Category Archives: voice

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

cover49096-mediumWhen I first saw this sweet cover, I thought that Ava and Pip would be an early-ish chapter book, along the lines of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series or Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody books. This adorable cover deceives, however, as Ava and Pip is a solid middle grade novel that I think many of my 4th-6th grade students will love. While Judy and Clementine start off their series in third grade, Ava is a 5th grader, and her sister, Pip, a 7th grader. Ava and Pip‘s word count is twice that of Clementine and Judy, and the sentence structure is more suited to an upper elementary grade reader. The paperback version is coming out in March of 2015, so I’ll be interested to see what they do with the cover.

Ava is lovable, flawed, smart, and introspective. Her attempts to right a wrong are both believable and sympathetic, the family dynamics are charming and realistic, and the ending is satisfying. I look forward to recommending this one in my library this fall.

Many thanks to the publisher who provided this e-galley via Netgalley.

Publisher’s description:  AVA AND PIP is the diary of a good kid who does a bad thing.

Ava is an outgoing 10-year-old with a painfully shy 12-year-old sister. Ava gets mad at Pip and feels bad for Pip all at the same time. Mom and Dad are constantly fretting about Pip, and Ava sometimes feels invisible in her own family. When Pip’s 13th birthday party gets ruined because a new girl named Bea throws a boy-girl party on the same day, Ava, outraged, enters a writing contest with a thinly-veiled story called “Sting of the Queen Bee.” Bea finds out and is not pleased. She didn’t even know there were two parties on the same date. Bea confronts Ava, and the two reach a truce and decide to team up to try to help Pip come out of her shell. They devise five Pip Pointers. At first Pip resists, but little by little, she learns to speak up—and Ava does too. In fact, by helping Pip find her voice, Ava ultimately finds her own. She tells her parents that she would like some attention too, and she tells her diary that she has found her goal: She wants to be a writer someday.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* enjoys books in diary format

* tends to be shy

* loves words

* has siblings

* is a writer

Use this to discuss:

* Voice –The irony is that, throughout the story, Ava is trying to figure out what “voice” is in writing, yet her own voice oozes with sparkle and personality.

* Word Play–Ava’s entire family are self-proclaimed “word nerds.” They exchange puns, rhymes, and, most notably, palindromes (words and phrases that read the same both forward and backward, like A-V-A- and P-I-P, or “Was it a car or a cat I saw?” ) .

* Sibling Rivalry–Perhaps this category should be “sibling envy,” but that’s not quite accurate, either. Ava is envious of the attention that her parents give to her older, painfully shy sister, Pip, yet I don’t ever get the sense that Ava would want to be like Pip. All siblings feel this way at times, and the book will make a nice springboard for those discussions.

* Writing–Ava is an aspiring writer, and there’s a lot in these pages about finding one’s voice, writer’s block, etc. that could be culled for writers’ workshop activities.


Visit author Carol Weston’s website here to learn more about her. Students will be delighted to see how many autobiographical tidbits they can find that connect the author’s life and the book.

Check out the excellent educator’s guide by clicking here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Publication Date: March 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1402288708

Number of Pages: 224

For ages 9-12


The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin

Today Biblio Links welcomes author Joanne Rocklin!

Joanne Rocklin is the award-winning author of middle grade and early readers, including One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, For Your Eyes Only!, Strudel Stories, The Very Best Hannukah Gift, This Book Is Haunted, How Much Is That Guinea Pig in the Window? and One Hungry Cat. Her latest middle grade novel, The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, has only been out for two weeks, and has already garnered a starred review from Booklist, who says: “The only imperfection in this novel is that it ends.”

Story summary from IndieBound: In this warmhearted middle-grade novel, Oona and her brother, Fred, love their cat Zook (short for Zucchini), but Zook is sick. As they conspire to break him out of the vet’s office, convinced he can only get better at home with them, Oona tells Fred the story of Zook’s previous lives, ranging in style from fairy tale to grand epic to slice of life. Each of Zook’s lives has echoes in Oona’s own family life, which is going through a transition she’s not yet ready to face. Her father died two years ago, and her mother has started a relationship with a man named Dylan—whom Oona secretly calls “the villain.” The truth about Dylan, and about Zook’s medical condition, drives the drama in this loving family story.

I asked Joanne, a former elementary school teacher herself,  how her book fits into the classroom.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. Who is this kid?

Joanne Rocklin: The reader of my new book is anywhere from seven years up, and even a bit younger, as I think Zook makes a good read-a-loud.

That kid enjoys contemporary realistic fiction, but also funny, fantasy stories, because my main character Oona enjoys making up stories about her cat’s previous lives for her little brother.

This potential reader also likes to write his or her own stories and has begun to wonder how “real” authors do it. Oona believes (as do I) that the writing process is the same for everyone, published or unpublished, young or older. Oona has some interesting theories about storytelling.

Oona herself feels that her story would make a reader “feel good,” especially if the puzzle pieces of Oona’s life “are pieces of that person’s puzzle, too.” So perhaps the student comes from a multicultural background, or has suffered a painful loss, or his or her family dynamic is changing. Maybe she or he harbors a secret crush on someone, or wonders about the meaning of “true” love. Or has thoughts about magic, God, wishing, different levels of fibbing, friendship, happy-endings, why and when taffy melts-in-the-mouth in exactly seven seconds, or the difference between cat-owners and dog-owners. A kid who loves animals would especially love my book, I believe. Oona has theories about all of the above.

