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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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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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A-Okay
Author: Jarad Greene
Published November 2nd, 2021 by HarperAlley

Summary: A-Okay by Jarad Greene is a vulnerable and heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Praise:

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty. –Kirkus Reviews

Supported by expressive, well-drawn, and colorful illustrations, this compelling graphic novel will appeal to fans of middle-grade graphic memoirs. Booklist

Greene’s use of color, line, and composition in his comic-panel layouts enhances the humor and angst of this particular slice of adolescent life. -The Horn Book

Jay’s arc is distinct and refreshing, and the story’s emphasis on friendships and body image issues is likely to resonate with any reader who has wished to jump out of their skin. Publishers Weekly

A story about kids learning to feel good about themselves on their own terms is no small thing, and Jay is a low-key, lovely protagonist. Greene’s simple, bubbly color illustrations are friendly and accessible, matching the content perfectly. An earnest exploration of adolescence, recognizable and relevant to middle schoolers coming into their own. -School Library Journal

About the Author: Jarad Greene is a cartoonist originally from Lutz, Florida, who now lives in the curious village of White River Junction, Vermont. In addition to his own comics, Jarad works on staff at the Center for Cartoon Studies and has helped color many graphic novels for younger readers. He is also the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity. Find him online at www.jaradgreene.com.

Review: My students and I really love middle school memoir (or memoir-esque) graphic novels–I cannot keep them on the shelf, and A-Okay is going to fall right in with that group. What makes a book like this so popular is that it takes something that students need to connect with or that they need to understand and shines a spotlight on a likeable character working their way through the challenge. A-Okay fits this perfectly with Jay’s wonderful character arc as he makes his way through 8th grade figuring out his passions, true friends, and sexual identity; with the focus on Jay’s acne which many middle schoolers deal with but may never have seen in a book; and with the very realistic middle school friendship drama that happens as childhood friends begin to become their own person. This engaging storyline along with Greene’s colorful, detailed, and distinct illustrations will make this a graphic novel I know will never be on my school library’s shelf.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: HarperCollins created a Classroom Conversations page for A-Okay which includes a book talk and five topics with questions for group discussion:

It can also be accessed through the publisher’s A-Okay page. 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Middle school memoirs like Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, New Kid by Jerry Craft, and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studios and the publisher for providing a copy for review!**

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The Troubled Girls of Dragomire Academy
Author: Anne Ursu
Published October 12, 2021 by Walden Pond Press
Happy book birthday!! 🎉

Summary: If no one notices Marya Lupu, it’s likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in Illyria may possess the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread. For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy — a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself — things that threaten the precarious balance upon which their country is built.

Praise:

A wonderful and inspiring feminist fantasy.” – Kirkus, starred review

“An accessible, timely school story with a rather Transylvanian flavor to its fantasy setting. Ursu explores girls’ conditioning in timidity and shame in a male-dominated world and, ultimately, envisions a hopeful, female-determined future of magical ability.” – Horn Book Magazine

“A suspenseful tale woven with secrets and magic, with a gasp-worthy twist at the end, The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is everything I love about fantasy. Spell-binding.” – Christina Soontornvat, Newbery Honor-winning author of A Wish in the Dark

“Anne Ursu practices her own brand of sorcery—the ability to craft wondrous, magical stories that are unlike anything you’ve ever read. Another extraordinary tale from a remarkably talented author.” – Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Medal-winning author of Hello, Universe

“A thoughtful and incisive story of lies told to control people and the complicated girls who ask questions, push back, and keep fighting.” – Tui Sutherland, New York Times-bestselling author of the Wings of Fire series

“It’s no secret that Anne Ursu is a gifted storyteller. The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is intricately plotted and compulsively readable, with characters who will stay with you long after you stop reading. I could not put it down.” – Aisha Saeed, New York Times bestselling author of Amal Unbound

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy manages the particular magic of being both a true fantasy novel and a clear-eyed reflection of the here-and-now. Bighearted, generous, and outstandingly original, this is a story only Anne Ursu could write.”- Elana K. Arnold, award-winning author of The House That Wasn’t There

About the Author: Anne Ursu is the author of the acclaimed novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. The recipient of a McKnight Fellowship Award in Children’s Literature, Anne is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.

Review: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

This book is a loud cry for all the times females have been told they were trouble or too loud or had too many opinions or talked too much or asks too many questions or is too bossy or… or… or… Because of the patriarichal nature of our society, many girls will hear these thrown at them over and over again because in society’s eyes, it is our job to comply. Marya lives in a society that her job is to not only comply but to also fade into the background, so many of those who read will automatically connect with Marya’s plight and her personality trait of wanting to push back. Marya doesn’t want to just be in the background.

