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Love in English
Author: Maria E. Andreu
Published: February 2, 2021 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, Love in English tells a story that is simultaneously charming and romantic, while articulating a deeper story about what it means to become “American.”

Ricki’s Review: I read this book and immediately thought of the many people who would love reading it. It does a beautiful job offering a lived experience of a young girl who is finely attuned to language acquisition. I have been meeting regularly with two students who have shared similar experiences to those of Ana, and I plan to share this book with them. For many, this book will act as a mirror, window, and sliding glass door. I understand fully the criticism this book has received–Maria E. Andreu writes in the opening that she was born in Spain, and her grandparents moved from Spain to Argentina as toddlers. She grew up in the US, traveled to Argentina at age 6 and then was not allowed to return to the US. She was undocumented at age 8 in the US. She talks about her experiences with this and with White privilege in powerful ways in The Secret Side to Empty. My thoughts about this controversy are not as valuable as those of a person with Latinx descent. In the end, I do wish that the character more closely matched Maria E. Andreu’s story rather than that of a native Argentinian. I loved the book and appreciated all that it taught me about Maria E. Andreu’s experiences with language, and there simply aren’t enough books available that explicitly discuss the linguistic diversity within our schools. this book is one that I will remember for quite some time.

Kellee’s Review: One of the things I love most about my school is the amount of diversity and the acceptance and inclusion of all in the school; we do not care where you are from or what language you speak–you are welcome with open arms!  While reading Love in English, I found myself being so upset with the students and some of the teachers in Ana’s school. Why was her ethnicity and language acquisition something that anyone would find funny or bully-worthy?! But then I remember that other places are not like my school… 

I also found myself connecting with Mr. T the ELL teacher! When I first started working at my school, I was intimidated with teaching ELL students because I didn’t think I would be of any help with someone learning English when it was the only language I knew. But throughout my first few years there, I began to learn that teaching ELL students is one of my favorite honors of being a teacher. My 7th year teaching, I taught a class much like Mr. T’s class, and it is one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taught. Mr. T shows how an ELL class, done correctly, can truly become home at school. 

Also, as a reading teacher & librarian at a school with a large Latinx population, primarily from South America, I found that it is so hard to find books that truly reflect my students’ experiences, but Love in English is a mirror for so many of them! It made me so happy while reading because I know that Ana’s experience is one that they will connect with. 

Overall, this story looks at language acquisition in a way that I have not seen in another book and it does so during a wonderful story with some amazing poetry woven throughout. I also love that the language acquisition aspect is own voices. Although this aspect is own voices, I do wish that Ana’s backstory was own voices as well to ensure authenticity of all parts of the story; however, I feel like Maria’s explanation of this choice shows it was thoughtful (though, like Ricki shares, my opinion is not as valuable as a Latinx, and specifically an Argentinian).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We would love to use this book to teach about language and translanguaging. We’d group texts that help us think about the power of discussions related to the nuances of language.

Ana, throughout the novel, focuses on aspects of English in her journal. Use Ana’s journals to guide activities on some of the more challenging and, some would say, nonsensical parts of English, like idioms, similar looking words that are pronounced differently, and more.

Ana’s journals are written in beautiful poetry! Use Ana’s poetry for a mentor text to have students write poetry about similar topics to Ana.

Many of Mr. T’s activities that he implemented in his classroom are amazing activities to work with students acquiring a new language. If you are in a language-focused classroom, they would be assets to your classroom.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does language influence the ways in which Ana moves in the world?
  • How do Ana’s relationships with family and friends impact her life?
  • What is the significance of the title of the book?
  • How might the author’s perspective have influenced her work?
  • Why does Mr. T recommend Ana and Neo watch movies as part of their language acquisition?
  • What is the impact of the author’s use of ### since Ana is the narrator?
  • What is a part of the English language that you find confusing?
  • How did the year that Ana and her dad were apart affect their current relationship?
  • Why was Ana so drawn to a relationship with Harrison at first?
  • How was Altagracia’s friendship lifechanging for Ana?

Flagged Passage: 

“‘We don’t have to speak English,’ I tell her. I think–

We don’t have to do it this way.

We don’t have to make it so hard.

We don’t have to erase everything about us. At least not all at once.

—but I do not say it” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 35).

Recipe for Disaster

How do you get an apple in your eye?
Just how easy is pie? 

Who would eat crow or eat their heart out? 
Or how could anyone eat enough hay to eat like a horse? 
How can a potato sit on the couch?
In a world where so many thins are confusing, even food, 
I dream of a day when it is a piece of cake.” (Digital Review Copy Loc 1125)

Read This Book If You Loved: The Secret Side to Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

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The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest
Author: Heather Lang
Illustrator: Jana Christy
Published February 9th, 2021 by Calkins Creek

Summary: Meg Lowman was determined to investigate the marvelous, undiscovered world of the rainforest treetops. Meg’s perseverance and creativity allowed her to achieve this goal, but when this fantastic ecosystem started to disappear, Meg needed to act quickly.

