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Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 5, 2020 by HarperTeen

Summary: In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Ricki’s Review: I was so happy to see that this book won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. It is one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read. It made me laugh, it made me weep, and it filled me with so many emotions and so many wonderings. The book is beautifully lyrical, and the voices are so strong. There’s a scene in the book that simply took my breath away. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend you head out and purchase it now. It’s absolutely magnificent.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the two perspectives of the story work together? How did it enhance your reading of the story?
  • How does place function in the story?
  • Where is home for the characters?
  • How do the characters in the story grieve? What understandings did it offer about grief and loss?
  • How do the characters in this book show strength in many different ways?

Flagged Passage: 

“Can you be from a place
you have never been?

You can find the island stamped all over me,
but what would the island find if I was there?

Can you claim a home that does not know you,
much less claim you as its own?”

Read This If You Love: Books. Seriously, it would be very difficult not to see the beauty of this book. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the greatest writers of our time.

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Rescue at Lake Wild
Author: Terry Lynn Johnson
Published April 27, 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this funny and moving animals-in-peril adventure, a twelve-year-old girl and her two best friends determine to rescue two orphaned beaver kits—and soon find themselves trying to solve a local environmental crisis.

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she’s saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.

But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.

About the Author: Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ
Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Review: This book is everything the summary promises and more. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting learning about beavers and conservation, but also watching Madi and her friends figure out the solution to a problem that adults automatically went to the extreme about.

Kids are going to love Madi and her friends. Their banter is so funny yet right on point for their age. I also love seeing how close they are even as they grow up and change.

In addition to the main story about the beaver rescue, Madi’s family situation will bring about good conversation about different types of families.

But truly, the real stars of this book are the beavers. I never knew as much about them as I do now, and they are such interesting animals. This book definitely led to inquiry as I wanted to learn so much more about environmental conservation and beavers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being a book that so many kids are going to want to pick up and read, this book lends itself perfectly to so much in the classroom!

Madi talks often in the book about her grandmother and Jane Goodall and all of the work they did to help preserve animals; however, there are tons of other scientists who help converse nature and animals’ habitats. Have students research these scientists, and remind them to think about local and smaller rescue facilities who do work that often aren’t recognized.

Madi LOVES animals and we learn so much about beavers in this book. Use the idea of Madi’s notebook to have students pick an animal and research it.

Madi solves a problem by going step by step through the problem solving process. Look at the six-step problem solving process and work through how Madi made her way through to help her town and the beavers.

Finally, learn about Terry Lynn Johnson’s inspiration for Rescue at Lake Wild here. This would lend to a great discussion about author’s purpose and point of view.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do the adults of the town automatically start killing beavers?
  • How does Madi figure out a solution to the problem?
  • How did the setting play a part in the story?
  • Which character did you most relate to and why?
  • Who do you look up to like Madi looks up to Jane Goodall?
  • What is your passion and how can you pursue it in your life?
  • How did having her two friends to help her lend to Madi being successful?
  • How did Madi’s grandmother inspire her? Who has inspired you in your life?
  • Madi’s mother said no more animals, which Madi obviously disagreed with, and although it seems harsh, she has her reasons. What do you feel about this? Can someone be right and wrong at the same time?

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1

I hear it again.

Urgent chattering reaches us from the mound of sticks and mud just off the bow of our boat.

“We’re going to have to do it,” I say, and then can’t help add, “I told you they were here.”

As an animal whisperer, I know these things, but sometimes I have to remind certain people.

A breeze catches the boat and swings us around the anchor line. The channel’s empty except for the beaver lodge, the three of us, and one bored dog.

“We’re sure the parents aren’t coming back, Madi?” Aaron asks.

“You saw their parents,” I say. “They’re not coming.” We’ve been here almost two hours to make sure there were no other adults in the lodge.

Finally Jack says, “Let’s do it already.”

“Before you say I should do it because I’m smallest,” Aaron says, “let me remind you I’ve been the rescuer the last two times.”

