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Love
Author: Matt de la Peña
Illustrator: Loren Long
Published January 9th, 2018

Summary: From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.

“In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed
and the sound of their voices is love.

A cab driver plays love softly on his radio
while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Matt de la Peña and  illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

Kellee’s Review: I sat here for a long time trying to figure out how to put into words how I feel about this book. I just can’t, but I will try. 

Let me give you some history. At ALAN in 2016, I believe, Matt was a speaker, and he shared how he’d written a poem about love to share with his daughter when the world didn’t seem so loving. Matt’s daughter is approximately Trent’s age and she’s his first just like Trent is, so I completely understood his feelings–the reality that we’ve brought children into this hard world. When Matt read his beautiful words, I cried. It was beautiful. At the end of the poem, he let us know it was going to be a book, and I had very high expectations.

Then at NCTE 2017, I heard that Penguin had a finished copy. I thought that there was no way that the book could live up to what I expected. But then I read it. And I cried again. I, probably rudely, found Matt right away, maybe interrupting a conversation he was having with someone else, to tell him what a beautiful book he and Loren had created. Matt’s poem had been about love, but the book is about LOVE. Love in the sense that every one needs to start thinking about–love between every person. Empathy. Understanding. Tolerance. Unity. Love for all humans.

And as I read it over and over (after I was lucky enough to receive a copy), I couldn’t think of a kid I didn’t want to share it with. I wanted to share it with my son to talk about how much I love him and how he should love all of human kind; I wanted to share it with my friend who is a 2nd grade teacher, so she could share it with all of her students; I wanted to share it with my students, so we can discuss about the love and acceptance found in each spread and each word; and I am so happy to be sharing it here with all of you so that it can be in every person’s life.

Also, please read this amazing article by Matt de la Peña: “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness” from Time and Kate DiCamillo’s follow-up “Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Bit Sad” where she answers a question de la Peña posed in his article as well as this Twitter thread from Sayantani DasGupta where she explores the need for joy in the darkeness! It truly embodies my parenting and teaching philosophy: that although kids are kids, they are also humans and future adults; life should be about being real and about happiness.

In the end, I want to just thank these two amazing men for writing this phenomenal book that I so feel is needed so badly right now, and thank you for including nothing but truth within it including inclusion of all types of people and children and situations and cultures and races and ethnicities, etc.

Ricki’s Review: I am really looking forward to seeing Matt de la Peña next month during his tour! This book is absolutely stunning, and we will certainly be purchasing many copies to give as baby shower gifts. The entire text simply emanates love. It is honest, poetically, and it treats children as the intelligent people that they are. The illustrations are simply marvelous and the words dance across the page. I simply don’t have the words to share how absolutely beautiful this book is. When I think of this book, I think about a warm, cozy house and two little boys on my lap. And these little boys make me feel love, love, love.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’ll talk about one scene specifically, which happens to be my favorite.

As soon as I saw this scene, I wanted to show it to students and have discussions with them. How does this scene make them feel? Who is the family? What are they watching? What clues did they use to answer these questions?

Then I would add in the word that accompany the scene:

“One day you find your family
nervously huddled around the TV,
but when you asked what happened,
they answer with silence
and shift between you and the screen.”

And I would ask them how these words change the inferences they made about the spread.

Lastly, I would ask them why this stanza would be in a poem about love, how it fits with the theme, and what it represents.

Another idea that I brainstormed with my friend Jennie Smith are:

  • Recreate my experience by sharing the poem first with the circumstances I shared above. Then reread the poem to them but with the illustrations.
    • After the first read, you can also have them make their own illustrations analyzing the words then compare/contrast the choices that Loren Long made with what they did.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the author and illustrator include tough scenes in their picture book about love?
  • Which scene represents love the most for you?
  • Which scene are you glad they included?
  • How does the poem differ with and without the illustrations?
  • What different purposes could this poem of love be perfect for?

Flagged Passages: *psst!* Matt may have told me this is (one of) his favorite spreads:

Read This If You Love: Love. (But seriously, read this. Period.)

