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Zonia’s Rain Forest
Author and Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal
Published March 30th, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: A heartfelt, visually stunning picture book from the Caldecott Honor and Sibert Medal Winner illuminates a young girl’s day of play and adventure in the lush rain forest of Peru.

Zonia’s home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer?

Acclaimed author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal explores the wonders of the rain forest with Zonia, an Asháninka girl, in her joyful outdoor adventures. The engaging text emphasizes Zonia’s empowering bond with her home, while the illustrations—created on paper made from banana bark—burst with luxuriant greens and delicate details. Illuminating back matter includes a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, as well as resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife.

Praise: 

⭐“At its simplest level, this is a beautiful story about a child who loves her home and the animals she with whom she shares it. Martinez-Neal’s rounded, soft-textured illustrations are wonderfully inviting and involve linocut and woodcut leaves and fronds printed on natural banana-bark paper… The text is kept to two short sentences per double-page spread, reflecting Zonia’s uncomplicated and innocent view of the world, which is shaken when she stumbles upon a large section of clear-cut forest.” – Booklist (starred review)

⭐“This beautiful look at a young girl’s life and her determination to save her home is a perfect read for young environmentalists.” – School Library Journal (starred review)

“In Juana Martinez-Neal’s Zonia’s Rain Forest, super-cute critters are out in full force…A girl who lives in the rain forest begins each day by greeting her animal friends in this exuberant picture book crowned with an environmental message.” – Shelf Awareness

About the Author: Juana Martinez-Neal is the Peruvian-born daughter and granddaughter of painters. Her debut as an author-illustrator, Alma and How She Got Her Name, was awarded a Caldecott Honor and was published in Spanish as Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre. She also illustrated La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, for which she won a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, which won a Robert F. Sibert Medal. Juana Martinez-Neal lives in Arizona with her family. Visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com.

Review : Zonia’s story starts as a story of family. We meet her mother and baby brother and the love between them is evident in the words and illustrations.

The book then moves to Zonia’s adventures visiting her friends throughout the rain forest. We get to meet all of her animal friends. With backmatter introducing the type of animals, Trent and I went on a research exploration of the different rain forest animals that Martinez-Neal introduced to us.

The book ends with a call to action. Zonia is Asháninka, Indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon, so the rain forest is her home. Her family’s home. The book ends with Zonia running across deforestation near her home and realizing that the forest needs her, and all of our, help.

And finally, the backmatter of the book is incredible. Juana Martinez-Neal, who is Peruvian, is not Asháninka, so I am not sure of the accuracy of the portrayal, but the backmatter shows the work she did to do justice to them and their home. The back matter includes a translation of the entire book to Asháninka, information about the Asháninka People, a few facts about the Amazon, threats to the Amazon, and Zonia’s friends we met in the book. Finally, especially useful for in the classroom, she includes selected sources and resources, all which can be viewed at https://juanamartinezneal.com/books/zonia/.

With Martinez-Neal’s ability to craft the simplistic text in a beautiful way mixed with her signature illustrations, full of movement, color, and personality along with the rain forest elements, Zonia’s Rainforest is a perfect book for story time, science cross-curricular reading, a jumping off point for inquiry, or a mentor text.

Read “The story behind Zonia’s Rain Forest” by Juana Martinez-Neal here.

Watch an interview with Juana Martinez-Neal about Zonia’s Rain Forest: 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: Julia Torres created a Teacher’s Guide for Zonia for Candlewick Press, and it is the best resource for teaching Zonia. It includes 7 Discussion Questions and 8 Classroom Activities.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, The Leaf Detective by Heather LangA Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor
Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Alexandra Bye
Published June 29th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: The definitive picture book biography of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the most crucial figures in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before he was Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci was a curious boy in Brooklyn, delivering prescriptions from his father’s pharmacy on his blue Schwinn bicycle. His father and immigrant grandfather taught Anthony to ask questions, consider all the data, and never give up—and Anthony’s ability to stay curious and to communicate with people would serve him his entire life.

