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The Lost Girl
Author: Anne Ursu
Published February 12th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: Sometimes you need to lose something in order to find yourself.

Beloved author John David Anderson returns with a heartwarming, heartbreaking and unforgettable story of the true power and limits of family.

    Ron Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jelly beans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always onstage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

    He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays, handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially since his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

    Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his funeral and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but fell that that’s not the end of the story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover.

    He doesn’t know how right he is.

About the Author:John David Anderson is the author of some of the most beloved and highly acclaimed books for kids in recent memory, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife and two frawsome kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s never eaten seven scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, but he thinks it sounds like a terrific idea. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

Praise: 

“Readers will be happily swept along by Rion’s first-person narration, which is often amusing, sometimes bemused, and occasionally even tender as he shows how his family was unwittingly drawn together by their shared experience. Anderson offers another original novel written with wit and compassion.” – Booklist

“Humor, plot twists, and quirky characters abound in this earnest middle grade tale of self-discovery.” – School Library Journal

“Eccentric yet believable characters and Rion’s perceptive narration prevent Anderson’s unpredictable tale from feeling overwrought as the relationships between three generations of fathers and sons are rewritten anew.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Review: The characters’ last name says it all: Kwirk. This book is full of quirks. I found the beginning so funny that I had to read it out loud to my son and husband while we were driving, and that was literally and figuratively just the beginning. I have read all but one of Anderson’s books, and reading Finding Orion reminded me again why I enjoy his writing so much: that Anderson does so brilliantly, when he tackles humor, is that he can combine a serious topic (death) with humor and it doesn’t seem far fetched or cheap. It seems perfect. 

The cast of characters, though over the top at times, added so much to the story. They are extravagant, a bit weird, and very entertaining. While Rion sometimes found himself just along for the ride, the other characters took the wheel and drove us through the story.

Another winning book for Anderson that I cannot wait to share with my students.

Educators’ Guide: 

Discussion Questions: 

  • When was a time that you felt like an outcast in your family?
  • What jelly bean flavor would you want to try? Would never try?
  • How did Papa Kwirk’s personality affect how different his son is?
  • Rion and his sisters are more alike than he wants to admit. Create only a comparison chart showing how they are alike with text evidence to support it.
  • How did the fun-neral change Rion’s perspective on his grandfather?
  • How did learning about the whole other life his grandfather have affect Rion?
  • What roles did the animals play in the story?
  • How is the author’s ability to create quirky characters change the trajectory of the story?

Flagged Passages: Read an excerpt here! It is the first few pages that had me actually laughing out loud while reading it.

Read This If You Love: The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman, Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina, Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard, Death and Douglas by JW Ockler, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

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Don’t miss out on the other stops in the blog tour!

Blog Tour May 6-14, 2019

May 6 Nerdy Book Club
May 7 Bluestocking Thinking
May 8 The Book Monsters
May 9 Maria’s Melange
May 13 This Kid Reviews Books
May 14 Kirsti Call

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

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The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Published: April 11, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review: This heart-warming, flirtatious, love-filled book will bring you a wave of nostalgia. From the sunny summer days to all of Molly’s firsts, Becky Albertalli’s story is sure to set your heart a-flutter. The main characters make up an interracial family with LGBTQ members and an amazing affinity for love and forgiveness. With every passing page, the characters grow a little more, figuring out how to live their own lives while still making time for each other. There can be no doubt for the reader that despite all the conflict, Molly and Cassie will survive their teenage years with their strong relationship intact. Albertalli’s firm grasp on young love makes this book sweet and fun, with twists and turns that will make you read until the last word. This is a must read for any young adults, parents of teens, teachers, or anyone who enjoys a quick, uplifting read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: The Upside of Unrequited can start a lot of amazing conversations in the classroom. One really important aspect of the story is the main character, Molly’s weight. She has felt her whole life as though she deserves the harsh words people send her way simply because of her weight. It could be very interesting to start a conversation with students about bullying and the effect it can have on people in the long run. Another important aspect of the story that can be brought up in the classroom is identity. In the novel, Molly self-identifies as fat. She doesn’t necessarily want to become skinnier or have people stop looking at her as fat, but she wishes that her weight didn’t matter. She adopts it as part of her identity and wants acceptance for it. It would be really beneficial to discuss identity and the specific positives and negatives that can stem from it.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did the first-person point of view do for the story?
  • Did you find the adult characters in this novel realistic?
  • What was important about the familial relationships in this novel?
  • What is the poignancy of the title?

We Flagged: “I think this is me letting go. Bit by bit. I think these are our tiny steps away from each other. Making not-quite-identical footprints in not-quite-opposite directions. And it’s the end of the world and the beginning of the world and we’re seventeen. And it’s an awesome thing.”

