Currently viewing the category: "Realistic Fiction/Contemporary Fiction"

A Boy Called Bat
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 14th, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Critical Praise: 

“Delightful, endearing, and utterly relatable, Bat Tam is destined to be a dear and necessary friend for young readers. I adore him and his story.” — Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy

“Written in third person, this engaging and insightful story makes readers intimately aware of what Bat is thinking and how he perceives the events and people in his life. With empathy and humor, Arnold delves into Bat’s relationships with his divorced parents, older sister, teachers, and classmates.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Brimming with quietly tender moments, subtle humor, and authentically rendered family dynamics, Arnold’s story, the first in a new series, offers a nonprescriptive and deeply heartfelt glimpse into the life of a boy on the autism spectrum.” — Booklist

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet—a gorgeous mare named Rainbow—and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

Review: A Boy Called Bat is one of those quiet yet impactful books that will find a special place in many hearts. The story is about Bat’s Asperger’s and his parent’s divorce without it being about that at all. The main character, Bat, is one of those special characters that as I was reading about him I knew that readers getting to know him will make them grow as people and that their empathy to fellow kids who may seem different will grow as well.

Bat’s story will not only appeal to our readers that love stories that promote empathy and understanding of others, Bat and his skunk, Thor, will definitely appeal to our readers who love animals. Bat’s mother is a veterinarian and Bat is 99.9% sure he is going to be as well. There are many animal references throughout the book, so these will all draw in readers who love animals. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to an amazing read aloud opportunity, I can definitely see the text being part of lit circles. Bat himself is unique, but he and his story remind me of so many other characters who I love and I wish all students would read about: Auggie from Wonder; Melody from Out of my Mind; David from Rules; Candice from The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee; Rose from Rain, Reign; and Adam from How to Speak Dolphin. All of these texts are must reads! I picture all of these texts with their extraordinary characters being part of lit circles with a focus on disabilities/disorders and empathy.

Discussion Questions: How did Thor help Bat grow emotionally? What changes did you see within him and his actions since getting Thor?; What persuasive techniques did Bat use throughout the book to work to try to get his mom to agree to let him keep Thor?; What makes Mr. Grayson a good teacher in general? A good teacher for Bat?

Teaching Guide: 

Flagged Passages: “‘Bat’ was what almost everyone called Bixby Alxander Tam, for a couple of reasons: first, because the initials of his name — B, A, and T– spelled Bat.

But there were maybe other reasons. Bat’s sensitive hearing, for one. He didn’t like loud sounds. What was so unusual about that? And if Janei’s old earmuffs happened to make an outstanding muffling device, was it that funny if he liked to wear them?

There was also the way he sometimes flapped his hands, when he was nervous or excited or thinking about something interesting. Some of the kids at school seemed to think that was hilarious. And, of course, bats have wings, which they flap.

So between the initials and the earmuffs and the hand flapping, the nickname had stuck.

And truthfully, Bat didn’t mind. Animals were his very favorite thing.” (p. 2-3)

Read This If You Loved: Any of the lit circle books I listed above

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Don’t miss out on the other stops on the blog tour!

March 1 Read, Write, Reflect
March 2 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
March 3 Bluestocking Thinking
March 6 The Official Tumblr of Walden Media
March 7 For Those About to Mock
March 8 Maria’s Melange
March 9 Novel Novice
March 10 Unleashing Readers
March 13 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
March 13 Mundie Kids
March 14 All the Wonders
March 15 Teach Mentor Texts
March 19 Nerdy Book Club
March 20 LibLaura5
March 22 Book Monsters
March 27 Librarian’s Quest
March 29 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
March 30 Lit Coach Lou

**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Mapping My Day
Author: Julie Dillemuth
Illustrator: Laura Wood
Published: March 13, 2017 by Magination Press

GoodReads Summary: Flora loves drawing maps and uses them to tell us about her life! Mapping My Day introduces spatial relationships and representation: where things and places are in relation to other things. This book intends to show readers how maps can convey information, inspire children to draw their own maps, and introduce basic map concepts and vocabulary. Spatial thinking is how we use concepts of space for problem solving and is shown to be a key skill in science, technology, engineering, and math. Includes a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” with extra mapping activities.

