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I’ve always loved teacher action research. When I was teaching high school, I applied for a grant to get a laptop in my classroom to integrate technology into my YAL class. I had so much fun exploring the ways this laptop changed my instruction and the learning environment, and I was lucky to have an article published in The ALAN Review. I became more interested in research and engaged with my former college advisor to conduct another study a couple of years later. This kind of research is wildly exciting for me. (I am a dork! I admit it!)

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class called Investigating Classroom Literacies. The students in the class range from preservice teachers to inservice teachers. They are a phenomenal group of students, and I have loved working with them. We are reading two books. One is a textbook that introduces traditional qualitative research, and another is a teacher action research book.

It’s been fun to introduce traditional qualitative research designs to the students, and we’ve had fun playing with their research topics and how they fit into different research designs. That said, we are aiming to be more practical. The idea is that they will see research as more accessible, so we’ve looked carefully at teacher action research and how it differs in its ease of implementation.

Each student has picked a different topic to explore in their classrooms. Generally (so I don’t give away their specific ideas), they are looking at: using tools to help students with anxiety, examining differences in gender perceptions of leadership, mindfulness practices in ELA, flexible vs. teacher-selected grouping, college student responses to identity-based activities, and teacher preparation for health-related issues. Their topics are much more specific than these, but I am genuinely excited by the range in their interests within English Education.

The students have workshopped their research questions with the entire group, and they are currently writing their literature reviews. I am very much looking forward to talking about data collection and analysis next. Yahoo! I have the best job in the universe!

Do you do teacher action research formally or informally in your classroom? What is your favorite part about it?

 
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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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CONGRATULATIONS
Crystal for winning The Lost Girl giveaway!
Mary Alison for winning the Pumpsie giveaway!
Cassandra for winning the Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine giveaway!
Elisabeth for winning the Lost in the Antarctic giveaway!

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Wednesday: Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro

Friday: Complexity in Someday by David Levithan

Sunday: Author Guest Post!: “The Writing Process” by Lauren L. Wohl, Author of Extravaganza at the Plaza

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

It is time to celebrate Trent’s birthday (HE IS GOING TO BE FIVE!), so today and next Monday I’ll be spending time with my family. I’ll be back on March 4th 🙂

Ricki

I finished the ARC of Jo Knowles’ latest book, Where the Heart Is. I loved this book. It tackles issues not commonly seen in middle grade literature. The main character is questioning her sexuality in ways that felt very real to me. Her parents are struggling financially and aren’t sure if they are going to be able to pay their mortgage. It’s a powerful book about friendship, family, and identity.

My 5-year-old finished reading Fox the Tiger by Corey R. Tabor all by himself! We tackled three new pages each day, and I am so, so proud of him. Thanks to some of our fellow bloggers (Elisabeth, especially), we have a solid list of other engaging early readers in our future. I don’t generally enjoy early readers, but there are some gems out there that I have loved.

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Ricki

My son and I enjoyed Fox the Tiger so much that we are going back a year and reading the first book, Fox is Late.

I am a few weeks delayed, but I am excited to get to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas this week. I just have to read a couple of journal issues that I missed last month first. 🙂

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Tuesday: Teacher Action Research

Wednesday: Trent’s Favorite Reads as of his Fifth Birthday!

Thursday: Blog Tour with Reviews, Book Trailer, and Giveaway!: It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk

Friday: Blog Tour with Review and Giveaway!: What If…? Then We…: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Possibilities  by Recebba Kai Dotlich

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Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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“The Writing Process” 

Over the course of a career in children’s book publishing, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many wonderful authors speak about their “process” – how they approach that intimidating blank page – whether a notebook, a sheet of paper in a typewriter, or the screen on a computer.  Where do you begin? And then what?

