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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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Louisiana’s Way Home
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: October 2nd, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Louisiana’s Way Home: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Louisianaon Candlewick Press’s Louisiana’s Way Home page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions: 

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

Flagged Passages: 

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

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Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures
(How Nature Works series)
Author: Paul Erickson
Photographer: Andrew Martinez
Published

Summary: How Nature Worlds books don’t just catalog the natural world in beautiful photographs. They seek to understand why nature functions as it does. They ask questions, and they encourage readers to ask more. They explore nature’s mysteries, sharing what we know and celebrating what we have yet to discover.

Scorpions and brown recluse spiders are fine as far as they go, but if you want daily contact with venomous creatures, the ocean is the place to be. Blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins—you can choose your poison in the ocean. Venoms are often but not always defensive weapons. The banded sea krait, an aquatic snake, wriggles into undersea caves to prey on vicious moray eels, killing them with one of the world’s most deadly neurotoxins, which it injects through fangs that resemble hypodermic needles.

About the Creators: 

Paul Erickson creates websites, exhibits, guides, and videos for zoos, museums, and aquariums nationwide. He has authored or co-authored numerous magazine articles and three books about undersea life. His book The Pier at the end of the World (Tilbury House) was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book of 2016 by the National Science Teachers Association.

Andrew Martinez specializes in images of the undersea world and is the author and photographer of Marine Life of the North Atlantic. He travels the world to photograph sea life, and was the photographer for The Pier at the End of the World.

Review: Don’t Mess with Me is a step up on the reading ladder from basic nonfiction books about undersea life because it takes the basic information about these venomous sea creatures and dives deeply (pun intended) into the actually whys and hows of their existence.

I was fascinated by so many of the facts in the book, and I loved learning about creatures I didn’t know about as well as learning more about ones I did. Check out the Flagged Passages to see how in depth the authors got which allows the reader to get a quite solid foundation about the different creatures. Additionally, the photographs are so cool because many of these creatures live where we’ll never see them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the Nature Works series (Catching Air; City Fish, Country Fish; Extreme Survivors; and One Iguana, Two Iguanas) in a lit circle/jigsaw setting where each group becomes an expert on the different topics in the series the creates a presentation of their choosing to share what they learned about nature with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?
  • What are some clues that an animal is venomous?
  • Why are some animals in the sea venomous?
  • How does the “How Nature Works” text features help when reading this nonfiction text?
  • What are some ways that animals are venomous?
  • Pick a venomous sea creature. Create a list of 5 facts about the sea creatures to share with your classmates.

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Read This If You Love: Nonfiction texts exploring nature and animals

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Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas
Author: Josh Farndon
Published November 6th, 2018 by Silver Dolphin and the Smithsonian

About the Book: Head off on a globetrotting adventure in this interactive atlas! Learn about the diverse cultures, customs, wildlife, and natural beauty that form our world through informative text and full-color photograph. Children will love the hands-on aspect to learning as they blow up their inflatable globe and build the cardstock models of some of the wonders of the world. Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas (ISBN: 978-1626867208) is the perfect way to engage kids in the amazing world around them!

Includes:
56-page fact book
30 stickers with world map poster
1 inflatable globe
3 cardstock models to assemble: the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and a Mayan pyramid

Review: I think the best way to review this exploration set is to show you Trent’s experiences with it as we had an amazing time exploring the world with the globe, map, landmark stickers, and landmark 3D sets:

         

I don’t think anything can show how wonderful a book is other than showing a child completely involved in its purpose. We’re definitely going to get all the sets in the series!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series (see Ricki’s review of the Solar System set) is made for education. How fascinating would it be to go through the 30 landmarks on the stickers, maybe one a week, and put them on the poster and discuss the landmark. There are ones all around the world which would allow the class to explore so many cultures. Or maybe separate the landmarks and have a different student become an expert on each one and share. There is so much to consider!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Where is _____ located?
  • What landmarks are in ____?
  • What did you learn about ____?
  • How is ___ different than ___?
  • Any Atlas/Geography questions!

