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Alone Together
Author: Sarah J. Donovan
Published: May 1, 2018 by Seela Books

Summary: Sadie Carter’s life is a mess, as wavy and tangled as her unruly hair. At 15, she is barely surviving the chaos of her large Catholic family. When one sister becomes pregnant and another is thrown out, her unemployed dad hides his depression, and her mom hides a secret. Sadie, the peacekeeper and rule-follower, has had enough. The empty refrigerator, years of hand-me-downs, and all the secrets have to stop. She longs for something more and plans her escape.

However, getting arrested was not her plan. Falling in love was not her plan. With the help of three mysterious strangers—a cop, a teacher, and a cute boy—maybe Sadie will find the strength to defy the rules and do the unexpected.

Told in verse, Sarah J. Donovan’s debut Alone Together has secrets, romance, struggle, sin, and redemption, all before Sadie blows out her 16 candles. It’s a courageously honest look at growing up in a big family.

Review: Sarah’s writing shows that she has a firm grasp on adolescence. The book is a beautiful book in verse. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had closed the text. Sadie lives in a Catholic household, and she is struggling emotionally. She is the only one of the eleven people in her family to sit at the breakfast table, and one of the few siblings who hasn’t left the family altogether. She is the peacemaker and is sick of the empty fridge and bad choices that others seem to make for her. I think that Sadie has a life that many young people will relate to. She is left wondering about the ways in which people exist alone together. This is a great read, and I will be using it (in part and in whole) in my classes.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The title of this book is quite inspiring. Students might be asked to reflect on all of the ways that we are “alone together” in this world. Teachers can offer space and place for students to critically analyze whether we are alone together or whether we are something else. I’d love to hear students’ thoughts about this.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In this text, what is the role of family? In our world, what role does family play? How are we tied and not tied to our families?
  • How does Sadie’s family impact her life?
  • How does Sadie grow within the timeframe of the book? What does she learn?
  • Which verse resonated with you? How does it connect (or not connect) with your life?

Flagged Passage: 

“The only one of eleven

who sets the table every morning

with cereal bowls and spoons,

who matches mounds of socks

without complaint or disdain,

who obeys every stand, kneel, sing in mass

without sneaking out after communion” (6).

Read This If You Love: Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas; Stop Pretending by Sonia Sones; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
Author: Lita Judge
Published: January 30th, 2018 by Roaring Book Press

Summary: A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Whew. I felt so many emotions as I read this book. I kept thinking, “My goodness, my students are going to love this book.” I was fortunate to receive two copies of this book in the mail, and those two copies have passed from student’s hand to student’s hand. The book doesn’t even make its way back up to my desk before another student snags it. This book defies genre sorting. It’s nonfiction, it’s horror, it’s romance, it’s an illustrated book in verse. I’ve already added it to my book list to teach next semester in my Adolescents’ Literature course.

Students will read this book and want immediately to read Frankenstein. The book reads fairly quickly because it contains verse and illustrations, but readers will struggle not to pause for several minutes to enjoy the beautiful illustrations on the pages.

I’m most excited about the classroom potential for this book. It offers so much to talk about regarding characterization, mood, and poetry. But it also offers a beautiful bridge to read with Frankenstein. I thought I knew a lot about Mary Shelley’s life, but this book told me so much more about it. Reading her story on these pages made me feel as if I was experiencing her life alongside her. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend it highly.

Discussion Questions: What factors may have influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? In what ways does the author use metaphor and symbolism to help us understand her experiences?; What might be the author’s purpose? Is she successful, in your opinion?; What textual features helped you understand Mary’s story? How might this book read differently if the author had used another form?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Horror; Gothic Literature

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Marti’s Song for Freedom | Martí y sus versos por la libertad
Author: Emma Otheguy
Illustrator: Beatriz Vidal
Published July 17, 2017 by Lee & Low Books

Summary:

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
.

As a boy, José Martí was inspired by the natural world. He found freedom in the river that rushed to the sea and peace in the palmas reales that swayed in the wind. Freedom, he believed, was the inherent right of all men and women. But his home island of Cuba was colonized by Spain, and some of the people were enslaved by rich landowners. Enraged, Martí took up his pen and fought against this oppression through his writings. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and forced to leave his beloved island.

