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Garbage Island
Author and Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published October 9th, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press

Summary: Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had.

About the Author: Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night.  He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida.

Visit the Garbage Island Boyds Mills Press page to view an interview about his inspirations and what’s coming next!

Praise: 

“In this series opener, a mouse and a shrew find themselves unlikely allies as they unite to save Garbage Island. The clever pairing of opposites adds humor, making the gradual emergence of friendship…all the sweeter. Dramatic black-and-white illustrations highlight key action. Exciting, fast-paced adventure and unexpected friendship in a “trashy” venue.” –Kirkus Reviews

“This adventurous tale is packed with action, examples of creative thinking, and ingenuity. Use this as an introduction to STEM thinking, a science fair project, a lesson on ecology, or simply read it for the enjoyment the story provides. This book will appeal to the adventure seeker, animal lover, explorer, and just about everyone else. A must-read for readers ready to strap in for a great ride!” – School Library Connection, starred review

“(With) fast-paced action and danger… this entertaining animal adventure stands out… because of its strong characters and an underlying message of environmental awareness.”–School Library Journal

Review: I love Archibald Shrew. He actually reminds me of Tinkerbell, specifically from the movie Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. Archie is a genius; he just is a genius that sometimes makes a mess when he is creating or may forget something essential if he’s brainstorming or might put him or someone else in danger if trying something new. But he is just so gosh darn lovable! From the very first page when we meet him, and he’s trying out his bicycle invention. Archie is obviously just ahead of his time. And while Mr. Popli starts off as a bit of a stern, uptight character, he is forced to see what is most important through this journey. Lastly, Merri. She is a special character who I connect with so much. She tries so hard to take care of everyone. She is never not helping or doing something; everyone can rely on her. But she also feels a lot of pressure to be a caregiver in so many different ways; so much that she pushes herself way too hard sometimes. It is because of these three characters plus the plot arc of Mr. Popli and Archie’s nearly always perilous adventure that this book is hard to put down. I know this is going to be one that Trent and I will read when he is a bit older: so much to unpack and just so entertaining!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is an Educator Guide available:

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Mr. Popli change over the course of the book?
  • What did the egg teach Archie and Mr. Popli?
  • What are the differing character traits between Archie, Mr. Popli, Merri, and Edward? Similarities?
  • How does Archie effect the other characters at the beginning of the book? The end?
  • What part of the book surprised you?
  • How does the book promote environmental awareness?
  • Which of the opponents was the biggest foe for Archie and Mr. Popli? Explain why you think that foe was the toughest?

Flagged Passages: Chapter 3

“A week into his punishment for the sea-cycle incident, Archie had taken to his new routine with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed starfish. During the day, he did everything that was asked of him, but the work made him hungry, and the hunger made him grumpy. And still, his yearning for his workshop rose in his throat each evening like the moon in the sky.

Merrie had come to visit Archie each night at the Watchtower. She was the only bird left on Garage Island. He was the only shrew. In many ways, they were kindred. But Merri was an outsider because of her species. And she was sure that Archie was treated as an outsider because of his actions. If she could get him to see that, perhaps his life could improve. Her attempts to convince him turned into another argument.” (p. 30)

Read This If You Love: Anthropomorphic stories like Redwall by Brian Jacques, Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel, Seekers series by Erin Hunter, Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, An Army of Frogs by Trevor Pryce;Fiction that promotes environmental awareness; Plastics Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

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Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops!: 

Mon 10/1           Always in the Middle
Tue 10/2             Miss Marple’s Musings
Wed 10/3           Inkygirl
Thu 10/4             Storymamas
Fri 10/5               Teen Librarian Toolbox
Mon 10/8           Librarian in Cute Shoes
Tue 10/9             KidLit Frenzy
Wed 10/10         Middle Grade Book Village
Thu 10/11          Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Fri 10/12             Middle Grade Minded
Fri 10/12            Unleashing Readers

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills for providing copies for review and giveaway and for hosting the blog tour!**

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The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown

Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
  • Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
  • Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
  • Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?

We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”

Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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  RickiSig

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Serafina Loves Science #1: Cosmic Conundrum
Author: Cara Bartek, Ph.D.
Published by Absolute Love Publishing

Summary: In Cosmic Conundrum, sixth grader Serafina Sterling finds herself accepted into the Ivy League of space adventures for commercial astronauts, where she’ll study with Jeronimo Musgrave, a famous and flamboyant scientist who brought jet-engine minivans to the suburbs. Unfortunately, Serafina also meets Ida Hammer, a 12-year-old superstar of science who has her own theorem, a Nobel-Prize-winning mother, impeccable fashion sense—and a million social media followers. Basically, she’s everything Serafina’s not. Or so Serafina thinks.

Even in an anti-gravity chamber, Serafina realizes surviving junior astronaut training will take more than just a thorough understanding of Newton’s Laws. She’ll have to conquer her fear of public speaking, stick to the rules, and overcome the antics of Ida. How will Serafina survive this cosmic conundrum?

