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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

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Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Abby in Oz
Whatever After #13.5 (Special Edition #2)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published April 7th, 2020 by Scholastic
(Series debuted May 1st, 2012)

Series Summary: Siblings Abby and Jonah have a magic mirror that leads them into different fairy tales, from Snow White to Rapunzel to the Little Mermaid. In each fairy tale, Abby and Jonah accidentally mess up the story — and hilarity and hijinks ensue!

Abby in Oz Summary: In this second Special Edition of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series, Abby and her friends enter the magical Land of Oz . . . with hilarious and empowering results!

Follow the yellow brick road . . . I’m with my best friends Robin and Frankie (and my sometimes friend, Penny) when a TORNADO scoops us up and whisks us away. As soon as we land, I can tell we’re not in Smithville anymore — we’ve been transported into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

We’re excited to meet Dorothy and Toto . . . but the story isn’t going as planned. The Wicked Witch of the East locks us in her dungeon, so we have no way of getting the magic slippers that will take Dorothy home. Plus, the Emerald City is under attack, and the Wizard himself may be in danger!

Now we have to:
– Befriend the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow
– Flee the flying monkeys
– Learn to steer a hot-air balloon
– Find the courage, heart, and smarts to save the day

. . . or we’ll never escape — and everyone knows there’s no place like home!

Praise for Abby in Oz:

“Hilarious…with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power.” –Booklist

“My daughter loved the young, sassy girl on the cover and I loved the premise of the book…The best part is that they mess up the story and the lead female character has to learn how to stand on her own. The feminist in me adored it, and the mother in me loved how my daughter would long to cuddle in close as we read together.” –The Washington Post

“An uproariously funny read.” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Sarah Mlynowski is the New York Times bestselling author of the Whatever After series, the Magic in Manhattan series, Gimme a Call, and a bunch of other books for tweens and teens, including the Upside-Down Magic series, which she is cowriting with Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. Originally from Montreal, Sarah now lives in the kingdom of Manhattan with her very own prince charming and their fairy-tale-loving daughters.

Review of Abby of OzI am a huge fan of this series. I already love fairy tale retellings, but this is such a unique way of telling them, and I love how each are different and do not follow a predictable pattern. 

This newest installment is a special edition of the series and is a bit different. While Abby and Jonah normally go through a magic mirror, the special editions find Abby and her friends entering books because an evil fairy is trying to trap Abby in the story. The addition of Abby’s friends’ personalities definitely makes for an interesting story and more conflict throughout the book.

Lastly, I could not review any book in this series without celebrating the audiobooks–they are phenomenal!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (series): Immediately, when reading this series, I thought of a creative writing activity for students to take part in and would be a great introduction to the series: Have students take parts of fairy tales that they feel are wrong, unjust, dated, they didn’t like, or even something that would be fun to change; come up with a plan on how they would fix it if they were in the fairy tale; and have them rewrite the fairy tale.

Then, I would read parts of some of the books out loud where Abby does just that: she changes fairy tales for the better! (Even if it is a bit of a mess along the way…)

Discussion Questions (series): 

  • What did Abby change in the fairy tale/story? Do you think this is a good change or not? Explain.
  • What did Abby do to make the change happen?
  • Do you think it is okay ethically for Abby/Jonah/Abby’s friends to change things in the story?
  • Do you think Abby would be as successful as she is without the help of Jonah/her friends?
  • Why do you think the magic mirror allows Abby and Jonah to go through the mirror?
  • What fairy tale would you want to go into if you were being transported into one? What would you want to change? Make sure stays the same?

Flagged Passages: Visit the Scholastic website for the series to view the series trailer. I also highly recommend listening to an audiobook sample!

Read This If You Love: Fairy Tale Retellings

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Rosie: Stronger Than Steel
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Expected Publication: April 1st, 2020 by Two Lions

Summary: A brave tractor farms for freedom in a story inspired by women who acted with courage and strength in American factories and on British farms during World War II.

