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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

 

Dear readers,

If you are a dragon lover like my friend who recommended this book to me or love a kindhearted tale this would be your book: Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Kenny is a little rabbit who always has his head stuck in a book. One day, Kenny’s father rushes into the kitchen all out of  breath. He tells his family to move out straight away but the Mom sits him down for dinner and then tells him to explain. The father says that a Dragon lives on the hill next to their farm and Kenny, the bookworm, obviously wants to see the dragon. The mom protests but the father says he can go but he has to be careful. Kenny quickly goes upstairs and covers himself in pots and pans like a knight and takes a benastary (a book of beasts) with him. Once Kenny gets up on the hill and sees the dragon he gets very scared. Once Kenny meets the dragon he becomes best friends with him. Kenny’s parents think that they should meet the dragon, whose name is Grahame, so they go over to Grahame’s house and have a cup of tea. Later Kenny goes to the village to meet his friend George who lends him books. Kenny discovers that George is assigned to kill Grahame! Will Kenny be able to explain to George that this monstrous but kind beast is his friend before it is too late?

I love this book so much because of its kindness and how it proves the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It warms my heart when I see how the two companions work together to stop Grahame (the dragon) from getting hurt. I also love this book because of the cute pencil drawings and the great words that express the story. For example, this is how the book starts: ”Many years ago . . . Hold on, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking a book about a dragon should start with “Once upon a time.” But this one doesn’t because frankly, I don’t really know what “Once upon a time” means.” Ha ha ha by now you must be laughing! Now you can see how the whole book is told in an exciting way. I hope this book captures your heart and your imagination. Either way HAVE FUN!!!

Discussion questions

  • If you were Kenny would you go up to a mountain that your father tells you has a dragon in it?
  • When Kenny decides to help his friend Grahame do you think that was the right thing to do? Why?
  • Which character is like you the most? What do you have in common?
  • Which of Kenny’s actions surprised you and why did they surprise you?

If this book got the action in you going or you just liked it then be sure to check out The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi. I have not read it yet but have watched the movie twice and can’t wait to get my hands on that book!

**We feel so lucky to have Sofia.**

 

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Sometimes a Wall…
Author: Dianne White; Illustrator: Barroux
Published: October 15, 2020 by OwlKids

Summary: An afternoon in the playground introduces different kinds of walls: a brick wall to draw on with chalk, a water wall, and a climbing wall. What follows is a playful yet profound exploration of the many ways walls can divide us or bring us together. When one child is excluded from a game, another builds a castle to leave him out. When the builder declares the castle MINE, other kids feel alienated―but the builder becomes lonely, too, when the others have fun without him. The book ends with the optimism of a new start: friendship, forgiveness, and imagination give the wall new meaning.

Told with short, simple lines of playful, rhyming text and loose line illustrations by internationally known artist Barroux, this book sparks questions with empathy, insight, and charm. It’s a timely tool for inquiry-based and social-emotional learning, sharing the important message that walls can unite or divide, depending on the choices we make. 

“Rhyme, rhythm, and simple art—all including references to walls—show children expressing different emotions and behaviors… Mending walls for the nursery crowd.” –Kirkus Reviews

Review: My own children have been asking about walls. They hear about them in school (in preschool and first grade), and they come home with a lot of questions. This book offers such great fodder for conversations about walls. The wall in this book evolves, and it is up to the reader to interpret many aspects about the wall and its purpose. I love how this opens discussions for what walls might represent and how they might differ in various conceptions. For instance, the wall in this book might be described as a border wall or it might be describe attached to a metaphorical or ideological wall. This is a book that will make readers of all ages think. I read the book three times in a row (which is not often my approach) because I kept thinking about new applications of the text. This would make a phenomenal classroom text and would be great for critical thinking and discussions. I recommend it highly.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: I’d love to use this book to teach the concept of a metaphor. For me, the wall in this text can be used as a metaphor to talk about a lot of concepts (concrete and abstract).

