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A Possibility of Whales
Author: Karen Rivers
Published March 13th, 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers

Summary: The story of a girl who—thanks to her friends, her famous single dad, and an unexpected encounter with a whale—learns the true meaning of family.

Twelve-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher loves possibilities: the possibility that she’ll see whales on the beach near her new home, the possibility that the trans­gender boy she just met will become her new best friend, the possibility that the paparazzi hounding her celebrity father won’t force them to move again. Most of all, Nat dreams of the possibility that her faraway mother misses her, loves her, and is just waiting for Nat to find her.

But how can Nat find her mother if she doesn’t even know who she is? She abandoned Nat as a baby, and Nat’s dad refuses to talk about it. Nat knows she shouldn’t need a mom, but she still feels like something is missing, and her questions lead her on a journey of self-discovery that will change her life forever.

About the Author: Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usu­ally be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds. Find her online at karenrivers.com and on Twitter: @karenrivers.

Praise: 

“A remarkable novel . . . Nat’s witty and vulnerable voice drives the novel, from her wry observations about contemporary celebrity culture to the thoughtful collection of untranslatable words that help define her world. The chapters that center Harry’s perspective are just as strong, emphasizing his desire to be seen and understood, not as an abstract exemplar of a transgender child but as an individual. The novel avoids offering simple solutions for questions of identity and adolescence, instead reveling in life’s nuance and complexity. Perfect for fans of Raymie Nightingale and Counting by Sevens, Rivers’s latest work brings an improbable combination of elements together in an unforgettable story that is quirky and wise.” —School Library Journal

“Charming and sweet as it explores personal identity, life changes, love, and, of course, whales . . . Nat’s story of self-discovery is sure to inspire anyone searching for their place in the world.” —Foreword Reviews

“A worthwhile addition to library collections.” —Booklist

ReviewI am a big fan of novels that switch points of view as I feel like it gives another perspective into the story that is being told, and with this story, I am so very happy that we get to hear from Nat AND Harry. There needs to be coming-of-age stories for all types of kids, and Nat and Harry will be someone that kids that may not have someone to connect to in other books will immediately find some kids that they’ll see themselves in. And Harry’s story is one that needed to be told in a middle grade book and hadn’t yet been in a book that I’ve read, and is one that many of my students have asked for. I am so glad that Harry exists for my middle schoolers! And Nat is a special young lady whose coming-of-age story is one that middle schoolers need as well–a look at family, growing up, friendship, school, and WHALES!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The best home for Whales will be in the right kids’ hands. This book will be perfect for all libraries, classroom and school, as well as for the right lit circle or book club.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Nat’s acceptance of Harry right away show you about Nat’s character?
  • How has Nat’s father’s career and her lack of mother affected her life?
  • Why was the name lion perfect for the paparazzi who followed Nat and her father?
  • What do the whales symbolize in the story?
  • How did the two points of view help shape a more thorough story?
  • What was the author’s purpose of including Bird in the story? What role did she play in Nat’s life?

Flagged Passages: 

Nat: “On her fourth day at the new place, Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher walked down the long, lumpy trail to the beach that lay at the bottom of the slope.

The ‘Baleine’ was silent, was what she told people when they asked , which was pretty much only when she was registering at a new school or had to show her passport. Baleine was the French word for ‘whale.’ Nat loved the fact that it was there, hiding inside her perfectly normal name. She pictured the whale swimming past the Natalia Rose on her passport, surfacing when no one was looking to take a long huffing breath of air before disappearing again, under the Gallagher.

‘Baleine’ was the heart of her name. (When Nat had to do an ‘All About Me’ poster in first grade, she drew a whale where most kids put a heart.)

‘Baleine was also a secret between Nat and her mother, who named her.

Her mother, who named her, and then left.” (p. 3-4)

Harry: “Harry scratched his ear again, so hard it was probably bleeding. It was just a coincidence that it was the same ear that got hurt the year before when a group of boys in his class decided it would be funny to beat him up.

They beat him up because they hated him for knowing who he was.

That is, they beat him up because even though some dumb doctor said he was a girl when he was born, he was really a boy.

The boys who beat him up were not the kind of kids who understood things like that.

No one in that town was.

Maybe no one anywhere was.” (p. 43)

Read This If You Love: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson; All Summer Long by Hope Larson; Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky; I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-LogstedTwo Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick; Calli Be Gold by Michele Weber Hurwitz; Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamilloStealing Our Way Home by Cecelia Galante; The Real Us by Tommy Greenwald

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**Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing a copy for review!**

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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Children of Exile
Published September 13th, 2016 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Children of Refuge
Published September 12th, 2017 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Children of Exile Summary: For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

Children of Refuge Summary: After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!

Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?