He’s talking about when we boosted him into a tree to save a raccoon that turned out not to need saving. Okay, I was wrong that one time. But the day we lowered him from the window by his feet to save the baby bird? That bird would have died without us.

“Out of the three of us, you’re the easiest to hang by the feet,” I say reasonably.

“It’s not my turn.” Aaron shifts on the aluminum seat. “And I’m not that small.”

“We’ve never done this before,” Jack says. “So it starts over.”

“What starts over?”

“Turns,” Jack says.

Adjusting the tiller handle, I move to sit next to Aaron in the middle of the boat. “We should play for it.” I hold up a fist, the universal sign for rock-paper-scissors. “So it’s fair.”

The three of us stick our fists together. Jack’s black Lab, Lid, pokes his nose into the circle too, ever hopeful that we’re about to unveil food.

“One, two, three!

“No!” Aaron yells at our scissors to his paper. “Rigged!”

“I’d take your shirt off if I were you,” Jack advises. “So it doesn’t get stuck and snag you down there. We probably wouldn’t be able to pull you up.”

Aaron pales but tries to look brave. “I always end up doing it,” he grumbles, reaching behind his back to pull off his T-shirt. The hot July sun bounces off his blinding white torso.

Aaron scowls at us and then glances over the side of the boat. He studies the brown water and mutters something about leeches.

“Maybe you should keep your shirt on for protection,” I suggest, eyeing his stick-thin arms covered in rust-brown freckles, and his pale shoulder blades that could cut a breakfast sausage.

“Are they even still alive?” Aaron says. “I can’t hear them anymore.”

He’s right. There’d been no sounds from the lodge in the last few minutes we’ve been sitting here arguing.

Earlier, we’d found two adult beavers floating dead on the other side of the channel. Jack, as usual, had wanted to investigate the crime scene immediately. But the noises from the lodge mean babies inside. Those babies will starve to death if we don’t rescue them.

We’ve been waiting here long enough to know there are no other adult beavers coming to take care of them. But how long have the young ones been alone in there? Maybe they’re starved already.

“Shhh!” I say. “Listen.”

We still our movements in the boat and drift. An enthusiastic frog trills next to us. The wind rustles the leaves of trembling aspen towering above. The water gently laps at the aluminum beneath us. We strain to hear anything. The silence stretches.

A long, high-pitched noise erupts from Lid’s rear end. It echoes strangely from the bottom of the boat, sounding like an optimistic elephant. Surprised, Lid looks behind him.

Aaron and Jack both burst out laughing. It’s so hard to keep boys focused.

“Guys, I don’t hear them. Maybe we waited too long.” Maybe the little beavers are just too weak now to make noise and desperately need help right this very second. I grab the anchor and haul it up. “We have to hurry!”

I yank at the oars and thrust the boat up onto the muddy bank of the lodge. Lid jumps out first, followed by Jack, who ties us off on a log. Aaron warms up, swinging his arms, further accentuating his shoulder blades.

Stepping onto the latticed sticks, I peer at a section of the lodge’s roof that’s been ripped apart, most likely by wolves. But the predators haven’t gotten through. The only way into an indestructible beaver lodge is underwater.

“Okay. You’re looking for the opening to the tunnel,” I say to Aaron. “It’ll be hidden among all the sticks. Hopefully it’ll be wide enough for you to fit. You can breathe once you get into the chamber. It’ll be a room above water like a den. That’s where you’ll find the baby beavers.”

Aaron nods while staring at the lodge. He examines the murky water.

I watch him uneasily and think about when we’d boosted him into that tree. He’d spent most of the time clutching the trunk and yelling for us to bring him down. And when we’d lowered him for the bird he insisted over and over, “Pull me up!”

This is actually dangerous. If Aaron panics, he could drown for real. He could get lost under there, or get caught on something, like Jack said.

A fluttery feeling builds inside my chest. Did Jane Goodall let someone else face aggressive chimps at the Tanzania research center? No.

It should be me.

