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Another school year is in the books! This was a special year. I’ve now been teaching advanced reading for 3 years, so there were 5 kids who were in my class for all 3 years of this elective. I’ll never forget all of my students, but these 5 will always be special because of that.

End of Year Survey

At the end of each year, I give my students a survey to help me grown and learn as a teacher but also for them to reflect on the year. Here are some answers from the survey:

I need to reflect on this one because most of the kids who chose the same or less are 8th graders. I saw a huge drop for my readers between 7th and 8th grade. Why?

Does my classroom library benefit students? How did it benefit you this year? 

  • I think that your classroom library does benefit students. It benefited me because there’s a lot of books. So many different types books makes it easier for me to find something that interests me. It also benefited me because having books in your classroom makes it easier to find books when I can’t buy some or can’t go to the school or public library.
  • I think that it does because students are able to have a wide selection of books.
  • Yes! Your classroom library benefited me this year by allowing me access to multiple books. It exposed me to multiple genres, authors, and adventures.
  • I definitely believe that it benefits students because since you’re usually here and we can kind of get some help on what to get by telling you our interests and things that we like to read about. Then you can help us find a book and it makes students feel like they have somewhere to go when they’re wondering what book to read.
  • Yes, by having a reading class that has an actual private library is very good for getting students to read because of this easy environment to get to books. By having this library situated right in the classroom allowed me to instantly check out another book anytime I’m done with one, allowing me to read more and more instead of having to plan about when to go to the library and having that planning becoming potentially postponed resulting in less reading.

What would you say to someone that says that a classroom library is a waste of money?

  • I would say it is not. It’s not because the teacher is helping students and providing them with books to help them in their classes.
  • It is really not. Being a in classroom full of books pushes the students to read more. Also, since the library is inside the classroom all the books are titles students are interested in.
  • It’s not a waste of money it is a preserve of knowledge.
  • I think that a classroom library as cool to have because kids have interesting books right at their fingertips since it’s in their classroom.
  • I would say they have to learn to appreciate the love of reading kids have because without a library in a classroom kids will have a harder time being encouraged to read.
  • I would, politely, tell them that they’re wrong. Classroom libraries help people get books easily. Students can find things that interest them in classroom libraries. Besides, you learn things while reading books.
  • I would have said that it doesn’t matter, the more books the more learning. The learning can improve students in their language.

Do you like how the classroom library was organized? Explain.

  • Yes because it was very quick and easy to find a book by just looking up the last name of the author.
  • I liked how the classroom was organized because it made things easier to find. For example, if an author wrote two series that are completely different genres it would be much harder to find because they wouldn’t be in the same place. But since you organized it in alphabetical order you could see all the different series written by the same author.
  • Yes because I can find books by my favorite author or genre.
  • Yes, it’s because not only is there a system given to us to find books of our interest, we could also stroll around the class searching for books that are there in a shelf organized by genre and finding books that we mostly likely wouldn’t find as fast in the systems.

What do you think the benefit of taking advanced reading is?

  • It helps me read more and it makes me be a completely different (in a good way) person.
  • You can find authors that you can follow for the rest of your life.
  • I think the greatest benefit of taking advanced reading it that we are really pushed to read more, and that improves our progress in language arts and all other subjects.
  • You’re vocabulary definitely expands because once you read enough books, you start to see a bunch of new words and you’ll get to learn what they mean as you read.
  • It helps with close reading and deeper thinking.
  • The benefit of advanced reading is that you get to read more for pleasure.
  • You learn more and it helps you become a better reader and writer and helps you a lot, I believe, in the real world.

What have you learned about yourself through the assignments in this class?

  • That I can do more than what I am capable of doing. I’ve learned a lot about myself for the past 3 years in this class.
  • I have learned that I need to stay more focused, and that I should pay attention to the news more often about other countries.
  • I learned that I actually enjoy non-fiction books even though I don’t read them often. When we did the non-fiction unit I enjoyed learning about animals and the Titanic.
  • I learned that nobody is perfect and that we should always strive to be a better person instead of flawless.
  • I have learned that I still have a lot of books I can’t wait to read.
  • I’ve learned about myself that I am a bookworm. I didn’t think I would be, but I am.
  • I’ve learned that I can be a very determined and hardworking person. 
  • Some things that I have learned about myself through the assignments is that I could do many things that I really didn’t enjoy in other years and now I do them nearly everyday now. Also I learned about things that I didn’t think I was good at and now that I know how to use them they are easy to use.

