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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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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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You Are Never Alone
Author: Elin Kelsey
Illustrator: Soyeon Kim
Published April 15th, 2019 by Owl Kids

Summary: You Are Never Alone is a picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature.

Drawing examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, it explores how we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it’s gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.

Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this informational picture book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas.

About the Creators:

Elin Kelsey, PhD, is an award-winning author and a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment. In 2014, she co-created #OceanOptimism, a Twitter campaign to crowd-source and share ocean conservation successes which has reached 90 million users to date. She frequently works on projects with the Monterey Bay AquariumStanford University and the University of Victoria and is passionate about engaging kids in hopeful, science-based, environmental solutions.

Soyeon Kim is a Toronto-based, Korean-born artist who specializes in fine sketching and painting techniques to create three-dimensional dioramas. She is a graduate of the Visual Arts and Education programs at York University.

Praise for Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim:

“Both important and breathtakingly beautiful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Never Alone

“The depth of the images and the surprising facts work together to create a lovely connection between the readers and the natural world.” –The Boston Globe on Wild Ideas

“Demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Stardust

“This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn. Profound and entirely wonderful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on Wild Ideas

Review: What a beautiful representation of how humans and nature intertwine with each other. Often, when we speak of our impact on our planet and the planet’s impact on us, we focus on very huge ideas that may seem so far away for kids, but You Are Never Alone shows the small things that have a large impact.

The mix of beautiful art and research-based science make for a picture book that covers such a wide range of opportunities for classroom discussions and educational activities including themes, poetic verse, science, and diorama art.

Educators’ Guide:  

Flagged Passages: 

Behind the Scenes: 

Soyeon talks about the process of creating the diorama artwork in the book.

Elin explains the scientific research behind three of the poetic lines in the book.

Read This If You Love: The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield; Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot; Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre; Over and Under Snow (and its companions) by Kate Messner

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Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to.  But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls.  Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.

Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her.  Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in FarsiTaking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.

Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.

This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.

Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.

Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey KiddoOpen Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?

Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:

Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)

Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.

I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.

My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.

The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**

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Love
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Published December 4, 2018 by Running Press

Summary:From award-winning author Stacy McAnulty comes a sweet story about love and what it’s really all about.

What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn’t always what you expect!

With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, thisis the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it’s important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives.

My Review: This is a very heart-warming book. I received it on Valentine’s Day, and my kids and I have read it dozens of times. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend or family member because it offers many angles for the power of love. This book offers a lot of teaching potential as students explore abstract concepts and the idea of the metaphor. One thing, in particular, that I like about this book is that it resists the commercialization of love. As readers might see in the spread below, “love needs special presents” but those presents are homemade or expressed with kindness. This is a very touching book, and I think readers will find joy in it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students take an abstract concept (hope, grief, etc.) and create their own books to parallel this one. It would require a lot of brain power and would help students explore the idea of metaphors in their writing. I might even offer poetry that does this (e.g. “Hope is a thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is love? Who do you love?
  • How do you express your love?
  • Write your own page to add to this book. How does it fit in with the other pages?

Flagged Spread:

 

Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?

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Jennifer A. Nielsen visited my school on December 4th, 2018, and today her newest book comes out (Deceiver’s Heart, Traitor’s Game #2!!!!), so I thought today would be the best day to share about the amazing experience she brought to my school and the superb person she is!

Jennifer was kind enough to have a very packed day with us! She did an assembly for each grade level where she shared that the secret to being a writer is asking questions:

  • Do you have stories? Do you have dreams? If you have dreams, your brain is creating a story. Are you curious? You can be a writer.
  • Writers do these things: Collect stupid facts but don’t collect stupid. Ask Questions. Gain knowledge. They write. They work to get better. They keep trying.
  • There are two types of people: One who says they are good enough. You’ll be passed by people who won’t quit until it’s great.

She also gave us a sneak peek of the Resistance book trailer that went live the next week!

Every group of students (at over 375 each) were captivated by her stories, her humor, and her truth.

