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The Beatryce Prophecy
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Publishing September 28th, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all–for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories–powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves–ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her–a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone–will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Candlewick Press for The Beatryce Prophecy:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Beatryce Prophecy on Candlewick’s page.

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“Point-of-View Flip as a Way into Creative Writing”

I’m a big fan of the “point-of-view flip” activity for young writers. That’s where students are asked to retell an existing story (or scene or chapter) from a POV other than the one presented in the original. This exercise can be done with a short and simple tale like The Three Little Pigs (e.g., the wolf’s first-person POV) or with more advanced texts. I like this literary workout because, besides being just plain fun, it can help writers grow their skills. Here’s my thinking:

It’s hard to write creatively, from blank, on demand. That’s why I always hated assignments like, “Write a story from this week’s spelling words.” It’s why I’ve never gone to writers’ retreats, where I’d be put up for a random week not of my own choosing and expected to produce. I can no sooner schedule my creative juices than I can schedule the rain. I suspect that many students feel the same way.

With the POV flip exercise, students don’t have to pull characters or plots out of thin air. Those elements are already there, freeing students to focus on the craft of show-not-tell, dialogue, pacing, etc.

POV flipping shows writers how much hinges on POV when telling a story. After publishing four novels and several short stories, I’m more certain than ever that POV is among the most pivotal—and challenging—determinations to make in the writing process.

Take, for instance, my new upper-MG/early-YA novel, Ripped Away, which is set in Victorian London during the Jack the Ripper spree. I wrote my first draft in the third-person perspective of a boy growing up in London during that time. Something wasn’t right though. This POV didn’t feel immediate enough, intimate enough. So I rewrote the book in the first-person POV of that same character. It was an improvement, but I still wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing.

Eventually, I understood that the book wanted a narrator with a modern voice and contemporary sensibilities, because that’s how the tale would best resonate with readers. So I re-wrote it again, and that’s how Ripped Away became a time-travel fantasy.

When I think about how different the book would be if told from yet a different viewpoint—that of another character, or several other characters, or even an omniscient narrator—I see that Ripped Away could have been many stories. It took time and effort to discover the best POV for the story I wanted to tell, and it was well worth the investment. If students get the chance to experiment with viewpoint through the POV flip exercise, I think it will help them choose the right POV when they do create their own original text.

The flip activity keys students into POV in their reading. You can’t play around with viewpoint in your writing without it seeping into your awareness of what you read. I know several readers who actually use POV as a guide to selecting their leisure reading. Some insist on female first-person POV, others on third-person limited, yet others on multiple points of view. My own daughter goes for first-person stories that are told from the distance of time—an older adult looking back on his or her youth. I, for one, am drawn to the first-person peripheral narrator, like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway. Throw in a dash of unreliability, and I’m hooked. I also like books that skillfully mix it up—part first-person, part third-person, and a sprinkling of second-person for added intensity.

So who knows? Maybe we can get kids to read more by guiding them to stories with the POV they prefer. And kids who read more—anyone who reads more—will be a better writer for it.

Coming February, 2022

About the Book: Ripped Away is based on the real experiences of Jewish immigrants to London during the Jack the Ripper spree, when xenophobia ran high.

In the story, a fortune teller reveals that classmates Abe and Mitzy may be able to save someone’s life…and then she sweeps them to the slums of Victorian London in the middle of the Jack the Ripper spree. To get back home, they’ll have to figure out how the fortune teller’s prophecy is connected to one of history’s most notorious criminal cases. They’ll also have to survive the outpouring of hate toward Jewish refugees that the Ripper murders triggered.

Vernick’s purpose in writing Ripped Away is to illuminate this episode in history, as well as to inspire readers to contemplate possible responses to intolerance. National Jewish Book Award-winning author Anne Blankman calls Ripped Away “an engrossing adventure. From the moment Abe and Mitzy are swept back in time to the infamous Jack the Ripper, readers will clamor to find out what happens next.”

Book Trailer: 

About the Author: Shirley Reva Vernick is the author of four novels for young readers. The Blood Lie is an American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Readers pick and a Sydney Taylor Book Award honoree. Remember  Dippy won the Dolly Gray Literature Award from the Council for Exceptional Children. The Black Butterfly is a Junior Library Guild selection. Ripped Away will be released February 8, 2022 by Regal House Publishing.

Shirley is a graduate of Cornell University and an alumna of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars. When not creating stories, she mentors incarcerated individuals with their writing via the Prisoner Express program.

Please see www.shirleyrevavernick.com for more.

Thank you, Shirley, for your wonderful creative writing activity and for sharing your book–we cannot wait until it is published!

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Bow to Win a Slime War
Author: Mae Respicio
Published September 14th, 2021 by Wendy Lamb Books

Summary: Two kids face off in an epic battle to see who can sell the most slime, while navigating sticky situations with friends and family.

