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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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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
Author: Lita Judge
Published: January 30th, 2018 by Roaring Book Press

Summary: A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Whew. I felt so many emotions as I read this book. I kept thinking, “My goodness, my students are going to love this book.” I was fortunate to receive two copies of this book in the mail, and those two copies have passed from student’s hand to student’s hand. The book doesn’t even make its way back up to my desk before another student snags it. This book defies genre sorting. It’s nonfiction, it’s horror, it’s romance, it’s an illustrated book in verse. I’ve already added it to my book list to teach next semester in my Adolescents’ Literature course.

Students will read this book and want immediately to read Frankenstein. The book reads fairly quickly because it contains verse and illustrations, but readers will struggle not to pause for several minutes to enjoy the beautiful illustrations on the pages.

I’m most excited about the classroom potential for this book. It offers so much to talk about regarding characterization, mood, and poetry. But it also offers a beautiful bridge to read with Frankenstein. I thought I knew a lot about Mary Shelley’s life, but this book told me so much more about it. Reading her story on these pages made me feel as if I was experiencing her life alongside her. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend it highly.

Discussion Questions: What factors may have influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? In what ways does the author use metaphor and symbolism to help us understand her experiences?; What might be the author’s purpose? Is she successful, in your opinion?; What textual features helped you understand Mary’s story? How might this book read differently if the author had used another form?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Horror; Gothic Literature

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Granted
Author: John David Anderson
Published February 13th, 2018 from Walden Pond Press

Summary: From the author of beloved novels Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted comes a hilarious, heartfelt, and unforgettable novel about a fairy-in-training.

Everyone who wishes upon a star, or a candle, or a penny thrown into a fountain knows that you’re not allowed to tell anyone what you’ve wished for. But even so, there is someone out there who hears it.

In a magical land called the Haven lives a young fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. Ophela is no ordinary fairy—she is a Granter: one of the select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day.

It’s the work of the Granters that generates the magic that allows the fairies to do what they do, and to keep the Haven hidden and safe. But with worldwide magic levels at an all-time low, this is not as easy as it sounds. On a typical day, only a small fraction of the millions of potential wishes gets granted.

Today, however, is anything but typical. Because today, Ophelia is going to get her very first wish-granting assignment.

And she’s about to discover that figuring out how to truly give someone what they want takes much more than a handful of fairy dust.

About the Author: John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

ReviewJohn David Anderson never ceases to amaze me. I have read all but one of his books, and I am learning that I cannot even guess what he’s going to tackle next; although, I can assume he is going to do it well!

But I will be honest, I would not have guessed that his newest would be about a super sweet, determined, and a bit quirky fairy named Ophelia Fidgets. But yes, Ophelia is our phenomenal fairy protagonist who every reader will immediately love. She is a perfectionist but also does things her own way–she just has very high standards for her own way. She also has a silly sidekick in both Charlie, a fellow granting fairy, and Sam, a homeless dog, and I must say that Anderson does one of the best dog voices I’ve ever read, I could hear it while I read.

Other than the characters, I think there were two other things that this novel did exceptionally well: world building and making the reader think about priorities. Everywhere Ophelia went, Anderson described enough to make sure that we could visualize it, but he also ensured that he didn’t overwhelm the reader with too much information. He also did a truly fantastic job at setting up the fairy world and all the rules within it to where the reader understood Ophelia’s task, her job, etc. Also, through Ophelia’s journey to grant the wish she’s been assigned, Anderson gets the reader to look at wishing and what is truly important in the world.

Lastly, I loved that in the backmatter of the book, Anderson acknowledges the long history of fairies, including Tinkerbell!, and reminds readers to keep reading about them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like all of Anderson’s books, I know this one will find readers on my shelves. This book is perfect for fans of fairy, animal, or quirky adventure books. And it will also be a wonderful read aloud! Even if you don’t have enough time to read the entire book, the first chapter and synopsis will truly suck readers in.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Sam teach Ophelia?
  • Why does Ophelia make the choice she does make when granting the wish?
  • Do you agree with Ophelia or Squint when it comes to wish granting?
  • Do you believe that Charlie deserved the punishment he received?
  • What character traits does Ophelia possess that led her on not giving up?
  • How does Granted allude to other fairy tales you know? How does it break fairy stereotypes often found in other fairy tales?