This engaging narrative, which draws from interviews the author did with Dr. Fauci himself, follows Anthony from his Brooklyn beginnings through medical school and his challenging role working with seven US presidents to tackle some of the biggest public health challenges of the past fifty years, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Extensive backmatter rounds out Dr. Fauci’s story with a timeline, recommended reading, a full spread of facts about vaccines and how they work, and Dr. Fauci’s own tips for future scientists.

Review: Dr. Fauci has been a face on our TV for over 15 months now, but I know that my son only knows that he is the “COVID Doctor.” What Kate Messner does in her picture book of Dr. Fauci is bring him to life for any who read it. The book shows his humanity behind the glasses and doctor’s coat we see on TV. The book explores what makes Dr. Fauci the inquisitive, kind, brilliant man he is today.

I loved learning about his past: his kindness from a young age, his father’s advice to keep his mind thinking, and his “just watch me” moment from construction to doctor all leading to becoming the expert he is today. Kids, and adults alike, will love Kate’s narrative of Dr. Fauci’s life filled with anecdotes and accolades, and all of it is brought to life with colorful and realistic illustrations by Alexandra Bye which ties it all together.

This is a book that will find a place in homes, schools, and libraries!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would have “Dr. Fauci’s FIVE TIPS for Future Scientists” be norms during my science lessons! They are such important reminders from a contemporary scientist:

  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail.
  3. Get excited about discovery.
  4. Remember that science is self-correcting.
  5. Keep learning.

Also, use the publisher-provided educator’s guide for use in the classroom!

Video of Kate Messner’s interview with Dr. Fauci:

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn about Dr. Fauci?
  • How did learning about Dr. Fauci affect how you feel about the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How do vaccines work? Are vaccines safe?
  • How did Dr. Fauci’s father’s words drive Dr. Fauci?
  • Why do guidelines about viruses change from time to time?
  • How did Dr. Fauci deal with criticism during the AIDS epidemic? What does this tell you about him?
  • How does the author turn the biography into a story?
  • Although Anthony wasn’t the tallest or best on his basketball team, he ended up being team captain. Why?
  • How does Dr. Fauci inspire you?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write a book about Dr. Fauci now?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love: Picture book biographies, science, medicine, inspirational books

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**Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing a copy for review!**

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Secondhand Dogs
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Melissa Manwill
Published July 6th, 2021 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Miss Lottie’s home was for second chances.

When she adopted Gus, Roo, Tank, and Moon Pie, Miss Lottie rescued each member of the pack—including herself, her helper, Quinn, and her reclusive cat, Ghost—and turned them into a family. But when a new dog, Decker, arrives and tries to hoard Miss Lottie’s heart and home for himself, the pack’s future is threatened.

At first, Gus, the insecure pack leader, only notices little things, like tiny Moon Pie being kicked out of the bed and Ghost acting spooked (then again…Ghost is a cat). But things soon go from bad to worse as Decker’s presence causes disharmony in the group.

When Decker convinces Moon Pie to embark on an impossible journey, it’s up to Gus to gather his courage, rally his splintered pack, and bring Moon Pie home. And with coyotes and cars on the loose, the pack must push through obstacles and dangers to reunite with Moon Pie before he can get hurt—or nearly as bad, get his heart broken.

A heartwarming—and heart-tugging—middle grade novel about love, loyalty, and what to means to be part of a family, featuring a motley pack of rescue dogs—from author Carolyn Crimi, with adorable illustrations by Melissa Manwill. Perfect for fans of A Dog’s Life and Because of Winn-Dixie.

Praise: “Pervading themes of bullying, leadership, loyalty, and family—among humans and canines alike—raise important issues while the comic-style illustrations feature character cameos and highlight key scenes. A sensitive, satisfying, and intriguing canine tale” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Carolyn Crimi received her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College in 2000. She has published over 15 books, including Dear Tabby, Don’t Need Friends, Boris and Bella, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, and I Am the Boss of this Chair. Her book, There Might Be Lobsters, won The Golden Kite Award in 2018 for Best Picture Book Text, and her middle grade debut, Weird Little Robots, was named a BEA Book Buzz pick. Carolyn has received over thirty state awards and award nominations and was given The Prairie State Award in 2012 for her body of work. You can visit Carolyn at carolyncrimi.com.