Read This If You Love: Interactive sets, Geography, Landmarks

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

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Smithsonian Exploration Station: Solar System

Summary: Take a trip into the stratosphere with Smithsonian Exploration Station: Space! With informative text and full-color photographs, young astronomers will learn about the intricate makeup of our solar system as well as distant galaxies and constellations. The 56-page fact book combined with the sticker sheet, space figurines to play with, and the glow-in-the-dark stars make this space experience interactive and engaging.

Includes a 56-page fact book, 30 stickers, 22 glow-in-the-dark stars, and 2 figurines (astronaut and rocket).

ReviewI love book kits. There is something about them that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. My almost 5-year-old loves them just as much. Opening the box is like opening a world of fun. We were thrilled to receive this kit, and it didn’t disappoint. My son played with the rocket and astronaut figurines as we read the book together. The rocket and astronaut touched every page of the book! After we read about each part of the solar system, he affixed the appropriate sticker on his poster. He’s very much looking forward to sticking the glow in the dark stars on his ceiling! Parents will love these kits. The interactive learning component is wonderful. I intend to purchase several other kits from this company!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might purchase 1-2 kits each of the Smithsonian Exploration Station series. These include the Human Body, World Atlas, and Human Body. They can be found here. Students can select the kit that is most interesting to them and engage in an inquiry unit on the topic. These kids would be very fun to use in small groups!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn as you did the activities?;
  • What parts of solar system do you find most interesting? Why?;
  • How do the different parts of the solar system together?

We Flagged: 

The kit!

The full-sized poster! Notice the grayed out planets. The stickers match these and make for a great interactive reading experience!

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about the solar system; interactive books and kits (like this one about the human body)

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

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Astronaut, Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact
Author: Jennifer Swanson
Foreword by Fabien Cousteau and Kathryn D. Sullivan
Published January 9th, 2018 by National Geographic Society

Summary: Journey from the deepest trenches in the oceans to the farthest humans have ventured into space and learn what it takes to explore the extremes. You might just be surprised by how similar the domains of ASTRONAUTS and AQUANAUTS really are.

Space and the ocean. If you don’t think they go together, think again! Both deep-sea and space explorers have to worry about pressure, temperature, climate, and most importantly, how to survive in a remote and hostile environment. Join us on an amazing journey as we go up in space with astronauts and dive deep down in the ocean with aquanauts to explore the far-off places of our planet and the solar system.

With a strong tie into STEM topics–such as making connections, making comparisons, and recognizing patterns across content areas–readers will discover the amazing science and incredible innovations that allow humans (and sometimes only machines) to survive in these harsh environments.

Review: First, I want to share this image because it is one of my favorites ever, and I want a poster of it for Trent’s room!

I love the idea of this book! First, from a personal point of view: my son loves animals and space, so this is a perfect book for him. We didn’t read word for word together, but we spent hours over the last couple of weeks flipping through the book, looking at different spreads, reading parts of the book, and answering any questions that Trent had. Also, from a educator point of view: this text is so full of information told in such an interesting way with fun facts, activities, and so much fascinating information! Swanson did a beautiful job making connections between the two professions and scientists and giving equal looks into both. And since the book is for middle grade students, it is essential for it to be written in a way that will be intriguing to readers, and this book is definitely that!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Throughout the book there are questions that can lead to inquiry (see below) and many topics that are introduced that could be further researched. Additionally, there are a few activities throughout such as one on submersibles, docking the ISS, and design your own space suit. The book is also set up for comparing and contrasting looking at exploration in both space and the sea and how they differ and overlap.

Discussion Questions: The text is FILLED with books that can lead to phenomenal discussions or inquiry projects such as

  • How does studying the topography of the ocean floor help us understand the space?
  • Why is it important for astronauts to train underwater?
  • What does it feel like during blastoff?
  • What is it like to live in space/under water for a long time?
  • Why and how do we explore?
  • How can studying the ocean help astronauts better understand conditions in space?
  • What can space teach us about the ocean?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Space travel, Science, Marine biology

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

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