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Isle of Blood and Stone
Author: Makiia Lucier
Published: April 10, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

Review: I absolutely adore this book. Makiia Lucier did an excellent job of incorporating strong characters, resistance to discrimination, mystery, romance, and interesting elements of the fantastic all in one novel. The plot had me completely riveted and I spent a lot of time while not reading thinking about the big reveal I knew was coming. Lucier had strong female characters who consistently proved to be as independent and capable as their male counterparts. The quest narrative was something new and fascinating that will certainly have all readers sticking around until the end. And best yet, this was the first book I have ever read about map-making. The incredible world building required no info dump, nor unrealistic exposition, because Lucier’s characters are often seen either drawing or studying maps. The issues discussed, the characters created, and the world formed came together to make a wonderfully mysterious and incredibly fun novel to read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book is a great way for students to look at discrimination. Although the races represented in this novel are of a fantastical nature, they are still ripe for discussion. You can ask your students to think about the real-life connections to the way that Mercedes is treated, being of mixed race. There are many books that address this type of racism directly, making it one of the main aspects of the story. Lucier addresses the issue a few times but does not make it a major plot point. It would be really interesting to discuss this as a plot element but not a form of social commentary.

It could also be interesting to look at and start a discussion on the treatment of illness in our society. There is an island in this novel where lepers are quarantined, often against their will. Although we have nothing exactly like this in society, there are certainly loose parallels in the ways that we treat people with diseases and disorders. It would be really beneficial to start a conversation with students about this form of social imprisonment that is rarely discussed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What parts of this novel reaffirm gender stereotypes, and which break away?
  • Can you think of any ways that Mercedes’s treatment in the novel is reflected in the real world?
  • What does this novel say about the way that illness is treated in society?

We Flagged: “It was not the first time someone had spat at Mercedes, or even the fifth, but it had been some years since Elias had witnessed the insult.”

Read This If You Loved: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Scythe Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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On the Come Up
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 5, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

My Review: After reading this book, I promptly went into my course syllabus for next semester and swapped out another book to include this one. There are so many things that I love about this book. In particular, I really liked how this book tackled the issues of violence against and the assumptions stereotypically made of black females. There are only a few other recent books that tackle these issues, and they are critically important. I get incredibly frustrated by assumptions like “aggressive black female.” Angie Thomas deftly addresses these assumptions and provides a variety of angles for readers. Bri, the narrator, is incredibly strong, and I admire her greatly. I will never have a daughter, but if I did, I would be so proud if my daughter turned out to be like her. This book just feels different from any book that I’ve read. It offers something different that is going to make for great classroom conversations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am going to be using this book in a Social Movements and Collective Action course. I will be using it with other texts to talk about the history and currency of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I am very excited that this book exists in the world, and I know that my students will love it.

Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?

Flagged Passage: “There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”

Read This If You Loved: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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A Brief History of Life on Earth
Creator: Clémence Dupont
Published March 19th, 2019 by Prestel Junior

Summary: The story of life on earth unfolds in dramatic fashion in this amazing picture book that takes readers from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous changes life on Earth has undergone since it first came into existence, but this marvelously illustrated book makes learning about our planet’s fascinating history easy and entertaining. In an accordion style, the series of pages take readers through every major geological period, with bright artwork and detailed drawings. Opening on lava-filled oceans and smoking volcanoes, the book unfolds, era by era, to show how life evolved from tiny protozoa and crustaceans to dinosaurs and mammals.

Fully expanded to 8 meters (26 feet), this spectacular visual timeline is a very impressive panorama that reveals evolution in all its glory. Each page is brimming with illustrations that readers will turn to again and again. A celebration of life, this extraordinary and beautiful book illuminates the history of Earth for young readers in an unforgettable and delightful way.

About the Author: Clémence Dupont is an illustrator living in Strasbourg, France. This is her first book.

Review: This book is so beautiful, useful, and just plain neat! First, I love that it folds out (as does Trent!):

When folded out, it reaches 26 feet with one side showing the images created by the author for each of the time periods while the other side has a timeline which is to scale showing how long respectively each time period was.

This book is a work of art. How each time period stands alone yet also is part of the entire timeline when folded out is beautiful to see. Additionally, I adore the artist’s technique of art with rough edges and bright colors.

