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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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In-Class Book Clubs are one of my favorite units that I do in my classes. They are my version of lit circles but with the only job of all students is to read, analyze, and discuss. These book clubs build community, stamina, and reading love in my classroom.

I’ve shared a few times about these in-class book clubs. First in April, 2018 where I went over the basic procedures of the book clubs and then in November, 2018 where I shared my students’ choices for this year’s clubs. Now, I am happy to share how this school year’s clubs went!

I did things a little bit differently this year. I had noticed that students were understanding the basics of the narrative and loving the reading but weren’t meeting the standards. I had to make sure to help guide their thinking but also I didn’t want to make the act of reading tedious. It is a slippery slope that I know I am always going to be reflecting about.

Because of this, I went with thought logs this year. A thought log was a strategy I was introduced to by my teacher friend Sarah Krajewski. Thought logs have four boxes for students to take notes while reading. My thought logs had two constant boxes: 1) Important details & 2) Conflict. Important details allowed them to just take notes on anything important that happened and the conflict box had them track the progress of the conflict. The other two boxes changed for each thought log: Confusion, Characters, Setting, My Feelings, Change, & Theme/Impact. Additionally, I added a bottom to my thought log that asked the students to come up with three open-ended discussion questions. Here’s our first thought log, so you can see an example:

Other than the new thought logs, everything else stayed the same: Students chose their books, I made their groups, we came up with class book club norms, they created their schedule, they met once a week, at the end of the unit I gave an individualized standards-focused assessment, and the kids LOVED it.

Well, everyone stayed the same until the end. At NCTE 2018, I went to one of Kelly Gallagher’s sessions and he shared a way he connects nonfiction and fiction when his students are reading novels: He has the students find nonfiction text features that connect to their novel. I decided to try this with my students, and I loved it!

As a book club, my students found two nonfiction elements (maps, graphs, images, etc.) that would help the reader of their book have their experience enhanced. They then said what page they would place the element and explain why it is important.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen

Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London by Elvira Woodruff

Reflection: I’m not completely sold on the Thought Logs yet. I don’t want to kill the joy of reading. Ever. But my job is to teach standards, too. Always a conflict within me, and we’ll see what I decide next year! I will say that I loved the nonfiction element, so I think that will stay. Until next year!

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Waiting for Pumpsie
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published February 21st, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: In 1959 the Boston Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate. But when they call Elijah “Pumpsie” Green up from the minors, Bernard is overjoyed to see a black player on his beloved home team. And, when Pumpsie’s first home game is scheduled, Bernard and his family head to Fenway Park. Bernard is proud of Pumpsie and hopeful that this historic event is the start of great change in America.

This fictionalized account captures the true story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s rise to the major leagues. The story is a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement and a great discussion starter about the state of race relations in the United States today.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.

Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks

Praise: 

“A grand slam” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Bernard’s conversational narration creates a warm bond with readers from the get-go, and although Wittenstein and Ladd never sugarcoat instances of racial prejudice, the story’s moments of triumph sound the loudest notes.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“This uplifting account of a family and the integration of Boston baseball will be inspiring to many youngsters.” — School Library Journal

“This picture book contributes to children’s understanding of America’s past, while telling a good story”— Booklist

Kellee’s Review: This story was one that is new to me, and as a baseball fan and interested in social justice history, I found it so fascinating! Like the author’s note suggests, the history of baseball integration has been skewed in its telling over time because it does seem to those ignorant in the history that Jackie Robinson started up, fought the racial prejudice, then everyone was integrated; however, Pumpsie’s story shows us that this false truth is far from the truth. I really love that the author took something he did not know about and wrote a book to share the story with an audience. 

The author and illustrator told Pumpsie’s story from the point of view of a young Red Sox fan named Bernard and his anticipation for a Black baseball player on the team he loves and how one player can change the morale of fans.

