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Brave in the Woods
Author: Tracy Holczer
Published January 5th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.

Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.

Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.

From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope.

About the Author: Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. The Secret Hum of a Daisy was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found there if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. Following her debut, Everything Else in the Universe was published, and  Brave in the Woods is her third novel.

Praise: 

★ “This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. . . Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. . . Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journalstarred review

“Holczer’s clear, gentle prose allows the emotional and descriptive elements of the text to shine in this multilayered road-trip story . . . A thoughtful exploration of grief, family lore, and human connection.” —Kirkus Reviews

“By turns heartbreaking and humorous, this is a story that hints at the possibility of magic while remaining rooted in real-world problems and relationships. There is love and hope amid the grief and confusion, just as the Grimm tales contain both wonders and horrors in their own right. A heartfelt lesson on the power of love and the tales we tell ourselves.” —Booklist

Review: Brave in the Woods is the story of grief, hope, true friendship, love, and truth. With Holczer’s brilliance of story telling, just about every emotion is felt while reading this novel as Juni goes through all of the emotions alongside us. And with just a dash of magical realism, the story has a magical feeling weaved throughout it from beginning to end.

Add to these emotions a road trip, fun and unique characters, a dog (and a ornery cat), and a quirky family history, and you have a must read middle grade novel for so many readers who need this story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Juni’s family legend says that they are related to the Grimm Brothers, so there are allusions to the Grimm fairy tales throughout the book. Use these to introduce and discuss allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the author chose a stag throughout the novel?
  • Why was it so important to Juni to get Elsie?
  • Which of the characters who helped Juni along the way do you like the best? Why?
  • How are Juni and Anya alike?
  • How are each of the characters grieving differently?
  • How does the author compare bees and asthma?
  • How does the author use the setting like a character to drive the plot?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Velvet Bones

Juniper felt it when her brother disappeared.

She was certain of this.

Oddly, her lungs didn’t go all wonky the way they sometimes did when bad things happened. Like a hive of bees inside her chest, using up every bit of her breath with their buzzing and swarming.

That feeling would come later.”

Read This If You Love: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, Other Tracy Holczer novels

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Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Author: Joanna Ho
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Published: January 5, 2021 by HarperCollins

Summary: This lyrical and stunning picture book tells a story about learning to love and celebrate your Asian-shaped eyes, in the of spirit of Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self love and empowerment.

This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages and is a celebration of diversity.

Ricki’s Review: This book is beautiful and poetic. You could give it to any reader of any age, and they would be captivated by how beautifully it is conceived, constructed and delivered. The lyrical lilt of the words as it is read aloud are captivating. I found myself pausing at the end of reading each page to take in the beauty of the author’s language. Ahh, and the illustrations! The cover is just a teaser for the stunning pictures within this book. I am really excited to gift this book to friends and family. It exemplifies the beauty and power of pictures books. I plan to read it aloud to my YAL class next semester. This book just hit the shelves, and I expect it to be very popular.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book to offer students examples of figurative language. Often, figurative language can feel forced, but here, it flows magically with the storyline. I found that reading this book inspired me to want to write!

“Mama’s eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea

crinkle into crescent moons…”

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author use figurative language effectively?
  • What do you believe to be the author’s and illustrator’s message? How do they convey this message?
  • Who does the main character draw strength from? Who do you draw strength from?

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Image from: https://www.joannahowrites.com/eyes-that-kiss

Read This If You Love: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

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**Thank you, Keely, from SparkPoint Studio for sending a copy for review!**

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Respect by Otis Redding, Illustrated by Rachel Moss
These Books Are Made for Walkin’ by Lee Hazelwood, Illustrated by Rachel Moss
Move the Crowd by Eric Barrier and William Griffin, Illustrated by Kirk Parrish
We Got the Beat by Charlotte Caffey, Illustrated by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor

All Published October 6th, 2020 by Akashic Books

Respect Summary: Respect is a children’s picture book based on lyrics written and originally recorded by Otis Redding in 1965. Aretha Franklin’s iconic rendition of the song later peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1967. Redding’s lyrics continue to resonate with listeners today.