This is our Rosie,
stronger than steel.
She’ll plow all the land
with a turn of her wheel.

Built by women in the United States and sent to England to dig and plow alongside female farmers during World War II, Rosie the tractor does whatever is needed to support the war effort. She works day and night to help grow crops for the troops…even when she has to hide in the fields. This is because she knows, like the women who built her and the women who farm with her, that they all must do their part.

Inspired by the group of American women collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter” and the British Women’s Land Army, this is a story about taking action and coming together for the greater good.

About the Author: Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family  in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com. Twitter: @lindsaymward

Praise: 

★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal

Review: During World War II, our students’ lessons usually focus on the war itself and the horrific events because of the war, but there was so much more going on to ensure that our countries continued to run while all of our armed forces were at war. We don’t often enough hear about how women were essential to this effort, and Rosie shows us another side to this. Rosie represents not only the tractors made by women who helped keep our plants and crops healthy and edible, but she represents all women that stepped up to do jobs that before then they had been told they were not good enough for. This story, beautifully crafted and illustrated by Lindsay Ward, is a call for strength whenever faced with unprecedented times.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Rosie is a great addition to history lessons about World War II and the home front efforts of women. Her story is also a great read aloud–maybe during Women’s History Month, or whenever!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did you know anything about what happened on the home front before reading Rosie?
  • How does Rosie the tractor represent the women’s work on the home front?
  • How does Rosie impact the war effort?
  • What does the Rose on her body represent?
  • What is the theme of Rosie?
  • Why do you think the author wrote the book from Rosie’s point of view in first person?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Historical fiction picture books, Learning about history

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Spreads! Book Spreads!:

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

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

And we conclude with a PARTY!:

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Explorers
Author and Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Anticipated Publication: September 24, 2019 by Feiwel and Friends

Goodreads Summary: From Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell, Explorers is a new picture book about an extraordinary trip to a museum.

When a family goes to a local museum, a boy notices a homeless man sitting outside, making brightly colored origami birds. He convinces his dad to buy a bird the man makes just for him.

Once inside the museum, his little sister takes the bird and launches it into the air. Is it lost? Soon another boy helps him look, and the paper bird brings two families―and two new friends―together.

With the style he used in Wolf in the Snow, Matthew Cordell shows how an ordinary family outing can be both extraordinary and magical.

My Review: Matthew Cordell’s newest picture book is a hit in my house. Explorers tells the story of a boy who finds a homeless man fashioning origami birds outside of a museum. The origami bird brings together two families in a way that is magical—or is it? This one made me think a lot, and I like books that make me think. It is almost wordless with only a couple of words in the entire book, but the pictures tell the story beautifully.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might enjoy debating whether the actions in the book are reflective of magic or not. Teachers might also group students and have each tell the story based on the pictures. They could talk about how their interpretations were or were not different.

Discussion Questions: Who was the man beside the road? What is his role in the family?; How does the main character change throughout the book? What does he learn?

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Read This If You Love:  Journey by Aaron Becker, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell, The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

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Bad Hair Day
Author and Illustrator: Jim Benton
Published July 23rd, 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Franny K. Stein isn’t a fan of glamour. She doesn’t style her hair, the thought of wearing makeup makes her want to gag, and she couldn’t care less about wearing dressy dresses when she’d much prefer her lab coat.

But sometimes Franny wonders if her mom wishes she were different. Which gives Franny an idea…for an experiment! What if she can turn the beauty products her mom loves into something more exciting?

Every experiment has its experimental error, and when Franny’s hair takes on a life of its own, Franny must save the day (and her hair).

About the Author: Jim Benton is the New York Times bestselling writer of the Dear Dumb Diary series and a cartoonist whose unique brand of humor has been seen on toys, television, T-shirts, greeting cards, and even underwear. Franny K. Stein is the first character he’s created especially for young children. A husband and father of two, he lives in Michigan, where he works in a studio that really and truly does have creepy stuff in it.