Meg Lowman was always fascinated by the natural world above her head. The colors, the branches, and, most of all, the leaves and mysterious organisms living there. As a scientist, Meg set out to climb up and investigate the rain forest tree canopies– and to be the first scientist to do so. But she encountered challenge after challenge. Male teachers would not let her into their classrooms, the high canopy was difficult to get to, and worst of all, people were logging and clearing the forests. Meg never gave up or gave in. She studied, invented, and persevered, not only creating a future for herself as a scientist, but making sure that the rainforests had a future as well. Working closely with Meg Lowman, author Heather Lang and artist Jana Christy beautifully capture Meg’s world in the treetops.

About the Creators: 

Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her award-winning picture book biographies include Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine.

Jana Christy currently lives in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. She is the illustrator of various titles, including I’m the Big One Now!: Poems about Growing Up. Visit janachristy.wixsite.com/illustrations.

Review: Heather Lang does an amazing job of the layering in this book ensuring to include many different aspects of Margaret (Meg) Lowman’s life including her passion for the environment, challenges of being a woman in the sciences in 1970s and the barriers that came with the institutional sexism, and someone wanting to be innovative yet being shut down left and right.

The narrative of the story is written in beautiful verses mixed with direct quotes from Lowman and extra side bar notes that includes facts and information that help drive the biography. And finally the illustrations, filled with vibrant blues and greens, bring the story and setting to life for the reader.

The back matter includes an author note sharing about Lang’s interest in Lowman and about meeting and interviewing her, and it includes photos of Lowman and Lang! This shows the reader Lang’s research methods and how the quote throughout the book are primary sources.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

Publisher-provided Educator Guide:

Flagged Passages: 

View two spreads from the book by visiting the publisher’s page:

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Marjory Saves the Everglades by Sandra Neil Wallace, The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle, Over and Under series by Kate Messner, Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino, The Tree Lady by Joseph H. Hopkins

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills & Kane for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Brave in the Woods
Author: Tracy Holczer
Published January 5th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.

Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.

Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.

From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope.

About the Author: Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. The Secret Hum of a Daisy was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found there if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. Following her debut, Everything Else in the Universe was published, and  Brave in the Woods is her third novel.

Praise: 

★ “This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. . . Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. . . Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journalstarred review

“Holczer’s clear, gentle prose allows the emotional and descriptive elements of the text to shine in this multilayered road-trip story . . . A thoughtful exploration of grief, family lore, and human connection.” —Kirkus Reviews

“By turns heartbreaking and humorous, this is a story that hints at the possibility of magic while remaining rooted in real-world problems and relationships. There is love and hope amid the grief and confusion, just as the Grimm tales contain both wonders and horrors in their own right. A heartfelt lesson on the power of love and the tales we tell ourselves.” —Booklist

Review: Brave in the Woods is the story of grief, hope, true friendship, love, and truth. With Holczer’s brilliance of story telling, just about every emotion is felt while reading this novel as Juni goes through all of the emotions alongside us. And with just a dash of magical realism, the story has a magical feeling weaved throughout it from beginning to end.

Add to these emotions a road trip, fun and unique characters, a dog (and a ornery cat), and a quirky family history, and you have a must read middle grade novel for so many readers who need this story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Juni’s family legend says that they are related to the Grimm Brothers, so there are allusions to the Grimm fairy tales throughout the book. Use these to introduce and discuss allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the author chose a stag throughout the novel?
  • Why was it so important to Juni to get Elsie?
  • Which of the characters who helped Juni along the way do you like the best? Why?
  • How are Juni and Anya alike?
  • How are each of the characters grieving differently?
  • How does the author compare bees and asthma?
  • How does the author use the setting like a character to drive the plot?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Velvet Bones

Juniper felt it when her brother disappeared.

She was certain of this.

Oddly, her lungs didn’t go all wonky the way they sometimes did when bad things happened. Like a hive of bees inside her chest, using up every bit of her breath with their buzzing and swarming.

That feeling would come later.”

Read This If You Love: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, Other Tracy Holczer novels

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A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon
Author: Karen Romano Young
Illustrator: Jessixa Bagley
Published: January 7th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: In a slightly fantastical New York City, one very special library branch has been designated for possible closure. Bookish, socially awkward Pearl, the daughter of the librarian, can’t imagine a world without the library—its books, its community of oddballs, its hominess. When the head of their Edna St. Vincent Millay statue goes missing, closure is closer than ever. But Pearl is determined to save the library. And with a ragtag neighborhood library crew—including a constantly tap-dancing girl who might just be her first friend, an older boy she has a crush on, and a pack of raccoons who can read and write—she just might be able to.

With an eclectic cast of richly drawn characters, a hint of just-around-the-corner magic, footnotes, sidebars, and Jessixa Bagley’s classic illustrations throughout, this warm-hearted, visually magnificent tale of reading and believing from beloved author Karen Romano Young tells of a world where what you want to believe can come true.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon here.