ReviewOne thing you can always guarantee when you read a Haddix book is that it will suck you in and will be super unique! The Children of Exile series did not disappoint. I will admit, it is really hard to review either of the books without spoiling. The summaries above both did a really great job, but everything that happens after that suspense-building summary happens would spoil something for you. But I will promise you these things:

  • You will be on the edge of your seat and not be able to figure out what is going on for 90% of the first book.
  • You will be disgusted by the treatment of the children once they are returned to their parents.
  • You will want to help Edwy and his friends so badly throughout the entire second book.
  • You will have to stop reading when the reveal happens in the first book just to process it. Then you’ll reread. Then you’ll text someone who has read it.
  • You will want to know more than book 2 tells you, so we’ll all be waiting impatiently for #3.
  • You will realize that these books are actually a bit older and darker than they first seem.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like other Haddix books, you will find the best home for these books in the hands of kids. They are going to be talking about these books after they read them!

Discussion Questions: Discussion questions are available on Haddix’s website.

Flagged Passages: “‘Remember to be good little children!’

Good little children, good little children, good little children…

I saw children crying and clinging to their Fred-parents’ legs. I saw men yanking babies from their Fred-parents’ arms. I turned my back to my own Fred-mama and Fred-daddy — maybe to grab them as hard as I could — but the crowd surged just then, pushing Bobo and me up the stairs. I couldn’t see my Fred-parents anymore. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell them a proper good-bye.” (Children of Exile, Chapter 3)

“I’d been counting on being able to run fast enough no one caught up.

‘Good,’ an oily voice whispered in my ear. ‘Now you understand that screaming is useless.’

‘No, I was just–‘ Before I could add deciding what to scream next, a thick hand slid over my mouth. It smelled of onions and sweat and mud and, I don’t know, maybe puke as well.” (Children of Exile, Prologue)

Read This If You Love: Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman, Masterminds by Gordon Korman, Spillzone by Scott Westerfeld

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters for providing copies for review!**

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The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locket Hero
Author: Rachel Renee Russell
Published: June 7, 2016 by Aladdin

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Max Crumbly is about to face the scariest place he’s ever been: South Ridge Middle School. There’s a lot that’s great about his new school, but there’s also one big problem—Doug, the school bully whose hobby is stuffing Max in his locker. If only Max could be like the hero in his favorite comics. Unfortunately, Max’s uncanny, almost superhuman ability to smell pizza from a block away won’t exactly save any lives or foil bad guys. But that doesn’t mean Max won’t do his best to be the hero his school needs!

Review: This book is the beginning of a soon to be very popular series. I suggest you purchase a copy of this book for your classroom library while you still can. In June, the 2nd book will be released and I have a feeling it will not be available on the shelf for long. This book has a very similar style to the “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid” series which children across grade levels love. This book introduces relevant themes to a middle grade reader such as peer conflict, coping with bullying, pop culture, relationships, friendship, surviving middle school, and learning to laugh at yourself. This book was an easy ready and would be ideal for a more reluctant reader or to read for pleasure.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is one of the rare few written in second person. Max Crumbly, the narrator, is writing journal entries addressing the reader as “you.” “The Adventures of Max Crumbly” would be an interesting text to explore point of view with your students. You could also use the text to highlight the use of exclamation and variation of font. Additionally, the text could be a resource when reviewing the writing process. There are entire sentences scratched out, arrows redirecting the narrative, edits, revisions, and inclusions in the final text.

Discussion Questions: Is this style of writing something you think you would be able to create?; How does the point of view of the narrator impact your perceptions as a reader?; What value did the illustrations add to the text—if any?; Are there any themes or topics in which you can identify/connect with?

Book Trailer: 

Online Resource: http://maxcrumbly.com/

Read This If You Loved: Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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Thank you, Emily!

RickiSig

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

March Trilogy
Author: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Illustrator: Nate Powell
Published 2013, 2015, & 2016 by Top Shelf Productions

Summary: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One: Begins with John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Book Two: After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence – but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before. Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy… and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Book Three: Fall 1963, the Civil Rights Movement is an undeniable keystone of the national conversation, and as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is right in the thick of it. With the stakes continuing to rise, white supremacists intensify their opposition through government obstruction and civilian terrorist attacks, a supportive president is assassinated, and African-Americans across the South are still blatantly prohibited from voting. To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative projects, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and a pitched battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television. But strategic disputes are deepening within the movement, even as 25-year-old John Lewis heads to Alabama to risk everything in a historic showdown that will shock the world.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

Review: No matter what I say in this review, I am not going to give this trilogy justice. I mean, Book Three won the National Book Award, Sibert Medal, Printz Award, Coretta Scott King Award, YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction, and the Walter Dean Myers Award. And it had SIX starred reviews, Book Two had FOUR starred reviews, and Book One had FIVE starred reviews. That is FIFTEEN between the three! And they all deserve whatever praise or recognition they have received.