Martí traveled the world, speaking out for Cuba’s independence. But throughout his exile, he suffered from illness and homesickness. He found solace in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for independence.

Written in verse, with excerpts from Martí’s seminal Versos sencillos, this book is a beautiful tribute to a brilliant political writer and courageous fighter of freedom for all men and women.

Praise: 

“A sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figures.” – School Library Journal, starred review

“A moving account of [Marti’s] crusade for justice.” -Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A timely story that will inspire many to fight for equality and sing songs for freedom.” -Booklist, starred review

“Spotlights a steadfast hero and brilliant writer still worth admiring today.” -Kirkus reviews, starred review

“A direct and approachable introduction to the life and works of Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí.” -Shelf Awareness, starred review

About the Creators: 

Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, and her short story “Fairies in Town” was awarded a Magazine Merit Honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Otheguy lives with her husband in New York City. This is her picture book debut. You can find her online at emmaotheguy.com.

Beatriz Vidal is an award-winning painter, illustrator, and teacher. Her work has appeared in well-known publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Woman’s Day, and the New Yorker. Her artwork has also been featured on PBS programs and in numerous exhibitions around the world, including the International Exhibition of Illustrations for Children in Italy and the Society of Illustrators in New York. Vidal divides her time between New York City and Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can visit her online at beatrizvidal.com.

ReviewThis beautiful bilingual biography deserves all the praise it is receiving. The beautiful pieces of art that accompany the poetic verses turns this picture book biography into a piece of art! I also loved that not only is Martí’s biography in Spanish and English, but so is the author’s back matter.

I also am so glad that I learned about José Martí! I didn’t know anything about the Cuban war for independence and emancipation from slavery. Cuba has such an extensive history that is not taught here, so this story definitely fills a gap in history education. While the story teaches primarily of Martí’s life, the back matter goes deeper into Cuban independence and reading both is definitely going to pique interests to learn more. I think this book would pair nicely with books about our Civil War to compare the United States to other countries’ fights for freedom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Emma Otheguy was kind enough to share an activity guide for the text. All of the activities come in Spanish and English and can be downloaded at http://emmaotheguy.com/my-new-book/.

Activity 1: “José Martí wrote many letters throughout his life. He wrote about things he found beautiful or interesting, and also about injustices, and how he though they might get better. Write a letter to a friend, a relative, or an elected official about something you’re passionate about. It can be anything you care about, whether it’s helping your neighbors, caring for animals, or respecting the planet–just share how you feel. Then cut out your letter an mail it.” Followed by a outlined letter for kids to feel out.

Activity 2: “Did you know that José Martí was a poet, and that is poetry book Versos Sencillos was written and published right here in the United States? If you ever hear the song Guantanamera you’ll notice words from Marti’s poetry in the song! Read the first stanza of Martí’s poem, then fill in the blanks to create your own poem.”

Activity 3: “Read the book and solve this crossword puzzle”

Activity 4: “As teenagers, José Martí and his friends wrote and published their own newspaper, La Patria Libre (the free homeland), supporting Cuban independence. Can you create a newspaper? Fill out the boxes with the latest news.” Includes a place for Read All About It, Letter to the Editor, and an illustration.

Discussion Questions: How did José Martí play a part in Cuba’s fight for independence?; Did his age when sent to America surprise you?; Why is Cuba such a mix of culture?; How did the author use José Martí’s own words within her biography of him?; If you were to write to your government about an injustice you see in your country, what would you write about?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Margarita Engle’s books, Henry’s Freedom Box  by Henry Levine and other biographies about the fight for emancipation in the United States, Nonfiction picture book biographies

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**Thank you to Emma Otheguy for providing a copy for review!**

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Like Water on Stone
Author: Dana Walrath
Published: November 11th, 2014 by Delacorte Press

Summary: Blending magical realism and lyrical free verse, this is an intense survival story of three siblings caught up in the horrific events of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.

Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen’s way. But when the Ottoman pashas set their plans to eliminate all Armenians in motion, neither twin has a choice.

