From the Book Shelf: September 2017

Each month I spotlight two books guaranteed to delight readers and provide fun activities to further extend the meaning of each reading experience. With so many wonderful titles available, this is no easy task! I bring a 33-year teaching career, literacy expertise, and a passion for creating joyful readers to every column I write. I certainly hope you enjoy this month’s picks as much as I do.

Metamorphical Journeys


Noun  meta·mor·pho·sis \ˌme-tə-ˈmȯr-fə-səs\

A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one.

While perhaps not as radical and immediate a change as the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, humans continually develop and change throughout life. Whether it is through a brief encounter or interactions across a lifetime, people influence other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors every day. The impact can be very subtle, or it can be extraordinarily transformative. Language and speech patterns change based upon the social setting—talking with a friend differs from talking with a grandparent, a newborn, or a teacher. Clothing choices are frequently made based upon what is considered “appropriate” for a given occasion; school attire does not likely resemble clothing worn for a formal wedding or a Boy Scout meeting. These are only two of many, many examples that demonstrate how humans “adjust” to fit varying social situations. The journey of life is all about growing and changing, and every person’s evolution is unique.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”         ~ Happy Birthday to You, by Dr. Seuss

Sunny Side Up

Award-winning graphic novelist sister and brother team, Jennifer and Matthew Holm, share a semi-autobiographical story of a loving family negotiating difficult times. In 1976, ten-year-old Sunny Lewin is sent to spend part of her summer in Florida with her grandfather. Although she does not initially understand why she has to go, Sunny thinks it may be a fun trip—it is the home of Disney World, after all! To her surprise, the Pine Palms retirement community where she comes to live is no amusement park. It is a place where a lot of really, really old people live, and to top it off, her Gramps smokes…a lot. Thankfully, Sunny soon discovers she is not the only kid who lives there. She finds a fast friend in the groundskeeper’s son, comic-book-obsessed Buzz. Not only does he introduce her to the fascinating world of comics, but he enjoys adventures as much as Sunny and helps keep her mind off home and her teen brother’s addictions and delinquent behaviors. Amid Sunny’s heartbreak and frustration with her brother’s choices, she leans on the power of love found in family and friendship to make sense of her feelings, and returns home “sunny side up.” The graphic novel duo handles this powerful story of complex family chaos, serious topics, and hard life lessons with sensitivity, good humor, and tact.

Walk Two Moons

Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech skillfully weaves together two stories to create one beautifully compelling tale of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotions. In an instant, thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s life turns upside down when her mother unexpectedly leaves their Kentucky home to embark on a “spiritual quest.” Her promise to return is not realized. Devastated and confused, Sal and her father move to Ohio, and it is here that she meets thirteen-year-old Phoebe Winterbottom, whose mother has also vanished and who received mysterious messages after her disappearance. A partial message finds its way to the front cover of the novel Don’t Judge a Man Until You Have Walked Two Moons in his Moccasins. The story centers on tracing Sal’s mother’s “disappearance pathway” on a six-day road trip taken by Sal and her eccentric paternal grandparents. To pass the time, Sal tells her grandparents outrageous stories of Phoebe Winterbottom, who according to Sal, “was like another version of me—she acted out the way I sometimes felt.” This story within a story cleverly reveals Sal’s emotional journey through the grieving process—from denial to anger and finally to acceptance. Sal draws strength from the love of her family and friends to finally face the truth about her mother.

“You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave out the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.”

~ Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit



It is through the thoughtfully chosen words, detailed graphics, and comic strip format that the full story is revealed in Sunny Side Up. The appeal of graphic novels to upper- and middle-grade readers is undeniable—retail sales place this genre at the head of the class for both avid and reluctant readers alike. Follow the lead of Jennifer and Matthew Holm and work with a parent, sibling, or friend to create your own comic—either a short strip (like the ones in the newspaper) or a full-length story told across the pages of a book. Download free printables from Matthew Holm at to get warmed up for writing an original comic or graphic novel.

Grandparents’ Day

September 10th, 2017, is National Grandparents’ Day. Both titles featured this month highlight the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. A brief portion of a 2012 proclamation by former President Obama reads: “Throughout our history, grandparents have guided their grandchildren through trial and triumph…and have shaped each of us into who we are as individuals.” In addition to spending time with your grandparent(s) on this day set aside to honor them, take the time to get to know them on a deeper level. What an incredible gift to receive the wisdom that accompanies 50, 60, or 70 years of living! Find out what life was like “back then” and the lessons they learned along the way. A few questions to get you started:

  1. What was your grandmother/grandfather like?
  2. What was the home and neighborhood like where you grew up?
  3. Who were your heroes/role models when you were my age?
  4. What was it like the day we met each other for the first time?
  5. What life advice can you give me?


Salamanca is an amazing storyteller, and because of this, we get to know her very well. A key piece to understanding Sal’s journey of grief as she travels the highways between Ohio and Idaho with her grandparents is the outlandish stories she tells—peppered with the “secret messages” left at Phoebe Winterbottom’s doorstep. As Sal entertains her grandparents, Sal’s story of love and loss become apparent. These secret messages—proverbs—are highly instrumental in helping Sal process the disappearance of her mother. Proverbs express truths common to the human experience across time and are found in every corner of the world. Go to creative and develop a list of 10 proverbs you have heard (United States) and then give it a twist by creating a modern-day update. For example:

Traditional: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Contemporary: “Don’t put all your data on one thumb drive.” 

“Life is a journey with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most of all, experiences to enjoy.”

~ Unknown