The clearest answer for me was a comment Walter Dean Myers made in a speech. “Writers write,” he said.  That is the literary version of “just do it!”  When you have an idea that’s taken hold of you, start writing.  What you write probably won’t make it into the final version of your project, but it will help you exercise your writing muscles and fire up the connection between your thoughts and your fingers. While doing that, some good sentences will emerge; characters will introduce themselves to you; plots will begin to take shape.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about all these elements, too – not just waiting for them to tap you on the shoulder.  Make notes.  Do research.  Ask questions of yourself and search for answers.  All of this becomes the soil your story needs to grow.  But keep writing through it all.  That’s the only way I know of to discover the voice that is right for this particular story – and voice is the hardest part to explain, or force, or fake.

For the three novels in my Raccoon River Kids series of chapter books, I started with a place – a small town where kids have lots more freedom than they do in cities – a place where they can hop on their bikes and go by themselves – even when they are as young as seven or eight — to a friend’s house or venture into the center of town with a park as its centerpiece, a community center, and an old town hall where the doors are always open.

That was the beginning. My early writing was about the town itself, but as I described its geography and places, I began to envision the children who would be at the center of the novels: a third-grade boy and his best friend, a third-grade girl. There was a third boy. too. He stood outside of things and had only contrary remarks about the other children’s plans.  I didn’t know why at first, and I knew I would have to explain it – first to myself, then to my characters, and finally to my readers, of course.

As I developed Raccoon River and the characters in my early unstructured doodling, I also found the voice for these books.  At first I thought I would have the older sibling of one of the characters be the narrator, but it became complicated.  She couldn’t be everywhere the kids were. And, if she had to be involved in everything that they did, the children could never keep a secret from her. And secrets are important to children of this age – I didn’t want to take that option away from “my kids.”

I decided on an omniscient narrator who could get into everyone’s head; a teller who could be behind the scenes and in front of them simultaneously; a non-judgmental, trustworthy observer with a sympathetic view and faith in the characters.

With all these puzzle pieces to manipulate, I started to write. I always begin at the beginning. Opening chapters are important to me.  Wiser authors have told me that I should never get attached to the opening I write.  They universally agree that as the story progresses, beginnings often need to be changed, or moved elsewhere, or simply dropped.  I’m sure that’s true, but I can’t get going until I have at least my opening scene written.

Writers have also advised me not to polish any writing until the entire first draft is written. Again, I’m sure this is good advice.  But I find it impossible not to fix something that isn’t working – whether it’s an ugly phrase, a bad choice of a word, or an entire episode that is … well … wrong.  The first thing I do when I return to a work-in-progress is read what I wrote the last writing session.  And make changes, sometimes big ones, sometimes little tweaks.  That gets me back into the voice of the story.

I write mostly chronologically.  But not always.  If some later adventure has been working itself out as I take walks or make dinner or watch the news, I write it out of order. I figure it will fit in somewhere.  Mostly it does.

When I have a good portion of the whole written, I step away for several weeks.  I might jot down notes if any random ideas come to me, but I don’t put them into the manuscript.  I try to remove myself from the story for a while.  When I return to it, there’s a strange sense that it was written by someone else, which allows me to see things more clearly.

The result of this round is a new manuscript.  I can move chapters around, clarify motivations, polish language, deepen my characters, and strengthen the logic in the plot that will lead readers through the novel.

At the round three stage, I work on chapter endings and beginnings to be sure the story flows through smoothly.  I look for secondary themes to amplify. I examine the actions of the characters and how they speak for consistency. Similarly, I check for character traits or habits that help identify one from the next for readers. Because these are chapter books for relatively new readers, I make sure there’s not too much description but that there is enough so young readers can find themselves in Raccoon River and put themselves into the story.

And again, I step away from what I am now thinking of as “a book” for a while.  If it holds together when I return some weeks later, then it’s ready for some feedback.  And that’s when the process starts all over again.

