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Astro-Nuts Mission Three: The Perfect Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: September 21st, 2021 by Chronicle Books

Summary: This series is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets The Bad Guys in a funny, visually daring adventure series for reluctant readers, teachers, and librarians alike.

This hilarious, visually groundbreaking read is the conclusion to a major series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a final mission, where AlphaWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

Time is up for our friends the AstroNuts. In fact, time is up for you, too. If they don’t succeed on this mission, Earth is doomed! So when the team finds out they’re being sent to a place called “the perfect planet,” their mission sounds way too easy. Unfortunately, the second they land, they realize they’ll be dealing with the most dangerous species of all time . . . humans. Huh? Where in the universe is this supposedly perfect place? And how will the Nuts manage to convince the humans to risk death . . . for the sake of their lives?!

Featuring full-color illustrations throughout, Planet Earth as the narrator, an out-of-this-world gatefold, and how-to-draw pages in the back, eager and reluctant readers alike will be over the moon about this new mission. Full of laugh-out-loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story, this creatively illustrated, full-color, action-packed space saga is a can’t-put-it-down page-turner for readers of all levels and fans ready to blast past Dogman.

  • EXCITING BIG-NAME TALENT: Jon Scieszka is one of the biggest names in children’s books. The first National Ambassador of Young People’s literature, he and Steven Weinberg toured extensively for this series. They’ll continue making their way around the world for Book 3!
  • POPULAR SERIES: MISSIONS 1 and 2 received starred reviews, amazing blurbs, and tons of industry love. MISSION 1 was an Amazon Best Book of the Year! Dav Pilkey, Jennifer Holm, LeUyen Pham, and Gene Luen Yang are all big fans—check out those blurbs!
  • FUN AND SCIENTIFIC: The book incorporates STEM elements in a way that readers will find fun and entertaining, while teachers and librarians will find it clever and original.
  • PERFECT FOR BUDDING GRETA THUNBERGS: This book successfully talks about the effect of climate change and impels its readers to take action, without feeling didactic or message-y at all.
  • TIES TO REAL-WORLD ISSUES: Readers will recognize quite a few dilemmas the AstroNuts face from current events on Earth. Making connections between fiction and non-fiction is a big developmental milestone for young readers, and this book works as an effective allegory for our most dire contemporary concerns.
  • RELUCTANT READER–FRIENDLY: The book is a great vehicle for reluctant readers, featuring cool topics and bright art, and relying on visual literacy and very few words.
  • A CONSTELLATION OF TOPICS: Space, STEM, and talking animals: There’s something here for every reader!
  • LOLs FOR DAYS: The book is funny and will delight kids who love books like Wimpy Kid, The 39-Story Treehouse, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. While it contains serious ideas, it’s a quick, easy, and fun visual read.
  • GROUNDBREAKING DESIGN: The hundreds of pages of full-color art are dynamic and engaging—and it doesn’t look like anything else out there. Steven Weinberg bases his art on public domain pieces from the Smithsonian museum! Teachers turn to the books for this element of the art and use it in classrooms to talk about collage, idea sourcing, history, and art medium.
  • PERFECT ART PROJECT: On the website, kids can download pages of the “original” art and use it to make their own hybrid animal collages.

Teachers Guide with Teachers’ Tools & Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I (Kellee) created for Chronicle Books for Astro-Nuts Vol. 3:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Astro-Nuts Vol 3 on Chronicle’s page.

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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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“The Case for Graphic Novels and Chapter Books”

I have always been a huge reader. At some point during third grade, I discovered my love of stories and have never looked back. Third grade through sixth grade was such a formative time for me as I developed this lifelong love of reading, and some of the books I enjoyed the most were comic books or shorter stories with illustrations. I gobbled up as many Archie comics as I could, read all of The Far Side by Gary Larson, and shuddered in fear at the creepy illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I’d be the reader and writer I am today without books like these, and now that my own children are of reading ages, I’ve actively encouraged them to read anything and everything they enjoy. Yes, that has meant a lot of graphic novels and illustrated books. It has also meant them reading the same books over and over and over again, just as I did when I was a kid.

