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Nerdy Birdy
Author: Aaron Reynolds; Illustrator: Matt Davies
Published September 22, 2015 by Roaring Brook Press

GoodReads Summary: Nerdy Birdy likes reading, video games, and reading about video games, which immediately disqualifies him for membership in the cool crowd.

One thing is clear: being a nerdy birdy is a lonely lifestyle.

When he’s at his lowest point, Nerdy Birdy meets a flock just like him. He has friends and discovers that there are far more nerdy birdies than cool birdies in the sky.

Ricki’s Review: I absolutely adored this book. I don’t usually review books that are more than a year old, but my love for this book, compelled me to write a review. The book is about a nerdy bird whose physical appearance makes him feel lonely. He meets other birds who share his physical appearance, and he finds comfort in this. But then a very, very different bird comes along (a vulture), and Nerdy Birdy is forced to consider his values and whether or not the nerdy bird club might be just as exclusive themselves. This book provided an avenue for an excellent discussion with my son. We talked about his class and about how some of his peers might feel left out. I’d love to use this book in an elementary school classroom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great book to read on the first day of school or at a time when students are leaving one or some students left out. It provides a great opportunity for critical discussions of cliques.

Discussion Questions: Why does Nerdy Birdy feel left out? How does he find solace in other birds that look like him?; How does the vulture differ from him? What does this teach him about friendship, groups, and personal appearances?

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Image from: https://us.macmillan.com/nerdybirdy/aaronreynolds/9781626721272/

Read This If You Loved: Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt; Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob SheaThe Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield

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The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street
Author: Lindsay Currie
Published October 10th, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: A girl unravels a centuries-old mystery after moving into a haunted house in this deliciously suspenseful mystery.

Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones.

When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. A secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years.

With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!

Review: I always go in tentatively to spooky books because I am so jumpy and also really don’t enjoy when the only point of a book is to scare the reader. But I could tell right away that Shady Street was going to completely exceed other just-scary books because it was about so much more. Sure, there was definitely a shady mystery and some really scary moments, but it was all entwined with a story about friendship, family, identity, and moving. Lindsay Currie did a perfect job balancing the two goals of the book: to scare the reader and to make the reader care so much about her characters.

In addition to the plot development being on point, Shady Street‘s characters were each were fully-developed to give every reader someone to connect with. I also liked how Currie included actual Chicago folklore and landmarks to enhance the story (and as a girl who lives in Florida and loves Chicago, I loved the Florida truths throughout also). Check out Currie’s website for behind the scenes info, and here’s a video of Lindsay Currie on a walking tour through Graceland cemetery, one of the settings of the book:

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students are going to love this story because it is a perfect mix of ghost story and coming-of-age story, so classroom, school, and public libraries all definitely need to have a copy–once one students reads it, the word is going to get out, and it’ll never be on the shelf!

In the classroom, using Lindsay Currie’s website and video, Shady Street is a good example of author’s decision-making, how the setting of a story can impact the plot, and how an author uses the setting to affect the mood.

Book Trailer: 

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would the story have been different if Tessa had not gone to the pond the first time?
  • Why do you think Inez chose Tessa?
  • Did the story end how you thought it was going to?
  • How did the author use the setting to affect the mood of the story? The plot?
  • Which character do you connect with the most? Explain.
  • What caused Inez to act the way she did?
  • Similar to what Tessa did at the end for Inez, create a name plate for yourself with illustrations that identify you.
  • Explain the act of condensation.

Flagged Passages: “The door clicks shut behind her, and I grab a pair of jeans off the chair I slung them over last night. My sketchpad is open just slightly and I stop in my tracks, confused at the small blur I can see in the upper left-hand corner of the sheet. It’s grayish black, like I started something then just barely ran the bad of my thumb over it.

‘What in the–‘ I start, bending closer to the page.

I didn’t draw anything last night. I was so tired from carrying boxes all over this ginormous place that I crawled into bed without even brushing my teeth.

I stare at the mark. It’s small and shaped like an upside-down L. Lifting the book and giving the paper a tap, I watch asn the unwelcome spot becomes dust again and drifts into the air. There will still be a darkened area there, but I’ll camouflage it with shading later. Still. There’s something about the mark that bothers me. Something off.”