Ricki’s Review: As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think about how my husband will enjoy it. I am going to place it in my son’s room to surprise them. Interdisciplinary books are tricky to write, and Julie Dillemuth does a fantastic job making mapping and mathematics fun! While learning about arrows and symbols on a map, the reader also learns that Flora can make her brother snort milk out of his nose. As a bonus, this is a book that features a multiracial family without being a book about a multiracial family. This made me very happy. This is a book that will be appreciated by teachers and readers alike!

Kellee’s Review: Mapping My Day’s Flora loves maps. She thinks in cardinal directions, she maps out where everything is, and she even plays games using maps. It is because of Flora’s enthusiasm that the readers of her story are going to want to play with maps also which will *surprise, surprise* lead to them learning about mapping skills and even some mathematics. I know this book is going to find its place in elementary classrooms and so many kids out there are going to map their days out just like Flora. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The back of this book features map-making pages that are free for readers to download at www.apa.org/pubs/magination/441B206.aspx. The maps are connected to the story and allow readers to practice their mapmaking skills—very cool!

Discussion Questions: How does the author incorporate maps in a way that is fun and exciting?; What parts of Flora’s day does she map? What other parts of her day could she have mapped?; How might Flora’s brother’s maps look a bit different?

Flagged Passage:

Read This If You Loved: My Map Book by Sara Fanelli; Math Curse by Jon Scieszka; My Life in Pictures by Deborah Zemke

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About the Author: Julie Dillemuth was mystified by maps until she figured out how to read them and make them, and it was a particularly difficult map that inspired her to become a spatial cognition geographer. She lives with her family and writes children’s books in Santa Barbara, California, where the west coast faces south. Visit her at her website: http://juliedillemuth.com.

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

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Star-Crossed
Author: Barbara Dee
Published March 14th, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: I really, really, really enjoyed this book. First, it made me like Shakespeare more than I did before. Second, I think that it dealt with sexual identity in a gentle and realistic manner. 

I must admit that Shakespeare is a fear of mine because I just never have felt like I got him the way I should as an English Lit major and English teacher; however, it is what it is. When I see Shakespeare plays, I am always transported into the story and understand what all the hoopla is about, but reading it cold, I just never get it. I worried that a story about a middle school putting on Romeo and Juliet would let the Shakespeare bog it down, but it did the opposite–it helped this story be what it is. The reader learns to love Shakespeare as Mattie learns to love him. And since we are in class and at rehearsals with Mattie, we also get to be part of some of the lessons about the play thus helping the reader understand the text as well as Mattie is supposed to. It was brilliantly intertwined.

Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma are obvious to the reader before Mattie even realizes what they are, but that felt truly realistic to me because if you are someone who has already crushed on boys, feeling the same way towards a girl could be confusing, but Dee never makes it seem like what Mattie seems is anything but natural which is beautiful to see in a middle grade novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being in classroom, school, and public libraries, sections of the story could definitely be used in conjunction to a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Some of the discussions of the play, both during Mattie’s English class and during play rehearsals, would be great jumping off points for similar discussions in the classroom.

Discussion Questions: What clues did Dee include that Mattie’s feelings for Gemma were deeper than she first realized?; If your class was putting on Romeo and Juliet, who do you think would be best to play each character? Explain.; What allusions to Romeo and Juliet did Dee include within the text?; Have you ever read a text that affected you the way Romeo and Juliet effected Mattie?

Flagged Passages: “But that afternoon, when I got home from Verona’s and locked myself in my bedroom to read Romeo and Juliet, something happened to me. It was kind of like a thunderbolt, I guess you could call it. Because as I was reading, I stared speaking the words out loud, feeling the characters’ emotions as if they were mind. I didn’t understand every word, and a few times I skimmed when certain characters (specifically, Mercutio and Friar Lawrench) got speechy. But the idea that Romeo and Juliet had a secret love they had to hid from their families, even from their best friends–it was a story so real I could almost see it happening in front of me.

