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Rescued
Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press

Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

ReviewI think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.

I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.

I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.

As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.

Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!

The Unit

Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:

  • Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
    • These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
    • Focus questions:
      • 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
      • 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
      • 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
      • 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
      • 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
    • The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
  • Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
  • Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)

The Field Trip

Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!

I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit http://www.centerforgreatapes.org/.

Author Virtual Visit

After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:

  • Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet? 
  • Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
  • Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet? 
  • While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
  • Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When? 
  • Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
  • How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario? 
  • How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland? 
  • How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew? 
  • Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal? 
  • Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book? 
  • Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
  • Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
  • You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word? 
  • What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?

We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:

Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:

  • Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
  • Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
  • I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
  • Apes should not be kept against their will.
  • I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
  • Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.

Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).

  • What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
  • Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
  • In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
  • Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
  • How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?

Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)

Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: David Small
Published May 6th, 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Newbery Honor (2009), National Book Award Finalist (2009)

Summary: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love, and its opposite, hate; the fragility of happiness; and the importance of making good on your promises.

Author: Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Review: Anyone who has read a Kathi Appelt book knows that she is amazing at two things: weaving a story together in a way that only she can & pulling at heart strings causing definite mood swings while reading. The Underneath is the epitome of her excellence, and I am sad it took me so long to get to this book. Once done, I was very excited to ask Kathi about this masterpiece, and my questions and her answers show more about what makes this book the award winner that it is.

Interview: 

Kellee: How do you work to weave different elements into your story such as mythology, the natural world, and contemporary stories? 

Kathi: It’s always interesting to me to learn what sets a story off. Some authors swear that they start with characters. And I would say that characters are definitely a good place to start. But when I reflect over my many years of writing, I feel like I mostly start with place. I ask, what is it about this place that lends itself to story? What is the history of it? The social and cultural importance of it? Who has lived here? Who was here a thousand years ago? What were they doing? How did they survive? What impact did natural forces play on this place? What is the flora and fauna? Are there ghosts? Are there particular features of it? So, it seems to me that place creates the basis for most of my stories.

In The Underneath, one of my story lines occurs a thousand years ago, which means that my mythological characters (who were interlopers), would have encountered members of the Caddo/Hasinai nation. Theirs was a sophisticated, highly organized society. But a couple of things happened. One was a massive earthquake that caused a devastating flood which wiped out an entire city, thousands of people. Another was the encroachment of European settlers who brought in disease and ultimately drove the Caddo/Hasinai out of their ancestral lands.

The Caddo were—and still are—known for their pottery, so it made sense to feature a significant jar in my story. That way, I could more clearly link the characters to each other across time periods. One thing leads to another. But in the end, it goes back to place.

Kellee: The Underneath has multiple stories that are interwoven and meet at the end. How do you plan writing a novel like this? 

Kathi: Extended narrative has always been difficult for me. I started my professional writing life as a poet and picture book author. As a result, it seemed like everything I wrote tended to finish at the bottom of page three. It was why writing a novel eluded me for such a long time. I always thought that a novel meant writing long chapters, strung together chronologically, and moving from point A to a final point Z. But it wasn’t in my nature to write like that. Long chapters weren’t the way I rolled. Finally, after many failed attempts, I figured out that if I was ever going to write a novel, I would have to go with my grain as opposed to going against my grain. So, I adapted to “writing by snapshot.” In other words, I write in small, significant scenes—I call them SSS’s. I can get a lot done that way without worrying about word counts or chapter lengths, or even transitions. Plus, they’re easy to manipulate. A small scene can be moved hither and yon until it finds the right place in the story.

I think that one of the reasons that writers fail is because they haven’t found their own natural way of working. Long narrative passages aren’t my strength. I’m not saying that I can’t write them, only that they’re not where my strengths lie.

So, finding the form that fits both our natural strengths and that suits the story, is one of the keys to unlocking a book . . . and a writer. Not all of us are meant to be poets. Not all of us are meant to be soaring prose practitioners. It could be that I’m a little ADD, and the short scenes suit me.

At any rate, making this discovery was how I finally finished a novel.

I also want to say in regard to planning, I do make very loose outlines when I embark upon a new project. Those outlines tend to flex as I move through the draft. But I always try to at least have a vague idea of how the story will end. Otherwise, I’ll just write myself right off the cliff. If I can see the destination, I can get there eventually.