Facebook: Carolyn Crimi
Twitter: @crims10

Review: First, I must say: kids are going to love this book. Seriously. Go pick it up for the kid(s) in your life.

I always go hesitantly into dog books because, as I am sure it is with all of you, the emotions when it comes to animal books are on high alert! And please know that your emotions are going to be going on a roller coaster of emotions in this one! 

The first emotion you are going to feel is love. As soon as you hear Gus’s voice, you know that he is a dog you can trust. Then as you meet each of the pack, they automatically go into your heart. Crimi does an amazing job telling the current narrative while also flashing back to show the dogs’ (and Miss Lottie’s, Quinn’s, and Ghost the cat’s) past. This allows you to jump into the story while also learning about how the pack gets together.

The next emotion you are going to feel is anger. Decker is a challenger to the pack. The way he manipulates and bullies, specifically Moon Pie, is devastating. It is true manipulation. You will definitely feel anger. Also, you learn more about Quinn’s life which will definitely make you feel angry.

Then comes the feelings of suspense, sadness, happiness, pride, and more! I can’t get more into the story because I don’t want to spoil! It is a good ride, I promise!

Teachers’ Tools for Instruction: First, this book is going to make an awesome read aloud!! Great topics and themes will lead to wonderful conversations.

But I think a huge asset for this book in the classroom is the different point of views that the author tackles. It is a wonderful mentor text for looking at voice. Each dog, cat, and person, although in 3rd person, had a different distinct tone and voice. It would be a great activity to have your students write a story from a certain POV then rewrite it from a different. Then they can even change 1st person to 3rd or vice versa. 

There is also a publisher-provided curriculum guide that is an awesome resource:

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the pack lie to Moon Pie and was it okay?
  • Why was Dexter the way he was?
  • Why did Roo originally side with Dexter?
  • Each of the dogs had a special skill: What would your special skill be?
  • What are some times during the book that shows you Quinn is special?
  • How does Quinn finally stand up to his brother?
  • What does Gus’s choice about what he did with the coyote tell you about him?
  • Why is the book titled Secondhand Dogs?
  • What is the differences between Dexter and Gus as the pack leader?
  • What does Miss Lottie’s choice about what she did with Dexter tell you about her?
  • How did the ending make you rethink Dexter’s character?
  • Who do you think was the hero of the book?

Flagged Passages: Gus: The new dog walked calmly next to Miss Lottie. His ears and his tail were both up. Alert, but not alarmed.

He wasn’t nervous. Not like the other dogs had been when they first approached the pack.

He was sizing them up, Gus decided. Gus didn’t know what to think about that. Usually new dogs pulled back a bit, or wiggled a little too much, or stood their ground and barked.

Not this dog.

Gus sniffed the air again. The scent that wafted off the new dog was bright and cold, like the metal water bowl in Miss Lottie’s kitchen.

Gus had always hated that bowl.” (Chapter 2)

Read a sample: https://preview.aer.io/Secondhand_Dogs-Mzk3MzU1?social=0&retail=0&emailcap=0

Read This If You Love: The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, Granted by John David Anderson

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

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Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston
Author: Alicia D. Williams
Illustrator: Jacqueline Alcántara
Published January 12th, 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Summary: A picture book that shines the light on Zora Neale Hurston, the writer and storycatcher extraordinaire who changed the face of American literature.

Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.

About the Creators:

Alicia D. Williams is the author of Genesis Begins Again, which received a Newbery and Kirkus Prize honors, was a William C. Morris Award finalist, and for which she won the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award for New Talent. A graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University, and an oral storyteller in the African American tradition, she is also a teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jacqueline Alcántara is the illustrator of the critically acclaimed The Field and Freedom Soup. Her favorite days are spent drawing, painting, writing, and walking her dog. In 2016, she was awarded the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator mentorship. Find out more at JacquelineAlcantara.com.

