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Inky’s Great Escape: The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
Published: November 7, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Inky’s Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape .
Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.

In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?

Ricki’s Review: Inky! This is a fun, thrilling text that will surely entertain a classroom of kids. I can imagine all of the questions that would accompany a read-aloud of this book. When my son and I read it, the first thing we did was research Inky’s story on the internet (see Kellee’s review for more info about this). We talked about all of the exciting ways that an octopus might escape from an aquarium. I love how the author creatively interpreted Inky’s story and made it a sort of challenge from Inky’s friend Blotchy. This made me chuckle. This text is versatile and could be used in many ways in the classroom, and it has high appeal. Kids will love it.

Kellee’s Review: Although Inky’s Great Escape is a fictionalized version of the events that happened at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016, if you go and research about the escape, you’ll learn that the Inky truly is one incredible octopus! Although Lyall used creative freedom to build up Inky’s backstory (he’d retired to the aquarium after many daring escapes, and only escaped from the aquarium because Blotchy challenged him), much of the escape sequence was what truly transpired when Inky made his escape. Kids will fall in love with Inky’s bravery, personality, and with his contrasting friend, Blotchy, who stayed behind. With colorful full page illustrations and two octopuses with character traits and personalities that will start conversations, Inky’s Great Escape is going to be a favorite read aloud and classroom library book in elementary classrooms (and would be a great companion to a cephalapoda discussion!).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might take some time to point out New Zealand on a map and to research the habitat in New Zealand. They might specifically look into Inky’s story and how the author took a bit of creative license to interpret the truth a bit. Teachers might also ask students to create their own escape stories with another animal. They could illustrate these and bind them into books!

Discussion Questions: Why does Inky decide to escape? What does he do?; What is Blotchy’s role in the story? How might we compare this to situations in our lives?; What is the true story? How did the author creatively interpret that story?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Loved: Prince and Pirate by Charlotte Gunnufson; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

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Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books

Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.

Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?

Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.

About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily ShoutsSalon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at www.michaelrubens.com.

Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
  • Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
  • How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
  • Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
  • If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
  • Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?

Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.

There was something lurking in the darkness.

She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.

It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .

‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’

‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’

‘Why?’

He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’

‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’

‘Mobile?’ said Emily.

‘Right!’

‘A mobile. . . Stone?’

‘Precisely!’

‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’

‘Right again.’

‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’

‘You seem fixated on that.’

‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’

‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)

Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket

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**Thank you to Tracy at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Prince and Pirate
Author: Charlotte Gunnufson
Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Anticipated Publication: May 9, 2017 by Putnam

Goodreads Summary: When two little fish with big personalities have to share the same tank, there are rough seas ahead!

Prince and Pirate are proud masters of their very own fishbowls, and life goes along swimmingly–until they’re scooped up and plopped into shared waters.
Prince is horrified to find this cheeky cod trespassing in his kingdom.
Pirate is sure this scurvy sea slug has come to plunder his treasure.
Thus, a battle of regal sneers, seaworthy stink-eyes, and off-the-hook insults begins.
Prince and Pirate’s hilarious duel for territory will elicit gales of giggles, hearty guffaws, and heartfelt smiles. Just when it seems their struggle might end in a silly stalemate, a little surprise convinces them to find a way to get along–swimmingly.

Ricki’s Review: My son has Charlotte Gunnufson’s Halloween Hustle, and we read it quite often. He loves the kooky characters and fun within the text. Prince and Pirate is no different. I loved reading this book aloud, and my son was giggling as turned each page. The book is cleverly crafted, and the words and illustrations pop off of the pages. I can’t help but think about how the author conceptualized the novel. I imagine her looking at a fishbowl and thinking about the characters amongst her fish. This book would make a wonderful text to spur creative writing amongst students. I think their imaginations would soar after reading it. 

Kellee’s Review: I think Mike Lowery’s illustrations are so much fun and add such a special personality to any story, and with this book, his illustrations met a story that definitely lived up to his standards. (I also want to compliment the book’s designer who also made the font as fun as the illustrations.) Prince and Pirate were loners who all of a sudden are forced to live together and do. not. like. it. However, when they both have the same goal to try to reach, they are able to cooperate and learn to work (and live) together. Through humor and ridiculous name calling, Gunnufson tells a story that shows how differences don’t have to be the end of a possible friendship.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to create their own fish characters. They could use the prince and pirate as a model and design a similar text. This book serves as a wonderful mentor text for learning about how to build character and/or teaching dialogue. Don’t forget to check out the Educator’s Guide along with other fun, free activities on the author’s website, https://www.booksbycharlotte.com/activities.