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Dragonfly Song
Author: Wendy Orr
Published October 27th, 2017 by Pajama Press

Summary: The whispers say it’s not true that the Lady’s firstborn died at birth. They say it’s worse—the baby was born with an extra thumb dangling from each wrist. If she’s not perfect, she can never follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Nobody but the old wise-woman knows what truly happened to Aissa, the firstborn daughter of the priestess. If they saw the half-moon scars on the servant girl’s wrists they would find it out, but who would look twice at lowly, mute No-Name? Then the soldiers of Crete come to the island, demanding children as tribute for their god-king’s bull dances as they do every year. Aissa is determined to seize this chance to fight for her own worth and change her destiny once and for all.

Lyrically written and refreshingly unpredictable, Dragonfly Song is a compelling Bronze Age fantasy that suggests a fascinating origin for the legend of the Minotaur and his dark tribute.

“As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

More information about Dragonfly Song: http://pajamapress.ca/book/dragonfly_song/

About the Author: Wendy Orr was born in Edmonton, Canada, but grew up in various places across Canada, France, and the USA. She studied occupational therapy in the UK, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. She’s the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain, and Peeling the Onion.

More information about Wendy Orr: http://www.wendyorr.com/

Author-Created Activity Guide:

  • Art: In Chapter 2, Aissa and the potter’s daughter make ‘circles of flowers
    in a ring of stones.’ Later, Aissa makes patterns of flowers and shells for the fishers’ goddess (the first in Chapter 9) and patterns of rocks and her small treasures for the goddess in her sanctuary cave. Patterns are used in some religions and meditative practices; Indian or Tibetan mandalas and Navajo sandpaintings are probably the best known now.
    To draw a mandala: http://www.art-is-fun.com/how-to-draw-a-mandala/
    Ideas for mandala-type patterns using fresh flowers: http://twistedsifter.com/2014/07/flower-mandalas-by-kathy-klein/
    Make your own patterns with sea shells, flowers, pebbles, leaves, seeds, or other natural materials. Glue them into place on card, or photograph them.
  • Writing: In Chapter 24, Aissa learns to write on the clay tablets used for taxation records. The writing she used was called Linear B, and was a combination of a ‘syllabary’ – each symbol representing a syllable of a word – and ‘logograms,’ which are symbols of whole words. These tablets were supposed to be temporary, but were baked into pottery when the palaces burned down. Have students make their own clay tablets using real clay or as in these instructions: http://www.ehow.com/how_12110304_make-egyptian-hieroglyphics-tablet.html
    For some of the Linear B logograms: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/linearb.htm
  • Time Capsule: Without written historical records, interpreting archaeological finds can be very difficult. Put together ‘time capsules’ of small items – e.g. a birthday card, Barbie doll, shopping list, old iPod, CD… Break the class into small groups and have them use the items to ‘interpret’ questions such as this society’s religion, dress code, and social structure.

Author-Created Discussion Questions: 

