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I Love You, Michael Collins
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published June 20th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.

After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

I Love You, Michael Collins was a Best Book of June 2017 on Amazon; a semifinalist for the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards; and a pick by the Planetary Society for Best Science Children’s Books of 2017.

ReviewThere is so much I really enjoyed about this book!

First, I adored looking into the experience of the moon landing. I cannot even imagine witnessing it happening! What an amazing feat it was and completely unimaginable. (And I hope to at some point see it happen again.) And I thought Baratz-Logsted did a good job showing all the different types of feelings towards the moon landing and space program. But I’m glad that she focused on its amazingness and the excitement.

Second, I think the author did a fantastic job with the character’s voice. With a book of letters it is essential that the writing sounds like the character because it is actually the character writing all the words. I loved seeing all the techniques she used to write like Mamie while still keeping her writing to a literary level.

Third, I loved that the book was not just a reenactment of the moon landing and a family’s celebration of it. The story has so many layers within it: Mamie’s introverted personality and the look into what makes a kid like this happy; her family’s conflicts and issues; and the power of one best friend.

Overall, I Love You, Michael Collins is a fun historical fiction middle grade book that is perfect for so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The first thing I went to when I thought about this book from a teachers point of view was the idea of letter writing. Mamie writes Michael Collins originally because it is a school project. Mamies letters could be used as a starting point on how to write letters, parts of a letter, etc. And students could even write a letter to someone in the news that is doing something amazing.

Next summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and at the end of next school year, I am definitely going to do a cross-curricular unit about NASA and the Apollo missions along with a read aloud of excerpts from this novel. It is so engaging as a story and will also be a great way for students in the 21st century to have a window into the 1960s.

But even without this amazing anniversary, Baratz-Logsted’s title is one that middle grade students will find enjoyment in and should definitely be in classrooms and libraries!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author help make her writing seem like a ten-year-old was writing the letters?
  • Michael Collins is not a household name like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Why is that? Do you think we should all know his name in the same context as the other two astronauts?
  • Which character do you think changed the most throughout the book?
  • What do you think is going to happen next with Mamie’s family?
  • How did Buster’s friendship help Mamie keep her positivity and sanity during this tough time in her family?
  • If you were going to have a moon landing party, what would you make?
  • How would the story of Mamie’s parents’ separation have been different in the 21st century?

Flagged Passages: 

“Dear Michael Collins,

I finally figured out why you never write back. Can you figure out how I figured this out? If not, I will tell you. I did the math.

Okay, I didn’t really do the math, since I don’t have all the information. But it struck me that I might not be the only person writing to you. I though, if every school in the country has just one class that is writing letters to the astronauts and if in each class there is just one kid like me writing to you, then that is still a lot of mail.

It’s no wonder you can’t write back to everyone. And of course you do have other things to do right now.

I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of you getting more mail than I originally thought you did. On the one hand, I’m really happy for you. I’m glad you’ve got more than just me. On the other hand, it was kind of nice when I thought I was the only one. It felt special. Like I was the the only one who knew about you. Which of course isn’t true. The whole world knows about you. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to appreciate you very much.

Does it ever bother you that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get so much more mail than you do? I hope not. It certainly wouldn’t bother me. There was a time I thought it might be nice to be popular–you know, to have a lot of friends. But then Buster came along, and then Campbell, and I realized that that is quite enough for me…” (p. 30-31)

Read This If You Love: Space! I recommend Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar and Moon Base Crisis by Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson. Also check out Planetary.org’s list of recommended books from 2017: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2017/1115-space-books-kids.html and 2016: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/emily-lakdawalla-space-book-recommendations.html

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On Gull Beach
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Bob Marstall
Published March 27th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: Together again! On Gull Beach reunites bestselling children’s author Jane Yolen and award-winning illustrator Bob Marstall for the third installment of the acclaimed On Bird Hill and Beyondseries of children’s books written for the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall took readers on a surreal journey with a boy and his dog as they see the natural world, ultimately witnessing the miracle of a chick emerging from an egg.

