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Daring Dreamers Club #1: Milla Takes Charge
Author: Erin Soderberg
Illustrator: Anoosha Syed
Published June 5th, 2018 by Random House

Summary: When you follow your dreams, the possibilities are endless!

Milla loves nothing more than imagining grand adventures in the great wide somewhere, just like Belle. She dreams of traveling the world and writing about her incredible discoveries. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretend about the fifth-grade overnight and Milla’s fear that her moms won’t let her go.

Enter Piper, Mariana, Zahra, and Ruby. Together with Milla, they form the Daring Dreamers Club and become best friends. But can they help Milla believe she’s ready for this real grand adventure?

Diverse, talented, and smart–these five girls found each other because they all had one thing in common: big dreams. Touching on everyday dramas and the ups and downs of friendship, this series will enchant all readers who are princesses at heart.

About the Creators: 

ERIN SODERBERG lives in Minneapolis, MN, with her husband, three adventure-loving kids, and a mischievous Goldendoodle named Wally. Before becoming an author, she was a children’s book editor and a cookie inventor and worked for Nickelodeon. She has written many books for young readers, including the Quirks and Puppy Pirates series. Visit her online at erinsoderberg.com.

ANOOSHA SYED is a Pakistani illustrator & character designer for animation. She received her BFA in illustration at Ceruleum: Ecole d’arts Visuels in Switzerland, and now lives in Canada. Visit her online at anooshasyed.com.

Praise: 

“Though core issues of identity, independence, and teamwork ground the novel, Disney Princess devotees will likely be the most charmed. —Publishers Weekly

“I cannot wait to “hear” the stories of all the other girls! Brava Erin SD for kicking off a new series for the younger MG set! Positive messages for kids! —Goodreads Praise

“Young readers will be able to relate to the story, there is a positive message, and the characters provide a model of friendship, showing how friends work together and support on another. Loved meeting these girls!” —Goodreads Praise

ReviewI know that at first this book may seem like a book that only Disney or Princess lovers would like, but it is so much more than that! So please do not judge this book by that idea! Instead you will find a story about girls who find a deep friendship within each other after being placed in a group at school together. With the guidance of an amazing educator, they look deep within themselves and join as a group while still celebrating their individuality.

Now, as someone who DOES love Disney and Disney princesses, I loved the angle that this book took! After the first assignment by their group teacher, the girls are asked to write about a princess who they connect with. Milla and her friends are using the strengths of the princesses as inspiration to build their own strengths. For example, Milla feels like her life is very sheltered, and she loves to write, so she finds inspiration in Belle. Ruby, who is athletic and prides herself in her strength, first struggles to connect with a princess but then she realizes that Mulan is a person that is very much who she would like to be. And each girl does her own reflection (written in her own words in a journal format).

This first book focuses on Milla, but we get to know all the girls through the inclusion of the journals and from Milla’s point of view. I assume that future books will also be in different points of view to allow readers to get to know more in depth each of the characters. I look forward to future books to see where Piper, Milla, Mariana, Ruby, Zahra and Ms. Bancroft go next!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love Ms. Bancroft! And I think that how she had the girls introduce themselves and her first assignment that she gave the Daring Dreamers Club would be wonderful activities in a classroom:

  • “I’d love for each of you to introduce yourself and share one of your big dreams.”
  • “I want each of you to think of a princess you connect with or feel inspired by and explain why. Dig deep and really think about your answer.”

Since each of the girls’ answers are shared in the book, they would be a great thing to share as well.

In addition, this book is going to be LOVED by realistic fiction fans! I cannot wait to share it with my students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the five main characters do you connect with the most?
  • If you had to choose a princess you connect with, who would you choose?
  • Do you think Milla went about getting her moms to trust her correctly?
  • How does Ms. Bancroft inspire the girls? How is she different than the last music teacher?
  • What is one of your big dreams?

Flagged Passages: “Milla loved reading and writing just about anything, but there was nothing she enjoyed more than creating adventures for herself. In Milla’s stories, she was always a brave hero without fears or worries of any kind. One of the things Milla most loved about writing was that she was totally in charge and got to make all the decisions about what would happen on her adventures. The only limitation was her imagination, and her imagination was vast.” (p. 6)

Read This If You Love: Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski

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**Thank you to Sydney at Penguin Random House for providing a copy for review!**

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Running on the Roof of the World
Author: Jess Butterworth
Published May 1st, 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers

Summary: A story of adventure, survival, courage, and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India.