Read This If You Love: Lost in the River of Grass and Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby; Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly;  Vet Volunteers by Laurie Halse Anderson; Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani

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

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Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez
Published: September 15, 2020 by Algonquin

Summary: An #ownvoices contemporary YA set in Argentina, about a rising soccer star who must put everything on the line—even her blooming love story—to follow her dreams.

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

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 lost a lot of sleep reading this book. I could not stop reading! Camila’s voice was so strong that I was really drawn to her story. I am not a particularly athletic person, yet I loved reading about the soccer within this book. It is set in Argentina, which offered a perspective of the country. It made me want to visit Argentina. There are many rich themes in this text that make it very teachable—in particular, it offers depictions of domestic abuse, sexism, and strength. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this book with a translanguaging lens of analysis. It would also be interesting to look at feminist theory as a theoretical framing of the text. But it isn’t about me–instead, I’d ask students what they find interesting in the text and what they want to learn more about. This allows for a freedom of curiosity to explore topics of interest from the text (and there are many!).

Discussion Questions:

  • How do gender roles differ related to soccer in Argentina, according to Camila’s perspective?
  • What is the role of family in the text?
  • What does Camila’s mother teach readers? Her brother? Her best friend?
  • Do you think Camila makes the right choices regarding her future? Why or why not?

Flagged Passage: “Our family was stuck in a cosmic hamster wheel of toxic love, making the same mistakes, saying the same words, being hurt in the same ways generation after generation. I didn’t want to keep playing a role in this tragedy of errors.”

Read This Book If You Loved: Love in English by Maria E. Andreu;  Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok; YA Books with Sports

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  RickiSig
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Once Upon Another Time
Author: Charles Ghigna & Matt Forrest Esenwine
Illustrator: Andrés F. Landazábal
Published March 2nd, 2021 by Beaming Books

Summary: Illustrations and easy-to-read, rhyming text introduce the reader to the world as it was before humans made their mark, then propose going outdoors–without electronic devices–to connect with that ancient beauty.

Once upon another time,
the world was young and new.
If you want to know this world,
there’s something you can do…

With sweeping landscapes and up-close details of the natural world, Once Upon Another Time takes readers through a lyrical exploration of the world as it was before humans made their mark. Contrasting the past with the present, this expansive picture book serves as a warm invitation for children–and all people–to appreciate, explore, and protect the magic and wonder of this planet we call home.

Written by award-winning authors Charles Ghigna and Matt Forrest Esenwine, and illustrated by Andrés F. Landazábal, Once Upon Another Time is a stunning portrait of a world that used to exist, and can still be found–if you just know where to look.

Endorsements: 

“Ghigna and Esenwine provide a vehicle to ferry young readers back to a time when the wonders of nature called to them more powerfully than any computer screen ever could. Once Upon Another Time‘s glorious poetry and paintings are a perfect pairing.” –Nikki Grimes, author of One Last Word and Garvey’s Choice

Once Upon Another Time is timely and playfully crafted–a beautiful book that I can’t wait to read to the grandkids.” –Eileen Spinelli, author of Love You Always and Thankful

“Vivid colors and gorgeous landscapes interweave with poetic prose as we all yearn for the wild, fresh freedom of another time.” –Fred Koehler, illustrator of Flashlight Night; What If, Then We; and Garbage Island

“In Once Upon Another Time, the reader is transported to a world where we can “breathe the air that once was shared by monstrous dinosaurs!” With lyrical language and fresh images, Ghigna and Esenwine invite the reader to imagine — and then go out and experience — that natural world full of ‘canyon walls,’ ‘sunny fields,’ and ‘passing clouds’ –timeless wonders of our planet.” –Dr. Sylvia Vardell, professor, Texas Woman’s University and poetry anthologist, A World Full of Poems

About the Creators: 

Matt Forrest Esenwine is an author and poet from Warner, New Hampshire. His debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Picture Books for Kids of 2017. His poetry can be found in numerous anthologies, including The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), I Am Someone Else (Charlesbridge, 2019), and Highlights for Children.

