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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
Author: Lita Judge
Published: January 30th, 2018 by Roaring Book Press

Summary: A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Whew. I felt so many emotions as I read this book. I kept thinking, “My goodness, my students are going to love this book.” I was fortunate to receive two copies of this book in the mail, and those two copies have passed from student’s hand to student’s hand. The book doesn’t even make its way back up to my desk before another student snags it. This book defies genre sorting. It’s nonfiction, it’s horror, it’s romance, it’s an illustrated book in verse. I’ve already added it to my book list to teach next semester in my Adolescents’ Literature course.

Students will read this book and want immediately to read Frankenstein. The book reads fairly quickly because it contains verse and illustrations, but readers will struggle not to pause for several minutes to enjoy the beautiful illustrations on the pages.

I’m most excited about the classroom potential for this book. It offers so much to talk about regarding characterization, mood, and poetry. But it also offers a beautiful bridge to read with Frankenstein. I thought I knew a lot about Mary Shelley’s life, but this book told me so much more about it. Reading her story on these pages made me feel as if I was experiencing her life alongside her. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend it highly.

Discussion Questions: What factors may have influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? In what ways does the author use metaphor and symbolism to help us understand her experiences?; What might be the author’s purpose? Is she successful, in your opinion?; What textual features helped you understand Mary’s story? How might this book read differently if the author had used another form?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Horror; Gothic Literature

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Islandborn
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Published: March 13, 2018 by Dial

Summary: From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.

Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.

Review: This book is absolutely enchanting. I can confidently say that it will always be one of my favorite picture books of all time. When Lola asks family and friends about the island that she came from, they have wonderful memories that they share with her. The illustrations and words dance off of the page—Díaz and Espinosa, the author-illustrator team, combine to create a work that will stun readers with its beauty and complexity. I took the pages from the F&G and hung them on my office walls, and they inspire me daily.

As I read this book, I continually paused to reflect on the words (“Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you” and “Memory is magic.”). There is so much to teach from this book, and I am really looking forward to sharing it with students. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you get in your car and drive immediately to the bookstore.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many possibilities for this section for teacher. They might analyze text and word choice, focusing on figurative language. Or they could examine the emotions that Lola experiences as she tries to learn about the place that she comes from. Or they might have students research their own countries of origin and create an image that represents the magic of the country. Or they might consider a monster that exists in their country and draw it metaphorically or symbolically. This is a book that is meant to be shared and shared.

Discussion Questions: How does Lola feel when she can’t remember the country she came from? How does she learn more about it?; What do Lola’s friends and family tell her about the country she came from? What are the good and bad memories that they share? What might the bad memory represent?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved: Works by Junot Díaz; Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Secondhand Heroes:
Brothers Unite [July 5th, 2016]
In the Trenches [February 7th, 2017]
The Last Battle [April 10th, 2018]
Author: Justin LaRocca Hansen
Published by Dial Books

Brothers Unite Summary: Perfect for fans of AmuletSidekicks, and Zita the Spacegirl, this graphic novel series debut introduces Stretch and Brella, a pair of ordinary brothers whose extraordinary yard sale discovery turns them into superheroes.

Tuck and Hudson are just two average suburban brothers—until their mother buys them a scarf and an umbrella at a yard sale. Quickly, the brothers realize that these ordinary-looking objects are full of magic, and that, with the help of their squirrel sidekick, they can use that magic to fight evil. As the boys move from fighting their neighborhood nemesis to facing bigger foes, they become Stretch and Brella, the unstoppable brother superhero duo. Soon, Stretch and Brella find themselves in another realm, where they take on enormous dragons and an evil knight in an incredible graphic novel adventure.

In the Trenches Summary: [Mild Brothers Unite SPOILERS!] Two ordinary objects turned a pair of brothers into superheroes. Now they must fight the evil Trench right in their own neighborhood.