John Lewis’s story included many aspects of the Civil Rights movement I did know about; however, it gives insight into these events that no one else could give us as Lewis is the last of the March on Washington speakers to be with us. It also addresses aspects of the movement that are not taught in history books because it is ugly. Our history is ugly, but that is exactly why it needs to be talked about. There were times when reading where I had to put the book down (especially in Book Three) because this truth was harder to read than just any fiction I’ve encountered. These were my tweets as I was reading (read bottom to top):

But it is because of the shocking nature of our history that we must speak and read and learn about it. We are supposed to keep moving forward, and the only way to make sure we know which way that is, is to learn about what was in the past. John Lewis, with the help of his co-writer Andrew Aydin and the illustrator Nate Powell, have given us a gift with these books. A gift of a look into the past through the eyes of an insider.

I’d also like to share how amazing it was to see John Lewis at ALA Annual in Chicago! I had the honor of hearing him speak twice: once at the Coretta Scott King Award breakfast and once in the Library of Congress pavilion. I also got to shake his hand (though the picture didn’t come out–boo!), thank him, and get my book signed by him and Nate Powell. I am still in awe of the experience!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: PLEASE put these in classrooms! U.S. History teachers, use these as your resource for teaching about Civil Rights. ELA teachers, use these as a nonfiction text in any unit. Anyone with a library for young adults, please put them in your collection. Everyone, read these with a young adult or get them to a young adult. Learning about John Lewis’s truth is how we keep history from repeating itself.

Discussion Questions: 

March Book One Teaching Guide

March Book Two Teaching Guide

March Book Three Example Lesson Plan

Flagged Passages: 

Here are three passages I took photos of because it shocked me how relevant they are to our society today. They may not be the best representation of John Lewis’s narrative; however, they do show the beautiful format and artwork as well as touch on some of the events in Book Three.

Read This If You Love: Just read these. I promise.

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The Wonderful Things You Will Be
Author: Emily Winfield Martin
Published: August 25, 2015 by Random House

A Guest Review by Jennifer Zafetti

Summary: This heartwarming picture book is from the point of view of a parent who is eager to see the development of their child. The parent questions who their child will become and what interests they will possess. In the end, there are endless possibilities that the future has to offer to the child.

Review: This is a great book to give to a parent with a small child! The Wonderful Things You Will Be would make for a soothing bedtime story. The sweet message of the story is that a child can be anybody that they want to be. There are no expectations set for a child to adhere to so their future is an empty canvas waiting to be painted! The book, using second person, discusses the uniqueness of you and the wonderful attributes you have to offer to the world. There are many “what if” questions that will get the reader thinking about all the wonderful things that they can do with their life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Wonderful Things You Will Be is an engaging children’s book that encourages the reader to embrace the future. There are beautiful illustrations to accompany the text. The teacher can use this book to discuss rhyming words, as well as point of view.

Discussion Questions: What are some rhyming words that you noticed in the story? How do the illustrations enhance the text? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, and If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

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Thank you, Jennifer!

RickiSig

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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
Author: Scott Menchin
Illustrator: Henry Bliss
Published April 14, 2015 by Abrams

Guest Post by: Sarah Mangiafico

Summary: When a young boy learns about what makes art special—sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it tells a story—he realizes that these same characteristics are what make his grandmother special, too. As a result, he finds the inspiration to create his own masterpiece that’s one of a kind.

Christopher Award–winning author Scott Menchin and New York Times bestselling illustrator Harry Bliss have teamed up for a celebration of the power of art and expression, and the extraordinary love between grandparent and child.

Review: I love how this book expresses the different feelings that art can evoke in someone, along with the meaningful moments that it can capture. Sometimes something can be art simply for being funny or for making you feel nice; art does not have to be complicated to be art. This is a powerful message to share with readers, since many people often think that art needs to have many different meanings and lots of creativity in order to be art. The art that the boy makes about his grandma clearly shows the feelings and thoughts that can inspire someone to make art. The art that he makes about her is also very touching, and is a great ending to the book that leaves readers (including myself) ready to go out and create their own meaningful art pieces.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Grandma in Blue with Red Hat is a wonderful book that can show students how “Anything can be in an art exhibition,” and can teach them how anything that they create can be considered art (Menchin 3). This is a great book to introduce students to what art is, and can motivate kids to want to create their own art pieces for a “class art museum.” After creating their pieces, students can walk around the “class art museum” and write down why they think each piece is art. Grandma in Blue with Red Hat is a sure way to get students interested in art, and to create art that is meaningful to them in some way.

This book is also a wonderful book to share with students because the art pieces shown in the book are real and famous pieces of art. Reading this book as a read aloud can introduce students to these pieces and can lead to a more in-depth class study of them and the artists that made them. A variety of cultures are represented in the art pieces shown in the book as well, which makes this book culturally relevant.

Discussion Questions: What is art? Why did the boy in the story decide to use his grandma as an inspiration for his art? What are some things that you could make an art piece about? What makes you choose those things?

Flagged Passages: “Grandma is beautiful. Grandma is different. Grandma is funny. Grandma tells me stories. Grandma comes from far away. Grandma makes me feel good” (p. 17).

Read This If You Loved: Draw! by Raúl Colón, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, My Pen by Christopher Myers

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