Each spread focuses on one time period and the life on Earth at the time with a brief write up in the bottom left corner; however, many of the organisms/animals/plants not mentioned in the paragraph are labeled allowing readers to jump into inquiry about them if they wish.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Did anyone else do the activity in elementary school where the teacher had the class convert the miles(?) between planets into centimeters then had the class create a to-scale solar system showing just how far apart the planets are? This book reminds me of that activity in that it shows the true expanse of time Earth has existed versus the very small time humans have. I would use this timeline to create a similar to-scale idea for students to show the history of life on Earth.

Also, as I stated above, each time period only has a brief write up and leaves much to research if one is interested.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What surprised you about the history of life on Earth?
  • What did the timeline on the back show you about the history of life on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs appear? When did the first human ancestor appear? (etc.)
  • What animal surprised you that has been around a long time?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose in creating the book in this structure?
  • How did the Earth change from one period to the next? Take two periods and compare and contrast them.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals, Biology, Geology, Earth’s history

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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?

Flagged Spread:

 

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

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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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Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance
Author: Tod Olson
Published January 1st, 2019 by Scholastic Inc.

Summary: There wasn’t a thing Ernest Shackleton could do. He stood on the ice-bound Weddell Sea, watching the giant blocks of frozen saltwater squeeze his ship to death. The ship’s name seemed ironic now: the Endurance. But she had lasted nine months in this condition, stuck on the ice in the frigid Antarctic winter. So had Shackleton and his crew of 28 men, trying to become the first expedition ever to cross the entire continent.

Now, in October 1915, as he watched his ship break into pieces, Shackleton gave up on that goal. He ordered his men to abandon ship. From here on, their new goal would be to focus on only one thing: survival.

About the Author: Tod Olson is the author of the historical fiction series How to Get Rich and the four books in the Lost series–Lost in the Pacific, 1942; Lost in Outer Space;  Lost in the Amazon; and Lost in the Antarctic. He has written for national magazines on the Columbine school shooting, homeless teens, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and many other stories of interest to children and young adults. Tod holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair. To learn more, and to download free teaching resources, visit his website: todolson.com.

Praise for Previous Titles in the Series:

★”A riveting, completely engrossing true survival story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Engaging… A great choice for collections.” —School Library Journal

Review: I do not know how I am just learning about this series! It is right up my alley! As a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, I couldn’t put the book down, and I cannot wait to read the others in the series. What I loved about the book is it is written like a novel but is all truth! The author did a great job taking the truth of the historical event and turning it into a story that will truly suck in a reader.

And I know I am on the right track because when I went to school to talk to my students about the series, specifically to my historical fiction and nonfiction loving 4th period, there were a few kids who had already heard of, read, and loved previous books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, add these to your library! These will be perfect for your I Survived series readers and nonfiction fans. I also think that the series would be a wonderful series for in-class book clubs for each group to read about a different historical event then after finishing the book, the culminating task for the book club could be sharing about the event with their class.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What made Shackleton the perfect captain for an Antarctic expedition?
  • What do you believe was the decision that doomed the voyage?
  • Why were the dogs and cat not able to go through the whole voyage with the crew?
  • Why would the author have chosen this voyage for his series?
  • What is the difference between historical fiction and narrative nonfiction?
  • How did the addition of a photographer on the trip change the way that we learn about the voyage now?

Flagged Passages: “Prologue, Weddell Sea, Antarctica, October 26th, 1915:

The ship didn’t stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it. He’d been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately t keep the water out. They had walled off the leak, where the sternpost and rudder had been wrenched out of place… The Endurance was being squeezed to death around them.

One man stood mostly still, watching the commotion from the raised deck in the stern. The crew referred to him as Sir Ernest in writing. In person they called him ‘the Boss.’ He had broad shoulders and a compact frame, blunt features, and a square jaw. He looked like he was built for this kind of venture–leaving every known thing behind to risk his life in a frozen wilderness.

Ernest Shackleton had been to Antarctic twice already. Twice had had almost died there. Now, his third expedition hovered on the brink of disaster.” (p. 1-4)

Read This If You Love: Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, The I Survived series, Narrative nonfiction, History

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Scholastic for providing books for review and giveaway!**

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