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September 01, 2016

Curse of the Boggin: The Library Book 1

Curse of the Boggin: The Library Book One
by D.J. MacHale

Marcus O’Mara is not crazy. He just sees things that aren’t there. And hears sounds no one else hears. Something weird is going on, and he’s determined to find out what that something is. Luckily, he’s got the key—literally, an ornate old key. It unlocks a bizarre library full of unfinished stories. The stories are written by spirits and involve unexplained phenomena. Mysteries that have never been solved. Spirits that have never been laid to rest. Stranger still, it looks like it’s up to Marcus and his friends to finish the terrifying stories . . . before they finish them.

Everyone loves a scary story. Whether you’re huddled around a campfire with friends sharing stories, or you’re curled up in your favorite chair reading about a haunted theme park, scary tales excite, frighten, and remind us to keep the lights on. But ghost stories aren’t just for giving us goose bumps; classrooms are a great place to study literature in the horror and suspense genre.

Listed below are a few examples to help focus units of study by looking at character development, themes, and literary elements in Curse of the Boggin.

  • Character Development: MacHale introduces a variety of strong and diverse characters in this first book: an extremely likable protagonist, a couple of strict parents, a mean teacher, and two really cool best friends. Have students track the development of these characters and explore how the spooky adventures shape their personalities and relationships. Questions to consider: Who succumbs to fear? Who becomes the leader? What are the characters’ motivations?
  • Thematic Investigation: There are many relatable themes found in ghost stories, including revenge, darkness versus light, good versus evil, quest for discovery, self-awareness, optimism, and the will to survive. Have students choose two or three themes in the book, and record supporting details while reading. Questions to consider: What is the main message of the story? Is there a moral? What other books have a similar message?
  • Literary Elements: There are also great examples of literary elements in ghost stories, used to enhance the descriptions and make the characters and setting come alive: mood, setting, mystery, humor, suspense, figurative language, plot twists, and foreshadowing. Have students indicate where in the book they find these literary elements, and have them discuss the purpose and effect. Questions to consider: How do certain descriptions help us visualize the text? Why is it important to understand the setting? How do we know what the characters are feeling?

For more inventive ideas on incorporating scary stories into lesson plans, head over to READWRITETHINK.ORG and search for scary, ghost, or horror stories.

Twitter Follow us on Twitter at @RHCBEducators for more classroom activities.

September 01, 2016

A Personal Penguin Craft and Read Along!

Penguin Problems
by Jory John; Illustrated by Lane Smith

Jory John and Lane Smith bring us all back to reality with this eye-opening look at the day-to-day struggle of the modern penguin, and we know children will laugh at the penguin’s goofy complaints! Follow the easy steps to craft a personal penguin, to use for an interactive storytime!

It ain’t easy being a penguin!

We all love penguins. They have that silly little waddle, they huddle together and it’s adorable. But the grass isn’t always greener, my friends. Penguins have it rough, too. I mean, it is FREEZING down there. They’re constantly being hunted. Plus, can you imagine trying to find your mom in a big ol’ crowd of identical penguins? No, thank you.

Personal Penguins

What you’ll need: glue, scissors, a toilet paper roll, black marker, white, black, orange and yellow paper, googly eyes

  1. Color the toilet paper roll black.
  2. Cut out an oval of white paper, and glue it near the bottom of the toilet paper roll for the stomach.
  3. Paste on the googly eyes.
  4. Cut out a small orange triangle for the beak, two medium yellow triangles for the feet, two large black triangles for the arms, and paste them all on.
  5. Read, play, and enjoy!

September 01, 2016

Begin the New School Year with These Classroom-Themed Picture Books!

School has started and kids are back at their desks, ready to learn! To help students get excited, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite picture book titles that take place in a classroom just like their own.

Sophie’s Squash Go to School

by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

In this charming sequel to the beloved Sophie’s Squash, Sophie goes to school for the first time and has no interest in making friends that aren’t squash.

The perfect antidote to back-to-school jitters, this gently humorous read-aloud proves that making friends, just like growing squash, takes time. On Sophie’s first day of school, nobody appreciates her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter, baby squash that she grew in her garden.

Even worse, one classmate, Steven Green, won’t leave Sophie alone. He sits by her at circle time. He plays near her during recess. And he breathes on her while she paints. Steven just wants to be friends, but Sophie isn’t interested. Still, Sophie knows that her squash friends won’t last forever. Maybe it would be nice to have some human friends, after all. . . .

Get to know Sophie and her companions in the first book, Sophie’s Squash.


Mission: Back to School
by Susan Hood; illustrated by Mary Lundquist

What will distract first-time students from first-day jitters? Entering secret-agent mode, of course!

The team from Mission: New Baby is back with a new assignment: turn school into a thrilling action adventure! After rendezvousing at the vehicle checkpoint (meeting at the bus stop), young agents will learn to build diplomatic relations (make new friends), conduct field work (explore outside during science class), and develop new lines of communication (learn to read and play music). Chock-full of tips and fun visuals, kids won’t be able to help getting excited for their next mission!

Join in on the first adventure with the team in Mission: New Baby.

Mad Scientist Academy: The Weather Disaster
by Matthew McElligott

Welcome back to Mad Scientist Academy! In the second book of the series, Dr. Cosmic’s class of clever monsters must face down blizzards, thunderstorms, floods, and tornadoes in this perfect blend of adventure and exploration.

