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Tidesong
Author and Illustrator: Wendy Xu
Published November 16, 2021 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: Perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli and The Tea Dragon Society, this is a magically heartwarming graphic novel about self-acceptance and friendship.

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy–the best magic school in the realm–even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t–beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

* Featured on the Today Show * An SLJ Best Book of the Year * A Nerdist Best Comic of the Year * A BookRiot Best Book of the Year *

About the Author: Wendy Xu is a bestselling, award-nominated Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist.

She is the creator of the middle grade fantasy graphic novel TIDESONG (2021 from HarperCollins/Quilltree) and co-creator of MOONCAKES, a young adult fantasy graphic novel published in 2019 from Oni Press. Her work has been featured on Catapult, Barnes & Noble Sci-fi/Fantasy Blog, and Tor.com, among other places.

You can find more art on her Instagram: @artofwendyxu or on twitter: @angrygirLcomics

Review: Whenever I read that something is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, I get skeptical because Studio Ghibli’s work is just so magical; however, I had no reason to worry when it came to Tidesong. I can see why the publisher compares it to the Studio’s work–it is similarly illustrated (but with a Wendy Xu touch, which I love!), colorful, magical, and has that little extra sense of whimsy that’s hard to describe that I love in fantastical stories.

Sophie is such a great character, too! She represents so many who want to meet the expectations of those around her and whose positivity is crushing under that pressure. And Lir doesn’t seem like he will help her because he is PERFECT, but as we know, you can’t judge people without actually getting to know them.

What a fun and meaningful graphic novel–it is a favorite, and I am so excited to share it with students!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be in my school library, and it should be in yours, too! (Or your classroom library or public library!) Your fantasy/magical loving readers will devour this!

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Sophie not feel confident in her magic?
  • Why is Sophie forced to move to her great aunt’s house?
  • How does Lir make Sophie feel? How does Lir change the narrative of the story?
  • What was your first impression of Sophie’s great aunt? What do we learn about her that changes that impression?
  • How did Sage and Great Aunt Lan differ in their welcoming of Sophie?
  • Why is this graphic novel compared to Studio Ghibli?

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Read This If You Love: Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani, Long Distance by Whitney Gardner, Little Witch Academia by Yoh Yoshinari, This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studio for providing a copy for review!**

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Snow Angel, Sand Angel
Author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Illustrator: Ashley Lukashevsky
Published: January 4, 2022 by Make Me a World

Summary: A celebration of home, family, and finding beauty in your heritage, beautifully illustrated by the artist behind Anti-Racist Baby.

Claire has been surrounded by the deep blue waves of Hapuna Beach and the magnificent mountains of Hawai’i all her life, but has never, ever seen snow. When her father drives her and her family to the top of the Mauna Kea, she can’t help but to be disappointed…it’s not the winter wonderland she’s always dreamed of. And that’s what she wants, more than anything.

But as Claire edges ever closer to the new year, she wonders if maybe– just maybe–she can delight in the special joys of winter in her own way–right there, on her Big Island of Hawaii.

Includes backmatter that captures the environmental culture of Hawaii, and will teach children not only about the local flora and fauna, but also the value of being environmentally friendly.

Ricki’s Review: I feel very qualified to write this review because my kids have made me read this book about 100 times in the last month. I think I have it memorized. I am so drawn to the way that Claire, the narrator, connects with the islands. When the story begins, she wants more, more, more. And by the end of the story, she realizes that Hawai’i offers her all that she needs—and more. The story offers a deep connection with family and with home. The author and illustrator are from Hawai’i, and the story feels authentic to the experiences of people who know the islands well. I loved this book, and I am so happy that it exists.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to ask students to share positive portrayals of their homes and the land in which they live. I’ve seen a lot of activities of “I am From” poems, bu this book offers another dimension and great opportunities for children to think about the ways in which they are connected to land.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Claire’s opinion about Hawai’i change throughout the story?
  • How does her family help her see the value of her home?
  • Where is home for you? What does your home offer?

