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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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The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book
Author and Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Published June 12th, 2018 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: Pure interactive fun between two covers!

A book that begs to be doodled in with 96 wacky prompts, games, and crafts, and adorable creatures to boot, The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book is packed with activities that take delightful twists and turns, inviting kids to design, draw, and dream—and encouraging creativity on and off the page. Enter an ancient cave to decode a mummy’s message. Find your way through a beehive maze. Write a song for a cat rock band. Design a personalized spaceship—and so much more. Plus, plenty of goodies to return to again and again for hands-on play: paper dolls, finger puppets, bonus stickers, and a giant pullout poster designed to kindle curious minds and active imaginations.

A great boredom-buster for travel or rainy days, and a fun birthday or holiday gift. From the author and illustrator of the Doodle Adventures® series and based on the Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar, the book showcases Lowery’s inimitable quirky style and humor that clicks with all ages—get the whole family in on the fun!

About the Creator: Mike Lowery is the creator of The Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar and the Doodle Adventures® series. His latest book, Random Illustrated Facts, collects weird bits of news and knowledge. Mike draws in his sketchbooks and posts on Instagram daily at @mikelowerystudio. He lives with his wife and children in Atlanta, Georgia.

Praise: “With bold, goofy artwork, a plethora of activities, and more than 400 stickers, this jam-packed offering from Lowery (the Doodle Adventure series) lives up to its name…Jokes and wordplay accompany the cast of loveable, dopey, and deadpan characters, and a detachable poster makes this exhilarating interactive book even more multidimensional.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Kellee’s Review: I am such a fan of Mike Lowery’s illustrations, so I was so excited to see that this awesome activity book was created by him!  And if you know his work, you know how fun he is which translates so well to this activity book. Additionally, I really liked the different kinds of activities throughout–he did a great job mixing up the activities so no one feels the same. My son, and all kids, are going to love completing this book!

Ricki’s Review: Mike Lowery’s books emanate fun. My son is still a bit young for them, but we have such a blast doing the pages together. These are great books to stretch kids’ creative thinking. In many ways, they act as story starters. This book would be a wonderful resource for elementary school teachers seeking to integrate more creative writing in their classrooms. Students could pick pages that inspire them and use the ideas to generate story ideas. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is so much to do in this activity book! It would be a great investment to get one of these for each student in you class to use during creative enrichment time. Activities include mazes, drawing, writing, word searches, and so much more. The recommendation of classroom library + read aloud below is meant to represent using the activity book with students in classrooms.

Discussion Questions: The entire book is filled with questions and activities! Check out the Flagged Passages to see:

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Interactive activity books filled with fun and educational activities

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**Thank you to Workman Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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The Struggles of Writer Wannabes by Paola M. and Amy C. (6th grade)

(Kellee’s note: These girls are already writers, not wannabes, but they titled their piece, so I didn’t want to change it.)

So, you want to be a writer? Truth is, it’s not as easy as it seems. Take it from two author wannabes. We could come up with the greatest ideas, but as soon as we pick up the pencil or or place our hands on the keyboard we realize we have nothing to write! And this is only one example of the struggles authors go through every day.

Coming Up with Story Ideas

Everyone comes up with ideas differently. You could be riding your bike when an idea about talking dogs talking over the wold hits you. But honestly the real problem isn’t how you come up with your ideas, it’s actually coming up with them.

If we’re being completely honest here, a big problem that writers like us have is coping with the planning stages of writing our stories. Now, I know you must be confused. What does planning have to do with coming up with ideas? Answer: Absolutely everything! Planning is basically thinking about the basic elements of your story (like theme and characters). What makes it especially difficult to deal with is the fact that you need to have everything ready to write. Which means you need to be able to explain your ideas off the bat if someone asks for your synopsis (that’s a fancy word for summary).

Another problem we have while coming up with our ideas is second-guessing ourselves. We keep questioning what we’ve written because we get nervous about what other people might think of our story or we start thinking about whether or not this is relevant to the story. Problems like these, fellow writers, is what causes writer’s block.

Writer’s Block

Ah, writer’s block. Don’t take it personally but nobody likes you. Currently, we’re dealing with this mess which makes writing (very) hard. You’d think writing about writer’s block while having writer’s block (wow that’s a tongue twister) would make things easier for us. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Writer’s block is pretty self explanatory. It’s when a writer can’t come up with new ideas or doesn’t know what to write next in his or her story. The problem about writer’s block is that no matter how hard you try you CANNOT come up with anything. You have to do something else to occupy your mind and get the creative juices flowing. The good thing is that while you’re doing chores (or anything else, for that matter) you can get some pretty amazing ideas. But sometimes doing something else can just be distracting.

Distractions

We can’t wait for the live action Mulan movie (that has no songs whatsoever) to come out!!! Oops! Wrong blog post… As you can see from our totally off topic starter sentence, we’ll be talking about some distractions that get writers off their game.

One thing that distracts aspiring authors from writing is the Internet. People can get so distracted with videos, social media, Netflix, games, and researching stuff for their books they forget about the most important thing: WRITING!!! This happens most often when you write on the computer. You can be searching something up real quick and come across an article that is interesting enough to keep you off task.

Procrastination plays a HUGE part here. Procrastination is the act of avoiding something. So basically when writers procrastinate they try to delay or avoid writing. Procrastination is a pretty big problem because we get absolutely no work done. And if you ever want to publish something… well let’s just say you can’t show an unfinished story to a publisher.  

This is probably a very weird one but too much noise, or even no noise at all, can distract writers. If there’s too much noise some writers won’t be able to concentrate. But if there’s no noise at all it can make some writers weary and unable to focus on their writing. Distractions can also cause another problem: A hiccup in time management.          

Not Having Enough Time to Write

As we have previously mentioned, distractions can cause many problems. Like time management problems. Sometimes writers just can’t find enough time to sit down and actually write.

For us the biggest problem is having so much school work to finish. For others it might be actually having to go to work. Whatever the reason, may it be homework, your job, having to run errands or see family members, it’s hard to set apart some time to do what you love, which is (hopefully) writing. The worst part? If you have no time to write, then you probably have no time to edit.           

Revising and Editing

Editing and revising are such a pain! And it gets even worse when you have no time to write. The problem is that it’s necessary. You need to edit and revise some parts of your story to get the best results for your book. Sometimes you need to cut out whole chapters or just fix a word to improve your story.

Editing and revising is a multi-step process. You need to know what you need to change and then you have to have the time and patience to actually edit and revise your story. We usually dedicate a couple hours to a day of editing and revising, so that we can get most of that work off our to-do lists. But as we have said countless times before: People do things differently. And getting over these writing struggles is yet another example of that.

In Conclusion…

From not being able to cook up some new ideas to not being able to write about those ideas, we have talked about some of the most painful struggles that we, as writers, go through every day. All of these things are hard to overcome and sometimes we might want to give up (Please don’t). In the end, though, this is all part of the story-making process and we kind of have to learn to deal with it.

Thank you to my wonderful students, Paola and Amy, for sharing your hilarious and thought-provoking reflections on being a kid writer!

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