  • Like The Hunger Games, Dragonfly Song draws on the Greek myth of Theseus, in which seven youths and seven maidens are sent as tribute from Athens to Crete, to be eaten by the monstrous half-man, half-bull Minotaur. However, Dragonfly Song looks back to the possible origins of the myth in Bronze Age Greece, and the palace of Knossos in Crete. The bull was obviously a very important symbol, probably even a god – even though the real animals would be sacrificed to their god – and there were many scenes, on paintings, vases, and gold jewellery, showing young acrobats somersaulting over the backs of bulls. What if these acrobats were part of a payment to Crete in return for protection by – or from – their powerful navy? If so, the tribute would have come from as far as the Minoan navy reached. Discuss the power of myth – why have some stories lasted for thousands of years?
  • Discuss how the physical setting of Aissa’s home is a metaphor for the grimness of her life there. (e.g. The island is rocky, poor and isolated; buildings are dark, built of rock or burrowed into the side of the mountain.) What about the springtime when she develops new strengths after being cast out of the servants’ kitchen?
  • In the Bull King’s palace, the buildings are awe-inspiring, filled with light and extraordinary art. The culture appears to be obsessed with beauty – but is there a darkness underpinning it?
  • Dragonfly Song is set in the Bronze Age, but the ordinary people of Aissa’s island still use stone tools as well. Why do you think that would be?
  • In the prologue, The Firstborn Daughter, what are the clues to tell us that this is a matriarchal society? How does it differ from a patriarchal society? The Mosuo of China are an example of a matriarchal society in the present day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoTrARDa8BU
  • Chapter 8 mentions that the chief killed the last lion for his cloak when he married the Lady. Why might he have wanted a lionskin cloak rather than a deerskin? Why do you think the islanders didn’t worry about conservation and keeping all their native species alive?
  • In Chapter 9, the servants are ‘screaming with joy at their game of hate.’ Why do you think the author described bullying Aissa as a game? How does bullying Aissa make the servants feel?
  • Aissa is an ‘elective mute’ because there is nothing physical or intellectual preventing her from speaking. However, that doesn’t mean that she could speak if she wanted to: Mama’s command, ‘Stay quiet, still as stone till I come back,’ is buried so deep in her subconscious, and is so mixed with the trauma of the family’s death and disappearance, that Aissa can’t simply decide to start talking, even when she’s safe. Would she have been more accepted by the other servants if she could talk? How might it have changed the story if she had regained her speech after singing the snake away from Luki? Do you think she could have regained her speech if she had been treated kindly after being rescued? Do you think that meeting Mama again was the only reason she regained her speech, or might it have been partly because she’d faced death in the bull ring, and was safe now? A real-life example of a child choosing to become mute after trauma is Maya Angelou’s story (summarized in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls).
  • Discuss the book’s structure with the students. What was their reaction to the combination of free verse and prose?
  • Wendy Orr says that using free verse made it easier for her to access and portray Aissa’s emotions. Have the students choose an emotion, e.g. rage, grief, or joy – and write about it in free verse. Next, have them write a short story using the ideas and images that arose from the verse.
  • Why do you think the author chose to write in free verse rather than rhyming, like the children’s rhyme in Chapter 10?
    Here comes rabbit, hippity hop
    See his ears flap and flop;
    Here comes hedgehog, curled up small
    Roll him over like a ball.
  • Wendy Orr says that she normally writes in silence, on the computer, but found that the verse sections for this story had to be written by hand, playing the album Agaetis Byrjun by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. Experiment with playing different types of music as the students write verse.
  • For useful images and links, see the Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/wendyorr1/dragonfly-song-bits-of-background-and-teaching-ideas/

Don’t Miss Out On the Rest of the Tour!

October 22: Unleashing Readers, Activity Guide and Discussion Questions http://www.unleashingreaders.com/
October 23: YA and Kids Book Central, Book Playlist http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/
October 24: Log Cabin Library, Guest Post http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/
October 25: The Children’s Book Review, Character Interview https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
October 26: Bluestocking Thinking, Review http://bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com/
October 27: Charlotte’s Library, Interview http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/
October 28: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Interview http://www.foodiebibliophile.com/
October 29: Writers’ Rumpus, Guest Post https://writersrumpus.com/

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Thank you to Wendy Orr for her fantastic activities and questions!

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Marti’s Song for Freedom | Martí y sus versos por la libertad
Author: Emma Otheguy
Illustrator: Beatriz Vidal
Published July 17, 2017 by Lee & Low Books

Summary:

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
.

As a boy, José Martí was inspired by the natural world. He found freedom in the river that rushed to the sea and peace in the palmas reales that swayed in the wind. Freedom, he believed, was the inherent right of all men and women. But his home island of Cuba was colonized by Spain, and some of the people were enslaved by rich landowners. Enraged, Martí took up his pen and fought against this oppression through his writings. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and forced to leave his beloved island.

Martí traveled the world, speaking out for Cuba’s independence. But throughout his exile, he suffered from illness and homesickness. He found solace in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for independence.

Written in verse, with excerpts from Martí’s seminal Versos sencillos, this book is a beautiful tribute to a brilliant political writer and courageous fighter of freedom for all men and women.