Ricki’s Review: This is a wonderful book. My family is divided (half Yankees fans and half Red Sox fans), and yet, no one seemed to mind that this story featured Pumpsie, a Red Sox player. He isn’t one of the more famous, well-known Red Sox players, but he truly should be. This book gives careful insight into Pumpsie, his career, and his struggles, and readers will see layers of topics—even beyond baseball and equity. The illustrations and dialogue bring readers right to the stadium and field during the time period. My older son had a lot of questions as we read the book, and it felt good to navigate such a richly complex text with him. This is a must-have for libraries. It offers great themes to be discussed in the classroom setting, and students will be interested in this piece of our history. Also, it makes for a great read aloud. We were roaring right along with the stadium. 🙂

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are so many different ways that this story can be integrated into a classroom setting! First and foremost, it is a fantastic read aloud. The narrative will suck students in and will lead to some great discussion. Additionally, it could be used in equity discussions when looking at the history of the fight for equal rights. Lastly, I can definitely see this picture book being an asset in a baseball history book clubs/lit circles.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why was Pumpsie’s debut so important to Bernard?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story change how baseball integration is traditionally told?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story fit into a bigger story of Civil Rights in the United States?
  • Other than baseball and equity, what other topics does this text touch on?
  • Who did the prejudice man in the stands represent within the larger world?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: I am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, Something to Prove by Robert Skead, Silent Star by Bill Wise

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

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The Undefeated
Author: Kwame Alexander
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is an incredibly powerful book. I loved seeing the poem (which was previously performed) turned into a picture book. The book touches upon many critical topics for youth to consider across time and place. It offers a strength that makes readers want to jump from their chairs to support the message of the text. This is a must-read. Teachers might use this book in classrooms by asking students to select a page that they find to be particularly inspiring. Then, they might research individuals who reflect the undefeated-ness that they see on the pages. This might devolve into research projects that explore the “faith and fire,” as quoted from the book summary, that students see across time, space, and place.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book make you feel?
  • What do you perceive to be the author’s and illustrator’s purpose(s)?
  • What similarities and differences do you see across the pages?

Read This If You Love: Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander; We March by Shane W. Evans; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Chilly Da Vinci
Author and Illustrator: J. Rutland
Published by December 4, 2018 by NorthSouth Books

Goodreads Summary: While others do “penguin” things, Chilly da Vinci—self-declared inventor penguin, builds machines that don’t work…yet!  Chilly ties into the popular “maker” movement with humor and imagination.

While others do “penguin” things, Chilly da Vinci—self-declared inventor penguin, builds machines that don’t work…yet!

Ricki’s Review: My son tells everyone that he is an engineer. He spends a lot of time drawing his inventions and then building them with blocks. Needless to say, he was thrilled about this book. Chilly is an inventor who builds machines that don’t work. This offers great opportunities for conversations about the revision process and the time and patience required for inventors to be successful. The book ties well with history and Da Vinci’s inventions. There is wonderful classroom potential with this book. The illustrations border realistic and fantastic, which makes for fun examinations across pages. This book will be a favorite in classrooms and it is quite inspiring. I am most excited about its interdisciplinary potential.

Kellee’s Review: The structure of this book is so interesting! It switches between the reality of Chilly’s situation and a narrative of possibilities and his imagination. This will lead to some amazing conversations and also gives an example of a different type of narrative. I also think that so much can be done with the different creations that Chilly makes looking at real inventions and the sketches and research of Leonardo da Vinci. On top of that, I love the message of Chilly’s journey! It is all about not giving up and never letting anyone tell you something isn’t doable. Oh, and he’s a super cute penguin!

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Students might begin by investigating Da Vinci’s inventions and how they compare with those in the book. This offers a rich look into history. Then, students might draw out and design their own inventions. Working in small groups, they might try to build their inventions to experience and talk through the emotions that Chilly might be experiencing as he invents new creations!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do Chilly’s inventions compare with those of Da Vinci?
  • What emotions and characteristics does Chilly display when his inventions don’t work?
  • How does the author use personification to enhance the reading of this text?
  • How might this book be different if Chilly was a person rather than a penguin? What does Chilly’s penguin character add to the story?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Nonfiction books about Leonardo da Vinci, If Da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

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Sun! One in a Billion
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Stevie Lewis
Published October 23, 2018

Summary: From the author of Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years comes a new picture book about space—
this time starring our Sun!

Meet Sun: He’s a star! And not just any star—he’s one in a billion. He lights up our solar system and makes life possible. With characteristic humor and charm, Stacy McAnulty channels the voice of Sun in this next celestial “autobiography.” Rich with kid-friendly facts and beautifully illustrated, this is an equally charming and irresistible companion to Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years.

Ricki’s ReviewThis is my new favorite book about space. (And I have read a lot of books about space.) The author perfectly balances factual information and appeal. The illustrations pop off of the page, and the planets, sun, etc. are personified. I feel very lucky to have received this book for review. I am quite excited to read it to my son tomorrow night. I think I smiled throughout my entire reading of the book. If you are interested in space, get this book. It includes facts that were new to me, and the back matter offers a wealth of information for readers who want to delve deeper.

