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Pippa Park Raises Her Game
Author: Erin Yun
Published February 4th, 2020 by Fabled Film Press

Summary: Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”

At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.

As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.

A Contemporary Reimagining of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for Middle Graders

About the Author: Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas. She received her BFA in English from New York University and served as president of its policy debate team. This experience came in handy when she became the debate consultant for the Tony-nominated Best Play on Broadway―What the Constitution Means to Me. Erin is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has written reviews and articles for BookBrowse. She developed her author program, an interactive writing workshop, which she has conducted in person and virtually at schools, libraries, and bookstores. She currently lives in New York City, and yes―she used to play basketball as a middle grader!

  1. She’s obsessed with personality quizzes and takes them for her characters.
  2. She is half Korean, and half Polish/Germanic.
  3. Her favorite foods include: kimchi-jjigae, cherry ice cream, and walnut cakes filled with red bean.
  4. She ran a bubblegum-selling business in middle school until it was shut down.
  5. Her family lore says that her grandfather lost part of his farm in a game of Go-Stop.
  6. She likes creating scavenger hunts in which participants dress like secret agents and follow clues.
  7. Her favorite places in the world include Seoul, London, and Tokyo.
  8. She was president of the New York University policy debate team.
  9. Her family dogs, Belle and Yoko, both bark incredibly loudly despite being foolishly tiny.
  10. She lives in New York City, but folks can tell she grew up in Texas by how often she says ya’ll.

Review: Okay, okay, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover was yelling READ ME to me, and I am so glad that I finally had the chance to and now share it with you all!

There is so much good happening in this book!

First, I love a good retelling! It brings a classical tale and its themes to a modern era.

Second, so many readers are going to connect with Pippa either because they understand what it is like to go to a new school or to fit in with a cool crowd or to have people not understand how important something is to you.

Third, there is so much to discuss with the book! You’ll see below in the discussion questions that in addition to connecting it with Great Expectations, there are opportunities to discuss family, the American Dream, culture, empathy, friendship, and more!

Fourth, I loved how complex the characters and situations were. Pippa is our protagonist but anything but perfect. Mina, Pippa’s sister, is so strict and seems heartless, but there is more there. Eliot is so cold, but there is a whole story there. And more! Such truth in the characterization of these middle schoolers and secondary characters.

Author Guest Post: Visit our Author Guest Post by Erin Yun as she shares five classics reimagined as middle grade novels.

Also, in her latest blog, Erin opened up on why she wrote this Korean American story for kids and how the recent #AAPI conversation about the lack of diverse Asian voices mirrors her own experience as a young reader. Read the blog here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: At Pippa Park.com, there are so many wonderful resources to help use this book in classrooms!

The Tween Book Club Activity Kit includes the discussion questions below, word games, writing prompts, language arts guide, virtual author visit program, and an escape room activity! (The Common Core Language Arts Guide, Escape Room Activity, and Author Program Worksheet can also be downloaded separately.)

Erin Yun is also available for author events!

Discussion Questions: 

From the back matter (some aspects of the questions removed because of spoilers)

  • Pippa isn’t an orphan, but at times she feels like one. Describe Pippa’s relationship with Mina, her older sister. Why is Mina so tough on Pippa? Discuss whether Mina resents taking care of Pippa. How is Jung-Hwa, Mina’s husband, a father figure to Pippa? How does he make Pippa feel better after she has a fight with Mina?
  • What is the definition of family? Explain why Pippa’s mother had to return to Korea. How are Mina and Jung-Hwa realizing the American Dream? Discuss how Pippa’s family situation is similar to that of new American’s throughout our nation. How are many of them separated from their loved ones? Discuss why it’s important to celebrate all types of families.
  • Pippa says, “At Lakeview I could be anyone, as long as they didn’t find out the truth about me.” What doesn’t she want the kids at Lakeview to know about her? What does she do to keep her home life private? What does Pippa think would happen if the girls found out the truth about her?
  • How does trying to fit in cause Pippa Pippa to lose her sense of self? Why is she ashamed of her family and the way they live?
  • Pippa’s best friend at Victoria Middle School is Buddy Johnson. Think about how she betrays him.
  • Why does Pippa think that Eliot’s life is more messed up than hers? How does knowing about his family make her better understand Eliot?
  • Olive Giordana is the student ambassador that shows Pippa around the school. How does Olive’s desire to be popular affect her judgement?
  • Discuss what Jung-Hwa means when he says, “The lower you fall, the more room you have to rise.” What is Pippa’s lowest point? How do you know that she is about to rise? Have you ever felt that way?
  • Pippa’s family celebrates Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day. Learn more about the traditions associated with this holiday on the Internet. Describe and discuss the holiday and the food that is prepared. What cultural holidays does your family celebrate? Is there anything special that you eat?
  • Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a contemporary reimagining of Great Expectations. Use books or the Internet to find out about the main characters in Great Expectations. What is each character’s counterpart in Pippa Park Raises Her Game? List the characters side by side and as a group apply two or three adjectives that best describe each of them.
  • Think about all that has happened to Pippa. Then consider the following quote from Great Expectations: “And it was not until I began to think, that I began fully to know how wrecked I was, and how the ship in which I had sailed was gone to pieces.” What is the metaphorical ship that Pippa sails? at what point does Pippa realized “how wrecked” her life is? How does she turn her life around once she begins “thinking”?
  • If you were to pick on character from Pippa Park Raises Her Game who is most like you, who would it be and why? Who is most unlike you and why? Which character from the book would you want as your friend and why?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter One: The Strange Encounter