The first thing my ten year old fell in love with was Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She was five when she picked up the first book, and I still remember her coming to me every minute or so to ask me to explain a word. Then she’d read the story again and come to me maybe every couple of minutes. Then she’d read it again. And again. After she’d read that first book probably about a dozen times, she no longer had to ask me to explain any of the words. It was through this rereading of the same book that she developed great reading fluency, confidence, and comprehension skills, and I’m very grateful to Jeff Kinney for teaching her how to read. Would she have naturally gone through this same process on her own with a book without pictures? Without the silly jokes and goofy humor that kept her so engaged? I doubt it.

Being homeschoolers, we’ve spent a lot of time at the library, and my ten year old has always gravitated toward the graphic novel section. We would frequently come home with stacks of graphic novels nearly as tall as she was, and she would read every single one of them. I would make a lot of recommendations, try to introduce her to other styles of books, play longer audiobooks for her, and suggest we try reading new books together, but all she wanted were graphic novels all the time, so I didn’t push it. She loved to read, and I never wanted to interfere with that in any way. After all, her love of reading has always been the end goal.

Then something interesting began happening after a few years of nonstop graphic novels—she decided on her own to try a great big book without illustrations called Wings of Fire, which she found in a little free library at a park. Did she get through it and enjoy it? Let’s just say she’s eagerly anticipating book fifteen right now. Would she have gotten to the point in her love of reading that she’d be willing to read fourteen lengthy books if I hadn’t always allowed her to read and reread the graphic novels she adores so much? Again, I doubt it.

Now that my six year old is reading, she loves my Aven Green chapter books. She brings the books to me over and over for help with the words and to show me the illustrations so we can laugh together (she seems to think I’ve never seen them before). She also loves Junie B. Jones, Puppy Place, Wedgie and Gizmo, and many other chapter books with illustrations. I know one day soon, she’ll probably also fall in love with graphic novels. She’ll probably want to read the same books over and over again (actually she already does that). And then, eventually, she’ll probably also be ready to pick up longer books. When that happens, I’ll be ready for it every step of the way.

Expected publication: August 17th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

About the Book: Aven Green Baking Machine is the sequel to Aven Green Sleuthing Machine which Kellee reviewed in April.

Aven is an expert baker of cakes and cookies. She’s been baking with her mom for a really long time. Since she was born without arms, Aven cracks eggs and measures sugar and flour with her feet. Now, she has her eye on the prize: a beautiful blue ribbon for baking at the county fair. So she teams up with her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata. But It turns out they all have very different tastes and a lot of opinions about baking. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

About the Author: Dusti Bowling grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, where, as her family will tell you, she always had her nose in a book. She released her first middle grade novel in 2017 and hasn’t stopped writing since.

Dusti’s books have won the Reading the West Award, the Sakura Medal, a Golden Kite Honor, the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, and have been nominated for a Cybil and over thirty state awards. Her books are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections and have been named best books of the year by the Chicago Public Library, Kirkus, Bank Street College of Education, A Mighty Girl, Shelf Awareness, and many more. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Thank you, Dusti, for this post that we definitely agree with! Like you said, “ove of reading has always been the end goal!”

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“I Write About the Real World and Real Feelings… by Using Magic”

I like to say that I write about myself without writing about myself, that I try to understand my feelings by writing about someone else’s very similar feelings.

And I use magic to do it.

I have never owned a second hand shop filled with cuckoo clocks and birdcages and patchwork purses and chandelier earrings. I have never participated in an end of the school year parade, and, regrettably, I didn’t have a cousin who lived in the apartment downstairs from me when I was growing up. And most of all, as much as I wish I could, I have never witnessed magic. At least not the kind that shows up in my books. Not the magic passed down through generations, not the kind of magic that the best friend cousins of my HAND-ME-DOWN MAGIC series encounter in book after book.

But. I did have a best friend growing up, and we did it get into fights. I did have family that I sometimes felt part of and sometimes felt confused about my place in. I did feel jealous when a friend had something I wanted, and I did feel scared when things didn’t feel entirely in my control. Some of those things—fighting with a friend, feeling jealous or scared or left out or uncertain about who you are—are a little bit scary. Uncomfortable. Hard to talk about, and harder still to write a whole book or series of books about. When I am feeling those hard and scary and uncomfortable feelings, for myself or for my characters, I know it’s time for magic.