Tash lives in Tibet, where as a practicing Buddhist she must follow many rules to avoid the wrath of the occupying Chinese soldiers. Life remains peaceful as long as Tash, her family, and their community hide their religion and don’t mention its leader, the Dalai Lama.

The quiet is ruptured when a man publicly sets himself on fire to protest the occupation. In the crackdown that follows, soldiers break into Tash’s house and seize her parents. Tash barely escapes, and soon she and her best friend, Sam, along with two borrowed yaks, flee across the mountains, where they face blizzards, hunger, a treacherous landscape, and the constant threat of capture. It’s a long, dangerous trip to the Indian border and safety—and not all will make it there.

This action-packed novel tells a story of courage, hope, and the powerful will to survive, even in the most desperate circumstances.

About the Author [from her website]: As a child I wanted to be many things, including a vet and even David Attenborough, but throughout all of those ideas, I always wanted to write. So I studied creative writing as a BA(hons) at Bath Spa University, where I won the Writing for Young People Prize in 2011. I then completed a Master’s in Writing for Young People, also at Bath Spa University, and graduated in 2015.

My first two novels, RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD and WHEN THE MOUNTAINS ROARED are set in the Himalayas. My family on my Dad’s side has lived in India for seven generations and I spent much of my childhood in India too. My father was a trek leader and we lived on a remote foothill above Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan community in exile is settled. My mother’s family lived in London, where I was born. She was off on her own adventure, travelling in India, when she met my dad. Growing up, I would always write about the Himalayas when I was in the UK and missing the mountains or my dad and grandparents who still lived there.

Although RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD is fiction, it is inspired by a journey that tens of thousands of Tibetans have braved. I wanted to write a story that is relevant to today and grounded in events, places and communities I care about deeply.

Now I live between Louisiana in the US and Frome in the UK, and you’ll often find me back in the Himalayas too.

Review: We all have knowledge gaps. I try to learn as much as I can about the world and others unlike me, and this story took me to Tibet and showed me a struggle happening that I was unaware of. While reading and since reading, I have spent hours reading about the history and current affairs of Tibet.

But other than smacking me in the face with this truth and taking place in a setting and from a point of view that is not often shared in middle grade and young adult novels, it also is a page-turning survival adventure. Tash and Sam must face a trek that hundreds of thousands have done, but they are doing it alone with only help from a few yaks and maybe some unexpected allies.

I included the author’s biography in her own words above because I think it is important to see that although this book may not be an own voices per se, it is written by someone who lived in the area and cares deeply about the people who live near the Himalayas.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see this book and others from countries in other continents as part of a lit circle or in-class book club within middle school or high school classrooms to allow kids to see the world outside of their small area. Some other texts could be: Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Diamond Boys by Michael Williams, Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf, Long Walk to Walter by Linda Sue Park, The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, Sold by Patricia McCormick, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, La Linea by Ann Jaramillo, and I am sure there are more that I just don’t know. In addition to the novels, students could read news articles about the current events that connect with what they read in their fiction novels.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do Tash and Sam have to leave Tibet?
  • What are Tash’s parents doing that is so dangerous?
  • What is the geography like between Tibet and India?
  • What religion is Tash and Sam if they are going to see the Dalai Lama?
  • How do the yaks impact the success or failure of Tash and Sam’s journey?
  • What did the message in the letter end up meaning?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 17: Journey

Eve steps into a ditch and I slide forward, slamming into the hump above her shoulders.

‘Sorry, Eve,’ I mutter, shuffling back to find my balance.

Being a yak rider should run in my blood but my leg muscles ache from clinging on so tightly.

We approach the thick wire fence that surrounds the village. Two rocks stand to our right like giant guards.

Please let it be clear.

Sam dismounts. He moves slowly toward them, crushing the gravel under his boots.

‘There’s no one here!’ he shouts.

‘Is the fence still broken?’ I ask.

He nods and disappears between rocks with Bones.

I follow him. The rusty fence has bowed to the ground where the boulder fell and flattened it. The space between the rocks is just big enough to squeeze Eve through, though I have to tug at her harness to get her to move. As I step over the fence, my heart jumps.

We’re escaping.