I was the only person in the park.

Tucking a damp strand of hair back behind one ear, I surveyed the abandoned slides and empty benches. It was just past six p.m. on a Friday, but it looked like nobody else wanted to be out in the rain. As I strode briskly forward, icy wind numbed the tips of my fingers, making me clutch my basketball tighter. Even though we hadn’t officially left summer behind, the cold front that had settle over Victoria, Massachusetts, did show any signs of leaving.

So … empty court. Lousy weather. And things at home were just as dismal.

My older sister, Mina, had just grilled me for nearly an hour after finding out about the ‘unacceptable’ grade I had received on my latest algebra quiz. When she finally finished, I stormed out of the apartment, making sure to grab my basketball and water bottle; I planned on being gone awhile. Now I kind of wish I had taken a warmer jacket, too. Or at least a hat. But rain or shine, I wasn’t ready to go home yet.”

Read This If You Love: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit; Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler; Kiki and Jacque by Susan Ross; It Doesn’t Take a Genius by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich; Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

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**Thank you to Dienesa at Fabled Films for providing a copy for review!!**

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Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez
Published: September 15, 2020 by Algonquin

Summary: An #ownvoices contemporary YA set in Argentina, about a rising soccer star who must put everything on the line—even her blooming love story—to follow her dreams.

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Ricki’s Review: I lost a lot of sleep reading this book. I could not stop reading! Camila’s voice was so strong that I was really drawn to her story. I am not a particularly athletic person, yet I loved reading about the soccer within this book. It is set in Argentina, which offered a perspective of the country. It made me want to visit Argentina. There are many rich themes in this text that make it very teachable—in particular, it offers depictions of domestic abuse, sexism, and strength. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this book with a translanguaging lens of analysis. It would also be interesting to look at feminist theory as a theoretical framing of the text. But it isn’t about me–instead, I’d ask students what they find interesting in the text and what they want to learn more about. This allows for a freedom of curiosity to explore topics of interest from the text (and there are many!).

Discussion Questions:

  • How do gender roles differ related to soccer in Argentina, according to Camila’s perspective?
  • What is the role of family in the text?
  • What does Camila’s mother teach readers? Her brother? Her best friend?
  • Do you think Camila makes the right choices regarding her future? Why or why not?

Flagged Passage: “Our family was stuck in a cosmic hamster wheel of toxic love, making the same mistakes, saying the same words, being hurt in the same ways generation after generation. I didn’t want to keep playing a role in this tragedy of errors.”

Read This Book If You Loved: Love in English by Maria E. Andreu;  Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok; YA Books with Sports

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King and the Dragonflies
Author: Kacen Callender
Published: February 4, 2020 by Scholastic

GoodReads Summary: Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

Ricki’s Review: I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, and it is still on my mind. My goodness, it is beautifully written. I think I’ve recommended it about fifteen times to friends, colleagues, and students in the past two weeks. I don’t want to give away any spoilers in the review, so I’ll just say that this book shares powerful perspectives of friendship and of family. It also offers complex discussions of racism and homophobia—intersections and analysis. I am adopting this text for class use in the Fall, and I am really looking forward to discussing it with others.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to select one aspect of the text that they want to explore in depth. I can think of many (but won’t name them because they are spoilers). Then, students might group according to interests and develop text sets to expand their understandings and think about the topics they choose from multiple perspectives.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Kingston learn in this text? What does he unlearn?
  • How does Kingston navigate his grief? How do his family members navigate their grief?
  • What did you learn from this text?

Flagged Passage: “Secrets are best kept hidden, because sometimes people aren’t ready to hear the truth. And that’s okay, King, he said, Because you don’t need other people to know the truth also. Just as long as you got that truth in you.”

