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“Digging into Fantasy and SciFi: An Anthropological Approach”

Like many authors, I came to writing via a circuitous route. A childhood obsession with The Lord of the Rings led to a fascination with history and other cultures, which led to an undergraduate degree in anthropology, which led to teaching 7th grade social studies, which led to writing middle grade and YA fantasy. See? Circuitous.

This is particularly true with my upcoming book, Del Toro Moon, a tale about a boy and his family—descendants of Spanish knights and aided by talking Andalusian war horses—who hunt monsters in the modern-day American Southwest. Del Toro Moon incorporates all my feels: fantasy, horses, the history and legends of the Southwest (I’m a proud New Mexican native now living in Colorado), and powerful familial bonds, especially between fathers and sons.

Since I write mostly fantasy, my school visits often focus on reading and writing in that very popular genre. One writing trick I share with upper elementary and middle/high school students is to have them scrutinize literary worlds as an anthropologist would—another cross-curriculum tool between literature and social studies.

Part One

I begin by reviewing the eight elements or universals found in all human cultures. I do include this caveat: if a group of people does not have all eight elements, then it is probably a social group, not a culture as an anthropologist would define it:

Elements of Cultures

Religion

  • Religion answers basic meanings about life
  • Can be formal and elaborate or informal and peripheral to the culture

Language

  • One of the strongest unify forces of a culture
  • Variation of a language is called a dialect (local form of a language that may have a distinct vocabulary and pronunciation)
  • Idioms, metaphors, sayings, and cuss words – so fun for writers!

History

  • Actual as well as mythical
  • Shapes how a culture views itself and the world
  • Stories about the challenges and successes of a culture support certain values and help people develop cultural pride and unity
  • Cultural holidays mark important events and enable people to celebrate their heritages

Daily Life (Food/Clothing/Shelter)

  • Secular and holy meals
  • Clothes and weapons or tools, including information technology
  • Housing, including the building, furniture, gardens, etc.

Social Groups

  • People can belong to more than one social group based on age, gender, interests, etc.
  • The family is the most important social group
  • People act differently in different groups (socialization)
  • Ethnic group: a group that shares a language, history, religion, and sometimes, physical traits

Arts & Crafts

  • Expresses what people think is beautiful and meaningful
  • Can also tell stories about important figures and events in the culture
  • Music, visual arts, dance, performing arts, literature, crafts

Government

  • People need rules in order to live together without conflict
  • Limited Governments (restricts the power of its leaders)
  • Unlimited Governments: (leaders are all-powerful)

Economy

  • A system that determines what goods and services are produced, how to produce them, and who will receive them
  • Four main types of economic systems:
    • Traditional: barter and trade
    • Market: capitalism
    • Command: communism
    • Mixed: a blend of two or more

Part Two

Next, the students divide into teams of two or three. Using a simple web graphic organizer (I’ve included an example—feel free to use it), each team takes apart a favorite book, movie, or TV show and determines if that book/movie/show/etc. has those eight elements. Some common favorites are:

Star Wars                                Harry Potter                 Star Trek         Percy Jackson

The Lord of the Rings            The Hunger Games        Warriors          Others?

The students must include a justification. For example, if a team is examining Star Wars and puts “Jedi” in the Religion circle, they must explain why they placed it there as opposed to History or Government.

Part Three

Finally, I have them complete the same exercise with their own work-in-progress. This is also a useful tool to aid in plotting a story prior to writing the first draft. I’ve had some pretty amazing discussions during this activity. One of my favorite was a debate focused on whether information technology should be listed under “Tools” or “Religion.”

I’d enjoy hearing about other ways teachers and librarians are connecting various disciplines, especially between the humanities and STEM. Please share with me and thank you!

About the Author: Darby Karchut is a multi-award winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy at her writing desk. Her books include the best selling middle grade series: THE ADVENTURES OF FINN MacCULLEN. Best thing ever: her YA debut novel, GRIFFIN RISING, has been optioned for film. Her latest book, DEL TORO MOON, releases Fall 2018 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at www.darbykarchut.com

Del Toro Moon
Author: Darby Karchut
Publishing September 2018 by Owl Hollow Press

Summary: Bad enough Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in the family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like creatures, known as skinners. He must also learn how to match his father’s skills at monster hunting. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a million to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Now, with the skinners multiplying, both in numbers and ferocity, Matt is desperate to keep his father and hot-tempered older brother from killing each other, prevent his new friend, Perry—a horse-crazy girl who recently moved to their small town of Huerfano, Colorado—from discovering the true nature of his odder-than-oddball family, and save a group of paleontologists from getting skinner-ed.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance.

www.darbykarchut.com

www.owlhollowpress.com

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35183477-del-toro-moon?from_search=true

Thank you Darby for sharing this look at writing from a cross-curricular viewpoint!

