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“Story Talk: Use Conversation to Fall in Love with a Book–A Reading Resource using Float by Daniel Miyares”

Reading a story with a child is one of the most loving ways to build a relationship. Snuggled up together, you can laugh, feel sad, be curious, and learn something, together. Stories open up worlds and let us see things through the eyes of another. It’s the best way to teach empathy.

The first few times you read a story, just enjoy the experience of saying the words, or looking at the pictures. How is your child responding? Let them just sit with the feelings they have.

But you don’t have to stop there. The real reason to read a story more than once or twice is so you can get to know it better, learn its secrets, discover what it’s trying to tell you. Just like a new friend, the first few times you meet, you just want to have fun. But each time you return to the story, try to learn a little more about it. This is how you fall in love with storytelling, and with reading.

Here’s a secret about authors: They wish they could be in the room with you, talking to you about their story. Since they can’t do that, they leave you clues instead. It’s like a puzzle – can you figure out what the author was thinking about? Why did they use that word, that color, or those images? The author loves it when you take the time to get to know what they are thinking.

Once you feel like you understand howthe author thinks, see if you can determine whythe author thinks that way. What was this story really trying to tell you?

Take a look at the picture book Float by Daniel Miyares. There are no words, but it is most definitely a rich story. The first time you read it, just flip through the pages and ask your child what is happening. What is this story about?

After a few reads, you can stop at a few places on each page and point to something, pose a question, and ponder with your child about the choices that the author or illustrator made. Not only are you getting to know the story better, you are providing your child with a blueprint for how to approach reading. Can they visualize something? Will they make a prediction? Does this story connect with their own life in any way? When children can do these things on their own, they are more likely to stay engaged with reading, and to go beyond the surface to explore deeper understanding.

If you want an example of how this can look, follow the prompts in the figure below. On each page of the story, notice the feature identified under “Stop at…”. Have a conversation about the feature. As you do this, you are modeling great reading strategies, such as Visualizing, Making Predictions, Summarizing, Asking Questions, Inferring, or Making Connections to the text. These conversations are reading skill-builders.

Then, go a little deeper. Ask your child to consider what the author was thinking about, or to try to explain a choice the author made. These questions will help the child understand that behind every story is a human being who just wants a moment of your time to talk to you about something they care about.

In school, teachers will call this “close reading.” Close reading means reading a text more than once, for multiple purposes. First, read to get the gist. What is the story about? Who are the characters? What happens first, in the middle, and at the end?

Next, read for author’s craft. This means paying attention to the word choices the author made, the text structure they chose, the images they used. What was the context for the story? From whose point of view is the story told?

Finally, read to evaluate the ideas from multiple perspectives. What does the story stir up in you? Does it make you want to take an action, or make a change in your own life?

This may sound very dry and academic and like it takes a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be so formal. It’s a conversation, a way to make friends with a story, and let it into your life. Get to know it, ask it questions, try to understand its point of view. Be a good friend. In return, you may get a companion that will stay with you for a long, long time.

As you read…

Page Suggestions of Places to Pause… Focus on a Reading Strategy… Have a Discussion About…
Inside cover Arrows and dotted lines Visualize: What do the arrows mean? What do the dotted lines mean?

How many sheets of paper will be needed to make this?

Text Structure: What is the author/illustrator showing us?
Title Float Inferring: What did the instructions on the previous page make? (Hint: There’s a clue on the cover)
1-2 Picture: Notice the blue square Inferring: How many people are in the picture? Who do you think they are? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: Why is there only a little bit of color on the paper? What does the illustrator want you to notice?
3-4 What the child is wearing; the sky Predicting: What will the weather be like? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: Why did the author make the coat and boots the only color in the picture?
5-6 Third panel Questioning: How does the child feel in the first panel? In the second? In the third? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: What do the three panels represent?
7-8 Yellow Visualize: Does this look like rainstorms you have seen?

Make Connections: Do you like the rain?

Gist: What is this story about so far?
9-10 Reflections Question: Has the weather changed? Why is the picture of the house and tree upside down? Citing Evidence: How do you know it is still raining?
11-12 Blurred lines, ripples Summarizing: Explain what is happening in this picture. Citing Evidence: How does the author/illustrator show movement?
13-14 Second panel Visualizing: What angle are we seeing the child from? How do you know?

What do the wavy white lines mean?

Gist: What did the rain provide for the boat?
15-16 Child holding his hat; perspective Predicting: Who is faster- the child or the boat?