Read This If You Loved: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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Picture Us in the Light
Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert
Published: April 10, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember, and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Review: This book is filled to the brim with interesting plot points. While most novels would focus on one to two major things that are going on in a character’s life, this one has several. I found this to be both engaging and chaotic. Some of the time I felt that if Danny was a real person, he would simply explode during the course of events in the book. Danny was dealing with things well beyond what most people his age experience and manages to mostly keep it together despite. There are entire novels that deal with immigration, adoption, death of a loved one, suicide, sexual orientation, poverty, college preparedness, or love, but this one contains all of these ideas, among others. Though it felt like too much at times, this became one of the great aspects of the novel as well.

Throughout the story, Danny struggles with his morality at the same time as struggling with everything that life is dragging him through. Even though he is dealing with more than any human should have to, he still has time to feel the things that remind the reader that he is a person. So many of Danny’s feelings are perfectly reflective of what I and many others feel at points in life. The best part is that no matter who you are or what you have been through, you can connect with one of the topics addressed in this book. Gilbert’s inclusion of so many salient issues substantially increases the relatability.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many great things to talk about in the classroom in relation to this book. Although most reviews look at this novel as an exploration of sexuality, there are several other lenses with which to look through to spur great discussion. The issue that comes to mind first and foremost is immigration and the effect that it can have on a family and especially children in a family. Although Danny himself never went through the process of immigration, his parents did, and this has a huge effect on their family. Through the normal ups and downs of the life of a high schooler, Danny also discovers many things throughout the story that are connected to his family’s immigration and it only adds to his strife.

Many young students know little to nothing about the process of immigration—having never immigrated themselves—and Picture Us in the Light can do a lot to change that. It would be such a beneficial discussion to address the immigration experience that this family has and to even talk about the danger of a single story: that no family or persons story of immigration is exactly alike. It could also be interesting to teach this book alongside a classic tale of immigration such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There is a lot of material that can be taken from this book and I can see it being a very helpful tool in the classroom for discussing pertinent issues.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is this novel hypercritical of students dealing with the suicide of a peer?
  • Does this novel reaffirm too many stereotypes?
  • How does this novel do well in talking about the exploration of sexuality?
  • How does it do poorly?
  • Do you believe Danny was as immoral a person as he thought he was?
  • What do the second person, in-between chapter bits do for the story?

We Flagged: “But in that instant, the one where you saw that flash of recognition strike him like lightning, you felt what you came here to see if you’d feel: the same strike at the same time, an atomic pull you can’t explain.”

Read This If You Loved: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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In-Class Book Clubs are one of my favorite units that I do in my classes. They are my version of lit circles but with the only job of all students is to read, analyze, and discuss. These book clubs build community, stamina, and reading love in my classroom.

I’ve shared a few times about these in-class book clubs. First in April, 2018 where I went over the basic procedures of the book clubs and then in November, 2018 where I shared my students’ choices for this year’s clubs. Now, I am happy to share how this school year’s clubs went!

I did things a little bit differently this year. I had noticed that students were understanding the basics of the narrative and loving the reading but weren’t meeting the standards. I had to make sure to help guide their thinking but also I didn’t want to make the act of reading tedious. It is a slippery slope that I know I am always going to be reflecting about.

Because of this, I went with thought logs this year. A thought log was a strategy I was introduced to by my teacher friend Sarah Krajewski. Thought logs have four boxes for students to take notes while reading. My thought logs had two constant boxes: 1) Important details & 2) Conflict. Important details allowed them to just take notes on anything important that happened and the conflict box had them track the progress of the conflict. The other two boxes changed for each thought log: Confusion, Characters, Setting, My Feelings, Change, & Theme/Impact. Additionally, I added a bottom to my thought log that asked the students to come up with three open-ended discussion questions. Here’s our first thought log, so you can see an example:

Other than the new thought logs, everything else stayed the same: Students chose their books, I made their groups, we came up with class book club norms, they created their schedule, they met once a week, at the end of the unit I gave an individualized standards-focused assessment, and the kids LOVED it.

Well, everyone stayed the same until the end. At NCTE 2018, I went to one of Kelly Gallagher’s sessions and he shared a way he connects nonfiction and fiction when his students are reading novels: He has the students find nonfiction text features that connect to their novel. I decided to try this with my students, and I loved it!

As a book club, my students found two nonfiction elements (maps, graphs, images, etc.) that would help the reader of their book have their experience enhanced. They then said what page they would place the element and explain why it is important.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen

Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London by Elvira Woodruff

Reflection: I’m not completely sold on the Thought Logs yet. I don’t want to kill the joy of reading. Ever. But my job is to teach standards, too. Always a conflict within me, and we’ll see what I decide next year! I will say that I loved the nonfiction element, so I think that will stay. Until next year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Are Never Alone
Author: Elin Kelsey
Illustrator: Soyeon Kim
Published April 15th, 2019 by Owl Kids

Summary: You Are Never Alone is a picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature.

Drawing examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, it explores how we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it’s gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.

Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this informational picture book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas.

About the Creators:

Elin Kelsey, PhD, is an award-winning author and a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment. In 2014, she co-created #OceanOptimism, a Twitter campaign to crowd-source and share ocean conservation successes which has reached 90 million users to date. She frequently works on projects with the Monterey Bay AquariumStanford University and the University of Victoria and is passionate about engaging kids in hopeful, science-based, environmental solutions.