The “Why” Behind the Book:

A Letter to Parents and Educators

A Letter to Young Readers

Discussion Guide:

Sometimes a Wall… Discussion Guide

A Lesson In 3 Movements:

• Intro to the Unit (PLEASE READ FIRST!)

• What’s Different About Reading Wordless/Nearly Wordless Picture Books?

• 1st Movement: TOGETHER (I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët)

 2nd Movement: APART (Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi)

• 3rd Movement: REGRET. NEW START? (Sometimes a Wall … by Dianne White, illustrated by Barroux)

Coloring Pages For Younger Students:

We Are Kind coloring page

Be Kind coloring page

Discussion Questions: 

  • What might the wall represent?
  • How does the wall evolve in the text?
  • What kinds of walls do you have in your life? Do they serve good or bad purposes (or both)?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët, Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi, The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

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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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Sofia is an 8-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia will share her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

 

Dear readers,

It’s time for another recommendation from me, Sofia Martinez! Today I’ve decided to change things up a bit. Instead of just writing about one book, I’m going to write about my four favorite books in a series called Classic Starts.

First let me tell you a bit about the series. There are about 55 books in the Classic Starts series. I own about thirty of them and have borrowed some from the library. So I know a lot about the series. Classic Starts is a series that abridges classics and puts them in a language that the kids of today understand. If you do not know what classics are they are very well known books. They also have to be old. This book collection is recommended for ages 7-9. The Classic Starts books also have pictures.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

This book is about the world famous detective Sherlock Holmes. The book contains six shortened mysteries. My favorite one is called The Adventure of the Speckled Band. I don’t want to spoil the story so I’ll leave it at that. After reading the abridged version I moved on and started reading the original with my dad. The abridged version is easier to read and they took the real important parts into the story.

The Secret Garden

Mary is a rich girl but then everybody in her house dies of a sickness except for her. So she moves to Mr. Craven’s house. When Mary discovers there is a secret garden she sets out to find it. She meets two boys that help her take care of the garden. One of them is Mr. Craven’s son.

Pollyanna

My third favorite book in the series is Pollyanna. When Pollyanna’s father dies she goes to live with her Aunt Polly. Aunt Polly is harsh to Pollyanna. Pollyanna keeps herself happy by playing a game that her father taught her, the just be glad game.

Little Women

I love this one so much I even watched the play and the movie (before the pandemic). Little Women is about the four March sisters. They are poor but have a kind heart. For example, one Christmas they give their breakfast to a family who couldn’t afford it. They face many challenges.

I love this series because it lets you experience classics that you would usually have to be older to read. It also gives you a good idea of what the original is about. You can also try out many without having to read a million pages to find out if you want to read the original version when you are older.

I have made a chart including most of the books that I’ve read under a few categories. I want to make it easier for you to find which books you might like. Don’t forget there are plenty more in the series.

Adventure
Anne of Green Gables
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Little Women
Pollyanna
The Secret Garden
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Three Musketeers
Robinson Crusoe
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Treasure Island
Moby-Dick
The Swiss Family Robinson
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Gulliver’s Travels
The Call of the Wild
White Fang
The Last of the Mohicans
20,000 Leagues under the Sea
Scary
Dracula
Frankenstein
Kindness
Little Women
Heidi
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
Pollyanna
Survival
The Swiss Family Robinson
Robinson Crusoe
Around the World in 80 Days
Magic
Alice in Wonderland & Through the 
Looking-Glass
Peter Pan
Pinocchio
Animal
Black Beauty
Anne of Green Gables
Heidi
White Fang
The Call of the Wild

**Thank you, Sofia, for your continued brilliance. You inspire us!**

 

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Sofia is an 8-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia will share her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Ban This Book
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: August 29th 2017 by Starscape Books

Hi!

It’s Sofia Martinez again and I just finished reading this amazing book: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. You definitely would not want to ban Ban This Book. It is for ages 8-12. Ban This Book won a 2020 Nutmeg Book Award in Connecticut. It is a chapter book.

