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Kat and Juju
Author: Kataneh Vahani
Published July 1st, 2020 by Two Lions

Summary: An unlikely duo star in a charming story about being different, finding courage, and the importance of friendship in the first book in a new series from an award-winning animation director.

Kat likes doing things her very own way, but sometimes she doubts herself. So when a bird named Juju arrives, Kat hopes he’ll be the best friend she’s always wanted. He’s outgoing and silly and doesn’t worry about what others think—the opposite of who she is. Bit by bit, with Juju’s help, Kat discovers her strength, and how to have a friend and be one—while still being true to herself.

Praise: “This debut gently encourages personal growth while reinforcing the value of being different.” —Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also saves fallen baby birds and rescues them. Together with her students, they have raised over 13 fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.

Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju.

Kellee’s Review: Kat feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers: she worries, follows the rules, and doesn’t know how to let go and have fun, so she hopes and hopes that her birthday animal best friend will finally give her someone to play with and feel included; however, the problem is Juju, her new animal friend, is nothing like her. But it is through their time together that Kat realizes that her and Juju can be friends even if different and Kat even finds it in herself to do her own happy dance!

I do hope that the message that comes across to readers is that everyone should be whomever they are and others will accept you. I could see some reading it as Kat needing Juju to change her to get others to like her, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as Juju just showing and helping Kat see what an amazing person she is.

One of my favorite things about this book is the illustrations–the way that color is used so intentionally and are just so fun!

Ricki’s Review: I think we all have this yearning to be more ____ or more ____. As an adult, I really identified with Kat. As I always work to improve myself, I try to be more like other people I admire. This made for a phenomenal conversation with my children. We talked about people who we admire and how we can take slivers of these people to be better versions of ourselves, but we don’t need to (and shouldn’t) be these people. We are individuals with our own strengths.

This book is beautifully written and it is clear to readers the care and precision the author took to characterize Kat and Juju. I felt like the author was deeply connected to and understanding of the emotions that kids face. The friendship between these two characters is quite magical. I am looking forward to and excited about reading other books by this author.

Please Note: Together, we did find one aspect of the text that we wanted to comment about. We were concerned with an image of the characters wearing sombreros and playing instruments traditionally attached to mariachi music. For us, this felt like cultural appropriation. We would encourage all authors to avoid images where characters dress up in costume like this (see, for instance, the Clifford the Big Red Dog Halloween book where Clifford dresses up like a Native American). We write this not as a critical attack of the book but instead, as a way that we think all of us (authors, illustrators, teachers, publishers, etc.) can work together to think carefully about the images we portray. This does not take away from our desire to read more adventures of Kat and Juju.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Along with a read aloud of this book, great discussions could happen focusing on self-esteem, worrying, and friendship. It could also offer opportunities for critical thinking about the concept of cultural appropriation.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were going to have an animal best friend, what type of animal would you want? What would its personality be like?
  • Why was Kat so worried that others wouldn’t like her? Should anyone ever feel that way?
  • Were there times in the book that Kat’s peers could have been more interactive to make Kat feel more accepted?
  • Why is it important to have all sorts of different types of people in the world?
  • Is it okay to worry? If you are worrying too much, what should you do?
  • How are Kat and Juju like other two-character, opposite friends books like Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival, I’m Bored series by Michael Ian Black, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton

Giveaway!: 

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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A Teen’s Experience in Quarantine
by Monika A., 8th Grade

I am an 8th grader of the Class of 2020. I am a child who never knew her last day of middle school would be the day before spring break. I was the kid who was really excited for spring break and to just have time to spend with friends, but everything changed super quickly and it was overwhelming. I don’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure a bunch of kids just like me feel this way too. Not only are we missing a big part of our education, more importantly, we’re missing our social interactions. We need to be able to connect with people and ideas and cultures to learn and understand. We can’t really do that if we’re stuck at home watching Netflix. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m EXTREMELY bored. My home schedule is different than most people my age. We all have different circumstances at home, but more importantly, we’re kids who have a phone next to them with Netflix just screaming “Watch me… Watch meeee!” Most of us have a very short attention span, and it doesn’t help when we’re put in our houses with the bed, couch, or the fridge 2 steps away.

And now that school was at home, we all needed to find a balance between school, home, and fun (or what we could do for fun).  Tests were a big failure. I think it’s because we weren’t put in the spot to answer a certain question or explain an idea. Grades were either oddly low or way too high. Mrs. Moye shared with us that our brains were in crisis mode which I definitely felt.

As the weeks went by though, we all started to get the hang of it. We found ways to have fun and go outside, even if it was just a bike ride around the community.

This is a learning experience and what I have learned during this time is:

1. We need school. Like, really need it.

2. Balance is key to having fun and doing well in school.

3. Just because your family loves you, doesn’t mean they don’t annoy you the most.

4. You can’t learn everything on Netflix, You Tube, and TikTok.

5. The likes you get on TikTok won’t get you out of the math assignment.

This, I know: We can’t wait to get back to the real world! I know it can’t be just me, but boy, I’m tired of seeing the same 5 people everyday. Yes, I love my family, but yes, I am waiting to see my friends. But until then, we have to understand that this is the safest option for not only us, but everyone around us. Patience is key to this part of the journey. 

Thank you, Monika, for sharing your reflection with so much truth in it!

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When I was going through my thyroid diagnosis and treatment, I never felt like I should keep it a secret. I was going to an endocronologist, I knew I was doing the right thing for my health, and no one judged you for taking thyroid medication or getting treatments.

So, why is it not the same when it comes to mental health?

It should be, and I truly believe that one of the first things we could do as a community to change how it is talked about and the stigma around it is by changing the term we use. Mental health has a negative connotation in that many believe that our “mental state” is something we can control, and if we can’t control it, it is because we are weak. You can see this connotation is how people use mental informally to mean crazy. Mental is intangible.