What was your favorite assignment or activity we did in class? Why?

  • The Rescued book was my favorite because of what Raja had went through, how it has to do with real events, and the Center for Great Apes.
  • Book trailers because I was able to tell people about a book that i really like and recommended it to many people.
  • I’d say book clubs because we get a chance to step into an unfamiliar genre that we aren’t used to reading but we get to read it along with our classmates allowing us to discuss details about the book, identifying the facts of it whether the book is more interesting than we think.
  • I think the nonfiction unit we did was very fun because it showed me that there are interesting nonfiction books and that not all of them are just boring facts.
  • My favorite assignment we did in class were word parts because it helped me a lot when I’m reading other books with a hard vocabulary.

Favorite Books My Students Read This Year

My students read A LOT this year! 1,514 books read by 41 students in my Advanced Reading class. That is an average of 37 books per student! I am so proud of them!

Here are the titles they listed as their favorites on our end of year survey
(click on either image to enlarge):

If you don’t have any of these, you definitely should get them:

Top Checked Out Books from my Classroom Library

1. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
2. See How They Run by Ally Carter
T3. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
T3. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
T3. Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter


T6. All Fall Down by Ally Carter
T6. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
T8. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
T8. The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
T10. Double Down by Jeff Kinney
T10. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
T10. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

T13. House Arrest by K.A. Holt
T13. How to (Almost) Ruin Your Summer by Taryn Sounders
T13. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
T13. Prince of Elves by Kazu Kibuishi
T13. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
T13. Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm
T13. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
T13. The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers
T13. The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

Happy summer to all of my fellow teachers, and here’s to another awesome school year in the books!

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Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press

Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

ReviewI think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.

I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.

I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.

As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.

Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!

The Unit

Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:

  • Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
    • These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
    • Focus questions:
      • 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
      • 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
      • 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
      • 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
      • 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
    • The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
  • Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
  • Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)

The Field Trip

Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!

I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit

Author Virtual Visit

After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:

  • Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet? 
  • Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
  • Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet? 
  • While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
  • Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When? 
  • Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
  • How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario? 
  • How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland? 
  • How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew? 
  • Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal? 
  • Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book? 
  • Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
  • Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
  • You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word? 
  • What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?

We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:

Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:

  • Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
  • Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
  • I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
  • Apes should not be kept against their will.
  • I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
  • Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.

Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).

  • What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
  • Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
  • In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
  • Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
  • How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?

Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)

Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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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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“Defeating Your Fear of Writing”

“Fear is a steal trap,” Gran advises Evangeline, the heroine of my debut middle grade novel. EVANGELINE OF THE BAYOU is the story of twelve-year-old Evangeline Clement, a haunt huntress apprentice studying the ways of folk magic and honing her monster-hunting skills. As soon as her animal familiar makes itself known, the only thing left to do is prove to the council she has heart. Then she will finally be declared a true haunt huntress. Of course, things do not go as planned for Evangeline. And when she and her grandmother are called to New Orleans to resolve an unusual case, she must summon her courage to defeat a powerful evil that’s been after her family for generations.

Gran goes on to warn Evangeline, “Fear keeps you from moving forward. It binds up your courage as well as your smarts.” These wise words of Gran’s hold true for nearly any situation we encounter, whether it be hunting monsters or writing essays.