When Tuck and Hudson return from their first adventure as the superheroes Stretch and Brella, they’re still reeling from the shock of their newfound powers. But there’s no time to slow down. Trench, a supervillain whose powers came from the very same garage sale where Tuck and Hudson found their magic scarves and umbrella, lives around the corner—and he’s out to get the brother superhero duo. With help from their squirrel companion, Steen, and another newly minted superhero, a neighborhood girl named Elvira, the brothers keep fighting the good fight, with plenty of action and adventure along the way.

The Last Battle Summary: [Mild Brothers Unite & In the Trenches SPOILERS!] Two ordinary objects turned a pair of brothers into superheroes. Now they’re banding together with their neighbors to take down the evil Trench once and for all in the final volume of this graphic novel trilogy.

Tuck and Hudson have figured out how to wield the superpowers they got when their mom bought them an ordinary-looking pair of scarves and an umbrella at a yard sale. But Trench, their supervillain archnemesis, is only getting more powerful. Slowly, the brothers have discovered the others in their town who have superpowered objects from that same yard sale. Now Tuck and Hudson, along with their friend Elvira and their squirrel sidekick, Steen, are leading a band of heroes in the fight against Trench. This final volume of the graphic novel adventure series features the heroes’ last stand, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

About the Author: [From http://www.justinlaroccahansen.com/] I grew up in the tiny town of Millis Massachusetts but spent most summers in a tinier village called Cataumet in Cape Cod and it is there I feel most at home. Comic books, cartoons and toys captivated me as a child and I would constantly create my own characters and stories. I went to college at Ringling College of Art and Design where I got a BFA in Illustration. Shortly after I moved to New York City to try and “make it” as an illustrator. It was a long journey with plenty of odd jobs (including a birthday party host and paper airplane teacher), lots of rejections (we’re talkin’ LOTS), and all the ups and downs that come with chasing a dream. I finally sold my first picture book Monster Hunter in 2012 to Sky Pony Press. The next few years would be consumed by a graphic novel trilogy that had been kicking around in my head for some time called Secondhand Heroes. The first book of that trilogy, Secondhand Heroes: Brothers Unite was published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, in 2016. Part two, Secondhand Heroes: In the Trenches came out in 2017 and last summer I finished work on part three, Secondhand Heroes: The Last Battle which will be out on April 10th, 2018. I live in Brooklyn with my most amazing wife and my collection of Springsteen records.

Justin is represented by Warner Literary Group. To inquire about commissions, or a school or library visit please use the form at http://www.justinlaroccahansen.com/about/ or email: j.larocca.hansen@gmail.com.

Kellee’s ReviewOne of my students named Lucas is a huge graphic novel fan, and earlier this school year, he introduced a new series to me: Secondhand Heroes. He had read the first books in the series and wanted BADLY for me to read them and could not wait for the third book in the series. Well he does not need to wait any longer! This is a crazy series! I’ll be honest, in the first book, a twist in the plot happens, and the reader is not sure why, but I promise: TRUST THE AUTHOR! It epically comes together throughout the series. This series is definitely a perfect reading ladder up from younger middle grade series like Zita and Amulet. The bit of romance and realistic violence pushes its age range further into teens which, as a middle school reading teacher, I am always looking for! I also am in love with the artwork. It is different than other series because of its softer undertones and touches which makes it so unique. 

Ricki’s Review: I am so glad that I read this series and have it to recommend to students. While it is definitely above his age range, my son really enjoyed this series. Each night, we read it together, and he imagined that the brothers were him and his younger brother. It’s quite a clever series—the main characters, two brothers, get items from a second-hand shop that prove to be magical. They turn into superheroes. At first, they question whether they should use the superpowers, but they quickly realize how they can use these superpowers for good. I particularly like how the boys slowly discover others in their town who have also gained superpowers. It was fun to read all of the different powers that characters had. The illustrations are eye-catching and engaging. The books in this series were ones that I looked forward to reading each night with my son. I’d put it more at the upper elementary/middle school level and agree with Kellee that these books books make a wonderful ladder for middle schoolers. I’ll be recommending these books often.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Graphic novels are such an important format to have available for students in school and classroom libraries.