What will happen to the boat?

Citing Evidence: The child is holding onto the hat. Is it windy or is the child running fast? What are the clues in the picture?
17-18 Child’s pose Summarize: Explain what has happened. Integration of Ideas: How has the child’s feelings about the boat changed so far?
19-20 Top panel Questioning: Did the child see the boat cross the street?
21-22 Child’s pose Predicting: What is about to happen to the boat?
23-24 Child’s face Making Connections: How does it feel to lose something you care about? Author’s/Illustrator’s Craft: The illustrator used the color black and drew a shadow across the boat. Do you think the child will be able to find the boat?
25-26 Water Inferring: Where did the boat go?  
27-28 Third panel Inferring: How does the child feel? Integration of Ideas: The weather has changed again. What is the relationship between the rain and the child’s mood?
29-30 Shadow Visualizing: What time of day is it? Where is the child going?  
31-32 Boat Questioning: Who opened the door? Gist: What do you think the child will tell the adult about what happened?
33-34 First and third panels Making Connections: What do you do when someone you care about is sad? What makes you feel better when you are sad?  
35-36 Pink picture in the paper Predicting: What do you think they will make with the paper? Citing Evidence: Is it morning or night-time? What clues did the illustrator give you?
37-38 Color of the sky; what the child is holding Summarizing: What time of day is it? How do you know?

Predicting: What is going to happen next?

Integration of Ideas: Yellow is a bright color. What does the author/illustrator want us to know about how the child is feeling?
39-40 Child’s pose, clothes Predicting: Was your prediction from the last page correct? Integration of Ideas: What is something you can tell yourself when something makes you sad? What determines if you will be happy or sad?
41-42 Arrows, dotted lines Questioning: Why did this story end this way? Text Structure: How is this page the same as, and different from, the opening page?
Furthering the Conversation
Think about the title. What does the word “float” mean? Explain what it means for a boat or for a plane. How could you use the word “float” to describe an attitude?

Do you have a favorite story that you would like broken down this way? Please send suggestions to Story Talk, a website for engaging in reading conversations. https://hillwolfe.wixsite.com/story-talk, or email me at hw.storytalk@gmail.com.

About Educator Hillary Wolfe: Hillary Wolfe is a Director of Curriculum and Instruction in El Monte, CA, who has worked with students from grades pre-K through 12, and has served as an instructional coach, intervention coordinator, and media specialist. As a classroom teacher, she created a writing curriculum for middle- and high school literacy students reading two or more years below grade level, helping her students achieve substantial gains on state exams. Ms. Wolfe also brings 10 years as a journalist and an education columnist to her understanding of instruction and best practices. She has written books on writing strategies (Capstone 2013/2015), and teachers guides for phonemic awareness activities (Capstone 2017), as well as articles on literacy and intervention in national journals. She has made presentations around literacy for national organizations, and has served as an editor, curriculum writer, and Academic Officer in educational publishing as well as a Coordinator for Academic Interventions for the Orange County Department of Education.

Float
Creator: Daniel Miyares
Published June 9th, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children

About the Book:A boy’s small paper boat and his large imagination fill the pages of this wordless picture book, a modern-day classic from the creator of Pardon Me! that includes endpaper instructions for building a boat of your own.

A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him.

So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

This seemingly simply story from Daniel Miyares is enriched with incredible depth and texture that transcend words.

Thank you, Hillary, for this amazing resource!

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Julián at the Wedding
Author & Illustrator: Jessica Love
Published October 6th, 2020 by Candlewick Press

Summary: The star of Julián Is a Mermaid makes a joyful return–and finds a new friend–at a wedding to be remembered.

Julián and his abuela are attending a wedding. Better yet, Julián is in the wedding along with his cousin Marisol. When wedding duties are fulfilled and with a new dog friend in tow, the pair takes off to roam the venue, exploring everywhere from underneath tables to enchanting willow trees to . . . muddy puddles? After all, it wouldn’t be a wedding without fun, laughter, and a little magical mischief. With ingenuity and heart, author-illustrator Jessica Love tells a charming story of friendship, acceptance, and celebration.

About the Author: Jessica Love is an actor and the author-illustrator of Julián Is a Mermaid. She has a BA in studio art from the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as a graduate degree from Juilliard. She has appeared in plays both on and off Broadway. Jessica Love lives in Brooklyn.