About the Author: Lauren L. Wohl has had a long career in children’s book publishing. She has a degree in Library Science and has been an elementary school librarian. She served as Director of James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead program, taught writing at the college level, and now consults with several publishers and literary agencies. Stories she’s been reading in newspapers and seeing on television news programs about children stepping up to make kind, generous, and important contributions to their communities inspired her chapter books about the Raccoon River Kids: Blueberry Bonanza and now Extravaganza at the Plaza. She is also the author of a picture book, A Teeny Tiny Halloween, illustrated by Henry Cole and Zooapalooza, coming August 2019. A native New Yorker, Lauren enjoys life in her new hometowns of Lenox, Massachusetts and Miami Beach, Florida.

About Extravaganza at the Plaza (Raccoon River Kids #2): “It isn’t fair that our town doesn’t have its own theater,” eight-year-old Hannah complains. 

A lot of thinking, planning, dreaming, and list-making, and Hannah–along with the kids of Raccoon River–are up to their ears in a brand new project: saving the town’s old abandoned Plaza Theater. But first, they have to get a look inside. And it’s spooky in there-spider webs and creaky floors, and one slowly-swaying curtain. Can Hannah and her friends save the plaza? 

Lauren L. Wohl tells a story of determination and hard work, cooperation and more than little bit of luck where the kids of a small town make a real difference in their community, the first sequel to BLUEBERRY BONANZA in the RACCOON RIVER KIDS ADVENTURES series. Mark Tuchman illustrates the action with characterful drawings that enrich the tale.

Thank you, Lauren, for your post–it was fascinating to learn about your process!

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Someday
(Every Day #3)
Author: David Levithan
Published October 2nd, 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Scroll through the following handout for an explanation of complexity and examples/discussion questions from Someday by David Levithan:

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Watch Hollow
Author: Gregory Funaro
Published February 12th, 2019 by HarperCollins

Summary: Deep within the enchanted woods in the town of Watch Hollow stands the once-grand Blackford House, whose halls hold a magical secret: a giant cuckoo clock that does much more than tell time. But when the clock’s gears cease to turn, an evil presence lurking among the trees begins to come out of the shadows.

When Lucy and Oliver Tinker arrive in Watch Hollow, they have no idea that anything is wrong. A mysterious stranger has made their father an offer that’s too good for him to refuse. All Mr. Tinker needs to do is fix the clock at Blackford House and fistfuls of gold coins are his to keep.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the children to realize that there is more to Blackford House than meets the eye. And before they can entirely understand the strange world they’ve stumbled into, Lucy and Oliver must join forces with a host of magical clock animals to defeat the Garr—a vicious monster that not only wants Blackford House for itself, but also seeks to destroy everything the Tinkers hold dear.

About the Author: Gregory Funaro grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, and wrote his first story, The Ghost in the Window, in the fourth grade. He considers this to be his finest work, but unfortunately it has been lost to time. Following high school Greg majored in theatre at the University of New Hampshire, and after various acting gigs, received his AM in Theatre Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. He began his literary career writing thrillers for adults, but switched to children’s books after the birth of his daughter. His first book for Disney-Hyperion, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM (2015), was a New York Times best seller and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and his second, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM (2016), received a Kirkus STARRED review. Look for WATCH HOLLOW and THE MAZE OF SHADOWS, coming from HarperCollins in 2019/20. Greg also teaches drama at East Carolina University, and is busy working on his next novel.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@GregoryFunaro) and visit his https://www.gregoryfunaro.com/ to learn more about his books and him.

Review: I am so glad that Harper allows Gregory Funaro to continue expanding his creative tendrils because every one of his books I read, I am intrigued by how he crafts a story, the voice he gives his characters, the point of view he decides, and the surprises he gives me throughout the reading. With Watch Hollow, I love how Lucy and Oliver obviously have a voice even though the book is in third person, the way he ties everything together from the slightest mention at the beginning of the book to huge events in the end, and I love that I cannot predict what is going to happen.