 

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I Love You, Michael Collins
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published June 20th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.

After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

I Love You, Michael Collins was a Best Book of June 2017 on Amazon; a semifinalist for the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards; and a pick by the Planetary Society for Best Science Children’s Books of 2017.

ReviewThere is so much I really enjoyed about this book!

First, I adored looking into the experience of the moon landing. I cannot even imagine witnessing it happening! What an amazing feat it was and completely unimaginable. (And I hope to at some point see it happen again.) And I thought Baratz-Logsted did a good job showing all the different types of feelings towards the moon landing and space program. But I’m glad that she focused on its amazingness and the excitement.

Second, I think the author did a fantastic job with the character’s voice. With a book of letters it is essential that the writing sounds like the character because it is actually the character writing all the words. I loved seeing all the techniques she used to write like Mamie while still keeping her writing to a literary level.

Third, I loved that the book was not just a reenactment of the moon landing and a family’s celebration of it. The story has so many layers within it: Mamie’s introverted personality and the look into what makes a kid like this happy; her family’s conflicts and issues; and the power of one best friend.

Overall, I Love You, Michael Collins is a fun historical fiction middle grade book that is perfect for so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The first thing I went to when I thought about this book from a teachers point of view was the idea of letter writing. Mamie writes Michael Collins originally because it is a school project. Mamies letters could be used as a starting point on how to write letters, parts of a letter, etc. And students could even write a letter to someone in the news that is doing something amazing.

Next summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and at the end of next school year, I am definitely going to do a cross-curricular unit about NASA and the Apollo missions along with a read aloud of excerpts from this novel. It is so engaging as a story and will also be a great way for students in the 21st century to have a window into the 1960s.

But even without this amazing anniversary, Baratz-Logsted’s title is one that middle grade students will find enjoyment in and should definitely be in classrooms and libraries!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author help make her writing seem like a ten-year-old was writing the letters?
  • Michael Collins is not a household name like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Why is that? Do you think we should all know his name in the same context as the other two astronauts?
  • Which character do you think changed the most throughout the book?
  • What do you think is going to happen next with Mamie’s family?
  • How did Buster’s friendship help Mamie keep her positivity and sanity during this tough time in her family?
  • If you were going to have a moon landing party, what would you make?
  • How would the story of Mamie’s parents’ separation have been different in the 21st century?

Flagged Passages: 

“Dear Michael Collins,

I finally figured out why you never write back. Can you figure out how I figured this out? If not, I will tell you. I did the math.

Okay, I didn’t really do the math, since I don’t have all the information. But it struck me that I might not be the only person writing to you. I though, if every school in the country has just one class that is writing letters to the astronauts and if in each class there is just one kid like me writing to you, then that is still a lot of mail.

It’s no wonder you can’t write back to everyone. And of course you do have other things to do right now.

I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of you getting more mail than I originally thought you did. On the one hand, I’m really happy for you. I’m glad you’ve got more than just me. On the other hand, it was kind of nice when I thought I was the only one. It felt special. Like I was the the only one who knew about you. Which of course isn’t true. The whole world knows about you. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to appreciate you very much.

Does it ever bother you that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get so much more mail than you do? I hope not. It certainly wouldn’t bother me. There was a time I thought it might be nice to be popular–you know, to have a lot of friends. But then Buster came along, and then Campbell, and I realized that that is quite enough for me…” (p. 30-31)

Read This If You Love: Space! I recommend Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar and Moon Base Crisis by Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson. Also check out Planetary.org’s list of recommended books from 2017: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2017/1115-space-books-kids.html and 2016: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/emily-lakdawalla-space-book-recommendations.html

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“The Importance of a Diverse Cast of Characters”

One of the lessons most writers learn early in their careers is to write what you know. This is generally good advice, since understanding a place or a topic or an emotion makes it much easier to write something that sounds real on the page. The rule is not, of course, meant to be taken completely literally. Fiction is, by definition, made up. Having spent time in one city, it isn’t a huge stretch to place a story in a city one hasn’t visited. If you understand what it feels like to be scared or excited you can believably expand that experience to portray the emotional impact of say, being kidnapped or winning the lottery without suffering (or enjoying) that fate yourself. But how does “write what you know” apply when we’re talking about characters with different cultural backgrounds than their authors?

