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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins

Summary: In this picture book biography, the late New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and acclaimed artist Floyd Cooper take readers on an inspiring journey through the life of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

The story of one of America’s most revered figures is brought to life by the text of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers and the sweeping, lush illustrations of artist Floyd Cooper.

Review: We bought this book in 2017 when it first came out, and we read it again and again and again. My kids love to listen and learn about one of the most brilliant people to have ever lived. His story is incredibly inspiring. Even as a young boy, Douglass defied the world and never took no as an answer. The details of his story within this book show children (and adults) that they must push for what is right and commit to changing the world for the better. This book belongs in every classroom (and not just relegated to the classroom library). It should be shared collectively and purposefully with kids.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are endless uses for this book. One suggestion is that it could serve as a read-aloud and close reading at the start of a research or biography unit. Kids might look at the use of pictures and the pacing of the story to write their own nonfiction picture book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Douglass regularly display strength and resolve throughout his life?
  • How is the book paced to reveal key moments of Douglass’ life?
  • What other famous figures related to issues of equity showed this kind of resolve? How do their stories connect to Douglass’ story?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Schomburg: The Man Who Built the Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, 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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This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Review: This is a book that will stick with me forever. The characters are powerfully written, and the plot unfolds itself beautifully. It tackles complex themes that offer excellent fodder for classroom discussion. Some of these include implicit and explicit racism, the ripple effects of White supremacy and racism, White privilege, and injustices in the judicial system. I could go on. This book is truly exceptional, and I envision it winning some big awards this year. There is so much to unpack and so much to admire in Johnson’s writing. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you buy no other book this summer, buy this one. It will make you think deeply about equity and justice.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I highlighted so many passages of this book while I was reading it. There are so many sections that would make phenomenal close readings in the classroom. I highly recommend pairing this text with portions or all of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the injustices in this text?; How can we, as a society, work to change these injustices?; How do the injustices have a ripple effect on other characters?; How does Johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?

Flagged Passage: “Corinne never held that memory [of Daddy getting arrested], but I know she feels it in everything we breathe. It’s in the polite nods across the street we have to make, the way our family turns down our music when there are others around. Say yes ma’am and no sir. Leave our jackets and backpacks in the car when we go shopping.

It’s in the way I carry myself that tells our story now. I can’t risk being accused of anything. Because if something goes wrong or missing, I know it’s in the back of someone’s mind that maybe I had something to do with it. And it’s in the way that the voice of the strongest woman I know stumbles when saying, ‘Hello, Officer’ as she walks through the visitation gates to see Daddy.”

Read This If You Loved: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; 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;

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We’re excited to share Camp Candlewick, a new online reading program! Over the course of twelve weeks, young people of all ages will be encouraged to take part in shared reads, activities, and virtual events with prominent creators.

Via website content (at https://stayhome.candlewick.com/) and email newsletters as well as robust support resources on sites such as Pinterest, “campers” will be alerted to reading suggestions, prompts, and activities for the “cabins” appropriate for their age.

Here are the four cabins! Each are hyperlinked to take you to the cabin’s Pinterest board:

From the press release: The idea for the summer camp grew out of the success of the publisher’s Stay Home with Candlewick Press initiative, which has provided resources and support to families during the transition to remote learning. “We realized that families might feel even more in need of diversion over the summer, when the school year has ended and many camps will be closed,” said Kathleen Rourke, executive director of educational library sales and marketing at Candlewick.

“Preventing the loss of skills is more critical than ever this year,” Rourke said. “We hope that these 12 weeks of activities will provide connection and enrichment when young readers need it most.”

We look forward to our sons taking part in Camp Candlewick as well as sharing the opportunity with our students!

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The Refuge
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator:  Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”

Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.

At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.

Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.

Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages. 

Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
  • How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
  • What did you learn about refugees?
  • Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
  • How do the illustrations and writing work together?
  • What creative techniques does the author use?
  • What creative techniques does the illustrator use?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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**Thank you, Barbara at Blue Slip Media, for providing copies for review!**

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Abby in Oz
Whatever After #13.5 (Special Edition #2)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published April 7th, 2020 by Scholastic
(Series debuted May 1st, 2012)

Series Summary: Siblings Abby and Jonah have a magic mirror that leads them into different fairy tales, from Snow White to Rapunzel to the Little Mermaid. In each fairy tale, Abby and Jonah accidentally mess up the story — and hilarity and hijinks ensue!