About the Author: Cara Bartek, Ph.D. lives in Texas with her husband and two daughters. The Serafina Loves Science! series was inspired in part by her career path and in part by her two little girls. Her hope is to make this world a more equitable and opportune place for her daughters one silly story at a time. Visit www.carabartek.com.

Also, stop by on Sunday for an author guest post by Cara Bartek including information about the second book in the series!

Praise: “Through the quirky character of Serafina, Cosmic Conundrum shows us that science can be fascinating! Girls, you can embrace your curiosity, follow your passions, and most importantly, just be you! As an environmental scientist, I love this series!” -Emily Thompson, Edwards Aquifer Authority Environmental Scientist

Review: Serafina is a genius. And eleven. Both things that can cause strife which leads us to her story. At its heart, it is a story of an eleven year old navigating a new situation and a new bully with the help of her friends and brains. At its brains, it is a story of a genius young woman who wants to do amazing things with her life and uses her brains in ways that are unexpected and important. Combined, you get a wonderful middle grade story that shows how interesting science can be and how important it is to just be yourself! I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series and getting both for my classroom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, the book belongs in libraries so that kids can read them. So many readers are going to enjoy Serafina: your realistic fiction readers who love to read about school and other things they relate to, your science fans, ya=our sci-fi fans who want to think about inventions for the future. It is definitely going to find some readers!

As a cross-curricular text, one way it could be used is to use it to examine science. The back matter of the book shares the science behind much of the book in a “blog post” by Serafina about Newton’s Laws of Motion. While still being told in the voice of Serafina, the blog post is filled with information about all three laws. This blog would be a great place to start then as students read the book, they can look for times when these laws were in effect and also connect them to real life.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why was Serafina’s invention so different than everyone else’s?
  • How does friendship play a role in Serafina’s story?
  • How does the zero gravity plane work?
  • What does the story say about money and influence versus brains and hard work?
  • How did Newton’s Laws of Motion fit into the story?
  • What do you think is going to happen in the next Serafina story?

Flagged Passages: “I took another deep breath and straightened my shoulders. ‘I got into Musgrave Space Adventure!’ My face-splitting smile returned. ‘It’s the best news ever!’

It was. The Musgrave Space Adventure was not an ordinary space adventure. It was the Ivy League of space adventures, founded by the great scientific entrepreneur Jeronimo Musgrave himself. The Jeronimo Musgrave! The man who, legend has it, personally greeted visitors from space and studied a real-life spaceship while working at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico in 1995…

Six months earlier, Jeronimo had issued an open call to all scientists under the age of 13 to apply for 50 open spots for a grueling scientific competition to see who could earn a coveted spot in his junior astronaut development program. The application had been killer. Wannabe commercial astronauts had to submit notarized transcripts; a 10-page autobiography complete with philosophical stances on such topics as politics, the environment, and the role of the Kardashian family in modern society; a DNA sample; a fully executed last will and testament; and an original working invention designed to make space travel more bearable.

I had struggled for months trying to think of an invention. While space food definitely left something to be desired–it looked like cat food squeezed out of a toothpaste tube–at least you got to eat it while performing back flips in midair. That seemed bearable enough, even if those flips were just about the only real activities you could enjoy in the shuttle. They seemed to have the water and pooping things down pretty well, too, so I was at a loss. Until it hit me: The hardest part of space travel would be missing everyone back home.” (Chapter 1)

Read This If You Love: Frank Einstein series by Jon Sciezska, Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce, Galaxy Girls by Libby Jackson, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins, Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky, Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

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**Thank you to Absolute Love Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

 
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When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne

Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
  • What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
  • There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?

We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).

Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender

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RickiSig

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Journey of the Pale Bear
Author: Susan Fletcher
Publication Date: October 2nd, 2018 by McElderry Books

Summary: The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.

Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?

About the Author: SUSAN FLETCHER is the acclaimed author of the Dragon Chronicles as well as the award-winning Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and Falcon in the Glass. Ms. Fletcher lives in Bryan, Texas. To read about the fascinating story behind the inspiration for Journey of the Pale Bear, visit her website, SusanFletcher.com

Praise: ★”A stupendous coming-of-age tale stuffed with adventure and laced with deeper questions.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review: When I first read about this book it sounded pretty good, enough for me to pick it up, but it was SO GOOD! Like so good that even though it was a school week, I read it in 2 days!

First, it takes place in a time period that is hardly ever in books which is fascinating. I found myself looking up some of the history that was mentioned in the book, but the author did a great job of making sure that not knowing about the details of the time period wouldn’t effect the reading experience.

Second, it looks at animal treatment and truly makes you think about how an animal feels when it is put in captivity. Although told only in a realistic manner, the animal is such an integral part of the story that its behaviors are shared in detail allowing it to become a full character within the book.

Third, did you know there used to be a menagerie in the Tower of London? Me neither! But that took me down a suck hole of Google research. So fascinating!

Fourth, wow! The adventure is EPIC: sailing, bullies, pirates, shipwrecks, storms. It never stops!