Dr. Cosmic introduces his class to his new CHAOS machine—an invention that controls the weather on campus! The students learn all there is to know about the atmosphere, condensation, and precipitation from the great meteorologist Dr. Nimbus.

But when the climate machine starts to malfunction, causing extreme weather conditions, the students must use their newly updated scientific handbooks (with weather instruments) to stop the machine before it destroys the entire school.

Download the Classroom Activities Available with CCSS Correlations.

Meet the gang at Mad Scientist Academy with the first book, Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster, and download the Classroom Activities.

We Love Our School
by Judy Sierra; illustrated by Linda Davick

This picture book about the first day of school, featuring a frog, a duck, a mouse, and a snail, combines a story in rhyme with colorful graphic rebuses.

Children about to enter kindergarten or first grade who long to be able to read will get a sense of accomplishment by “reading” the little rebus pictures in the story. Judy Sierra uses bouncy rhyme and rhythm as cues for the child to name the pictogram rebuses. Preschoolers will enjoy following the animals and their teacher, Tom Burkey (who is a turkey), through a happy first day of school.

Freckleface Strawberry and the Really Big Voice
by Julianne Moore; illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A new Freckleface Strawberry picture book from Academy Award winner Julianne Moore!

Freckleface Strawberry’s very best friend, Windy Pants Patrick, has a big problem. His outside voice doesn’t seem to fit inside school. From the lunchroom to the classroom, he’s just TOO LOUD! Is there any place in school where his big voice can fit? From Academy Award–winning actress and New York Times bestselling author Julianne Moore comes this funny, endearing tale about friendship and what makes each of us unique!

Haven’t read the first Freckleface Strawberry picture book adventure? Check out Freckleface Strawberry: Backpacks! and download the Educators’ Guide.

September 01, 2016

A Word from Taylor Kitchings

School traditionally begins after Labor Day, but here in Mississippi we start in early August, right along with football, with summer at its peak. At least we have air conditioning, unlike the Mississippi classrooms of the 1960s where “back-to-school” meant back to the drone of a single oscillating fan as our only relief from the heat. Memories of those classrooms were part of what prompted me to write YARD WAR, recently out in paperback from Wendy Lamb Books.

When I was eight, four years younger than my protagonist Trip, our housekeeper brought her son a couple of times and we threw a football out in the front yard a couple of times. I clearly remember the night my mother told me the neighbors had complained, and I could not play football with my new friend anymore. It was the beginning of my understanding of the depth and breadth of racism that infected Southern society at that time. Trip insists on his forbidden friendship, leading to an increasingly hostile reaction from his neighbors that ultimately drives his family to question whether they can stay in Mississippi. YARD WAR teaches lessons in empathy and courage as Trip discovers his unbreakable connection to the state he loves and hates and “never will understand.”

This year, make back-to-school “back-to-the-sixties” for young readers—sometimes, seeing how far we have come helps us see how far we have yet to go.

Click here to download the Yard War Educator Guide.

Taylor Kitchings’ debut novel, YARD WAR (2015, Wendy Lamb Books), won the 2016 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize in Children’s Literature and a Junior Library Guild selection. A sequel, THE TIDINGS TREE, is scheduled for release Spring of 2018. Kitchings teaches AP English and Creative Writing at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, MS. 

August 10, 2016

Get Ready for Back to School with these Classroom Favorites!

Summer is winding down and it’s time to get back into “school mode!” To help get the back to school preparations started, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite middle grade titles set in schools.

Read the book that inspired the nationwide movement to #choosekind!

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Read the book then take the Certified Kind Classroom Challenge with your students!



Love, friendship, betrayal, and Valentine’s Day all take on new meanings in this captivating and intriguing novel by Newbery Medal author Rebecca Stead.

Bridge and her friends live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When Bridge was in third grade, she survived being hit by a car, and ever since she’s wondered: why am I here on earth? There must be a reason. Bridge and her best friends Tab and Emily start 7th grade, and dramas unfold: Emily suddenly has “a body” and is getting lots of attention, including texts from a popular older boy who sends revealing photos of himself, wanting Em’s photos back. Tab immerses herself in the human rights club and feminism. Bridge becomes good friends with Sherm, a boy who makes her question a lot of things, such as: did Apollo 11 really land on the moon? And she wonders: what’s the difference between liking someone, and love?

Download the Educators’ and School Counselors’ Guide




Is the pen mightier than a bulldozer? Fifth grade poets stand up to save their school in this delightful debut novel.

This year, Ms. Hill’s fifth graders are writing poems to put into a time capsule. This year, the school board plans to tear down their school to build a supermarket. They might be the last fifth grade class of Emerson Elementary. No way! Inspired by Ms. Hill’s 1960s political activism, the students decide to save their beloved school. As they circulate petitions, stage sit-in, and test the waters of democratic action, personal questions, triumphs and sorrows find their way into their poems.

Download the Educators’ Guide






The first book in the beloved Mr. Terupt Series

It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much…until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.

Download the series Educators’ Guide



It’s the ultimate game—locked in a library overnight, twelve kids need to solve brain-teasing puzzles in order to escape!

Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games–board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot as one of twelve kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, hosted by Mr. Lemoncello and riddled with lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Download the Educators’ Guide