Sweet Reads

whizz pop chocolate shopMagical candy is kind of a draw in children’s literature. Mr. Star Wars recently read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop and let me borrow it when he finished. In the book, a family inherits a closed down chocolate shop with lots of magical secrets. It is my newest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “read alike” book. Books that use food (particularly chocolate) as a central plot detail are a big hit with kids.

Mr. Star Wars and I tried to name all of the books we know that use food in some way. We came up with chapter books with candy, chapter books with non-traditional foods– like worms (!), picture books, an even some books that one food item steals a scene. I cut us off after we started on the picture book titles because there are just so many books we could list. What is your favorite book that will make your mouth water?

snicker of magic

Candy (mostly chocolate)

beetles lightly toasted

Gross (but hilarious)

  • Beetles, Lightly Toasted by Phyllis R. Naylor
  • Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
  • How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

bone soup

Picture Books

Scene Stealer

charlie and the chocolate factory


That Book Sounds Familiar

charlotte's web    one and only ivan

I teach fourth grade and have elementary school aged children, so I have a legitimate reason for reading children’s books. The truth is– I just like them. They are (usually) fabulous stories; they are fast reads, and it is an activity I can share with my children.

Many of the stories my children and I have been reading lately have a familiar ring to them. Authors are recycling the same plot details and character types from the best books I read growing up. I was so struck by the similarities between Phantom Tollbooth and Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes that I wrote the Peter Nimble author to ask about it. He responded! The Just Deserts section of the book is a small tribute to Jester and his play on words. Jody Feldman credits Dahl as a source of inspiration for her book, The Gollywhopper Games (See the Author Letters post about contacting authors).

Below is a list of some new and old favorites. Is there something on the list that brings back memories of your favorite childhood book? Is there a recent version that is almost as good?

The Classic

The Re-Make

  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • The One and Only Ivan by Applegate
  •  Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  • The Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by Konigsburg
  • Wonderstruck by Selznick
  •  Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle
  • When You Reach Me by Stead
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Dahl
  • The Gollywhopper Games by Feldman
  • Floors by Carmen
  • Remarkable by Foley
  •  The Phantom Tollbooth by Jester
  • Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Auxier
  •  The Boxcar Children Mysteries by Warner
  • The Sherlock Files series by Barrett
  •  Peter Pan by Barrie
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry
  •  Hatchet by Paulsen
  • Far North by Hobbs
  •  Nancy Drew Mysteries by Keene
  • Red Blazer Girls by Beil
  • The Borrowers by Norton
  • Indian in the Cupboard by Banks
  • The Doll People by Martin and Godwin

Novel Ideas

Gather round readers. I am about to reveal a handful of literature gems. Each year, I teach about six novel studies with the whole class. We complete activities related to the book that hopefully enhance reading comprehension and improve critical thinking and writing skills. I have a wide range of readers, so I have to be careful with my book and activity choices. The plot of the book and writing assignments must be accessible to my lower readers but keep the higher readers engaged.

Below is a list some of my favorite literature activities. I am hoping you educators might see a novel idea (see how I slipped in that play on words?) that you could use in your classroom this year. But, I always need new ideas to keep things interesting. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Point of View Journals

  • After reading the first chapter of a book, each student selects one of the main characters. I ask them to re-tell the chapter from the point of view of the selected character. We share samples with the whole class and compare the differences in the re-telling. Why is one character’s story different from another? The students complete this task for every chapter, writing 4-5 sentences per chapter. The students stick with the same character throughout the book. Once students make their character choice, they may not change.
  • I used this with THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY by Sheila Burnford. We called them “Incredible Journals” and students became one of the three animals throughout the book.  I also used this activity with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis. Students had to choose Lucy or Edmund.