Alex Manalo and his dad have just moved back to Sacramento to help out with their extended family’s struggling Filipino market. While Alex likes helping in the store, his true passion is making slime! He comes up with his own recipes and plays with ingredients, colors, and different bumpy or sparkly bits, which make his slime truly special. A new friend encourages Alex to sell his creations at school, which leads to a sell-off battle with a girl who previously had a slime-opoly. Winner gets bragging rights and the right to be the only slime game in town.

But Alex’s dad thinks Alex should be focused more on traditional boy pastimes and less on slime. As the new soccer coach, Dad gets Alex to join the team. Even though he hates sports, Alex gives in.

Alex is battling on multiple fronts–with his new friends at school, and with his dad at home. It will be a sticky race to the finish to see who oozes out on top.

Praise:

“Oozing with fun.” —Kirkus Reviews

★ “A well-written story of family and friendship. Slime aficionados and newbies alike will enjoy the recipes for slime at the beginning of each chapter. Highly recommended.” —SLJ, starred review

About the Author: Mae Respicio writes novels full of hope and heart. Her debut, The House That Lou Built, received the Asian/Pacific American Library Association Honor Award in Children’s Literature and was an NPR Best Book of the Year. Mae lives with her husband and two sons in the Bay Area suburban wild, where they love hiking, hanging at the beach, and some good old-fashioned family slime time. Visit her online at maerespicio.com.

Review: Happy book birthday!!!!

How to Win a Slime War is definitely about slime, but it is about so much more.

It is about family. Alex and his dad have a lot of changes happening in their life and they are figuring out how to deal with it all. The kid characters aren’t the only characters that need to grow and change.

It is about friendship. Alex is starting at a new school, which means leaving his best friend, so he has to figure out how to fit into a new place. It is so much fun to meet all of his new friends with him and navigate the new environment.

It is about passion. And also about how passions of kids are not always what the parent wants it to be.

It is about entrepreneurship. Alex wants to be a business owner when he grows up and is already talking about it. He has been to conferences and has so many great ideas.

It is because of all of these different aspects that I found the book so engaging and a book that many people will find connection with Alex and his story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will find the most success in classroom, school, and public libraries in the hands of students; however, I could definitely see a teacher using aspects in their classroom: both the slime science aspect and the business/entrepreneurship.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did each character grow and change throughout the book?
  • Why was Alex so hesitant about the changes in the Manalo Market? How did Alex and his father end up combining some of the new ideas with honoring Lolo & Lola’s market?
  • How was Meadow more than what meets the eye?
  • How did Alex’s science teacher add extra engagement to her classroom?
  • How do you feel about schools banning things that have become popular?
  • How does Alex use what he has learned about business when it comes to selling slime?
  • Alex got really good at soccer but decided not to keep playing. Why did he make that choice, even after becoming successful? Is there anything you have been good at but you ended up not liking?

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1

The world has plenty of twelve-year-olds who’ve accomplished amazing things, like:

Hoisting 308 pounds in one clean lift.
Inventing a braille printer from a Lego set.
Making millions of dollars from candy that’s good for your teeth.

I wish I could add myself to this list, but I can barely lift a fifty-pound bag of rice, when I play with Legos I usually lose the pieces, and when it comes to candy–especially my favorite kind, with an edible wrapper–I’d rather eat it than sell it.

I do have one hobby I’m not bad at: Making slime.

I’m stellar at slime challenges. This morning my best friend, Raj, and I are doing one final face-off before my dad and I move from San Jose to Sacramento. It’s our way of saying goodbye.

I lay out the ingredients, a couple of bowls, and some fat wooden stirring sticks. Raj sets my laptop on the kitchen counter, raises the volume, and cues up a video: Slime Time Soraya’s 30-Second Challenge!

He rubs his hands together. “I’ve been waiting the whole week for this!”

We’ve done all her challenges except this one, which we’ve been saving for a special occasion.

“Okay, Slime Squad!” Slime Time Soraya says on-screen. “Today we make . . . classic slime! Your goal: mix as fast as you can.”

“Challenge accepted!” Raj says back.

“Who makes good slime in thirty seconds?” I say. “Art takes much longer than that.”

Raj smiles slyly. “You’re not the only one with skills, Alex.”

Read This If You Love: Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung JeongMe and Banksy by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Hello From Renn Lake by Michele Weber Hurwitz, Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin YunRescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

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

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“Tech Timeout, a Playwriting Lesson”

An irritated parent accosted me in the parking lot. “Don’t make my son do that assignment,” she pleaded.

Some years ago I taught playwriting to middle schoolers. The class was an elective so all of them had chosen to be there. Yet when it came time to start writing, all I heard was “I can’t think of anything.” or “I don’t have any ideas.”