Diversity in books has become a hotly debated topic in recent years and for good reason. Too many readers feel alienated because an overwhelming percentage of books on the shelves are about exclusively white, middle class, straight characters. This limited perspective doesn’t just alienate people who don’t fit this narrow profile, it is a lost opportunities for everyone as books are an ideal way for people to immerse themselves in other cultures and life experiences. The challenge for an author is how to accurately create diversity when that is not “what we know.” It’s a challenge that must be approached with care. Getting the neighborhoods wrong when your character wanders the streets of Chicago is mildly annoying; using a stereotype to show a teenager is gay or African American is both damaging and offensive.

So what is an author to do? I am a white, middle class, woman who has mostly lived in cities. I don’t feel confident about accurately portraying the life experience of someone in a poor rural community who faces racism on a regular basis. What I can do is create a world for my characters that is not solely populated by white, middle class people, and I can do that with confidence because the world I live in is chock full of people from every background, shape, and color. Basically, I can follow the rule to write what you know while adding this important corollary: pay attention. I set REWIND in my hometown, so to make the scenes feel realistic, I had to pay attention to the people I actually see every day. Who passes me on the street when I head to work? Where is my grocery store clerk from? What kinds of accents do I overhear when eating out at a restaurant? Writing a multicultural community is not only the “right thing to do,” it is also the accurate thing to do.

In REWIND I have to admit to a little bit of a cheat. The teenage protagonists in the novel are orphaned and have been raised their entire lives in an Institutional Center. This set-up allowed me to include characters of various races without having to portray multiple cultures. Or, what is probably more accurate, I could place them all in my own culture without that feeling false within the context of the story. My first person point-of-view character is white, but other characters in the book are not. (I looked up census data and matched the ethnicity of the remaining teenagers—all of whom share a random genetic trait—to the reported census distribution in order to accurately reflect the region.) I did sometimes mention someone’s race as part of a character description, but tried to add that detail to white characters as often as I did with minority ones, in hopes that “white” wouldn’t be the assumed default just because no race is mentioned.

Diversity in book is more than just having an international cast. One of my fears as a writer is that I inadvertently typecast a character. My efforts to avoid this have focused on another fundamental lesson for good writing: descriptions are strongest when they also illuminate something about the book’s world or about the character doing the describing. Saying “the Hispanic teacher handed out our assignments” does not create a compelling scene in part because real people are never defined solely by their ethnicity or sexuality or any other single factor. Writing a scene where our hero is at his friend Manuel’s family restaurant and Manuel is mocking his attempts to pronounce the Spanish words on the menu tells me something about Manuel as a person and his relationship with our hero. Having a non-Asian character step into an Asian grocery store and not be able to read the packing nor understand the people around her could be a great way to show her feelings of alienation. Like real people, characters should stand out as unique and multi-faceted. My hope is that by placing three-dimensional characters in a variety of realistic settings, a greater breadth of readers will feel at home in my novels.

I know that including a diverse cast in a book with a white point-of-view character is not the same thing as creating truly inclusive literature. In a better world, there will be more published authors who are able to represent the life experiences of underrepresented people with nuance and understanding. REWIND is my debut novel. As a writer, I am still exploring ways to better incorporate diversity. As a reader, I encourage all of us to seek variety in our reading choices, both to support those voices that sometimes struggle to be heard and to enrich our own life by learning what it feels like to be someone else. This is not because reading widely is a politically correct imperative—immersion in a wide array of experiences is the gift we give ourselves when we sit down to read a good book.

Thank you so much to Carolyn for this IMPORTANT post and for being willing to chat about diversity with us! 

About the Author: Carolyn O’Doherty lives in a much prettier and less dangerous version of Portland than her characters. She’s loved writing and books her whole life, but ventured into novel writing late. In 2011 she received an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing from Stonecoast. When, as a kid, she dreamed up the idea of freezing time, she only considered the benefits: always having the perfect snappy come-back, the right answer on the test, untraceable revenge. It was when she turned the idea into a novel that she delved into the dark side of this potential blessing.  Outside of writing, Carolyn has spent the last twenty years working with Portland non-profits to develop affordable housing.

