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Vanished!: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Florian Bates—the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists—must uncover the truth behind a series of middle school pranks that may or may not involve the daughter of the President of the United States in this hilarious second novel in the T.O.A.S.T. Mystery series.

Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time— well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!

After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…

Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story.

However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!

Can Florian and Margaret save the day? Or are they about to get toasted?

Here is my review for FRAMED the first of the T.O.A.S.T. Mysteries 🙂 

Review: Like Framed!, Vanished! is a crazy adventure of a mystery with twists and turns that make the reader struggle to solve the mystery before Florian does! Once again Ponti’s mystery is easy to follow yet complicated enough to make it so that the reader doesn’t figure everything out before the end (which I think is the best kind of mysteries!).

What I love about this mystery, is that it teaches us more about the characters while also putting them in a whole new setting and mystery. I really enjoyed how different the two mysteries were and how Florian and Margaret’s character development really grew. Anyone who loves Framed! is going to be so happy with the sequel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like Framed!, I think it would be so much fun to play some mystery games with TOAST. And just liked Framed! dealt with art, this mystery includes classical music which can be explored along with it being introduced in the story.

Discussion Questions: Who did you think the prankster was?; Did the solution to the mystery surprise you?; What foreshadowing clues were there to show who the villain was?; What part of Florian and Margaret’s time in school is most realistic to the real experience?; How does Margaret help Florian face his bullies?

Flagged Passages: (When the headmaster doubts that Florian and Margaret can help, they put TOAST on display.)

“‘You have nothing to worry about, Dr. Putney,’ I assured him. ‘W’re discreet. We’ll approach it the same way you approached your church mission. Just like when you went to Brazil and adapted to their customs, we’re guests and will respect the customs and traditions unique to Chatham while we do our work.’

Marcus shot me a wink.

‘Y-y-yes,’ he stammered, trying to make sesne of what I’d just said. ‘But how did you know that?’

‘How did I know what?’ I asked. That you went on a mission? Or that it was to Brazil?’

‘Both,’ he replied.

‘TOAST,’ I said.

‘Toast?’

‘The Theory of All Small Things.’ answered Margaret. ‘The idea is that little details often give away much bigger pieces of information than you think. When you add them up, you have an indisputable truth. That’s how we’re going to find who’s responsible for the pranks. Florian and I are going to use TOAST.’

He looked back and forth at us like we were speaking a foreign language. ‘What little details could possibly tell you that I took a mission to Brazil?’

‘On the wall beside your desk are your college diplomas,’ I explained. ‘They’re from Bringham Young University. Over ninety-eight percent of the students at BYU are Mormon. And roughly a third of all Mormon men go on a mission.’

‘Okay, but that means two-thirds don’t,’ he said as a challenge. ‘What makes you think I did?’

‘You’re featured in the welcome video not only as a headmaster but also as a graduate of Chatham Day,’ I replied. ‘But there’s a six-year gap from your high school graduation until the date you received your bachelor’s. That’s four years of college with two years left over for your mission.’

‘As to Brazil,’ Margaret said, picking up without missing a beat, ‘that was easy. There’s a picture of you on the far bookcase when you were about twenty years old. You’re standing in front of the giant Christ the Redeemer statue, which is in Rio. There’s also a picture of your family on your desk. It looks like a vacation shot and it in you’re wearing a yellow-and-green jersey. Anyone who plays soccer knows it’s the jersey of the Brazilian national team. I’m guessing you became a fan while you lived there and you’ve continued ever since.’

He sat for a moment flabbergasted, unsure what to say.” (p. 32-34)

Read This If You Love: Mysteries like FRAMED! by James PontiWig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?

Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

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Thank you, Emily!

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The Explorers: The Door in the Alley
Author: Adrienne Kress
Published April 25th, 2017 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is filled with adventure and danger. There are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, famous explorers, a risk-averse boy, and a girl on a mission. Not to mention secrets not meant for the faint of heart. But if you are feeling bold, or maybe even a little italic, and if you enjoy derring-dos (and doing dares), this just might be the story for you.

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that starts with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.

About the Author: Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers and credits them with her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. Look for her online at AdrienneKress.com, and follow her on Twitter at @AdrienneKress.