 

During each grade level’s lunch period, she also was kind enough to eat lunch with students who had read two or more of her books. During this time, they could get their books signed and ask exclusive questions.

This lunchtime experience was so inspiring to these students! They still talk about what she shared and (as you’ll see in the last photo below) they helped write a quite hilarious story with her that was cracking everyone up:

  • Story in her head is like an itch that she can’t reach. She is happiest when she is writing because she is reaching the itch.
  • Story is everywhere. Everyone carries story with them. Just ask questions and tell the story.
  • She starts a story with the character in action. Helps the reader and writer get into the character’s head and puts the character into immediate trouble.
  • When she was younger, she didn’t know writing was a choice for something you could do.

 

 

Then Jennifer even stayed with us for the evening for another quick presentation, book signing, and cross-curricular events that tied her book into all the subjects.

 

All in all, the visit was life-changing for our HCMS students.

After the visit, I had my students write letters sharing how the event affected them:

  • Thank you so much! You have made a great impact on my life. I have never liked writing but your story about when you were in 6th grade made me realize that I can do what I put my mind to do. -Olivia M, 6th grade
  • I love reading your books because when I read your books it is so good that I read for hours without stopping. When I found out you were coming I got excited because I wanted to find out more about the author who wrote my favorite books. You taught me never to give up and to keep going for my dream no matter how long it takes. Your books have inspired me to create my own book and to be a writer in the future. -Jacob K, 6th grade
  • The things you said during your visit made me realize I’ll never get better if I don’t try. -Georgia B, 6th grade
  • I loved your assembly. Your stories were hilarious and you inspired me to write down my ideas. -Emily B, 7th grade
  • Thank you so much for visiting us. It was amazing and super fun. Your presentations were incredible and I loved the stories you told. They were sad but so interesting. Your tips for writing were so helpful and I plan on taking them to heart whenever I write. Your encouragement was inspiring. “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come of it. (Benjamin Mee)” -Duda V, 7th grade
  • Your books are amazing, the plot twists were breath-taking, and your books are meaningful and are powerful. -Molly N, 7th grade
  • I’m a huge fan of your books and it was a dream come true to meet you! I enjoyed making a story with you during my lunch time, and I will always remember your visit. -Mariana S, 8th grade
  • If you were here to inspire, you hit it on the dot. -Julia R, 8th grade
  • Thank you for not quitting and showing us that just because you fail once, or twice, or even hundreds of times, we should keep on trying. -Lorenza M, 8th grade
  • Everything that you said just inspired me to do something that would forever make the world better. -Jordan K, 7th grade
  • Thank you for all the words of wisdom and encouragement to write, and for that I’ll always be grateful. -Monika A, 7th grade
  • You are such a beautiful soul, and I am in denial that I had the chance to meet someone like you. -Amy C, 7th grade
  • You were right – stories are everywhere!.. You are funny and kind, and I love how you add little bits of yourself into your books. -Maelynn A, 7th grade

And I’ll end with this beautiful work. My friend, who teaches 8th grade ELA, had her students do a 6 word reflection with a visual to summarize either how they felt or what they learned:


“Good writing takes time and passion.” -Alexa F.


“Don’t let your ideas go away.” -Charlie B.


“Don’t think of ideas, execute them.” -Grace G.


“Failure is the pillar of success.” -Ramia A.


“All failures lead to a success.” -Paola A.


“Catch an ideas, don’t let go.” -Lauren T.


“To write, you mustn’t fear ideas.” -Ishika J.


“The first draft isn’t always perfect.” -Holly C.

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for coming to HCMS and inspiring my students in ways that are life-changing!

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Happy 2019! 

This year, I reread more books than any previous year. I am not including the billions of pictures books that I reread to my children in that statistic, either. 🙂 But for this list, I am focusing on my favorite reads of 2018. These are books that will stick to my bones for years to come!

 

Favorite Books Marketed Toward Young Adults

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

The Astonishing Color of After by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

 

Favorite Books Marketed Toward Upper Elementary and Middle Grade

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

 

Favorite Picture Books

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by John Agee

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell

 

Which were your favorite reads of 2018?

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