Discussion Questions: How do you think the author conceptualized this book?; How do the words and illustrations work together to form an effective story?; How does the author build character? What other fish characters might emerge in the story? How would the story be different if the author introduce a ____ type of fish?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Loved: Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery

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Pug & Pig: Trick-or-Treat
Author: Sue Lowell Gallion; Illustrator: Joyce Wan
Published: July 25, 2017 by Beach Lane Books

Summary: Pug and Pig are back for a heartwarming Halloween adventure in this adorable picture book that’s perfect for pet lovers of all ages.

Halloween night has come to Pug and Pig’s house, and the darling duo is sporting matching costumes. The costumes are cozy. They glow in the dark. And they have masks! There’s only one problem—Pug hates wearing his. So he decides to rip it up and stay home. But Halloween just isn’t any fun for Pig without Pug! Can Pug find a way to be a good friend and get back into the Halloween spirit?

Ricki’s Review: This is a phenomenal second installment in the Pug & Pig series! I really enjoy the personalities of these two characters, and I can’t help but smile as I read the stories. In this book, Pug decides that he doesn’t enjoy wearing his Halloween costume. Pig isn’t too pleased with this. Together, they devise a clever solution! Early readers will absolutely adore this charming story. It would make for a great Halloween read aloud! We’ll be bringing our copy to my son’s preschool to use as a read aloud this week!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to make connections with the book. They could discuss whether or not they’ve had a time where they haven’t wanted to participate in an activity. Or perhaps, they didn’t care about something that their friends cared deeply about. Students might talk through these conflicts and problem solve by suggesting different ways they might approach the situations.

Be sure to download the fun activity kit, complete with masks, cupcake toppers, a coloring sheet, and more! (The link also takes you to a Common Core-aligned discussion guide.)

Discussion Questions: Why does Pug want to stay home? How does this make Pig feel?; Have you ever wanted to stay home when your friends or family wanted to do something? What did you do? What are some other ways you could have acted?; What are some other costumes that Pug and Pig could have been for Halloween?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion; Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey; Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite by Stacy McAnulty

Giveaway!:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author: Sue Lowell Gallion is the author of Pug Meets Pig and Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books). She has two grown-up kids, one grandson, and a black lab mix named Tucker, who all provide writing inspiration. As a printer’s daughter, she has a life-long love of type, paper, and the aroma of ink. She lives in Kansas City, KS. Visit Sue at suegallion.com, follow @SueLGallion on Twitter, and check out her kids’ book recommendations at Goodreads.

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Thank you, Barbara from Blue Slip Media, for sending a copy for review!

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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!

Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: David Litchfield
Published October 24th, 2017

Summary: “Hi, I’m Earth! But you can call me Planet Awesome.”

Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children’s book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits.

ReviewWow! This book went above and beyond my expectations! Think of it as Earth’s humorous autobiography. The voice that Stacy McAnulty gave Earth is perfect, and you learn things too! Although the book is silly and is told from Earth’s point of view, it is still a book that should be taken seriously because the knowledge it (and the back matter) holds is tremendous. It goes through the history of Earth is a truthful yet understandable way. Kids will leave the book knowing more than they did before but also really interested in learning more. Stacy McAnulty’s narrative with David Litchfield’s cartoonish illustrations lends itself to the perfect picture book for entertainment and information. Just check out the flagged passages to see why I say this is a must-get book!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When Earth’s history is first introduced in elementary school, Earth! would be the perfect introduction book because it goes over the entire history in a way that students will pay attention to but also without dumbing down any of the information.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author use text features throughout the book?
  • How did the author’s use of an unconventional narrator help you understand the history of Earth better?
  • What humorous parts of the book were your favorite? Why?
  • Using the ruler visual within the book, how much of Earth’s history have human’s inhabited? What else do you learn from this visual?
  • Read the back matter of the book. What else did Stacy McAnulty teach you in the back of the book?
  • What is something new you learned about Earth or the solar system in Earth!?
  • Would you classify the book as fiction or non-fiction? Why?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Science, Space, Picture books with humorous narrators like It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh FunkNothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

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**Thank you to Kelsey at MacMillan for setting up the blog tour for Earth!**

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We’re so excited to be partnered with Disney-Hyperion to bring you this review and giveaway of Bruce’s Big Move! 

Bruce’s Big Move
Author & Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published September 27th, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion

Summary: After the events of Hotel Bruce, our favorite curmudgeonly bear shares his home with not only his four geese, but three rowdy mice besides! Fed up with their shenanigans, Bruce sets off to find a rodent-free household. But as usual, nothing goes quite according to plan…

A hilarious sequel for fans of the previous Bruce books, as well as a standalone discovery for new readers, Bruce’s next reluctant adventure is sure to keep kids giggling.