With lyrics by Otis Redding and illustrations by Rachel Moss, this irresistible book shows a young girl, her brother, and her parents conjuring as many positive futures for each other as they can dream. Packed with playful vignettes as they imagine a life full of possibility, Respect provides families an opportunity to explore themes of mutual respect—while revisiting one of the greatest songs ever written.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ Summary: These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ is an adorable story of friendship and family set against the backdrop of Lee Hazlewood’s iconic song. While there have been numerous recordings over the past several decades, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” was originally recorded by Nancy Sinatra and released in early 1966 to instant success. A #1 Billboard hit in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia that was nominated for three GRAMMYs, Hazlewood’s song continues to be embraced to this day.

With lyrics by Lee Hazlewood and illustrations by Rachel Moss, this captivating picture book tells the story of a boy and his extremely attached and very jealous cat who must adapt to the introduction of a new family member—a puppy. The funny story line and delightful images are sure to have the entire family curled up and laughing together, pets included!

Move the Crowd Summary: Innovative illustrator Kirk Parrish brings the iconic song “Move the Crowd” to life for the first time as a children’s picture book. The lyrics to Eric B. and Rakim’s hit song provide the inspiration for this instant classic.

Follow along as Parrish pairs the lyrics with colorful illustrations about a boy being absorbed into his stereo and dropped into a colorless world where the music is dull and the people uninspired. The ensuing transformation he brings to the crowd with his music is one that the whole family can enjoy together.

We Got the Beat Summary: We Got the Beat is a children’s picture book based on the hit song by the 1980s new wave group the Go-Go’s. Consisting of five members, the all-female band rocked the nation with their charisma and musical genius. Their hit song “We Got the Beat” spent three weeks at #2 on the Billboard 100 and became their signature song. Says the New York Times: the Go-Go’s “taught a new generation the power of the girl gang.”

With lyrics by Go-Go’s member Charlotte Caffey and illustrations by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor, this picture book tells the story of what it is like to live life dancing to the beat, while enjoying friends, nature, and the fun that surrounds you. We Got the Beat will make both parents and children get their groove on and show off their best dance moves.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: These four additions to this series are just as good as the original four; I hope the company keeps creating these as they are a great addition to picture books! Just like the first four, Trent is addicted to listening to these songs and following along in the picture book. I love hearing him in the other room put on the song knowing that he is falling in love with the music, the lyrics, and the book all at once!

There are so many different ways to use these picture books in the classroom. In my post about the first four in the series, I shared the idea to break students up into groups and listen to the songs that have LyricPop books then create their own picture book followed by a comparison/contrast with the LyricPop books. Also, I shared the idea to have students read the lyrics first without listening to the song and create a book. Then, after listening to the song, ask how they would change their book.

I also think that lyrics are a wonderful way to teach poetry which gives a great reason to include LyricPop books in secondary classrooms as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Would you have interpreted the lyrics the same way?
  • What interpretation of the lyrics surprised you?
  • If you read the book first then listened to the song, did the type of song it was surprise you?
  • What is the main theme of the song?
  • What poetic elements can you find in the lyrics of the song?

Read This If You Love: Music

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**Thank you to Akashic Books for providing copies of these books for review!**

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Don’t Stop, song lyrics by Christine McVie, illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee
Good Vibrations, song lyrics by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, illustrations by Paul Hoppe
We’re Not Gonna Take It, song lyrics by Dee Snider, illustrations by Margaret McCartney
African, song lyrics by Peter Tosh, illustrations by Rachel MossAuthor:

Published June 2, 2020 by Akashic Books

LyricPop Summary: LyricPop presents your favorite song lyrics by renowned songwriters as illustrated picture books, instilling a love of music and song among young readers.

“LyricPop represents two things I’m passionate about—music, and books for children,” said Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books. “As both a musician and a publisher, I hope LyricPop will inspire parents, grandparents, and others to read (and even sing!) these books aloud with the children in their lives.”

After these four initial books are released, October 6th We Got the Beat, Respect, and Move the Crowd will be published. Then March 2, 2021 will bring us (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Humble and Kind, and These Boots are Made for Walkin’.

Don’t Stop Summary: Don’t Stop is a beautifully illustrated picture book based on Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac’s enduring anthem to optimism and patience. The song was one of the singles on Fleetwood Mac’s megahit album Rumours, which spent thirty-one weeks at number one on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over forty million copies worldwide.

With lyrics by Christine McVie and illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee, this touching picture book imagines a rabbit willing her hibernating friends out of a long and dark winter and into joyous spring. Don’t Stop is a great opportunity for fans of Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac to introduce their favorite band to their young children, and for parents looking to share a bright message in song.