After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, Shahen and Sosi flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. Shahen keeps their parents’ fate a secret from his sisters. But the children are not alone. An eagle named Ardziv watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.

Review: This is a beautiful book in verse that is set in the Ottoman Empire during the 1910s. It blends genres of magical realism and historical fiction. The point of view alternates with each poem, so I came to understand the differing perspectives of the family depicted in the text. The horrific genocide against Armenians is not common in literature, and this text sheds light on a time period that should be depicted more often. The strength of the children in this book will be inspirational to readers.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I would recommend using this book as a literature circle text. Each group could be assigned a text that depicts a different genocide. This would provide rich opportunities to discuss parallels and differences across texts. Then, teachers might consider having students examine both historical and modern genocide. This might involve critical conversations about how we might work to promote social justice. They might even critique conceptions of social justice, such as slacktivism.

Discussion Questions: What does this story teach us about humanity?; How might a feminist read this text? What issues of gender emerge? Is this acceptable due to the historical setting of the text?

We Flagged:

“Hate makes jagged spikes of light,

and blame can crack the sky.

As pierced with wounds

from sharp white teeth,

the Ottoman air had ruptured.

Massacres would come again

as the drum-capped rulers

spread their hate” (p. 17-18).

Read This If You Loved: Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko; Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; Night by Elie Wiesel; A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

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NFPB2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

sky painter

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Aliona Bereghici
Published April 28th, 2015 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Louis loves to watch birds. He takes care of injured birds and studies how they look and how they move. His father wants him to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being a bird artist. To achieve this dream, he must practice, practice, practice. He learns from the art of John James Audubon. But as Louis grows up, he begins to draw and paint living, flying birds in their natural habitats.

Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874–1927) is now known as the father of modern bird art. He traveled with many scientific expeditions all over the world. His best-known works—paintings for habitat exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—are still beloved by visitors today. His art helped to encourage wildlife conservation, inspiring people to celebrate and protect the world of wings.

Poems by Newbery Honor–winning author Margarita Engle and illustrations by Aliona Bereghici capture the life of Louis Fuertes and the deep sense of wonder that he felt when he painted the sky.

About the Author: Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include The Poet Slave of Cuba, winner of the Pura Belpré Award for narrative and the Américas Award; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book; Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, a Kirkus Best Book for Children; and The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, winner of the 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult/Children’s Literature. Margarita lives in California, where she enjoys bird-watching and helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search-and-rescue dog training programs. To learn more, and to download a free activity kit for The Sky Painter, visit: www.margaritaengle.com

Margarita Engle_credit Marshall W. Johnson

Kellee’s Review: Louis Fuertes is an inspirational man, and Engle’s biography of him is perfect. I think what I enjoyed most was how Fuertes was not only an artist, but an animal activist, family man, and educator. He is a role model for any kid that wants to grow up to be happy. Like Ricki shares below, this book shares an important lesson about how there are so many different special things out there to be observed. Nature is phenomenal.

I loved learning not only of Fuertes and his journey to live his passion, I loved the beautiful poetry and watercolor that were used to craft his story.  Both the poetry and the artwork do Fuertes’s story justice like no other format would have.  The format also gives the reader a chance to look at each poem as a stand alone and also part of the whole biography which gives each poem two different purposes and two different ways they can be analyzed.

Ricki’s Review: Louis Fuertes is a remarkable man, and this book not only pays homage to his extraordinary life, but it teaches young people important lessons. He nurtures and cares for birds in ways that children can emulate in many aspects of their lives. The book shows he devoted his life to birds and wanted others to see their beauty. I’ve seen Fuertes’ artwork in a variety of places, but I never considered him as an artist. This book reminded me that sometimes I go about life, not considering something very important and special. I am so glad I learned about Fuertes’ story and will think about him whenever I read or learn about birds. This book would be an excellent gift to give to a child. The poetry is gorgeous, and the illustrations are breath-taking.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As a teacher, we can think of a plethora of ways to use this text in the classroom. We love to offer our students options, so we might provide them opportunities to  read different biographies of different people who are following their passion. Students the could get in lit circles to discuss the biography then come back together to share what they learned. They could also choose any artist or person in history and write poems reflecting this individual’s biography. It would be fun to illustrate and bind these books to share them with others. We can imagine a class sitting in a circle, reading their poetry and learning about lesser-known individuals in history.