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AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: August 25th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet is the second book in the laugh-out-loud series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a new mission, where AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

After they splash-land on the Water Planet, they find power-hungry clams, a rebellious underwater force, and a world full of too-good-to-be-true. Can this aquatic world really be humans’ new home? And why are these clams so eager to swap planets?

• Features full-color illustrations and an out-of-this-world book jacket
• A can’t-put-it-down page-turner for reluctant readers
• Complete with how-to-draw pages in the back

AstroNuts Mission Two is full of laugh-out loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story.

Eager and reluctant readers alike ages 8 to 12 years old will be over the moon about this visually groundbreaking read.

• Creatively illustrated, full-color action-packed space saga
• Perfect for fans of Dog Man, Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants
• Great gift for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and educators who are looking to introduce STEM and environmental topics to children
• Add it the the shelf with books like The Bad Guys in Superbad by Aaron Blabey, The 104-Story Treehouse: Dental Dramas & Jokes Galore! by Andy Griffiths, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for AstroNuts Mission Two (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about AstroNuts Mission Two here.

You can see information about AstroNuts Mission One and its Educators’ Guide here.

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Julián at the Wedding
Author & Illustrator: Jessica Love
Published October 6th, 2020 by Candlewick Press

Summary: The star of Julián Is a Mermaid makes a joyful return–and finds a new friend–at a wedding to be remembered.

Julián and his abuela are attending a wedding. Better yet, Julián is in the wedding along with his cousin Marisol. When wedding duties are fulfilled and with a new dog friend in tow, the pair takes off to roam the venue, exploring everywhere from underneath tables to enchanting willow trees to . . . muddy puddles? After all, it wouldn’t be a wedding without fun, laughter, and a little magical mischief. With ingenuity and heart, author-illustrator Jessica Love tells a charming story of friendship, acceptance, and celebration.

About the Author: Jessica Love is an actor and the author-illustrator of Julián Is a Mermaid. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She has appeared in plays both on and off Broadway. Jessica Love lives in Brooklyn.

Praise: 

“Arrtwork on brown paper allows warm, clear views of the characters, who appear to be Black and Afro-Latinx. The specificity of Love’s characterizations—the way the abuelas kick off their high heels, the brides’ enthusiasm, the children’s expansive gender expressions—offers vibrancy and immediacy, and under their community’s watchful eyes, Julián and Marisol find affection, acceptance, and room to grow.” -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A celebration of weddings and a subtle yet poignant reminder that gender, like love, is expansive. Lovely.” -Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Once again Love has brought us young characters who are free to live, play, and express themselves however they wish without conflict. An abundance of joy and love.” -The Horn Book, Starred Review

Review: Jessica Love has brought such a special character to light in Julián. His story is a story of love, being yourself, having fun, happiness, and light. In Julián’s new story, we find him at a wedding where, like most kids, he and Marisol would rather go play than hang around with the adults. Only a small amount of text is needed because the joy of playing together radiates through the illustrations and is a feeling that every person has felt at one time or another while they play with no inhibitions when they probably should be somewhere else. Trent and I read this book together and when we were done, he said, “I want to play with them!” and that summarizes the feeling of this book.

Activity Kit from the Publisher: 

A Conversation with the Author: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Unicorns are the Worst!
Author: Alex Willan
Published September 29th, 2020 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: This wildly funny and imaginative picture book celebrates the value of differences as a grumpy goblin gets to know his new unicorn neighbors.

It’s an undeniable fact that unicorns are the worst!

Magic is serious business, but all unicorns do is frolic around, have tea parties, and leave glitter all over the place! They’re nothing like goblins—practical and hard-working, who can put magic to good use! Unicorns aren’t helpful at all.

Or are they?

About the Author: Alex Willan grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was seldom seen without his sketchbook in hand. His love of drawing led him to earn a BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Alex has exhibited in art galleries and has painted murals, theater sets, and squirmy kids’ faces, but his true love has always been children’s books. He lives in Chicago with his dog, Harley. Visit him online at Alex-Willan.Squarespace.com.

P.S. If you haven’t read Alex Willan’s Jasper and Ollie, I HIGHLY recommend it as well!!!

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Happy book birthday to this funny tale! I am a sucker for a funny and unique narrator, and our Goblin in Unicorns are the Worst! fits that bill. You can hear his grumpy voice as he tells of his tales of whoa trying to do his job while unicorns get to just frollick and be happy. You can feel his despair while he gets frustrated with his hardworking life versus the laidback life of the unicorns. But you also witness his realization that his assumptions were wrong.  Because the reader has such a connection with him, this realization comes to the reader as well because as you read, you are starting to agree with the goblin. All of this leads to the idea of assumptions, fake news and gossip, propaganda, different points of view on one thing, and envy–all topics that are tough to talk about with young children, but Unicorns are the Worst! gives the perfect context (and is hilarious!).

Book Trailer:

Flagged Passages:  

Read This If You Love: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheep by Anthony Pearson

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**Thank you to Simon Kids for providing a copy for review!**

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