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Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine
Author: Dusti Bowling
Illustrator: Gina Perry
Published April 13th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month—cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.

About the Creators:

DUSTI BOWLING is the award-winning, bestselling author of Insignificant Events in the Life of a CactusMomentous Events in the Life of a Cactus24 Hours in NowhereThe Canyon’s Edge, and the forthcoming Across the Desert and Aven Green chapter book series. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Gina Perry graduated from Syracuse University, worked as a compositor in animation, then an art director for a stationery manufacturer, before discovering her true passion—writing and illustrating children’s books. She lives with her family in NH.

Praise:

“[Bowling] infuses her writing with humor and empathy.” —School Library Journal (starred) 

“A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Unapologetically smart and refreshingly confident in her abilities, this super-sleuth extraordinaire is a joy to tag along with.” —Booklist

“Aven’s candid voice ensures that this chapter book series starter will draw a young audience.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: I am so happy that Aven is now starring in chapter books. Her voice is one of my favorites in middle grade literature because it is full of truth and humor. Her voice is just as strong in this chapter book as it was in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, just a bit younger.

In addition to Aven’s voice, the story is a compelling one! I’m a fan of mysteries, and this is a fun kid lit mystery. Also, the cast of characters are wonderful! I am a huge fan of Aven’s friends.

And I cannot wait until August when Aven Green, Baking Machine comes out!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see Aven Green read in classrooms! It would be such a fun book to read together as a class! The class could even keep track of all of the clues and see if they can figure out the mystery!

There are also opportunities in the book to talk about acronyms and word play!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Aven keep track of her clues?
  • What type of materials does Aven need to be a good detective?
  • How did Aven help Sujata with acclimating with the new school?
  • What are your slumber party traditions?
  • What is a time you have heard a word incorrectly like Emily heard hen droids?
  • Have you ever lost something? How did you work to find it?
  • If you were going to do a report on a country

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Magnificent Makers series by Theanne Griffith; King and Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler; The Misadventures of Toni Macaroni in The Mad Scientists by Cetonia Weston-Roy; The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Meena series by Karla Manternach; Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty; Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi; A Boy Called Bat series by Elana K. Arnold

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**Thank you to Sterling for providing a copy for review!**

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Follow That Frog!
Author: Philip C. Stead
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Published: February 2, 2021 by Holiday House

GoodReads Summary: When a curiously croaking stranger comes knocking at the door, Aunt Josephine launches into a rambling tale about her lifelong pursuit of a rare giant frog.

Eccentric Aunt Josephine poignantly ignores a stranger knocking at her door as she tells her niece Sadie the story of her time in the jungles of Peru, cataloguing amphibians for the scientific team of Admiral Rodriguez. When the admiral’s son was suddenly swallowed by a giant frog, Aunt Josephine gave chase in a journey which took her around the world.

In the tradition of Philip Stead and Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s previous collaborations Special Delivery and The Only Fish in the Sea, this is a story full of rambunctious fun and sensationally appealing artwork.

Ricki’s Review: I could not stop laughing as I read this book. This, in turn, made my kids laugh. It was a joyous affair–ha ha! I have not read the first two books in the series, and this book stood alone very nicely. Aunt Josephine’s story is simply fantastic, and this feels like it will be a classic. It’s a bizarre, quirky telling, but this makes it stand out from other books that I’ve read. 

The illustrations are absolutely marvelous–not surprising, given the illustrator–and the story is very engaging. The story winds in a way that keeps readers on their toes and feels different and exciting. This book demands to be read aloud to a crowd of children! Adults and children alike will want to read this one again and again.

Kellee’s Review: Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell sure have a vivid imagination and silly sense of humor, and this book definitely show that it is true–once again Aunt Josephine takes the reader on a wild adventure! This book strays away a bit from the structure of the first two books in the series because instead of Sadie going on an adventure, Aunt Josephine shares an adventure SHE had from her younger days. 

I loved this story because it gave us a bit more insight into Aunt Josephine as we got glimpses not only into her past but also into her home, and it all gives us a bit of an understanding of some of Sadie’s characteristics! I think the easiest way to describe it all is quirky, equally balanced between Stead’s sensational story telling and Cordell’s intricate illustrations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is an obvious choice for read alouds and creative writing classes. I’d also use it with high school and adult readers, too. It teaches excellent examples of craft that could be analyzed richly by all ages and would inspire writing of all kinds.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the story maintain reader interest?
  • How do the illustrations pair with the story to make the story more effective?
  • Was the ending what you predicted? How does the ending enhance the story?