Abby in Oz Summary: In this second Special Edition of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series, Abby and her friends enter the magical Land of Oz . . . with hilarious and empowering results!

Follow the yellow brick road . . . I’m with my best friends Robin and Frankie (and my sometimes friend, Penny) when a TORNADO scoops us up and whisks us away. As soon as we land, I can tell we’re not in Smithville anymore — we’ve been transported into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

We’re excited to meet Dorothy and Toto . . . but the story isn’t going as planned. The Wicked Witch of the East locks us in her dungeon, so we have no way of getting the magic slippers that will take Dorothy home. Plus, the Emerald City is under attack, and the Wizard himself may be in danger!

Now we have to:
– Befriend the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow
– Flee the flying monkeys
– Learn to steer a hot-air balloon
– Find the courage, heart, and smarts to save the day

. . . or we’ll never escape — and everyone knows there’s no place like home!

Praise for Abby in Oz:

“Hilarious…with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power.” –Booklist

“My daughter loved the young, sassy girl on the cover and I loved the premise of the book…The best part is that they mess up the story and the lead female character has to learn how to stand on her own. The feminist in me adored it, and the mother in me loved how my daughter would long to cuddle in close as we read together.” –The Washington Post

“An uproariously funny read.” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Sarah Mlynowski is the New York Times bestselling author of the Whatever After series, the Magic in Manhattan series, Gimme a Call, and a bunch of other books for tweens and teens, including the Upside-Down Magic series, which she is cowriting with Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. Originally from Montreal, Sarah now lives in the kingdom of Manhattan with her very own prince charming and their fairy-tale-loving daughters.

Review of Abby of OzI am a huge fan of this series. I already love fairy tale retellings, but this is such a unique way of telling them, and I love how each are different and do not follow a predictable pattern. 

This newest installment is a special edition of the series and is a bit different. While Abby and Jonah normally go through a magic mirror, the special editions find Abby and her friends entering books because an evil fairy is trying to trap Abby in the story. The addition of Abby’s friends’ personalities definitely makes for an interesting story and more conflict throughout the book.

Lastly, I could not review any book in this series without celebrating the audiobooks–they are phenomenal!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (series): Immediately, when reading this series, I thought of a creative writing activity for students to take part in and would be a great introduction to the series: Have students take parts of fairy tales that they feel are wrong, unjust, dated, they didn’t like, or even something that would be fun to change; come up with a plan on how they would fix it if they were in the fairy tale; and have them rewrite the fairy tale.

Then, I would read parts of some of the books out loud where Abby does just that: she changes fairy tales for the better! (Even if it is a bit of a mess along the way…)

Discussion Questions (series): 

  • What did Abby change in the fairy tale/story? Do you think this is a good change or not? Explain.
  • What did Abby do to make the change happen?
  • Do you think it is okay ethically for Abby/Jonah/Abby’s friends to change things in the story?
  • Do you think Abby would be as successful as she is without the help of Jonah/her friends?
  • Why do you think the magic mirror allows Abby and Jonah to go through the mirror?
  • What fairy tale would you want to go into if you were being transported into one? What would you want to change? Make sure stays the same?

Flagged Passages: Visit the Scholastic website for the series to view the series trailer. I also highly recommend listening to an audiobook sample!

Read This If You Love: Fairy Tale Retellings

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When quarantining became a reality for many of us in March, we were both looking for activities that would help keep our kids busy but also interacting with other kids. Ricki then came up with the idea of doing virtual book clubs, and Kellee was all in!

Trent & Henry’s Two Book Clubs

  • Trent and Henry, Ricki’s oldest, both were really interested in reading the Bad Guys books, so we started a chat with just the two of them. This is the first virtual book club that both kids had been in and was a great way to help them understand how to discuss books with a peer. So far they have read four of the Bad Guy books and have had a blast discussing everything from illustrations, to motive, and predictions.
  • As of this week, we are going to pause on the Bad Guys books and are moving ahead with some partner reading with some of the boys’ favorite picture books!

  • Ricki put out a call on Facebook for anyone interested in doing a Kindergarten-ish book club, and many jumped in! The kids range from age 4 to 9, and we find the mixed age group is really working! The club voted on the first book to read, and we started with Sideways Story from Wayside School by Louis Sachar and then we moved to Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz.

