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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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Prince and Pirate
Author: Charlotte Gunnufson
Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Anticipated Publication: May 9, 2017 by Putnam

Goodreads Summary: When two little fish with big personalities have to share the same tank, there are rough seas ahead!

Prince and Pirate are proud masters of their very own fishbowls, and life goes along swimmingly–until they’re scooped up and plopped into shared waters.
Prince is horrified to find this cheeky cod trespassing in his kingdom.
Pirate is sure this scurvy sea slug has come to plunder his treasure.
Thus, a battle of regal sneers, seaworthy stink-eyes, and off-the-hook insults begins.
Prince and Pirate’s hilarious duel for territory will elicit gales of giggles, hearty guffaws, and heartfelt smiles. Just when it seems their struggle might end in a silly stalemate, a little surprise convinces them to find a way to get along–swimmingly.

Ricki’s Review: My son has Charlotte Gunnufson’s Halloween Hustle, and we read it quite often. He loves the kooky characters and fun within the text. Prince and Pirate is no different. I loved reading this book aloud, and my son was giggling as turned each page. The book is cleverly crafted, and the words and illustrations pop off of the pages. I can’t help but think about how the author conceptualized the novel. I imagine her looking at a fishbowl and thinking about the characters amongst her fish. This book would make a wonderful text to spur creative writing amongst students. I think their imaginations would soar after reading it. 

Kellee’s Review: I think Mike Lowery’s illustrations are so much fun and add such a special personality to any story, and with this book, his illustrations met a story that definitely lived up to his standards. (I also want to compliment the book’s designer who also made the font as fun as the illustrations.) Prince and Pirate were loners who all of a sudden are forced to live together and do. not. like. it. However, when they both have the same goal to try to reach, they are able to cooperate and learn to work (and live) together. Through humor and ridiculous name calling, Gunnufson tells a story that shows how differences don’t have to be the end of a possible friendship.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to create their own fish characters. They could use the prince and pirate as a model and design a similar text. This book serves as a wonderful mentor text for learning about how to build character and/or teaching dialogue. Don’t forget to check out the Educator’s Guide along with other fun, free activities on the author’s website, https://www.booksbycharlotte.com/activities.

Discussion Questions: How do you think the author conceptualized this book?; How do the words and illustrations work together to form an effective story?; How does the author build character? What other fish characters might emerge in the story? How would the story be different if the author introduce a ____ type of fish?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Loved: Halloween Hustle 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, Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery

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Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Chronicle

Summary: In this heartwarming sequel to Laurel Snyder’s beginning chapter book Charlie & Mouse, the two brothers enjoy a special visit from their grandpa, Grumpy. Follow along as they discuss being medium, pounce each other, sing the wrong songs, build blanket forts, and more. Paired with effervescent illustrations by Emily Hughes, this touching, funny celebration of imagination and bonding will enchant readers young and old.

View our post about Charlie and Grumpy book one (with teaching guide) here!

Activities include: 

Bedtime Songs

Grumpy doesn’t know the right bedtime song to sing for Charlie and Mouse, so he tries to guess. Using the clues he gave, we can assume he was talking about “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, “Hush, Little Baby,” and possibly “Jump in the River” by Sinead O’Connor. Play these three songs for your students.

  • Which do you like the most? Why?
  • Which do you think would be the best bedtime song? Why?

After Grumpy guesses, Charlie sings the right bedtime song to Grumpy.

  • We don’t know what song Charlie sang, but what song would you have sung to Grumpy?

After gathering all of the bedtime songs discussed as a group, have students analyze the different songs (theirs and the three Grumpy mentioned) by having them (in groups or independently):

  • Identify rhyming words within the songs.
  • Does the author repeat any words? Why did the author choose to repeat these words?
  • How does the author supply rhythm in the song?

Infer

There are a few times in the book that the text doesn’t tell you what happened, but you can infer from the illustrations what occurred such as p. 17, p. 27, and p.37. Have students use the illustrations to see how each of these chapters concluded and have them write out what they see in the illustrations.

Rain

In the final chapter, it is raining while Charlie and Mouse say good-bye to Grumpy. Even though the rain seems to be happening because of the mood of the chapter, rain actually occurs because of the water cycle. After discussing the mood of the chapter (see discussion question), share the scientific reason for rain by sharing the water cycle. One activity that could be done to help students understand the water cycle is the “Simple Water Cycle in a Bag” experiment: http://www.rookieparenting.com/what-is-water-cycle/.

Discussion Questions include: 

  • The text never says that Grumpy is Charlie and Mouse’s grandfather, but you can infer he is. What clues from the text and illustration help you know that he is their grandfather?
  • In the final chapter, the author chose to have it be raining. Why does this type of weather make the most sense for this final chapter? What mood does it set for the chapter?
  • Using the clues throughout the book, how many days and nights did Grumpy stay with Charlie and Mouse? How did you know?

