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Nocturnals: The Slithery Shakedown
Author and Illustrator: Tracey Hecht
Published: April 10, 2018 by Fabled Films Press

Goodreads Summary: Discover the friendship and humor of the Nocturnals Brigade! In The Slithery Shakedown, three unlikely friends—Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark a loud-mouthed sugar glider and Dawn, a serious fox—stand up to a big bully snake. In the process, they find themselves some spec-tac-u-lar snakeskin capes!

Includes Bonus Animal Glossary!

About the Author: Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed, and produced for film. The American Booksellers Association chose her first book in The Nocturnal series, The Mysterious Abductions, as a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Last year, in partnership with the New York Public Library, she created a Noctural Read Aloud Writing Program for middle graders that has expanded worldwide. She splits her time between Oquossoc, Maine and New York City.  Check out our Q&A with her here!

Ricki’s Review: I don’t tend to gravitate to early readers because they can be awfully boring. This book breaks the mold. It’s fun and engaging, and my son loves reading it. I frequently catch him looking through the pages and staring at the pictures.  He didn’t know what nocturnal animals were before he read this book, and now, any time we see an animal, he asks if it is nocturnal. The conflict in this book is wonderfully portrayed, and it teaches about the power of friendship and bravery. I recommend this book for folks seeking engaging early readers that will capture children’s attention. It’s wonderfully done.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book to read! It not only will be great for Trent when he is a beginning reader to practice his reading, it is overall a fun story that is a fantastic read aloud. It looks at the idea of bravery and fear as well as friendship while also introducing scientific ideas like nocturnal animals and carnivore animals. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:  The Summer Reading Kit is available on the publisher’s website. This book begs readers to research nocturnal animals, and it provides a lot of opportunity for classroom use.

Additionally, the author uses a ton of alliteration which makes it super fun to read out loud but also gives a chance to introduce this literary device.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal is most afraid? How does friendship influence this character’s bravery?
  • How does the snake react to the friends? What does this tell you?
  • What other nocturnal animals do you know?
  • What do you think the setting of the book is based on the animals?
  • How does the author use alliteration throughout the book?
  • What words did you not know in the story? Using context what do you think they mean?

Flagged Passages: 

“Chapter 3

‘Did sss-someone sss-say breakfassst?’ the snake said.

Bismark spun around.

Behind hijm was a long, blue, shimmery snake.

The snake slid from the grass.

The snake raised its head.

The snake flicked its flickery tongue.

‘Bismark, look out!’ Dawn cried.” (p. 24-25)

Read This If You Loved: Night Animals by Gianna MarinoBaby Animals at Night by Kingfisher Publications, National Geographic Early Readers

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**Thank you to Stacey and Nicole at Fabled Films for providing copies for review!**

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Illustrator: Kerascoët
Anticipated Publication: April 24, 2018 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team—tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

My Review: I was very fortunate to receive an F&G of this book at ALA Midwinter. Whew! I was told that this book was inspired by a true story of a large group of students who walked with a student who was being bullied. It’s really quite magical. This is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide assortment of readers at a wide range of ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book rakes in a few awards next year. The story is beautifully done. It inspired some great conversations with my four-year-old. We were able to point to each of the characters and talk about what they were doing in each situation. That said, if I had to place this book in one age group, I think it would make a great fit at the early elementary school level.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a phenomenal book to talk about the bystanders. It would pair beautifully with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. When I read this with my son, we spent a lot of time point out several of the students on the pages. We talked about what each of them were doing and in some cases, what they weren’t doing. This book is a must-read.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the illustrator team chose to make the book wordless? How does this make the book more or less powerful for you?; What emotions do you see in the characters? Why are they feeling the way that they feel?; Do bystanders have a responsibility?

Flagged Passage: 

Image from Amazon

Read This If You Loved: My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review); Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Astronaut Annie
Author: Suzanne Slade; Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Published March 6, 2018 by Tilbury House Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she’ll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom’s favorite sport in high school — basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.