Discussion Questions: How did Fuertes change animal painting/drawing forever?; How do you feel that some artists kill animals to draw or paint them?; How did following his passions help make Fueres’s life happier?

Book Trailer: 

Interview with Margarita Engle

Unleashing Readers: What inspired you to write about Fuertes?

Margarita Engle: I became fascinated by Fuertes while I was researching rain forest ecology and visiting wildlife preserves, during the process of writing a historical verse novel called Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal. In many references, Fuertes was mentioned as the bird artist for all the great geographic expeditions of the early twentieth century. When I learned that he was a conservationist who pioneered the painting of living birds in flight—instead of killing and posing them like Audubon—I was astonished. Why wasn’t he a household name, like Audubon? Instantly, Fuertes became the most important link in my ongoing quest for biographical picture books about great Latino naturalists who have been forgotten by history. I hope The Sky Painter helps teachers, librarians, and parents introduce children from all backgrounds to this amazing Puerto Rican/American scientist. Fuertes is a fantastic role model because he was a creative thinker who decided to learn how to paint faster, to save the lives of birds.

UR: What did your research process look like?  Do you have any recommendations for students who are doing research?

ME: I try to read every book I can find, in addition to online sources. Many historical studies simply have not yet been digitized, so interlibrary loan is really helpful. I rely on bibliographies to help me move farther and farther back in time, until I discover first person narratives. Diaries, letters, field notes, etc. are incredibly helpful. Fortunately, Fuertes and the scientists he worked with on expeditions recorded fascinating details!

UR: Was there any information that you found interesting that you decided not to include in the book?

ME: Yes, because this book is for young children, I decided not to include the tragic way he died. Soon after he returned from his expedition to Africa, he was driving to show new paintings to another ornithologist. His car was hit by a train. The paintings survived, but he did not.

UR: Because we are a blog devoted to teachers, do you have any ideas about how you envision your book in classrooms?

ME: The Sky Painter can fit into science, art, poetry, or multicultural programs. One of the really clever cartoon exercises Fuertes taught children who visited his studio was simply sketching three circles, then deciding how to connect them. Two circles could become arms or wings, depending on how they’re connected. One circle is always the head. Children decide whether to create a person, a bird, or some sort of funny hybrid.

For older children, I think The Sky Painter can also be used to teach history, if a teacher discusses the way important accomplishments are sometimes omitted from textbooks. Because there’s a tendency for each generation of textbooks to include material from past editions, incredibly important topics may be gradually forgotten.

Fuertes was not only a great artist and scientist, he was also a groundbreaking conservationist. It would make me very happy to see The Sky Painter featured during Hispanic Heritage Month in September–October, as well as on Earth Day, which happens to fall during National Poetry Month in April. It would be especially thrilling to see The Sky Painter used by a teacher preparing students for a field trip, whether it’s a video or a virtual trip on a nature website, an outdoor nature walk on the school-grounds, a walk in a nearby park, or a visit to the Natural History Museum in New York to see the murals Fuertes painted as backgrounds for habitat displays. The possibilities are incredible!

Perhaps most important, The Sky Painter can be used to teach about creative thinking. Are there old attitudes we might try changing—just as Fuertes did—to promote conservation of wildlife and natural habitats?

Read This If You Loved: Feathers: Not Just For Flying by Melissa Stewart, A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, Manfish by Jennifer Berne, Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

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Follow along on THE SKY PAINTER blog tour!
 
Mon, Apr 20
Library Fanatic
Tues, Apr 21
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Apr 22
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Apr 23
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Apr 24
Teach Mentor Texts
Sat, Apr 25
Booking Mama
Mon, Apr 27
Sharpread
Tues, Apr 28
The Children’s Book Review
Wed, Apr 29
Cracking the Cover
Thurs, Apr 30
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Fri, May 1
Archimedes Notebook

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Margarita Engle for the interview and providing a copy for review!**

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