Flagged Passages: “The last time you blew out your birthday candles, what did you wish for?

Did you blot them all out on the first breath? It doesn’t count otherwise. Also, do not let your brother or sister help you; at best they will waste your wish. At worst they will steal it for themselves.

Same for dandelions–the one breathe rule–or else the wish won’t fly. It’s harder than you think, getting all those seeds off in one huff. Harder than candles on a cake. If you can’t manage it, though, don’t worry. There are a dozen more ways to make a wish. A quarter flipped into a fountain. A penny dropped down a well. Some might tell you that bigger coins make stronger wishes, but that’s simply not true. A silver dollar or even a gold doubloon doesn’t increase the chances you’ll get what you want. Your dollar is better spent on gumballs or ice cream; use a nickel instead. Wishes aren’t for sale to the highest bidder.” (p. 1-2)

And my favorite passage:

“‘Humans are bad,’ [Sam] agreed.

Ophelia stopped fidgeting with her petal and looked over at Sam. Of course he would think so. And she couldn’t blame him. Not after how he’d been treated. She leaned into him, nestling in his fur.

‘Maybe they’re not all bad,’ she amended. ‘They just lose sight of what’s important sometimes, worrying so much about what they don’t have that they forget what they’ve already got.’

‘Like home,’ Sam said.” (p. 207)

Read This If You Love: Tinker Bell, Folk lore about fairies, Wishapick by M.M. Allen, Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black, Seekers by Erin Hunter, Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer

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**Thank you to Danielle at Blue Slip Media for setting up the blog tour!**

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The Backup Bunny
Author: Abigail Rayner
Illustrator: Greg Stones
Published March 6th, 2018 by NorthSouth Books

Summary: Everybody needs a backup plan, especially when you lose your favorite toy.

When Max loses his favorite toy—Bunny—his clever mom brings out the “backup bunny”—Fluffy—to save the day. Fluffy is thrilled to have the chance to play with Max, but is soon rejected by the observant child who notices that his ears are too new and perky. Can Fluffy find a way into his favorite boy’s heart?

The Backup Bunny will keep you laughing and inspire you to make room for another favorite story.

ReviewThis book truly made me laugh out loud because it made me think of so many stories! First, as a kid, I had LeeLee and Bean Baby who my mom both tried to get duplicates (Blue LeeLee and Talking Bean Baby) yet they never were equal to the originals. Then, as a sister, my sister had Banky and Huggy Bear who both had backups and were not replaceable. Finally, as a mom, Trent has a baby named Gus who, when I saw that Target was no longer going to carry them, I purchased 2 backup Guses, and when the original got super dirty, I decided it was time to try a backup. I said Gus was going to take a bath, and I brought back a new Gus. Trent hugged him but then looked at him in this super quizzical way and said, “Baby Gus has blue eyes?” And I freaked! I assured him that Gus has blue eyes, but then when we went to sleep, I checked the other Gus only to see that the original had brown eyes. That could have gone worse! Blue-eyed Gus is still going strong, but it almost backfired.

But back to the book. As you can tell from my reminiscing, this book is going to connect with everyone on so many different levels. The adult reader will remember their childhood and be nostalgic, the parent will think of their child and be filled with love, and the child reader will think of the toy that they love so much. And all of these feelings are accompanied by a fun-filled story about Fluffy trying so hard to be Bunny when really he just needs to be Fluffy to be loved.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Backup Bunny will have a wonderful place in early ed classrooms talking about their important lovies. Having students write about their lovie’s personality would be a perfect early ed creative writing prompt. Fluffy has such a distinct voice, and The Backup Bunny would be a wonderful way to start that conversation about voice and characterization with students both in reading and writing.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How are Fluffy and Bunny different?
  • How did the author give Fluffy a personality that was distinct?
  • Do you have a lovie that is special to you? Tell us about them.
  • In what ways did Fluffy try to be like Bunny? Did it work?
  • What type of socks does Fluffy live with? What does this tell you about that drawer?

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Read This If You Love: Don’t Forget Dexter by Lindsay Ward, Toy StoryCaring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer

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