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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to.  But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls.  Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.

Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her.  Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in FarsiTaking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.

Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.

This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.

Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.

Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey KiddoOpen Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?

Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:

Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)

Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.

I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.

My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.

The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**

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The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

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“Curiosity, Ignorance, and the Big What If”

My novels were born of my curiosity and my ignorance.

Books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen about Nazi Germany tend to focus on the war and the horrors inflicted on Nazi targets. These stories are typically told from the perspective of either the regime’s victims or the WWII victors.

Enter my curiosity. As a second-generation American of German descent, I wondered about the German experience. If my grandparents hadn’t emigrated, my parents would have grown up in Nazi Germany. Their school curriculum would have been Nazi-designed and approved. They would have been members of Hitler Youth, as was the law. They would have been bombarded with the regime’s version of news through government-controlled media. Perhaps they would have been caught up in the fervor of a torchlight parade or an enormous rally.

I knew the Nazis were good at brainwashing their citizens – they had spewed propaganda into German minds for six years before war broke out. But I wondered, what if a regular teenage German thought for herself? What if he was headstrong and independent and refused to go along with the crowd?

My curiosity led me to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There, I bought a little brochure in their Victims of the Nazi Era line simply labeled “Handicapped.” As the sister of a developmentally disabled woman and as a practicing pediatric physical therapist, I was curious.

Then I was stunned. There I was, 50 years old, learning for the first time about a Nazi pogrom focused on exterminating people with disabilities. I had literally spent my entire life surrounded by people with disabilities, and yet I was ignorant of this T4 pogrom.

When I asked a few librarians, they spoke of titles that ‘may have mentioned it’ but knew of none that specifically showed people with disabilities as targets of Nazi aggression. Since I couldn’t bear the thought of readers missing that important piece of history, I wrote the YA novel Risking Exposure.

When it was published, I was satisfied that I’d told the complete tale of those characters. Some readers, including my own mother I should add, contacted me to say, “And? What happened next?” Although delighted that readers wanted to spend more time with my characters, I dismissed requests for ‘the rest’ of the story. I needed respite from the darkness of Nazi Germany.

A year later, and I tell you this in full trust that you won’t call the men in the white coats, I awoke with a grouchy old man’s voice in my head. Without knowing who he was, I stumbled to the computer and documented his words. About five hundred words into his dictation, I realized he was an unrepentant Nazi. After another five hundred words, I recognized him as the antagonist from Risking Exposure, but six decades older. The seed for his half of The Path Divided was sown.

When I revisited the character of the antagonist’s sister and found her still in 1938 (I’m not a time traveler, just a writer,) her story grew also. I interwove her historical narrative with his more contemporary one.

My research for The Path Divided turned up some lesser-known Nazi initiatives and events. My poor characters. I allowed her to get caught up in the crowd hysteria of the Nuremberg Rally. I made him participate in the systematic kidnapping of ‘Aryan’ children for the Lebensborn program. Those details not only create the backdrop for a historical tale that ‘could have happened,’ they also give a truer perspective of what it must have been like to be a teen caught in the insidious grasp of Nazi protocols.

I also learned that the Romany people were early targets of Nazi aggression, another seldom-mentioned group for the victim list. When some Romany characters presented themselves to me for inclusion in this novel, they brought their magic with them. How wonderful, I thought as I wove bits of magical realism into the novel, the Nazi era could have used a little magic.

To balance the need for historical accuracy (and a touch of magic) with my own need for hope and decent behavior, I was delighted that my research uncovered a seldom-mentioned effort called the Kindertransport. That international program created a safe means for the mass emigration of vulnerable children from Nazi Germany and its occupied lands. Ten thousand (yes, 10,000!) children who probably would have been killed by the Nazis during the war years were instead saved through this program. Legally and with the cooperation of the Nazi Party and the governments of the host nations, these children were identified and sent to foster homes in England and several other European countries. What an outstanding example of cooperation and kindness before the dark curtain of war fell across the world.

After a decade of research and writing, I can say with some confidence that I am no longer ignorant about the Nazi regime. My curiosity about that era is satisfied. As a writer, I’m done with the Nazis.

But then again, what if…

Book Summary:

Because every choice has its consequence….

When a magical picture frame reveals the danger facing a teenage traitor, her best friend hatches a plan to sneak her out of Nazi Germany. Options are few. Choices are desperate.

