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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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It Is (Not) Perfect
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Expected publication: May 12th, 2020

Summary: Two fuzzy creatures are happily putting the finishing touches on their sandcastle when each of them thinks of something that would make it even better. As they work furiously to incorporate each new change, their tiny sandcastle becomes an over-the-top palace…but is it really perfect?

This latest book in the beloved series featuring the pals from Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small reminds us that perfection is in the eye—and heart—of the beholder.

Praise:

“Colorful cartoon illustrations add a lightheartedness to what could be a stressful real-life situation for kids. Another life lesson neatly packaged in child centric humor.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This award-winning duo have created a lovely tribute to the old adage that perfect is the enemy of good. Recommended for purchase for all collections.” —School Library Journal

About the Creators: Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small as well as series titles That’s (Not) Mine, I Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends. They also wrote and illustrated Eraser, Can I Tell You a Secret?, and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can also be seen in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog. Visit them at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Twitter: @annakang27 @chrisweyant05
Instagram: annakangbookschristopherweyant
Facebook: Anna Kang – Author; Christopher Weyant

Review: This series is one of my favorites. Although the simplicity of the texts makes the books seem straightforward, they are actually multi-tiered and can be used for so many different ages to discuss illustrations as part of the narrative, moral issues, friendship, perspective, and much more. All while following the stories for two super cute monster friends!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ended up actually being perfect?
  • What did trying to please all cause?
  • Who gets to decide what is perfect?
  • Does everything you do need to be perfect?
  • How did trying to make it perfect ruin the fun?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Not series by Kang and Weyant including You Are (Not) SmallThat’s (Not) MineI Am (Not) Scared, and We Are (Not) Friends; How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk, Dexter series by Lindsay Ward including Don’t Forget Dexter and It’s Show and Tell, Dexter

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Abby in Oz
Whatever After #13.5 (Special Edition #2)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published April 7th, 2020 by Scholastic
(Series debuted May 1st, 2012)

Series Summary: Siblings Abby and Jonah have a magic mirror that leads them into different fairy tales, from Snow White to Rapunzel to the Little Mermaid. In each fairy tale, Abby and Jonah accidentally mess up the story — and hilarity and hijinks ensue!

Abby in Oz Summary: In this second Special Edition of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series, Abby and her friends enter the magical Land of Oz . . . with hilarious and empowering results!

Follow the yellow brick road . . . I’m with my best friends Robin and Frankie (and my sometimes friend, Penny) when a TORNADO scoops us up and whisks us away. As soon as we land, I can tell we’re not in Smithville anymore — we’ve been transported into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

We’re excited to meet Dorothy and Toto . . . but the story isn’t going as planned. The Wicked Witch of the East locks us in her dungeon, so we have no way of getting the magic slippers that will take Dorothy home. Plus, the Emerald City is under attack, and the Wizard himself may be in danger!

Now we have to:
– Befriend the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow
– Flee the flying monkeys
– Learn to steer a hot-air balloon
– Find the courage, heart, and smarts to save the day

. . . or we’ll never escape — and everyone knows there’s no place like home!

Praise for Abby in Oz:

“Hilarious…with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power.” –Booklist

“My daughter loved the young, sassy girl on the cover and I loved the premise of the book…The best part is that they mess up the story and the lead female character has to learn how to stand on her own. The feminist in me adored it, and the mother in me loved how my daughter would long to cuddle in close as we read together.” –The Washington Post

“An uproariously funny read.” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Sarah Mlynowski is the New York Times bestselling author of the Whatever After series, the Magic in Manhattan series, Gimme a Call, and a bunch of other books for tweens and teens, including the Upside-Down Magic series, which she is cowriting with Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. Originally from Montreal, Sarah now lives in the kingdom of Manhattan with her very own prince charming and their fairy-tale-loving daughters.

Review of Abby of OzI am a huge fan of this series. I already love fairy tale retellings, but this is such a unique way of telling them, and I love how each are different and do not follow a predictable pattern. 

This newest installment is a special edition of the series and is a bit different. While Abby and Jonah normally go through a magic mirror, the special editions find Abby and her friends entering books because an evil fairy is trying to trap Abby in the story. The addition of Abby’s friends’ personalities definitely makes for an interesting story and more conflict throughout the book.

Lastly, I could not review any book in this series without celebrating the audiobooks–they are phenomenal!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (series): Immediately, when reading this series, I thought of a creative writing activity for students to take part in and would be a great introduction to the series: Have students take parts of fairy tales that they feel are wrong, unjust, dated, they didn’t like, or even something that would be fun to change; come up with a plan on how they would fix it if they were in the fairy tale; and have them rewrite the fairy tale.