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Read This If You Love: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin; Crow Not Crow by Jane Yolen; Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

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**Thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for sending a copy for review!**

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Playing Lanterns
Author: Wang Yage
Illustrator: Zhu Chengliang
Published January 11, 2022 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: Zhao Di wishes the New Year would never end!

Zhao Di and her friends are excited to go out at night with their paper lanterns and celebrate Chinese New Year. Each holding a unique colorful lantern with a lit candle inside, they admire the breathtaking colors while doing their best to avoid the wind and the sneaky boys in the village. Every night, until the fifteenth day of New Year, Zhao Di and her friends take part in this fun tradition, experiencing the thrill of nighttime in their village. And then—it’s time to smash the lanterns!

In this cheerful book first published in China, readers are invited along with Zhao Di and her friends as they experience all the joy and excitement of this folk Chinese custom. Details about the paper lantern tradition are also included in an author’s note at the end of the book.

Praise:

“A colorful wintry tale ushers in Chinese New Year over two weeks…A charming illustration of childhood memories during the holiday season.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Quiet, elegant passages stud the text…Tenderly detailed gouache paintings by Zhu render the children as small, patterned bundles frolicking against expanses of snow…A quiet celebration of a Northwestern Chinese tradition.” ―Publishers Weekly

About the Creators: 

Wang Yage was born in Shaanxi, a central and historical province of China, where the custom of playing with lanterns was once a popular Chinese New Year tradition. A doctor of classical Chinese literature, she teaches at the University of Tibet. Playing with Lanterns is her first picture book. First published in China, the book made the prestigious White Ravens international book list.

Zhu Chengliang is an award-winning Chinese illustrator. Born in Shanghai and raised in Suzhou, he studied at the Department of Fine Art, Nanjing University, and has worked as an author, illustrator, editor, and designer. He was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016, which is the highest international distinction given to authors and illustrators of children’s books. His books have been named one of the Ten Best Illustrated Books by the New York Times and to the IBBY Honor List.

Helen Wang is a writer and translator from the UK. In 2017 she was given a Special Contributor of the Year honor as part of the Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Awards for her work in bringing Chinese children’s literature to English-speaking audiences. Wang has translated novels, picture books, and graphic novels, including Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower, which won the Marsh Christian Award for Children’s Literature in Translation.

Review: What a beautiful celebration of the Chinese New Year and the sharing of a folk tradition! The author takes us through all of the celebrations with imagery that makes the reader feel they are celebrating too as the cracking and popping of fireworks explode, the colorful lanterns swing, and the lantern fire glow in word and in illustration.

I also loved learning about a new tradition that I did not know about! Learning about others’ celebrations and lives is one of my favorite things, and I think it is so important for kids to build a world and empathetic view–Playing with Lanterns will do that as well!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a brilliant mentor text for imagery as well as how illustrations & words work together as one to create mood and tell the full story. All of this will make it a wonderful read aloud and an addition that all elementary school & class libraries need!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author use color in the text? How does it affect the reading?
  • How did the author’s use of imagery add to the story?
  • How did the imagery and the illustrations work together to create the celebratory mood in the book?
  • How was the author’s note at the end of the book important for the readers?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Picture books about celebrations or winter holidays

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Giveaway: 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Playing with Lanterns, courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids (U.S. and Canada addresses).

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review & Amazon Crossing Kids for providing a copy for giveaway!!**

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The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Publication Date: January 11, 2022 by Random House

Summary: Congressman and civil rights advocate Elijah Cummings dedicated his life to public service. This comprehensive and visually stunning biography details his humble beginnings and unwavering faith as he waged an endless battle for truth, justice, and equality.

We can do better.

When Elijah Cummings was a little boy, he struggled in school. His teachers thought he talked too much and asked too many questions. They said he’d never be able to read or write well.

Despite his difficulties, Elijah never gave up. He persevered, having faith that with hard work, he’d be able to achieve his goals.

Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.

Carole Boston Weatherford and Laura Freeman marry words and images beautifully in this picture book biography of politician and civil rights champion Elijah Cummings, detailing his inspiring journey–from his humble beginnings as the son of former sharecroppers to his unwavering faith as he became a lawyer, state legislator, and leading congressman. Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.Discussion

Ricki’s Review: This book had phenomenal pacing. I felt like I really came to understand Elijah Cummings’ life story, and I learned a lot. It includes information about his childhood through his adulthood, which I really appreciated. All three of my children loved reading it, and even my two-year-old sat for the entire book and asked questions.