ReviewThis book served as a gentle reminder to me, as a parent! As Annie prepares for career day, all of her family members think she’d be great at their jobs. Annie honors their suggestions by creating a costume that incorporates all of their ideas, and just in case readers doubt her ability to be a female astronaut, the back matter (which features four famous women in space) would prove them wrong. This is a great story about a girl who sets her heart firmly on her dreams and is determined to pursue her passion. I particularly appreciated the ending, in which all of her family members are supportive of her dreams. I got emotional as I read it! I adored this book and feel lucky to have it in my library.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was very inspired by the school’s Career Day setup! Each child dresses like the career they want to be. Our local school districts does a lot of neat things, and this is the kind of idea that they would adopt. Perhaps teachers could read this book and then set up a Career Day that allows kids to dress up to represent a career that interests them. What a great, inspiring school day this would be!

Discussion Questions: How does Annie react to her family members’ suggestions? How does she honor their suggestions at the end of the story?; Are her family member supportive of her dreams?; What do you want to be when you grow up? What famous people have held this career? How could you learn more about this career?

We Flagged: “And Annie jumped high off her chair, explored far-off places and soared through the air.”

Read This If You Loved: Books about space, books that feature strong females(!), books that feature family

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**Thank you to Nicole for providing a copy for review**

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the  protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.

The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?

We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’

‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’

‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’

‘Yes, the world as you see it!’

‘I saved you from that evil woman!’

‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).

Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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What Do You Do with a Chance?
Author: Kobi Yamada
Illustrator: Mae Besom
Published: July 1, 2016 by Compendium Inc.

Summary: The award–winning creators of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea?and What Do You Do With a Problem? return with a captivating story about a child who isn’t sure what to make of a chance encounter and then discovers that when you have courage, take chances, and say yes to new experiences, amazing things can happen.

In this story, a child is visited by his first chance and unsure what to do with it, he lets it go. Later on, when a new chance arrives he reaches for it, but this time he misses and falls. Embarrassed and afraid, he begins ignoring each new chance that comes by, even though he still wants to take them. Then one day he realizes that he doesn’t need to be brave all the time, just at the right time, to find out what amazing things can happen when he takes a chance.

The final addition to the award-winning What Do You Do With…? picture book series created by New York Times best selling author Kobi Yamada and illustrator by Mae Besom, What Do You Do With a Chance? inspires kids of all ages and parents alike to find the courage to go for the opportunities that come their way. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.

Ricki’s Review: There is something absolutely magical about these books. This author/illustrator team is simply remarkable in their ability to make the abstract come alive. Each semester, I read one of the books from this series aloud to my preservice teachers. They will be teaching in secondary schools, but this book series makes it obvious about how they can powerfully use picture books in their classrooms. After I read the book aloud, I don’t need to go through a long justification of why picture books work well in middle and high schools. What I like about this series is that each book is different from the other two. They overlap in their conceptualization and they all are remarkable choices for the instruction of symbolism and creating writing–but they all teach very different, big ideas. I can see each book pairing well with a different canonical or YA text. 

Kellee’s Review: I hope each and every one my students leave my class with is that life is about trying and working hard and being creative and kindness and so much more than just passing tests, and Yamada’s series teaches all of these things in such a beautiful, fun, and inspiring way! The newest book in the series looks at the fear that comes with new things, and I think this is something that is so important to talk to kids about, doing anything different or new can be scary for a bunch of different reasons. And this ranges from toddlers (Trent is afraid of fast rides) to teenagers (who may be afraid of doing something that may look uncool or are too busy to grab a chance when it comes by). I am so sad that this is the final installation of the series, but I am so glad that we have the three we do. 

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: In previous posts for this series, we have discussed how teachers might use this book to teach word choice, symbolism, and creative writing. Teachers might also consider reading all three books aloud to students and talking about the ways they are conceptually similar and different. Students might discuss the paratext of the novels and the marketing of the books. They might also compare and contrast how the books offer completely different, powerful illustrations of abstract ideas.

Discussion Questions: What do you do with a chance?; How do the author and illustrator work together to make the abstract concept of a “chance” more concrete?; What does the book teach about courage?; When have you taken a chance? Did it work out? What did it teach you? What famous people in history have taken chances? What do you think they learned?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada; The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Journey by Aaron Becker

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