Then, I would read parts of some of the books out loud where Abby does just that: she changes fairy tales for the better! (Even if it is a bit of a mess along the way…)

Discussion Questions (series): 

  • What did Abby change in the fairy tale/story? Do you think this is a good change or not? Explain.
  • What did Abby do to make the change happen?
  • Do you think it is okay ethically for Abby/Jonah/Abby’s friends to change things in the story?
  • Do you think Abby would be as successful as she is without the help of Jonah/her friends?
  • Why do you think the magic mirror allows Abby and Jonah to go through the mirror?
  • What fairy tale would you want to go into if you were being transported into one? What would you want to change? Make sure stays the same?

Flagged Passages: Visit the Scholastic website for the series to view the series trailer. I also highly recommend listening to an audiobook sample!

Read This If You Love: Fairy Tale Retellings

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Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
Author: Shari Swanson
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary: Based on a little-known tale from Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, this charming picture book written by debut author Shari Swanson and illustrated by acclaimed artist Chuck Groenink tells a classic story of a boy, his dog, and a daring rescue.

Deeply researched and charmingly told, this is the true story of one extra-special childhood rescue—a dog named Honey.

Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.

One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.

About the Author: Shari Swanson is a debut author who has been a middle school language arts teacher as well as an appellate lawyer. She received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote her thesis on musicality in picture books. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their dog, Honey. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide and activity kit, visit her website: shariswanson.com.

Twitter: @ByShariSwanson
Facebook: Shari Swanson, Author

Author Q&A: Thank you to Shari for answering some questions for us and you!

Q: Why did you specifically choose this moment in Abe’s life to focus on? What did you hope to add to the Abe Lincoln narrative?

A: This story captivates me for several reasons. First, I love that we see Abe as a child—prone to distraction, earnest and loving, and with a deep compassion for animals. I feel it adds depth to our understanding of him as a man and makes him relatable to current children who might share these characteristics. Second, that Abe might not have grown up to be a man and our president without Honey gives me shivers. I believe Honey is an American hero, and that Abe’s kindness to Honey came back to bless him later. Kindness is something that causes ripples to go out and touch others in ways we usually never see. Finally, this is one of very few stories that features Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. Very little is written about his Kentucky years with Nancy, and she died shortly after the Lincolns moved to Indiana. That mother-son bond was important to him and is precious. I hope that this story fleshes out the narrative of Lincoln by showing his compassion from an early age as well as how his behavior was rooted in kindness. I also feel this story helps us appreciate the fragility of life and how interconnected everything is.

Q: What type of research did you do to prepare?

A: I’ve been twice to Kentucky to walk where Lincoln walked and explore the hills and hollows where he grew up. I’ve descended into several of the known caverns there to picture how he might have felt when he got stuck. I’ve been to all of the Lincoln museums and national sites in Kentucky to soak it in and ask lots of questions. I’ve read every book I could find on Lincoln’s Kentucky years, including chapters in larger biographies, pored over primary sources, like interviews, auction receipts, and land sale documents. For the timeline, I dove deep into every resource I could find, skimming for references to Lincoln with animals, loving that his affection for animals stayed with him all the way until the end. It makes me cry to think of his dog Fido and his horse, Old Bob, at his funeral. The picture of Old Bob, riderless, in the funeral procession, is powerful. Most all of this didn’t make it into the book, but I love research, and, as a former appellate lawyer, I’m a stickler for detail.

Q: Tell us your journey of your debut picture book.

A: My journey on this book began years ago when I was teaching middle school. We were reading an excerpt from Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln and a sentence about Abe’s childhood caught my attention. I wanted to know more about his best friend then and their adventures. I threw myself into research, discovered Austin Gollaher, Abe’s best friend, and had my local library send for a copy of his narratives. Back then, the book was dusty and old in a college archive room. Now it is available online. I had the deep pleasure of telling Russell about my hopes to write a picture book about Lincoln’s childhood, and he encouraged me. When I was getting my MFA, I learned how to take the massive amount of information I had and draw out just a thread for a picture book narrative. HONEY is the culmination of those efforts.

Q: Lastly, what do you hope is the readers big take away from Honey?

A: I hope children and adults fall in love with Honey and his boy. I hope readers feel the story is both grounded in its time and timeless.

