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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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I Like Animals…What Jobs Are There?
Author: Steve Martin
Illustrator: Roberto Blefari
Published March 1st, 2020 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: What do you want to do when you grow up? Children who love animals can find out all about potential future careers, from veterinarian to zookeeper to pet portrait artist, as they’re taken through a “day in the life” of 25 different animal workers.

Praise: 

Review: This book was written for so many kids out there! If any of you are librarians or teachers, you know how popular nonfiction animal books are. There are so few kids out there that don’t love animals! My son is one of those kids that adores animals and already says that he wants to be a zoologist and work with turtles, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to get it for him. What I love about the book (and the series I hope it is!) is that it gives options that kids may not know they have. Trent’s first thought for working with animals is working at a zoo, but there is so much more than that which he can choose from.

Each job’s section is really well done! It is written in first person from the point of view of the professional and includes fun yet truthful information, including the best and worst parts. Then, in the back, there is a flow map that helps kids see which job might be their perfect match, and there’s even back matter with more jobs. What a way to open up a kid’s imagination for the future!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My first thought was that this book could be an awesome mentor text for creating a similar type pamphlet. Students could pick something like sports, technology, children, etc. and make a pamphlet about what jobs are out there. This would be a great research project.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Before reading: What jobs do you know of that include working with animals?; After reading: Add to the list.
  • Which job do you think would work the best with your personality and work ethic?
  • Any jobs that you are interested in that weren’t in the book?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write each section in 1st person?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Compare/contrast two of the jobs in the book.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Aninimals

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

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Old Rock (is not boring)
Author & Illustrator: Deb Pilutti
Published February 4th, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Quirky charm infuses this tale of Old Rock’s life story, which is much more exciting than you’d expect.

Old Rock has been sitting in the same spot in the pine forest for as long as anyone can remember. Spotted Beetle, Tall Pine, and Hummingbird think just sitting there must be boring, but they are in for a wonderful surprise.

Fabulous tales of adventurous travel, exotic scenery, entertaining neighbors, and more from Old Rock’s life prove it has been anything but boring.

Great storytellers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and Old Rock’s stories are sure to inspire questions that lead to wonderful conversations about the past and the natural world.

About the Author: Deb Pilutti feels lucky to have a job where reading, playing with toys and watching cartoons is considered “research”. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, and nervous border collie. Deb has worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, creating toys and products for children and is the author and illustrator of  OLD ROCK (IS NOT BORING!) Putnam, THE SECRETS OF NINJA SCHOOL (Ottaviano/Macmillan), TEN RULES OF BEING A SUPERHERO (Ottaviano/Macmillan), and BEAR AND SQUIRREL ARE FRIENDS (Simon & Schuster).

Praise: 

“A witty, engaging exploration of deep time . . . This picture book rocks!” –Kirkus, starred review

“This is a wonderful story about mistaken assumptions, and taking the time to listen to a variety of perspectives and experiences. Part scientific history, part storytelling, Old Rock is content with his lot in life, and Old Rock is not boring! This is a brilliant book for school and public libraries and one that children will be drawn to.” –School Library Journal, starred review

“Pilutti puts a smile and wide eyes on the rock and places it among an increasingly fascinated animal audience in a set of simply drawn, usually idyllic cartoon scenes. ‘They are not bored,’ she concludes, nor will younger readers and listeners be once they realize that every rock they see has a similar story to tell.” –Booklist

Review: This book is not boring! I just adore Old Rock and how he puts things in perspective for the beetle, pine, and hummingbird. There is so much to dig into in this book, and it is a fun narrative also. I’m also a big fan of Pilutti’s illustration styles. It is such a fun mix of cartoon and realistic with each character’s personalities shining through the illustrations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: On top of the wonderful storytelling aspects of the story that could be used for a mentor text to initially introduce a personal narrative, looking at points of view of a situation, and seeing how illustrations support a text and add to the story, the book also shares the science behind rock’s stories which is a great introduction to basic geology and some animal science. Yay STEAM! Below is the image in the back matter:

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does everyone think that being a rock is boring?
  • What has rock done that is definitely not boring?
  • How old is rock?
  • What other things would rock have seen in the timeline given for him?
  • What are some things that rock did that show his character traits?
  • Which of the characters would you want to be friends with? Why?
  • How are the other characters different than Old Rock?