Read This If You Love: Books about climing mountains like Peak and The Edge by Roland Smith, survival books like Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, or books that expand your reading borders like the books listed above

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**Thank you to Brooke at Algonquin for providing a copy for review!**

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Rescued
Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press

Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

ReviewI think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.

I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.

I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.

As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.

Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!

The Unit

Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:

  • Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
    • These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
    • Focus questions:
      • 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
      • 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
      • 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
      • 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
      • 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
    • The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
  • Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
  • Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)

The Field Trip

Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!

I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit http://www.centerforgreatapes.org/.

Author Virtual Visit

After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:

  • Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet? 
  • Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
  • Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet? 
  • While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
  • Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When? 
  • Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
  • How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario? 
  • How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland? 
  • How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew? 
  • Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal? 
  • Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book? 
  • Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
  • Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
  • You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word? 
  • What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?

We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:

Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:

  • Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
  • Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
  • I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
  • Apes should not be kept against their will.
  • I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
  • Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.

Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).

  • What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
  • Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
  • In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
  • Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
  • How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?

Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)

Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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The Reckless Rescue (Th Explorers #2)
Author: Adrienne Kress
Published April 24th, 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: More mystery, more bravery, more danger, and one amazingly reckless rescue await in the second book in the Explorers series! The perfect read for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society!

Reader! Your attention is greatly needed. We have left things unresolved! What began as your average story of a boy stumbling upon a pig in a teeny hat and a secret international explorers society has turned into an adventure of epic proportions.

* The bad news: The boy (Sebastian) has been kidnapped by a trio of troublesome thugs.
* The good news: His new friend Evie has promised to rescue him!
* The bad news: Sebastian has been taken halfway around the world.
* The good news: Evie has famous explorer and former Filipendulous Five member Catherine Lind at her side!
* The bad news: There’s still the whole matter of Evie’s grandfather (and the leader of the Filipendulous Five) somewhere out there in grave danger.
* The good news: Pursuing Sebastian will lead Evie and Catherine to another member of the Filipendulous Five, who might be able to help!

This missive is a call to action and an invitation to join in mystery, bravery, and danger. There will be new people to meet, new places to see, and some dancing along the way. And one amazingly reckless rescue.

About the Author: Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers, and credits them with inspiring her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. She is the author of The Explorers: The Door in the AlleyThe Explorers: The Reckless Rescue,and The Explorers: The Quest for the Kid. To find out more about Adrienne, visit AdrienneKress.com and follow @AdrienneKress on Twitter and Instagram.

ReviewThis book starts RIGHT up where the first left off–like, actually! Mid-sentence! And I’m so glad because the cliffhanger in the first one was so intense! But here we are, right where we left off: Sebastian is kidnapped, and Evie has to figure out how to save him (hence the title…). Like the first book, I found that the snarky narrator, silly footnotes, and ridiculous situations was humor that is right up my alley, causing many laugh out loud moments, but let’s not forget that the story is also a nerve-racking adventure story also! Other than the humor and adventure, I also really like the characters in this story. Evie and Sebastian complement each other so well, and we really get to see them shine in this book as individuals since they are separated.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series would be a perfect mentor text when teaching dramatic irony, breaking the 4th wall, and footnotes. Even reading the first chapter will cover these three literary elements and will also get a lot of kids excited to read the story. Because the other place this book belongs is in libraries and classrooms–it is going to be a big hit with adventure and humor fans!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the narration style the author chose change the tone of the story?
  • Why do you think the author chose to include footnotes in the story?
  • How does the author use dramatic irony to keep the reader reading?
  • What is the “Lost Boys” K-Pop group an allusion to?
  • How do Sebastian and Evie complement each other?
  • How did some good or bad things in the story end up being the opposite of what you thought?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: In which we resume our story.

There is a difference between fact and opinion. It’s hard to tell sometimes because opinions like to dress up as facts, and their costumes have gotten quite impressive lately.¹ There is a way, however, to easily tell the difference between them. You have to weigh them. Because, you see, facts have more substance. So they’re heavier. This is how one can know for a fact, for example, that being kidnapped for your brain is scary. Because when this fact is placed on the scale, man, does it ever tip the balance.

There are other facts one can be certain of. Like that private jets are cool. That traveling long distances get boring. And that not knowing where you are going or what’s going to happen to you is exhaustingly stressful.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Sebastian, who is sitting in his seat and staring out the window of the private jet, feeling precisely all of those things.