“While many teachers are beginning to include [graphic novels] in their classrooms, there are still teachers, administrators, and librarians who struggle with including this format in their schools. So, why should you use them in your classroom and have available for students?

• Graphic novels can make a difficult subject interesting and relatable. (Cohen)
• Students are visual learners, and today’s students have a much wider visual vocabulary than students in the past. (Karp)
• Graphic novels can help foster complex reading skills by building a bridge from what students know to what they still have to learn. (NCTE)|
• Graphic novels can help with scaffolding when trying to teach higher-order thinking skills or other complex ideas.
• For students who struggle to visualize while they read, graphic novels provide visuals that show what good readers do. (NCTE)
• Many graphic novels rely on symbol, allusion, satire, parody, irony, and characters/plot and can be used to teach these, and other, literary devices. (Miller; NCTE)
• Often, in between panels (called the gutter), the reader must make inferences to understand how the events in one panel lead to the
events in the next. (McCloud)
• Graphic novels can make differentiating easier. (Miller)
• Graphic novels can help ELL (English Language Learners) and reluctant and struggling readers since they divide the text into manageable chunks, use images (which help students understand unknown vocabulary), and are far less daunting than prose. (Haines)
• Graphic novels do not reduce the vocabulary demand; instead, they provide picture support, quick and appealing story lines, and less text, which allow the reader to understand the vocabulary more easily. (Haines)
• Research shows that comic books are linguistically appropriate reading material, bearing no negative impact on school achievement or language acquisition. (Krashen)
• Students love them.

(Resource: Amulet Books Graphic Novels Teaching Guide Introduction by Kellee Moye)”

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the first book, why did the author change settings?
  • How did the boys’ behavior in this new setting affect the end of the series?
  • How did the superpowers bring the brothers together?
  • How did Brella’s interest in Isabella cause him to struggle with being a superhero?
  • How did Trench use Brella and Stretch’s “weaknesses” as a good person filled with love to manipulate them?
  • How did Trench set up Brella and Stretch?
  • How would you compare/contrast the boys’ character traits from the first book to the last book?

Flagged Passages: [From Brothers Unite]

(p. 24)

“1. *whup* 2. HUH…HUH…HUH. 3. THIS IS MY HOME. TUCKER WAS RIGHT. THIS. IS. 4. AWESOME!” (p. 26)

(p. 50-51)

“2. VERY WELL. 5. Brella: TUCK! Stretch: FLY! I GOT IT! (p. 74)”

Read This If You Love: Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke, Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel, Sidekicks by Dan Santat, 5 Worlds series by Mark Siegel, Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack, HiLo series by Judd Winick, West series & Battling Boy series by Paul Pope, Chronicles of Claudette by Jorge Aguirre

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**Thank you so much to Justin for providing copies for review and goodies for Kellee’s students!**

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You’re My Little Cuddle Bug
Author: Nicola Edwards; Illustrator: Natalie Marshall
Published February 1, 2017 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Celebrate your little cuddle bug with this sweet and colorful rhyming board book!

Celebrate your little cuddle bug with this sweet and colorful rhyming board book! With chunky pages for little hands and die-cut cuddle bugs to add depth and interest, children will love the interactive features alongside the story.

My Review: The bright bugs pop on the page in a way that emanates warmth. This book reminds me of the popular classics like Time for Bed by Mem Fox. It’s fun for parents/guardians to read to their children, and the sweetness of the story and illustrations pop off of the page. The book is set up with cutouts and raised illustrations. On the first page, there is a baby bug, and when the reader turns the cut-out page, the baby bug is joined by a cuddling parent. It’s quite a charming little board book that made me smile.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book’s audience seems to be children and families, but I think it would also make a sweet read-aloud at a daycare or preschool before naptime. Children might draw their own cuddle bugs and write a verse from a parent or guardian to a child.