• Debuting in 1977, this song is one of the most identifiable of that decade
• A classic rock radio staple
• A top-five single in the US, and one of the band’s most enduring hits
• Written by band keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie
• Sung as duet between Christine McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham
• Appears on the Grammy-winning album Rumours, which as of 2019 is the RIAA-certified tenth all-time best-selling album in the US
• It was the theme song for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign

Good Vibrations Summary: Good Vibrations is a lively picture book based on Mike Love and Brian Wilson’s number one hit about absorbing positive energy from the people around them. Often praised as one of the most important compositions in rock, the Beach Boys’ original version of this song was their third number one Billboard hit. With lyrics by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and illustrations by Paul Hoppe, this picture book follows a girl and her dog as they make their way down to the beach, sharing good vibrations all along the way. Parents and children alike can share and enjoy one of rock’s greatest hits through the colorful pages of Good Vibrations.

• Released in 1966, this is one of the defining and iconic songs of the era
• The recording involved the then-revolutionary process of tape-splicing, cutting up and editing pieces of the master tape together
• The musicians used in the recording of the song included members of the Wrecking Crew, the legendary set of Los Angeles session studio players
• Beach Boys publicist Derek Taylor described the song as a “pocket symphony” (Derek was the former press officer for the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and worked with the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas, among others)
• The unusual sound featured in the song’s chorus was produced by an electrotheremin
• The song was a transatlantic number one, reaching the top spot in both the US and the UK
• The song was the last US number one the Beach Boys achieved in the 1960s
• Inducted into both the GRAMMY and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame
• Rolling Stone ranked the song at number six on its 2010 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
• In 2001, the RIAA and the National Endowment for the Arts published their Songs of the Century list, with “Good Vibrations” at number 24
• The song is part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s permanent exhibition, 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

We’re Not Gonna Take It Summary: We’re Not Gonna Take It is a playful picture book echoing 1980s hair band Twisted Sister’s most popular antiestablishment anthem. As part of their triple-platinum album Stay Hungry, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” spent fifteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching number twenty-one. With lyrics by Dee Snider and illustrations by Margaret McCartney, this picture book follows three toddlers on a mission to defy their parents, whether it be lunchtime, bath  time, or bedtime. We’re Not Gonna Take It is a story both parents and children can relate to, and a song they can enjoy together.

• Released in 1984, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a signature rock anthem of the 1980s
• The song was a Hot 100 top forty hit and reached the top ten on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart
• The album it appeared on, Stay Hungry, was the band’s breakthrough and a US top twenty hit
• Its anthemic quality has propelled the song to become a US pop culture touchstone
• The song has an iconic music video

African Summary: African is a children’s book featuring lyrics by Peter Tosh and illustrations by Jamaican artist Rachel Moss. The song “African” by Peter Tosh was originally released in 1977 on his second solo record, Equal Rights. He wrote the song during a time of civil unrest in Jamaica as a reminder to all black people that they were part of the same community.
The album is considered one of the most influential reggae works of all time.

• A key song from the classic 1970s era of reggae
• Peter Tosh was one of the founding members of the iconic reggae group the Wailers

Review: All four of these classic songs are ones that as soon as you hear the title you start humming the melody or reciting the lyrics and LyricPop books is a great way to introduce these to a new generation of kids. All four are very different songs and illustrations which shows the extension of this new picture book series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In the classroom, I would have so much fun with these. I would love to group my students in four different groups (or more if it is after more LyricPop books have come out), have them listen to the songs these books are based on, and create their own picture book. Then, after they do so, they can read the LyricPop books and compare and contrast. This would be a great way to discuss interpretation, figurative language, illustrator choices, etc.

There’s another option too: Have students read the lyrics first without listening to the song and create a book. Then, after listening to the song, ask how they would change their book.

When done with the songs from LyricPop, students could then pick their own songs and make their own books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the illustrator interpreted the lyrics the way they did?
  • Do you think of the lyrics the same or different?
  • What is the main theme of the song?
  • (Before hearing the song) How do you imagine the song is going to sound?
  • (After hearing the song) Does the book fit the sound of the song?

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Read This If You Love: Music

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The Refuge
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator:  Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”

Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.

At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.

Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.

Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages. 

Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
  • How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
  • What did you learn about refugees?
  • Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
  • How do the illustrations and writing work together?
  • What creative techniques does the author use?
  • What creative techniques does the illustrator use?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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

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Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Iris Deppe
Published April 1st, 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company

Summary: Whether just trying out for the team or reaching for the Olympics, there’s something for every reader in this playful poetry collection! From baseball, basketball, and football to double-dutch, mini-golf, and turning a cartwheel, these poems look at facing fears, dreaming big, and never giving up. This well-rounded collection explores sports and play across all abilities and backgrounds.

About the Author: Jacqueline Jules has been writing poems since middle school. Her poetry has been published in over a hundred publications. She is also the author of more than forty books for young readers, including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, and Duck for Turkey Day. She lives in northern Virginia and enjoys giving poetry workshops to students, teachers, and anyone else who loves poetry as much as she does. To learn more, and to download free classroom materials, visit her online at jacquelinejules.com.

Praise: 

“Jules presents a plethora of possibilities as the theme of children at play provides the structure for a collection of poems that encourage and applaud. . . . Fun and games, with something deeper to think about.” —Kirkus

“If you are looking for lighthearted, joyous, and youthful poems about childhood, this is the perfect selection for your bookshelves.” —Booklist

Review: Happy National Poetry Month! To celebrate, I knew I had to highlight this wonderful poetry book for two reasons:

1) It combines playing and poetry which will help with the engagement of reading poetry. It also teaches great lessons.

2) During this time of sheltering in place, play and persistence are both things we definitely need to encourage!

Jacqueline Jules does such a fantastic job with adapting each poem to the activity she is writing about and the fun illustrations by Iris Deppe bring the play to life. This is a poem book I recommend specifically now but also for all classrooms to use and have to explore this playful poetry.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: While Jules’s book represents many playground and outdoor activities, it doesn’t include everything. Have students write their own poems of play about the activity they love to do the most. To challenge them, ask them to put a conflict in the poem that must be overcome, so the poem includes a lesson of persistence.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Pick one of the activities written about that you have never done (that is reasonable to do). Do it then write a journal reflecting what it was like–maybe even try writing a poem about it!
  • Find examples of figurative language, such as imagery or personification, in one of Jules’s poems.
  • Which poem’s activity did you connect with the most?
  • Which poem’s lesson did you connect with the most?

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Read This If You Love: Poetry, Sports

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

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In My Heart
Author: Mackenzie Porter
Illustrator: Jenny Løvlie
Published March 10, 2020 by Little Simon

Goodreads Summary: A working mother reassures her child that even when they’re apart, they’re always in each other’s hearts. This lovely board book is perfect for moms to share with their little ones.

Though we’re not together
we’re never truly apart,
because you’re always on my mind
and you’re always in my heart.

This is what a mother tells her child as she leaves for work each day. This lovely board book perfectly captures the sentiment that many women feel about being a working mom. The lyrical text takes us through a mother’s day away, showing us that although she’s working hard, her child is always on her mind and always in her heart.

Ricki’s Review: This book really hit me in the gut. I couldn’t read it without crying. I have a lot of mom guilt related to my status as a working mom. I genuinely believe that it is best for my kids, yet I struggle with the emotions that come with this decision. This book was as much for my kids as it was for me. There are many books that address concepts like going to school or learning to meet new people, but this is the first book that I’ve read that addresses the concept of working moms (particularly at this age level). I will cherish this book and read it to my children again and again.

Kellee’s Review: As a working mom, mom guilt is real. It is hard when I cannot come and be a reader in Trent’s class every time or be part of all celebrations in his classroom, but I also love working; however, there are very few books that reinforce the normality of this situation. As Simon & Schuster shares, 70% of moms are working moms, so there are so many of us that need this book to read to our children to explain that work is part of our life but that they get the opportunity to be in an awesome school situation while we are doing a job we love and need. And no matter what we love them! The author and illustrator do a great job of showing that balance. Thank you to them both for bringing this book to life!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Ricki is purchasing an extra copy of this book for her kids’ daycare/preschool. It is a great book for early childhood educators to use. Children might draw pictures of the emotions that they experience before, during, and after reading this book.

Discussion Questions: How do you feel when your parent goes to work? Why? What might you do to cope with these feelings?

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Read This If You Loved: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn; Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney; Stella Luna by Janell Cannon

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