Review: I love when narrators break the fourth wall if it is done well, and you’ll learn really early on that it is done well in The Explorers. This hilarious narrator takes us on this adventure with Sebastian, a character that very logical people will relate to, and Evie, a character that people who are bored unless they are on an adventure, will relate to that is filled with more action, adventure, and danger than I thought would come out of this little book. But don’t worry, the narrator keeps it light with funny chapter titles and footnotes. All of this combines to make a book that I loved quite a bit because it is just the perfect balance of adventure, humor, friendship, and mystery. Although, I must warn you about the cliffhanger–WHOA! I’m still recovering. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Door in the Alley has many opportunities to be a mentor text including discussing footnotes and breaking the fourth wall. Not many books use either of these yet The Door in the Alley uses both quite well. Discussing these will also lead to a perfect conversation about voice. Normally voice is saved for first person books but because we have a narrator that although not a character in the story definitely has a voice, it would be interesting to talk to students about how that worked in this book.

Discussion Questions: What do you think is going to happen in the next book?; Why do you think the author chose to have the narrator break the fourth wall and speak with you, the reader?; Sebastian and Evie are quite opposites, and normally they would seem like an odd pairing; however, they seem to work perfectly together–what do you think each of them brings out in the other?; Evie is searching for her grandfather because he is in trouble, but what is she truly searching for?; What do you think Sebastian’s parents are thinking right about now?!

Flagged Passages: “In all the confusion, with the pig and the teeny hat and the zigzag man, he had completely forgotten about the thing he had been trying to forget about. In one way, it meant he had done an excellent job at avoiding it up until now; on the other, it meant hat his guard had been down. For, sure enough, the man had turned down an alley. The only alley that existed on the street. That connect to another street. And there was only one thing down that alley.

Sebastian approached it with caution, his expression slowly morphing into one the pig had been wearing all the time. Terror. He stood at the end of the dark passageway and peeked his head around the corner only to see the man standing right by the door. And right under the sign that read…

The Explorers Society.” (p. 18-19)

Read This If You Loved: The Wig in the Window by Kristen KittscherFRAMED by James PontiLoot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, and other mysteries where kids have to solve a problem because adults won’t listen to them

Recommended For:

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Visit the Other Stops on the Blog Tour: 

Date Blog URL
24-Apr Live To Read http://livetoread-krystal.blogspot.com/
25-Apr Imagination Soup http://imaginationsoup.net
26-Apr Mom and More http://momandmore.com
27-Apr Pandora’s Books www.pandorasbooks.org
28-Apr Mommy Ramblings http://www.mommyramblings.org
1-May The Lovely Books http://thelovelybooksbookblog.blogspot.com
2-May Batch of Books http://www.batchofbooks.com
3-May Oh, for the Hook of a Book! www.hookofabook.wordpress.com
4-May To Read, or Not To Read http://www.toreadornottoread.net
5-May Grandma’s Cookie Jar http://www.grandmascookiejar.net/
8-May Good Reads with Ronna www.goodreadswithronna.com
9-May Geo Librarian http://geolibrarian.blogspot.ca/
10-May Life By Candlelight http://lifebycandlelight.blogspot.com/
11-May Jumpin Beans http://jumpin-beans.blogspot.com/
12-May Always in the Middle https://gpattridge.com/
15-May Librarians Quest www.librariansquest.blogspot.com
16-May The Book Wars http://thebookwars.ca/
17-May Middle Grade Mafioso http://middlegrademafioso.blogspot.com/
18-May Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile http://www.hopelessbibliophile.com
19-May Tween You & Me http://tweenlibrarian.blogspot.com/
22-May Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook http://mrsknottsbooknook.blogspot.com/
23-May Mundie Moms http://mundiemoms.blogspot.com 
24-May The Write Path http://www.dorinewhite.blogspot.com/
25-May foodiebibliophile.com www.foodiebibliophile.com
26-May Beach Bound Books http://www.beachboundbooks.com/
29-May Middle Grade Ninja http://www.middlegradeninja.com/
30-May Night Owl Reviews https://www.nightowlreviews.com/v5
31-May Cracking the Cover http://www.crackingthecover.com 
1-Jun Jenni Enzor http://jennienzor.blogspot.com/
2-Jun Literary Hoots http://www.literaryhoots.com/
5-Jun From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/
6-Jun The Winged Pen http://thewingedpen.com/
7-Jun Operation Awesome https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/
8-Jun Leeanna.me www.leeanna.me
9-Jun Bloggin’ ’bout Books http://www.blogginboutbooks.com
12-Jun YA Books Central http://www.yabookscentral.com/
13-Jun Ms. Yingling Reads http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com
14-Jun MGMinded blog http://middlegrademinded.blogspot.com/
15-Jun Smack Dab in the Middle http://smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com/
16-Jun Swoony Boys Podcast www.swoonyboyspodcast.com
19-Jun Book Foolery http://bookfoolery.blogspot.com/
20-Jun Unleashing Readers http://www.unleashingreaders.com/
21-Jun Kit Lit Reviews https://kid-lit-reviews.com/
22-Jun The O.W.L. http://owlforya.blogspot.com

