Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Published September 5th, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books
Summary: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
*“Aven is a perky, hilarious, and inspiring protagonist whose attitude and humor will linger even after the last page has turned.” —School Library Journal (Starred review)
“Connor’s Tourette’s support-group meetings and Aven’s witty, increasingly honest discussions of the pros and cons of “lack of armage” give the book excellent educational potential. . . . its portrayal of characters with rarely depicted disabilities is informative, funny, and supportive.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Bowling’s sensitive and funny novel . . . demonstrates how negotiating others’ discomfort can be one of the most challenging aspects of having a physical difference and how friendship can mitigate that discomfort. . . . [an] openhearted, empathic book. —Publishers Weekly
Review: From the very first page, you know that Aven is awesome. In the first paragraph you learn that she doesn’t have arms but it doesn’t matter to her. The only reason why she is upset is because someone else freaked out about her armlessness. She is brave and funny and resilient. The way that she is able to joke around about her physical difference to help ease the reader and the other characters is a true talent. The stories she creates about what happened to her arms just to freak people out truly cracked me up. And Aven’s awesomeness is followed closely by her parents’. I adore them. They are the pinnacle of parents. They are kind yet tough and are raising an independent, wonderful young woman. Then there is Connor who is also so well-crafted. His Tourette’s syndrome is dealt with in a thoughtful way and also doesn’t define Connor just like Aven’s armlessness doesn’t define her. This is a book of amazing characters coming together to find their place in the world.
You are going to love this book. Your students are going to love this book. Parents are going to love this book. Your fellow teachers are going to love this book. This is a book that is going to get a lot of love!
Check out Dusti’s “Spotlight on Dusti Bowling” feature in Publishers Weekly to hear more about her inspirations.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Please add this title to your collection of read aloud and classroom library books that you share with students to promote empathy, kindness, and friendship with those with differences as well as facing hardship and stepping up to challenges. You will not be disappointed!
Discussion Questions: After reading Aven and Connor’s story, how has your attitude and future actions towards those with differences changed?; How was Aven’s story inspiring to you?; Why did you feel that author made the choice to have Aven’s family move at the beginning of the book?; Did you predict the connection to Stagecoach Pass?; How were Connor and Aven able to help each other?
Flagged Passages: “When I was little, a kid pointed at me on the playground and shouted, ‘Her arms fell off!’ then ran away screaming in terror to his mom, who had to cuddle him on her lap and rub his head for like ten mintues to get him to calm down. I think, up until then, I hadn’t thought about the idea that my arms must have actually fallen off at some point in my life. I had never really thought about not having arms at all.
My missing arms weren’t an issue for me or my parents. I never once heard either of them say, ‘Oh, no, Aven can’t possibly do that because that’s only for armed people,’ or ‘Poor Aven is so helpless without arms,’ or ‘Maybe Aven can do that one day, you know, if she ever grows arms.’ They always said things like, ‘You’ll have to do this differently from other people, but you can manage,’ and ‘I know this is challenging for you. Keep trying,’ and ‘You’re capable of anything Aven.’
I had never realized just how different I was until that day that horrible kid shouted about my arms having fallen off. For the first time I found myself aware of my total armlessness, and I guess I felt like I was sort of naked all of a sudden. So I, too, ran to my mom, and she scooped me up and carried me away from the park, allowing my tears and snot to soak her shirt.” (Chapter 1)
Read This If You Love: Wonder by RJ Palacio, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
**Thank you to Dusti Bowling and Sterling for providing a copy for review!**
Story Path: Choose a Path, Tell a Story
Author/Illustrator: Madalena Matoso
Published March, 2017 by Kane Miller EDC Publishing
Summary: Where you go, whom you meet, what you do next — it’s all up to you…
Travel along the story path and discover an enchanted world where princess battle with hairy monsters and vampire cats zoom through the galaxy on silver unicorns!
This innovative picture book allows you to choose your own characters, settings, and plots at every turn. With quirky illustrations by the award-winning Madalena Matoso, this is an imaginative storytelling experience for children of all ages.
Review: I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger because it made you part of the story to an extent that other books didn’t because you get to be the actual creator of the plot. Story Path does just this but for a younger audience! The author set up the book in a very friendly way that gives lots of options but also is easy to follow. On each page, the story continues with a beginning of a sentence like “One day, they were riding along on their…” and the reader then gets to pick from a set of illustrations. This spread includes options like a two-headed dragon, rocket ship, horse, boat, or an elephant. Then after the choice is made, the author included guiding questions to ask the reader like “What did you choose? What noise did it make? How fast was it? Where were they going?” This helps add even more to the story that the reader is creating.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book could take narrative writing to a new level in the early elementary classroom! As students are first learning how to write stories, Story Path can help guide the writers through characters, setting, and plot yet each writer would have a different story.