On Duck Pond continued their journey, this time at a serene pond filled with birds, frogs, and turtles who are suddenly disrupted by their intrusion, but soon settle back into a quiet equilibrium.

On Gull Beach brings us to an idyllic shoreline in Cape Cod, where gulls hover, dive, and chase with pitched acrobatics in pursuit of a seastar. This enchanting sequel in a brand new habitat will delight readers young and old.

As with all Cornell Lab Publishing Group books, 35% of net proceeds from the sale of this title goes directly to the Cornell Lab to support projects such as children’s educational and community programs.

Our review of On Duck Pond from May 4, 2017.

Kellee’s Review: What I love about this series of books by Yolen and Marstall are the way they have combined the beauty of Yolen’s lyrical words with information about the birds and other animals and their habitats that the books focus on. In this one we follow a young boy as he takes a walk on the beach and tried to say a starfish from the birds on the beach. Yolen’s rhythmic writing takes you on the journey while Marstall’s illustrations make them come to life. 

Ricki’s Review: I am still waiting for the day that I read a Jane Yolen book that I don’t love. Today isn’t that day. As Kellee said, Yolen’s words are lyrical. She rhymes, but it isn’t a cheesy sort of rhyme. Instead, it’s quite beautiful and urges readers to keep turning the pages. Marstall’s illustrations are realistic, and they pull the reader into the story. The back matter provides clarifying information about gulls (see the page spread that we feature below). As a New Englander, I smiled at the variety of gulls that the authors feature. The book features photographs along with informational text to teach readers all about the “So many gulls!” This made me long for the summer, and I am looking forward to identifying these gulls on our next beach trip! 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Each of the books Yolen and Marstall have done focus on a different bird in a different habitat. What a great way to combine reading, writing, and science! In an elementary classroom, have students jigsaw to each of the books and come together in a home group so share what they learned about each habitat and the animals that live there. Then students can research a bird of their choice and its habitat to write their own poem about a visit to see the bird.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The habitat Yolen and Marstall were focusing on is a New England Beach. If you have been to a beach in another area, how is the New England beach in the book different and similar to the beach you have gone to?
  • What other birds other than gulls live on beaches all over the world?
  • What parts of the beach habitat did Yolen and Marstall highlight in their book?
  • How does the structure of poetry change this nonfiction book to make it different than other books about birds and habitats?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the three habitats and three birds that Yolen and Marstall have focused on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Yolen & Marstall’s other ornithology books, Books about birds like Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! by Kristyn Crow, The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle, Elwood Bigfood: Wanted Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum, Birds by Kevin Henkes, Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Seabird in the Forest by Joan Dunning

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Sports Illustrated Kids: The Baseball Fanbook
Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-It-All: Lingo, Trivia, Stats, Skills
Author: Gary Gramling
Published April 3rd, 2018 by Sport Illustrated

Summary: Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-It-All!

The next book in the Fanbook series from Sports Illustrated KidsThe Baseball Fanbook has all the nerdy-cool insider knowledge that fans ready for next-level, in-depth stats need to know to impress their friends, family, coaches, and any season ticket holders they may meet. Tailor-made for baseball fanatics ages 8 and up who know the basics of the sport they love, may play it, and are looking to become super fans, this new fanbook is filled with fun trivia, unique lingo, and illustrated behind-the-skills how-to’s. Chapters include Team Tidbits (salient baseball facts about every MLB team), Think Like a Manager (essential strategies to understand), He Reminds Me Of (compares current players to legendary greats of America’s favorite pastime), and much more!

ReviewAs the 2018 baseball season begins, I knew I had to share this book with you all because I love this resource! I saw the The Football Fanbook, and I was impressed by it, but I LOVE BASEBALL! So I am so happy that there is a baseball version now.

Now, please don’t stop here just because I say I love baseball, so you assume you have to love it also to like this book. One of the things I like about this series is that they are written for all levels of fans. Maybe you don’t get why people like baseball? Check out this book to learn why! Maybe you are a player but really want to learn more specifics about the MLB? Check out this book to find out more! Maybe you are a baseball fanatic that lives and breaths the sport? Check out this book to maybe learn some fun facts you don’t know or as just a fun and entertaining read. It really is written in ways that all types of readers will find something in it.