In classrooms, some stories are highlighted and emphasized every year, and I was glad to read a book highlighting Elijah Cummings’ story and his impact on the Civil Rights movement. He was a phenomenal human being who contributed greatly to the world, and this story beautifully depicts his story.

Kellee’s Review: You can always trust Carole Boston Weatherford to write a beautiful, researched, and well done piece of art, and this is no exception. Elijah Cummings was called the North Star of Injustice because he was a beacon for others to follow in what was just.

However, unlike other civil rights leaders, his history is less known, so this book will perfectly serve as an introduction to Cummings’ life from childhood to death. It shows how his foundation for faith and justice built him up to be the man he was.

I also loved the shout out to the library and librarians! (Though the story of his school counselor telling him he couldn’t be a lawyer was devastating, and I am so glad he proved them wrong!)

And I cannot talk about this book without talking about the beautiful illustrations. Freeman’s art brings the story to life and is so realistic!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn about Elijah Cummings?
  • How did Elijah Cummings’ early life impact his adulthood?
  • What contributions did Elijah Cummings make on the Civil Rights Movement?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, We March by Shane W. Evans, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

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**Thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**

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2021 is in the books, and I am here to celebrate my favorite books read during the year!

I’m excited for this post because I haven’t done one in a bit since I was on an award committee, but this year I can celebrate!

Here’s a summary of my year in books

Here are my favorites separated into picture books, middle grade, young adult, early readers, kid lit, older nonfiction, and graphic novels/manga!

  

And there they are! 

👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

I, obviously, recommend these books wholeheartedly, but they are just 50 of so many amazing books I read in 2021–check out my READ bookshelf on Goodreads to see these & more!

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Waffles and Pancake: Planetary-YUM
Author: Drew Brockington
Published October 26, 2021 by LBYR

Summary: Inspired by his beloved Catstronauts series, Drew Brockington is going back in time to when everyone’s favorite Catstronaut, Waffles, was a kitten!

One very special Saturday, Dad-Cat decides to take Waffles and his sister Pancake to the big city to go to the science museum! While they’re there, the kittens see extraordinary things, like dino-cats, hairballs in 4D, and even the planetarium. But as the kittens learn about constellations and Neil Pawstrong, they get separated from Dad-Cat. Oh no!

Will the kittens be able to find their (possibly invisible) Dad-Cat? Or will they get stuck living in the museum and eating star tots and tuna melts fur-ever?!

Ricki’s Review: The Catstronaut series is a huge hit in our house, so I was thrilled to receive this book. This prequel is so fun, and I love talking about prequels with students. It inspires so many questions and also reminds readers to think about story context in magnificent ways. My kids love to read books that offer interdisciplinary and nonfiction information, so I was very pleased with this book. It allows for rich opportunities for inquiry. Teachers will find easy connections and teachable moments within this text. 

The humor of this text makes it a very fun book to read with kids. My two boys (ages 5 and 8) absolutely loved it.

Kellee’s Review: First, I must share how much Trent loves the Catstronaut series. It was the first series that he found on his own, loved, and even asked his librarian to get the rest of the series for him. When he heard I was going to get and review a Catstronaut prequel, Trent was SO EXCITED! And he loved it, too.

This prequel sets up the stage for the Catstronaut books. It shows where Waffles and Pancakes got their love for science which is a great set up for the main series. I also love that this book is for younger readers so will be a great scaffold.

I also really liked the cross-curricular aspect of the graphic novel. It adds an extra element to it that will lend to it being a great addition to home, classroom, and school libraries.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • Read Waffles and Pancake and have students guess what they think the kittens will do when they grow up. Then read the first Catstronauts book, and have students check their prediction.
  • There is a lot of science in this little book! As reading it, connect science lessons with the book. Topics include: Electric charge, astronomy, constellations, moon landing (history, too!), meteors/meteoroids/meteorites.
  • Have students look up the closest science museum to them and look at the map. Compare/contrast with the Big City Science Museum. (This read aloud would also be a fun reason to go on a field trip!!)