Read This If You Loved:  Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender; Fighting Words by 

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The House That Wasn’t There
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Published March 30th, 2021 by Walden Pond Books

Summary: Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California. And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood between his house and the one next door. That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts the tree down.

Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.

As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together.

At least not without each other’s help.

Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold returns with an unforgettable story of the strange, wondrous threads that run between all of us, whether we know they’re there or not.

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.

Praise for The House That Wasn’t There:

“In this luminous story full of mystery and magic, Elana K. Arnold weaves a shimmering tapestry about the lovely and surprising ways we’re connected to each other. Heart-healing, hopeful, and wonderfully inventive, this beautiful novel by a master storyteller is not to be missed.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan

“Told through alternating perspectives that offer clearly rendered details, this compassionate novel gives a unique twist to familiar situations—feeling lonely, adjusting to new environments, forging new bonds—while inviting readers to open their imaginations to all sorts of wonderful possibilities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The author enriches her sparely told story with hints of magic, song lyrics, good choices that key sudden sea changes in several relationships, and the small background details that make settings and backstories seem real. A low-key marvel rich in surprises, small fuzzy creatures, and friendships old and new.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review: I love what Elana K. Arnold can do with a story! She is brilliant when it comes to weaving in secondary stories that often have way more impact than the reader realizes and for building secondary characters that leave a lasting impression.

In The House That Wasn’t There, I was struck with this talent again as I followed Alder’s and Oak’s life as they collide suddenly at the beginning of 6th grade and how their school project, a walnut tree, a dead possum, and adopted kittens all intertwine to help tell their story. The reader at times will wonder why certain things are happening or why something is being mentioned and then BAM it is revealed. It is quite fun to read! And with a bit of magical realism thrown in just for fun, a seemingly “normal” story becomes an extraordinary one!

It was also quite interesting how Arnold set up the chapters, alternating between Alder and Oak but in 3rd person. It helped keep the POV clear while also showing the reader a bit more about each of the character’s lives.

And finally: A shout out to Beck for not being what was expected; Faith for having a name, being a part of the story instead of the background, and being wonderful; and Mr. Rivera for being an innovative teacher that promotes collaboration, cross-curricular activities, and outside of the box thinking!

Educators’ Guide: 

Flagged Passages: Preview the first two chapters from the publisher: READ A SAMPLE

Read This If You Love: A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano YoungBrave in the Woods by Tracy HolczerQuintessence by Jess Redman, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, The Trouble with Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra

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Don’t Miss the Other Stops on the Blog Tour!

March 28 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 29 YAYOMG @yayomgofficial
March 30 Unleashing Readers @UnleashReaders
March 31 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read
April 2 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke
April 7 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl
April 10 A Library Mama @librarymama
April 12 Storymamas @storymamas

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

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The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered MOST of the Universe
Author: Sandra Nickel
Illustrator: Aimée Sicuro
Publishing March 2nd, 2021 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Summary: An inspired biographical picture book about a female astronomer who makes huge discoveries about the mysteries of the night sky and changed the way we look at the universe.

Vera Rubin was one of the astronomers who discovered and named dark matter, the thing that keeps the universe hanging together. Throughout her career she was never taken seriously as a scientist because she was one of the only female astronomers at that time, but she didn’t let that stop her. She made groundbreaking and incredibly significant discoveries that scientists have only recently been able to really appreciate—and she changed the way that we look at the universe. A stunning portrait of a little-known trailblazer, The Stuff Between the Stars tells Vera’s story and inspires the youngest readers who are just starting to look up at the stars.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com. To learn more, visit https://sandranickel.com/.

Twitter:  @senickel
Facebook: @sandranickelbooks
Instagram: @sandranickelbooks

Aimée Sicuro is an illustrator, picture book maker, and surface pattern designer who received a BFA in Illustration from Columbus College of Art and Design. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and young sons. Visit her website to learn more.

Twitter: @aimeesicuro
Instagram: @aimeesicuro

Praise: 

“This engaging biography will appeal to budding scientists, particularly those with a penchant for sky searching.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A truly beautiful story of perseverance and passion.” – Booklist

Review: I love learning about amazing women. At the same time, I think it is so sad that these same women aren’t already being taught in schools. Whenever dark matter is discussed, why isn’t Vera Rubin’s story delved into?! It should be. She was someone that should be admired and learned from. Her grit to overcome the blatant sexism in her field is just so tough to even wrap your brain around. These female pioneers deserve all of the name yelling from the hill tops we can give them. 