About the Author: Ryan T. Higgins (ryanthiggins.com) is an author and illustrator who likes the outdoors and cheese sandwiches. He is NOT a grumpy old black bear, but he DOES like making books about one—starting with the best-selling Mother Bruce, which received the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor. He lives in Maine with his wife and kids… and too many pets.

LEARN MORE
Visit books.disney.com
Follow Disney-Hyperion on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram
#BrucesBigMove #FollowBruce

Kellee’s Review: Bruce is back and still a curmudgeon. Following the events in Mother Bruce where he becomes the mother to 4 geese and Hotel Bruce when 3 mice move in, Bruce decides enough is enough and wants to get away from the rodents once and for all, and he is willing to go to the extreme (moving) to get away. 

One of my favorite things about the Bruce books are the character’s expressions! Bruces’ stories are one only half told in the words, the rest can be found in the illustrations. The illustrations are so expressive and detailed giving each character a personality without it having to be explained.

And just like in the first two Bruce books, there is a definite message in the end! What do you think will make Bruce happy?

Ricki’s Review: I can’t decide whether I like the words or the illustrations more in this book. They are both hysterical! I absolutely adore Bruce. He makes me smile. Ryan T. Higgins is incredibly talented—I will read anything he writes!

Kellee is spot on. Bruce’s facial expressions make me laugh and laugh. I wish I captured my 4-year-old reading this book. He kept laughing and pointing to the pictures. I like the Bruce books because Higgins incorporates clear messages for readers, and he masterfully creates books that make great classroom read alouds!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Bruce’s Big Move, and the other Bruce books, as read alouds to discuss illustrations’ purpose in stories, theme, and characterization with students. Alternatively, consider asking students to create their own Bruce fanfiction!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does Bruce want to get rid of the rodents?
  • On each page, look at the characters’ expressions and discuss what clues they give the reader about the character.
  • What do you think will make Bruce happy?; Did you predict the ending of the book?
  • What do you think the author’s message was at the end of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

“Bruce wished there was a way to get rid of the pesky rodents. But there wasn’t.”

Realtor Ryan help his bear friend Bruce find the perfect rodent-free home: 

Read This If You Love: The first two books in the Bruce series, You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown, This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, Be Quiet by Ryan T. Higgins, Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood, Nibbles by Emma Yarlett

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Disney-Hyperion is partnering with us for a Whole Lotta Bruce GIVEAWAY!
One (1) winner receives:
Copies of Bruce’s Big Move, Hotel Bruce, and Mother Bruce
Branded tote bag and stickers

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**Thank you to Alex at Big Honcho Media for providing copies for review!**

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Landscape with Invisible Hand
Author: M. T. Anderson
Published: September 12, 2017 by Candlewick

Summary: National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth – but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem “classic” Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and what he’s willing to sacrifice – to give the vuvv what they want.

Review: 

  • Futuristic, dark satire that is an unusual, intelligent social commentary
  • Forces readers to think deeply about their personal, social, and political lives
  • Somewhat non-linear story with an interesting layout: each chapter has a title that corresponds with the artwork created by the main character
  • Stylistically, Anderson chooses every word with intention. The text is a 149-page novella that features chapters that can be taught instructionally as vignettes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:  Teachers might ask students to begin by looking closely at the text for short passages that they find particularly interesting or inspiring. Students might write a one-pager that a) unpacks the passage they chose, and b) examines the passage through the lens of a topic that they find particularly interesting and relevant. For example, they might connect a passage to the following topics which are relevant in the text:

Art

Automation

Capitalism

Classism

Economy

Entrepreneurship

Existentialism

Extraterrestrial Life

Health Care

Immigration

Love

Politics

Poverty

Sickness

Nostalgia

Unemployment

After the students have written several one-pagers and explored a variety of topics, they might select one topic that interests them most. They can research scholarship about the topic and look across the entire text for relevant passages.

Sample research paper topics:

Examining economic disparities and classism within Landscape with Invisible Hand

Finding the soul: M.T. Anderson’s treatment of love and art in Landscape with Invisible Hand

Discussion Questions: Do you think M. T. Anderson had a purpose for writing this text?; What kind of social commentary does this text offer?; What does it tell us about love? Society? Humanity?; How does Anderson use art to enhance the story?; How is the text structured? How does this enhance your reading?

Flagged Passage: “We are tiny figures, faceless, pointing at wonders, provided for scale, no lives of our own, surveying the landscape that has engulfed us all.”

Read This If You Loved: Feed by M. T. Anderson; Books by Scott Westerfeld; The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

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Thank you, Candlewick!

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