Praise: 

*”A lively, joyfully rendered portrait of a literary legend.” – Publisher Weekly, starred review

* “Williams’ narration is a readaloud dream….it will be a joyful guide for folklore enthusiasts” – BCCB, starred review

* “This introduction to an American icon feels just right.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* “A welcome addition to any picture book biography collection.” – School Library Journal, starred review

Review: Zora Neale Hurston has a special place in my heart as Eatonville is right around the corner, and I love the opportunity to be so close to Zora’s home, be inspired by her story, and learn from her. If you are ever here, stop by the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts!

Alicia D. Williams does a beautiful job capturing the spirit of Zora and showing how truly special she was as a person and story teller. And I loved learning new things about her that I hadn’t known before (like that she graduated from high school at 28 and that she may have been lost to white-washed history if not for Alice Walker). And Alicia’s words mixed with the colorful and active illustrations of Alcántara, Zora is brought to life through the pages of this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher provided Curriculum Guide is the best resource for using this book in your classroom:

Discussion Questions: 

  • How are the end pages representative of Zora?
  • How were Zora’s stories important to American literature?
  • Why did the author call Zora a “storycatcher?”
  • How did the author integrate fictional characters and stories within her nonfiction biography of Zora Neale Hurston?
  • Why was some of Zora’s storytelling looked down upon?
  • What does the figurative phrase “reach/jump to the sun” mean?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Zora Neale Hurston, Picture book biographies

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for a copy of the book to review!**

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Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 5, 2020 by HarperTeen

Summary: In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Ricki’s Review: I was so happy to see that this book won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. It is one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read. It made me laugh, it made me weep, and it filled me with so many emotions and so many wonderings. The book is beautifully lyrical, and the voices are so strong. There’s a scene in the book that simply took my breath away. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend you head out and purchase it now. It’s absolutely magnificent.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the two perspectives of the story work together? How did it enhance your reading of the story?
  • How does place function in the story?
  • Where is home for the characters?
  • How do the characters in the story grieve? What understandings did it offer about grief and loss?
  • How do the characters in this book show strength in many different ways?

Flagged Passage: 

“Can you be from a place
you have never been?

You can find the island stamped all over me,
but what would the island find if I was there?

Can you claim a home that does not know you,
much less claim you as its own?”

Read This If You Love: Books. Seriously, it would be very difficult not to see the beauty of this book. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the greatest writers of our time.

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Watercress
Author: Andrea Wang
Illustrator: Jason Chin
Published: March 30, 2021 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.

Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.

At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection!

Ricki’s Review: This book took my breath away. A girl’s family stops by the side of the road, and she is embarrassed as they fill paper bags with muddy watercress and eat it for dinner. Her mother shares a story of her childhood and talks about a brother who has passed on. I will be recommending this book over and over again. The story is stunningly written and captures painful memories that are passed intergenerationally. The author writes that it is “both an apology and a love letter” to her parents. I imagine the story would make her parents very proud. There is a bond between the family that reaches off the pages and pulls readers into the story. I highly recommend this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to ask students to share moments that they were embarrassed about a family or friend situation. They might then add layers to that story–what do these stories tell? How do these stories reveal layers of their lives?

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author write about emotion? What feelings does the narrator have, and how do these feelings change?
  • How are stories passed intergenerationally?
  • What does the narrator learn, and how does this knowledge change her?

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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; Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

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**Thank you, Sara, from Holiday House and Pixel+Ink for sending a copy for review!**

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The Rock from the Sky
Author & Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: April 13, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Look up!

Turtle really likes standing in his favorite spot. He likes it so much that he asks his friend Armadillo to come over and stand in it, too. But now that Armadillo is standing in that spot, he has a bad feeling about it . . .

Here comes The Rock from the Sky, a meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Candlewick Press for The Rock from the Sky:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Rock in the Sky on Candlewick’s page.

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