So, why not instead call the study of mental illness

Brain Health

?

And instead of mental illnesses, we suffer from brain disorders?

These changes in terms show that the illnesses that many, including me, suffer are from imbalances in the brain, not something we are making up in our intangible thoughts. Brain health and brain disorders are very tangible things–they are all tied to chemicals, hormones, genetics, and trauma.

Let’s eliminate the stigma by changing the discussion! If we are suffering from brain health issues, we should see a professional, just like if we had heart or thyroid or other health issues. If we need time off for our brain health, just like if we had a cold, and we should be able to say that.

Think of how many lives we could save if kids (and adults!) realized that our brain health is as important as ear, nose, and throat or cardiology?

Advocate with me, and end the stigma!

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Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Simona Ciraolo
Published: September, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Meet Alice Guy-Blaché. She made movies—some of the very first movies, and some of the most exciting! Blow up a pirate ship? Why not? Crawl into a tiger’s cage? Of course! Leap off a bridge onto a real speeding train? It will be easy! Driven by her passion for storytelling, Alice saw a potential for film that others had not seen before, allowing her to develop new narratives, new camera angles, new techniques, and to surprise her audiences again and again. With daring and vision, Alice Guy-Blaché introduced the world to a thrilling frontier of imagination and adventure, and became one of filmmaking’s first and greatest innovators. Mara Rockliff tells the story of a girl who grew up loving stories and became an acclaimed storyteller and an inspiration in her own right.

About the Creators: 

Mara Rockliff has authored many books for children, including: Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of MagicAround America to Win the Vote; and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France. She lives in Pennsylvania.

Simona Ciraolo is a children’s book author and illustrator. She grew up in Italy where she received a degree in animation from the National Film School. She also earned an MA in children’s book illustration at Cambridge. She lives in London.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for Lights! Camera! Alice!:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about the book on Chronicle Book’s Lights! Camera! Alice! page.

Recommended For: 

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My Name is Wakawakaloch!
Author: Chana Stiefel
Illustrator: Mary Sullivan
Published August 27th, 2019 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this lighthearted picture book, the intrepid, determined, and savvy Wakawakaloch learns to embrace what makes her special while lifting up her neanderthal community.

No one can pronounce Wakawakaloch’s name. Why couldn’t she be called something simple . . . like Gloop? That’s a name you can find on a T-shirt! But after a visit with her tribe’s elder, Wakawakaloch discovers what her name means, and how powerful names can be. Gloop may be easy to say, but the girl who helps her friends embrace differences and wear their names proudly? Her name is Wakawakaloch!

Praise: “Wakawakaloch’s frustrations surrounding the mispronunciation of her name will resonate with many. . . .This bombastic main character allows the story to shine.” —Kirkus

About the Author: CHANA STIEFEL is the author of more than 25 books for kids about exploding volcanoes, stinky castles, and other fun stuff. In addition to My Name Is Wakawakaloch! she is the author of Daddy Depot, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017). Recent nonfiction titles include Animals Zombies . . . . & Other Real-Life Monsters (National Geographic Kids, 2018), which was selected as a Top Ten YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers in 2019. Check out the fun book trailer and more at her website: chanastiefel.com.

Twitter: @chanastiefel
Instagram: @chanastiefel

ReviewThis is such a timely books for classrooms, well for society in general! Pronouncing and remembering students’ names correctly is so important and not can have a lasting effect:

https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/gift-of-pronunciation/
http://neatoday.org/2016/09/01/pronouncing-students-names/
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/a-teacher-mispronouncing-a-students-name-can-have-a-lasting-impact

Wakawakaloch starts this conversation at a young age, not only for teachers but for other students. Name is part of our identity and Wakawakaloch should be mad that others aren’t trying!

Not only is the concept important, it is really well done! Done in a way that doesn’t feel preachy, is funny, but also still gets its message across clearly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If I was reading this aloud in my classroom, I would focus on the theme then complete activities about names. Every name has a story, either a personal one or a historical one.

(Please be careful about asking about history of names with all students as this may be a tough subject for anyone who doesn’t have access to a stable family environment to discuss why they were named their name. Make sure to have alternate assignments for this situation.)

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is it so important to know peoples’ names?
  • Why is Wakawakaloch’s name so important?
  • What does not learning someone’s name say to them?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: What if We Were All the Same? by C.M. Harris, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

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**Thank you Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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What Can a Citizen Do?
Author: Dave Eggers
Illustrator: Shawn Harris
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: This is a book about what citizenship—good citizenship—means to you, and to us all: Across the course of several seemingly unrelated but ultimately connected actions by different children, we watch how kids turn a lonely island into a community—and watch a journey from what the world should be to what the world could be.

• What Can a Citizen Do? is the latest collaboration from the acclaimed behind the bestselling Her Right Foot: Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris.

• For today’s youngest readers about what it means to be a citizen and the positive role they can play in society.

• Includes beautiful illustrations and intriguing, rhyming text.

What Can a Citizen Do is an empowering and timeless read with an important message for all ages.

Praise:

“[This] charming book provides examples and sends the message that citizens aren’t born but are made by actions taken to help others and the world they live in.” —The Washington Post

“Obligatory reading for future informed citizens.” —The New York Times

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for What Can a Citizen Do?:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about the book on Chronicle Book’s What Can a Citizen Do? page.

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Barkus: Dog Dreams
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Barkus is back! With new tricks. New friends. And lots more fun.

The lovable Barkus and his lucky young owner romp through the pages of this delightful series from Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The simple text told in short chapters is just right for children ready to take their first steps toward reading on their own.

View my post about Barkus to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

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

You can also access the teaching guide here.

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

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