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 


Read This If You Love: Anthropomorphic picture books, Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug by Jonathan Stutzman, You Don’t Want a Unicorn by Ame Dyckman, Fly! by Mark Teague, Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan

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Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books

GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.

My Review: This book rocked me. It is so beautifully written, and I felt so lucky to be able to share it with others at NCTE this year. Because I have so many teaching ideas for this book, I am organizing this post a bit differently and focusing on many more teaching tools than usual. I hope that the information below helps other teachers use this book in their classrooms. It is so worthy of being read, studied, and loved.

Inquiry to Consider the Complexity of The Fountains of Silence:

The Connection of People: Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Fuga, Julia, Puri
“Some friendships are born of commonality. Others of proximity. And some friendships, often the unlikely ones, are born of survival” (p. 53).

Place as Character
The Castellana Hilton Madrid and Madrid
“After all, a hotel is a house of secrets” (p. 171).
“Madrid’s soil is untender, strong, and enduring like many who walk upon it” (p. 457).

Gender Norms
“Estamos más guapas con la boca cerrada. We are prettier with our mouths shut” (p. 240, 243, 300).

Social Class
“What lies outside the country’s borders is untouchable for families like hers” (p. 47).

Family Responsibility
“Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts” (p. 63).
“The family business needs you” (p. 82).

Human resilience
“It’s warrior skin, very strong” (p. 113)

Secrets
“There is a category of unspeakable things, a dark drawer where inexpressible truths live in exile” (p. 240).

Dreams
“Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain” (p. 24).

Fountains of Silence
Analysis of the power of the title. Whose stories are heard? Whose are silenced?

Culminating Project Idea: Multigenre Inquiry Project
The Fountains of Silence is story which uses layered writing to illuminate the fear and terror that people experienced under Franco’s fascist regime. The novel reveals the brute strength and resilience of the people during the time period. Select a time and place in history to research. Consider researching a time and place which is deeply connected with your own story. Read the narratives of the people and develop a multigenre project which reflects your learning. You might include fictional narratives of stories you create, nonfiction excerpts that you find in your research, a photo essay which includes photos you find in your research. Whatever the final form, your culminating project should include various types of writing and media and demonstrate your knowledge about the time and place you selected to research.

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The Day the Crayons Quit
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: December 1, 2019 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary:Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.

Ricki’s Review: I adored this book. I love stories about the underdog, and gray is definitely an underdog color! Fans who love The Day the Crayons Quit will absolutely love this story. It is very funny and a fantastic read aloud. There are many themes for discussion within the book. Kids might consider whose stories are missing as they think about gray’s emotions. They might also think about the other colors and how they are rude to gray and what this might feel like. The characterization of all of the colors offers much for discussion, too. Teachers and parents will love to read this aloud to children.

Kellee’s Review: As a daughter of an art teacher and art museum director, art education has always been important to me. I think the lack of art classes in elementary and secondary school as well as the push away from imagination in schools is a detriment to our children, so books like this give me so much hope! This book celebrates color education, creative writing, word play, and mood. It even pulls in social emotional learning with a focus on friendship and cooperation. Lindsay Ward did such a fantastic job with all of the elements of the story, and I cannot wait to share this book far and wide. It will be a fantastic read aloud in classrooms when discussing primary/secondary colors, story telling and mood, or even just to talk about how to work together. I cannot tell you enough how much you, your teacher friends, your parent friends, and all the kids you know need this book 🙂

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The possibilities of this text are very exciting. Teachers might have students choose a story of a lesser known or lesser considered character and have students develop their own fiction! They can share these stories and have a discussion about the people and things we don’t often consider.

Discussion Questions: How does gray feel? How do the other crayons make him feel?; How might you apply gray’s experiences to your own life?; How does the author make the book funny? How does this add to your experience as a reader?

We Flagged: “They never let me color! Just one tiny bit of GRAY? Is that so much to ask?”

You can also look inside the book HERE.

Read This If You Loved: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, The Dot and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Not a… series by Antoinette Portis, Art by Patrick McDonnell, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies 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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