And not only is the story crafted well, the plot is one that is going to suck in our readers that are always looking for spookiness. It is just the right amount of weirdness, supernatural, creepy mansions, unknown creatures, and magic. The characters are also crafted really well which gives the readers someone to connect with.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Gergory Funaro’s fantasy is so different than the traditional fantasy books, and his stories will fascinate readers who may not be sure if they like fantasy because of the twist, turns, and intelligence in his narratives. Not only should his books be found in all libraries, classroom, public, and school, but it would also be an interesting to have an in-class book club focusing on different examples of fantasy and have students, at the end of the clubs, discuss what made their books fantasy and look at the wide variety within the genre.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the inclusion of illustrations throughout the book help with your understanding of the plot?
  • What does the animals quick acceptance of Lucy show you about her personality?
  • What were your initial assumptions about Mr. Quigley?
  • What did the inclusion of the crow from before they went to Blackford House tell you about the kids?
  • Once you find out the truth behind the house, what clues can you find when you go back through the book?
  • How did the third person limited point of view switching between the two siblings affect the narrative?
  • How did the author use imagery throughout the book to engage his readers?
  • How does the author set the Gothic and dark mood in the story?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oliver hung back in the doorway as Lucy and their father stepped into a cavernous, darkened foyer. Rectangles of dim dusty light filtered in from the rooms on the other side, and Oliver could just make out a wide staircase dissolving up into the gloom at the far end of the foyer…

Oliver pushed up his glasses, stepped inside, and set down his suitcase. His eyes had adjusted a bit, but with only the daylight streaming in, the foyer was still dim–in part because the walls were paneled three-quarters high in dark wood. To his left, he spied a shadowy parlor filled with antique furniture; to his right, a dining room with a long table. There were a handful of paintings on the walls, and where there was no paneling, the paper was peeled and gray…” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Explorer series by Adrienne KressThe Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Tuesday: Parenting in the Age of School Lotteries and School Choice

Thursday: Review and Giveaway!: Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine by Jonathan London
Giveaway open until Wednesday!

Friday: Blog Tour with Review, Educators’ Guide, and Giveaway!: The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
Giveaway open until Thursday!

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

A much better reading week!

  • Trent is pretty darn obsessed with Dog Man. We bought a box with the first three, and now that we’re on the third book, he has already asked if we could get four.
  • I reviewed The Lost Girl on Friday, so check that out to see what I thought. (Spoiler: A special book!)
  • Merci Suarez Changes Gears is everything I wanted and more! I’m definitely going to review it for you all! It definitely deserved the Newbery.
  • And it must have been an award-winning book reading week because I also read The Poet X which blew me away! I can see why it won like everything.
  • Done with the second Land of Stories book! It is pretty darn clever how Chris Colfer tied all of the fairy tales together. Waiting for the third audiobook to be available from my library now…

Ricki

My boys and I read Make This! by National Geographic. This is probably my favorite book that has come out of National Geographic. It’s divided into chapters (Forces, Motion, Optics, Energy, etc.), and each chapter features easy-to-create projects for kids to learn about physics and engineering. Most of the projects can be completed with items in our house. After every project, my boys were shrieking, “Let’s make it! Right now!” We currently have a straw rocket on the counter. (We had to pause for bedtime, but I suspect it will be in the air tomorrow.) My husband, an engineer, was impressed by the ways in which the chapters were divided. I am a big fan of this book and will be gifting it to a few engineer-loving kids that I know.

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Kellee

  • Going to listen to The Poet X now because I need to hear it performed.
  • Red Queen take 3! Let’s see if I can finish it this time 🙂
  • And onto Dog Man 3!

Ricki

I am loving Where the Heart is by Jo Knowles. She captures characters and emotion so beautifully. I am rushing to finish this post, so I can get back to it!

I am listening to They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera). I have an hour and a half left. I suspect most of the readers of this blog have read it, but it is on my #mustreadin2019 list!

I am proud that my son is reading Fox the Tiger entirely by himself. We read a new page or two each day and review all of the previous pages together each day. I really, really enjoy this book and was glad it won the Geisel award. It’s a fantastic early reader that is engaging and fun.