Amy Ann’s favorite book is banned from the library along with others. She decides to make a locker library of all the banned books: the B.B.L.L, the banned books locker library, but when the principal finds out things start to get ugly. For example her favorite librarian gets fired trying to speak up for her. More things happen but I don’t want to be a spoiler.

I really like Ban This Book because it teaches courage. The girl in the book speaks up for her favorite book, something that I would have never done before I read this book. Another reason why I like Ban This Book is because it gives you ideas on what to read next. For example, From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg and Matilda by Roald Dahl. The last reason why I like it is because it is very entertaining. I like how it seems real. For example, there are typical arguments with sisters and a bit of sadness and lots of happiness. 

A few months ago I was walking in the library and saw Ban This Book on the Nutmeg Book Award shelf and thought it looked nice so I checked it out. Once I got home I changed my mind about it and didn’t want to read it anymore. I put it back in the library bag and started reading some other books, but now I really regret that.

Here are some discussion questions I came up with.

  • Would you have spoken up for your favorite book?
  • Would you run away if you had annoying brothers or sisters? 
  • Did you like Ban This Book? Why or why not?
  • How much do you think Amy Anne likes books?

If you want a book that teaches you something even if you’re a grown up, Ban This Book is perfect. I hope you have tons of fun reading this book!

**Thank you, Sofia, for your continued brilliance. You inspire us!**

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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by HarperCollins

Summary: In this picture book biography, the late New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and acclaimed artist Floyd Cooper take readers on an inspiring journey through the life of Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

The story of one of America’s most revered figures is brought to life by the text of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers and the sweeping, lush illustrations of artist Floyd Cooper.

Review: We bought this book in 2017 when it first came out, and we read it again and again and again. My kids love to listen and learn about one of the most brilliant people to have ever lived. His story is incredibly inspiring. Even as a young boy, Douglass defied the world and never took no as an answer. The details of his story within this book show children (and adults) that they must push for what is right and commit to changing the world for the better. This book belongs in every classroom (and not just relegated to the classroom library). It should be shared collectively and purposefully with kids.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are endless uses for this book. One suggestion is that it could serve as a read-aloud and close reading at the start of a research or biography unit. Kids might look at the use of pictures and the pacing of the story to write their own nonfiction picture book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Douglass regularly display strength and resolve throughout his life?
  • How is the book paced to reveal key moments of Douglass’ life?
  • What other famous figures related to issues of equity showed this kind of resolve? How do their stories connect to Douglass’ story?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Schomburg: The Man Who Built the Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, We March by Shane W. Evans, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

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This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Review: This is a book that will stick with me forever. The characters are powerfully written, and the plot unfolds itself beautifully. It tackles complex themes that offer excellent fodder for classroom discussion. Some of these include implicit and explicit racism, the ripple effects of White supremacy and racism, White privilege, and injustices in the judicial system. I could go on. This book is truly exceptional, and I envision it winning some big awards this year. There is so much to unpack and so much to admire in Johnson’s writing. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you buy no other book this summer, buy this one. It will make you think deeply about equity and justice.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I highlighted so many passages of this book while I was reading it. There are so many sections that would make phenomenal close readings in the classroom. I highly recommend pairing this text with portions or all of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the injustices in this text?; How can we, as a society, work to change these injustices?; How do the injustices have a ripple effect on other characters?; How does Johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?

Flagged Passage: “Corinne never held that memory [of Daddy getting arrested], but I know she feels it in everything we breathe. It’s in the polite nods across the street we have to make, the way our family turns down our music when there are others around. Say yes ma’am and no sir. Leave our jackets and backpacks in the car when we go shopping.

It’s in the way I carry myself that tells our story now. I can’t risk being accused of anything. Because if something goes wrong or missing, I know it’s in the back of someone’s mind that maybe I had something to do with it. And it’s in the way that the voice of the strongest woman I know stumbles when saying, ‘Hello, Officer’ as she walks through the visitation gates to see Daddy.”

Read This If You Loved: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles;

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