Kellee: Personification allows the setting to become its own character in the story. How do you plan this and implement it well when you are writing? 

Kathi: I spend tons of time researching the plants and animals that populate the setting. And to me, a living organism, such as a tree, is just that—living. If you spend enough time around trees, it seems like they each have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own ideas. I’m just saying. So, unless something is inanimate—like a rock, say—I can usually find the heart of that living organism. That is always my goal.

Kellee: What about The Underneath do you think resonated with readers 10 years ago and still remains today? 

My true hope with The Underneath is that my young readers can see the value of making a good choice. In my story, both the hero Ranger and the antagonist Gar Face have similar experiences, similar fates if you will. They’ve both been badly treated, both been isolated, and yet only one of them turns towards love. Grandmother too, finally, at long last—after the longest time out in history—chooses love. I think that young readers are tuned in to this. I think they’re built for love. What I hope my story does is to give them the courage to make that choice.

Kellee: What feedback have you gotten from readers over the years about The Underneath? What stands out about what the book means to them? 

Gosh, it’s hard to say just one thing, but it seems to me that mostly what I hear over and over from them is how much they love the relationship between Ranger and the kittens. That small sweetness seems to be the key that opens the story up. To me, it’s proof that we don’t all have to be the same or look the same or smell the same or whatever to become best friends. And no matter how small we are, we can make a difference for those we love.

Book Trailer: 

GIVEAWAY!

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

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Thank you, Kathi, for your thorough and beautiful answers to my interview questions, and thank you to Blue Slip Media for the giveaway and trailer!

 

 

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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Expected Publication May 1st, 2018 by Chronicle

Summary: Polly loves words. And she loves writing stories. So when a magic book appears on her doorstep that can make everything she writes happen in real life, Polly is certain all of her dreams are about to come true. But she soon learns that what you write and what you mean are not always the same thing! Funny and touching, this new chapter book series will entertain readers and inspire budding writers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Activities for Polly Diamond include:

Color Poem

On page one, Polly says that her teacher said her color poem was fantastic.

Have your students use the Read. Write. Think. template to create their own color poem.

Template: http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson375/PoemTemplates.pdf

Finish her perfect house story

On page 3, Polly is interrupted while writing her perfect house story.

Finish her story with what your perfect house would include.

Wishes

When Polly realizes her book is magical, she thinks of many things she can wish for such as a cell phone, not frizzy hair, more books, a flat screen TV, and world peace.

Using a brainstorming graphic organizer, have your students think of all the things they wish for.

After brainstorming all of their wishes, have them circle your top three.

Using the five-paragraph format for informative essays, have students write explaining their three wishes.

Measuring

For Polly’s grandmother’s recipe for pancakes called for a cup of flour and a cup of milk. Many times, when baking, you do not have what you need to make the recipe, and not just ingredients—you may not have the right measuring cup.

Bring in one cup measuring cups along with 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 3/4, tablespoon, and teaspoon measuring cups/spoons. Break students into groups and give each group one of each measuring cup/spoon as well as something to measure (water, rice, flour), and have them answering the following questions:

  • If you only had 1/4 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 1/3 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 1/2 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 3/4 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had a tablespoon, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had a teaspoon, how could you get one cup of flour?

Favorite words

Polly has a lot of favorite words: words with double letters like doozy and mutli-meaning words like basil.

Have students make a list of three words that they really like.

For each word, they should define it and also explain why they like the word.

When finished, students should do a word meet and greet. Using clock buddies or some other buddy system, have students meet with other students in the classroom and learn about their favorite words. They should add the favorite words they learn about to their list.

Paint names

On page 29, Polly makes up names for paint that describes the color such as muddy pond, lunch bag, and baboon butt.

First, have students look at the colors Polly described on page 29 and find the corresponding color in either a crayon box or a color exploration site online.

Then, have students create color names using imagery. Either have them use the color exploration site online or the colors from Microsoft Word.

Affixes

Show students how there are different word parts (affixes) that can be put together to make new words. They are like puzzle pieces! Share with them the different types of word parts (prefix, suffix, root, and base) and how they fit together.