Although this book is aimed for kids in grade 3 and up, don’t let that make you think it doesn’t include detailed information–it does! Each chapter is focused and full of information and photographs. But at the same time, I will say that it isn’t so overwhelming that younger kids will be turned off either. I’ve used parts of it with Trent this year as the season begins, and as we get ready for him beginning t-ball.

I am also impressed by its text structure. It is set up to be a book that could be read in order or jumped around, which is what I think is the best structure for informational nonfiction books because it makes it so any type of reader can grab it and read it how they’d like. The chapter titles are: 1) Know These Numbers, 2) Obscure Facts, 3) Skills to Master, 4) Run a Team, 5) He Reminds Me Of…, 6) Team Tidbits, & 7) Talk to Talk, and they are pretty self explanatory about their content.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like other topic focused books, the best place for it will be in libraries and classrooms for students to read if they want to. Parts of it could be used for math statistics activities or for sports history lessons or for a research resource; however, primarily it is going to be in kids’ hands being read.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Who is your favorite player? Create your own “Reminds me of…” document.
  • How are statistics such as ERA, WHIP, and batting average determined in baseball?
  • How has the sport of baseball changed over time?
  • Using the “Run a Team” chapter, create your own team. First, create it with known players then work on making a team of players you create.
  • Who is your favorite team? What did they leave out of the team tidbits that you would have included?

Flagged Passages: 

“Chapter 3: Skills to Master

Whether you’re eager to snag an autograph or ready to perfect your slide into second, you need to know how to do things the right way — even eat sunflower seeds!”

“Chapter 5: He Reminds me of…

Your grandparents have déjà vu all over again when they see these modern players on the diamond. Which stars of today play like the stars of yesteryear?”

Read This If You Love: Baseball!, Sports history, Fun with numbers

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Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.

He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.

Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.

Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.

This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is identity explored in this novel?
  • How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
  • What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
  • How is death/dying portrayed?
  • How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?

We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224

Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

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**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Adventures in Science: Human Body
Author: Courtney Acampora
Published: December 12, 2017 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Which part of the brain is in charge of creativity? What is the smallest human muscle? Take a trip inside the human body and discover the amazing systems that allow us to move, breathe, and speak. After reading about everything from the digestive tract to the cornea, kids can assemble their own plastic skeleton and view the systems of the body in a layered cardstock model. With 20 fact cards, 2 sticker sheets, and a double-sided poster, this interactive kit is a perfect primer for learning about how the human body works.

ReviewThis book kit is so much fun! It’s very cleverly designed to engage readers. It includes an informational book about the human body, a skeleton to build, flash cards, a sticker sheet that features the major bones of the human body, a sticker sheet that features the organs within the human body, and a double-sided poster with outlines to help readers stick the bone and organ stickers in the correct places. As we read the book, we did the activities and filled in the human body. What a powerful learning experience! I am crossing my fingers that this kit becomes a series. I would love to purchase a kit for space, geography, etc.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could purchase five kits and divide their classes into five different groups to build the skeleton and affix the stickers onto the appropriate parts of the body. I sent a message to a few of my friends who homeschool their children. I think this kit will be a huge hit in their families.

Discussion Questions: What did you learn as you did the activities?; What parts of the human body do you find most interesting? Why?; How do the different parts of the body work together?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about the human body; interactive books and kits

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel
Author: G. Neri
Illustrator: David Litchfield
Expected Publication on March 20th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From childhood friendship to brief teenage stardom, from early failures to musical greatness — the incredible story of how Simon & Garfunkel became a cherished voice of their generation.

Long before they became one of the most beloved and successful duos of all time, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were just two kids growing up in Queens, New York — best friends who met in a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland and bonded over girls, baseball, and rock ’n’ roll. As teens, they practiced singing into a tape recorder, building harmonies that blended their now-famous voices until they sounded just right. They wrote songs together, pursued big-time music producers, and dreamed of becoming stars, never imagining how far their music would take them. Against a backdrop of street-corner doo-wop gangs, the electrifying beginnings of rock ’n’ roll, and the rise of the counterculture folk music scene, G. Neri and David Litchfield chronicle the path that led two young boys from Queens to teenage stardom and back to obscurity, before finding their own true voices and captivating the world with their talent. Back matter includes an afterword, a discography, a bibliography, and a fascinating list of song influences.