Or maybe that kid just wants a pleasurable, moving, funny read with characters s/he will like a lot. I think my book fits the bill.  I spent a few intense years with Oona and her brother, Fred, their friends and family, and loved every minute of it.

Biblio Links: If this book sounds like it has a little something for everyone, it does! We’re waiting for our copies to arrive at our school library, and when they do, I’ll be recommending this book to all kinds of kids.

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Joanne Rocklin: On my website is a free Activity Kit for THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK. I think that teachers will find it useful!  It includes discussion questions about the book itself, fun rebuses (mirroring the kind Oona used with her brother), activities centered around students’ family trees, people’s names, conversation starters, the drawing of illustrations from words, and Oona’s wonderful Rainbow Whopper Theory. You may even witness the cooking of fried zucchini.There’s a good chance you would hear the teacher reading the book aloud, or see the book’s trailer, as the teacher introduces the book for independent reading. If you’re lucky, you will arrive in time for the students’ Reader’s Theater, based on Oona’s own original tales.

Biblio Links: I’m looking forward to trying out the Reader’s Theater activities with students! Teachers and librarians, I’d also recommend showing the trailer to get kids predicting the kinds of tales Oona will be spinning about Zook’s past lives.

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Joanne Rocklin: Please go to

Everything is there–Activity Kit. Trailer. Reviews. Photos (especially of the Muse–okay, “Mews”–that inspired me. My anti-writer’s block-blog. Info about my school and library visits. Essays and interviews about writing and other things. And how to contact me for even more information!

Natalie, thanks for the opportunity to answer these great questions.

Thanks for stopping by, Joanne!

Click here to read rave reviews of The Five Lives of My Cat Zook  andJoanne’s other books.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Amulet Books (Abrams)

Publication Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1-4197-0192-4

Number of Pages: 240

My Very (Un) Fairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski

Today Biblio Links welcomes author Anna Staniszewski!

Jacket Summary: Is your magical kingdom falling apart? Twelve-year-old Jenny is on the case, whether she likes it or not. Saving the world might sound exciting, but for Jenny it’s starting to get old — even staying in the real world long enough to take a math test would be a dream come true! And when you throw in bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and the most useless gnome sidekick ever, Jenny decides that enough is enough. She’s leaving the adventuring business and not looking back. Or…is she?

As I read this book, I immediately thought of a dozen kids I wanted to hand it to. The Upper Elementary/Middle School years are rife with friendship drama, and Jenny, the book’s main character, handles her BFF mass exodus in a way that made me both want to hug and cheer for her. Missing her parents, Jenny has to figure out how to get along with her kooky but lovable Aunt Evie, which will resonate with many of my students who live with extended family members. And last but not least, I have a group of 5th grade girls who come into my library asking (in a whisper, of course) for books with some romance. Jenny is the daring damsel and Prince Lamb is the monarch-in-distress, and there are moments when a few cupid-shaped sparks fly–not enough to scare away boy readers, mind you, but just enough to put stars in the eyes of the girl readers who whisper their way into my library. A delightful read!

I asked Anna how her book fits into the classroom.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think, “That kid needs a copy of MY VERY (UN)FAIRY TALE LIFE.” Who is this kid?
Anna Staniszewski: This student is a girl (or a boy–yes, my book is also okay for boys!) who loves to laugh, enjoys magical adventures, has an interest in fairy tales, and is an avid mini-golf player.
Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Anna Staniszewski: I imagine a lesson on how fairy tales keep changing and evolving. A tale that inspired me as I was writing MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE was “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” which is one of the very few traditional tales that features a heroine who must rescue her prince. I used that idea and ran with it in my story. It would be interesting to have students think about the trends we see in traditional fairy tales and how those trends have changed (or not changed) as writers continue to re-imagine familiar tales.

Biblio Links: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?
Anna Staniszewski: Swing by my website! ( You can read the first chapter of my book, watch the book trailer, and download a free teacher’s guide (created by the fabulous Natalie Lorenzi herself). You’ll also get info on the UNFAIRY TALE sequels!

Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

Click Anna’s link above to read the magical reviews of My Very (Un) Fairy Tale Life.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Publication Date: November 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 9781402259463 (paperback)

Interest Level: Ages 9-12

Reading Level: 4.5

Number of Pages: 198

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Click here for summary and reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who loves to draw

* Has moved/is moving to a new school

* Is dealing/has dealt with a tough home life (abusive caretakers and poverty)

* Has a relative or family friend who is a war veteran

* Who needs a little hope

Use this to teach:

* Voice–The narrator, 14-year-old Doug Swieteck (a minor character in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book The Wednesday Wars), talks directly to the reader at times, inviting us into his tough world laced with hope.

* Types of Conflict--This story has it all–character vs. character (Doug against his father and brother), nature (inadequately-dressed Doug schlepping through snow to deliver groceries), society (poverty, Doug’s older brother stationed in Vietnam)  and self (Doug’s older brother finding the courage to reenter society as a disabled war veteran).

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Clarion

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9780547152608

Number of Pages: 368

Reading Level: 4.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 10-14)