Soyeon Kim is a Toronto-based, Korean-born artist who specializes in fine sketching and painting techniques to create three-dimensional dioramas. She is a graduate of the Visual Arts and Education programs at York University.

Praise for Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim:

“Both important and breathtakingly beautiful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Never Alone

“The depth of the images and the surprising facts work together to create a lovely connection between the readers and the natural world.” –The Boston Globe on Wild Ideas

“Demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Stardust

“This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn. Profound and entirely wonderful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on Wild Ideas

Review: What a beautiful representation of how humans and nature intertwine with each other. Often, when we speak of our impact on our planet and the planet’s impact on us, we focus on very huge ideas that may seem so far away for kids, but You Are Never Alone shows the small things that have a large impact.

The mix of beautiful art and research-based science make for a picture book that covers such a wide range of opportunities for classroom discussions and educational activities including themes, poetic verse, science, and diorama art.

Educators’ Guide:  

Flagged Passages: 

Behind the Scenes: 

Soyeon talks about the process of creating the diorama artwork in the book.

Elin explains the scientific research behind three of the poetic lines in the book.

Read This If You Love: The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield; Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot; Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre; Over and Under Snow (and its companions) by Kate Messner

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Bat and the End of Everything (Bat #3)
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 26th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat) has been the caretaker for Thor, the best skunk kit in the world… but the last day of third grade is quickly approaching, and Thor is almost ready to be released into the wild.

The end of school also means that Bat has to say good-bye to his favorite teacher, and he worries about the summer care of Babycakes, their adorable class pet. Not only that, but his best friend is leaving for a long vacation in Canada.

Summer promises good things, too, like working with his mom at the vet clinic and hanging out with his sister, Janie. But Bat can’t help but feel that everything is coming to an end.

National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold returns with the third story starring an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet—a gorgeous mare named Rainbow—and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens, including Damsel a Michael Prinz Honor Book, and What Girls are Made of, a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

Praise for Previous Titles in the Series:

“Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.” -Kirkus Review, Bat #1

“A winsome blend of humor and heart, vibrant characters, and laugh-out-loud dialogue, Arnold’s narrative also gracefully explores life through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum.” -Booklist, Bat #2

Review: Bat is dealing with the school year ending and while everyone else is excited, Bat knows that the end of the school year means the end of his time with Thor, Babycakes, Mr. Grayson, and even his best friend for the summer. For a kid that struggles with change, this is a mighty big change that he is going to have to deal with (the book begins with 4 days until summer begins). A transitional period like this can be hard for any kid, and Bat’s struggles with these changes is one that many a kid will connect with.

And although Bat’s stories are primarily character-driven, Arnold does a great job giving Bat hiccups along the way to move along his story.

But do you know what my favorite thing is about Arnold’s writing in Bat? Her imagery. Bat is so in tune with his senses and Arnold does a great job writing about what Bat is hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting which allows readers to be drawn into Bat’s world and also help understand Bat’s point of view.

I am a pretty big fan of Bat’s books–I love their quiet strength and the compassion within the pages. And this book really is everything I wanted from the final book in the series. If you don’t listen to anything else I say in this review, just go pick up the first Bat book and sit down and get ready for a purely enjoyable read.

Educators’ Guide: 

 

Flagged Passages: Chapter One: An Offer

How do you say good-bye to a friend?

That’s what Bixby Alexander Tam (known to everyone as Bat) was thinking about, sitting with Babycakes, the class rabbit, in the pen at the back of Mr. Grayson’s class. It was the first Monday in June. In four days, the school year would end, and Bat would have to say good-bye.”

Chapter Two: A Perfect Plan

Soon the classroom was full of noise and color and smells and movement as Bat’s classmates poured inside.

Mei, who sat in the desk to the right of Bat’s, smelled like strawberries today.

‘You smell like strawberries,’ Bat said.

‘I got a new shampoo,’ Mei said, smiling. ‘Do you like it?’

‘Yes,’ said Bat.

‘Thank you,’ said Mei, which was a weird thing to do–to thank someone for liking something.

But Bat knew that what he’d said made Mei happy. ‘You’re welcome.’

All around him, kids were laughing and unzipping their backpacks and scraping back their chairs and tapping their pencils. It was the last week of school, after all. Everyone was excited.

Well, almost everyone. Bat was not excited.”

Read This If You Love: Rules by Cynthia Lord; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; The Categorical Universe of Candace McPhee by Barry Jonsberg; Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin; How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby; Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina; Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez; Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Don’t Miss the Other Blog Tour Stops! 

March 26             Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub

March 27             Kirsti Call @kirsticall

March 30             Read Now Sleep Later @frootjoos

April 1                   Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl

April 2                   The Book Monsters @thebookmonster

April 3                   Educate*Empower*Inspire…Teach @melissaguerrette

April 4                   Librarian’s Quest @loveofxena

April 5                   Novel Novice  @novelnovice

                                Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders

                                Lit Coach Lou @litcoachlou

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

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