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The Refuge
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator:  Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”

Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.

At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.

Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.

Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages. 

Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
  • How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
  • What did you learn about refugees?
  • Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
  • How do the illustrations and writing work together?
  • What creative techniques does the author use?
  • What creative techniques does the illustrator use?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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**Thank you, Barbara at Blue Slip Media, for providing copies for review!**

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Eat the Cake
Author: M. H. Clark
Illustrator: Jana Glatt
Published February 1, 2020 by Compendium

Summary:It’s your day to be wild and fearless and free. It’s your day for becoming the next thing you’ll be. Though today is your party, it doesn’t stop here–it should keep right on going and last you all year.

Roll out the streamers, blow up the balloons, and celebrate all the great things that are coming your way! With its colorful cast of characters, delightfully detailed illustrations, and playful rhymes, this festive book will ignite good feelings for birthdays and any occasion where cake is appropriate. (And cake is always appropriate!) A fun and joyfilled gift for anyone ages 5 to 105. Features a hardcover with embossing.

Review: We all need to celebrate ourselves! This book gives readers the perfect excuse to do so! This is a very motivational text that reminds readers all of the reasons that they should be proud and happy to be themselves. Readers will come away from this book wanting to try new things and go to new places. This book would make a WONDERFUL gift to readers of all ages. Folks tend to buy the Oh, the Places You’ll Go book, but Eat the Cake offers something new and fresh (and something that another relative might not buy!). 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If I was still teaching K-12 and had the means to do so, I would buy this book for every single one of my students at graduation. It would make a wonderful read aloud for the last day. I don’t think I could read this to my exiting students without crying! I will be purchasing this treasure for my graduate assistants. 🙂

Book Spreads! Book Spreads!:

Read This If You Loved: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, Inspirational Books

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**Thank you to Compendium for providing a copy for review!!**

And we conclude with a PARTY!:

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Room on our Rock
Authors: Kate & Jol Temple
Illustrator: Terri Rose Baynton
Published September, 2019 by Kane Miller Press

Summary: Two seals are perched on a rock. When others need shelter, do they share it? Room on Our Rock celebrates the truth that there are two sides to every story. This clever picture book has one story that can be read two different ways.

There are two ways to read this story. When read from front to back, the seals believe there is definitely no room on their rock for others. But when the book is read from back to front, the seals welcome others to shelter on their rock. A heartwarming story about sharing and compassion.

Praise: 

Review: I loved the idea of a book that can be read front to back or back to front with two very different messages. I remember a poem that I read when I was younger that did this (what was it called?! Do you know??), and the craft that it would take to create this, specifically well done and beautifully, is just mind blowing to me. On top of that the story and message of Room on our Rock is just so special.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The discussions that teachers will be able to have with students about this book will be deep and poignant. Then students can have the opportunity to try to create their own front and back stories.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the message if you read the book forward? Backward?
  • What do you think the author’s purpose was in making two stories in one?
  • What is the author trying to teach the reader?
  • Has there been a time when you made sure to make space for someone that needed it?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Fiction animal stories, Books that teach a lesson, Cleverly written books

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**Thank you to Kane Miller Press for providing a copy for review!!**

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Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.

Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.

Written in rhythmic prose with a bebop edge, this picture-book biography of Sonny Rollins’s journey to get his groove back will delight young and old fans alike.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now a New York City elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author. He is the author of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: The True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) and Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry lives in the Bronx.

About the Illustrator: Keith Mallett studied art at Hunter College in New York City. Keith’s work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic breakthrough into major league baseball, has graced the cover of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, and has been featured in many movies and TV shows. He is the illustrator of Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee and How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Keith lives in San Diego, California.

Praise: “An appropriately jazzy picture-book biography of African-American musician Sonny Rollins. It impresses from the endpapers, which mirror a vinyl LP in its paper sleeve and then playing on a turntable, to the liner notes about Rollins’ seminal album “The Bridge” in the back.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The life of jazz legend Sonny Rollins pulses with the rousing spontaneity of his music in Wittenstein’s free verse biography. Readers witness Rollins’s career as an acclaimed musician followed by his explosive success and the subsequent reincarnations of his art.” -School Library Journal, starred review

Review: The rhythm of the writing in Sonny’s Bridge automatically gets you toe tapping while reading. It captures the feeling and flow of jazz which truly sets the stage for Sonny’s story because in the end this is the story of Sonny Rollins and his path to finding his musical voice.

In addition to the rhythm in the writing, the illustrators images bring the words to life using movement, color, and line to show the power of the music.

Together, the words and music bring Sonny’s story to the readers in a way that will illuminate his struggles and his triumphs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of the rhythmic writing, this will be an amazing read aloud! And then the students can listen to The Bridge.

We are lucky to be living in a time with so many wonderful biographies out there about amazing people and a lot of them happen to be musicians, so what a great opportunity for book clubs or jig saws to look at different musicians and how they became who they are/were and how they changed not only musical history but sometimes even history.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does Sonny find the bridge to be the best place for him to practice?
  • Why did Sonny take off two years and how did it change his life?
  • How did Sonny’s life correspond with Black Americans’ fight for equal rights?
  • How did the illustrator show Sonny’s music through is artwork?
  • Why would some want the bridge to be renamed Sonny’s Bridge?
  • After listening to The Bridge, how did the author capture the feeling of jazz in his writing?

Creator Corner with Barry Wittenstein from KidLitTV: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Music (specifically jazz), Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, Trombone Shorty by Troy AndrewsLittle Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Hip Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari, The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy Andrews, Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff, Muddy by Michael James Mahin, Stand Up and Sing by Suanna Reich

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**Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing for providing a copy for review**

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Feral Youth
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.

In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.

Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.

Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?  

Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).

Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies

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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Nice Try, Jane Sinner
Author: Lianne Oelke
Published: January 9, 2018 by Clarion

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

Review: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart—but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis—one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart — but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis–one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Discussion Questions:  Even in the context of the book, Jane is quite the controversial character to those around her — did you “like” Jane? How might this shape your perception of the book as a reader? Does “likability” matter in protagonists? Think about if Jane was gender-swapped: would this change how we view some of her more questionable decisions or characteristics?

Flagged: “I need to psychoanalyze myself for Intro Psych. I’m not sure how that’s possible; the prof was rather vague on the specifics in class today. I was also caught up in a doodle of my hand. I outlined my hand on my notes because the notes were ugly and otherwise useless. I layered the inside with different-colored gel pens until the outline was fairly thick. In the middle of the hand I drew toasters and toast. The whole thing came together really well. One of my better efforts. But I’m not sure how to psychoanalyze myself. I suppose I’ll have to be both the doctor and patient. Maybe the two of me can come up with some profoundly insightful insight.

A middle-aged man with thinning brown hair and a cozy sweater vest motions for Jane to lie down on the sofa. He takes a seat on the overstuffed leather armchair and crosses his legs like a girl.

THE DOCTOR

Hello, Ms. Sinner.

JS

                          Hi.” (Page 46-47).

Read This If You Loved: Anything by John Green (Turtles All the Way Down in particular),  Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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