Teaching Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Chronicle’s website here.

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Aliens Get the Sniffles Too
Author: Katy S. Duffield
Illustrator: K. G. Campbell
Published November 7, 2017 by Candlewick

Summary: Ahhh-flying-saucer-shooting-star-CHOO! Laughter is the best medicine when you’re a little alien feeling under the weather.

Little Alien is sick. And sick is extra-terrestrial bad when you have two scratchy throats, five ears that hurt, and three runny noses. Splatch! Sputter! Spurt! Luckily Mama and Daddy Alien have an arsenal of lunar decongestants and meteor showers on hand to make him feel a little better (not to mention a Milky Way milkshake to help the medicine go down). Even so, the family’s alien pooch, Mars Rover, can’t stand to see his little buddy feeling out of sorts. Can a loyal pup’s funny tricks finally coax a smile?

About the Author and Illustrator: Katy Duffield is the award-winning author of more than twenty-five books for children. She lives in Florida with her husband. To learn more, and to download classroom resources, visit katyduffield.com. Twitter: @KatyDuffield

Check out Katy on Pinterest!
 
K. G. Campbell is the illustrator of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and the author-illustrator of Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters. He was born in Kenya, raised in Scotland, and now lives in southern California.

Ricki’s Review: This book has been a blessing in my house. Both of my kids have had colds for the past several weeks. It seems they catch cold after cold! We’ve been reading this book quite often and making connections with Little Alien. As a parent, I particularly appreciate that the end of the book allows me space to talk about how Little Alien got Mars Rover sick. Every time we read the book, we point to the part where Little Alien spreads his germs to Mars Rover. Then, we make the cause-effect relationship about what happens when we spread our germs. I know that teachers in elementary school will love this connect. We spend a lot of time talking with kids of all ages about spreading germs!

On a literary note, the author has some great plays on words. I chuckle every time that I read the book. Kids who are obsessed with space will adore this book and all of its space references.

Kellee’s Review: Whenever Trent is sick, he is so miserable, so Little Alien’s story of trying everything to feel better is going to be the perfect companion to my sweet boy when he is feeling under the weather. Just like Mars Rover will do anything to help make Little Alien feel better, I will as well, and Aliens Get the Sniffles, Too! will be a perfect part of our feel better routine.

I loved the use of onomatopeoias in the book and mixed with the detailed, colorful, full page illustrations really brings Little Alien’s story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teacher might group students in pairs and assign them a spread. Students might hunt for the references to space on the pages and look up to learn more about those aspects of space. For example, for the spread below, students might look up the word “lunar” and share it with the whole group. Then, the teacher might reread the entire text again and pause to allow students to share the word play of their assigned spread as they read the book aloud together.

Discussion Questions: How does Mars Rover feel when Little Alien gets sick? Have you ever felt that way when a friend or family member got sick?; How does Mars Rover get sick? Can you point to the specific page?; Which new words did you learn while reading this book? How are they connected to the story? How does the author create a theme around the concept of space?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: Your Alien by Tammi Sauer,  Faraway Friends by Russ CoxBoy + Bot by Ame DyckmanLife on Mars by Jon Agee

Giveaway:  TWO giveaway opportunities!!

  1. One grand-prize winner will receive a out-of-this-world alien backpack with a signed copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! along with tissue packs, toy mini aliens, and space pencils.
  2. Ten lucky runners-up will receive a copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too!
To enter, click here.

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**Thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**

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Miguel and the Grand Harmony
Author: Matt de la Peña
Illustrator: Ana Ramírez
Published: October 10, 2017 by Disney

Summary: This jacketed picture book pairs Newbery Winner Matt de la Peña and Pixar artist Ana Ramírez with the highly anticipated Pixar Studios film, Coco. Featuring a beautiful original story based on the characters of the film, as well as vibrant stylized artwork, this title is sure to appeal to readers of all ages.

Disney*Pixar’s Coco is the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion. Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and produced by Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), Disney*Pixar’s Coco opens in U.S. theaters November 22, 2017.

Review: Matt de la Peña. Let me count the ways I love this man. He writes stories that come alive and dance off of the pages. This story is no different. This story beautifully depicts the power of music. It reminds readers to pause and listen to the music around them. This would be a beautiful book to pair with Last Stop on Market Street. Both books remind children to slow down and look at their surroundings. We can find beauty all around us.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This text reads like an extended poem. I would use this book at any age level to teach students about poetry. High schoolers would find beauty in its complexity, and younger readers might use the book as a mentor text to form their own poetry.

Discussion Questions: How does the author use words with intention?; What do you notice about the ways in which the phrases work together on each page?; How does Miguel grow?; Where do you see music in your everyday life?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved:  Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham

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Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
Published September 5th, 2017

Summary: Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor.