And wen I got to the end, when Juliet discovers that Romeo is dead, and kisses his lips, and they’re still warm, I did the whole scene in front of the mirror, including the kiss. My eyes had actual tears, and I thought: It’s like this play is happening TO me. Inside me. 

I wanted to own it. I wanted to eat it, as if it were chocolate layer cake.” (p. 68-69)

Read This If You Love: Shakespeare, Middle grade novels about school life and identity 

Recommended For:

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book and to Barbara Dee for reaching out to me!**

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Because of Mr. Terupt
Author: Rob Buyea
Published October 12, 2010 by Delacorte

A Guest Review by Julia Kipphut

Summary: Mr. Terupt’s fifth grade class at Snow Hill School is comprised of various types of students, some including: a new student, a popular girl, a bully, and a troublemaker. Their teacher, Mr. Terupt who is passionate and energetic, strives to engage his students and instill a sense of community amongst his class. Unfortunately, one day, a snowball fight goes awry and leaves Mr. Terupt in a coma. His class is rattled and must learn to work together, be kind, and hope for Mr. Terupt’s recovery.

Review: This book includes a variety of characters, each owning their own identity and personality. Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, making for a fluid and interesting read. They are relatable for children and allow them to recognize themselves in each character. Each character evolves in the story and shows tremendous growth, proving the rich development of the people in this book. The message of community and forgiveness is nicely intertwined in the story and proves that it is always better to choose kindness. The theme of this book is positive and motivational. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of Mr. Terupt serves as a great reader aloud for upper elementary school students. 4th and 5th graders who are struggling with their identity and place in a classroom community can learn the importance of compassion. Students can learn to embrace individual differences for a common goal or outcome, mirroring the characters in this book. Additionally, this book allows students to study character development throughout the story; each character evolves- allowing for effective classroom discussion.

Because of each character of this book is written from a different character’s perspective, students are able to study point of view and consider the influence each chapter has on the story as a whole. Students are able to learn about each character in depth and can even use literature circles to each study a character for analysis.

Discussion Questions: How might the story be different if the snowball accident did not happen?; What do you think the author’s purpose or message was for this story?; Why do you think the author chose to write this story from different characters points of views? Do you think this was effective?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Recommended For:

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Thank you, Julia!

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ghost

Ghost
Author: Jason Reynolds
Published: August 30, 2016 byAtheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

GoodReads Summary: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Ricki’s Review: I will read anything by Jason Reynolds. He captures the adolescent voice perfectly. Ghost reminds me of so many kids that I taught, and if I was still teaching, I would be thrilled to bring this book to school to recommend it to dozens of my students. Luckily, I can now share it with preservice teachers! I am very excited that this book will be one installment of a series of companion texts. It doesn’t end with a hook, which I am grateful for, and I believe the next book will feature a different character. There are so many great lessons that emerge from this story. Teachers would have much to discuss in their classrooms. I highly, highly recommend this text. It belongs in schools and in the hands of kids.

Kellee’s Review: This book is one of those books that I don’t like to tell people what it is about because any summary just doesn’t capture the brilliance of the characterization and story. However, through the word-of-mouth compliments of middle schoolers, it has become a favorite book for many of our school’s students and even won our HCMS Mock Newbery Award! I think it is Jason Reynolds’s way of connecting with adolescent readers through a true voice and circumstances that so many of them will connect to.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We recommend using this book to teach characterization. Ghost reflects the qualities of a human—he has good and bad qualities and makes some mistakes. Students might list all of the lessons that Ghost learns through the story. They could even try to map the lessons he learns in a visual diagram of their choice.

Discussion Questions: How does Ghost’s past haunt him? Does it shape who he is?; What poor choices does Ghost make? Why does he make the choices, and are they justified?; How does the track team act as an unconventional family for Ghost?