Discussion Questions: What story did you create? Why did you pick what you did? What can you add to your story?
Read This If You Loved: Choose Your Own Adventure books, Journey trilogy by Aaron Becker, Henri Mouse by George Mendoza
**Thank you to Lynn at Kane Miller for providing a copy for review!!**
The Explorers: The Door in the Alley
Author: Adrienne Kress
Published April 25th, 2017 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Summary: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is filled with adventure and danger. There are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, famous explorers, a risk-averse boy, and a girl on a mission. Not to mention secrets not meant for the faint of heart. But if you are feeling bold, or maybe even a little italic, and if you enjoy derring-dos (and doing dares), this just might be the story for you.
Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.
This is one of those stories that starts with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)
This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.
About the Author: Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers and credits them with her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. Look for her online at AdrienneKress.com, and follow her on Twitter at @AdrienneKress.
Review: I love when narrators break the fourth wall if it is done well, and you’ll learn really early on that it is done well in The Explorers. This hilarious narrator takes us on this adventure with Sebastian, a character that very logical people will relate to, and Evie, a character that people who are bored unless they are on an adventure, will relate to that is filled with more action, adventure, and danger than I thought would come out of this little book. But don’t worry, the narrator keeps it light with funny chapter titles and footnotes. All of this combines to make a book that I loved quite a bit because it is just the perfect balance of adventure, humor, friendship, and mystery. Although, I must warn you about the cliffhanger–WHOA! I’m still recovering.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Door in the Alley has many opportunities to be a mentor text including discussing footnotes and breaking the fourth wall. Not many books use either of these yet The Door in the Alley uses both quite well. Discussing these will also lead to a perfect conversation about voice. Normally voice is saved for first person books but because we have a narrator that although not a character in the story definitely has a voice, it would be interesting to talk to students about how that worked in this book.
Discussion Questions: What do you think is going to happen in the next book?; Why do you think the author chose to have the narrator break the fourth wall and speak with you, the reader?; Sebastian and Evie are quite opposites, and normally they would seem like an odd pairing; however, they seem to work perfectly together–what do you think each of them brings out in the other?; Evie is searching for her grandfather because he is in trouble, but what is she truly searching for?; What do you think Sebastian’s parents are thinking right about now?!
Flagged Passages: “In all the confusion, with the pig and the teeny hat and the zigzag man, he had completely forgotten about the thing he had been trying to forget about. In one way, it meant he had done an excellent job at avoiding it up until now; on the other, it meant hat his guard had been down. For, sure enough, the man had turned down an alley. The only alley that existed on the street. That connect to another street. And there was only one thing down that alley.
Sebastian approached it with caution, his expression slowly morphing into one the pig had been wearing all the time. Terror. He stood at the end of the dark passageway and peeked his head around the corner only to see the man standing right by the door. And right under the sign that read…
The Explorers Society.” (p. 18-19)
Read This If You Loved: The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, FRAMED by James Ponti, Loot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, and other mysteries where kids have to solve a problem because adults won’t listen to them
Visit the Other Stops on the Blog Tour:
**Thank you to Josh at Random House Children’s Books for providing a copy for review and hosting the blog tour!**
Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published April 2, 2013 by Little, Brown
Guest Post by: Nichole Pitruzzello
Summary: Laszlo is afraid of the dark. But is the dark afraid of Laszlo? They live in the same house, with the same creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs. But the dark mostly stays in the basement…until one night, when it doesn’t. Laszlo walks through his house, as the dark converses with him, on a journey to overcome his fear.
Review: In his unique writing style, Lemony Snicket takes an eerie childhood fear and personifies the dark in a soothing way. John Klassen’s illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the story of Laszlo, using black space and warm colors to enhance the mood. I’m very impressed by the way they take a concept that many children fear, and transform it into a friendly, calming presence. I cannot wait to add this book to my library!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book as a mentor text for a variety of mini lessons. Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, uses vivid language to talk about Laszlo’s house, and creates suspense through a blend of dialogue and narration. In addition, it’s an excellent book to teach a lesson about overcoming one’s fears. There’s so much that this book can add to a classroom!
