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Super Powers!: A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions, and Wonderful Ways to See Just How Super You Already Are
Author: M.H. Clark
Illustrator: Michael Byers
Published 2017 by Compendium, Inc.

Summary: Calling on all kids to turn on their superpowers! A great big collection of awesome activities and quirky questions, this book offers tons of wonderful ways for kids to discover what really interests them, what makes them unique, and what makes them so amazing just the way they are. With invitations to declare a superhero name, create a superhero tool kit, and even write their own superhero legend, this book will light up the imagination of young kids and open up their minds to big possibilities.

Kellee’s Review: Compendium Inc.’s tagline is “Live Inspired,” and I really do feel like every book I read from them embodies this. This new title from them that we received helps us look more closely at all the different ways we are awesome. Throughout the book, the reader gets to answer questions, draw, and imagine to help make a superpower profile. I think the questions really make the reader think about different aspects of their life and how things that they don’t normally consider super are just that. Then after picking what their superpower is, they get to expand and imagine and be creative! It is truly a fun and inspiring interactive picture book! I cannot wait to complete this book with Trent as well—it is so special!

Ricki’s Review: I absolutely love this book! My son and I work on a different page each night, and we’ve had so much fun. He’s four, and the book is a bit above his reading level, but we are going to go back and continue to fill the pages as he learns and grows. Each page takes a closer look at his personality and others’ perceptions of him. It really boosts his confidence level about his positive characteristics and skills. Below, I post a picture of one of the pages we worked on:

This page asked him to circle the words that he felt described him. He circled all of the words except fierce. He was also instructed to write words not listed. He decided that he should write down that he is a good brother (which is very true). I am going to purchase a second copy of this book for his brother, who is younger. It is a great learning experience!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Superpowers! takes the reader through a complete prewriting activity for a creative story! Instead of having students answer for themselves, teachers might ask them use the questions and activities to plan their main character. Another option is to have students complete the books with consideration of a protagonist that they just read. Both of these activities make the reader/writer look more in depth at the characters, emotionally and physically.

One thing, as a teacher, that we really like about this book is that it can be used in so many different ways for so many different types of students.

Discussion Questions: This book is a big discussion question! 🙂

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery,  Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt, Interactive picture books

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**Thank you to Moira at Compendium for providing copies for review!!**

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the  protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.

The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?

We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’

‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’

‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’

‘Yes, the world as you see it!’

‘I saved you from that evil woman!’

‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).

Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Ellie Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Published January 16th, 2018 by Bloomsbury USA

Summary: Ellie loves to build. She’s always engineering new creations with the help of her imagination and her best friend Kit. Unfortunately, with Kit’s birthday just around the corner, the French-braiding machine Ellie built turns out to be more of a hair-knotting machine. What’s Ellie going to do? Luckily, the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about Kit’s surprise – it must be the dog she’s always wanted! Ellie is struck with inspiration: she’ll build Kit the best doghouse ever! The project quickly becomes more than just a present for Kit – it builds a bridge between Ellie and those bothersome neighbor boys, as well as the other handy girls in her class.

Designed to look like Ellie’s notepad, with pencil-on-graph-paper illustrations of her projects interspersed throughout the book, Ellie, Engineer inspires creative and crafty girls to get hands-on with their imagination. Ellie’s projects range from the simple (using a glass against a wall to amplify sounds), to the practical (the doghouse), to the fantastical (a bedroom security system featuring spikes) – encouraging readers to start small but think big. Ellie’s parents support her engineering experiments, with important safety tips sprinkled throughout, and her relationship with Kit is a glowing example of positive female friendship. They share their hobbies – Ellie likes to get her hands dirty, while Kit prefers ballet – reminding readers that there’s no wrong way to be a girl. Ellie’s hand-drawn tool guide at the end explains basic tools in accessible terms, rounding out this fun and funny adventure, and giving girls everything they need to be their own Ellie!

About the Author: Jackson Pearce lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of a series of teen retold fairy-tales, including Sisters RedSweetlyFathomless, and Cold Spell, as well as two stand-alones, As You Wish and Purity. As J. Nelle Patrick, she is the author of Tsarina. In addition to The Doublecross and The Inside Job, her middle grade novels include Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, co-written with Maggie Stiefvater. Visit her at www.jacksonpearce.com and @JacksonPearce (Twitter and Instagram).