As the leader of a local writers group for the past dozen years, and having been a member of numerous critique groups, I’ve learned that one thing we creatives all have in common is fear. And we have a lot of them, like: showing our writing to family and friends, getting our work critiqued by other writers, not knowing how to begin our stories, not knowing how to end our stories, or not being able to come up with any new ideas. But one of the most common fears I’ve seen is that of simply getting started, rallying the courage to just jump in and begin the writing of that novel, memoir, or short story. I call it “freezing on the high-dive”.  Taking that initial leap can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

After discussing this topic with numerous fellow writers over numerous coffees and teas, I’ve come to suspect this particular fear stems from the mistaken belief that we have to get our words right the first time, that somehow a perfect stream of brilliance must flow straight from our head and onto the blank sheet of paper. This unrealistic expectation can lead to a lot of frustration and writing resistance. Fortunately, there are a few easy techniques writers of any age and any writing level can incorporate to defeat their fear of writing and get their words moving forward. These simple tips can be applied to everything from the writing of novels and essays, to the writing of thank you notes.

The first step is to think of the writing process as one that uses two distinct parts of your brain: the creative side and the editorial side. Going into a project while trying to use them simultaneously is when many of us run into trouble. The two parts do not play, or work, well together.

Once you’ve accepted the fact that you’ve essentially just carved your brain into two halves, the next step is to hush that editorial side. Reassure it that it will have its turn to make corrections and clean things up later, but for now it’s Creative’s turn to play. Allow your imagination to run wild and free. Let go of rules and logic. There are no right or wrong ideas in this phase of your project. Don’t worry about choosing the perfect word, and don’t worry about things like spelling and punctuation. That’s Editor’s job for later on.

If you’re still having trouble coming up with ideas, here’s another helpful tip: just start writing. Write anything, even if it’s simply the words, “I don’t know what to write.” There’s something almost magical about the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, that gets the creative tap flowing. Taking away all those expectations of perfection will conquer that fear of not being able to think of anything to write.

Now that you’ve got some great ideas and images, and maybe even some really cool lines of dialogue, let your creative side take a rest. This is the time to set your internal editor free. Allow it to get to work picking and choosing what elements to use, what order to put them in, and making sure the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all up to snuff.

This is the technique I used while writing EVANGELINE OF THE BAYOU, and I’m using it now as I work on the sequel. Keeping the creative half of my mind separated from the editorial half has helped me defeat my fear of just diving into the writing. It’s helped me overcome my worry that my writing is too sloppy, nonsensical, and filled with mistakes. I know that by setting my creative side free to do what it does best, it’ll provide me with fun, fresh, and unexpected ideas. Sometimes it delivers more ideas than I can use, or ideas that are in need of further research and tweaking, but that’s okay, because I know I’ll soon be unleashing my editorial side to make my words all shiny and clean.

About the Author: Jan Eldredge was born and raised in Louisiana. She now lives in Celebration, Florida with her husband, their children, and a house full of cats. When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading, going to theme parks, and exploring old cemeteries. She is particularly fascinated with monsters, magic, and all such eldritch things.

Evangeline of the Bayou
Author: Jan Eldredge
Illustrator: Joseph Kuefler
Published May 1st, 2018 by Balzer + Bay

About Evangeline of the BayouEvangeline Clement is not just your everyday twelve-year-old. Upon her thirteenth birthday, she will officially become a haunt huntress just as talented as her mama and Gran, descended from a long, proud line of haunt huntresses in Louisiana. That is, if her animal familiar shows up, her powers emerge, and she can prove to the Council that she has heart (whatever that means). Because she couldn’t possibly be a middling, born without any magical abilities, right? She can’t be the end of Gran’s line.

Fear is a steel trap. It keeps you from moving forward. It binds up your courage, as well as your smarts.
— Gran Holyfield, haunt huntress

Citizens have been calling for Gran’s help to send troublesome creatures like Bayou Banshees and Johnny Revenants back where they belong. As her apprentice, Evangeline has learned not just the cures to any local supernatural afflictions but also how to navigate the bayou, how to climb trees, and how to fight – all while wearing her signature silver-tipped gator-skinned boots! Now in an unusual request, Gran has been called from the swamp to New Orleans to undertake an emergency case. But after a string of undeniable signs indicating that death is near, can Evangeline protect her aging grandmother and save the city of New Orleans – whether she’s a haunt huntress or not?

EVANGELINE OF THE BAYOU will inspire young readers to trust their gut no matter how terrifying that might be.

Thank you so much to Jan for your honest and inspiring post!