Make sure to checkout her debut novel: 

Summary: [April 10th, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press] Sixteen-year-old Alex is a Spinner–she has the ability to rewind time to review past events. Hated and feared because of their ability to find the truth, the small population of Spinners is restricted to Centers–compounds created to house and protect them. Alex’s society uses the Spinners’ skills to solve major crimes, but messing with time comes with consequences: no Spinner lives past the age of twenty. At sixteen, Alex is in her prime–until time sickness strikes early. When she is offered an experimental treatment, Alex sees a future for herself for the first time. But the promising medication offers more than just a cure–it also brings with it dire consequences.

Don’t miss out on the other stops on the Rewind blog tour: 

Sunday, April 15
Unleashing Readers

Monday, April 16
Linda K. Sienkiewicz blog

Tuesday, April 17
Books by Pamela Thompson blog

Wednesday, April 18
YA Books Central

Thursday, April 19
The Brain Lair

Friday, April 20
Ms. Yingling Reads

And make sure to enter the Rewind giveaway!

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Thank you again to Carolyn and Boyds Mills Press for hosting the Rewind blog tour!

For more advice to writers about including diversity into your work, visit https://diversebooks.org/resources/resources-for-writers/.

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Bone’s Gift
Author: Angie Smibert
Published March 20th, 2018 by Boyd’s Mill Press

Summary: Boyds Mills Press is pleased to announce the March publication of BONE’S GIFT, a supernatural historical mystery written by Angie Smibert about twelve-year-old Bone, who possesses a Gift that allows her to see the stories in everyday objects. When Bone receives a note that says her mother’s Gift killed her, Bone seeks to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s death, the schisms in her family, and the Gifts themselves.

In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in 1942, Bone Phillips has just reached the age when most members of her family discover their Gift. Bone has a Gift that disturbs her; she can sense stories when she touches an object that was important to someone. She sees both sad and happy—the death of a deer in an arrowhead, the pain of a beating in a baseball cap, and the sense of joy in a fiddle. There are also stories woven into her dead mama’s butter-yellow sweater—stories Bone yearns for and fears. When Bone receives a note that says her mama’s Gift is what killed her, Bone tries to uncover the truth. Could Bone’s Gift do the same?

This beautifully resonant coming-of-age tale about learning to trust the power of your own story is “charming” says School Library Connection, while Kirkus Reviews says, “Smibert surrounds Bone with a loving, complicated extended family….(with) language, which feels real and down-to-earth, like her characters. An intriguing blend of history and magic.”

About the Author: Angie is the author of several young adult books, including Memento NoraThe Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague, and numerous nonfiction books for children, as well as many short stories for both adults and teens. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

ReviewBone’s Gift was a special story looking at a well-known time period in a less-known setting. Normally stories in the 1940s focus primarily on the World War in Europe and the Pacific Islands, but this story focuses on a young girl who stays home when her father leaves to fight for his country. What happens to the children who have no mother and whose father leave for the war? Mostly a young girl whose family don’t all get along? And a young girl who is working very hard to figure out something important in her life while also learning truths about her mother’s life. This is that story. Bone is a character that the reader will love and will want to know what happened to her. Between Bone’s loss of her mother, her father going to WWII, Appalachian folklore & setting, and family dynamics, Bone’s Gift has so many different aspects weaving their way throughout the story, but it is all done beautifully in a way that all comes together in the resolution.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

(Resources from http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?mbdb_book=bones-gift)

Discussion Questions: 

  • What genre would you consider Bone’s Gift?
  • How did the author incorporate Appalachian Folklore in Bone’s story?
  • What theme would you say was the main theme of the story?
  • What incident in the book changed the trajectory of the plot?
  • How would a changed setting have changed the story?

Flagged Passages: “Bone Phillips floated in the cool, muddy water of the New River up to her eyeballs. The sky above was as blue as a robin’s egg, and the sun was the color of her mama’s butter-yellow sweater.

Her mother was still everywhere and nowhere Bone looked.

She let herself sink under the water and swam along the river bottom toward shore–toward Will.

In the shallows, her hand brushed against something hard and jagged on the silky river bottom. An image poured over her like cold bathwater. A young boy had hit his head on this rock. He struggled for air. The current grabbed at him–and her, pulling her along back in time. Bone snatched her hand away from the rock and came up for air with a gasp.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Magical Realism, Folk lore, Historical Fiction, Mysteries

Giveaway!

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Don’t miss the other stops on the blog tour!