When something feels hard to look at straight on, I introduce a bit of magic to help make it easier to understand. Because there’s a lot about the world I don’t understand! There’s a lot about my characters’ worlds that I don’t understand right away. I don’t know when I first start writing why a particular bag in a particular shop window could make someone feel like they would become the best version of themselves if only they had it over their shoulder. And I don’t know why someone else’s happiness can sometimes feel like a personal slight. Or why it is hard to share in that happiness sometimes. I don’t even really know how to solve those problems, or any of the strange and awkward and tricky and uncomfortable problems that arise simply from being a person in the world interacting with other people. But I do know that many of us think we aren’t supposed to talk about those messier parts of our hearts and friendships and lives. And I do know that if I add magic, the conversation becomes easier.

I don’t try to hide the truth in my books—that doesn’t feel fair to anyone—me or my readers or the characters I spend so much time writing and falling in love with. But I try to make the truth easier to understand, easier to look at straight on, easier to manage. Magic helps manage hard truths—big ones, sure, but small ones too, little moments where your heart hurts or you are blushing and wish you weren’t, or your best friend is making you mad or sad or uncomfortable and you don’t know why. Look! Look at me! Magic says in those hard moments in my books,  I’m here too! Maybe I can help? Maybe I can explain it? Or maybe I just make things a little lighter, a little prettier, a little more interesting than regular old life is.

Sometimes, I use magic to make a feeling bigger: what if Alma feels a little left out of her family life, not just because she hasn’t lived in the same home as them ever before, but also because the rest of them have a belief in magic that she just can’t seem to muster?

It’s an added layer to bulk up the feelings I want to discuss. A way to turn up the volume on the circumstances, so make sure they come through loud and clear.

Sometimes, I use magic to make the feeling easier: Someone I loved did something mean to me: maybe it was because of magic?

Mostly I use magic to make things easier to talk about: Life is confusing and big and hard to understand and not in our control and that is scary. But Del doesn’t want to say all of that. Or even think it. Del is scared of a crystal ball telling fortunes that come true in tricky ways. Let’s talk about that, and maybe it will show us some other things along the way.

Magic is sneaky. Maybe when we talk about Del’s fear of her crystal ball, we can start talking about other things that happen unexpectedly or other times we think something bad might be our fault. Magic lets a conversation evolve naturally, instead of going right to the center of things. Magic is a beautiful and fun and silly and shiny way in to the scary things.

It is easier to talk about the world—a world which is sometimes very challenging and uncomfortable and sometimes even a bit sad and lonely, especially lately—when there is a mix of the familiar and the mysterious. A mix of real life and magic. A combination of the things we understand and the things we never fully will. Magic, when done well, is the bridge between those two things.

Using a bit of magic to talk about the real world reminds me of an old fashioned radio dial. Magic can turn things up or down, it can cut through the static, it can help you search for the story you want to hear, it is a tool in the toolbox of a writer, and a reader, and a person in the world, when you are a bit lost and bit frightened and a bit unsure. I am those things pretty often. That’s why I use magic so much!

The truth is—I’m a writer and a reader and a parent and a person in the world, and I’m just as flummoxed as everyone else, about why things are the way they are or feel the way they feel. Magic helps me make sense of it all too, it gives me a little space and perspective, a new angle at which to look at my character’s circumstances. Which in turn helps me make sense of my own. I believe it can help make sense of things for young readers, too. Magic can bring order to the mess and can put a magnifying glass to the tiny tricky details. It can amplify what we need to look at more closely, a quiet what feels too scary to approach head on.

We all want to reach young people, we all want a way in. For me, magic is the way.

Maybe it can be for you too.

Hand-Me-Down Magic: Perfect Patchwork Purse
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Illustrator: Luisa Uribe
Published May 4, 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books

About the Book: Family magic saves the day for best-friend-cousins Del and Alma in the third Hand-Me-Down Magic book! With adorable illustrations and short, easy-to-read chapters, this series is perfect for fans of Ivy & Bean and Dory Fantasmagory.

Almaknew it the first time she saw it: The patchwork purse in the window of the Curious Cousins Secondhand Shoppe was magical. Special. Perfect. But when her friend Cassie spots the purse and buys it, what could Alma do but agree that the purse really did look just right on Cassie?

Del decides it’s up to her to bring some homespun magic back into Alma’s life, and she’s got just the plan to do it. After all, she is the EXPERT on magic!

All she needs is some glitter and lots and lots of glue . . . because she knows magic can always come from the most unexpected places, but most importantly, that best-friend-cousins never let each other down.

About the Author: Corey Ann Haydu is the author of EventownThe Someday Suitcase, and Rules for Stealing Stars and four acclaimed books for teens. She grew up in the Boston area, earned her MFA at the New School, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog Oscar. Find out more at www.coreyannhaydu.com.