Discussion Questions: Which is your favorite bug? Why? How is this bug different from all of the other bugs in the book?; How do the bugs cuddle differently?

We Flagged: “So when the night is beetle black, and daytime’s at an end, we’ll snuggle up, two cuddle bugs, and sleep my little friend.”

Read This If You Loved: Time For Bed by Mem Fox; Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley; Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise BrownGoodnight Songs by Margaret Wise BrownA Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na, I’m Not Sleepy by Jonathan Allen, Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski 

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**Thank you to Casey from Media Masters for sharing these books with us!**

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Moon
Author and Illustrator: Alison Oliver
Expected Publication April 17th, 2018 by Clarion Books

Summary: Like many children, Moon leads a busy life. School, homework, music lessons, sports, and the next day it begins again. She wonders if things could be different. Then, one night, she meets a wolf.

The wolf takes Moon deep into the dark, fantastical forest and there she learns to howl, how to hide, how to be still, and how to be wild. And in that, she learns what it’s like to be free.

ReviewJust as Where the Wild Things Are made children think about controlling our inner wild things (anger), Moon has us look at the new pressures of childhood and the need to let kids unleash their inner wild thing (playfulness). I talk often about the pressure that kids with other parents and teachers about the pressure that kids have on them now. Computer programs and homework starting in kindergarten, multiple standardized testing starting in 3rd grade, high school classes starting in middle school, AP classes required for almost everyone, etc. etc. etc. It makes me so sad to see that a lot of the joys of childhood are being pushed away to make kids grow up earlier (but then we complain about kids growing up quicker…). Moon, the main character, represents so many of our kids, and her adventure shows how important it is to let our kids just be themselves to be happy and to remove some of the pressure. I loved this message, and I thought it was told in a beautiful and figurative way that will lead to wonderful discussions and lots of rereading.

And I couldn’t review this book properly without commenting on the beautiful illustrations. I particularly loved the palette changes to highlight time and place and the bits of humor in the illustrations. Just a wonderful combination of artwork and story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Moon‘s theme and symbolism are what jump out to me first, and I see them being what is discussed the most when it comes to this book, and I could see it be extended from early elementary all the way to middle school just pushing the conversation to different levels the older students get.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do the wolves symbolize in Moon’s story?
  • How is your life similar to Moon’s at the beginning of the book?
  • How does Moon’s life change from beginning to end?
  • What lesson was the message the author was trying to spread from Moon? 
  • Do you see any differences between Moon from the first couple of pages and the last couple of pages?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Yellow Kayak by Nina Laden, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

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The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift
Author: Jeri Anne Agee
Illustrator: Bryan Langdo
Published: January 2nd, 2018 by Sky Pony Press

Summary: Birdie Mae Hayes has pretty much the perfect life. Her best friend Sally lives just down the street, she’s becoming friends with the new boy in town, and Halloween is coming up. Her little brother Bubba drives her crazy sometimes, but whose doesn’t?

Except, lately, Birdie can’t stop feeling like something is about to happen. Then she starts seeing things happen–before they happen!

It turns out her Grandma Mae has the same ability. But Birdie doesn’t know if she’s ready to take on the responsibility of this “gift.” Still, with the right attitude and some practice, she could help a lot of people. One thing’s for sure: life is going to be real interesting from now on!

