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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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Louisiana’s Way Home
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: October 2nd, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Louisiana’s Way Home: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Louisianaon Candlewick Press’s Louisiana’s Way Home page.

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Published: April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth, in the new century! When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

About the Author: Lamar Giles is a well-published author and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Lamar has two novels forthcoming in 2019: his debut middle grade fantasy The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (Versify / HMH) and his fourth YA thriller Spin (Scholastic).

Lamar Giles is a two-time Edgar Award finalist in the YA category, for his debut YA thriller Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014), and his second YA thriller, Endangered (HarperCollins, 2015). His third YA thriller, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) received this glowing New York Times review, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. You can see the book trailer for Overturned here. FAKE ID has been optioned by Sony Pictures.

Lamar is a contributor to the YA anthology Three Sides of a Heart (HarperCollins, 2017), the editor of the We Need Diverse Books YA short story anthology Fresh Ink (Random House 2018), a contributor to the forthcoming YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America (HarperCollins / Balzer & Bray 2019), and a contributor to a forthcoming We Need Diverse Books middle grade anthology The Hero Next Door (Random House 2019). He has published several short stories for adults. You can see tv interviews with Lamar here, and here, and here, and in a truly fun “Fun Facts” short interview, created by HarperCollins.

Lamar Giles — About the Book: “I’ve spent a lot of time talking with kids and their parents as I’ve crisscrossed the country on my writing journey,” says Giles. “Parents are looking for books to ignite a love for reading in their children, and kids are looking for fun books. I swore that if I ever had the chance to put a book full of words I’d written in the hands of a young reader they’d be the kinds of stories that drew them in willingly, entertained them, opened portals that they’d get lost in for hours. Every day I approach the blank page hoping I can write the One Book that makes all the difference in some reader’s life. I hope that The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer is that book for at least a few children.”

Praise: 

“The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminds me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of The Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder.”
– Jason Reynolds, author of Newbery Honoree Long Way Down

“The legendary heroes of this legendary book are already legendary when the story begins! From there things can only get legendary-er!”
– Tom Angleberger, author of the Origami Yoda series

“Lamar Giles has written an instant classic – readers won’t want their time with the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County to end.”
– Gwenda Bond, author of the Lois Lane series

Ricki’s Review: Can I go on an adventure with Otto and Sheed? This pair is full of excitement, and it made me want to leap into the book to join them in their sleuthing. I loved the concept of freezing time, and I giggled as they interacted with characters who were frozen in time. This book will set children’s minds into imaginative wonder, and it will spurn creativity. Objects are personified in exciting ways, and it just tilts reality on its head. I don’t read a lot of middle grade texts, but this one was particularly fun. I am looking forward to reading this to my sons when they are a tiny bit older.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book! Let me count the ways: 1) robots; 2) time travel; 3) mysterious evil person; 4) giant platypus-like creatures; 5) flying cars; 6) giant fly paper; 7) monsters trapped in mirrors; 8) frozen time; etc. etc. So much is going on in this book that makes it so engaging. Take all of this and pair it with a cousin team who solve mysteries in their slightly-off county that now have the fate of everyone they know and love on their shoulders, and you have a book that is going to be a favorite!

I also would love to talk about the theme! However, I cannot talk about the theme. (I know–a tease!) The theme is part of the big reveal at the end. But I want to vaguely say that it is a theme that so many kids need to hear and we, as adults, need to talk to them about. (Though–even with this important theme, the book’s main pull is its just pure, fun adventures!)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to encourage students to shift reality in a bit. They might begin by brainstorming possibilities of objects to personify in the world or constants to disrupt (e.g. time). This allows for very creative and fun storytelling possibilities!

The text is also a wonderful one to practice prediction and spotting foreshadowing! As you read the text aloud, have students stop you when they think they have spotted a clue to the mystery and also make predictions between chapters about what is going to happen (don’t forget to check the predictions!).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was your favorite part of Otto and Sheed’s adventure?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
    • How do you think these comparisons/contrasts help make them a good team?
  • After each chapter make a prediction. Check your predictions throughout the book.
  • What events in the book caused other events to happen?
    • Look particularly at how time traveling affected the timeline.
  • What literary devices did Giles use that were particularly effective for you?
  • This book contains a fast-moving plot and exciting adventure. But it also contains depth in its themes and lessons. What did you learn? What would you apply to your own life?

Flagged Passage: 

“‘Well, hello, young men!’

