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A Brief History of Life on Earth
Creator: Clémence Dupont
Published March 19th, 2019 by Prestel Junior

Summary: The story of life on earth unfolds in dramatic fashion in this amazing picture book that takes readers from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous changes life on Earth has undergone since it first came into existence, but this marvelously illustrated book makes learning about our planet’s fascinating history easy and entertaining. In an accordion style, the series of pages take readers through every major geological period, with bright artwork and detailed drawings. Opening on lava-filled oceans and smoking volcanoes, the book unfolds, era by era, to show how life evolved from tiny protozoa and crustaceans to dinosaurs and mammals.

Fully expanded to 8 meters (26 feet), this spectacular visual timeline is a very impressive panorama that reveals evolution in all its glory. Each page is brimming with illustrations that readers will turn to again and again. A celebration of life, this extraordinary and beautiful book illuminates the history of Earth for young readers in an unforgettable and delightful way.

About the Author: Clémence Dupont is an illustrator living in Strasbourg, France. This is her first book.

Review: This book is so beautiful, useful, and just plain neat! First, I love that it folds out (as does Trent!):

When folded out, it reaches 26 feet with one side showing the images created by the author for each of the time periods while the other side has a timeline which is to scale showing how long respectively each time period was.

This book is a work of art. How each time period stands alone yet also is part of the entire timeline when folded out is beautiful to see. Additionally, I adore the artist’s technique of art with rough edges and bright colors.

Each spread focuses on one time period and the life on Earth at the time with a brief write up in the bottom left corner; however, many of the organisms/animals/plants not mentioned in the paragraph are labeled allowing readers to jump into inquiry about them if they wish.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Did anyone else do the activity in elementary school where the teacher had the class convert the miles(?) between planets into centimeters then had the class create a to-scale solar system showing just how far apart the planets are? This book reminds me of that activity in that it shows the true expanse of time Earth has existed versus the very small time humans have. I would use this timeline to create a similar to-scale idea for students to show the history of life on Earth.

Also, as I stated above, each time period only has a brief write up and leaves much to research if one is interested.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What surprised you about the history of life on Earth?
  • What did the timeline on the back show you about the history of life on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs appear? When did the first human ancestor appear? (etc.)
  • What animal surprised you that has been around a long time?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose in creating the book in this structure?
  • How did the Earth change from one period to the next? Take two periods and compare and contrast them.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals, Biology, Geology, Earth’s history

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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?

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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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What If…? Then We…: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Possibilities
Author: Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published February 19th, 2019 by Boyds Mills Press

Summary: Two polar bear friends have a thrilling adventure as they imagine solutions to a variety of possible situations; their story will show readers how to create their own tales in response to the question “What if…?” in this ingenious picture book. 

“What if . . . we got lost far, far, far away, and couldn’t find our way home? Then we would become the bravest explorers in the world.” So begin the adventures of two intrepid polar bears. Traveling on a ship imagined from an iceberg, the bears encounter magnificent sights and scary situations. When a city made of crayons melts, the bears use pencils to create a beautiful gray world. When all the words in the universe disappear, the bears invent their own language. When something really big and really scary happens, they whistle and hold hands until it’s not as big or scary anymore. And when they find their way back home, they’re ready to imagine a thousand more possibilities. 

This companion title to the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book One Day, The End. is ultimately a book about imagination, friendship, and finding possibilities in the smallest moments.

Follow Rebecca @Rebeccakai and Fred @Superfredd

Review: Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler are a super team! I love so many of their books without each other and their books together are only that much more special. Their imagination will take readers on adventures through places they’ve only dreamt of and will help them realize that their imagination can take them anywhere they can dream of. This newest book by the duo not only promotes imagination but also grit, courage, resilience, and friendship. These two polar bear cubs go on a fantastical adventure which will leave the readers wanting to know what is going to happen next. This book is full of possibilities in story that will be adored by so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: WRITING MENTOR TEXT ALERT! Two ideas: 1) Have students write and illustrate their own “What If…? Then We…” stories. 2) Have students illustrate the words in the original text showing what else the words could mean. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What if? Then We!
  • What other adventures could this story have been telling? 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler; Penguin books by Salina Yoon

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Don’t miss the other Blog Tour stops: 

Monday, 2/11                       Simply 7 Interview
Tuesday, 2/12                      Storymamas
Wednesday, 2/13                Librarian in Cute Shoes
Thursday, 2/14                    Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Friday, 2/15                          Miss Marple’s Musings
Monday, 2/18                      Bridget and the Books
Tuesday, 2/19                      Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme
Thursday, 2/21                    KidLit Frenzy
Friday, 2/22                         Unleashing Readers
                                                Book Seed Studio

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills for providing books for review and giveaway!**

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Searching for Lottie
Author: Susan L. Ross
Publication Date: February 26th, 2019 by Holiday House

Summary: Lottie, a talented violinist, disappears during the Holocaust. Can her grand-niece, Charlie, discover what happened?

A long-lost cousin, a mysterious locket, a visit to Nana Rose in Florida, a diary written in German, and a very special violin all lead twelve-year-old Charlie to the truth about her great-aunt Lottie in this intriguing, intergenerational mystery. 12-year-old middle schooler Charlie, a budding violinist, decides to research the life of her great-aunt and namesake for a school ancestry project. Everyone in Charlie’s family believes Great-Aunt Charlotte (Lottie), a violin prodigy, died at the hands of the Nazis, but the more Charlie uncovers about her long-lost relative, the more muddied Great-Aunt Lottie’s story becomes. Could it be that Lottie somehow survived the war by hiding in Hungary? Could she even still be alive today? In Searching for Lottie, Susan Ross has written a highly personal work of historical fiction that is closely inspired by her own family members whose lives were lost in the Holocaust.

