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Alone Together
Author: Sarah J. Donovan
Published: May 1, 2018 by Seela Books

Summary: Sadie Carter’s life is a mess, as wavy and tangled as her unruly hair. At 15, she is barely surviving the chaos of her large Catholic family. When one sister becomes pregnant and another is thrown out, her unemployed dad hides his depression, and her mom hides a secret. Sadie, the peacekeeper and rule-follower, has had enough. The empty refrigerator, years of hand-me-downs, and all the secrets have to stop. She longs for something more and plans her escape.

However, getting arrested was not her plan. Falling in love was not her plan. With the help of three mysterious strangers—a cop, a teacher, and a cute boy—maybe Sadie will find the strength to defy the rules and do the unexpected.

Told in verse, Sarah J. Donovan’s debut Alone Together has secrets, romance, struggle, sin, and redemption, all before Sadie blows out her 16 candles. It’s a courageously honest look at growing up in a big family.

Review: Sarah’s writing shows that she has a firm grasp on adolescence. The book is a beautiful book in verse. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had closed the text. Sadie lives in a Catholic household, and she is struggling emotionally. She is the only one of the eleven people in her family to sit at the breakfast table, and one of the few siblings who hasn’t left the family altogether. She is the peacemaker and is sick of the empty fridge and bad choices that others seem to make for her. I think that Sadie has a life that many young people will relate to. She is left wondering about the ways in which people exist alone together. This is a great read, and I will be using it (in part and in whole) in my classes.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The title of this book is quite inspiring. Students might be asked to reflect on all of the ways that we are “alone together” in this world. Teachers can offer space and place for students to critically analyze whether we are alone together or whether we are something else. I’d love to hear students’ thoughts about this.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In this text, what is the role of family? In our world, what role does family play? How are we tied and not tied to our families?
  • How does Sadie’s family impact her life?
  • How does Sadie grow within the timeframe of the book? What does she learn?
  • Which verse resonated with you? How does it connect (or not connect) with your life?

Flagged Passage: 

“The only one of eleven

who sets the table every morning

with cereal bowls and spoons,

who matches mounds of socks

without complaint or disdain,

who obeys every stand, kneel, sing in mass

without sneaking out after communion” (6).

Read This If You Love: Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas; Stop Pretending by Sonia Sones; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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Atlas of Imaginary Places
Author: Mia Cassany
Illustrator: Ana de Lima
Published: May 8, 2018 by Prestel Junior

Summary: This dreamy, gorgeously detailed picture book leads children on a journey to impossible but wonderfully imagined places.

Upside-down mountains, volcanoes that spew bubble gum, a gentle humpback whale keeping an entire city afloat. These and other wonderful worlds may not exist on Earth, but elsewhere–who knows? Each spread of this captivating book invites readers on a fantastic voyage. Ana de Lima’s whimsical, softly colored illustrations are filled with surprising details that reward close examination, while Mia Cassany’s soothing narrator is a nameless fellow traveler. A jungle where the animals exchange stripes, spots, and markings each time they sneeze, an archipelago made up of dessert-shaped islands, and a lighthouse so tall you can draw a new galaxy with your finger are just some of the wild places to visit. Perfect for before-bed reading, or daytime dreaming, this stunningly illustrated book will delight young readers and encourage them to conjure their own imaginary places.

My Review: Ever since I finished reading this book (the first time), I have been really looking forward to reviewing it. I cannot get over how wonderfully imaginative it is. It’s absolutely breath-taking. I’ve read it about fifteen times now, and every time, I notice something different. When my son pulls it off of the bookshelf for our nightly reading routine, I silently cheer. I love reading it and pouring through the pages with him. I include a spread below to give you a sense of the gorgeous pages within the book. In the spread featured below, a humpback whale rests just below the surface of the ocean. An entire city is afloat, and the page tells readers that when the city goes to sleep, the whale will wake. But because the city never sleeps, the whale will never wake. I sat with this page for quite some time. I love the magical notion that beneath the surface of the island rests a beautiful, unseen whale. I’ve read thousands of picture books, and this one ranks as one of my favorites. It’s remarkable.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book belongs in every creative writing class (at all age levels). Teachers might ask students to imagine their own imaginary place. They could write and illustrate a spread, and the spreads could be combined to form a class book. Older writers might examine the prose and the imagination that brings this book alive.

For my Teaching Writing college course, I intend to ask students to select a spread and begin to draft a story. The pages of this book make great story starters. It would also be a great book to talk about setting.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which page is your favorite? Why?
  • Compare and contrast the pages. What is similar? What is different?
  • How do the author and illustrator seem to work to together to make this book come alive?
  • What is an imaginary place that you might add to this collection? What would it look like?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada; The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Journey by Aaron Becker

Recommended For:

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*Thank you to Casey from Media Masters Publicity for providing this book for an honest review!*

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Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime
Author: Cate Berry; Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published May 8, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Goodreads Summary: Penguin and Tiny Shrimp will charm, amuse, but never put you to sleep in this meta bedtime tale in the vein of Goodnight Already.

Penguin and Tiny Shrimp DO NOT have a bedtime story to share with you.

There are no soft beds or cozy covers here. There are fireworks! And shark-infested waters!!

This book will never make you sleepy. Not at all. Not even a little. . .

Ricki’s Review: Whenever my son pulls this book from the shelf, I get a happy feeling inside of me. There are some books that are really fun to read, and this is one of them. It’s the perfect bedtime book. It makes us laugh, and it makes us y-a-w-n. I love the silly characters and smile every time that I read it. 

Most apparent to me is that the author and illustrator know kids. The middle of the book features a lot of wild activities that really resonate with my son. Then we get to the silly pages where the characters resist their tiredness… is this sounding familiar, parents and guardians? I absolutely adore this book and recommend it highly. If bedtime is an issue in your house, this book might help.

Kellee’s Review: This book is definitely a laugh-out-loud book! Penguin and Tiny Shrimp have such unique and perfect voices that kids, and parents alike, will find so entertaining. The illustrations are perfect companions to the narrative also; they are silly, colorful, and full of personality!

Also, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp are the embodiment of my son right now. He doesn’t do bedtime and would rather be doing all of the things that Penguin and Tiny Shrimp take part in: swinging in the jungle, flying in hot air balloons, riding on a boat, signing songs, and even jokes! But then in the end, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp are too tired to go on (and their yawns are actually contagious!), and I love using their story to talk to Trent about bedtime.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would serve as a great mentor text for kids to write their own bedtime stories. The animals are very inspirational. Teachers might start by asking students to pick two animals that are very different (like Penguin and Tiny Shrimp) and to write their own story of the two characters’ adventures.

Discussion Questions: What do Penguin and Tiny Shrimp do to try to resist bedtime?; Which animals are your favorite? How are the animals similar and different? What does this say about bedtime?; Do you resist bedtime? Why?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley; Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise BrownGoodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Keely Platte for sending us this book! We loved it.**

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