Praise: 

“A sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figures.” – School Library Journal, starred review

“A moving account of [Marti’s] crusade for justice.” -Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A timely story that will inspire many to fight for equality and sing songs for freedom.” -Booklist, starred review

“Spotlights a steadfast hero and brilliant writer still worth admiring today.” -Kirkus reviews, starred review

“A direct and approachable introduction to the life and works of Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí.” -Shelf Awareness, starred review

About the Creators: 

Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, and her short story “Fairies in Town” was awarded a Magazine Merit Honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Otheguy lives with her husband in New York City. This is her picture book debut. You can find her online at emmaotheguy.com.

Beatriz Vidal is an award-winning painter, illustrator, and teacher. Her work has appeared in well-known publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Woman’s Day, and the New Yorker. Her artwork has also been featured on PBS programs and in numerous exhibitions around the world, including the International Exhibition of Illustrations for Children in Italy and the Society of Illustrators in New York. Vidal divides her time between New York City and Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can visit her online at beatrizvidal.com.

ReviewThis beautiful bilingual biography deserves all the praise it is receiving. The beautiful pieces of art that accompany the poetic verses turns this picture book biography into a piece of art! I also loved that not only is Martí’s biography in Spanish and English, but so is the author’s back matter.

I also am so glad that I learned about José Martí! I didn’t know anything about the Cuban war for independence and emancipation from slavery. Cuba has such an extensive history that is not taught here, so this story definitely fills a gap in history education. While the story teaches primarily of Martí’s life, the back matter goes deeper into Cuban independence and reading both is definitely going to pique interests to learn more. I think this book would pair nicely with books about our Civil War to compare the United States to other countries’ fights for freedom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Emma Otheguy was kind enough to share an activity guide for the text. All of the activities come in Spanish and English and can be downloaded at http://emmaotheguy.com/my-new-book/.

Activity 1: “José Martí wrote many letters throughout his life. He wrote about things he found beautiful or interesting, and also about injustices, and how he though they might get better. Write a letter to a friend, a relative, or an elected official about something you’re passionate about. It can be anything you care about, whether it’s helping your neighbors, caring for animals, or respecting the planet–just share how you feel. Then cut out your letter an mail it.” Followed by a outlined letter for kids to feel out.

Activity 2: “Did you know that José Martí was a poet, and that is poetry book Versos Sencillos was written and published right here in the United States? If you ever hear the song Guantanamera you’ll notice words from Marti’s poetry in the song! Read the first stanza of Martí’s poem, then fill in the blanks to create your own poem.”

Activity 3: “Read the book and solve this crossword puzzle”

Activity 4: “As teenagers, José Martí and his friends wrote and published their own newspaper, La Patria Libre (the free homeland), supporting Cuban independence. Can you create a newspaper? Fill out the boxes with the latest news.” Includes a place for Read All About It, Letter to the Editor, and an illustration.

Discussion Questions: How did José Martí play a part in Cuba’s fight for independence?; Did his age when sent to America surprise you?; Why is Cuba such a mix of culture?; How did the author use José Martí’s own words within her biography of him?; If you were to write to your government about an injustice you see in your country, what would you write about?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Margarita Engle’s books, Henry’s Freedom Box  by Henry Levine and other biographies about the fight for emancipation in the United States, Nonfiction picture book biographies

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**Thank you to Emma Otheguy for providing a copy for review!**

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SPLATypus
Author: Sudipta bardhan-Quallen
Illustrator: Jacki Urbanovic
Published April 4th, 2017 by Two Lions

Summary: Lonely Platypus wants to play, but where should he go? Should he jump with the kangaroos? Leap with the possums? Fly with the bats? Every time he tries to find out—skipping, hopping, dipping, dropping—he winds up going splat instead. Can a SPLATypus find a place where he belongs? This rhyming, rollicking story is perfect for reading aloud.