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The Reckless Rescue (Th Explorers #2)
Author: Adrienne Kress
Published April 24th, 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: More mystery, more bravery, more danger, and one amazingly reckless rescue await in the second book in the Explorers series! The perfect read for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society!

Reader! Your attention is greatly needed. We have left things unresolved! What began as your average story of a boy stumbling upon a pig in a teeny hat and a secret international explorers society has turned into an adventure of epic proportions.

* The bad news: The boy (Sebastian) has been kidnapped by a trio of troublesome thugs.
* The good news: His new friend Evie has promised to rescue him!
* The bad news: Sebastian has been taken halfway around the world.
* The good news: Evie has famous explorer and former Filipendulous Five member Catherine Lind at her side!
* The bad news: There’s still the whole matter of Evie’s grandfather (and the leader of the Filipendulous Five) somewhere out there in grave danger.
* The good news: Pursuing Sebastian will lead Evie and Catherine to another member of the Filipendulous Five, who might be able to help!

This missive is a call to action and an invitation to join in mystery, bravery, and danger. There will be new people to meet, new places to see, and some dancing along the way. And one amazingly reckless rescue.

About the Author: Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers, and credits them with inspiring her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. She is the author of The Explorers: The Door in the AlleyThe Explorers: The Reckless Rescue,and The Explorers: The Quest for the Kid. To find out more about Adrienne, visit and follow @AdrienneKress on Twitter and Instagram.

ReviewThis book starts RIGHT up where the first left off–like, actually! Mid-sentence! And I’m so glad because the cliffhanger in the first one was so intense! But here we are, right where we left off: Sebastian is kidnapped, and Evie has to figure out how to save him (hence the title…). Like the first book, I found that the snarky narrator, silly footnotes, and ridiculous situations was humor that is right up my alley, causing many laugh out loud moments, but let’s not forget that the story is also a nerve-racking adventure story also! Other than the humor and adventure, I also really like the characters in this story. Evie and Sebastian complement each other so well, and we really get to see them shine in this book as individuals since they are separated.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series would be a perfect mentor text when teaching dramatic irony, breaking the 4th wall, and footnotes. Even reading the first chapter will cover these three literary elements and will also get a lot of kids excited to read the story. Because the other place this book belongs is in libraries and classrooms–it is going to be a big hit with adventure and humor fans!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the narration style the author chose change the tone of the story?
  • Why do you think the author chose to include footnotes in the story?
  • How does the author use dramatic irony to keep the reader reading?
  • What is the “Lost Boys” K-Pop group an allusion to?
  • How do Sebastian and Evie complement each other?
  • How did some good or bad things in the story end up being the opposite of what you thought?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: In which we resume our story.

There is a difference between fact and opinion. It’s hard to tell sometimes because opinions like to dress up as facts, and their costumes have gotten quite impressive lately.¹ There is a way, however, to easily tell the difference between them. You have to weigh them. Because, you see, facts have more substance. So they’re heavier. This is how one can know for a fact, for example, that being kidnapped for your brain is scary. Because when this fact is placed on the scale, man, does it ever tip the balance.

There are other facts one can be certain of. Like that private jets are cool. That traveling long distances get boring. And that not knowing where you are going or what’s going to happen to you is exhaustingly stressful.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Sebastian, who is sitting in his seat and staring out the window of the private jet, feeling precisely all of those things.

It is odd to feed bored. Not that feeling bored is a rare or weird feeling. It’s a very common part of life, after all. But it just felt strange to feel bored in his particular situation. He should have been feeling terrified, possibly even a little excited. And he knew this because he’d felt those things initially when he’d been snatched out of the Explorers Society headquarters and held captive in a helicopter. But that felt like forever ago now.

¹I once saw an opinion wearing the most spectacular curly mustache that distracted me so much, I totally let him into my head, even though I found his footwear suspicious.”

Read This If You Love: The first Explorers book: The Door in the AlleyEmily and the Spellstone by Michael RubensGuardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Cucumber Quest series by Gigi D.G., Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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


  • 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!


  • 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


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


  • 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

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.

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’s list of recommended books from 2017: and 2016:

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