narnia map and journal sample

Antique Maps

  • Give each student a ledger sized piece of white copy paper (11×17). Legal paper will work too; letter sized is too small. Dip a tea bag in cold water for several minutes, carefully squeeze out excess water, and “paint” the entire piece of paper until it is a tannish color. Let paper dry. When it is dry, it will be this nice crinkly texture and look like parchment paper.
  • The students then create a map of the setting of the novel. For THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis, students have to search for passages in the book that give clues about where key locations are in the story. They use the clues to build a map of Narnia. This is HARD for 4th graders! I have a Narnia Map Handout, and we do the first few locations together. Students are then allowed to work in pairs. In THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher, the main characters travel from England to the Swiss Alps, but it is in the future after an alien invasion. Readers must use descriptions in the book and knowledge of maps of Europe to piece together the route the main characters take (used this with 6th graders).
  • I have also used the antique paper with an activity for THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. After researching pharaohs, students pretended they were a pharaoh. They created a name and wrote a description of their life as a pharaoh on the antique paper. If you have laser printers, you can print the story, then stain it with the tea bags. Ink jet printed papers will smear.

white mountains map cropped


Amazon Book Listing

  • Students design an Amazon book listing for THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies. The students wrote a catchy book summary and included basic book information. They also provided a “star” rating and provided three additional book suggestions in the “Frequently Bought Together” section, so we built a book recommendation list at the same time.

Amazon book listing sample3

Character Resumes

  • We read a few sections of THE MISSING GOLDEN TICKET by Roald Dahl. This is a great book to kick off discussions about the writing process. It includes a chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with an additional nasty character that Dahl edited out. My students design their own rotten child with a bad habit (a la the Chocolate Factory characters) and build a CHARACTER RESUME for that character. Not only does it help with characterization, it also is a good way to teach word processing skills.

character resume

Novel Newspaper

  • This will work with any novel. I have used it with DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD by Roald Dahl. This is a culminating activity after finishing the book. The students create a DANNY NEWSPAPER with 3 articles. The first article is a feature article with quotes. The students must think like a reporter and write a description of the climax scene of the story. They imagine what the main characters might have said on the scene and incorporate quotes from the characters that fit. The second article is an editorial about whether it is acceptable to poach or not. The third article is a book review. The students create the paper in MS Word and use a variety of word processing skills– section breaks, borders, column changes. All of my students’ finished products are pretty impressive.

danny newspaper sample

  • Look at copies of your local newspaper before starting this assignment. Note common layout details on the newspaper and incorporate those into the assignment– newspaper name, date, volume number, author byline… Also note the writing style in a paper. Important facts are in the first paragraph followed by lesser details.

I have many low prep, high engagement novel units available in my teacher store. Click the bold novel titles above to be linked to the resource listing, or CLICK HERE to see the full list.


Have you ever read a book that was so good you hoped it would never end?  Students are always asking for book suggestions that are “just like” a great book they finished last night, last week, or last month.  Here are some popular book titles with alternate book names that might almost be as good as the original. (If you have a great read-alike, please add a comment!)

If you love Harry Potter, TRY:

  • Knightly Academy by Haberdasher
  • The Magic Thief series by Prineas
  • Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist by LaFevers
  • Books of Elsewhere series by West

If you love The Lightning Thief, TRY:

  • Magickeepers series by Kirov
  • Kane Chronicles by Riordan
  • The Grimm Legacy by Shulman

If you love Wrinkle in Time, TRY:

  • When You Reach Me by Stead
  • 13th Reality series by Dashner
  • The Magic Half by Barrows

If you love Little House on the Prairie, TRY:

  • Caddie Woodlawn by Brink
  • Understood Betsy by Fisher
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by MacLachlan
  • The Bread Winner by Whitmore

If you love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, TRY:

  • Candymakers by Mass
  • The Candy Shop War by Mull
  • Gollywhopper Games by Feldman
  • Floors by Carmen

If you love My Side of the Mountain, TRY:

  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by O’Dell
  • Hatchet by Paulsen
  • Far North by Hobbs

If you love From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, TRY:

  • Wonderstruck by Selznick
  • Red Blazer Girls by Beil
  • Sherlock Files series by Barrett

If you love The Hunger Games, TRY:

  • The Giver by Lowry (and all companion books)
  • The White Mountains trilogy by Christopher
  • Museum of Thieves by Tanner

If you love The Lord of the Rings, TRY:

  • The Ranger’s Apprentice series by Flanagan
  • The False Prince by Nielsen
  • The Thief by Turner