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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?

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

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Illustrator: Kerascoët
Anticipated Publication: April 24, 2018 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team—tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

My Review: I was very fortunate to receive an F&G of this book at ALA Midwinter. Whew! I was told that this book was inspired by a true story of a large group of students who walked with a student who was being bullied. It’s really quite magical. This is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide assortment of readers at a wide range of ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book rakes in a few awards next year. The story is beautifully done. It inspired some great conversations with my four-year-old. We were able to point to each of the characters and talk about what they were doing in each situation. That said, if I had to place this book in one age group, I think it would make a great fit at the early elementary school level.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a phenomenal book to talk about the bystanders. It would pair beautifully with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. When I read this with my son, we spent a lot of time point out several of the students on the pages. We talked about what each of them were doing and in some cases, what they weren’t doing. This book is a must-read.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the illustrator team chose to make the book wordless? How does this make the book more or less powerful for you?; What emotions do you see in the characters? Why are they feeling the way that they feel?; Do bystanders have a responsibility?

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Image from Amazon

Read This If You Loved: My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review); Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Adventures in Science: Human Body
Author: Courtney Acampora
Published: December 12, 2017 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Which part of the brain is in charge of creativity? What is the smallest human muscle? Take a trip inside the human body and discover the amazing systems that allow us to move, breathe, and speak. After reading about everything from the digestive tract to the cornea, kids can assemble their own plastic skeleton and view the systems of the body in a layered cardstock model. With 20 fact cards, 2 sticker sheets, and a double-sided poster, this interactive kit is a perfect primer for learning about how the human body works.

ReviewThis book kit is so much fun! It’s very cleverly designed to engage readers. It includes an informational book about the human body, a skeleton to build, flash cards, a sticker sheet that features the major bones of the human body, a sticker sheet that features the organs within the human body, and a double-sided poster with outlines to help readers stick the bone and organ stickers in the correct places. As we read the book, we did the activities and filled in the human body. What a powerful learning experience! I am crossing my fingers that this kit becomes a series. I would love to purchase a kit for space, geography, etc.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could purchase five kits and divide their classes into five different groups to build the skeleton and affix the stickers onto the appropriate parts of the body. I sent a message to a few of my friends who homeschool their children. I think this kit will be a huge hit in their families.

Discussion Questions: What did you learn as you did the activities?; What parts of the human body do you find most interesting? Why?; How do the different parts of the body work together?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about the human body; interactive books and kits

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System
Authors: Bethany Ehlmann with Jennifer Swanson
Published January 16, 2018 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Take to the skies with Planetary Geologist Dr. E and her robot sidekick, Rover, to explore the solar system’s wildest, most astronomical geology–with comic book flair! This stellar book introduces kids to outer space through in-depth info and comic book adventure. Along the way, kids follow explorer Bethany Ehlmann, a member of the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, and her lovable robo-dog, Rover, as they study and protect our amazing solar system. Dr. E’s conversational and funny explanations of the solar system and planetary geology will pull kids in like gravity. The pairing of fun, graphic novel side stories with science facts makes big concepts accessible and interesting to boys and girls of all levels, from STEM science fans to reluctant readers alike.

Review: This book is wild. I learned so much while reading it. I thought I knew a lot about space, but this book made me realize how much I didn’t know about it. My son is much too young for this book, but he loved looking at the pictures while I summarized the text on the pages. There are some fantastic photographs, and there are also digital representations of what things might look like. Most exciting, this book filled me with wonder. There are so many possibilities with space, and I am really excited about new discoveries and new information that will come in my lifetime and beyond. This is a must-read for space lovers and those who are curious about the world. I particularly appreciated the comics at the front of each chapter. They allowed me to better engage with the material that followed. Dr. E made me want to learn even more about space!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to see this book used in literature circles. The National Geographic books are phenomenal, so teachers might collect books on various topics and allow students to form groups based on interest.

Discussion Questions: After reading about _____, what did you learn?; What do you still want to learn about space?

We Flagged: 

Image from Amazon.

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction book about space, for background knowledge when reading science fiction that takes place in space (e.g. Space Encyclopedia)

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon
Author: Annette Bay Pimentel
Illustrator: Micha Archer
Published February 6th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: The inspiring story of the first female to run the Boston Marathon comes to life in stunningly vivid collage illustrations.
Because Bobbi Gibb is a girl, she’s not allowed to run on her school’s track team. But after school, no one can stop her–and she’s free to run endless miles to her heart’s content. She is told no yet again when she tries to enter the Boston Marathon in 1966, because the officials claim that it’s a man’s race and that women are just not capable of running such a long distance. So what does Bobbi do? She bravely sets out to prove the naysayers wrong and show the world just what a girl can do.

* “A bright salutation of a story, with one determined woman at its center.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

ReviewI first learned about Bobbi Gibb when I read The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee and after reading it, I knew I wanted to learn more about Bobbi Gibb because she did so much for women’s progress when it came to running. Without her standing up and going against everyone, it would have taken longer for women to be accepted as marathoners.

Pimentel does a beautiful job showing Gibb’s inspiration, determination, and journey. I loved seeing more about what happened during the marathon than what I knew before and especially was verklempt by the support she found when ran by Wellesley College and the women at the college came out and cheered for her. I also loved learning that the other runners supported her!

Through the afterwords, I also found out that Gibb had to wait 30 years before she was listed as the female winner of the Boston Marathon in 1966, 1967, and 1968 races because the officials wouldn’t honor her as a runner. This shows that so often even when the masses support something, it is a systemic issue that needs to be fixed.