For that reason, I am so thankful for this book. I did not know about Vera Rubin. Nickel’s story did a wonderful job of intertwining Rubin’s personal story, professional story, and pure passion into a narrative that taught me about her and about space. I also loved the illustrations and the design of the book. Sicuro’s use of darkness and light & spacing were so thoughtful, and I loved the mix between the realistic and the scientific in illustrations. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Add in Stuff Between Stars to your Amazing Women in Science text set then use the text set in a lit circle to discover and explore the amazing women scientists picture book biographies that are out there for kids! (Although there still aren’t enough, but it is vastly improving!)

I also think that this book really pushes the idea of passion projects. Everyone dismissed Vera and didn’t nurture her love of science and astronomy. Yes, she overcame, thankfully, but just imagine if just one teacher had told her to just learn everything she could and truly nurtured that love?! Let’s aim to be that educator more!

Post will soon be updated with the curriculum guide for this book!

Discussion Questions:

  • How did others’ criticisms affect Vera? 
  • In the 3rd spread below, how did the author use color to bring across the author’s point? 
  • What challenges did Vera overcome to still become an infamous astronomer? 
  • Why do you think Vera’s work is less known than other astronomers? 
  • Why did Vera have to be so blunt about wanting the job at the Carnegie Institute? What would have probably happened if she was not? 

Watch for: In Celebration of Women’s History Month, Publishers Weekly will be featuring Sandra Nickel and Laurie Wallmark. We talk about science, curiosity, and the importance of picture books about women in STEM. Look for our ‘In Conversation’ on March 8.

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: The Leaf Detective by Heather LangMarjory Saves the Everglades by Sandra Neil WallaceHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Shark Lady by Jess KeatingGrace Hopper by Laurie WallmarkAda’s Ideas by Fiona RobinsonWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee StoneMe…Jane by Patrick McDonnell  

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Love in English
Author: Maria E. Andreu
Published: February 2, 2021 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Ricki’s Review: I read this book and immediately thought of the many people who would love reading it. It does a beautiful job offering a lived experience of a young girl who is finely attuned to language acquisition. I have been meeting regularly with two students who have shared similar experiences to those of Ana, and I plan to share this book with them. For many, this book will act as a mirror, window, and sliding glass door. I understand fully the criticism this book has received–Maria E. Andreu writes in the opening that she was born in Spain, and her grandparents moved from Spain to Argentina as toddlers. She grew up in the US, traveled to Argentina at age 6 and then was not allowed to return to the US. She was undocumented at age 8 in the US. She talks about her experiences with this and with White privilege in powerful ways in The Secret Side to Empty. My thoughts about this controversy are not as valuable as those of a person with Latinx descent. In the end, I do wish that the character more closely matched Maria E. Andreu’s story rather than that of a native Argentinian. I loved the book and appreciated all that it taught me about Maria E. Andreu’s experiences with language, and there simply aren’t enough books available that explicitly discuss the linguistic diversity within our schools. this book is one that I will remember for quite some time.

Kellee’s Review: One of the things I love most about my school is the amount of diversity and the acceptance and inclusion of all in the school; we do not care where you are from or what language you speak–you are welcome with open arms!  While reading Love in English, I found myself being so upset with the students and some of the teachers in Ana’s school. Why was her ethnicity and language acquisition something that anyone would find funny or bully-worthy?! But then I remember that other places are not like my school… 

I also found myself connecting with Mr. T the ELL teacher! When I first started working at my school, I was intimidated with teaching ELL students because I didn’t think I would be of any help with someone learning English when it was the only language I knew. But throughout my first few years there, I began to learn that teaching ELL students is one of my favorite honors of being a teacher. My 7th year teaching, I taught a class much like Mr. T’s class, and it is one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taught. Mr. T shows how an ELL class, done correctly, can truly become home at school. 

Also, as a reading teacher & librarian at a school with a large Latinx population, primarily from South America, I found that it is so hard to find books that truly reflect my students’ experiences, but Love in English is a mirror for so many of them! It made me so happy while reading because I know that Ana’s experience is one that they will connect with. 

Overall, this story looks at language acquisition in a way that I have not seen in another book and it does so during a wonderful story with some amazing poetry woven throughout. I also love that the language acquisition aspect is own voices. Although this aspect is own voices, I do wish that Ana’s backstory was own voices as well to ensure authenticity of all parts of the story; however, I feel like Maria’s explanation of this choice shows it was thoughtful (though, like Ricki shares, my opinion is not as valuable as a Latinx, and specifically an Argentinian).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We would love to use this book to teach about language and translanguaging. We’d group texts that help us think about the power of discussions related to the nuances of language.