Read This If You Love: Mary Downing Hahn novels, The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, Ghostlight by Sonia GenslerDoll Bones by Holly Black, The Seer of Shadows by Avi

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**Thank you to Lindsay Currie for providing a copy of the book for review!**

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It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Anticipated Publication: September 19, 2017 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: A fresh take on a young Jack who is not keen on climbing any beanstalks and would much prefer to tell his own story.

Ricki’s Review: This book is hysterical. My four-year-old and I love reading it. (I am not entirely sure he understands that it is a fairy tale retelling, but he still adores it.) Every night, it is the first book he picks to read together. The book has an unnamed narrator who insists on telling the traditional “Jack and the Beanstalk” story. Jack has other plans, though. He and the giant decide that they don’t want to follow the traditions of the story. As you can see below in the flagged spread, Jack pushes back on the tale. I laugh every time I read this. My favorite part is the appears of Cindy (Cinderella), who invites Jack to her ball. Josh Funk is an incredible author, and I will read anything that he writes. This is a fantastic book for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Kellee’s Review: Trent loves the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They must read it at his school because he knew the whole story, and I think it is hilarious that he argues with me about what is happening in the book. We’ve talked about how this is a different Jack story but he, like the narrator, just really wants Jack to do what he is supposed to. I love the way that Josh Funk has broken the 4th wall and has the narrator talk to the characters; it is such a unique way to twist the fairy tale and makes it so hilarious. I look forward to reading this to Trent and students for many years.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Most obviously, this book would be great to kick off a unit on writing fairy tale retellings. It teaches students to break the mold and repurpose stories to add humor and intrigue. It would also be fun to pair this story with other fairy tale retellings to ask students: What did the authors do to revision the stories? How are they successful?

Check out a book trailer, collector’s cards, and more at https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/stuff-for-kids

Discussion Questions: How does Jack break our expectations?; How are Jack and the Giant different from the narrator? Who did you find yourself rooting for?; How does the author add humor to the story?; How is the text structured to help the reader follow both the narrator and Jack?; What other fairy tales could you retell?

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Giveaway:

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Read This If You Loved: Dear Dragon by Josh Funk; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

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About the Author and Illustrator:

Like Jack, Josh Funk loves telling his own stories. He is the author of the popular picture books Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and itssequel, The Case of the Stinky Stench, illustrated by Brendan Kearney; Dear Dragon, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo; and the upcoming How to Code a Sandcastle illustrated by Sara Palacios in partnership with Girls Who Code. Josh lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com, and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.
Edwardian Taylor currently works as a visual development artist and character designer for TV and animation feature film. His work can also be seen in mobile games, films, and commercials. He is the illustrator of the picture book Race!, written by Sue Fliess. Edwardian lives in Texas with his partner, their three dogs, and seven chickens. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @edwardiantaylor.

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**Special Thanks to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for Providing Copies to Review*

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Things That Surprise You
Author: Jennifer Maschari
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?

Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.

About the Author: Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE and THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, visit http://jenmaschari.com/.

Review: Things that Surprise You is a perfect starting middle school book because it really shows the truth of how that transition is a turning point in kids’ lives. As a middle school teacher, I see students all start coming into their own or getting pushed by peer pressure to be something they’re not. It is such a tough time in a kids’ life; a book like this will surely make them feel less alone during the turbulent time.

There are other two minor plot lines/characters that I felt were really well done. First, I think the inclusion of Emily’s sister’s eating disorder was done tastefully and was not added in just to make the book an issues book. Although this story didn’t take center stage, it was dealt with in a way that was respectful yet also brought light to anorexia. The struggles that Emily’s sister, family, and Emily face during this time is realistic because so many middle schoolers are facing adversity at home and when starting middle school.  I also really enjoyed Emily’s teacher. I think her ability to make students feel like her classroom is a home for them and that she is there for them was honorable, and I hope that I can be just a tiny bit like her.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: curriculum guide has been created by the publisher that includes discussion questions and activities that meet Common Core standards.