Praise: 

“Arrtwork on brown paper allows warm, clear views of the characters, who appear to be Black and Afro-Latinx. The specificity of Love’s characterizations—the way the abuelas kick off their high heels, the brides’ enthusiasm, the children’s expansive gender expressions—offers vibrancy and immediacy, and under their community’s watchful eyes, Julián and Marisol find affection, acceptance, and room to grow.” -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A celebration of weddings and a subtle yet poignant reminder that gender, like love, is expansive. Lovely.” -Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Once again Love has brought us young characters who are free to live, play, and express themselves however they wish without conflict. An abundance of joy and love.” -The Horn Book, Starred Review

Review: Jessica Love has brought such a special character to light in Julián. His story is a story of love, being yourself, having fun, happiness, and light. In Julián’s new story, we find him at a wedding where, like most kids, he and Marisol would rather go play than hang around with the adults. Only a small amount of text is needed because the joy of playing together radiates through the illustrations and is a feeling that every person has felt at one time or another while they play with no inhibitions when they probably should be somewhere else. Trent and I read this book together and when we were done, he said, “I want to play with them!” and that summarizes the feeling of this book.

Activity Kit from the Publisher: 

A Conversation with the Author: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review!**

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The Refuge
Author: Sandra Le Guen
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Illustrator:  Stéphane Nicolet
Published June 1, 2020 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: “There’s a new girl at school. She never stops looking up at the sky! She likes the stars and comets.”

Jeannette tells her mom about her new classmate, who also loves astronomy but seems sad. She realizes it’s not easy to move to a new place. So the next day, at recess, Jeannette asks Iliana to play.

At first, it’s a little hard to communicate because Iliana is learning a new language. The girls have to use their hands and their drawings. But they keep trying, and, soon, Iliana tells Jeannette about her difficult journey as a refugee who had to leave her country. Then their families meet, and Iliana’s parents share their story too. The girls’ friendship blooms, as limitless as the sky and their imaginations.

Originally published in France and brought to life with wonderfully expressive artwork, this is a book about sharing stories and finding refuge in friendship, family, and a new home.

Kellee’s Review: This book is beautiful. It shows pure empathy for a young girl, and her family, who needs all love in the scary new situation she is in. Their journey was harrowing and being in a new place where they do not speak the language must be completely overwhelming; however, this was something they felt no choice in doing because of the horrors of war back at their home. But sadly, refugees have been villainized–once again fear winning over empathy. However, The Refuge puts a narrative to the journey that many children and families face just to stay safe. And it is such a well-crafted narrative with beautiful illustrations–just an overall excellent book. A must read for ALL ages. 

Ricki’s Review: Magnificent. This book is truly and utterly magnificent. I am quite hopeful it will win some of the major literary awards. Whew! The writing depicts the myriad emotions that Iliana might have experienced on her journey, and Jeannette has such deep empathy for her classmate. The illustrations take the book to the next level. I would purchase a spread of this book and frame it for the wall in my office—the illustrations are that captivating. We share some of the illustrations below. There’s one illustration in which Iliana is carrying a giant boat on her back, and a star hangs from a string on the front. Two small children walk up the top of the steep boat. The words match the illustrations, and yet the illustrations have deeper, metaphoric meaning. This would be a terrific book to study at the high school and college level. It would sustain several classes of discussion. I plan to purchase a copy to use in my Teaching Reading class. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Metaphor is powerfully used in this text (both in the writing and illustrations). This would be a magnificent text to use as a mentor text for the instruction of metaphor. Students might select a written metaphor to illustrate and an illustrated metaphor to write in words to consider the flexibility and power of the use of metaphor. Then, they might craft their own metaphors related to the story.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one illustration that you like. What is the surface level meaning? What is the deeper meaning attached to the image?
  • How does Jeannette demonstrate empathy for Iliana?
  • What did you learn about refugees?
  • Why do you believe the author titled the book The Refuge instead of Refugee?
  • How do the illustrations and writing work together?
  • What creative techniques does the author use?
  • What creative techniques does the illustrator use?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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

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Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers
Author: Laura Renauld
Illustrator: Brigette Barrager
Published January 14th, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: An inspiring picture book biography about the inimitable Fred Rogers, beloved creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are.

Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known.

In a portrait full of warmth and feeling, Laura Renauld and award-winning illustrator Brigette Barrager tell the story of Mister Rogers: a quiet, compassionate hero whose essential message—that it is okay to have and to express feelings—still resonates today.