Read This If You Loved: Special Delivery and The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip Stead; Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion

Author and Illustrator Interview

What keeps bringing you back to Sadie and Josephine?
MATTHEW: Phil’s had such great ideas and adventures for them, so I was always thrilled to be on board. I love the strange world these characters inhabit and the madcap stories they tell. So much fun to draw!
PHILIP: Sadie and Josephine are two of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. Matt and I talked a lot at the outset about wanting strong female leads that were confident and capable in the face of increasingly ridiculous circumstances. It’s just been so much fun coming up with those ridiculous circumstances and watching how Sadie and Josephine power right through.

Was the original story a collaboration? If not, how did it come to be? And is it more of a collaboration now that you’re on book 3?
MATTHEW: Unlike most author and illustrator picture book team scenarios, Phil and I and our editor Neal have collaborated through and through. Typically, authors and illustrators do not work together to make a picture book come to life. It’s a bit more of a relay race. The author does the first bit with the editor. Then the editor passes the baton to an illustrator to finish up the book. But since Phil and I were friends before Special Delivery (book 1), we always wanted to work together with Neal, so that’s how it’s always been. It’s always been a very natural and organic way of working for us. Can’t imagine it any other way, really!
PHILIP: Ditto that! Really, collaboration is the only way of working I’ve ever known. The only other illustrator I’ve worked with (other than myself) is my wife Erin. Writing work and illustration work are constantly overlapping in our studio and I think that overlap leads to better, more cohesive books. I definitely think many of the weird quirks of the three Sadie books wouldn’t have survived the more normal book making process where author and illustrator work separately on their own little islands.

Each Sadie story has an animal focus–how do you choose which animal(s) will be in the story?
PHILIP: Well, obviously I have a thing for elephants that goes back to my first book with Erin, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. My first book with Matt, Special Delivery, centers around an elephant as well. I love how expressive an elephant face can be. Erin and Matt are both very expressive illustrators, albeit with very different results. That’s probably why elephants came to mind for both of them. Plus, an elephant can really fill up a book page nicely. All the other animal choices are somewhat opportunistic. Like, who wouldn’t want to see Matt illustrate a giant frog riding on the back of a rhea?! A rhea is basically a South American ostrich, for those of you reading that aren’t current on your ornithological studies.

Any plans for more Sadie stories?
MATTHEW: Nothing else is in the works for Sadie, Aunt Josephine, Sherman, and those monkeys. But Phil, Neal, and I (different kind of monkeys?) are already working up a whole different picture book idea now. I’m currently in sketches for this one. And hopefully there will be more books on down the road too. I sent Phil some drawings from my sketchbook a while ago to see if he could pry a story out of them. We shall see!
PHILIP: In Follow That Frog! there’s talk of getting to Paris. I’d love to send Sadie and Josephine to Paris someday. But for now Matt and I are onto something new.

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**Thank you to Sara at Holiday House for providing copies for review!**

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“Story Talk: Use Conversation to Fall in Love with a Book–A Reading Resource using Float by Daniel Miyares”

Reading a story with a child is one of the most loving ways to build a relationship. Snuggled up together, you can laugh, feel sad, be curious, and learn something, together. Stories open up worlds and let us see things through the eyes of another. It’s the best way to teach empathy.

The first few times you read a story, just enjoy the experience of saying the words, or looking at the pictures. How is your child responding? Let them just sit with the feelings they have.

But you don’t have to stop there. The real reason to read a story more than once or twice is so you can get to know it better, learn its secrets, discover what it’s trying to tell you. Just like a new friend, the first few times you meet, you just want to have fun. But each time you return to the story, try to learn a little more about it. This is how you fall in love with storytelling, and with reading.

Here’s a secret about authors: They wish they could be in the room with you, talking to you about their story. Since they can’t do that, they leave you clues instead. It’s like a puzzle – can you figure out what the author was thinking about? Why did they use that word, that color, or those images? The author loves it when you take the time to get to know what they are thinking.

Once you feel like you understand howthe author thinks, see if you can determine whythe author thinks that way. What was this story really trying to tell you?

Take a look at the picture book Float by Daniel Miyares. There are no words, but it is most definitely a rich story. The first time you read it, just flip through the pages and ask your child what is happening. What is this story about?

After a few reads, you can stop at a few places on each page and point to something, pose a question, and ponder with your child about the choices that the author or illustrator made. Not only are you getting to know the story better, you are providing your child with a blueprint for how to approach reading. Can they visualize something? Will they make a prediction? Does this story connect with their own life in any way? When children can do these things on their own, they are more likely to stay engaged with reading, and to go beyond the surface to explore deeper understanding.