**Thank you to Josh at Random House Children’s Books for providing a copy for review and hosting the blog tour!**

 
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Framed: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 26th, 2016 by Aladdin

Summary: Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.

Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?

Review: I love mysteries; specifically mysteries with kids who solve things that adults couldn’t figure out. They are so much fun to follow along and try to figure out with the characters. Florian is one of the best kid detectives that I’ve read. His use of TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things, is so admirable and is something that kids could definitely learn from since they so often ignore the small things and focus on the obvious. I could definitely see games and activities being created for classrooms that use the TOAST theory. Or kids will play the type of games that Florian and Margaret played as Florian was training Margaret in TOAST: making inferences about the people around them, in stories, or with mysteries. I could see pairing TOAST with books like You Be The Jury

I also really enjoyed the mystery that James Ponti set up for us. I could predict part of it but other parts came as a total surprise to me. I am always in total awe of an author’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery and how it all comes together. I also loved that the story was mutli-faceted and will teach the readers as well as entertain them.

And I am so happy to say that Framed is on our 2017-2018 Sunshine State Young Reader Award list for both 3rd-5th grade AND 6th-8th grade! Congratulations, James!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to the mystery games that could be played using TOAST, reading aloud Framed, and having Framed available to students to read, there are lots of opportunities in the book to discuss art and art history. Since both of Florian’s parents work in the museum business and the mystery of the book focuses on an art heist, there multiple times where art comes into the story including discussion of impressionism (specifically Monet, Renoir, and Degas) and even stories of Van Gogh and Gaugin.

Discussion Questions: Did you figure out the mystery before it was revealed? Was there any foreshadowing now that you know the reveal?; What did you learn about art while reading Framed?; How could you use TOAST in your life?

Flagged Passages: “‘You want me to teach you TOAST?’

‘Toast?’ she asked. ‘You’ve tasted my cookies, which are…epic. Don’t you think I know how to make toast?’

‘Not that toast,’ I said. ‘TOAST stands for The Theory of All Small Things. That’s how I read people and places. The idea is that if you add up a bunch of little details, it reveals the larger truth.’

‘And where did you learn this theory? Philosophy class? Spy school?’

‘I…invented it…I guess.’

This made her laugh. ‘You invented TOAST?’

‘It’s based on some things I learned from my parents,’ I said. ‘But I pull it all together and came up with the name. So yes, I invented it.’

‘You said your parents work at museums, right?’

‘My father designs security systems, and one day he explained that the key to his job is finding the tiny flaw or inconsistency that the bad guys can take advantage of.’

‘Like the saying that ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’?’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And my mother’s an art conservator. She restores old paintings and says the best way to understand a painting is by finding the smallest details that tells you the whole story, like the smile on the Mona Lisa.’

‘And this led to TOAST?’

I nodded. ‘Even though their jobs are incredibly different, they both rely on the idea that tiny things can be hugely important,’ I explained. ‘Once I even used TOAST to help my dad catch a criminal.'” (Approximate Loc 221 in the ebook)

Read This If You Loved: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach, Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, Loot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan,

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**Thank you to the author for providing copies for review!**

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Last Day on Mars

Chronicle of the Dark Star: Last Day on Mars
Author: Kevin Emerson
Publishes February 14th, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we prepare for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home.

Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the very last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed.

Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a desperate struggle for survival.

