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Love
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Published December 4, 2018 by Running Press

Summary:From award-winning author Stacy McAnulty comes a sweet story about love and what it’s really all about.

What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn’t always what you expect!

With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, thisis the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it’s important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives.

My Review: This is a very heart-warming book. I received it on Valentine’s Day, and my kids and I have read it dozens of times. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend or family member because it offers many angles for the power of love. This book offers a lot of teaching potential as students explore abstract concepts and the idea of the metaphor. One thing, in particular, that I like about this book is that it resists the commercialization of love. As readers might see in the spread below, “love needs special presents” but those presents are homemade or expressed with kindness. This is a very touching book, and I think readers will find joy in it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students take an abstract concept (hope, grief, etc.) and create their own books to parallel this one. It would require a lot of brain power and would help students explore the idea of metaphors in their writing. I might even offer poetry that does this (e.g. “Hope is a thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is love? Who do you love?
  • How do you express your love?
  • Write your own page to add to this book. How does it fit in with the other pages?

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Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?

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The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly
Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Published March 5th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: Charlie O’Reilly is an only child. Which is why it makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his brother. Liam, his eight-year-old kid brother, who, up until a year ago, slept in the bunk above Charlie, took pride in being as annoying as possible, and was the only person who could make Charlie laugh until it hurt.

Then came the morning when the bunk, and Liam, disappeared forever. No one even remembers him—not Charlie’s mother, who has been lost in her own troubles; and not Charlie’s father, who is gone frequently on business trips. The only person who believes Charlie is his best friend, Ana—even if she has no memory of Liam, she is as determined as Charlie is to figure out what happened to him.

The search seems hopeless—until Charlie receives a mysterious note, written in Liam’s handwriting. The note leads Charlie and Ana to make some profound discoveries about a magic they didn’t know existed, and they soon realize that if they’re going to save Liam, they may need to risk being forgotten themselves, forever.

About the Author: Rebecca K.S. Ansari is a former ER doctor. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly is her first book. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, four sons, and some seriously massive pets.

Praise: “As puzzle pieces click into place, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly reveals that it’s stories—and family—that make us whole. A deeply satisfying and beautiful book.” —Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of The Question of Miracles

Review: Read the flagged passage below… I’ll wait…

Welcome back. Those are the first few paragraphs of the book. Wow, right?! One of my favorite beginnings ever, and I was so excited to share it with anyone who would listen (I tweeted it, I read it to my students, I read it to anyone!) And yes, the rest of the book lives up to the expectations of that amazing start.

I was so impressed with the crafting of this novel, specifically as a debut novel. The author combines narratives, adds twists and turns, and keeps you guessing throughout the novel. The direction you think the novel is going to go is ever changing so predictions are impossible to make. All of these aspects made for an enjoyable novel that, as the name suggests, is a puzzle waiting to be put together.

Rebecca K.S. Ansari also did a wonderful job threading different big ideas throughout the book: acceptance, guilt, friendship, hope, trust, depression. Different sections of the book highlight these different big ideas and could be used for great discussions. The book also, as you can see, deals with some really tough and dark big ideas, but I think this narrative will give many students a jumping off point for talking about some of the struggles and ideas in Charlie’s story.

And the characters in the book are well-crafted and multi-dimensional. Each character has a full story that is developed to allow the reader to truly  get to know the world that Charlie is adventuring in. I specifically loved the friendship between Charlie and Ana–an unexpected friendship that was built on trust, believing, and support.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Publisher-Created Educators’ Guide

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Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, The Lost Girls by Anne Ursu, Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken, The Grave by James Heneghan, Kit’s Wilderness by David Arnold

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Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops: 

March 8 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 9 The Book Monsters @TheBookMonsters
March 11 LitCoach Lou @litcoachlou
March 12 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl
March 13 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust @bethshaum
March 14 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke
March 15 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders
March 18 March Middle Grade Madness at Word Spelunking @wordspelunker
March 29 Writers’ Rumpus @kirsticall

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

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Make This!: Building, Thinking and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You
Author: Ella Schwartz
Published February 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: This book is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and supports all kinds of kid creators: those who prefer guided instruction, those who prefer to dream up and design objects on their own, and everyone in between. Within the nearly 160 pages of this book kids get the tools and the know-how to tackle all kinds of exciting projects: building a kaleidoscope, designing a fidget spinner, planting a rain forest, creating a musical instrument, and more. Unconventional scenarios inspired by real National Geographic Explorers give kids a chance to think outside the box and apply their maker skills to real life. Chapters are divided up by scientific principle, such as simple machines, energy, and forces. In each chapter, kids can start by following step-by-step activities, or get creative by tackling an open-ended challenge. Helpful sidebars explain the science behind what’s happening every step of the way.

My Review: My son loves this book so much that he took it for show-and-tell at his preschool. The teacher liked it so much that she purchased a copy for the classroom. This is a phenomenal book with loads of hands-on, easy-to-do activities. Many of the activities use materials that were available in my house (or easy to acquire). The first project my son completed was the straw rocket. He used two straws, some tape, and some paper to draw his own rocket and shoot it into the air. He has folded down the corners of almost every project as his next to-do. I love how the book is sectioned off into scientific principles. This even impressed my engineer husband. The sidebars allow me to read about the science behind the project as my son is constructing it. It is a wonderful book for learning. Although the book is marketed to ages 8-12, my 5-year-old was able to complete the projects with my help. I think 8-12-year-olds will appreciate this book just as much and be able to self-create.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book just screams for use in classrooms. It makes science learning incredibly fun. I can see it in classrooms as young as preschool and all the way through elementary school. The concepts can be scaffolded to the age of the learners, and the projects range in difficulty level.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which scientific principle(s) do you enjoy learning about? Which projects taught you a lot about the principle?
  • Which real-life things (e.g. airplanes, hydraulic systems) relate to these scientific projects?