Otto spun at the sound of the new voice. Sheed hinged up at his waist, shielding his eyes with one had and squinting into the sunlight. The approaching silhouette was string-bean slim and taller than most, thanks to the stovepipe hat propped crookedly on his head. He stepped quickly, his skinny arms and legs whipping him forward with almost boneless ease. Tipping his head toward them, the hat’s brim slashed a shadow across his face, dividing it diagonally, leaving a single crystal blue eye, half a nose, and a split grin visible.

‘Who are you?’ Sheed said, getting his feed under him.

Otto, shorter and wider than his cousin, gravitated to Sheed’s side. Both of them angled slightly  away from each other for a better view of their flanks, in case something dangerous tried to sneak up on them Maneuver #24.

‘I’m a fan!’ The man offered his hand. ‘You two are the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, correct?’

Otto relaxed. ‘Yeah. We are!’

‘You all dispersed the Laughing Locusts before they devoured the county crops!’ he said. ‘You solved the Mystery of the Woman in Teal!’

Sheed stiffened. ‘How do you know that?’

‘Doesn’t everyone in Logan County know you two?’

Yes, Otto thought, proud of their reputation, they do!

Sheed, always a killjoy, said ‘You’re not from Logan County.'” (Chapter 2)

Read This If You Love: The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca AnsariThe Night Door by Frank Cammuso, The Explorers series (#1, #2) by Adrienne Kress, Watch Hollow by Gregory FunaroCoraline by Neil Gaiman

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Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine
Author: Jonathan London; Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Published: December 18, 2018 by Two Lions

GoodReads Summary: Join Duck, Hippo, and their friends as they uncover their secret valentines!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and something curious is going on. As the birds tweet their love songs, Hippo and his friends Elephant, Pig, and Turtle each receive mysterious, unsigned Valentine’s Day cards. Hippo wonders if his is from Duck; Elephant and Turtle think theirs are from Pig; and Pig dreams that hers is from Turtle. The cards tell the friends to come to the park at four o’clock to meet their valentines—so they’ll find out soon enough! As the clock ticks away, the friends wonder—and dream—about their valentines and make special preparations. But when they arrive…SURPRISE!

This Valentine’s Day might not go exactly the way they expected, but one thing is certain: being friends with Duck and Hippo is always a special treat!

Ricki’s Review: Valentine’s Day is coming up, and this book will surely drum up the excitement! I brought this book out during my night-time reading session with my kids, and my 5-year-old shrieked, “More Duck and Hippo! Yay!” Duck and Hippo are a beloved duo that are on their way to becoming a classic pair like Frog and Toad. Kids in the current generation recognize them and love them. Adults are starting to recognize them, too! I am just waiting for more Duck and Hippo stuffed animals to appear in stores! One thing I loved about this book is that it focused on friendship. Each of the animals is particularly excited about which friend sent the valentine. There is so much joy as they guess who the secret valentine might be and head toward the park. Readers who are experienced with the Duck and Hippo series can make great predictions while reading the book. Others will just be excited as they turn the pages! This would make a great read-aloud for classrooms on Valentine’s Day because the focus isn’t on commercial items but friendship and neighborly love.

Kellee’s Review: In this fourth installment of the Duck and Hippo series, the author continues to teach important lessons to the readers that they may not have thought about. Too often Valentine’s Day is focused on the commercial: How many cards did you get? Did s/he get you a gift? etc. etc. But really, the point of the holiday is to spend time with those you love. And like other stories with unexpected friendship, Duck and Hippo show that opposites attract and first impressions aren’t always correct. In addition to the story, the illustrations add a whole other layer to the story by taking the shared emotions that were written and showing them. Together, the story and the illustrations tell a story that kids will easily connect to and love.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Valentine’s Day is often a day of parties in elementary schools. To move away from the commercial focus of the holiday, teachers might use this book to foster a secret valentine’s day party. This would be great fun!

There’s more fun with Duck and Hippo in the free downloadable activity sheets (including a learn-to-draw page!): https://www.andrewjoyner.com.au/activities/

Discussion Questions: Who did you predict the secret valentine would be?; What do each of the animals think?; What were their reactions when they arrived at the park?; Is there someone in your life who might enjoy a secret valentine?

Book Trailer: 

The fourth book in the Duck and Hippo series is a sweet way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Check out the trailer!

Read This If You Loved: The other books in the Duck and Hippo series (like this one!); Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion

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Giveaway!
Two Lions is offering a copy of Duck and Hippo to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses).