Thank you, Corey, for sharing how you use magic to tackle what is real!

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Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine
Author: Dusti Bowling
Illustrator: Gina Perry
Published April 13th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month—cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.

About the Creators:

DUSTI BOWLING is the award-winning, bestselling author of Insignificant Events in the Life of a CactusMomentous Events in the Life of a Cactus24 Hours in NowhereThe Canyon’s Edge, and the forthcoming Across the Desert and Aven Green chapter book series. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Gina Perry graduated from Syracuse University, worked as a compositor in animation, then an art director for a stationery manufacturer, before discovering her true passion—writing and illustrating children’s books. She lives with her family in NH.

Praise:

“[Bowling] infuses her writing with humor and empathy.” —School Library Journal (starred) 

“A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Unapologetically smart and refreshingly confident in her abilities, this super-sleuth extraordinaire is a joy to tag along with.” —Booklist

“Aven’s candid voice ensures that this chapter book series starter will draw a young audience.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: I am so happy that Aven is now starring in chapter books. Her voice is one of my favorites in middle grade literature because it is full of truth and humor. Her voice is just as strong in this chapter book as it was in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, just a bit younger.

In addition to Aven’s voice, the story is a compelling one! I’m a fan of mysteries, and this is a fun kid lit mystery. Also, the cast of characters are wonderful! I am a huge fan of Aven’s friends.

And I cannot wait until August when Aven Green, Baking Machine comes out!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see Aven Green read in classrooms! It would be such a fun book to read together as a class! The class could even keep track of all of the clues and see if they can figure out the mystery!

There are also opportunities in the book to talk about acronyms and word play!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Aven keep track of her clues?
  • What type of materials does Aven need to be a good detective?
  • How did Aven help Sujata with acclimating with the new school?
  • What are your slumber party traditions?
  • What is a time you have heard a word incorrectly like Emily heard hen droids?
  • Have you ever lost something? How did you work to find it?
  • If you were going to do a report on a country

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Magnificent Makers series by Theanne Griffith; King and Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler; The Misadventures of Toni Macaroni in The Mad Scientists by Cetonia Weston-Roy; The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Meena series by Karla Manternach; Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty; Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi; A Boy Called Bat series by Elana K. Arnold

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**Thank you to Sterling for providing a copy for review!**

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A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon
Author: Karen Romano Young
Illustrator: Jessixa Bagley
Published: January 7th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: In a slightly fantastical New York City, one very special library branch has been designated for possible closure. Bookish, socially awkward Pearl, the daughter of the librarian, can’t imagine a world without the library—its books, its community of oddballs, its hominess. When the head of their Edna St. Vincent Millay statue goes missing, closure is closer than ever. But Pearl is determined to save the library. And with a ragtag neighborhood library crew—including a constantly tap-dancing girl who might just be her first friend, an older boy she has a crush on, and a pack of raccoons who can read and write—she just might be able to.

With an eclectic cast of richly drawn characters, a hint of just-around-the-corner magic, footnotes, sidebars, and Jessixa Bagley’s classic illustrations throughout, this warm-hearted, visually magnificent tale of reading and believing from beloved author Karen Romano Young tells of a world where what you want to believe can come true.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon here.

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AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: August 25th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet is the second book in the laugh-out-loud series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a new mission, where AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

After they splash-land on the Water Planet, they find power-hungry clams, a rebellious underwater force, and a world full of too-good-to-be-true. Can this aquatic world really be humans’ new home? And why are these clams so eager to swap planets?

• Features full-color illustrations and an out-of-this-world book jacket
• A can’t-put-it-down page-turner for reluctant readers
• Complete with how-to-draw pages in the back

AstroNuts Mission Two is full of laugh-out loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story.

Eager and reluctant readers alike ages 8 to 12 years old will be over the moon about this visually groundbreaking read.

• Creatively illustrated, full-color action-packed space saga
• Perfect for fans of Dog Man, Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants
• Great gift for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and educators who are looking to introduce STEM and environmental topics to children
• Add it the the shelf with books like The Bad Guys in Superbad by Aaron Blabey, The 104-Story Treehouse: Dental Dramas & Jokes Galore! by Andy Griffiths, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for AstroNuts Mission Two (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about AstroNuts Mission Two here.

You can see information about AstroNuts Mission One and its Educators’ Guide here.

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