Version 3

About the Author: Kevin Emerson is the author of The Fellowship for Alien Detection as well as the Exile series, the Atlanteans series, the Oliver Nocturne series, and Carlos is Gonna Get It. He is also an acclaimed musician who has recorded songs for both children and adults. A former K-8 science teacher, Kevin lives with his family in Seattle. Visit him online at www.kevinemerson.net

Social Media:
Kevin Emerson on Twitter: @kcemerson
Walden Pond Press Twitter: @waldenpondpress
Walden Pond Press Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaldenPondPress/
Walden Media Tumblr: http://walden-media.tumblr.com/
LAST DAY ON MARS website on Walden Media: https://www.walden.com/book/last-day-on-mars/

Advance Praise: 

“Enigmatic enemies, sabotage, space travel, and short, bone-wracking bits of time travel make for a banging adventure.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

“Last Day on Mars is thrillingly ambitious and imaginative. Like a lovechild of Gravity and The Martian, it’s a rousing space opera for any age, meticulously researched and relentlessly paced, that balances action, science, humor, and most importantly, two compelling main characters in Liam and Phoebe. A fantastic start to an epic new series.” —Soman Chainani, New York Times bestselling author of the School for Good and Evil series

“Emerson’s writing explodes off the page in this irresistible space adventure, filled with startling plot twists, diabolical aliens, and (my favorite!) courageous young heroes faced with an impossible task.” —Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of the Unwanteds series

Review: The suspense that builds throughout this book is palpable! I really enjoyed how Kevin Emerson used a prologue to set the stage for Liam’s world so that once Liam’s story begins, we jump right into the chaos of the the last day on Mars for all humans. What I assumed this story was going to be ended up just being the tip of the iceberg. I knew the story was going to be about humans escaping a doomed Mars, but there is an underlying heart-stopping craziness that really adds suspense to the novel. 

AND you will be so mad when it ends because even though the current conflict is mostly resolved, there is definitely a cliffhanger, and you will be on your seat waiting for book 2 with me!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My 8th grade teachers have their students take part in dystopian lit circles to discuss different components of utopian vs. dystopian societies, and I think Life on Mars would be a great basis to start a sci-fi lit circle set that would include books about the future of humans that don’t fit the exact dystopian/utopian definition. It would be a really interesting way to discuss authors’ representation of humans’ future. Or if you did this as a an inclusion to a text set, there are many articles, picture books, and movies out there that also touch on this subject.

Publisher Teaching Guide: 

Discussion Questions: What foreshadowing did the prologue give us for what happened to Liam?; What foreshadowing for book two did the end of book one give us about Phoebe?; What character traits does Liam embrace? What evidence supports your analysis?; What event do you think was what propelled the plot to what it became in the end?; Which character do you feel was the hero of the story?

Flagged Passages: “Earth Year: 2179. As you all know, for the past four years we have been documenting unusual activity in the sun. Increased radiation and solar flares have wreaked havoc on daily life. The best minds in the world have studied this data around the clock, and tonight I can report that while we still do not know the cause, the conclusion is unanimous: the sun is expanding and we are all in grave danger.” (p. 14)

Read This If You Loved: Feed by MT Anderson, Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis GillLife on Mars by Jon Agee

Recommended For:

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Blog Tour Stops: 

Jan. 27th  Unleashing Readers

Jan. 30th  SciFi Chick

Feb. 1st  This Kid Reviews Books

Feb. 3rd  Walden Media Tumblr

Feb. 6th  Word Spelunking

Feb. 7th  Novel Novice

Feb.  8th  Charlotte’s Library

Feb. 9th  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Feb. 10th  Librarian’s Quest

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for having us be part of the blog tour!**

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The Curse of the Were-Hyena
Author: Bruce Hale
Published July 5th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion

Summary: What do you do when your favorite teacher starts turning into a were-hyena?

a) Flee in terror?
b) Try to cure him?
c) Bring him carrion snacks?

Mr. Chu, the coolest teacher ever, has developed some very unusual habits, like laughing hysterically for no reason, sniffing people’s homework, and chasing chickens. When best friends Carlos and Benny decide to find out what’s happening to him, they get caught up in some moonlight madness. And it looks like just the beginning of the weirdness that has arrived in the town of Monterrosa. . . . This first entry in a silly, sassy, and suspenseful new series will leave readers howling with laughter.

About the Author: Edgar-nominated author Bruce Hale is passionate about inspiring reluctant readers to read. He has written or illustrated more than 35 seriously funny books for children, including the popular School for S.P.I.E.S. and Chet Gecko Mysteries series; as well as picture books such as Clark the Shark, Snoring Beauty, and Big Bad Baby. An actor and a Fulbright Scholar in Storytelling, Bruce is in demand as a speaker, having presented at conferences, universities, and schools around the world. Bruce’s book The Malted Falcon was an Edgar Award Finalist and Murder, My Tweet won the Little D Award for Humor Writing. He lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife and dog.

Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

bruce hale

Review: There are so many kids who are going to love this new series!  It immediately reminded me a bit of the Bailey School Kids series because it does such a good job being funny and scary (but not TOO scary; just enough), so this series is going to be a wonderful ladder between Bailey School and Goosebumps. I also really liked the easy inclusion of a diverse cast of characters. This will help a wide variety of readers to see themselves in one of the characters. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to a good Halloween or full moon read aloud and definitely a classroom library addition, The Curse of the Were-Hyena would be a good cross-curricular read because of the projects Mr. Chu has his students do as well as the interesting look into African art. First, Mr. Chu assigns an oral report on “Something that Makes me Crazy.” This would be a fun tie in to the book, and it would be a good public speaking opportunity. There is also mention of a social studies project which seems to be about traditions of cultures from around the world. These two things in addition to the African art (and even the moon cycle and comics) help the book tie into different subjects. Lasly, Hale’s use of imagery throughout the book makes for a perfect reading or writing mentor text.

Discussion Questions: What clues were there that Mr. Chu was a were-hyena and not a werewolf?; Predict as you read about who you think the alpha were-hyena is. Were you right? What clues did you miss?; Benny and Carlos went about solving the mystery in a quite dangerous way. How would you have done it?

Free discussion guide and activities can also be found on Bruce’s website!

Flagged Passages: “As I reached for my final item, the mauled tennis show, Mr. Chu surprised me. He peeled back his lips and growled–a serious growl, like a Doberman giving one last warning before taking off your arm. His eyes rolled upward, showing only the whites, which totally creeped me out.

All the little hairs on my body stood straight up. It felt like someone had dumped a six-gallon Slushie down my back.” (p. 6)

Author’s Guest Post!: I asked Bruce his formula for writing creepy books for kids, and he shared these secrets with us!

“Scaring kids for fun and profit”

When my wife and I were sharing the movies from childhood that really creeped us out, I couldn’t wait to show her The Omega Man, a movie that gave me nightmares when I was young. “This’ll knock your socks off,” I told her. When we watched it, however, we both burst out laughing at the cheesy special effects and stilted dialog. (To be honest, her movie, Monkey Shines, was no 28 Days Later either.)

That got me thinking. Tastes change. What scares kids can be quite different from what scares adults. And when it comes to writing creepy tales for the younger set, it’s good to bear three things in mind.

It’s the antici…pation

Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “There’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Writing scary stuff for kids isn’t just about piling on the startling scares; it’s largely about setting up expectations. That’s where true suspense lies. For example, if a kid is walking down a dark street and suddenly a monster pops out, that’s a surprise. Suspenseful? Not so much.

However, if everyone tells your young hero that something has been making neighborhood pets disappear, and that they’ve heard strange growls outside at night, that sets up an expectation. Then, when she’s forced to take a nighttime walk, it will be fraught with the terrors of her imagination. Every twig that snaps, every shadow that looms becomes a threat. And after all that anticipation, when the monster finally shows, the suspense goes off the charts.

Hold the murder

A dash of violence is fine, if it stays on the cartoony side. But when writing for middle-graders, it’s best to stay away from explicit murder and bloodshed. Kids that age can’t handle it. Or if you must get gory, see if you can keep most of the bloodletting offstage. Even the Goosebumps books, which were spooky to the max, didn’t feature any onstage murder.

Of course, just because nobody’s getting killed doesn’t mean you can’t make things scary. Close calls, chases, betrayals and so forth will keep the fear factor going just fine. And your readers won’t miss the murder.

Find the safety in scariness

When I was a kid, I reveled in scary movies—heck, I even had a shelf-full of hand painted classic monsters like Wolf-Man and The Mummy. But I liked the movies best when they weren’t too scary. It’s the same thing for young readers today. There’s a limit to how much actual, pulse-pounding terror is appropriate for 8-12 year-olds.

That’s why, when I wrote The Curse of the Were-Hyena, I deliberately sought a balance between humor and chills. By leavening the scariness with jokes, I made it less threatening. Of course, the trick is to find that happy balance. Make it too jokey, and the creepiness is lost. Make it too scary, and your readers hide under the covers.

If you manage to pull off all three of these things, you just might have crafted a scary tale that keeps young readers glued to your pages. Whether they roll their eyes when they re-read it as adults is another matter entirely.

