Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Published December 4, 2018 by Running Press
Summary:From award-winning author Stacy McAnulty comes a sweet story about love and what it’s really all about.
What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn’t always what you expect!
With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, thisis the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it’s important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives.
My Review: This is a very heart-warming book. I received it on Valentine’s Day, and my kids and I have read it dozens of times. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend or family member because it offers many angles for the power of love. This book offers a lot of teaching potential as students explore abstract concepts and the idea of the metaphor. One thing, in particular, that I like about this book is that it resists the commercialization of love. As readers might see in the spread below, “love needs special presents” but those presents are homemade or expressed with kindness. This is a very touching book, and I think readers will find joy in it.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students take an abstract concept (hope, grief, etc.) and create their own books to parallel this one. It would require a lot of brain power and would help students explore the idea of metaphors in their writing. I might even offer poetry that does this (e.g. “Hope is a thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson).
- What is love? Who do you love?
- How do you express your love?
- Write your own page to add to this book. How does it fit in with the other pages?
Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?
The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen
Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC
- National Book Award
- Pura Belpré Award
- Michael L. Printz Award
- Golden Kite Award Honor Book
★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)
★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)
“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost
“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.
With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change, Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words.
Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one.
As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
- How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
- How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
- Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?
Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
- How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
- What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?
Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
- Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.
- I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
- My brother was born a soft whistle:
quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
But I was born all the hurricane he needed
to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
- Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
- While I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo:
Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/
Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams
Author: Gregory Funaro
Published February 12th, 2019 by HarperCollins
Summary: Deep within the enchanted woods in the town of Watch Hollow stands the once-grand Blackford House, whose halls hold a magical secret: a giant cuckoo clock that does much more than tell time. But when the clock’s gears cease to turn, an evil presence lurking among the trees begins to come out of the shadows.
When Lucy and Oliver Tinker arrive in Watch Hollow, they have no idea that anything is wrong. A mysterious stranger has made their father an offer that’s too good for him to refuse. All Mr. Tinker needs to do is fix the clock at Blackford House and fistfuls of gold coins are his to keep.
It doesn’t take long, however, for the children to realize that there is more to Blackford House than meets the eye. And before they can entirely understand the strange world they’ve stumbled into, Lucy and Oliver must join forces with a host of magical clock animals to defeat the Garr—a vicious monster that not only wants Blackford House for itself, but also seeks to destroy everything the Tinkers hold dear.
About the Author: Gregory Funaro grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, and wrote his first story, The Ghost in the Window, in the fourth grade. He considers this to be his finest work, but unfortunately it has been lost to time. Following high school Greg majored in theatre at the University of New Hampshire, and after various acting gigs, received his AM in Theatre Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. He began his literary career writing thrillers for adults, but switched to children’s books after the birth of his daughter. His first book for Disney-Hyperion, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM (2015), was a New York Times best seller and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and his second, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM (2016), received a Kirkus STARRED review. Look for WATCH HOLLOW and THE MAZE OF SHADOWS, coming from HarperCollins in 2019/20. Greg also teaches drama at East Carolina University, and is busy working on his next novel.
Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@GregoryFunaro) and visit his https://www.gregoryfunaro.com/ to learn more about his books and him.
Review: I am so glad that Harper allows Gregory Funaro to continue expanding his creative tendrils because every one of his books I read, I am intrigued by how he crafts a story, the voice he gives his characters, the point of view he decides, and the surprises he gives me throughout the reading. With Watch Hollow, I love how Lucy and Oliver obviously have a voice even though the book is in third person, the way he ties everything together from the slightest mention at the beginning of the book to huge events in the end, and I love that I cannot predict what is going to happen.
And not only is the story crafted well, the plot is one that is going to suck in our readers that are always looking for spookiness. It is just the right amount of weirdness, supernatural, creepy mansions, unknown creatures, and magic. The characters are also crafted really well which gives the readers someone to connect with.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Gergory Funaro’s fantasy is so different than the traditional fantasy books, and his stories will fascinate readers who may not be sure if they like fantasy because of the twist, turns, and intelligence in his narratives. Not only should his books be found in all libraries, classroom, public, and school, but it would also be an interesting to have an in-class book club focusing on different examples of fantasy and have students, at the end of the clubs, discuss what made their books fantasy and look at the wide variety within the genre.
- How did the inclusion of illustrations throughout the book help with your understanding of the plot?
- What does the animals quick acceptance of Lucy show you about her personality?
- What were your initial assumptions about Mr. Quigley?
- What did the inclusion of the crow from before they went to Blackford House tell you about the kids?
- Once you find out the truth behind the house, what clues can you find when you go back through the book?
- How did the third person limited point of view switching between the two siblings affect the narrative?
- How did the author use imagery throughout the book to engage his readers?
- How does the author set the Gothic and dark mood in the story?
“Oliver hung back in the doorway as Lucy and their father stepped into a cavernous, darkened foyer. Rectangles of dim dusty light filtered in from the rooms on the other side, and Oliver could just make out a wide staircase dissolving up into the gloom at the far end of the foyer…
Oliver pushed up his glasses, stepped inside, and set down his suitcase. His eyes had adjusted a bit, but with only the daylight streaming in, the foyer was still dim–in part because the walls were paneled three-quarters high in dark wood. To his left, he spied a shadowy parlor filled with antique furniture; to his right, a dining room with a long table. There were a handful of paintings on the walls, and where there was no paneling, the paper was peeled and gray…” (Chapter 4)
**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**
Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World
Author: Gary Golio
Illustrator: Rudy Gutierrez
Published: September 4, 2018 by Henry Holt
Summary: Discover the childhood story of Carlos Santana in Gary Golio’s Sound of the Heart, Song of the World, featuring illustrations by Rudy Gutierrez,the internationally celebrated artist who created the iconic Carlos Santana Shaman CD cover.
