into the world of a child on the autism spectrum and the difficulties these children face with every day life. Every reader will come away with a better understanding and appreciation for all differences, not just those experienced by children with autism.
 Many schools participate in a One Book One School program.  To embrace the notion that “everyone reads”, all the people in a school or even community, receive and read the same book. I think A Boy Called Bat would be a wonderful choice. It is a very well-told story and would definitely generate some important conversations.
This is a book that should grace the shelves of both elementary and middle schools and can be enjoyed by any age. You can find some additional teacher resources here: Teacher resources

Win a signed copy of this book by joining my blog, ( or tweeting about this review on Twitter. (Earn two entries if you do both!) My handle is @litcoachlou and the raffle will close on Monday, April 3, 2017.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson


     I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy, often referred to as an ARC, from Deborah Kovacs, @deborahkovacs, & Walden Pond Press, @WaldenPondPress.  It didn’t arrive at the best of times however . . . it was that time of finishing up - finishing up the school year, finishing up teaching a writing class at the local university, finishing up my Literacy and finally, finishing up requirements for a curriculum coordinator’s license. But even with all this going on, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day was a book I couldn’t put down.

     Anderson doesn’t disappoint in his development of each and every character in this book. Ms. Bixby is an elementary school teacher, but not just any elementary school teacher. She belongs in that very small group of people who were just born to teach - those teachers that are the change-makers in children’s lives. 

I was gripped with each of the three boys’ stories. Topher, Brand and Steve are best friends but each come from different homes and experiences. Although each feels he is the only one with the special relationship with Ms. Bixby, as we read, we discover that all three are correct.

     If you are lucky, you have had a teacher or two like Ms. Bixby in your life. She was that teacher that never had to raise her voice, ever; the one that made each and every student in her class feel like they were special; the one that made learning so interesting and fun.  My first such experience was in third grade. I knew a bit about Mrs. Taylor because my sister, Ann, had Mrs. Taylor when she was in third grade. When my sister was in Mrs. Taylor’s class she learned to knit from her in an after school-knitting club. This was 1962 and just not done! When I had Mrs. Taylor some high school students brought in the frogs they had dissected and let us look at them and poke around at them  . . .unbelievable . . . I remember when our reading group had a real treasure hunt around the classroom after reading a story about the topic. Mrs. Taylor was the first teacher I had ever met that was so creative, so fun yet so challenging, all at the same time. We all hope to be that type of teacher – like Mrs. Taylor, like Ms. Bixby.

     Perhaps that is why three of her students, Topher, Steve and Brand, decide to ditch school for the first time in their lives and risk the wrath of their parents, in order to visit their teacher in the hospital. The trip isn’t as easy as anticipated, as they make some stops and purchases they need in order to give Ms. Bixby a perfect day.  With the book told from the point of views of each of the boys, we learn more about each of them. We learn about their lives and why they need Ms. Bixby in them.

     This is a book that you need to read and then you need to put into the hands of readers. It is powerful, sincere, funny and tender. Anderson’s storytelling pulls you into the lives of these characters and makes you root for them. There are moments of sadness, fear and anger too – genuine emotions that our kids might not always share. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day would be a great read aloud and one that you must have on your classroom and library shelves.

     The first 45 pages of the book are available to read here and a youtube video by Walden Press here. There are two ways to win an autographed copy of this book. Please leave a comment and/or join my blog. Don’t miss out on this one!