Praise: “Renauld’s lively, approachable text welcomes young readers in the same way that Rogers welcomed his young viewers into his living-room set . . . Bright, well-researched, and welcome.”  –Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Review: Fred Rogers just stands for everything that is good in the world. Just look at these banners made by the publisher with quotes from him/the book:

They just fill me with so much joy, and they bring back all of the feelings I had when watching Mister Rogers. And those feelings are exactly what you will get while reading this book. The narrative biography accompanied by the bright text just bring Mister Roger’s story to life. In an interview with Fuse 8, the author said “I had to walk the line between it being recognizable for [adults who are familiar with Mr. Rogers] and easily understandable for [children who were born after the show stopped airing who have no idea who the man in the cardigan is].” I think this is exactly what she did because in addition to my nostalgia, it is a book that Trent has wanted to read multiple times.

Additionally, because of this book, I decided to introduce Trent to Mister Rogers. He knows Daniel Tiger, the cartoon spin-off, so I explained that Mister Rogers was where Daniel Tiger came from. So, I turned on one of my favorite episodes (making crayons!), and Trent was immediately sucked in. He said that he liked that Mister Rogers taught him things and talked nicely to him. YES!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In the same Fuse 8 interview I mentioned above, I loved what the author shared when asked “How do you envision the book being used?,” and I think it is a perfect jumping off point for teachers: “Whether Fred’s Big Feelings is a child’s first encounter with Mister Rogers’ affirming messages, a teacher’s springboard into a discussion about expressing emotions, or a librarian’s selection for a display of American biographies….” Yes to all of these! It is a great picture book biography example and definitely hits on social emotional skills! Also, if you truly want to dive into the book, there are many places that would allow for inquiry projects to learn more about: history of children’s tv, puppeteering, Koko, Yo Yo Ma, Ying Li, Wynton Marsalis, public television, etc. Oh, and you can always watch an episode of the show!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What about Mr. Rogers makes him appealing to the audience?
  • How did Mr. Rogers act towards children that was viewed as a bit different?
  • Why do you think Mr. Rogers was so popular?
  • Why is it important to talk about feelings?
  • How did Mr. Rogers change the future of PBS?
  • How was Mr. Rogers’s show different that what was available to kids?
  • How do the illustrations add to the mood of the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mr. Rogers!

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for a copy of the book!**

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Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books

GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.

My Review: This book rocked me. It is so beautifully written, and I felt so lucky to be able to share it with others at NCTE this year. Because I have so many teaching ideas for this book, I am organizing this post a bit differently and focusing on many more teaching tools than usual. I hope that the information below helps other teachers use this book in their classrooms. It is so worthy of being read, studied, and loved.

Inquiry to Consider the Complexity of The Fountains of Silence:

The Connection of People: Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Fuga, Julia, Puri
“Some friendships are born of commonality. Others of proximity. And some friendships, often the unlikely ones, are born of survival” (p. 53).

Place as Character
The Castellana Hilton Madrid and Madrid
“After all, a hotel is a house of secrets” (p. 171).
“Madrid’s soil is untender, strong, and enduring like many who walk upon it” (p. 457).

Gender Norms
“Estamos más guapas con la boca cerrada. We are prettier with our mouths shut” (p. 240, 243, 300).

Social Class
“What lies outside the country’s borders is untouchable for families like hers” (p. 47).

Family Responsibility
“Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts” (p. 63).
“The family business needs you” (p. 82).

Human resilience
“It’s warrior skin, very strong” (p. 113)

Secrets
“There is a category of unspeakable things, a dark drawer where inexpressible truths live in exile” (p. 240).

Dreams
“Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain” (p. 24).

Fountains of Silence
Analysis of the power of the title. Whose stories are heard? Whose are silenced?

Culminating Project Idea: Multigenre Inquiry Project
The Fountains of Silence is story which uses layered writing to illuminate the fear and terror that people experienced under Franco’s fascist regime. The novel reveals the brute strength and resilience of the people during the time period. Select a time and place in history to research. Consider researching a time and place which is deeply connected with your own story. Read the narratives of the people and develop a multigenre project which reflects your learning. You might include fictional narratives of stories you create, nonfiction excerpts that you find in your research, a photo essay which includes photos you find in your research. Whatever the final form, your culminating project should include various types of writing and media and demonstrate your knowledge about the time and place you selected to research.

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Love
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).

Discussion Questions: 

  • 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?

Flagged Spread:

 

Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?

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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

Praise:

  • 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.

Discussion Questions: 

  • 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.

Flagged Passages: 

  • 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

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