So in review: Fascinating, thought-provoking, curious, and action-packed. All in all, a book I truly recommend and enjoyed.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The main home for this book will be in libraries; however, I can definitely see portions of it being used in classrooms.

  • First, I could see it being used during a history lesson to discuss the politics and war shared in the book.
  • Second, there are so many scenes that could be pulled out as mentor texts for writing. I’ll share some of my favorites below.
  • Third, I would love to see some creative writing done from the bear’s point of view.
  • Fourth, it is a fascinating look at animal treatment and how it has (and has not) changed over the years.

But in the end, it belongs in kids’ hands! Get it there!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did Arthur agree to take care of the bear?
  • What examples throughout the book show that the bear loved and trusted Arthur?
  • What does the whole story of a polar bear being sent from Norway to England show you about the respect of animals during the time period of the novel?
  • How did Arthur’s involvement make the bear’s life better?
  • Do you believe that the doctor cared about Arthur as he said he did? Explain.
  • How did Arthur earn the respect of the sailors on the ship?

Flagged Passages: 

“Its eyes, small and dark, were alert, curious, aware. I felt the faint stirring of its breath against my cheeks. I drew in the rich, ripe scent of bear until I seemed to sink down below the surface of it, drowning. From somewhere far away I heard Hauk and the lantern boy arguing, but the sounds fell away behind the throbbing in my ears and the thrill of the running-hum in my limbs.

The bear rumbled deep in its throat.

I rose to my feet, stepped back, and felt the iron bars press cold against me. I kept my eyes fixed on the pale, wide face, as if the force of my gaze could prevent the bear from lunging at me with its enormous paws or raking me with is claws–claws that I could see out of the corner of my eyes, massive claws, claws from a nightmare of monsters.” (Chapter 3)

“Before we saw the bear, we heard her—a heavy rhythmic read, a thump, a clang. Beyond the reek of fish, I sniffed out the feral musk of her.

We crept through the dark warehouse–the doctor, the captain, and I–until I made out a large, pale, moving form in the deep gloom ahead. The doctor motioned us to stop, and we watched from behind a stack of crates and bales. The bear was as tall as a pony, longer than a caribou, and as wide as two bulls. Back and forth she paced in her cage, and back and forth again, her head swinging side to side on her long neck, the convex bow of her snout lending her an air of nobility. The bear-smell now filled the air, and the stench of dung as well. A surge of fear rose up in me, turning my bones and sinews to liquid.” (Chapter 6)

Read This If You Love: Seekers by Erin Hunter, The Vanishing Islands by Barry WolvertonPirates! by Celia Rees, The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and McElderry Books for providing a copy for giveaway!**

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The Girl With More Than One Heart
Author: Laura Geringer Bass
Published April 17th, 2018 by Abrams Books

Summary: There are times we all feel we need more than one heart to get through. When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.

Find Her!  it says. Be Your Own!  

How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock” she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.

About the Author: Laura Geringer Bass is the author of over 20 highly acclaimed books for children, tweens, and teens. Her new novel for middle graders about friendship, love, and loss — The Girl with More Than One Heart — is the lyrical story of a courageous girl who imagines she needs an extra heart to navigate her grief after the death of her dad. It will be published by Abrams this Spring. Laura serves on the National Advisory Board of First Book, a non-profit organization that has delivered over 170 million books to children in need and as a mentor for Girls Write Now and Prison Writes, teaching teens at risk.

Review: This book looks at the struggle of grief when life keeps moving on around you. And like another book I love, Courage for Beginners, it shows the struggle a child has if a parent is suffering and they have to step up in a way that is not what their peers have to. Briana doesn’t know how to deal with the grief and with her mother incapacitated with grief also, Briana finds that she needs a second heart to help guide her through this huge bump in her life. Briana’s story also shows the struggle yet love of being a sibling to a child with special needs.

Written beautifully in a way that will pull at your heartstrings, Bass’s story shows how one girl uses art, love, and courage to make her way through a loss that is unimaginable for most of us.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Girl With More Than One Heart needs to be in classroom, school, and public libraries. There are so many readers that need this book. There are other readers that will want this book. There are definite readers for this book.

Another way in the classroom that it could be used is a mentor text for writing about memories. Briana’s second heart shares memories with her, one of the ways we get to know her dad, and the memories are so full of imagery. There are many sections that could be read for a mentor text when asking students to write a personal narrative.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Briana use art to help her through her grief?
  • How did Briana’s life change after the loss of her dad?
  • Aaron is described in the summary as her demanding little brother, but Briana loves him. What are some examples in the story that show this love?
  • How does Grandpa Ben help guide Briana?
  • Briana’s second heart is only figurative. What does it represent?

Flagged Passage: “The day my father’s heart stopped, I discovered an extra heart deep in my belly, below my right rib. It talked to me. I wasn’t crazy. Before that day, I had just one heart that never said a word.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington, Rules by Cynthia Lord, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold

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

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