Ana, throughout the novel, focuses on aspects of English in her journal. Use Ana’s journals to guide activities on some of the more challenging and, some would say, nonsensical parts of English, like idioms, similar looking words that are pronounced differently, and more.

Ana’s journals are written in beautiful poetry! Use Ana’s poetry for a mentor text to have students write poetry about similar topics to Ana.

Many of Mr. T’s activities that he implemented in his classroom are amazing activities to work with students acquiring a new language. If you are in a language-focused classroom, they would be assets to your classroom.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does language influence the ways in which Ana moves in the world?
  • How do Ana’s relationships with family and friends impact her life?
  • What is the significance of the title of the book?
  • How might the author’s perspective have influenced her work?
  • Why does Mr. T recommend Ana and Neo watch movies as part of their language acquisition?
  • What is the impact of the author’s use of ### since Ana is the narrator?
  • What is a part of the English language that you find confusing?
  • How did the year that Ana and her dad were apart affect their current relationship?
  • Why was Ana so drawn to a relationship with Harrison at first?
  • How was Altagracia’s friendship lifechanging for Ana?

Flagged Passage: 

“‘We don’t have to speak English,’ I tell her. I think–

We don’t have to do it this way.

We don’t have to make it so hard.

We don’t have to erase everything about us. At least not all at once.

—but I do not say it” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 35).

Recipe for Disaster

How do you get an apple in your eye?
Just how easy is pie? 

Who would eat crow or eat their heart out? 
Or how could anyone eat enough hay to eat like a horse? 
How can a potato sit on the couch?
In a world where so many thins are confusing, even food, 
I dream of a day when it is a piece of cake.” (Digital Review Copy Loc 1125)

Read This Book If You Loved: The Secret Side to Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

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Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy
Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Valentina Toro
Published: January 12, 2021 by Sounds True

Goodreads Summary: For any child having trouble getting to sleep, the most lovable animal in the rain forest is here to help.

One night at bedtime, Sloth wasn’t sleepy.
“What if I worry when I try to fall asleep?” Sloth said.
“Ah … worries,” Mama said. “We will have to let them go.”

A tough day, a bad dream, a scary noise … these are just a few of the things that can keep kids wide awake and frightened after dark. But Mama Sloth knows the secrets for calming worried minds and getting to sleep—and as she shares them with her daughter, young readers will learn valuable relaxation skills that last a lifetime.

Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy does more than provide a sweet bedtime story—kids will join Sloth to learn mindfulness practices such as “shrinking down” fears in their mind and calming their body through breath and simple visualizations. Kate Messner’s beautiful book helps parents and kids relax into dreamland with a sense of peace, safety, and belonging.

Ricki’s Review: This book is simply magical. Since moving to Colorado, I have understood the value of mindfulness. My kids do meditation at night, and it has really helped their sleep. This book is going to be so helpful to facilitate the process. The charming illustrations drew my attention immediately, and my kids were giggling as we read the book. The words feel carefully and intentionally placed, and they soothed me, as the reader, too! I plan to gift this book to my younger sons’ teachers to use before naptime.

Kellee’s Review: My son is definitely afflicted with a large imagination, specifically when it comes to bedtimes and fears. Reading about Sloth’s worries and her mom’s advice on how to overcome this anxiety is something I will definitely be bringing up whenever these fears erupt at bedtime. I think many kids will find solace in these routines that Mama Sloth set up for Sloth in the story–between the relaxing onomatopoeias, the deep breathing, and the visualization, the story definitely brings a calm over the reader. And to add to this feeling is the adorable and cool-colored illustrations that just tie it all together.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Implicit in this book is a description of anxiety. A common manifestation of anxiety comes with nighttime worrying. I’d love to use this book in literature circles centered around mental health, or in a way that allows children to think about the ways in which they negotiate feelings of worry and anxiety.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What interrupts Sloth’s desire to rest?
  • How does Sloth work to go to sleep?
  • How can you adjust your own habits to improve your sleep?
  • What worries do you have? Shrink them, lay it on a leaf, and set it free.
  • When else could you use a breathing technique like the one Mama Sloth taught Sloth?

We Flagged: “‘Sometimes,” Mama said, “I like to pretend I’m a tree. Drinking up breath from my roots to my crown, from my toes to the top of my head. Would you like to try that, too?'”

You can also check out:

Read This If You Loved: Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy by Frann Preston-Gannon; Sparky by Jenny Offill, “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly” Said the Sloth by Eric Carle, Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston Gannon

Recommended For: 

RickiSigandKellee Signature

**Thank you to Samantha at Sounds True for providing copies for review!**

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