Discussion Questions: What are some places that you are scared of, and why are they scary? Was the dark really scary? How did the dark help Laszlo? Why shouldn’t we be afraid of the dark? What should we do when we are afraid of something?
Read This If You Loved: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, 13 Words by Lemony Snicket
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior
Author: Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel
Illustrator: Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, & Boya Sun
Published May 2nd, 2017 by Random House for Young Readers
Summary: The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves and more to their worlds than meets the eye. . . .
- The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
- A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
- Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?
When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!
About the Authors and Illustrators:
Mark Siegel has written and illustrated several award-winning picture books and graphic novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson. He is also the founder and editorial director of First Second Books. He lives with his family in New York. Follow Mark on Tumblr at @marksiegel and the 5 Worlds team on Twitter at @5WorldsTeam.
Alexis Siegel is a writer and translator based in London, England. He has translated a number of bestselling graphic novels, including Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, Pénélope Bagleu’s Exquisite Corpse, and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (into French).
Xanthe Bouma is an illustrator based in Southern California. When not working on picture books, fashion illustration, and comics, Xanthe enjoys soaking up the beachside sun. Follow Xanthe on Tumblr at @yumbles and on Twitter at @xoxobouma.
Matt Rockefeller is an illustrator and comic book artist from Tucson, Arizona. His work has appeared in a variety of formats, including book covers, picture books, and animation. Matt lives in New York City. Follow him on Tumblr at @mrockefeller and on Twitter at @mcrockefeller.
Boya Sun is an illustrator and co-author of the graphic novel Chasma Knights. Originally from China, Boya has traveled from Canada to the United States and now resides in the charming city of Baltimore. Follow Boya on Tumblr at @boyasun and on Twitter at @boyaboyasun.
“[A] dazzling interplanetary fantasy . . . that will easily appeal to fans of Naruto or Avatar: The Last Airbender.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“With sensitive writing, gorgeous artwork, and riveting plot, this is a series to keep an eye on.” —Booklist, Starred Review
“This stellar team has created a gorgeous and entrancing world like no other!”—Noelle Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Nimona
“Epic action, adventure, and mystery will draw you in, but the heartfelt characters and their seemingly impossible journey will keep you turning the pages.” —Lisa Yee, author of the DC Super Hero Girls™ series
Review: I am always amazed when I read a book and the concept is so unique and well-crafted that I am in awe of every page and cannot predict anything that is coming. The Sand Warrior did just that. The Siegels have created a whole new world (well, five worlds, and I do really appreciate them including a map of the world at the beginning of the book to help the reader navigate) as their setting which allows for infinite possibilities of story.
In addition to the new, cool setting, the characters in the book are so interesting! Each of them have their own unique backstory (and I look forward to learning more about them in future books) and are just so different. Oona is living in her sister’s shadow and struggling to be what everyone expects of her. Jax is perfection on the field but hasn’t really had a chance to live. And An is hiding a terrible secret and has had a rough life. Each of these characters has a trait that a reader will connect to and even if they don’t, as you read you really want to know more about them.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You know that reader that loves Doug TenNapel and Kazu Kibuishi but you have run out of things to recommend to them because they are so picky about their graphic novels? Well, they are going to love this one (and some of the others I listed below). This is a must buy for classroom (and school) libraries!
Discussion Questions: Would you have made the same decision Oona made?; Did you predict the twist about Jax?; What do you think is going to happen in book 2?
Behind the Scenes of 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior:
Read This If You Loved: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Bad Island by Doug TenNapel, Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence, The Time Museum by Matthew Loux, Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman, Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson, Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
**Thank you to Josh at Random House for providing a copy for review!**
Framed: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 26th, 2016 by Aladdin
Summary: Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.
So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?
If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.
Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.
But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.
Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?
Review: I love mysteries; specifically mysteries with kids who solve things that adults couldn’t figure out. They are so much fun to follow along and try to figure out with the characters. Florian is one of the best kid detectives that I’ve read. His use of TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things, is so admirable and is something that kids could definitely learn from since they so often ignore the small things and focus on the obvious. I could definitely see games and activities being created for classrooms that use the TOAST theory. Or kids will play the type of games that Florian and Margaret played as Florian was training Margaret in TOAST: making inferences about the people around them, in stories, or with mysteries. I could see pairing TOAST with books like You Be The Jury.
I also really enjoyed the mystery that James Ponti set up for us. I could predict part of it but other parts came as a total surprise to me. I am always in total awe of an author’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery and how it all comes together. I also loved that the story was mutli-faceted and will teach the readers as well as entertain them.
