The House That Wasn't There - Book Blog Tour


*Click the image to purchase the new release! 

THEMES: friendship, life changes, loss and grief, embracing who you are, and family. 

Magical realism has become the types of book that students seem to  go  after when they want a little something to connect to, but also feel as though they can escape the every day worry of real life - which is exactly what The House That Wasn't There can do for young readers. This is one of those novels that really helps student see themselves in a book. 

Oak and Alder are suddenly living next door to one another and their relationship is

 not off to a great start. Alder's knowledge of his father is minimal, but his favorite

 picture was taken in front o the walnut tree in the yard between his and his

 neighbor's house - the tree meaning so much to him. BUT THEN, Oak is forced to

 move from San Fransisco to LA and her mom has plans for some construction on

 their property - including removing the large tree. 

Alder is devastated. 

Oak feels ignored and invisible. 

BUT - suddenly, two lonely kittens, a storm, and this "magical" experience  draw them

 together. Bridging this friendship they both did not expect, nor wanted, at the time. 

Key teaching points: Major themes, excellent character development, multiple POVs


Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California.

And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood

between his house and the one next door.


That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves

into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts the tree down.


Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.


As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together.


At least not without each other’s help.


Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold returns with an unforgettable story of the strange, wondrous threads that run between all of us, whether we know they’re there or not.




Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.

Want to teach this title in your classroom? Check out this amazing teacher's guide for 


Tour Stops:


March 28 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub

March 29 YAYOMG @yayomgofficial

March 30 Unleashing Readers @UnleashReaders

March 31 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read

April 2 Maria's Mélange @mariaselke

April 7 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl

April 10 A Library Mama @librarymama

April 12 Storymamas @storymamas


365 Days to Alaska - Review


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A thoughtful middle-grade debut about a girl from off-the-grid Alaska adjusting to suburban life
Eleven-year-old Rigel Harman loves her life in off-the-grid Alaska. She hunts rabbits, takes correspondence classes through the mail, and plays dominoes with her family in their two-room cabin. She doesn’t mind not having electricity or running water—instead, she’s got tall trees, fresh streams, and endless sky.
But then her parents divorce, and Rigel and her sisters have to move with their mom to the Connecticut suburbs to live with a grandmother they’ve never met. Rigel hates it in Connecticut. It’s noisy, and crowded, and there’s no real nature. Her only hope is a secret pact that she made with her father: If she can stick it out in Connecticut for one year, he’ll bring her back home.
At first, surviving the year feels impossible. Middle school is nothing like the wilderness, and she doesn’t connect with anyone . . . until she befriends a crow living behind her school. And if this wild creature has made a life for itself in the suburbs, then, just maybe, Rigel can too.
365 Days to Alaska is a wise and funny debut novel about finding beauty, hope, and connection in the world no matter where you are—even Connecticut.

Amazing book. It has wonderful and startlingly realistic characters, vivid depictions of both Alaska and Connecticut, perfect pacing, and one of my favorite main characters I've ever encountered in middle grade or any genre—Rigel Harman. Transplanted unwillingly from Alaska to Connecticut, Rigel is a complex, sensitive, and deeply good human being whose journey to adapting to her new surroundings is totally believable, fascinating, and moving. I really appreciated that Carr pulled no punches in describing some of the downsides of modern suburban/urban life (things like pollution, wildlife destruction, wastefulness) from Rigel's point of view while also showing her journey towards adapting to it while retaining her own identity and sense of self. All of the minor characters are also extremely well done and believable, especially the father. As a former homeschooler, I appreciate that she depicted homeschooling realistically and respectfully, and didn't make it the focus of Rigel's challenges adapting to her new school in Connecticut.

I just love everything about this book. I hope it gets the wider recognition and awards it deserves, and I can't wait for Carr's next book! 

*Some reviews from Goodreads worth adding: 
Stacy Greene - When I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down! I was immediately caught up in the stream of the life of Rigel and her family. The book begins in Alaska and being someone who has always wanted to visit there, I was entranced by the descriptions and the place it held in Rigel's heart. I was swept along as Rigel was uprooted and traveled to Connecticut (for 365 days - until, as her father promised she could return to Alaska and they could be reunited) and the adjustment began. Having lived overseas as a child I found the adjustment to life in Connecticut to be reminiscent of the culture shock I experienced whenever I returned to the United States.
If I had to describe this book in three words, I would say caring, captivating, and funny. I cared about Rigel from the moment I met her and could identify with the multitude of feelings she was experiencing in her quest for understanding and belonging. The author of this book told a compelling story, so much so that I found myself so caught up in it that I kept reading because I wanted to see what would happen next. The author's writing style was smooth and easy to read. What endeared me even more to the book was the author's sense of humor. It takes a lot to make me laugh and at several points, I found 365 Days to Alaska to be laugh out loud funny. It wasn't necessarily something being said to make me laugh, but rather how the author put things. I am planning to reread this book at some point so I can savor the story.
I am so impressed with this author and her debut book. I hope that she is writing as I type this review because I would love to read more books by Cathy Carr!