Decades later, an aged Nazi hiding under an alias plans to die with his secrets intact. Confronted with his role in the fate of his sister and her best friend, he must decide: maintain his charade or face the consequences of the path he chose so long ago.

In this powerful conclusion to Risking Exposure, interwoven tales of guilt, sacrifice, and hope crack the divide between personal safety and loyalty to those we claim to love.

Author bio:

The author of Risking Exposure (2013,) Mikey and the Swamp Monster (2016,) and The Path Divided (2018,) Jeanne Moran reads and writes stories in which unlikely heroes make a difference in their corner of the world. In her everyday life, she strives to be one of them.

Find her at https://jeannemoran.weebly.com, or connect with Jeanne Moran, Author on Facebook or Instagram.

Thank you, Jeanne, for your post! What a great example of author’s thinking!

 

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Disney Villains: The Evilest of Them All
Author: Rachael Upton
Illustrator: Various Disney Story Art Team
Published 2018 by Fun Studio International

Summary: Dive into the devilish thoughts of Disney’s most masterful villains and become a part of the story . . . for better or for worse.

WANTED: The most evil, wicked, abhorrent, vile villain to ever curse this world . . . or any others.

A villain acting vile is merely part of the job description . . . but which of Disney’s famed scoundrels is the evilest of them all? Dive into the devilish thoughts of The Evil Queen, Jafar, Ursula, and more as they recall their most wicked achievements. With gatefolds and lift-the-flaps, readers can dive into minds of the best of the worst in this fun read for Disney fans of all ages.

Villains Include…
Evil Queen (Snow White)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Mother Gothel (Rapunzel)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Scar (Lion King)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Malificent (Sleeping Beauty)
Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Hades (Hercules)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)

Review: I must share that I am very bias when it comes to this one. I love Disney. Period. However, this book was even better than expected. I loved the highlight of the villains and how the book was set up as a character profile for each of them like a business resume as well as fun anecdotal information about each of them–including a lot of humor!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am so ready to use this book in my class as an argumentative or debate activity! Each section does a phenomenal job breaking down the evilness of each of the villains including their skills, possessions, education, work experience, likes, dislikes, and a random list of information about them. Using this information, students would make an argument for why their villain is the “evilest of them all.”

The book also would fit perfectly in a compare and contrast unit since each villain has the same topics highlighted.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which villain do you think is the evilest of them all?
    • Why do you think they are more evil than ____?
  • Who is the foe of _____?
  • Which villain has the most impressive skills? Explain.
  • How did the author use humor in the book to lighten the mood?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Disney, Villains, Profile Books, Humor

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

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Alice’s Magic Garden: Before the Rabbit Hole…
Author: Henry Herz
Illustrator: Natalie Hoopes
Published September 1st, 2018 by Familius

Summary: Curiouser and curiouser!

In this imaginative prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice finds herself at a gray, dreary boarding school that is decidedly up the rabbit hole. From the relentless clocks to the beastly students, Alice’s world is void of color and cheer–until Alice finds a secret garden and begins tending its wilting inhabitants. When Alice’s love touches an ordinary caterpillar, a lorry bird, and a white rabbit, magical things will happen–and that, as you know, is just the beginning of the story. Filled with literary allusions and clever nods to its classic roots, Alice’s Magic Garden is a delightful prequel that begs an escape to the whimsy of Wonderland.

Review: I love when I find a twist on a classic story that is new and fresh! Herz’s story about how Alice’s garden came to be is so unique and definitely different than I’d ever heard or read before. While it holds true to the magic and silliness of Carroll’s original, it also adds a nice lesson in the vein of kindness and happiness which will lead to some great discussions as well.

I’m also a huge fan of the illustrations. I loved how color was used to show the shift in Alice’s surroundings and the way the illustrator separated the real from the strange. Additionally, I truly loved the style of the artwork which, in my opinion, was a perfect style for the story: classic with a bit of whimsy.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Alice’s Magic Garden as a mentor text for an imaginative prequel and ask students to create their own picture book as a prequel for a book they’ve read, a class novel, or a book club selection.

Also the story has some wonderful word choice that students can look at and discuss why the specific words were chosen.

Lastly, Alice’s could be used with secondary classes if the classic text is being read to look at allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does the illustrator go from grayscale to color drawings?
  • What allusions to the original story do you see in the picture book?
  • How did kindness save the day?
  • How is Alice different than the other girls in her boarding school?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Fractured fairy tales or other retellings, “Jabberwocky” and other poems by Lewis Carroll

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

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