Monday, April 9 YA Books Central

Tuesday, April 10 Ms. Yingling Reads

Wednesday, April 11 Unleashing Readers

Thursday, April 12 The Brain Lair AND Genrefluent

Friday, April 13 Always in the Middle

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Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.

He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.

Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.

Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.

This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is identity explored in this novel?
  • How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
  • What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
  • How is death/dying portrayed?
  • How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?

We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224

Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

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**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Bat and the Waiting Game
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 27th, 2018 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: The second book in the irresistible and “quietly groundbreaking”* young middle grade series starring Bat, an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life is pretty great. He’s the caretaker of the best baby skunk in the world—even Janie, his older sister, is warming up to Thor.

When Janie gets a part in the school play and can’t watch Bat after school, it means some pretty big changes. Someone else has to take care of the skunk kit in the afternoons.

Janie is having sleepovers with her new friends. Bat just wants everything to go back to normal. He just has to make it to the night of Janie’s performance…

*Kirkus Reviews

Critical Praise: 

“Delightful. This humorous follow-up is even stronger than its predecessor and will leave readers hoping for a third book featuring Bat and his family.” — School Library Journal

“A gentle tale of shared similarities rather than differences that divide and a fine read-aloud with a useful but not didactic message of acceptance.”  — Kirkus Reviews

A winsome blend of humor and heart, vibrant characters, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. Arnold’s narrative also gracefully explores life through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum.  The ever-lovable Bat is sure to resonate with readers of all ages. — Booklist Online

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in California, where she, like Bat, was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet — a gorgeous mare named Rainbow — and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens, including the National Book Award finalist title What Girls Are Made Of. Elana lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. She calls the “Bat” series for Walden Pond Press “books of her heart.” You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

ReviewBat is one of my favorite characters ever. He is a flawed character but is also so perfect as who he is! What I love about Bat, other than his amazingly sweet personality, his brilliance when it comes to skunks, and his coping skills, is that he teaches us to treasure the little things. Also, the way that Elana write Bat, his story will help middle grade readers think about their classmates who may not think or act the way that they think is normal. We are all normal for who we are! Bat’s story shows about the good in life and teaches us what good humans are like.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to an amazing read aloud opportunity, I can definitely see the text being part of lit circles. Bat himself is unique, but he and his story remind me of so many other characters who I love and I wish all students would read about: Auggie from Wonder; Melody from Out of my Mind; David from Rules; Candice from The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee; Rose from Rain, Reign; and Adam from How to Speak Dolphin. All of these texts are must reads! I picture all of these texts with their extraordinary characters being part of lit circles with a focus on disabilities/disorders and empathy. [From my review of A Boy Called Bat, 3/10/17]

Educators’ Resource Guide: 

Flagged Passages: “Maybe, Bat though, there was something better in the world than cradling a sleepy, just-fed baby skunk in your arms. But at this moment, it didn’t seem likely.

Bat was sitting in his beanbag chair, having just put down the tiny, nearly empty bottle of formula. In Bat’s hand, licking his fine soft whiskers with a tiny pink tongue and then yawning widely to reveal two rows of new white teeth, was a six-week-old skunk kit named Thor.” (p. 1-2)

“When Israel first handed [a skunk kit sculpture] to Bat last Monday at school, it had taken Bat a moment to figure out what exactly he was holding…

Bat had rubbed his thumb down the smooth shiny back of the clay ump. It didn’t look much like a skunk kit, but its pleasant weight felt good in his hand. And when he had flipped it over to find the words ‘From Israel’ on the bottom, a warm good feeling spread through his chest and up his neck.

A friend had given him a gift. And even if it didn’t look much like the real baby skunk now nestled in his hands, it definitely deserved a place on his bookshelf,a long with his other important things.” (p. 4-5)

Read This If You Love: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, Any lit circle book listed under Teacher’s Tools

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Don’t miss out on the other blog tour stops!

3/12 For Those About to Mock, @abouttomock Sam Eddington

3/15 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook @knott_michele Michele Knott

3/15 @iowaamber Amber Kuehler

3/16 The Hiding Spot @thehidingspot Sara Grochowski

3/18 Educate*Empower*Inspire…Teach @guerette79 Melissa Guerrette

3/19 Maria’s Melange @mariaselke Maria Selke

3/20 Nerdy Book Club post by Elana

3/20 Writers Rumpus @kirsticall Kirsti Call

3/22 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl Nicole Levesque

3/28 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders Kellee Moye

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for hosting the blog tour and providing a copy for review!!**

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Granted
Author: John David Anderson
Published February 13th, 2018 from Walden Pond Press

Summary: From the author of beloved novels Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted comes a hilarious, heartfelt, and unforgettable novel about a fairy-in-training.