Charles Ghigna, aka Father Goose®, lives in a treehouse in the middle of Alabama. He is the author of more than one hundred books from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Time Inc., Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Abrams, Boyds Mills Press, Charlesbridge, Capstone, Orca, and other publishers. He has written more than five thousand poems for children and adults that have appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines ranging from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Highlights and Cricket magazines. He served as poet in residence and chair of creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, instructor of creative writing at Samford University, poetry editor of English Journal for the National Council of Teachers of English, and as a nationally syndicated poetry feature writer for Tribune Media Services. He speaks at schools, conferences, libraries, and literary events throughout the US and overseas, and has read his poems at the Library of Congress, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Library in Paris, the American School in Paris, and the International Schools of South America.

Andrés F. Landazábal is an illustrator and art-director based in Armenia, Colombia. His work has appeared in film, television, and print for companies such as Sesame Street, Discovery Kids, and Fox. Landazábal’s love for drawing and painting was instilled at a young age as he read classic illustrated children’s books.

Review: The authors use their impeccable rhythm to invite the readers to join them in the journey first back in time then to modern day with hints on how to enjoy the world today without the distractions of screens.  As soon as I was done reading, I knew this book was meant to be read aloud (and I wanted to HEAR the rhythm and rhyme), and I was right–it is a joy to read out loud.

You are also going to be blown away by the illustrations. You open it up and are transported into the past where only nature was at its finest. The illustrator says that he was inspired to draw and paint at a young age from classic children’s books, and you can see it in the work as it is filled with wistfulness, lots of colors, and brightness.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As noted by the publisher on Amazon, this book definitely:

  • Encourages kids to unplug from digital devices and appreciate nature.
  • Teaches children about the wonder and magic of our world before civilization and industrialization
  • Invites readers to think about ways they can preserve the beauty of the natural world

And that it teaches about:

  • Conservation
  • Nature
  • History of our planet

And lets not forget that the history of our planet does include human inventions and successes because although the theme of the book is to get away from screens, it also points out some amazing accomplishments like building sky scrapers, dams, and planes.

I also think that it can help delve into animals and habitats! Throughout the book, different animals are found on the pages.

Additionally, the text itself could be read as a poem, looking for rhyme, rhythm, and figurative language, specifically personification.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something we use often that without it our life would change drastically?
  • What is something you do for fun that lets you know the world of another time?
  • What are some differences/similarities between the another time and now?
  • Why do you think the illustrator ended with two spreads in the same location?
  • What is the theme of this book?
    • Why do you think the authors felt it was necessary to write a book with this theme?
  • How have humans impacted the nature of Earth?
    • How has it affected animals?
  • The setting is never explicitly stated, but there are clues throughout the book. Where do you think the book takes place?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Old Rock (is Not Boring) by Deb PiluttiHike by Pete Oswald, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle, We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers

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Visit the other blog tour stops: 

2/25:      Ellen Leventhal:  https://www.ellenleventhal.com/#blog
3/1:        Maria Marshall: https://www.mariacmarshall.com/blog
3/2:        Matt Forrest Esenwine: https://mattforrest.wordpress.com
3/3:        Bookseed Studio: https://bookseedstudio.wordpress.com/
3/4:        Celebrate Picture Books: https://celebratepicturebooks.com/
3/5:        Maria Marshall #PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday): https://www.mariacmarshall.com/blog
3/5:        KidLit411 – Charles Ghigna interview: http://www.kidlit411.com/
3/5:       Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook: http://mrsknottsbooknook.blogspot.com/
3/9:      Erin Dealey https://www.erindealey.com/blog/
3/10:     Melissa Stoller: https://www.melissastoller.com/blog
3/16:     Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/
5/5:       Andrew Hackett: https://www.andrewhacket.com/blog

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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 based on the author’s experiences, I do wish that Ana’s backstory was reflective of Andreu’s experiences 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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  RickiSig and
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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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