Faith Hough - Quick: read the publisher's description of this one.

If you know me, you’ll know that summary just tweaked a couple of sensitive points. As a former homeschooler and current homeschooling mom, my radar is always out for portrayals of homeschooling–and I’ve become less tolerant when they’re done poorly and fall into cliches and stereotypes. I’m also a Connecticut transplant who has found it possible to live at least somewhat off the land, even in a suburb of a big city. I confess that the main reason I wanted to read this book was to make sure it didn’t spread any untruths about homeschooling, Connecticut, or subsistence living. It’s not really the best attitude with which to approach a book.

And then… I was blown away. Cathy Carr takes a fairly commonly-done theme and plot and makes it shine with perfect characterizations, believable struggles and emotional arcs, and just plain excellent writing. I absolutely loved this.

Let me address a few of those sensitive points:

I loved that, despite depicting a fairly sheltered life in Alaska, the author never blamed homeschooling itself for any lack of social grace or awareness. In fact, by contrasting shy Rigel with her outgoing sisters, Cathy Carr demonstrates that personality, more than educational-style, will effect a child’s social skills. A large part of the book also focuses on the failings of the school system in allowing for good social interactions–all the bullying and peer pressure that is so much a part of that environment. This was all balanced and true-to-life. I so appreciate that the hackneyed “homeschooled kid learns to thrive in school environment” theme was completely eschewed in favor of a theme that allowed for real personal growth.

I could have gone for a slightly more nuanced view of Connecticut. We do have farms and nature sanctuaries and some good, old-fashioned small towns. We’re not Alaska. But we’re not all Fairfield County rich kids. Even Fairfield County rich kids aren’t all Fairfield County rich kids. That said, Cathy Carr again avoided the most harmful stereotypes, so I appreciated that. She also showed how beautifully diverse our state is. I know it’s impossible to show an entire culture in one story, and Rigel was exposed to only one small bit of CT.

The off-the-grid lifestyle was shown to be difficult and impressive, rather than odd and unbalanced–even while showing its common pitfalls. Yes, an 11-year-old kid uses a gun to hunt. But it’s clear that this 11-year-old has been taught more gun safety than your average middle aged guy. She respects the gun as a dangerous tool and wouldn’t use it lightly. Her parents allow her to hunt because she is responsible and capable. This all could so easily have been twisted into disrespect for those who live such an extreme lifestyle–but it wasn’t.

Finally, I have to add that 365 Days to Alaska is an excellent family story. Like another recent favorite, What Happens Next, it shows that sister relationships are worth fighting for.

A bittersweet story about coming of age -- self-awareness, finding friends who embrace you and your quirks, dealing with changes, surviving and thriving. 

Character development - plot - setting 


If You Like.... Then Try This....

If you are new around here, you may not be familiar with the three of us on our social media platforms. My Instagram handle is @cassie.m.thomas and on there I share (every 3rd photo actually) an image of If you like _____, TRY _____ where I give several similar books that a child may want to try after they finish the main book. If it's a specific theme I focus on, I will mention that - or a specific author. But ultimately I try to hit all of the major plot points with my recommendations. All of these posters are actually available to you HERE in a Google Drive folder to print off! I range from early middle grade (3rd grade) all the way to YA books. If there are ever any books you'd like this poster for, PLEASE let me know! I'm constantly asking on my Instagram for more ideas. :) 


Guest Blog Post: Kiri Jorgensen - "Why We Teach Literature To Kids"

 Why We Teach Literature To Kids

Every human on the planet spends their life learning how to see beyond their own bubble. Some people get pretty good at seeing a broad scope, others don’t branch much beyond the next tier, but there’s happiness to be found in any level of ‘looking beyond’. The goal isn’t just to see, but to find joy. 