Everyone who wishes upon a star, or a candle, or a penny thrown into a fountain knows that you’re not allowed to tell anyone what you’ve wished for. But even so, there is someone out there who hears it.

In a magical land called the Haven lives a young fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. Ophela is no ordinary fairy—she is a Granter: one of the select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day.

It’s the work of the Granters that generates the magic that allows the fairies to do what they do, and to keep the Haven hidden and safe. But with worldwide magic levels at an all-time low, this is not as easy as it sounds. On a typical day, only a small fraction of the millions of potential wishes gets granted.

Today, however, is anything but typical. Because today, Ophelia is going to get her very first wish-granting assignment.

And she’s about to discover that figuring out how to truly give someone what they want takes much more than a handful of fairy dust.

About the Author: John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

ReviewJohn David Anderson never ceases to amaze me. I have read all but one of his books, and I am learning that I cannot even guess what he’s going to tackle next; although, I can assume he is going to do it well!

But I will be honest, I would not have guessed that his newest would be about a super sweet, determined, and a bit quirky fairy named Ophelia Fidgets. But yes, Ophelia is our phenomenal fairy protagonist who every reader will immediately love. She is a perfectionist but also does things her own way–she just has very high standards for her own way. She also has a silly sidekick in both Charlie, a fellow granting fairy, and Sam, a homeless dog, and I must say that Anderson does one of the best dog voices I’ve ever read, I could hear it while I read.

Other than the characters, I think there were two other things that this novel did exceptionally well: world building and making the reader think about priorities. Everywhere Ophelia went, Anderson described enough to make sure that we could visualize it, but he also ensured that he didn’t overwhelm the reader with too much information. He also did a truly fantastic job at setting up the fairy world and all the rules within it to where the reader understood Ophelia’s task, her job, etc. Also, through Ophelia’s journey to grant the wish she’s been assigned, Anderson gets the reader to look at wishing and what is truly important in the world.

Lastly, I loved that in the backmatter of the book, Anderson acknowledges the long history of fairies, including Tinkerbell!, and reminds readers to keep reading about them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like all of Anderson’s books, I know this one will find readers on my shelves. This book is perfect for fans of fairy, animal, or quirky adventure books. And it will also be a wonderful read aloud! Even if you don’t have enough time to read the entire book, the first chapter and synopsis will truly suck readers in.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Sam teach Ophelia?
  • Why does Ophelia make the choice she does make when granting the wish?
  • Do you agree with Ophelia or Squint when it comes to wish granting?
  • Do you believe that Charlie deserved the punishment he received?
  • What character traits does Ophelia possess that led her on not giving up?
  • How does Granted allude to other fairy tales you know? How does it break fairy stereotypes often found in other fairy tales?

Flagged Passages: “The last time you blew out your birthday candles, what did you wish for?

Did you blot them all out on the first breath? It doesn’t count otherwise. Also, do not let your brother or sister help you; at best they will waste your wish. At worst they will steal it for themselves.

Same for dandelions–the one breathe rule–or else the wish won’t fly. It’s harder than you think, getting all those seeds off in one huff. Harder than candles on a cake. If you can’t manage it, though, don’t worry. There are a dozen more ways to make a wish. A quarter flipped into a fountain. A penny dropped down a well. Some might tell you that bigger coins make stronger wishes, but that’s simply not true. A silver dollar or even a gold doubloon doesn’t increase the chances you’ll get what you want. Your dollar is better spent on gumballs or ice cream; use a nickel instead. Wishes aren’t for sale to the highest bidder.” (p. 1-2)

And my favorite passage:

“‘Humans are bad,’ [Sam] agreed.

Ophelia stopped fidgeting with her petal and looked over at Sam. Of course he would think so. And she couldn’t blame him. Not after how he’d been treated. She leaned into him, nestling in his fur.

‘Maybe they’re not all bad,’ she amended. ‘They just lose sight of what’s important sometimes, worrying so much about what they don’t have that they forget what they’ve already got.’

‘Like home,’ Sam said.” (p. 207)

Read This If You Love: Tinker Bell, Folk lore about fairies, Wishapick by M.M. Allen, Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black, Seekers by Erin Hunter, Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer

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**Thank you to Danielle at Blue Slip Media for setting up the blog tour!**

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