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Wednesday: Watch Hollow by Gregory Funaro

Friday: Complexity in Someday by David Levithan

Sunday: Author Guest Post!: “The Writing Process” by Lauren L. Wohl, Author of Extravaganza at the Plaza

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Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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The Lost Girl
Author: Anne Ursu
Published February 12th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

About the Author: Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. She is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.

Praise: 

The Lost Girl is a jewel of a book—hard, bright, sharp, and precious. It reminds us of the boundless and subversive power of sisterhood and the inherent magic of girls.”—Kelly Barnhill, Newbery-Medal winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“I raced through The Lost Girl, breathless. And when I was finished, I found myself full of hope. It’s a beautiful, riveting, important book.”—Laurel Snyder, award-winning author of Orphan Island

“When the world makes no sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. When the world makes all the wrong kinds of sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. If you crave a story with the wit, wisdom, and magic to unriddle the world, then you need to read The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu.”—William Alexander, award-winning author of A Festival of Ghosts

“A beautiful, timeless tale of love conquering darkness in the midst of mystery and the angst of change. A must-have for any middle grade collection.” School Library Journal (starred review)

“This suspenseful mystery offers a story of empowerment, showing how one girl with the help of others can triumph.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“National Book Award nominee Ursu laces her story with fairy-tale elements and real-life monsters, while taking great care to cast girls in an empowering light and as authors (and heroes) of their own stories.” Booklist (starred review)

Review: Anne Ursu has a way of telling what seems like an ordinary tale and adding twists and turns that the reader does not expect but once you are on the narrative ride she has created, you never want to get off! And although I am always skeptical of magical realism, she does it in a way that just makes her books seem like realistic fiction that just happens to be bit magical, so it is hard not to buy in. In The Lost Girl, the story also is fascinating in the way that the author plays with the narrator/point of view as well as how she shapes both girls equally as the story moves between their narratives and shows the strengths and weaknesses in both. It is impossible to tell who the lost girl is and who is the ones saving because both sisters feel like they play a part in saving the other. I’m still thinking about responsibilities, love, and protection long after the book ended. You are going to love Lark and Iris and will root for both of them until you turn that final page.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers who need this book. There are kids that don’t feel like they belong in this world or kids who feel like they don’t mesh with others their own age or kids dealing with a huge change in their life. These are the kid who will need this book. They need the lost girl to guide them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the twins is the lost girl?
  • How did the crows play a part in the story?
  • Without the magic in the story, how would everything have been different?
  • What mistakes does Iris make in her decision making once the girls enter 5th grade?
  • What lesson are the adults trying to teach the girls?
  • How did the Club Awesome girls turn out differently than Iris assumed? What does this tell you about them? Iris?
  • How are the sisters alike? Different?

Flagged Passages: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different. Iris and Lark Maguire were identical twins, and people who only looked at the surface of things could not tell them apart. Same long busy black hair, same pale skin, same smattering of freckles around the cheeks, same bright hazel eyes and open face.

But Iris and Lark had no patience with people who only looked at the surface of things, when what lay beneath was the stuff that truly mattered.

Because the girls were identical, but not the same.

Iris was the one who always knew where she’d left her shoes. Iris was the one who could tell what the collective nouns were for different animals and that Minnesota was home to the world’s largest ball of twine. Iris always knew when her library books were due.

Lark always knew when their parents had been arguing. Lark could tell you what the consequences for stealing were in different fairy tales, and that the best bad guys had interesting back stories. Lark always knew which books she wanted to check out from the library next.

No they were not the same.” (p. 1-2)

Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Watch Hollow by Greg Funaro, The Explorers by Adrienne KressWishtree by Katherine Applegate, The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

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Giveaway!

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Don’t miss out on the other stops in the blog tour!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1: Teach Mentor Texts
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: About to Mock
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Novel Novice
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4: Maria’s Melange
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6: Bluestocking Thinking
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7: Kirsticall.com
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Unleashing Readers
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9: Book Monsters
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10: Fat Girl Reading
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11: Word Spelunker
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12: Nerdy Book Club

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

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