Category Archives: writer’s block

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

Once Upon a Baby Brother by Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Summary (from the jacket flap):

It was a dark and stormy night…

Lizzie loves to make up stories and tell them to anyone and everyone. But now that her annoying baby brother, Marvin, has joined the family, only her faithful dog, Big George, has time to listen. Fortunately, Miss Pennyroyal, Lizzie’s teacher, loves stories, too. Each day at writing time, Lizzie grabs her Princess Merriweather pencil, snaps open her Imagination Notebook, and she’s off on a writing adventure:

The brave young girl rescued her teacher from the alligator pit…

Lizzie’s so full of writing ideas, it seems that nothing can stop her. And then one day, something does–and not even her Princess Merriweather pencil can help. What’s a star writer to do?

Click here for  reviews.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* Has a new baby sibling

* Is a budding author

* Is a reluctant writer

* Regularly bemoans, “But I can’t think of anything to write!”

Use this to teach:

* Pre-Writing/Brainstorming–Students can create their own Imagination Notebooks just like Lizzie’s to keep track of their story ideas.

*Descriptive Writing--Lizzie uses strong verbs, descriptive language and laugh-out-loud dialogue that students will want to emulate in their own writing.

*Journaling–Lizzie deals with her exasperation over her baby brother through her writing, which would make a good springboard to journal-writing for kids.

*Family–Even though Lizzy’s brother annoys her at times, she ultimately learns to appreciate him and the their sibling bond.

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Publication Date: 2010

ISBN-10: 0374346356
ISBN-13: 9780374346355

Reading Level: 3.3

Interest Level: Elementary School