There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them. Many said witches lived there — some with cold hearts, others with hot ovens and ugly appetites — and also dwarves in tiny houses made of stones. In this icy wood, a stepmother might eat a girl’s heart to restore her own beauty, while a woodcutter might become stupid with grief at the death of his donkey. Here a princess with too many dresses grows spiteful out of loneliness, while a mistreated girl who is kind to a crone finds pearls dropping from her mouth whenever she speaks. With empathy and an ear for emotion, Emily Jenkins retells seven fairy tales in contemporary language that reveals both the pathos and humor of some of our most beloved stories. Charming illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason add whimsical details that enhance every new reading.

Discussion Questions include: 

  • “Snow White”
    • At the beginning of the story, dwarves are included with witches and sprites, making them feel villainous. How is this
      different from the seven dwarves we meet later in the story? Do they fit the negative connotation or are they different
      from what the villagers assume?
  • “The Frog Prince”
    • After the frog leaves, Crystal is looking for him. Why does she miss his company? How is his company different from those of her ladies-in-waiting and family?
  • “Red Riding Hood”
    • What information that Red shared does the wolf use to his advantage? Do you think he would have successfully been
      able to get into Grandmother’s house without this information?
  • Author’s Note
    • Emily Jenkins explains her intention behind rewriting these stories in the simple way that she did. How did she adhere
      to the traditional stories while also putting her own spin on them?
  • Entire book
    • Consider the names of the characters throughout the book. How does each name give a clue to the character’s
      personality or looks?

Discussion Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Candlewick’s website here.

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We’re so excited to be partnered with Disney-Hyperion to bring you this review and giveaway of Bruce’s Big Move! 

Bruce’s Big Move
Author & Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published September 27th, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion

Summary: After the events of Hotel Bruce, our favorite curmudgeonly bear shares his home with not only his four geese, but three rowdy mice besides! Fed up with their shenanigans, Bruce sets off to find a rodent-free household. But as usual, nothing goes quite according to plan…

A hilarious sequel for fans of the previous Bruce books, as well as a standalone discovery for new readers, Bruce’s next reluctant adventure is sure to keep kids giggling.

About the Author: Ryan T. Higgins (ryanthiggins.com) is an author and illustrator who likes the outdoors and cheese sandwiches. He is NOT a grumpy old black bear, but he DOES like making books about one—starting with the best-selling Mother Bruce, which received the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor. He lives in Maine with his wife and kids… and too many pets.

LEARN MORE
Visit books.disney.com
Follow Disney-Hyperion on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram
#BrucesBigMove #FollowBruce

Kellee’s Review: Bruce is back and still a curmudgeon. Following the events in Mother Bruce where he becomes the mother to 4 geese and Hotel Bruce when 3 mice move in, Bruce decides enough is enough and wants to get away from the rodents once and for all, and he is willing to go to the extreme (moving) to get away. 

One of my favorite things about the Bruce books are the character’s expressions! Bruces’ stories are one only half told in the words, the rest can be found in the illustrations. The illustrations are so expressive and detailed giving each character a personality without it having to be explained.

And just like in the first two Bruce books, there is a definite message in the end! What do you think will make Bruce happy?

Ricki’s Review: I can’t decide whether I like the words or the illustrations more in this book. They are both hysterical! I absolutely adore Bruce. He makes me smile. Ryan T. Higgins is incredibly talented—I will read anything he writes!

Kellee is spot on. Bruce’s facial expressions make me laugh and laugh. I wish I captured my 4-year-old reading this book. He kept laughing and pointing to the pictures. I like the Bruce books because Higgins incorporates clear messages for readers, and he masterfully creates books that make great classroom read alouds!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Bruce’s Big Move, and the other Bruce books, as read alouds to discuss illustrations’ purpose in stories, theme, and characterization with students. Alternatively, consider asking students to create their own Bruce fanfiction!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does Bruce want to get rid of the rodents?
  • On each page, look at the characters’ expressions and discuss what clues they give the reader about the character.
  • What do you think will make Bruce happy?; Did you predict the ending of the book?
  • What do you think the author’s message was at the end of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

“Bruce wished there was a way to get rid of the pesky rodents. But there wasn’t.”

Realtor Ryan help his bear friend Bruce find the perfect rodent-free home: 

Read This If You Love: The first two books in the Bruce series, You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown, This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, Be Quiet by Ryan T. Higgins, Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood, Nibbles by Emma Yarlett

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Disney-Hyperion is partnering with us for a Whole Lotta Bruce GIVEAWAY!
One (1) winner receives:
Copies of Bruce’s Big Move, Hotel Bruce, and Mother Bruce
Branded tote bag and stickers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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**Thank you to Alex at Big Honcho Media for providing copies for review!**

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