 

Trent’s Other Book Club

 

  • Trent also is part of a book club with one of Kellee’s colleague’s daughters. With this book club, Trent and Gabby started with picture books (The Hat Trilogy by Jon Klassen, The Questioneers by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts, and Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff). Next up are the Questioneers chapter books.

Ben’s Book Club

  • Ricki’s three-year-old Ben is also in a book club using Juana Medina’s Juana & Lucas. Admittedly, this book club has been trickier because the kids are ages 3 to 4. They have had great questions like, “Do you like to chew gum, too?” and are connecting with the book, but their attention span usually lasts between 5 to 10 minutes. They are also incredibly shy and have difficulty volunteering questions. Either way, it is still great to see the kids connect with each other.

The Clubs

For the larger club, Ricki sets up a Zoom meeting and leads the meeting. She ensures everyone gets to ask their questions and that everyone’s voice is heard.

The questions that kids come up with, even at age 6, are intuitive and deep!

  • Examples:
    • Bad Guys #1: Why do you think the kitty doesn’t talk but the other animals do?
    • Bad Guys #1: Why do you think those words on page 7 look like that?
    • Bad Guys #2: Do you think they would have made it without Legs helpiing them?
    • Bad Guys #3: Why did they think the ninja was a boy (she is a girl!)?
    • Wayside: Do you think it’s fair that Todd always gets in trouble?
    • Wayside: Joy’s name sounds like she should be good, but she keeps calling people dumb and stupid which isn’t good. Do you like her?
    • Unicorn: Why do you think Professor Fauna is hunting the unicorns?
    • Unicorn: Do you think the animal got tangled in the ribbon because it was a trap, or do you think it was something else?
    • Unicorn: Do you think Professor knows about the animal Elliot and Uchenna found? Do you think they will see it again?

With Trent’s book club with Kellee’s colleague, she used the teaching guides to drive the conversation (Hat Trilogy, Questioneers, Lights! Camera! Alice!), and she found that teaching guides are perfect for this as well. And their insight was wonderful!

With the smaller clubs, we use FaceTime. We’re still there while they are chatting, but it is easier for the two to chat back and forth.

Usually the club meeting lasts 20-30 minutes which is about how long they can stay on topic and discuss a book, but we think that is pretty great for kindergarten-ish kids.

We always end with “friend questions.” Kids are invited to ask their (new) friends questions about their lives. They tend to ask each other about their favorites (foods, colors, movies, books, sports teams, universities).

The book clubs have been such a highlight for our kids. They look forward to it each week! They love sharing the reading experience with others, specifically now when interaction with other kids is so limited.

An unexpected highlight: they’ve made some good friends. Henry and Trent have never chatted for more than a minute or two and last saw each other when they were babies, so it has been wonderful to see them bond these last few weeks!

We highly recommend virtual book clubs! Let us know if your kids have taken part in any virtual clubs!

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I Like Animals…What Jobs Are There?
Author: Steve Martin
Illustrator: Roberto Blefari
Published March 1st, 2020 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: What do you want to do when you grow up? Children who love animals can find out all about potential future careers, from veterinarian to zookeeper to pet portrait artist, as they’re taken through a “day in the life” of 25 different animal workers.

Praise: 

Review: This book was written for so many kids out there! If any of you are librarians or teachers, you know how popular nonfiction animal books are. There are so few kids out there that don’t love animals! My son is one of those kids that adores animals and already says that he wants to be a zoologist and work with turtles, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to get it for him. What I love about the book (and the series I hope it is!) is that it gives options that kids may not know they have. Trent’s first thought for working with animals is working at a zoo, but there is so much more than that which he can choose from.

Each job’s section is really well done! It is written in first person from the point of view of the professional and includes fun yet truthful information, including the best and worst parts. Then, in the back, there is a flow map that helps kids see which job might be their perfect match, and there’s even back matter with more jobs. What a way to open up a kid’s imagination for the future!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My first thought was that this book could be an awesome mentor text for creating a similar type pamphlet. Students could pick something like sports, technology, children, etc. and make a pamphlet about what jobs are out there. This would be a great research project.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Before reading: What jobs do you know of that include working with animals?; After reading: Add to the list.
  • Which job do you think would work the best with your personality and work ethic?
  • Any jobs that you are interested in that weren’t in the book?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write each section in 1st person?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Compare/contrast two of the jobs in the book.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals

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**Thank you to Lynn at Kane Miller for providing a copy for review!**

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