I do not want to share much more about the book than what the summary includes because it was such a pleasure to read–I am envious of all of you who get to read it for the first time! Anne Ursu’s ability to craft a fantastical world that is easy to imagine, write lyrically yet precisely, and create this narrative filled with twists, turns, and a protagonist you will be rooting for lends itself to just a fantastic read. This will definitely be one of my favorite reads of the year!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Walden Pond Press has shared a teacher-created educator guide with discussion questions, classroom activities, and extensions!

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1: The Girl in the Coop

There were few women pictured in the great tapestries of Illyria–besides the witches, of course. The tapestries depicted moments of heoism, epic battles of good and evil, of powerful sorcerers and brave noblemen protecting the kingdom from the monsters that had threatened it through its history.

That is not to say that girls and women did not matter to Illyria: behind every great tapestry was a woman who wove it, just as behind every great sorcerer was a wife to tend to his domestic affairs, a governess to teach his children, a cook to warm his gullet, a maid to keep his fires lit.

And behind every boy who dreamed of being a sorcerer was a mother who raised him to be brave, noble, and kind. And perhaps that boy even had a sister, who right before the Council for the Magical Protection of Illyria finally visited his humble home to test him for magical gift, made sure the chicken coop was clean.

Read This If You Love: Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne MorrellRaybearers by Jordan Ifueko, A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer, The Spinner of Dreams by K.A. Reynolds, The Trouble with Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra

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Other Blog Tour Stops:

October 12 A Nerdy Bibliophile in Wanderlust
October 13 Read Wonder
October 14 Nerdy Book Club
October 15 A Library Mama
October 16 Maria’s Mélange
October 17 By Singing Light
October 18 Bluestocking Thinking
October 20 Insatiable Readers

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

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Susie B. Won’t Back Down
Author: Margaret Finnegan
Published October 5th, 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: This funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president is told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president.

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure—no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.

Praise: 

“Susie is energetic, breathless, enthusiastic, and genuinely, charmingly funny.” —Kirkus Reviews

A Junior Library Guild Selection

About the Author: Margaret Finnegan is the author of the middle-grade novels Susie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Her writing often focuses on themes on inclusion, hard choices, and being true to yourself. She also makes a really good chocolate cake. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit MargaretFinnegan.com.

Twitter: @FinneganBegin
Instagram: @finneganbegin

Review: Happy book birthday to Susie!!!

This book has so much in it! I was highlighting away as I read–both as a recreational reader and as a teacher (see more in Teachers’ Tools!)! I love that it is an epistolary novel, specifically writing to Susan B. Anthony, because it gives us insight into Susie’s school, home, and her inner thinking. The discussions throughout about heroes, fairness, and history is done in a very age-appropriate way but also doesn’t sugar coat anything. I love that Susie has a “butterfly brain” and went to reading lab but is proud of it. The talk about how all brains are different made my heart sing! And on top of all of this, the story itself is so on point for coming of age and how popularity, personalities, and more really start to affect kids starting in about 5th grade.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am in love with Mr. Springer’s hero project! The way he made the project cross-curricular, interesting, interactive, and included choice just makes it such an amazing project! And there are definitely parts of the book that will work as mentors/exemplars to share with students if you have them do their own hero project including some of Susie’s letters and the Voting posters. Also, the author created a mock Susie B. News to show one of the activities for the hero project: https://www.margaretfinnegan.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/The-Susie-B.-News.pdf.

The author also shares some activities in the publisher-created discussion guide!

Discussion Questions (from the publisher-created discussion guide): 

  • Describe the way that the author organizes the story. How does this format help to connect the worlds of Susie B. at home and at school?
  • Why does Susie B. call Chloe and her three R’s (Rachelle, Rachel, and Rose) “fakey fakes?” In contrast, Susie B. has Joselyn Salazar as her best “spark.” What connects these two as friends?
  • Each of the characters copes with the social scene at school differently. How does Soozee Gupta manage to not be alone at lunch? What is your opinion of her social strategy?
  • Susie B. wrangles with the idea of fairness and justice. She believes that they are two different things. What do you think is the difference between being fair and being just?
  • What do you think is the most important lesson that Susie B. learned in this story? Give reasons for your opinion.

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1

Dear Susan B. Anthony:
I have very bad news for you. You’re dead. Really dead. Like, over one hundred years dead. Like, right now, you are dust and bones in the cemetery of your old hometown, Rochester, New York.

Sorry.

You are probably thinking, What the heck? If I am dead, why are you writing to me?

Congratulations! Even though you are dead, you are not forgotten! You are still remembered for being a brave and determined defender of women’s rights, especially women’s suffrage. That is the fancy name for women voting, even though I think suffrage should be the name for not being able to vote, because it sounds like the suffering you would have to go through if everybody thought your voice didn’t matter one speck.