Curriculum Guide:

Activity Kit: 

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for the copy for review and giveaway & to Shari Swanson for her participation!**

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Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books

GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.

My Review: This book rocked me. It is so beautifully written, and I felt so lucky to be able to share it with others at NCTE this year. Because I have so many teaching ideas for this book, I am organizing this post a bit differently and focusing on many more teaching tools than usual. I hope that the information below helps other teachers use this book in their classrooms. It is so worthy of being read, studied, and loved.

Inquiry to Consider the Complexity of The Fountains of Silence:

The Connection of People: Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Fuga, Julia, Puri
“Some friendships are born of commonality. Others of proximity. And some friendships, often the unlikely ones, are born of survival” (p. 53).

Place as Character
The Castellana Hilton Madrid and Madrid
“After all, a hotel is a house of secrets” (p. 171).
“Madrid’s soil is untender, strong, and enduring like many who walk upon it” (p. 457).

Gender Norms
“Estamos más guapas con la boca cerrada. We are prettier with our mouths shut” (p. 240, 243, 300).

Social Class
“What lies outside the country’s borders is untouchable for families like hers” (p. 47).

Family Responsibility
“Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts” (p. 63).
“The family business needs you” (p. 82).

Human resilience
“It’s warrior skin, very strong” (p. 113)

Secrets
“There is a category of unspeakable things, a dark drawer where inexpressible truths live in exile” (p. 240).

Dreams
“Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain” (p. 24).

Fountains of Silence
Analysis of the power of the title. Whose stories are heard? Whose are silenced?

Culminating Project Idea: Multigenre Inquiry Project
The Fountains of Silence is story which uses layered writing to illuminate the fear and terror that people experienced under Franco’s fascist regime. The novel reveals the brute strength and resilience of the people during the time period. Select a time and place in history to research. Consider researching a time and place which is deeply connected with your own story. Read the narratives of the people and develop a multigenre project which reflects your learning. You might include fictional narratives of stories you create, nonfiction excerpts that you find in your research, a photo essay which includes photos you find in your research. Whatever the final form, your culminating project should include various types of writing and media and demonstrate your knowledge about the time and place you selected to research.

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The Treacherous Seas
Author: Christopher Healy
Published November 5th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: After saving New York by thwarting Ambrose Rector’s dastardly plot to control the minds of everyone at the 1883 World’s Fair, Molly Pepper and Emmett Lee thought they’d have it made. They were heroes, after all. But if someone saves the world and there’s no one around who remembers it, did it really happen?

Now Molly, Emmett, and Molly’s mother, Cassandra, are left to prove themselves once again. And they aim to do it with an achievement that no one could ignore or forget: winning the race that has captured the attention of the world, to be the first people to find the South Pole. But despite their one-of-a-kind ship, their can-do attitude, and the help of a determined young journalist named Nellie Bly, the path to the Pole is not without its challenges—or its terrors. It is the path Emmett’s father took when he led an expedition to Antarctica on behalf of Mr. Alexander Graham Bell—the expedition in which Mr. Lee and his entire crew were killed. Does death await our heroes on these treacherous seas?

About the Author: Christopher Healy is the author of the novels A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem #1: A Dastardly Plot, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, its two sequels, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle and The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw and the picture book This Is Not That Kind Of Book. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an actor, an ad copywriter, a toy store display designer, a fact-checker, a dishwasher, a journalist, a costume shop clothing stitcher, a children’s entertainment reviewer, and a haunted house zombie. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and a dog named Duncan. You can visit him online at www.christopherhealy.com

Check out my review of Book #1 here!

Christopher Healy’s Nerdy Book Club post was hilarious and also focused on research–don’t miss out on it!

Educators’ Guide:

Giveaway!:

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Don’t Miss out on the Other Blog Tour Stops: 

November 6    Nerdy Book Club

December 2    Bluestocking Thinking

December 3     Novel Novice

December 4    Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

December 5     The Book Monsters

December 6    Maria’s Melange

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for giveaway and for hosting the blog tour**

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Beverly, Right Here
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: September, 2019 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away.

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. In a touching, funny, and fearless conclusion to her sequence of novels about the beloved Three Rancheros, #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a character who will break your heart and put it back together again.

Revisiting once again the world of Raymie Nightingale, two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo turns her focus to the tough-talking, inescapably tenderhearted Beverly.

View my post about Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home to learn about the two companion books to Beverly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Beverly, Right Here:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Beverly, Right Here on Candlewick’s page.

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