ReviewMost children’s lit books at this level are realistic fiction in genre to help guide our elementary age kids with navigating the world. Birdie Mae Hayes’s story does that but also throws in some fantasy which I think is so much fun because that means this series will be great for fans of books like Cody from Tricia Springstubb and Marty from Kate Messner while also being something that fans of Phoebe and her Unicorn from Dana Simpson and Upside-Down Magic from Sarah Mlynowski, Emily Jenkins, and Lauren Myracle will enjoy also! I also enjoyed the well-rounded male and female characters giving most readers someone to connect with. Lastly, I love the small town feel! Every reader needs books that reflect them, and this one will be great for our small-town readers (and windows for our urban readers).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like many children’s books for this age (1st-4th grade), Birdie Mae is a perfect addition to a classroom/school library to give readers more options that fit what they need.  

Discussion Questions: 

  • Birdie Mae’s gift isn’t something that we could get; however, if you could see into the future, what events from your past may you have seen to help you change what happened?
  • The gift is selective in what it shows Birdie Mae. What do all the incidences that she sees have in common?
  • What makes Birdie’s hometown of Rainbow, Alabama different from your hometown? Similar?
  • What did Patrick do that others wouldn’t when it came to Doyle? What does his experience teach you?
  • Do you have a friend in your life like Sally?
  • What do we know about Birdie and Patrick’s dads that would make you think they could be friends? Enemies?

Flagged Passages: “My name is Birdie Mae Hayes, and I live in Rainbow, Alabama with my mama, daddy, and my little brother Bubba. I’m in third grade, and my best friend, Sally Rose Hope, lives right down the street from me. I know, I know, it sounds like a perfect life, except that my little brother Bubba drives me crazy and lately I can’t stop feeling like something is about to happen. Or maybe like I’m waiting for something. I don’t really know how to describe it.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Cody series by Tricia SpringstubbMy Life in Pictures by Deborah ZemkeEllie Ultra by Gina BellisarioEllie Engineer by Jackson Pearce; Marty McGuire by Kate Messner; Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Emily Jenkins, & Lauren Myracle; Cecile Valentine by Julie Sternberg; Eleanor books by Julie SternbergThe Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills

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George the Hero Hound
Author: Jeffrey Ebbeler
Published March 20th, 2018 by Two Lions

Summary: George is a good ol’ hound dog. He helps Farmer Fritz with the chores and—most important of all—he keeps those sneaky cows out of the cornfield.

Then Farmer Fritz moves away, and a new family from the city moves in. The Gladstones have a lot to learn. George tries to help, but they don’t understand his job on the farm…until the day little Olive goes missing, and George shows everyone what it means to be a hero hound!

ReviewFirst, I have to talk about how much I just love George, his expressions, and his story. Just look at that cover! Don’t you want to just follow him around?! But you want to know what made the story for me? The extra story that was told through the illustrations. George’s story that is told through the text is a look at figuring out home when things change and dealing with a new situation, and George is definitely the hero in all of it; however, it is the hilarious stories told in the background that add just the extra HAs! to the story. Watch for the cows to make some Mission Impossible-esque moves and for the Gladstones to make some silly mistakes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great way to introduce storytelling through words and illustrations. When I did my Caldecott unit with my middle schoolers, so many of them didn’t know how to read a story without being told it in words. Use the illustrations in the background for a creative writing prompt to have students write an alternate text for each page using what is going on in the background of the told story.

George’s tale would also be a good text to use to introduce theme and the idea that a text can have more than one theme, depending on which character you are learning from.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is George a hero?
  • What do you think the cows’ master plans include?
  • How are the Gladstones different from Farmer Fritz?
  • What are clues that the Gladstones are from the city?
  • How does the author indicate dialogue versus narration?
  • What is a clue that would have told the Gladstones George’s name?

Flagged Passages: “George was a good old hound dog. Every day George was up, even before the chickens, to help old Farmer Fritz with the cores. That rust-bucket tractor was always falling apart. . . and those wily cows were always plotting to get out and feast on the cornfield.”

And some passages from after the Gladstone family moves in:

Read This If You Love: Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman; My Dog is the Best by Laurie Ann Thompson; Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin; Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell; Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer

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**Thank you to Two Lions for providing a copy for review!**

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