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The Trouble with Shooting Stars
Author: Meg Cannistra
Published: August 20th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Summary: Twelve-year-old Luna loves the nighttime more than anything else. It’s when no one gives her “that look” about the half mask she has to wear while healing from a disfiguring car accident. It’s also the perfect time to sit outside and draw what she sees. Like the boy and girl from the new family next door…zipping out of the window in a zeppelin and up to the stars.

At first she thinks she’s dreaming. But one night the siblings catch her watching. Now Luna spends her nights on adventures with them, as they clean full moons, arrange constellations, and catch jars of stardust. She even gets to make a wish on a shooting star they catch.

But Luna learns that no wish is strong enough to erase the past — as much as she may hope to.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for The Trouble with Shooting Stars:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Trouble with Shooting Stars on Meg Cannistra’s Cake Literary page.

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Weird Little Robots
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Corinna Luyken
Published October 1st, 2019 by Candlewick

Summary: When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

Nine-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price.

Praise: [A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.—Kirkus Reviews

**BEA Middle Grade Book Buzz Book

About the Author: Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website. and Twitter @crims10.

Review: Thank goodness books like this exist out in the world. I cannot wait to see what this new generation of kids are like as adults now that they all have these amazing stories of smart girls to read. Even the characters who fit a certain stereotype for Penny Rose ended up proving her wrong. This book shows that there is more to everything than anyone can imagine: more to science, more to friendship, more to imagination… What a fantastic world that Penny and Lark’s story can be told!

And the story itself is one that is fun to read. Not only do you get to read about robots, engineering, ornithology, and even decorating, but the book includes a story that many kids will connect with: do you abandon one to join the others even if the one is your best friend and the others is giving an opportunity that is hard to refuse. That is something that everyone faces more than once in their life. And told in a lyrical and a bit quirky narrative, the story is just fun to read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A Classroom Guide for Weird Little Robots can be found on Carolyn Crimi’s website!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do Penny Rose and Lark have in common?
  • Why do you think Penny Rose made the decision she did about the secret society? Did she regret it in the end? How could she have dealt with it differently?
  • If you were going to build a little robot RIGHT NOW, what items are in your backpack that you could use? Use these items and sketch out a plan.
  • How could Penny Rose have helped her other robots communicate with her?
  • Why do you think the robots waited to communicate?
  • What did the different members of the secret society show Penny Rose, and the reader, about judging others?
  • Create your own conversation starters. Then, in class, group with 2 other people and use the conversation starters to chat. Rotate.
  • What did Penny Rose’s one decision the turned her back on Lark cause?
  • Penny Rose finds her way through the woods just by listening. As a class create an obstacle course that has different sounds throughout it and see if students can navigate through using only their hearing.

Flagged Passages: “First though, Penny Rose would need a detailed plan. She went up to her bedroom, sat on her bed, and turned on the lamp she had made last year from an olive oil can. A stack of notebooks sat on her nightstand: her New Inventions notebook, her Robot Drawings and Descriptions notebook, and her To-Do List notebook. Her most secret notebook, Conversation Starters, was at the bottom of the pile.

She picked it up, found a clean page, and wrote a quick list of Possible Conversation Starters:

  1. “I think binoculars are fun.” (Lark seems to like binoculars.)
  2. “The sun seems strong today.” (Lark often wears sun goop. First determine if the sun does, indeed, seem strong.)
  3. “Sunglasses are very wise.” (Lark wears sunglasses.)
  4. “Do you like robots?” (It is unknown whether or not Lark likes robots, but it is probable that she does since most people do.)
  5. “Yesterday was my birthday. Would you like some leftover cake?” (This seems like a good bet, unless she has allergies or is gluten-free or vegan or something.)
  6. “What is in that metal box?” (This might be too nosy, although if you’re going to carry something so mysterious, you should be prepared for questions.)

Penny Rose looked over her list. She considered what her father said about Lark not hearing before. She decided she would speak loudly.

Penny Rose tore out the page and tucked it into the tool belt she wore in case she happened upon interesting items for her robots.” (Chapter One)

Read This If You Love: Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce, Ada Twist by Andrea Beaty, Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell, Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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“Why Mix Fantasy and History?” 

The Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series is a bit hard to categorize. Set in a small Appalachian coal mining community in 1942, both Bone’s Gift and the newest book, Lingering Echoes, mix history with a bit of folklore, mystery, and fantasy/magical realism.  Just as her little community is being changed by World War II, Bone Phillips (12) is going through some changes of her own. She’s coming into her Gift, as her Mamaw calls it. Many people in her family have special ability, or Gift. Bone’s is the ability to see the ghosts—or stories—inside ordinary objects. And she needs to use her Gift—which she’s none too happy about—to solve a few mysteries. Why mix fantasy, mystery, and/or magical realism with history (or vice versa), particularly with middle grade readers?

Lately, I’ve been asked this question a lot! My answer has a few parts. First, these are the kind of stories I love. I adore stories that mix genres, such as fantasy and history (or even alternate history) Think The Book Thief, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Night Circus, The Discovery of Witches, or the Golem and the Jinni. When I was much younger, I devoured everything Anne Rice or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote. And I started those books for the magicians, witches, and vampires but stayed for the history–much like today’s middle grade readers do.

Secondly, several teachers and librarians have told me they appreciate these series for this very reason. Many kids might not pick up a straight historical novel—but they would devour one that had a mystery, fantastical, and/or scary element. In Lingering Echoes, for instance, Bone has to use her Gift to solve the mystery of an object—in this case a jelly jar—that has a power all its own. All around her, though, World War II is being waged on the home front as well as in battlefields far away. Hopefully, readers will come for the fantasy and mystery and stay for the history!