Discussion Questions: What do you think surprised Emily the most about middle school and was the most impactful?; What is the theme of this book? What is the author trying to tell us about middle school?; Do you have a book series that you love as much as Emily loves her unicorn books? What series is it? Why do you love it?; What do you think was the hardest for Emily in middle school?; Hazel changed a lot throughout the book. How would you compare/contrast Hazel from the beginning to the end of the book?; Mina’s eating disorder is one of the main conflicts of the book. Do you feel hopeful about Mina going forward?

Flagged Passages: “While Hazel and I wait, we bench dance to the music from the jukebox. It’s a lot like car dancing but a little more restrained since you’re in public and everything. She does the squid, a move she made up where you wiggle your arms on either side of your body. I do the turtle, where you bob your head forward and backward. Hazel’s snort-laughing and I practically have tears coming out of my eyes, when I hear a noise behind me. Hazel stops dancing. I turn my head to look, but not so fast that I miss Hazel taking the purple horn off her head and hiding it below the table. I blink once and then again Confused.

‘Hazel!’ the voice cried but it sound like ‘Heyyyyzel’ the way she draws it out.

Three girls wearing the same field hockey shirt Hazel was before crowd around the booth.” (p. 18-19)

Read This If You Love: The Real Us by Tommy GreenwaldHundred Percent by Karen Romano YoungTruth or Dare by Barbara DeeStill a Work in Progress by Jo KnowlesThe Secret Hum of Daisy by Tracy HolczerGeorgia Rules by Nanci Turner Stevenson, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

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One lucky winner will receive a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU (U.S. addresses).

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

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Giant Pumpkin Suite
Author: Melanie Heuiser Hill
Published September 12th, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Who are you, if you can’t be what you always expected? A moving coming-of-age tale of prodigy and community, unlikely friendship and growing things.

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

Review: I must be honest as I start this review. I love the cello. I started playing at 11, went to a music school of choice in high school, and minored in music in college. And I believe that the Bach Cello Suites are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in existence. All of these facts may have made me a bit biased when it came to Giant Pumpkin Suite.

Rose is one special young lady. She is a prodigy of the cello and academics. She is taking college courses and has skipped grades and is in high school at age 12. And at the beginning of the book because of all of these things, she has lost what it is like to be a child. The only child-like thing she does in the first 50 pages or so is read Charlotte’s Web, which is her favorite book. Everything else in her life is structured and serious. But then something happens and everything changes. This is where the pumpkin comes in.

Rose truly transforms in this novel in a way that is believable yet amazing. The girl at the end of the novel seems so far away from the young lady you meet at the beginning, but as a reader, I loved the transformation. Rose is one amazing character who really finds who she is because of all the people in her world who truly do care for her.

Speaking of the other people, I loved the supporting cast in the novel. Hill did a great job making sure every character in the novel had their own personality and story and each played such an important part. I felt like I was part of the neighborhood by the time I was done with the book. And it isn’t only Rose that grows throughout the book. I loved seeing how Thomas, Jane, and other characters really found themselves throughout the book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am interested to hear what students think of this book! I had it in my book speed dating in my classroom, and students seemed to love the cover and synopsis. I personally think that fans of the books listed below are going to love Rose’s story, so please put this book in your libraries 🙂

Discussion Questions: How did Rose change from the beginning to the end of the book?; Who do you think made the biggest impact on Rose?; How did the pumpkin affect the whole neighborhood?; Why did the bowl from Japan mean so much to Rose?; How do you think the story would have been different if the accident didn’t happen?

Flagged Passages: From Chapter 1:

“It was all so clever. Bach was a musical genius, but he didn’t even stop with beautiful music. He had all these jokes and numerical riddles running in the notes — forward, backward, and upside down, sometimes. Two of her favorite things in one package: math and music! Oh, how she loved Bach.”

“At age twelve (and two weeks and three days), Rose was almost a foot and a half taller and four grades ahead of her twin. Thomas had been sick a lot in first grade and had been held back, while she’d skipped a grade a couple of times and had started high school this past fall. She was left-handed; Thomas was right-handed. She loved to read; Thomas hated it. She went to university for math, but Thomas had never passed his multiplication tables. Nearly everyone had forgotten they were twins. Except Mr. Pickering, who seldom mentioned it. And Calamity Jane. Who mentioned it all the time.”