On page 56, Polly explains how adding un- to the beginning of a word gives it an opposite meaning. The word she uses as an example is unobservant. Share with your students that un- is a prefix that means NOT which does make a word the opposite. Have student brainstorm a list of words with un- at the beginning and define them using NOT as the definition for un.

Extension: dis-, il-, im-, in-, and ir- also mean NOT. Students can also explore words with these
prefixes.

Extension: On page 57, Polly also talks about adding –fully to the end a word to make it bigger,
but it does more than that. Share with your students that –fully is actually a combination of ful, a root word that means full of, and –ly, a suffix that turns an adjective to an adverb, so her example of sorrowfully means full of sorrow (adv).

After showing students how words break apart and how affixes help with word meanings, give students words with un- and –ful (or any other affix you taught) and have them mark the different word parts and define the word.

Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets can also be downloaded from Chonricle’s website here.

See the Teaching Guide Created by Me (Kellee) for even more activities! 

You can also access the teaching guide through Chronicle’s website here.

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the  protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.

The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?

We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’

‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’

‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’

‘Yes, the world as you see it!’

‘I saved you from that evil woman!’

‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).

Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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

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Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books

Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.

Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?

Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.

About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily ShoutsSalon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at www.michaelrubens.com.

Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
  • Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
  • How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
  • Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
  • If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
  • Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?

Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.

There was something lurking in the darkness.

She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.

It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .

‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’

‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’

‘Why?’

He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’

‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’

‘Mobile?’ said Emily.

‘Right!’

‘A mobile. . . Stone?’

‘Precisely!’

‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’

‘Right again.’

‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’

‘You seem fixated on that.’

‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’

‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)

Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket

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

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Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Chronicle

Summary: In this heartwarming sequel to Laurel Snyder’s beginning chapter book Charlie & Mouse, the two brothers enjoy a special visit from their grandpa, Grumpy. Follow along as they discuss being medium, pounce each other, sing the wrong songs, build blanket forts, and more. Paired with effervescent illustrations by Emily Hughes, this touching, funny celebration of imagination and bonding will enchant readers young and old.

View our post about Charlie and Grumpy book one (with teaching guide) here!

Activities include: 

Bedtime Songs

Grumpy doesn’t know the right bedtime song to sing for Charlie and Mouse, so he tries to guess. Using the clues he gave, we can assume he was talking about “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, “Hush, Little Baby,” and possibly “Jump in the River” by Sinead O’Connor. Play these three songs for your students.

  • Which do you like the most? Why?
  • Which do you think would be the best bedtime song? Why?

After Grumpy guesses, Charlie sings the right bedtime song to Grumpy.

  • We don’t know what song Charlie sang, but what song would you have sung to Grumpy?

After gathering all of the bedtime songs discussed as a group, have students analyze the different songs (theirs and the three Grumpy mentioned) by having them (in groups or independently):

  • Identify rhyming words within the songs.
  • Does the author repeat any words? Why did the author choose to repeat these words?
  • How does the author supply rhythm in the song?

Infer

There are a few times in the book that the text doesn’t tell you what happened, but you can infer from the illustrations what occurred such as p. 17, p. 27, and p.37. Have students use the illustrations to see how each of these chapters concluded and have them write out what they see in the illustrations.

Rain

In the final chapter, it is raining while Charlie and Mouse say good-bye to Grumpy. Even though the rain seems to be happening because of the mood of the chapter, rain actually occurs because of the water cycle. After discussing the mood of the chapter (see discussion question), share the scientific reason for rain by sharing the water cycle. One activity that could be done to help students understand the water cycle is the “Simple Water Cycle in a Bag” experiment: http://www.rookieparenting.com/what-is-water-cycle/.

Discussion Questions include: 

  • The text never says that Grumpy is Charlie and Mouse’s grandfather, but you can infer he is. What clues from the text and illustration help you know that he is their grandfather?
  • In the final chapter, the author chose to have it be raining. Why does this type of weather make the most sense for this final chapter? What mood does it set for the chapter?
  • Using the clues throughout the book, how many days and nights did Grumpy stay with Charlie and Mouse? How did you know?

Teaching Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Chronicle’s website here.

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