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip for providing copies for review!**

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Hush Up and Hibernate
Author: Sandra Markle
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Published August 28th 2018 by Persnickety Press

Goodreads Summary: Leaves are falling, a cold wind is blowing, geese are heading south. Clearly, winter is coming. It’s time for black bears to do what they always do this time of year―hibernate. Kids will get a kick out of this romp of a tale about a black bear cub that finds every excuse imaginable to avoid the inevitable go-to-bed moment. Will Mama Bear finally win? Or will Baby Bear come up with the ultimate reason to skip going to sleep?

Review: As I sit and write this post, it is 9:50pm, and my older child is upstairs not sleeping. The chance of him crafting an excuse to come out of his room within the next 10 minutes? High. So saying that I enjoyed this book is an understatement. I found great joy in reading this book to my son. We first read it a few weeks ago, and I’ve told him to hush up and hibernate a few dozen times. It’s a clever book that parents will enjoy immensely. The illustrations are beautifully done (take a look at the gem shared below!). If you take a look at the cover image (above), you will see the baby bear’s face. The way he’s reacting to his mother is an all-too-familiar look that makes me chuckle. I absolutely adored this charming book. When my son chooses it for his bedtime book, I have a warm, happy feeling. This signifies that it is a good book and one to keep.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be fun for kids to create their own version of this book—imagining an animal that is refusing to do something and giving every excuse imaginable to a parent. I suspect that this would be a fun writing exercise for kids, and they might reconsider their constant excuses.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the excuses that Baby Bear uses? What excuses have you used? What strategies does he use, and do they work?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved: Share, Big Bear, Share by Maureen Wright, Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton, Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo

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**Thank you to Wiley at Saichek Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Death and Douglas
Author: J.W. Ocker
Published October 31st, 2017 by Sky Pony Press

Summary: Douglas has grown up around the business of death.

Generations of his family have run the Mortimer Family Funeral Home. The mortician and gravediggers are all his buddies. And the display room of caskets is an awesome place for hide and seek. It’s business as usual in Douglas’s small New England town.

Until one day an incredibly out of the ordinary murder victim is brought to the funeral home. And more startling: others follow. On the cusp of Halloween, a serial killer has arrived. And unsatisfied with the small-town investigation, Douglas enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery.

With sumptuous descriptions of a bucolic town and its quirky people, fascinating yet middle grade–appropriate insider information about the funeral process, and a crackling mystery with a heart-pounding conclusion—Death and Douglas has something for readers young and old.

About the Author: J. W. Ocker is the Edgar Award–winning author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe. His work has appeared in Rue Morgue magazine, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, and other places people stick writing. He’s from Maryland but has lived in New Hampshire since 2008. This is his first book for children.

Praise: 

“Ocker populates his eerie New England town with a memorable cast, and gives us a compelling hero in Douglas Mortimer. Kids and coffee-drinkers beware!” —Patrick Moody, author of The Gravedigger’s Son

“With the perfect balance of macabre and mystery, the ideal combination of horror and humor, the Ghastlies are bringing plenty of goosebumps and giggles for everyone!” —Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

Review: To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started this book because it is way creepier than I thought it was going to be, but a serial killer on the loose in a town definitely will add that creep factor to any book.

Douglas is definitely well-rounded and mature when it comes to death, it has been around him his entire life, but all death he’s encountered has been natural or an accident until now. This is an interesting point of view for a character as I’ve never read a middle grade book with a character like Douglas. All of a sudden, a young boy who never feared death realizes that there is evil in some deaths and that scares him more than it may scare most because it is a new realization. This definitely adds to the suspense because Douglas is not only questioning everything around him but also on the look out for a serial killer, so all bumps in the night are a reason to jump.

I will also say that the conclusion was not what I saw coming!

Side note: Douglas and his friends did some DANGEROUS things, and I know that we have to suspend our belief when reading, but the whole time as an adult I wanted to yell at them for being so ridiculously careless in their safety by searching for a serial killer! Kids: Do not do that at home!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students are always asking me for mystery books or horror books, and they are so hard to come by in middle school; however, this one will be perfect for them! Death and Douglas belongs in libraries of any kind!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why are Douglas’s friends jealous of how his parents treat him?
  • How did Douglas become so well rounded when it comes to death?
  • What is a mortician vs a medical examiner?
    • The different terms for mortician are discussed: What are the different connotations of the different terms (mortician, undertaker, funeral director)?
  • How did Douglas and his friends put themselves in danger? What should they have done instead?
  • Who do you think is the serial killer? Were you right?
  • How are Lowell and Douglas different? Why does their friendship work so well?