That’s when I came up with an idea to help them come up with ideas. Prior to beginning the playwriting process, their homework was to ‘Just say no.’ to electronic entertainment. No broadcast or cable television viewing. No computer games or internet browsing. However, using the computer for responding to email, using the internet for teacher-assigned projects and attending movies or plays at a theater were permitted. (This was before cell phones became so pervasive.) And that’s why this mother grabbed me in the parking lot. “You’re punishing the whole family,” she said. “To prevent him from doing it, we have to not do it, too.”

This mother was a lady I liked. She knew I was an author and had aspirations for writing fiction herself but hadn’t gotten around to it. Life in the big city keeps you pretty busy, after all. I would try to encourage her to sit down and write but somehow her schedule would never allow for it.

Despite her impassioned objections to the no TV, no internet rule, I held firm. The assignment required students to abstain for four consecutive days. They could use the computer for homework in other classes, but not for fun. Parents had to sign a sheet documenting that their children had complied. I also sent home a list of things they could do besides watch television or play video games. Among the things I suggested: practice a musical instrument, go to a friend’s house, ride a bicycle, fix that thing that’s been broken forever, sort out a closet, play outdoors. The first item on the list was: start writing your play.

After the experiment, they also had to write about the experience. Some of their comments:

It was okay living without TV. I dont really watch a lot of television anyway, except on weekends. I went outside for bike rides, went for some ice cream, and played sports…   I also read a lot, and wrote e-mails, letters, essays and poems.  —Alicia K.

It was a nightmare going without TV… I thought I was going to die. Living without TV for four days was not as bad as I thought it was but it was still a little boring. Life went on and I and everybody around me lived.This might sound a little abnormal but I held it in. The temptation was there… I mean once in awhile I felt like getting up and turning on the TV.  —Colby J.

Going without [technology] was not hard. It was actually kind of fun. I got all of my homework done (that is not usual.) I was able to read a book and enjoyed it. I had free time to myself. I was able to work on all my projects and turn them in on time. —Jamela S.

After this period of abstinence, students ‘magically’ had great story ideas to put down on paper. It was easier for them to get their plays underway. Emptying their minds of electronic clutter seeded and strengthened their imaginations.

Although I, too, am guilty of spending too much time bouncing between You Tube and the boob tube, sometimes I actually act on my own advice.

I distinctly remember an occasion when I jumped in the car and reflexively reached for the radio. But before my hand could make contact with the tuner, that still, small voice said “No.”

I stifled the urge to fill the car with noise and stayed silent. As I drove in the quiet, I began thinking about my MG novel JAYLA JUMPS IN, which was still in progress. As I mused about my plot, I was able to work out several scenes. Being willing to put the tech in check enhanced my creative process.

Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of THE ARTIST’S WAY, calls this practice ‘media deprivation’ when you deliberately call a time-out from consuming all forms of artificial amusement to give your brain a re-set.

Not long after the assignment to temporarily go screen-free so that her son could write a play, that same mom stopped me again in the parking lot. This time she wasn’t angry, she was bubbling over with excitement. “Guess what!” she said. “I finally started my short story!”

Would your students benefit from a technology break?

Would you?

Jayla Jumps In
Author: Joy Jones
Published September 1st, 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company
Paperback releasing Fall, 2021

About the Book: When eleven-year-old Jayla finds out that her mother used to be a Double Dutch champion, she’s stunned. Her mom, who’s on doctor’s orders to lower her blood pressure, could move like that?!? Jayla decides to follow in her mom’s footsteps, thinking that maybe double Dutch can make her stand out in her big, quirky family. As she puts together a team at school and prepares to compete, Jayla finds that Double Dutch is about a lot more than jumping rope–and it just might change her life in ways she never imagined. Full of hilarious family dynamics and plenty of jump rope action, Jayla Jumps In follows one girl’s quest to get her mom healthy and find her place in her community.

Positive review by School Library Journal
STARRED review by Booklist

About the Author: Joy Jones is an author, trainer, and playwright.  Her play, Outdoor Recess, won the Promising Playwrights’ Competition by the Colonial Players in Annapolis, MD. Among her children’s books are the acclaimed picture book, Tambourine Moon, and Fearless Public Speakinga how-to for teens. Her newest bookJayla Jumps In, an MG novel, will be released in paperback Fall, 2021.Jayla Jumps In was inspired by the multi-generational double Dutch program she founded, DC Retro Jumpers. Visit her on the web at: http://www.joyjonesonline.com.

Kindly, Joy Jones has offered readers of Unleashing Readers a gift!

If they enter this code on my website, they can download these free ebooks:

For kids – the Jayla Jumps In Activity Book – http://joyjonesonline.com/freebies/ In order to complete the download, they need to enter the code  895$230

For adults – Not Everybody Likes to Exercise, But Everybody Likes to Play –  http://joyjonesonline.com/freebies/. In order to complete the download, they need to enter the code 248#795.

Thank you, Joy, for this awesome activity and for your generous gifts! We are thankful for you!

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