If you want an example of how this can look, follow the prompts in the figure below. On each page of the story, notice the feature identified under “Stop at…”. Have a conversation about the feature. As you do this, you are modeling great reading strategies, such as Visualizing, Making Predictions, Summarizing, Asking Questions, Inferring, or Making Connections to the text. These conversations are reading skill-builders.

Then, go a little deeper. Ask your child to consider what the author was thinking about, or to try to explain a choice the author made. These questions will help the child understand that behind every story is a human being who just wants a moment of your time to talk to you about something they care about.

In school, teachers will call this “close reading.” Close reading means reading a text more than once, for multiple purposes. First, read to get the gist. What is the story about? Who are the characters? What happens first, in the middle, and at the end?

Next, read for author’s craft. This means paying attention to the word choices the author made, the text structure they chose, the images they used. What was the context for the story? From whose point of view is the story told?

Finally, read to evaluate the ideas from multiple perspectives. What does the story stir up in you? Does it make you want to take an action, or make a change in your own life?

This may sound very dry and academic and like it takes a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be so formal. It’s a conversation, a way to make friends with a story, and let it into your life. Get to know it, ask it questions, try to understand its point of view. Be a good friend. In return, you may get a companion that will stay with you for a long, long time.

As you read…

Page Suggestions of Places to Pause… Focus on a Reading Strategy… Have a Discussion About…
Inside cover Arrows and dotted lines Visualize: What do the arrows mean? What do the dotted lines mean?

How many sheets of paper will be needed to make this?

Text Structure: What is the author/illustrator showing us?
Title Float Inferring: What did the instructions on the previous page make? (Hint: There’s a clue on the cover)
1-2 Picture: Notice the blue square Inferring: How many people are in the picture? Who do you think they are? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: Why is there only a little bit of color on the paper? What does the illustrator want you to notice?
3-4 What the child is wearing; the sky Predicting: What will the weather be like? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: Why did the author make the coat and boots the only color in the picture?
5-6 Third panel Questioning: How does the child feel in the first panel? In the second? In the third? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: What do the three panels represent?
7-8 Yellow Visualize: Does this look like rainstorms you have seen?

Make Connections: Do you like the rain?

Gist: What is this story about so far?
9-10 Reflections Question: Has the weather changed? Why is the picture of the house and tree upside down? Citing Evidence: How do you know it is still raining?
11-12 Blurred lines, ripples Summarizing: Explain what is happening in this picture. Citing Evidence: How does the author/illustrator show movement?
13-14 Second panel Visualizing: What angle are we seeing the child from? How do you know?

What do the wavy white lines mean?

Gist: What did the rain provide for the boat?
15-16 Child holding his hat; perspective Predicting: Who is faster- the child or the boat?

What will happen to the boat?

Citing Evidence: The child is holding onto the hat. Is it windy or is the child running fast? What are the clues in the picture?
17-18 Child’s pose Summarize: Explain what has happened. Integration of Ideas: How has the child’s feelings about the boat changed so far?
19-20 Top panel Questioning: Did the child see the boat cross the street?
21-22 Child’s pose Predicting: What is about to happen to the boat?
23-24 Child’s face Making Connections: How does it feel to lose something you care about? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: The illustrator used the color black and drew a shadow across the boat. Do you think the child will be able to find the boat?
25-26 Water Inferring: Where did the boat go?  
27-28 Third panel Inferring: How does the child feel? Integration of Ideas: The weather has changed again. What is the relationship between the rain and the child’s mood?
29-30 Shadow Visualizing: What time of day is it? Where is the child going?  
31-32 Boat Questioning: Who opened the door? Gist: What do you think the child will tell the adult about what happened?
33-34 First and third panels Making Connections: What do you do when someone you care about is sad? What makes you feel better when you are sad?  
35-36 Pink picture in the paper Predicting: What do you think they will make with the paper? Citing Evidence: Is it morning or night-time? What clues did the illustrator give you?
37-38 Color of the sky; what the child is holding Summarizing: What time of day is it? How do you know?

Predicting: What is going to happen next?

Integration of Ideas: Yellow is a bright color. What does the author/illustrator want us to know about how the child is feeling?
39-40 Child’s pose, clothes Predicting: Was your prediction from the last page correct? Integration of Ideas: What is something you can tell yourself when something makes you sad? What determines if you will be happy or sad?
41-42 Arrows, dotted lines Questioning: Why did this story end this way? Text Structure: How is this page the same as, and different from, the opening page?
Furthering the Conversation
Think about the title. What does the word “float” mean? Explain what it means for a boat or for a plane. How could you use the word “float” to describe an attitude?