Review: Everyone is searching for their place in the world. Starting at a very young age, we want to be accepted and know that we belong. Kids will love the platypus story because it is about him figuring it out; however, even though the message is quite serious and will lead to important talks, it leads to this topic in a very fun and humorous way. The platypus’s adventure is just so silly that readers will be mesmerized by it and the colorful illustrations! This story is a win-win for teachers, parents, and kids!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The most important way this book will fit into most classrooms is through read aloud and the classroom library. Like I shared above, it really does lead to conversations about identity and fitting in but does so in a non-preachy way. Additionally, the text could be used as a mentor text for writing a narrative animal story in a similar style. Maybe OOPSephant or KangaNO or GOrilla filled with onomatopoeias and rhyming.

Discussion Questions: When is a time you haven’t felt like you fit in? What did you do to make your situation better?: What words in the story rhymed?; What onomatopoeias did the author use in the text? Why do you think they were included?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: Leaping Lemmings by John BriggsHoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie HelakoskiThe Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai DotlichA Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Mericle HarperThunder Boy Jr. by Sherman AlexieAfter the Fall by Dan Santat, Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney, Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

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Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

**Thank you to Al at Two Lions for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Can an Aardvark Bark?
Author: Melissa Stewart
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Published June 13th, 2017 by Beach Lane Books

Summary: From award-winning author Melissa Stewart and Caldecott honoree Steve Jenkins comes a noisy nonfiction exploration of the many sounds animals make.

Can an aardvark bark? No, but it can grunt. Lots of other animals grunt too…

Barks, grunts, squeals—animals make all kinds of sounds to communicate and express themselves. With a growling salamander and a whining porcupine, bellowing giraffes and laughing gorillas, this boisterous book is chock-full of fun and interesting facts and is sure to be a favorite of even the youngest animal enthusiasts.

Review: This book came at a perfect time for my family! Trent had a doctor appointment last week and he was in the jungle room. While in the room, he started saying the noises for each animal and asking me what the ones he didn’t know make. I promptly found an app for that, and we’ve been exploring the app ever since listening to the sounds of all sorts of animals from chimpanzees to ibex to anteaters that live in the jungle to the farm to the mountains. And then we received Can an Aardvark Bark? in the mail, and it was such a happy coincidence! The book is a perfect addition to my new animal sound obsessed kid.

But in addition to my personal story of why we’re excited about this book the text is also filled with animal facts, fun to read, and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Steve Jenkins.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In an elementary classroom, Melissa Stewart’s work  is such a wonderful way to bring science into reading time and reading into science time. This one is no exception. The book includes a wide variety of animals and interesting information about each one. It also has a fun rhythmic and rhyming text that lends itself to read alouds. The book could also be a jumping off point for an animal inquiry project focused around either an animal in the book or a new animal.

Discussion Questions: What are different ways animals communicate?; What animal makes a sound that surprised you?; How did the author structure the book?; What are some animals not in the book? What sound do they make? Where would they fit in in the text structure? Or would they be in their own category?; What can animal sounds tell you about the animal?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books about animals, Melissa Stewart’s work or Steve Jenkins’s work

Recommended For: 

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The Wonderful Things You Will Be
Author: Emily Winfield Martin
Published: August 25, 2015 by Random House

A Guest Review by Jennifer Zafetti

Summary: This heartwarming picture book is from the point of view of a parent who is eager to see the development of their child. The parent questions who their child will become and what interests they will possess. In the end, there are endless possibilities that the future has to offer to the child.

Review: This is a great book to give to a parent with a small child! The Wonderful Things You Will Be would make for a soothing bedtime story. The sweet message of the story is that a child can be anybody that they want to be. There are no expectations set for a child to adhere to so their future is an empty canvas waiting to be painted! The book, using second person, discusses the uniqueness of you and the wonderful attributes you have to offer to the world. There are many “what if” questions that will get the reader thinking about all the wonderful things that they can do with their life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Wonderful Things You Will Be is an engaging children’s book that encourages the reader to embrace the future. There are beautiful illustrations to accompany the text. The teacher can use this book to discuss rhyming words, as well as point of view.

Discussion Questions: What are some rhyming words that you noticed in the story? How do the illustrations enhance the text? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, and If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

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Thank you, Jennifer!

RickiSig