Kellee’s Review: The humor that Stacy McAnulty adds to her books about space really add to the engagement factor (for both the reader and listener); the Sun’s attitude in this one actually made me laugh out loud while reading, but I also learned some pretty cool facts while reading. I know that this book is going to be in our rotation because Trent wants to be an astronaut, and this one was an instant hit! I am so glad that there are amazing space books out there that add something new to the conversation and go about the information in a new and funny way! I really hope that this series continues because I’d love to see the personalities of all of the other parts of our solar system (and maybe some cool space objects from other systems!).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to pick one fact in the book that makes them want to learn more about the world. They could look, for example, into a planet, or into the history of Earth. This inspires student-centered inquiry about a topic of choice!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is the text structured in ways that are engaging and interesting?
  • What new facts did you learn?
  • Which page was your favorite, and why?
  • Did this book inspire you to want to learn more about any topics or information?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty; Science, Space, Picture books with humorous narrators like It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh FunkNothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

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**Thank you to Kelsey at Macmillan for setting up the blog tour for Sun!**

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Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheet
Author: Anthony Pearson
Illustrator: Jennifer E. Morris
Published October 1st, 2018 by Two Lions

Summary: Eduardo Guadardo may look fluffy. He may look cute. But he’s no little lamb. He’s about to graduate from the FBI—that’s the Fairytale Bureau of Investigations—as an Elite Sheep. He knows five forms of kung fu, and he can outfox the foxiest of foxes. In fact, he’s so good they put him on his own case: to keep the farmer’s daughter, Mary, safe from Wolf, Troll, and Witch. It’s a job for somebody baaaaaaad—someone like a soon-to-be Elite Sheep. The thing is, protecting Mary isn’t quite as easy as Eduardo expected…

This imaginary backstory for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is hilarious, action-packed, and filled with subterfuge (that means pulling the wool over your eyes, for you civilians).

About the Author: Anthony Pearson is not a spy. He’s not. We promise. He’s actually a school counselor, a child therapist, and the author of Baby Bear Eats the Night, illustrated by Bonnie Leick. But that didn’t stop him from digging for clues about “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” What he found made him imagine what could have inspired the rhyme: a sheep that is totally, absolutely, 100 percent in control of things … or maybe just 95 percent. And squirrels in sunglasses. Oh, and a witch flying a helicopter. But you didn’t hear about the Fairytale Bureau of Investigations from him. Anthony and his family live in deep cover in Georgia. Get more intel about him at www.AnthonyPearson.info. Twitter: @APearson_Writer

About the Illustrator: Jennifer E. Morris has written and illustrated award-winning picture books and has also illustrated children’s magazines, greeting cards, partyware, and educational materials. She has not illustrated classified documents nor is she a super secret agent. She is, however, the creator of May I Please Have a Cookie? which has infiltrated more than a million homes. If you say “The dove flies at noon,” she may tell you what the ducks recorded on their cameras. Maybe. But most likely not. Jennifer lives with her family in Massachusetts, just a few miles from the little red schoolhouse where “Mary Had a Little Lamb” originated. Read more of her dossier (that’s DAH-see-ay) at www.jenmorris.com. Twitter: @jemorrisbooks

Review: What a fun and quite smart idea! I didn’t know that I ever wondered how Mary got her lamb, but this backstory is one epic way for that nursery rhyme to come about! And Eduardo Guadardo is quite the character, and it really does give another outlook on why Mary’s lamb went to school with her. I also liked the additional layer that the author added to the story to show how arrogance does not lead to success and that even if you are good at something, if you can’t learn and work with others, you will not do well.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Allusions, allusions, allusions! Eduardo Guadardo may be a backstory for Mary Has a Little Lamb, but so many other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters are scattered throughout the book! Trent and I played a scavenger hunt for characters in the book and with older students who could do more discussions and analysis with these cameos.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters did you see in the book?
  • Why were the witch, troll, and wolf the bad guys in the story? What other stories are they the antagonists?
    • How did the author use your preconceived notions to trick you about these three in the end?
  • Why did Mary’s lamb follow her to school one day?
  • How did Mary trick Eduardo? What did the trick teach Eduardo?
  • Based on the final spread, what fairy tale are Eduardo and Mary going to take on next?
    • What do you think is going to happen?

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Read This If You Love: Fractured Fairy Tales!

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*Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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