Do you have a favorite story that you would like broken down this way? Please send suggestions to Story Talk, a website for engaging in reading conversations. https://hillwolfe.wixsite.com/story-talk, or email me at hw.storytalk@gmail.com.

About Educator Hillary Wolfe: Hillary Wolfe is a Director of Curriculum and Instruction in El Monte, CA, who has worked with students from grades pre-K through 12, and has served as an instructional coach, intervention coordinator, and media specialist. As a classroom teacher, she created a writing curriculum for middle- and high school literacy students reading two or more years below grade level, helping her students achieve substantial gains on state exams. Ms. Wolfe also brings 10 years as a journalist and an education columnist to her understanding of instruction and best practices. She has written books on writing strategies (Capstone 2013/2015), and teachers guides for phonemic awareness activities (Capstone 2017), as well as articles on literacy and intervention in national journals. She has made presentations around literacy for national organizations, and has served as an editor, curriculum writer, and Academic Officer in educational publishing as well as a Coordinator for Academic Interventions for the Orange County Department of Education.

Float
Creator: Daniel Miyares
Published June 9th, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children

About the Book:A boy’s small paper boat and his large imagination fill the pages of this wordless picture book, a modern-day classic from the creator of Pardon Me! that includes endpaper instructions for building a boat of your own.

A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him.

So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

This seemingly simply story from Daniel Miyares is enriched with incredible depth and texture that transcend words.

Thank you, Hillary, for this amazing resource!

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Eat the Cake
Author: M. H. Clark
Illustrator: Jana Glatt
Published February 1, 2020 by Compendium

Summary:It’s your day to be wild and fearless and free. It’s your day for becoming the next thing you’ll be. Though today is your party, it doesn’t stop here–it should keep right on going and last you all year.

Roll out the streamers, blow up the balloons, and celebrate all the great things that are coming your way! With its colorful cast of characters, delightfully detailed illustrations, and playful rhymes, this festive book will ignite good feelings for birthdays and any occasion where cake is appropriate. (And cake is always appropriate!) A fun and joyfilled gift for anyone ages 5 to 105. Features a hardcover with embossing.

Review: We all need to celebrate ourselves! This book gives readers the perfect excuse to do so! This is a very motivational text that reminds readers all of the reasons that they should be proud and happy to be themselves. Readers will come away from this book wanting to try new things and go to new places. This book would make a WONDERFUL gift to readers of all ages. Folks tend to buy the Oh, the Places You’ll Go book, but Eat the Cake offers something new and fresh (and something that another relative might not buy!). 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If I was still teaching K-12 and had the means to do so, I would buy this book for every single one of my students at graduation. It would make a wonderful read aloud for the last day. I don’t think I could read this to my exiting students without crying! I will be purchasing this treasure for my graduate assistants. 🙂

Book Spreads! Book Spreads!:

Read This If You Loved: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, Inspirational Books

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**Thank you to Compendium for providing a copy for review!!**

And we conclude with a PARTY!:

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Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Calkins Creek

Summary: The early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as a maker of American buildings—highlighting his passion, imagination and creativity.

Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Wisconsin prairie where he was born, with its wide-open sky and waves of tall grass. As his family moved across the United States, young Frank found his own home in shapes: rectangles, triangles, half-moons, and circles. So, Frank pursued a career in architecture. Unlike everyone else, he didn’t think the Victorian homes fit the beauty of the land. Using his love of shapes, Frank redesigned the American home inside and out, developing a unique architecture, the Prairie House.

Author Barb Rosenstock and artist Christopher Silas Neal explore the early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighting his passion, imagination, and ingenuity.

Backmatter includes historical photos, author’s note, quotations, sources, source notes, architectural plans and a photo gallery of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings across America.

About the Creators: 

Author Barb Rosenstock is the author of many picture book biographies, including Otis and Will Discover the Deep, Secret Kingdom, Dorothea’s Eyes, Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, and The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero. Her picture book about Kandinsky, The Noisy Paint Box, won the 2015 Caldecott Medal.

Illustrator Christopher Silas Neal is the author and illustrator of multiple picture books, including I Won’t Eat That and Everyone. He is also the illustrator of Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond, Over and Under the Snow, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Book Trailer: 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for Prairie Boy: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about the book on Barb Rosenstock’s Prairie Boy page.

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Barkus: Dog Dreams
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Barkus is back! With new tricks. New friends. And lots more fun.

The lovable Barkus and his lucky young owner romp through the pages of this delightful series from Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The simple text told in short chapters is just right for children ready to take their first steps toward reading on their own.

View my post about Barkus to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Barkus series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Barkus on Chronicle Book’s Barkus Book 2 page.

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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