Last but not least, I must share how much I adore Archer’s artwork. I was a big fan of her work in Daniel Finds a Poem, and once again I found that her illustrations were the perfect addition to the story being told.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Gibb is one example of an American that changed history but may not be well known. I think it would be fascinating to introduce Gibb using Pimentel’s picture book as a way to start discussions about normal people changing the world. I would then share other stories about heroes like Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, and Jesse Owens. I’d also reference other books like Be a Changemaker and 31 Ways to Change the World. The research could also be narrowed down to just sports; however, I think it is a wonderful discussion to have about how Gibb may have “only” changed marathons, it is part of a bigger movement.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did people think that women couldn’t run marathons?
  • How did Bobbi Gibb prepare for her first official marathon?
  • Did the other runners react the way you had expected? Explain.
  • How did Archer’s artwork support Pimentel’s story of Gibb?
  • What traits does Gibb show that helped her be successful?
  • When Gibb began to get blisters, were you afraid that she wasn’t going to finish? Explain your thinking and reactions as the story continued.

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Read This If You Love: Picture book biographies, Women’s rights

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Heroes of Black History: Biographies of Four Great Americans
Author: The Editors of Times for Kids
Introduction by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Published December 19th, 2017 by Times for Kids

Blog Tour Week 4’s Feature American:
Barack Obama

Summary: TIME for Kids Heroes of Black History presents the stories of four great American heroes every child should know about in one volume: Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama. Featuring an introduction by journalist and civil rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Heroes of Black History shines a light on the long fight for social justice in the United States as it highlights the accomplishments and personal histories of these four pivotal Americans.

Young readers learn about the life of Harriet Tubman—born a slave around 1820, she escaped to the North, but returned to the South nineteen times as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to lead 300 slaves to freedom. An incredibly gifted athlete, Jackie Robinson endured taunts, slurs, and death threats when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955 and paved the way for a Supreme Court decision that declared segregation on Alabama’s public buses was unconstitutional. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office as our country’s first African American president. 

Illustrated with a dynamic mix of photographs and illustrations, the biographies of these Americans delve deeper than their accomplishments to reveal details on their childhoods, early experiences, schooling, family life, and more. Sidebars about related topics—Underground Railroad routes, sports firsts, the Harlem Renaissance, and more—give context and additional insights for young readers. Heroes of Black History also gives readers a timeline overview of three centuries of African American history, beginning with the slave trade, touching upon the formation of the NAACP, the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, and other pivotal events, up through the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Brief profiles of more than twenty additional heroes of black history, a glossary of key terms, and a detailed index are also included in this comprehensive book.

ReviewWhen I was asked to take part in this blog tour, I knew right away that I wanted to be part of week 4 of the tour to focus on Barack Obama for a few reasons: 1) I need a reminder of modern heroism; 2) I’ve featured the other three Americans on Unleashing Readers before (Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks); 3) The Obamas, in my opinion, are the perfect couple to feature on a Valentine’s Day post.

Obama’s biography within this text reminded me that hard work, high ethics, kindness, love, and intelligence can lead to success and that being cutthroat or brutal are not the key features in heroes of mine. The biography, overall, was quite simple and focused on the main points of Obama’s life and presidency; however, it is a wonderful introduction to his life thus far and really ensures that readers understand how he got to where he is and how he changed history. It was so refreshing to read about a person that faced discrimination and resistance with such grace and resilience.

I also got to glimpse into the upbringing of Obama which I ended up knowing less about than I thought. I hadn’t realized he hardly knew his father nor that he lived in Indonesia for a while before returning to live with his grandparents in Hawaii. All of this lead to Michelle and him meeting while he was completing an internship–her stability appealed to him. And that was the beginning of a beautiful romance. And the beginning of a journey that neither of them probably saw coming.

The other sections in this text follow similar suits in that they are wonderful introductions of each historically significant American.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: This four-stories-in-one biography from Time has so many applicable uses in classrooms! The publisher created teaching guide shares discussion questions, topics for writing, a scavenger hunt, more heroes of Black history, activities for students for each biography, a cloze read book review, and fast facts for each hero.

The teaching guide can be accessed here.

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Read This If You Love: Biographies, History

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for hosting the blog tour and providing a copy for review!**

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Histories Mysteries
Author: Kitson Jazynka
Illustrators: Various
Published October 17th, 2017 by National Geographic Society

Summary: Why were the Easter Island heads erected? What really happened to the Maya? Who stole the Irish Crown Jewels? The first book in this exciting new series will cover history’s heavy-hitting, head-scratching mysteries, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the Bermuda Triangle, the Oak Island Money Pit, Stonehenge, the Sphinx, the disappearance of entire civilizations, the dancing plague, the Voynich manuscript, and so many more. Chock-full of cool photos, fun facts, and spine-tingling mysteries.

ReviewI feel like a broken record, but I just feel like it needs to be repeated: National Geographic Kids are publishing some truly phenomenal books for kids to read independently and/or for teachers to use in the classrooms. This one is no exception! It is beautifully structured with each mystery being shared with background, more details, clues, and theories along with illustrations and photographs. It is broken up into 7 chapters with mysteries all within the chapter around a specific topic. The chapter topic’s are: vanished civilizations, unexplained deaths and disappearances, creatures of myth and legend, freaky phenomena, mystifying monuments, cryptic codes and lost languages, & treasure troves.

 Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I felt very similarly about this book as I did about What Would Happen?, another National Geographic book–I just want to bring it into a classroom and let kids just inquire about any of the mysteries that tickle their fancy! How much fun it’d be to just allow students to get obsessed with a mystery then share it with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which mystery do you want to do more research on?
  • [For each mystery] Do you agree with the theory shared? OR Which of the theories shared do you agree with?
  • What other mysteries would you like to learn more about?

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Read This If You Love: History, Mysteries, National Geographic Kids books

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Stop by Kid Lit Frenzy to check out the link up of other Nonfiction Picture Book reviews!

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

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