Since I am also a brave and determined defender of all the rights of all the people, I thought you would like to know that I am thinking about you.

Plus, Mr. Springer is making me.

Mr. Springer is my fifth-grade teacher. Every year he assigns this thing called the Hero Project. All of his students have to choose a personal hero. They can choose anyone they want, as long as the person is dead. Mr. Springer used to let kids choose living heroes, but then the live heroes kept doing horrible things and ruining everyone’s projects. Luckily, dead heroes can’t surprise you like that. We are going to do a bunch of research and assignments on our heroes and basically use them to learn stuff about language arts, history, and even math and science. Mr. Springer is always trying to find sneaky ways to get us interested in what he’s teaching.

Read This If You Love: Twins by Varian Johnson & Shannon Wright, How to Win a Slime War by Mae Respicio, Kids Under the Stairs series by K.A. Holt, Friends Forever by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham, Five Things about Ava Andrews by Margaret Dilloway

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

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Astro-Nuts Mission Three: The Perfect Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: September 21st, 2021 by Chronicle Books

Summary: This series is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets The Bad Guys in a funny, visually daring adventure series for reluctant readers, teachers, and librarians alike.

This hilarious, visually groundbreaking read is the conclusion to a major series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a final mission, where AlphaWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

Time is up for our friends the AstroNuts. In fact, time is up for you, too. If they don’t succeed on this mission, Earth is doomed! So when the team finds out they’re being sent to a place called “the perfect planet,” their mission sounds way too easy. Unfortunately, the second they land, they realize they’ll be dealing with the most dangerous species of all time . . . humans. Huh? Where in the universe is this supposedly perfect place? And how will the Nuts manage to convince the humans to risk death . . . for the sake of their lives?!

Featuring full-color illustrations throughout, Planet Earth as the narrator, an out-of-this-world gatefold, and how-to-draw pages in the back, eager and reluctant readers alike will be over the moon about this new mission. Full of laugh-out-loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story, this creatively illustrated, full-color, action-packed space saga is a can’t-put-it-down page-turner for readers of all levels and fans ready to blast past Dogman.

  • EXCITING BIG-NAME TALENT: Jon Scieszka is one of the biggest names in children’s books. The first National Ambassador of Young People’s literature, he and Steven Weinberg toured extensively for this series. They’ll continue making their way around the world for Book 3!
  • POPULAR SERIES: MISSIONS 1 and 2 received starred reviews, amazing blurbs, and tons of industry love. MISSION 1 was an Amazon Best Book of the Year! Dav Pilkey, Jennifer Holm, LeUyen Pham, and Gene Luen Yang are all big fans—check out those blurbs!
  • FUN AND SCIENTIFIC: The book incorporates STEM elements in a way that readers will find fun and entertaining, while teachers and librarians will find it clever and original.
  • PERFECT FOR BUDDING GRETA THUNBERGS: This book successfully talks about the effect of climate change and impels its readers to take action, without feeling didactic or message-y at all.
  • TIES TO REAL-WORLD ISSUES: Readers will recognize quite a few dilemmas the AstroNuts face from current events on Earth. Making connections between fiction and non-fiction is a big developmental milestone for young readers, and this book works as an effective allegory for our most dire contemporary concerns.
  • RELUCTANT READER–FRIENDLY: The book is a great vehicle for reluctant readers, featuring cool topics and bright art, and relying on visual literacy and very few words.
  • A CONSTELLATION OF TOPICS: Space, STEM, and talking animals: There’s something here for every reader!
  • LOLs FOR DAYS: The book is funny and will delight kids who love books like Wimpy Kid, The 39-Story Treehouse, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. While it contains serious ideas, it’s a quick, easy, and fun visual read.
  • GROUNDBREAKING DESIGN: The hundreds of pages of full-color art are dynamic and engaging—and it doesn’t look like anything else out there. Steven Weinberg bases his art on public domain pieces from the Smithsonian museum! Teachers turn to the books for this element of the art and use it in classrooms to talk about collage, idea sourcing, history, and art medium.
  • PERFECT ART PROJECT: On the website, kids can download pages of the “original” art and use it to make their own hybrid animal collages.

Teachers Guide with Teachers’ Tools & Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I (Kellee) created for Chronicle Books for Astro-Nuts Vol. 3:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Astro-Nuts Vol 3 on Chronicle’s page.

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The Beatryce Prophecy
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Publishing September 28th, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all–for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories–powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves–ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her–a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone–will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Candlewick Press for The Beatryce Prophecy:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Beatryce Prophecy on Candlewick’s page.

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