Flagged Passages: “Maybe Lowell’s crazy plan was worth going along with, for a little while at least. Despite the terrors of teh night, both old and new, Douglas found himself comfortably lost in his own thoughts.

Until the dogwoods spoke to him.

Somewhere behind the ordered row of trunks, a short hiss of words seemed to connect the space behind him and them. They sounded hollow, inhuman, almost breaths.

He ran.

Ran like he’d never run in gym class, like no game of tag he’d ever played in the cemetery. Cold terror is the best fuel for the body.

Douglas didn’t dare look back. Didn’t even dare try to use the cane, which suddenly seemed silly in his hands. His breath came out ragged, and his feed slapped the ground even harder as he raced across the street to the front lawn of the funeral home. As he ran, he thought he could hear echoes of those sounds behind him. So close behind.

He ran even faster.

The night silhouette of the funeral home loomed above him–a scary place for some, a safe harbor for him.” (Chapter 11)

Read This If You Love: Murder mysteries or any mysteries!

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**Thank you to Sky Horse for providing a copy for review!**

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Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheet
Author: Anthony Pearson
Illustrator: Jennifer E. Morris
Published October 1st, 2018 by Two Lions

Summary: Eduardo Guadardo may look fluffy. He may look cute. But he’s no little lamb. He’s about to graduate from the FBI—that’s the Fairytale Bureau of Investigations—as an Elite Sheep. He knows five forms of kung fu, and he can outfox the foxiest of foxes. In fact, he’s so good they put him on his own case: to keep the farmer’s daughter, Mary, safe from Wolf, Troll, and Witch. It’s a job for somebody baaaaaaad—someone like a soon-to-be Elite Sheep. The thing is, protecting Mary isn’t quite as easy as Eduardo expected…

This imaginary backstory for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is hilarious, action-packed, and filled with subterfuge (that means pulling the wool over your eyes, for you civilians).

About the Author: Anthony Pearson is not a spy. He’s not. We promise. He’s actually a school counselor, a child therapist, and the author of Baby Bear Eats the Night, illustrated by Bonnie Leick. But that didn’t stop him from digging for clues about “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” What he found made him imagine what could have inspired the rhyme: a sheep that is totally, absolutely, 100 percent in control of things … or maybe just 95 percent. And squirrels in sunglasses. Oh, and a witch flying a helicopter. But you didn’t hear about the Fairytale Bureau of Investigations from him. Anthony and his family live in deep cover in Georgia. Get more intel about him at www.AnthonyPearson.info. Twitter: @APearson_Writer

About the Illustrator: Jennifer E. Morris has written and illustrated award-winning picture books and has also illustrated children’s magazines, greeting cards, partyware, and educational materials. She has not illustrated classified documents nor is she a super secret agent. She is, however, the creator of May I Please Have a Cookie? which has infiltrated more than a million homes. If you say “The dove flies at noon,” she may tell you what the ducks recorded on their cameras. Maybe. But most likely not. Jennifer lives with her family in Massachusetts, just a few miles from the little red schoolhouse where “Mary Had a Little Lamb” originated. Read more of her dossier (that’s DAH-see-ay) at www.jenmorris.com. Twitter: @jemorrisbooks

Review: What a fun and quite smart idea! I didn’t know that I ever wondered how Mary got her lamb, but this backstory is one epic way for that nursery rhyme to come about! And Eduardo Guadardo is quite the character, and it really does give another outlook on why Mary’s lamb went to school with her. I also liked the additional layer that the author added to the story to show how arrogance does not lead to success and that even if you are good at something, if you can’t learn and work with others, you will not do well.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Allusions, allusions, allusions! Eduardo Guadardo may be a backstory for Mary Has a Little Lamb, but so many other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters are scattered throughout the book! Trent and I played a scavenger hunt for characters in the book and with older students who could do more discussions and analysis with these cameos.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters did you see in the book?
  • Why were the witch, troll, and wolf the bad guys in the story? What other stories are they the antagonists?
    • How did the author use your preconceived notions to trick you about these three in the end?
  • Why did Mary’s lamb follow her to school one day?
  • How did Mary trick Eduardo? What did the trick teach Eduardo?
  • Based on the final spread, what fairy tale are Eduardo and Mary going to take on next?
    • What do you think is going to happen?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Fractured Fairy Tales!

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*Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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