Review: Franny K. Stein is not worried about all those other things other people worry about–she just wants to do experiments and other mad scientists things. And you know what, I love that!!! And I definitely saw what Benton was trying to do with this book when it comes to glamour and such, but I, as a parent, just didn’t like to see Franny’s mom put a bit of passive aggressive pressure on Franny to be anything other than her amazing self. I mean, she makes creatures and fights them–what does a little messy hair matter?! But in the end, Franny’s mom and the reader are reminded of this, so once again Franny can go on being herself.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Simon and Schuster have a wonderful curriculum guide to use with this series: CLICK HERE.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Franny’s mom is supportive of Franny, but she also questions her. How did you feel about how Franny’s mom in this book?
  • I like to describe Franny as awesome, as in I am awe-struck by her. What traits does Franny have that would lead me to describe her this way?
  • Why did Franny’s pig tails act differently than her ponytails?
  • How was Franny’s mom wrong about Igor?
  • Would Franny be successful in her monster fighting without Igor? Why or why not?

Flagged Passages: CHAPTER ONE: FRANNY’S HOUSE

The Stein family lived in the pretty pink house with the lovely purple shutters down at the end of Daffodil Street. Everything about the house was bright and cheery.

But, of course, the outside of a house is never as interesting as what’s going on inside it.

And inside this house, behind the little round upstairs window, something interesting was always going on, because this was the bedroom and laboratory of Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist.

Last week, for example, Franny developed a giant sea horse, and the day before that she worked on a way to fly based on how bats flap their wings.

Those projects became pretty expensive, so Franny needed to get a piggy bank to save her money in.

Of course, being a mad scientist, she created her piggy bank from a real live pig, which meant that she had to learn all she could about pigs.

This got pretty messy, but she didn’t mind getting messy, because that’s just what happens when you’re doing mad science.

Read This If You Love: Dear Dumb Diary series, Frank Einstein series, Zita the Spacegirl series

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The Day the Crayons Quit
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: December 1, 2019 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary:Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.

Ricki’s Review: I adored this book. I love stories about the underdog, and gray is definitely an underdog color! Fans who love The Day the Crayons Quit will absolutely love this story. It is very funny and a fantastic read aloud. There are many themes for discussion within the book. Kids might consider whose stories are missing as they think about gray’s emotions. They might also think about the other colors and how they are rude to gray and what this might feel like. The characterization of all of the colors offers much for discussion, too. Teachers and parents will love to read this aloud to children.

Kellee’s Review: As a daughter of an art teacher and art museum director, art education has always been important to me. I think the lack of art classes in elementary and secondary school as well as the push away from imagination in schools is a detriment to our children, so books like this give me so much hope! This book celebrates color education, creative writing, word play, and mood. It even pulls in social emotional learning with a focus on friendship and cooperation. Lindsay Ward did such a fantastic job with all of the elements of the story, and I cannot wait to share this book far and wide. It will be a fantastic read aloud in classrooms when discussing primary/secondary colors, story telling and mood, or even just to talk about how to work together. I cannot tell you enough how much you, your teacher friends, your parent friends, and all the kids you know need this book 🙂

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The possibilities of this text are very exciting. Teachers might have students choose a story of a lesser known or lesser considered character and have students develop their own fiction! They can share these stories and have a discussion about the people and things we don’t often consider.

Discussion Questions: How does gray feel? How do the other crayons make him feel?; How might you apply gray’s experiences to your own life?; How does the author make the book funny? How does this add to your experience as a reader?

We Flagged: “They never let me color! Just one tiny bit of GRAY? Is that so much to ask?”

You can also look inside the book HERE.

Read This If You Loved: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, The Dot and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Not a… series by Antoinette Portis, Art by Patrick McDonnell, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

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

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