Read This If You Love: Vanished by James Ponti, The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood, Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Audition and Subtraction by Amy Fellner Dominy, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

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Gamer Squad #1: Attack of the Not-So-Virtual Monsters
Author: Kim Harrington
Published August 1st, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: What happens when your cool virtual-reality game . . . becomes REAL? Pokemon GO meets The Goonies in this action-packed middle-grade series.

Monsters Unleashed–where you catch virtual-reality monsters on your cellphone–is one of the hottest mobile games around, and Bex and Charlie just can’t stop playing. They even check out an old map in Charlie’s grandfather’s attic in hopes of discovering some forgotten places in town where the rarest monsters might hide. But they find a strange machine up there too, and after Charlie switches it on, the WiFi goes down . . . and Bex’s entire catalog of monsters vanishes! And that’s not the worst of it: all the creatures she’s collected on her phone escape into the real world. Can the friends nab the beasts before they become monster lunch?

Author Bio: Kim Harrington is the author of ClarityPerceptionThe Dead and Buried, and Forget Me for teens and the Sleuth or Dare and Gamer Squad series for kids. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. When not writing, she’s most likely reading, watching one of her favorite TV shows, or fantasizing about her next vacation. She can be found on Twitter (@Kim_Harrington), Instagram (@KimHarringtonAuthor) and on her website: www.kimharringtonbooks.com.

Don’t miss out on our Interview with the Author, Kim Harrington!!

Review: Kim Harrington’s new series combining video games, science fiction, and adventure is going to be a huge hit with middle grade readers! The first book is a quick, fun read which you cannot put down. Monsters Unleashed, I believe purposefully, is like Pokemon Go! in that the players walk around town looking for monsters to catch, but what would happen if one person’s caught monsters escaped?!?! That was happens with Bex and Charlie, and now it is up to them to figure out how to save their town. This is when it gets unique and crazy! How are they going to get all of the monsters? They are clever 🙂

I cannot wait to read the rest of the series! I cannot wait to see what Bex and Charlie do next!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I can promise that this is a must buy for middle grade classroom and school libraries. Students are going to love these!

Discussion Questions: How does Bex and Charlie overcome their monster obstacles? What different strategies do they use?; What type of people are Bex and Charlie? Do you think that plays a part in them being able to be successful?; Do you think Charlie did the right thing when it came to his brother?; How is Monsters Unleashed and Pokemon Go alike? Different?; What characters surprised you with their interest in Monsters Unleashed? What does that teach you?

Flagged Passages: “The monster emerged from behind a tree. It was covered in fur, like a wolf, but also had two long, sharp fangs poking out of its mouth, and glowing red eyes. The VampWolf was the perfect combination of horrifying and terrifying. It was torrifying. I didn’t even care that wasn’t a word. I was so scared, I needed a new word.

‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ I asked Charlie.

‘If you’re seeing an actual VampWolf walking toward us, then yes.’

‘How can this be happening?’ I looked down at my phone. The Monsters Unleashed app wasn’t even open. I wasn’t looking through the screen. The monster was really there, in the middle of the street.

This wasn’t a game. The VampWolf was right there in front of us on the street.” p. 26-27

Read This If You Love: Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, Frenzy by Robert Lettrick, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang, Frank Einstein by Jon Sciezska, Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

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**Thank you to Ardi at Sterling Publishing for providing a copy for review!!**

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Tinyville Town Series
Author & Illustrator: Brian Biggs
Published by Appleseed, an Abrams Imprint starting in 2016

Brian Biggs describes the series as Sesame Street meets Fisher Price. 

I say it is Richard Scarry meets Mr. Rogers and Thomas the Train (but there are no talking trains).

There will be at least 8 books. 

Though hopefully more because I want one about every member of the town!

There are two kinds of books in the series: 

Board books about individual members of the society

Large-format picture books about how the whole town comes together. 

This set up is perfect because when you read the picture book, you can find all of the members of the board books in the picture book. They become friends that you recognize like a search-and-find within the story.

In the classroom, Tinyville Town would fit perfectly with Junior Achievement and early-ed social studies as students learn about jobs and communities.

Parents, your kids will love these books! It is a perfect combination of everything kids and adults want in picture books.

For more information:
Here’s an interview with Brian Biggs about Tinyville Town
Here’s Brian Biggs’s Blog Post about Tinyville Town

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