Read This If You Loved: Goosebumps (series) by RL Stine, Bailey School Kids (series) by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey

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The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena Howling Good Giveaway!

Ten winners will receive a copy of Bruce Hale’s The Curse of the Were-Hyena. Four Grand Prize winners will receive The Curse of the Were-Hyena plus an advance reading copy of the second book in the series, Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! And as a bonus, Grand Prize winners will also get a signed photo of Bruce Hale disguised as a were-wolf! Click here to enter.

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for hosting the tour and providing a copy for review!!**

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journey quest return

Journey Trilogy
Author and Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Journey Published August 6th, 2013
Quest Published August 26th, 2014
Return Published August 2nd, 2016
By Candlewick Press

Journey Summary: Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

Journey Review: This book is very hard to explain the magic of it. Lorna (@notforlunch) described it the best, I think: “a wonderful mashup of a David Wiesner book and Harold and the Purple Crayon.” I think this is perfect. It has the illustration beauty and magic of a wordless David Wiesner picture book and it is about creativity (and a crayon) like Harold. The beauty of the castle she visited also reminded me of Cathedral by David Macaulay. This book is just full of amazing!

Originally published at: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=1765 (10/5/2013)

Quest Summary: A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.

Quest Review: Quest is a beautiful continuation of Journey. Aaron Becker starts where the first book left off, but Quest is as unique as Journey was. The kids we met in the first book are swept into an adventure to save a king who has armed them with the tools to save the kingdom. I read this book over and over again because there are so many different little nuances in this adventure that promotes creativity, imagination, and teamwork. To be honest, I almost like Quest better than journey because the kids work together.

First published at: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=4666 (11/12/2014)

Return Summary: Welcome the much-anticipated finale of Caldecott Honoree Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy—a spectacular, emotionally satisfying story that brings its adventurer home.

Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It’s her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. This time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall. Caldecott Honor winner Aaron Becker delivers a suspenseful and moving climax to his wordless trilogy, an epic that began with the award-winning Journey and continued with the celebrated follow-up Quest.

Return Review: You will adore the conclusion to the trilogy. Becker does an amazing job of tying the beginning of Journey to the end of Return. To think that all the books happened in a day! The girl had quite an amazing journey, quest, and return in only one day! It is amazing what can go on when magic is involved. I don’t want to give away much else about the finale, but I will say it is as much a must read as the first two. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In my classroom, the first thing I would do is project the book and just have the students read it with me. No talking; just looking. Then we’d go back and discuss what is going on in the book, talk about some of the smaller parts of the illustrations, relive the journey. If I wanted to include a writing activity, we could add words to the book (although, I think this book’s illustrations stand alone). We could also discuss what we’d do if we had a magic crayon. I think this book would be a great addition to Dot Day and discussing creativity. Finally, I think a discussion of observing your surroundings would be appropriate as what the girl wanted the most was right in front of her at the beginning of the book. (From 10/5/13 post)

Additionally, this trilogy would be a wonderful mentor text to discuss narrative elements because Becker has given us a perfect plot arc filled with conflict, suspense, and resolution. It would also be interesting to talk to students about characterization in a wordless picture book because the characters still have very evident traits though it is through illustration and actions that we have to determine them. Although, I would be careful in taking the magic away from these books. I don’t want to analyze and dig into them too much because they are beautiful pieces of art that should be enjoyed first and foremost.

Journey Trilogy Activity Kit: https://www.scribd.com/document/312916399/Aaron-Becker-s-The-Journey-Trilogy-Activity-Kit

 Q&A with Aaron Becker: https://www.scribd.com/document/132634414/Journey-by-Aaron-Becker-Q-A-with-the-Creator

Discussion Questions: What would you do with a magic crayon?; Why did the girl have to turn to a magical land instead of remaining at home?; Were you surprised about who finally saved the day?; What is happening on the final page of Return? How do you feel about this resolution to the story?; How did the story progress through each book?

Return Book Trailer:

Journey Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxUs41jB4Ts

Quest Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO774UmBjQc

Read This If You Loved: Shy by Deborah Freedman, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, The Typewriter by Bill Thomson The Whisper by Pamela ZagarenskiFloat by Daniel Miyares, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac BarnettHarold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Blackout by John Rocco, David Weisner wordless picture books, Cathedral by David Macaulay, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Henri Mouse by George Mendoza, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Weslandia by Paul Fleishman, Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis

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**Thank you to Raquel at Candlewick for providing copies for review and giveaway!!**

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