Carlos Santana grew up surrounded by music. His father, a beloved mariachi performer, teaches his son how to play the violin when he is only six years old. But when Carlos discovers American blues, he is captivated by the raw honesty of the music. Unable to think of anything else, he loses all interest in the violin. When Carlos finally receives his first guitar, his whole life begins to change.
From his early exposure to mariachi to his successful fusing of rock, blues, jazz, and Latin influences, here is the childhood story of a legendary musician.
My Review: I absolutely loved this book. My son and I had so much fun reading it, and then he asked to listen to some of Carlos Santana’s music. A few days later, we heard a Carlos Santana song on the radio, and my husband excitedly reminded my son about the book. It feels good to connect him with such a powerful man in our history. He shaped music in powerful ways. The book is beautifully written. I liked how it focused predominantly on Santana’s childhood. This kept my son’s interest and helped him connect with Santana. The art flows beautifully and looks like visual music on the page.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this book in literature circles with kids. Students could each read a picture book about a famous person in our history of music (see some of the options below). They could share out to their peers and play a clip from the music. These interdisciplinary activities would make for a warm, powerful learning environment.
- Describe Carlos Santana’s childhood.
- What inspired Santana?
- What was Santana’s relationship with his parents? How do you think this may have shaped his life? What did working beside his father teach him about himself?
- Describe Santana’s journey into music. What influenced him?
Flagged Passage: Check out the beautiful interiors on the book’s Macmillan page.
Read This If You Love: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert; Stand Up and Sing! by Susanna Reich, When Bob Met Woody by Gary Golio, Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio
**Thank you to Madison at Macmillan for providing the book for review!**
Alice’s Magic Garden: Before the Rabbit Hole…
Author: Henry Herz
Illustrator: Natalie Hoopes
Published September 1st, 2018 by Familius
Summary: Curiouser and curiouser!
In this imaginative prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice finds herself at a gray, dreary boarding school that is decidedly up the rabbit hole. From the relentless clocks to the beastly students, Alice’s world is void of color and cheer–until Alice finds a secret garden and begins tending its wilting inhabitants. When Alice’s love touches an ordinary caterpillar, a lorry bird, and a white rabbit, magical things will happen–and that, as you know, is just the beginning of the story. Filled with literary allusions and clever nods to its classic roots, Alice’s Magic Garden is a delightful prequel that begs an escape to the whimsy of Wonderland.
Review: I love when I find a twist on a classic story that is new and fresh! Herz’s story about how Alice’s garden came to be is so unique and definitely different than I’d ever heard or read before. While it holds true to the magic and silliness of Carroll’s original, it also adds a nice lesson in the vein of kindness and happiness which will lead to some great discussions as well.
I’m also a huge fan of the illustrations. I loved how color was used to show the shift in Alice’s surroundings and the way the illustrator separated the real from the strange. Additionally, I truly loved the style of the artwork which, in my opinion, was a perfect style for the story: classic with a bit of whimsy.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Alice’s Magic Garden as a mentor text for an imaginative prequel and ask students to create their own picture book as a prequel for a book they’ve read, a class novel, or a book club selection.
Also the story has some wonderful word choice that students can look at and discuss why the specific words were chosen.
Lastly, Alice’s could be used with secondary classes if the classic text is being read to look at allusions.
- Why does the illustrator go from grayscale to color drawings?
- What allusions to the original story do you see in the picture book?
- How did kindness save the day?
- How is Alice different than the other girls in her boarding school?
Read This If You Love: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Fractured fairy tales or other retellings, “Jabberwocky” and other poems by Lewis Carroll
**Thank you to Familius for providing a copy for review!**
Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.
Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.
Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.
About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.
“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW
“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine
Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.
Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me:
Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.
**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**
Author: Minh Lê
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: June 5, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Summary: When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of […]
Author: Minh Lê
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: June 5, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Summary: When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
With spare, direct text by Minh Lê and luminous illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, this stirring picture book about reaching across barriers will be cherished for years to come.
Ricki’s Review: This book is absolutely stunning. It will certainly be making my favorites list this year. It is a solid contender for the Caldecott this year. The story and illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Due to a language barrier, a boy and his grandfather have difficulty communicating with each other. Through drawing, they discover a deep, magical connection with each other. This book pulled at my heart. It is one that I will remember for a long time.
Kellee’s Review: This gorgeous book took my breath away. Actually. I read it at ALA Annual, and when I finished, I looked around to find someone to just feel with because the emotions were overflowing within me! The celebration of art and family and the feeling of being stuck between two worlds and not being to connect with a family member were all things that just touched me. It is a book that I had to own, I now will buy for so many people, and I cannot wait to share with my students and my son.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Teachers might ask students to try to sit with a peer partner that they don’t know very well and try to connect with each other without speaking. Then, they might take a piece of paper and use drawing as a means to try to connect with their partner. This has the potential to spark conversations about language, relationship, and humanity.
- How does the story evolve? How do the characters evolve?;
- What do the characters learn?;
- What does the story teach us about language? Communication? Relationships? Bravery?
Read This If You Loved: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham, Harlem by Walter Dean Myers
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