ReviewWow. G. Neri and David Litchfield have captured the story of Simon & Garfunkel and released it into the world in a way that oozes the same beauty that their music does. Neri’s lyrical narrative flows and is perfect for a biography of one of the most beloved duos ever while Litchfield’s illustrations have the tone and coloring that just fit Simon & Garfunkel’s music–a bit dreamy yet raw and colorful. Their two pieces of artwork put together make for a beautiful picture book biography.

P.S. Make sure you take off the cover and look at the book design. BEAUTIFUL!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: While I’m not sure if such a class exists, this text would be perfect for a history of rock and roll class. It really goes through how the time period was changing when it came to music and how each artist influenced each other. If this class doesn’t exist, I wish it did, and I wish I could take it!

The structure of the text also lends to a great lesson looking at both why the author chose verse instead of prose as well as why he chose the timeline that he did. What was his purpose?

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author structure the book?
  • Why do you believe that the author chose to write the narrative in verse?
  • Paul and Artie, as children, are both different and similar. Explain.
  • How did Artie use his interest in math to help the duo?
  • How did music around Paul and Artie affect their music?
  • Why is this time period so important for the history of rock and roll?
  • What other artists does the author and illustrator highlight during the book as influences for Simon & Garfunkel?
  • What would have happened if Paul and Artie had given up after all of the rejection?
  • How did the duo go from rejection to success?
  • What clues can the musical connections give to us about the duo’s musical journey?

Flagged Passages: 

“We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’

…When he takes the high
tenor melody, and Paul
the low-scale harmony,
something clicks.
It reminds Paul of his dad
tuning his bass guitar:
when two strings come into focus,
they suddenly resonate
as one…”

“Bookends

…At the dawn of a new year,
the new kinds of the charts
have no idea that their lives
will be forever changed.
For one last moment,
sitting int he car together,
Paul and Artie
are still just
two boys
from Queens
dreaming about
the future.”

Read This If You Love: Music, the 60s, Rock and Roll, biographies

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**Thank you to Raquel at Candlewick for providing a copy for review!!**

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Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System
Authors: Bethany Ehlmann with Jennifer Swanson
Published January 16, 2018 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Take to the skies with Planetary Geologist Dr. E and her robot sidekick, Rover, to explore the solar system’s wildest, most astronomical geology–with comic book flair! This stellar book introduces kids to outer space through in-depth info and comic book adventure. Along the way, kids follow explorer Bethany Ehlmann, a member of the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, and her lovable robo-dog, Rover, as they study and protect our amazing solar system. Dr. E’s conversational and funny explanations of the solar system and planetary geology will pull kids in like gravity. The pairing of fun, graphic novel side stories with science facts makes big concepts accessible and interesting to boys and girls of all levels, from STEM science fans to reluctant readers alike.

Review: This book is wild. I learned so much while reading it. I thought I knew a lot about space, but this book made me realize how much I didn’t know about it. My son is much too young for this book, but he loved looking at the pictures while I summarized the text on the pages. There are some fantastic photographs, and there are also digital representations of what things might look like. Most exciting, this book filled me with wonder. There are so many possibilities with space, and I am really excited about new discoveries and new information that will come in my lifetime and beyond. This is a must-read for space lovers and those who are curious about the world. I particularly appreciated the comics at the front of each chapter. They allowed me to better engage with the material that followed. Dr. E made me want to learn even more about space!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to see this book used in literature circles. The National Geographic books are phenomenal, so teachers might collect books on various topics and allow students to form groups based on interest.

Discussion Questions: After reading about _____, what did you learn?; What do you still want to learn about space?

We Flagged: 

Image from Amazon.

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction book about space, for background knowledge when reading science fiction that takes place in space (e.g. Space Encyclopedia)

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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