As a teacher, I love using middle grade novels with my students to help them practice extending beyond their own bubble. I love showing them new worlds and new people and new ideas. My goal has always been to help them become better humans as they learn to see the joy. I want them to see other kids being resilient and finding happiness. I want them to see other kids having challenges but creating positive solutions. I want them to see other kids exploring and reaching and learning, on a quest for truth and contentment. I want to show them new perspectives, and new understandings all with the intent of helping them become just a little more noble, and more compassionate, and more thoughtful. Good literature does all of this for our kids. 

Sometimes as teachers we struggle to find ‘new’ traditional stories that ring true with these kinds of themes. It’s hard to sift through the fluffy stories, or the heavy-handed stories, or even the ones just poorly written. Finding good literature for kids is hard. Especially in today’s world. 

That’s why I started Chicken Scratch Books. We need strong new traditional middle grade novels for our kids to discover themselves in. We need new traditional novels parents and teachers can trust to present age-appropriate themes with positive outcomes. We need books that kids will love to read and learn from, and see themselves in as they look outward. 

At Chicken Scratch Books our only agenda is good literature gatekeepers can trust. Plus, we offer more than books. For each book we publish we create an online Novel Study Course for students that helps them dig deeper into the story with help from the authors themselves. Our courses are a mix of video instruction, online work, and ‘paper and pencil’ assignments geared for middle grade kids. The courses are standards aligned and are equivalent to a six week novel study unit. They work great for individuals, small groups, and even whole classes. 

Come check out Chicken Scratch Books. We published our first novel and course March 1, 2021, titled Sophie Murphy Does Not Exist by Tiffany Blanchard.  It’s a contemporary story about a girl trying to find the purpose of life with lots of humorous bumps along the way. We have more great stories in multiple genres, plus their companion courses coming soon.  We are teachers, writers, parents, and entrepreneurs, and we love good books for kids. 

At Chicken Scratch Books, we offer more than good literature. 

*Be sure to check out the website for more resources for you as an educator as well! Full review of Sophie Murphy Does Not Exist coming soon! 


IMWAYR: 3.8.21



Book Pairings

Sometimes I fall down a TikTok rabbit hole. As I was recovering from my second Covid vaccine I discovered #perfectmatch. With that as my inspiration I decided to make book matches with March releases. Just like how partnerships include people with similar interest but their own personalities, these matches share some commonalities but are each special in their own way. 


One Stupid Thing - Review

    “Like The Breakfast Club set during a New England summer...One Stupid Thing captures the nuances of power and self-doubt that shape the lives of today’s text-obsessed youth." ―Foreword Reviews

It was just one stupid thing that happened…

Summer on Nantucket island. Three high school friends drinking warm beer on a rooftop. Everything is cool, until a seemingly innocent game takes a sinister turn, and the course of their lives is changed forever.

For a year, they keep it a secret, until the following summer when they meet a mysterious girl with her own dark past who may have the answers they are looking for.

A story about friendship, mistakes, and the quest for redemption, One Stupid Thing follows Jamie, Sophia, Trevor and Violet as they contend with the consequences of their choices, navigate the drama in their individual lives and try to uncover what really happened on that fateful night.

For fans of ONE OF US IS LYING and WE WERE LIARS. One summer on Nantucket Island, an innocent game goes horribly wrong. Four teens are now holding onto a deadly secret: the tragic accident may have been murder. Edgy and atmospheric, ONE STUPID THING by Stewart Lewis (Keylight Books, 3/16/21) takes a deep look into themes of friendship and the quest for redemption.

    As an educator who has students come to me constantly wanting "murder mysteries" but not quite ready for significant murder mysteries, I found this story to be the perfect first step into the murder mystery genre. Trevor, Sophia, and Jamie typically spent their summers on Nantucket Island. One summer they played a stupid game resulting in a crash, and what seemed to be the worst, the death of a man. As the story progresses, their friendship dissipates (as friendships generally do when there are major traumatic events). The following summer the story picks up and Jamie meets a girl named Violet, turning out to be a connection to the man who died, making Violet's intentions that of which she was hoping would result in answers. As this summer picks up, Trevor, Sophia, and Jamie all one way or another.

    I fully believe that students are going to be able to relate to Trevor, Jamie, Sophia and Violet more than they will in terms of the secret they are keeping - which is great as an educator. I want students to see themselves in stories, even their biggest struggles. Each chapter is laid out from the perspective of each character - the author does a fantastic job of portraying each character's perspective with a real, raw quality. The setting was described in a way that students will be able to follow and discuss without feeling overwhelmed with the multiple story lines. No matter which character is telling the story, it draws you in, and before you know it you're almost finished with the story.