It is odd to feed bored. Not that feeling bored is a rare or weird feeling. It’s a very common part of life, after all. But it just felt strange to feel bored in his particular situation. He should have been feeling terrified, possibly even a little excited. And he knew this because he’d felt those things initially when he’d been snatched out of the Explorers Society headquarters and held captive in a helicopter. But that felt like forever ago now.

¹I once saw an opinion wearing the most spectacular curly mustache that distracted me so much, I totally let him into my head, even though I found his footwear suspicious.”

Read This If You Love: The first Explorers book: The Door in the AlleyEmily and the Spellstone by Michael RubensGuardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Cucumber Quest series by Gigi D.G., Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.

He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.

Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.

Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.

This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is identity explored in this novel?
  • How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
  • What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
  • How is death/dying portrayed?
  • How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?

We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224

Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Recommended For:

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  RickiSig

**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Bat and the Waiting Game
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 27th, 2018 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: The second book in the irresistible and “quietly groundbreaking”* young middle grade series starring Bat, an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life is pretty great. He’s the caretaker of the best baby skunk in the world—even Janie, his older sister, is warming up to Thor.

When Janie gets a part in the school play and can’t watch Bat after school, it means some pretty big changes. Someone else has to take care of the skunk kit in the afternoons.

Janie is having sleepovers with her new friends. Bat just wants everything to go back to normal. He just has to make it to the night of Janie’s performance…

*Kirkus Reviews

Critical Praise: 

“Delightful. This humorous follow-up is even stronger than its predecessor and will leave readers hoping for a third book featuring Bat and his family.” — School Library Journal

“A gentle tale of shared similarities rather than differences that divide and a fine read-aloud with a useful but not didactic message of acceptance.”  — Kirkus Reviews

A winsome blend of humor and heart, vibrant characters, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. Arnold’s narrative also gracefully explores life through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum.  The ever-lovable Bat is sure to resonate with readers of all ages. — Booklist Online

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in California, where she, like Bat, 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, including the National Book Award finalist title What Girls Are Made Of. Elana lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. She calls the “Bat” series for Walden Pond Press “books of her heart.” You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

ReviewBat is one of my favorite characters ever. He is a flawed character but is also so perfect as who he is! What I love about Bat, other than his amazingly sweet personality, his brilliance when it comes to skunks, and his coping skills, is that he teaches us to treasure the little things. Also, the way that Elana write Bat, his story will help middle grade readers think about their classmates who may not think or act the way that they think is normal. We are all normal for who we are! Bat’s story shows about the good in life and teaches us what good humans are like.

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. [From my review of A Boy Called Bat, 3/10/17]

Educators’ Resource Guide: 

Flagged Passages: “Maybe, Bat though, there was something better in the world than cradling a sleepy, just-fed baby skunk in your arms. But at this moment, it didn’t seem likely.

Bat was sitting in his beanbag chair, having just put down the tiny, nearly empty bottle of formula. In Bat’s hand, licking his fine soft whiskers with a tiny pink tongue and then yawning widely to reveal two rows of new white teeth, was a six-week-old skunk kit named Thor.” (p. 1-2)

“When Israel first handed [a skunk kit sculpture] to Bat last Monday at school, it had taken Bat a moment to figure out what exactly he was holding…

Bat had rubbed his thumb down the smooth shiny back of the clay ump. It didn’t look much like a skunk kit, but its pleasant weight felt good in his hand. And when he had flipped it over to find the words ‘From Israel’ on the bottom, a warm good feeling spread through his chest and up his neck.

A friend had given him a gift. And even if it didn’t look much like the real baby skunk now nestled in his hands, it definitely deserved a place on his bookshelf,a long with his other important things.” (p. 4-5)

Read This If You Love: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, Any lit circle book listed under Teacher’s Tools

Recommended For: 

 

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

3/12 For Those About to Mock, @abouttomock Sam Eddington

3/15 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook @knott_michele Michele Knott

3/15 @iowaamber Amber Kuehler

3/16 The Hiding Spot @thehidingspot Sara Grochowski

3/18 Educate*Empower*Inspire…Teach @guerette79 Melissa Guerrette

3/19 Maria’s Melange @mariaselke Maria Selke

3/20 Nerdy Book Club post by Elana

3/20 Writers Rumpus @kirsticall Kirsti Call

3/22 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl Nicole Levesque

3/28 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders Kellee Moye

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for hosting the blog tour and providing a copy for review!!**

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