Discussion Questions: 

  • Waffles and Pancake lose their dad when at the science museum. What did they do that you should always do if you lose your adult?
  • The author created Waffles as a puppet, who stars in the author’s YouTube drawing show, “Let’s Do Fun Stuff Together.” How does this show inspire you? What kinds of characters can you imagine?
  • This book is a prequel. If you have read the Catstronaut series, is this what you imagined for the prequel? How might you imagine it differently?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: the Castronaut series, the Narwhal & Jelly series, the Elephant & Piggie series

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**Thank you to Julia at Wunderkind PR for providing a copy for review!**

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A Seat at the Table: The Nancy Pelosi Story
Author: Elisa Boxer
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Published September 7, 2021

Summary: This inspiring picture-book biography about Nancy Pelosi shows her journey from the child of Baltimore’s mayor to her marble-ceiling-shattering four terms as Speaker of the House, including the historic events of January 6th, 2021.

Nancy Pelosi grew up watching her father, the mayor of Baltimore, welcome in people of all different backgrounds to sit at their table and make their voices heard. Nancy’s mother always stood beside him, working behind the scenes to help her husband and the people he served. When Nancy grew up, she continued working behind the scenes in politics until a friend asked her to run for Congress herself–jump-starting a 33 year career as a political representative and taking her higher than she could have once imagined.

Young girls, especially, will be inspired by Nancy’s journey and her commitment to using her voice to help others and to make sure women are heard in government. The backmatter also includes an exclusive interview with Nancy Pelosi herself.

Praise: 

“Pays due homage to its subject.“–Kirkus Reviews

“Sends a resilient message.”–Publishers Weekly

An ­accessible introduction with a focus on Pelosi’s influences and role as a woman in politics.”–School Library Journal

About the Author: Elisa Boxer is a Maine-based, Emmy-winning journalist and columnist whose writing has appeared in publications including The New York TimesInc., and Fast Company. Having worked in newspaper, magazine, and television journalism, Elisa is thrilled to bring her reporting and storytelling skills to the world of children’s literature. She is the author of A Seat at the Table: The Nancy Pelosi Story and The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History.

Marta Álvarez Miguéns is an author and children’s book illustrator living in A Coruña, Spain. In 2007, her artwork was selected and exhibited at the Bratislava Biennial of Illustration (BIB). She illustrated Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist, which was named one of the Best Children’s Books of 2017 by Parents Magazine, and won the Blue Spruce Award in 2018. She also painted the funny and charming illustrations for What Is Poo?, which won the Silver Award at the Junior Design Awards 2017.

About the Illustrator: Laura Freeman received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and began her career illustrating for various editorial clients. Laura has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Elisa Boxer has crafted a very informative homage to Nancy Pelosi showing her foundation and her ambition. It was wonderful reading about how Pelosi climbed to the top of politics and became the highest-ranked female (until Kamala Harris). I think it is important to note that although we do learn about Nancy Pelosi’s views and most important platforms, the book itself is written as a non-bias biography. This will be a wonderful addition to a picture book biography text set and/or history unit. (And don’t miss out on reading Boxer’s entire interview with Nancy Pelosi at https://elisaboxer.com/nancy-pelosi-interview-elisa-boxer.html.)

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Nancy’s dad’s job as mayor inspire her?
  • Although her mother wasn’t in politics, how did her mother inspire Nancy?
  • How has the view on women changed since Nancy’s childhood?
  • How did Nancy’s privilege of position help propel her into politics? On the other hand, how did being a woman add obstacles to her journey?
  • What does the saying “a seat at the table” mean and how does it relate to Nancy’s story?
  • Why did Nancy change the saying to “marble ceiling” instead of glass?
  • How did Nancy moving to minority leader in 2011 effect Nancy?
  • How does the backmatter add to the book?

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook HERE.

Read This If You Love: Biography picture books, learning about politics through picture books

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**Thank you to Nicole Banholzer Public Relations for providing a copy for review!**

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