ReviewI so often hear stories from women my age that share that they loved science or nature or math when they were younger but that they were steered away from that those interests in little ways that they don’t even remember, but they do remember just not loving science anymore. This is exactly the scenario that has raised awareness in the need for STEM or STEAM books, programs, and role models for young girls. Ellie Bell is a perfect girl for this mission! Ellie wants to be an engineer when she grows up and even has her own workshop where her parents give her free reign to work on projects (with the safer tools–power tools require supervision). Pearce has even set up Ellie Engineer to include drawings and plans for Ellie’s projects to show readers how Ellie goes from an idea to a project. And Ellie’s story is one that all readers will connect with as well, so it is a win-win in narrative and STEM!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Books like Ellie need to first be found more in classrooms and libraries. That is step one! After that, I think that using Ellie’s process for keeping track of her projects and how she brainstorms and plans could be an amazing exemplar for a classroom of students who are embarking on project-based learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of Ellie’s projects would you build?
  • How has the way Ellie’s parents parented helped Ellie become the engineer she is?
  • How did Ellie’s assumptions about the boys in her neighborhood stop her from seeing their real personalities?
  • What does Toby teach us in the story? The Presidents? Kit?
  • Compare and contrast Kit’s mom and Ellie’s mom.

Flagged Passages: 

Ellie’s plan for building her friend a dog house:

Read This If You Love: Ellie Ultra by Gina Bellisario; Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina; Bea Garcia by Deborah Zemke; Cody and the Fountain of Happiness and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe by Tricia Springstubb; Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins; The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills;Lola series by Christine Pakkala; Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Here’s Hank series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Bramble and Maggie series by Jessie HaasFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo; Eleanor series by Julie Sternberg

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters and to Bloomsbury for providing a copy for review!**

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What Do You Do with a Chance?
Author: Kobi Yamada
Illustrator: Mae Besom
Published: July 1, 2016 by Compendium Inc.

Summary: The award–winning creators of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea?and What Do You Do With a Problem? return with a captivating story about a child who isn’t sure what to make of a chance encounter and then discovers that when you have courage, take chances, and say yes to new experiences, amazing things can happen.

In this story, a child is visited by his first chance and unsure what to do with it, he lets it go. Later on, when a new chance arrives he reaches for it, but this time he misses and falls. Embarrassed and afraid, he begins ignoring each new chance that comes by, even though he still wants to take them. Then one day he realizes that he doesn’t need to be brave all the time, just at the right time, to find out what amazing things can happen when he takes a chance.

The final addition to the award-winning What Do You Do With…? picture book series created by New York Times best selling author Kobi Yamada and illustrator by Mae Besom, What Do You Do With a Chance? inspires kids of all ages and parents alike to find the courage to go for the opportunities that come their way. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.

Ricki’s Review: There is something absolutely magical about these books. This author/illustrator team is simply remarkable in their ability to make the abstract come alive. Each semester, I read one of the books from this series aloud to my preservice teachers. They will be teaching in secondary schools, but this book series makes it obvious about how they can powerfully use picture books in their classrooms. After I read the book aloud, I don’t need to go through a long justification of why picture books work well in middle and high schools. What I like about this series is that each book is different from the other two. They overlap in their conceptualization and they all are remarkable choices for the instruction of symbolism and creating writing–but they all teach very different, big ideas. I can see each book pairing well with a different canonical or YA text. 

Kellee’s Review: I hope each and every one my students leave my class with is that life is about trying and working hard and being creative and kindness and so much more than just passing tests, and Yamada’s series teaches all of these things in such a beautiful, fun, and inspiring way! The newest book in the series looks at the fear that comes with new things, and I think this is something that is so important to talk to kids about, doing anything different or new can be scary for a bunch of different reasons. And this ranges from toddlers (Trent is afraid of fast rides) to teenagers (who may be afraid of doing something that may look uncool or are too busy to grab a chance when it comes by). I am so sad that this is the final installation of the series, but I am so glad that we have the three we do. 

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: In previous posts for this series, we have discussed how teachers might use this book to teach word choice, symbolism, and creative writing. Teachers might also consider reading all three books aloud to students and talking about the ways they are conceptually similar and different. Students might discuss the paratext of the novels and the marketing of the books. They might also compare and contrast how the books offer completely different, powerful illustrations of abstract ideas.

Discussion Questions: What do you do with a chance?; How do the author and illustrator work together to make the abstract concept of a “chance” more concrete?; What does the book teach about courage?; When have you taken a chance? Did it work out? What did it teach you? What famous people in history have taken chances? What do you think they learned?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada; The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Journey by Aaron Becker

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Children of Exile
Published September 13th, 2016 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Children of Refuge
Published September 12th, 2017 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Children of Exile Summary: For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

Children of Refuge Summary: After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!

Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?

ReviewOne thing you can always guarantee when you read a Haddix book is that it will suck you in and will be super unique! The Children of Exile series did not disappoint. I will admit, it is really hard to review either of the books without spoiling. The summaries above both did a really great job, but everything that happens after that suspense-building summary happens would spoil something for you. But I will promise you these things:

  • You will be on the edge of your seat and not be able to figure out what is going on for 90% of the first book.
  • You will be disgusted by the treatment of the children once they are returned to their parents.
  • You will want to help Edwy and his friends so badly throughout the entire second book.
  • You will have to stop reading when the reveal happens in the first book just to process it. Then you’ll reread. Then you’ll text someone who has read it.
  • You will want to know more than book 2 tells you, so we’ll all be waiting impatiently for #3.
  • You will realize that these books are actually a bit older and darker than they first seem.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like other Haddix books, you will find the best home for these books in the hands of kids. They are going to be talking about these books after they read them!

Discussion Questions: Discussion questions are available on Haddix’s website.

Flagged Passages: “‘Remember to be good little children!’

Good little children, good little children, good little children…

I saw children crying and clinging to their Fred-parents’ legs. I saw men yanking babies from their Fred-parents’ arms. I turned my back to my own Fred-mama and Fred-daddy — maybe to grab them as hard as I could — but the crowd surged just then, pushing Bobo and me up the stairs. I couldn’t see my Fred-parents anymore. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell them a proper good-bye.” (Children of Exile, Chapter 3)

“I’d been counting on being able to run fast enough no one caught up.

‘Good,’ an oily voice whispered in my ear. ‘Now you understand that screaming is useless.’

‘No, I was just–‘ Before I could add deciding what to scream next, a thick hand slid over my mouth. It smelled of onions and sweat and mud and, I don’t know, maybe puke as well.” (Children of Exile, Prologue)

Read This If You Love: Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman, Masterminds by Gordon Korman, Spillzone by Scott Westerfeld

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters for providing copies for review!**

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Inky’s Great Escape: The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
Published: November 7, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Inky’s Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape .
Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.

In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?

Ricki’s Review: Inky! This is a fun, thrilling text that will surely entertain a classroom of kids. I can imagine all of the questions that would accompany a read-aloud of this book. When my son and I read it, the first thing we did was research Inky’s story on the internet (see Kellee’s review for more info about this). We talked about all of the exciting ways that an octopus might escape from an aquarium. I love how the author creatively interpreted Inky’s story and made it a sort of challenge from Inky’s friend Blotchy. This made me chuckle. This text is versatile and could be used in many ways in the classroom, and it has high appeal. Kids will love it.

Kellee’s Review: Although Inky’s Great Escape is a fictionalized version of the events that happened at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016, if you go and research about the escape, you’ll learn that the Inky truly is one incredible octopus! Although Lyall used creative freedom to build up Inky’s backstory (he’d retired to the aquarium after many daring escapes, and only escaped from the aquarium because Blotchy challenged him), much of the escape sequence was what truly transpired when Inky made his escape. Kids will fall in love with Inky’s bravery, personality, and with his contrasting friend, Blotchy, who stayed behind. With colorful full page illustrations and two octopuses with character traits and personalities that will start conversations, Inky’s Great Escape is going to be a favorite read aloud and classroom library book in elementary classrooms (and would be a great companion to a cephalapoda discussion!).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might take some time to point out New Zealand on a map and to research the habitat in New Zealand. They might specifically look into Inky’s story and how the author took a bit of creative license to interpret the truth a bit. Teachers might also ask students to create their own escape stories with another animal. They could illustrate these and bind them into books!

Discussion Questions: Why does Inky decide to escape? What does he do?; What is Blotchy’s role in the story? How might we compare this to situations in our lives?; What is the true story? How did the author creatively interpret that story?

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Read This If You Loved: Prince and Pirate by Charlotte Gunnufson; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

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Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books

Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.

Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?

Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.

About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily ShoutsSalon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at www.michaelrubens.com.

Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
  • Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
  • How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
  • Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
  • If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
  • Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?

Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.

There was something lurking in the darkness.

She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.

It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .

‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’

‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’

‘Why?’

He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’

‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’

‘Mobile?’ said Emily.

‘Right!’

‘A mobile. . . Stone?’

‘Precisely!’

‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’

‘Right again.’

‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’

‘You seem fixated on that.’

‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’

‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)

Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket

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**Thank you to Tracy at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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