Read This If You Love: Science Books; Engineering Books; National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas

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

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Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures
(How Nature Works series)
Author: Paul Erickson
Photographer: Andrew Martinez
Published

Summary: How Nature Worlds books don’t just catalog the natural world in beautiful photographs. They seek to understand why nature functions as it does. They ask questions, and they encourage readers to ask more. They explore nature’s mysteries, sharing what we know and celebrating what we have yet to discover.

Scorpions and brown recluse spiders are fine as far as they go, but if you want daily contact with venomous creatures, the ocean is the place to be. Blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins—you can choose your poison in the ocean. Venoms are often but not always defensive weapons. The banded sea krait, an aquatic snake, wriggles into undersea caves to prey on vicious moray eels, killing them with one of the world’s most deadly neurotoxins, which it injects through fangs that resemble hypodermic needles.

About the Creators: 

Paul Erickson creates websites, exhibits, guides, and videos for zoos, museums, and aquariums nationwide. He has authored or co-authored numerous magazine articles and three books about undersea life. His book The Pier at the end of the World (Tilbury House) was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book of 2016 by the National Science Teachers Association.

Andrew Martinez specializes in images of the undersea world and is the author and photographer of Marine Life of the North Atlantic. He travels the world to photograph sea life, and was the photographer for The Pier at the End of the World.

Review: Don’t Mess with Me is a step up on the reading ladder from basic nonfiction books about undersea life because it takes the basic information about these venomous sea creatures and dives deeply (pun intended) into the actually whys and hows of their existence.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the Nature Works series (Catching Air; City Fish, Country Fish; Extreme Survivors; and One Iguana, Two Iguanas) in a lit circle/jigsaw setting where each group becomes an expert on the different topics in the series the creates a presentation of their choosing to share what they learned about nature with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?
  • What are some clues that an animal is venomous?
  • Why are some animals in the sea venomous?
  • How does the “How Nature Works” text features help when reading this nonfiction text?
  • What are some ways that animals are venomous?
  • Pick a venomous sea creature. Create a list of 5 facts about the sea creatures to share with your classmates.

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Read This If You Love: Nonfiction texts exploring nature and animals

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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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Where the Heart Is
Author: Jo Knowles
Published April 2, 2019 by Candlewick Press

GoodReads Summary: If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.

Review: I absolutely adored this book. Jo Knowles tackles critical issues that are not as common in middle grade literature. The Rachel’s family faces foreclosure of their house—a home in which she is deeply rooted. She feels as if a piece of her identity will be lost. Further, she is experiencing many emotions regarding her sexuality. She is questioning, and those around her are placing pressure on her to make a choice. I’d love to use this book in the classroom setting. The coming of age issues are very real for our young people, and Jo Knowles does not shy away from digging deeply into critical topics.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students visually map different themes of the novel. The complexity of this novel is rich, and students would be able to visualize the themes with supporting quotations.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are some of the struggles that Rachel faces?
  • What do we know about Micah? How does he change in the novel?
  • What is the role of Rachel’s sister (Ivy) in the novel? What does she teach us?

Flagged Passages: “When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them.” (p. 246)

Read This If You Loved: Anything written by Jo Knowles, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya, Perfect by Natasha Friend, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Zack Delacruz by Jeff Anderson

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The Story of Rock
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: 1…2…3…4! Let’s rock and roll, babies!

From Elvis Presley to Beatlemania, from Janis Joplin to David Bowie—rock has transformed through generations while ringing true with passionate sound. Rock along with the greats in this delightful baby book that introduces little ones to the rockers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to play the air guitar with adorable frequency.

My Review: Last night, my husband was reading to my son, and he asked me to bring this book from downstairs. It’s a great, enjoyable book to read and entertained both my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old. I liked how I could cater my reading differently to each of them. For my 5-year-old, I was able to show him pictures of the bands online and talk about the evolution of rock. For my 2-year-old, I was able to talk about music and instruments. We played sample music of many of the bands and had a lot of fun. I could see this working well in the classroom setting. Students might create their own Story of _________ books for children. It teaches excellent skills of summary, synthesis, and brevity.

The Story of Rap
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Lay down a baby beat and learn all about the history of rap!

From Grandmaster Flash to Kendrick Lamar, rap has shaped generations and brought a voice to the voiceless. Bop along with the greats in this adorable baby book that introduces little ones to the rappers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to develop excessive amounts of swagger.

My Review: I will admit that I know a lot less about rap than I know about rock, so reading this book was a different experience. I knew many of the names but had less background information to share with my children. So together, we looked up the musicians to read and learn more about them together. It was fun to learn more about a music genre that I am less familiar with. This is another book that would pair well with a student assignment to create their own Story of _________ books for children. I love nontraditional synthesis assignments.

Wild Bios: Frida Catlo
Published: January 8, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Frida Catlo was one purr-fect painter!

Meet one of history’s greatest figures in this adorable board book with an animal twist! Famous Meowxican painter Frida Catlo was a pioneer for female artists. She always painted from the heart, even in the face of health problems and personal struggles. With hilarious puns and colorful illustrations, this book brings Frida’s legacy to life for babies and parents alike!

My Review: Ahh, how I love Frida Kahlo. This book made me chuckle a bit. I will admit that I read it to my kids the first time without any of the cat references, but then I went through and read it again with the cat jokes. I wanted them to get a sense of Frida (who they are unfamiliar with) before they considered the cat jokes. This would make for a really fun classroom book. I can envision students enjoying a project that asks them to create their own Wild Bios for a person in history.

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