And I am so happy to say that Framed is on our 2017-2018 Sunshine State Young Reader Award list for both 3rd-5th grade AND 6th-8th grade! Congratulations, James!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to the mystery games that could be played using TOAST, reading aloud Framed, and having Framed available to students to read, there are lots of opportunities in the book to discuss art and art history. Since both of Florian’s parents work in the museum business and the mystery of the book focuses on an art heist, there multiple times where art comes into the story including discussion of impressionism (specifically Monet, Renoir, and Degas) and even stories of Van Gogh and Gaugin.
Discussion Questions: Did you figure out the mystery before it was revealed? Was there any foreshadowing now that you know the reveal?; What did you learn about art while reading Framed?; How could you use TOAST in your life?
Flagged Passages: “‘You want me to teach you TOAST?’
‘Toast?’ she asked. ‘You’ve tasted my cookies, which are…epic. Don’t you think I know how to make toast?’
‘Not that toast,’ I said. ‘TOAST stands for The Theory of All Small Things. That’s how I read people and places. The idea is that if you add up a bunch of little details, it reveals the larger truth.’
‘And where did you learn this theory? Philosophy class? Spy school?’
‘I…invented it…I guess.’
This made her laugh. ‘You invented TOAST?’
‘It’s based on some things I learned from my parents,’ I said. ‘But I pull it all together and came up with the name. So yes, I invented it.’
‘You said your parents work at museums, right?’
‘My father designs security systems, and one day he explained that the key to his job is finding the tiny flaw or inconsistency that the bad guys can take advantage of.’
‘Like the saying that ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’?’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And my mother’s an art conservator. She restores old paintings and says the best way to understand a painting is by finding the smallest details that tells you the whole story, like the smile on the Mona Lisa.’
‘And this led to TOAST?’
I nodded. ‘Even though their jobs are incredibly different, they both rely on the idea that tiny things can be hugely important,’ I explained. ‘Once I even used TOAST to help my dad catch a criminal.'” (Approximate Loc 221 in the ebook)
Read This If You Loved: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach, Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, Loot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan,
**Thank you to the author for providing copies for review!**
Someone Else’s Summer
Author: Rachel Bateman
Published May 9th, 2017 by Running Press Kids
Summary: Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?
Review: I am a sucker for road trip books. I just love them so much, and a good road trip book to me is like the perfect book to read–especially if I am in a rut. Someone Else’s Summer is a really good road trip book. It has everything you expect: searching for identity, mishaps, high jinx, romance, and unexpected twists and turns; however, Someone Else’s Summer is not predictable or like any other road trip book. It has all the feelings of comfort with new adventures, characters, and conflicts.
Storm was the opposite of Anna, but she was Anna’s very best friend, no matter how much they’d grown apart in high school, so when Storm dies, Anna knows she has to do something to honor her friendship with her sister, and it had to be something like what they did as kids. One of the things Storm liked to do was make to-do lists; however, her very last one is one that Storm will never be able to finish–so Anna decides she needs to. And it is only right that Storm’s best friend and the boy next door, Cameron, accompanies her.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers out there that need this book. They may be dealing with grief or struggling with their identity in high school or making a transition between friends. They’ll need Anna’s story. There are other readers out there that will want this book. They may love romance or road trips or sad books. They’ll want Anna’s story. This book has a home in classrooms and libraries where these readers can find it.
Discussion Questions: Why do you think Anna felt she needed to finish Storm’s to do list?; Did the ending surprise you? Was there any foreshadowing to the reveal at the end?; How did you feel about Anna’s friend’s reactions to Anna’s choice? Did Anna deal with the situation well? Why do you think she changed so quickly?
Flagged Passages: “Hours later, the rain still pattered a steady rhythm on the roof as a shrill ring pulled me from sleep. Mom and Dad insisted on keeping a landline with receivers throughout the house, even though we rarely use it. The ancient, corded phone blaring just outside of my bedroom door should have been my first indication something was wrong; I should have known right away. That’s the way it always happens in the movies–there’s intuition, a feeling deep in the gut. I had none of that, just a mild irritation at whoever was calling. And the constant, insistent rain.
Then my world ended with Mom’s ear-breaking scream.”
Read This If You Loved: Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely; Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown; The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle; Jess, Chunk, and the Road to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider; Cadillac Chronicles by Brett Hartman
**Thank you to Valerie at Running Press for providing a copy for review!**
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