But, finally, fantasy isn’t just something to draw the readers in. For me, fantasy (and science fiction, too) is essential to what I like to read and write. Fantasy explores and evokes a sense of wonder, which we all desperately need. Children are born with that sense of wonder, a mixture of curiosity and awe about the world. As we get older, though, we tend to lose that sense. And that process of de-wonderfication (just made that up!) starts in the middle grade years. (At least, I think it does.) So, I like to mix fantasy with history (and vice versa) to remind readers (and myself) that magic can even be found in the ghosts of ordinary places, past and present.

Note: On my website, I have a number of lesson plans and activities as well as historical info for teachers and librarians:  https://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?page_id=1861

Read about Bone’s Gift at http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=15806.

Summary: Bone has a Gift. When she touches certain objects, images wash over her, and she sees stories—the joyful, surprising, or even terrifying events that occurred as someone gripped those objects.

So when Bone’s best friend, Will, brings her an object unlike any other Bone has encountered, he asks her to tell him its story. It’s the jelly jar he inherited from his father—the same jelly jar his father clutched during the coal-mining cave-in that killed him.

Bone only has to put her hand near the jar to feel the strange power in it, to see flashes of her friend—who has been mute for as long as she can remember—talking with his dad. And when Will opens the empty jar, sounds float out.

This jar isn’t just a witness to history; it’s something more, something dangerous. Could it have a Gift of its own? In this second haunting installment of The Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series, Bone must use her wits and her Gift not only to uncover the truth but to make sure Will isn’t sucked away by long-forgotten memories.

About the Author: Angie is the author of the middle grade historical fantasy series, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, which includes Bone’s Gift (2018), Lingering Echoes (2019), and The Truce (2020). She’s also written three young adult science fiction novels: Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague. In addition to numerous short stories, she’s published over two dozen science/technology books for kids. Angie teaches young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program as well as professional writing for Indiana University East. Before doing all this, she was a science writer and web developer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She lives in Roanoke with a goofy dog (named after a telescope) and two bickering cats (named after Tennessee Williams characters), and puts her vast store of useless knowledge to work at the weekly pub quiz.

This series is really a fascinating look at a the past with a dash of fantasy! Thank you, Angie, for this look into your creative process!

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The Lost Girl
Author: Anne Ursu
Published February 12th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

About the Author: Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. She is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.

Praise: 

The Lost Girl is a jewel of a book—hard, bright, sharp, and precious. It reminds us of the boundless and subversive power of sisterhood and the inherent magic of girls.”—Kelly Barnhill, Newbery-Medal winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“I raced through The Lost Girl, breathless. And when I was finished, I found myself full of hope. It’s a beautiful, riveting, important book.”—Laurel Snyder, award-winning author of Orphan Island

“When the world makes no sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. When the world makes all the wrong kinds of sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. If you crave a story with the wit, wisdom, and magic to unriddle the world, then you need to read The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu.”—William Alexander, award-winning author of A Festival of Ghosts

“A beautiful, timeless tale of love conquering darkness in the midst of mystery and the angst of change. A must-have for any middle grade collection.” School Library Journal (starred review)

“This suspenseful mystery offers a story of empowerment, showing how one girl with the help of others can triumph.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“National Book Award nominee Ursu laces her story with fairy-tale elements and real-life monsters, while taking great care to cast girls in an empowering light and as authors (and heroes) of their own stories.” Booklist (starred review)

Review: Anne Ursu has a way of telling what seems like an ordinary tale and adding twists and turns that the reader does not expect but once you are on the narrative ride she has created, you never want to get off! And although I am always skeptical of magical realism, she does it in a way that just makes her books seem like realistic fiction that just happens to be bit magical, so it is hard not to buy in. In The Lost Girl, the story also is fascinating in the way that the author plays with the narrator/point of view as well as how she shapes both girls equally as the story moves between their narratives and shows the strengths and weaknesses in both. It is impossible to tell who the lost girl is and who is the ones saving because both sisters feel like they play a part in saving the other. I’m still thinking about responsibilities, love, and protection long after the book ended. You are going to love Lark and Iris and will root for both of them until you turn that final page.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers who need this book. There are kids that don’t feel like they belong in this world or kids who feel like they don’t mesh with others their own age or kids dealing with a huge change in their life. These are the kid who will need this book. They need the lost girl to guide them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the twins is the lost girl?
  • How did the crows play a part in the story?
  • Without the magic in the story, how would everything have been different?
  • What mistakes does Iris make in her decision making once the girls enter 5th grade?
  • What lesson are the adults trying to teach the girls?
  • How did the Club Awesome girls turn out differently than Iris assumed? What does this tell you about them? Iris?
  • How are the sisters alike? Different?

Flagged Passages: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different. Iris and Lark Maguire were identical twins, and people who only looked at the surface of things could not tell them apart. Same long busy black hair, same pale skin, same smattering of freckles around the cheeks, same bright hazel eyes and open face.

But Iris and Lark had no patience with people who only looked at the surface of things, when what lay beneath was the stuff that truly mattered.

Because the girls were identical, but not the same.

Iris was the one who always knew where she’d left her shoes. Iris was the one who could tell what the collective nouns were for different animals and that Minnesota was home to the world’s largest ball of twine. Iris always knew when her library books were due.

Lark always knew when their parents had been arguing. Lark could tell you what the consequences for stealing were in different fairy tales, and that the best bad guys had interesting back stories. Lark always knew which books she wanted to check out from the library next.

No they were not the same.” (p. 1-2)

Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Watch Hollow by Greg Funaro, The Explorers by Adrienne KressWishtree by Katherine Applegate, The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

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The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown

Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
  • Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
  • Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
  • Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?

We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”

Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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