About the Author: Susan Ross grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and divides her time between Connecticut and Maine. She attended Brown University and NYU School of Law.

After practicing law, Susan taught legal writing in Brooklyn and in Budapest, and creative writing to kids and adults in Connecticut. She especially loves author visits. There is nothing Susan enjoys more than hanging out in a classroom talking to students about her books and teaching kids about writing and literature!

Kiki and Jacques was inspired by the experience of Somali refugees who moved to Susan’s hometown in Maine. Susan worked with refugee teenagers in writing the book and was greatly moved by their amazing positive energy and hopeful determination.

Searching for Lottie was inspired by stories from members of Susan’s family, whose lives were forever changed by the Holocaust.

Susan teaches writing at Westport Writers Workshop and is a trustee at the Westport Library.

Review: I think historical fiction is one of the most important genres because it makes us relive history in ways that we never could without story. Searching for Lottie is interesting because it is contemporary but also includes a historical narrative as Charlie learns more and more about Lottie. This makes it a great choice for students who may not like historical fiction but are interested in history.

I am also a fan of Susan Ross’s writing because she does a fabulous job taking a tough subject and writing a middle grade novel that gives an introduction to the topic without being too mature but also while not sugar coating it. It is so important to have middle grade books for our students that show the real world in an appropriate yet real way.

And it really helps that the stories are interesting and many kids will connect with the conflicts and events the characters take part in.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Searching for Lottie is inspired by true events, specifically those of Susan’s family. She shares much on her website including this background information:

Charlotte Kulka (called Lotte — in English, “Lottie”) was my mother’s teenage cousin. She lived in Prague with her father, a doctor. Her mother passed away when she was little. Tragically, Charlotte and her father both perished, but her beloved aunt, my Cousin Vally Szemere, survived with false papers in Budapest. Vally boarded with a Catholic family who protected her and they became lifelong friends. My middle name was given in Lotte’s memory.

Another relative, Magda Szemere, was a famous young violin soloist in Europe before she, too, was arrested and forever disappeared. I wrote about my bittersweet delight at finding her music in the essay, “Sweet Strings of Sorrow.”

In doing the research for this book, I discovered to my astonishment that her music had been preserved on gramophone recordings and remains available in music archives.

My mother’s cousin, Magda Krizan, survived the war posing as a model and nanny in Hungary — and was a member of the resistance. She escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia with her husband in 1968 and came to America.

My mother, Erika Lencz, escaped Vienna in 1938 with her brother, Erwin. She was twenty years old. My grandparents and nearly all of the rest of her family were lost. Mom worked in a pillow factory in Brooklyn and as a nanny before settling down in Maine with my father, where she ran our family wedding gown shop and had five children.”

Visit http://www.authorsusanross.com/about-searching-for-lottie/ to listen to the recording and view photos.

This information along with Charlie’s project in the book makes me want to ask students to learn about their family (remember to have a plan for any adopted, foster, or other kids with no access to family history!).

Parts of the story also would be a great addition to an orchestra classroom as Charlie and Lottie write about different pieces, specifically the music journal that Lottie kept.

Finally, as with most historical fiction novels, this story would be a fantastic jumping off point for inquiry in the classroom about our world’s past.

Discussion Questions: 

  • After listening to the pieces that Charlie and Lottie share in the book, which piece is your favorite?
  • What other ways did Jews and other ostracized humans escape Nazi-occupied territory during World War II?
  • What traits did Charlie show when researching her namesake?
  • How did the research change her relationship with her brother?
  • Using evidence from the text, how can you tell that Charlie loves music?

Flagged Passages: “‘Lottie was Nana’s sister, right?’

‘Yes, Lottie was several years older. Your nana told me how clever she was; how determined…just like you.’ Mom smiled. ‘And here’s another thing you two have in common–Lottie played the violin. In fact, Lottie played so beautifully that she performed with the Vienna Philharmonic when she was a teenage.’

‘Seriously?’ That was a weird coincidence. Violin was her thing, too. Charlie had begged her parents for lessons when she was still in kindergarten. She’d always loved music, and she liked pop and hip-hop as much as any kid at Hillmont Middle School…but there was something about classical that made her heart skip. She could lose herself in a symphony in a strange way that she never tried to explain to her friends. Only her best friend, Sarah, understood that feeling, but Sarah had moved to Boston over the summer…

‘What else do you know about Lottie?’

‘Well, the family was from Vienna, the capital of Austria. Her father was a math professor at the university.’

‘And…what exactly happened to them.’

Mom hesitated, then let out a long sigh. ‘Honestly, I’m not entirely certain. When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis. I know that Lottie was lost, along with my grandfather. My grandmother and Nana Rose were lucky to escape. They came to America on a ship.’

‘So Lottie died…right?’ Charlie swallowed hard.

‘Yes, I guess she must have.’ Mom looked uncomfortable.

‘You guess? You don’t know for sure?’ Charlie sat up straight. She searched her mother’s blank face and glanced down at the photo. Lottie’s eyes were bright, with long dark lashes, and they were staring back up at her.

‘The truth is that nobody knows exactly what happened to Lottie…'” (p. 7-9)

Read This If You Love: Music, World War II historical fiction novels, History, Family

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review!!**

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