Flagged Passage: “You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”

Read This If You Loved:  The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds; The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen; Boy21 by Matthew Quick; Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

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Enter Title Here
Author: Rahul Kanakia
Published: August 2, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion

Summary: I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)

My Review: Whew! I really enjoyed this book! Rahul Kanakia really nails the pressure that overachievers experience. I was reminded of myself a bit. Reshma is willing to do anything to maintain her valedictorian status, and she takes things a bit too far. She is such an unlikeable character that I found her to be quite likable. I notice the GoodReads ratings of this book are high (a 3.58 average) but not incredibly high, and I laughed. Books with unlikable characters are always unfairly low in their ratings. When I put this book down, I felt like I’d learned a lot. Reshma feels like a real person because she makes some major mistakes. She is an anti-hero. I had difficulty putting the book down because I wanted to see how far she would go, and it made me cringe a bit. This book evoked a visceral reaction out of me!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to teach this book because it would evoke some excellent classroom discussions. Reshma represents the ugly side of many people, and I think that readers will have strong reactions to her selfishness. I’d particularly like to dive into her relationship with her mother. Readers could discuss family histories and how these may influence our decisions and our concepts of self.

This book is a great way to introduce metafiction. It would be very interesting to tease apart how the plot relates to the narrator’s book.

Discussion Questions: How do Reshma’s parents differ? How do they influence her decisions? What impact do they have on her as a person?; Does Reshma go too far? What are the consequences? Would you have gone as far as she did?; Why might the author have chosen to write the book as if Reshma was writing it? How does this impact your reading of the text?

Flagged Passage: “The thing no one understands about me is that sometimes, once in a while, I get this feeling like I can do anything, and that feeling is so rare and so beautiful that it’s really hard not to simply surrender to it.”

Read This Book If You Loved: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu; I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

 

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Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck
Author: Jeff Anderson
Published October 11th, 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Zack Delacruz is back—and eager to meet Abhi, the new girl at school. But things get off to a rough start when he accidentally knocks her to the ground during a game of dodgeball. And whenever he tries to make amends, she just ignores him. Nothing works—not his friends’ advice or his “lucky” cologne. In fact, he just seems more and more cursed! Then, at the Fall Fiesta-val, Zack finally learns the real reason behind Abhi’s cold shoulder . . . but not before total chaos erupts. With a runaway train, exploding confetti-filled eggs, and Abhi’s terrifying older brother, will Zack ever get a chance to talk to his crush? In the end, Zack learns what it means to believe, to listen, and to be a good friend.

This dynamite sequel captures the middle-school experience—and will keep readers laughing from beginning to end.

Review: I always worry about sophmore books because there is always a chance that the story will just not hold up to the premiere; however, Zack is back and better than ever! The first Zack Delacruz adventure really introduced us to the diverse cast of characters at Zack’s school and just how rough of a time Zack has on a day-to-day basis. Book two begins with one of the funniest days I’ve ever read about in a book! Not only does he knock down the new girl who he wants to get to know during a game of dodgeball, but it definitely gets worse than that (but I am not going to tell you!). Next to the humor, the thing I love most about Anderson’s choice of character is that he makes sure that Zack’s school reflects a real school and the teachers and kids that go there. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Just like the first book, I think the key to Zack’s potential is making sure he is in libraries and read aloud.

Discussion Questions: What is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at school?; What should Zack learn from what happened with Abhi?

Flagged Passages: “And all the frustration and embarrassment from the day made my skin burn. Why did every terrible thing seem to always happen to me? My eyes were getting wet. I wasn’t going to add crying to my fool portfolio. All my rage went into the red ball. I gripped it, not sure what to do. After all, I really didn’t want to hit her. But if I threw the ball too softly, people would say I had a crush on Abhi.  Then they would start heckling me from the sidelines. Just like this stupid game of dodgeball, there was no way to win middle school. So, I chuck the ball low and away, so I would just miss her leg. But at that moment, Abhi jumped.

The ball smashed into her angle, and her legs flew back from the force of the ball. She slammed facedown on the hard wooden floor with a boom like thunder.

The gym went silent.” (p. 34)

Read This If You Loved: Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff AndersonFrank Einstein by Jon SciezskaPickle by Kim BakerBetter Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle, Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

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**Thank you to Lauren at Sterling for providing a copy for review!!**

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