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Bird Hugs
Author and Illustrator: Ged Adamson
Published: February 1, 2020 by Two Lions

GoodReads Summary: Bernard isn’t like other birds. His wings are impossibly long, and try as he might, he just can’t seem to fly. He’s left wondering what his wings are good for…if they’re even good for anything at all. But a chance encounter with a dejected orangutan leads Bernard to a surprising discovery: that maybe what makes him different is actually something to be embraced.

Ricki’s Review: Oh my goodness. This book made my heart feel so, so full. It tells the story of a bird who is very different from the other birds. He cannot fly because he has abnormally large wings. As the title suggests, he learns that his wings are good for something other than flying. But it doesn’t end there! The bird becomes so well-loved by the other animals that they take him on his dream flight! There are so many wonderful lessons in this book. I’ll be gifting this book to several friends. It’s that good.

Kellee’s Review: My friend Kaleigh read this book before me because it was sitting by my couch when she came to visit. When she finished she looked at me and said, “You will love this book. and get ready to cry.” And gosh darn it, she was right! Bernard’s story just made me so sad and then so happy. Bernard’s journey is a lot like many kids though–they are taught that a certain way is the only way, either through peers or parents or media, but there is so much out there for us to be. Bernard teaches us that. Everyone should read this book. 

About the Author: Ged Adamson is a children’s book author and illustrator. His picture books include A Fox Found a Box; Douglas, You Need Glasses!; Shark Dog!; and Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed). He has also worked as a cartoonist, storyboard artist, and composer for film and TV. He lives in London with his partner, Helen, and son, Rex. To learn more, visit his website: https://gedadamson.myportfolio.com/home-page
Twitter: @ged_adamson
Instagram: @gedadamson

Praise for Bird Hugs:
“Readers will agree: All differences should be hugged, er, embraced.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The lesson is a simple, familiar one—selflessness and sympathy are key to making friends—but Adamson’s gentle humor and his eager-eyed characters’ yearning become an eloquent testimony to the power of a little TLC.” —Publishers Weekly

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might journal about some aspect of them (emotional, physical) that is different. They might explore the ways in which this aspect is actually a strength.

This book could definitely be used in the first week of school during norm and team building. Combine it with the Be Kind! themed books to look at how different doesn’t equal bad.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does Bernard feel when he cannot fly? When he feels really good about himself, he tries to fly again. What happens? Why? What does this teach us?
  • What are some qualities that some people might dislike about us? How might we use these qualities as a strength?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob SheaThe Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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Explorers
Author and Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Anticipated Publication: September 24, 2019 by Feiwel and Friends

Goodreads Summary: From Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell, Explorers is a new picture book about an extraordinary trip to a museum.

When a family goes to a local museum, a boy notices a homeless man sitting outside, making brightly colored origami birds. He convinces his dad to buy a bird the man makes just for him.

Once inside the museum, his little sister takes the bird and launches it into the air. Is it lost? Soon another boy helps him look, and the paper bird brings two families―and two new friends―together.

With the style he used in Wolf in the Snow, Matthew Cordell shows how an ordinary family outing can be both extraordinary and magical.

My Review: Matthew Cordell’s newest picture book is a hit in my house. Explorers tells the story of a boy who finds a homeless man fashioning origami birds outside of a museum. The origami bird brings together two families in a way that is magical—or is it? This one made me think a lot, and I like books that make me think. It is almost wordless with only a couple of words in the entire book, but the pictures tell the story beautifully.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might enjoy debating whether the actions in the book are reflective of magic or not. Teachers might also group students and have each tell the story based on the pictures. They could talk about how their interpretations were or were not different.

Discussion Questions: Who was the man beside the road? What is his role in the family?; How does the main character change throughout the book? What does he learn?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love:  Journey by Aaron Becker, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell, The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

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The Day the Crayons Quit
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: December 1, 2019 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary:Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.

Ricki’s Review: I adored this book. I love stories about the underdog, and gray is definitely an underdog color! Fans who love The Day the Crayons Quit will absolutely love this story. It is very funny and a fantastic read aloud. There are many themes for discussion within the book. Kids might consider whose stories are missing as they think about gray’s emotions. They might also think about the other colors and how they are rude to gray and what this might feel like. The characterization of all of the colors offers much for discussion, too. Teachers and parents will love to read this aloud to children.

Kellee’s Review: As a daughter of an art teacher and art museum director, art education has always been important to me. I think the lack of art classes in elementary and secondary school as well as the push away from imagination in schools is a detriment to our children, so books like this give me so much hope! This book celebrates color education, creative writing, word play, and mood. It even pulls in social emotional learning with a focus on friendship and cooperation. Lindsay Ward did such a fantastic job with all of the elements of the story, and I cannot wait to share this book far and wide. It will be a fantastic read aloud in classrooms when discussing primary/secondary colors, story telling and mood, or even just to talk about how to work together. I cannot tell you enough how much you, your teacher friends, your parent friends, and all the kids you know need this book 🙂

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The possibilities of this text are very exciting. Teachers might have students choose a story of a lesser known or lesser considered character and have students develop their own fiction! They can share these stories and have a discussion about the people and things we don’t often consider.

Discussion Questions: How does gray feel? How do the other crayons make him feel?; How might you apply gray’s experiences to your own life?; How does the author make the book funny? How does this add to your experience as a reader?

We Flagged: “They never let me color! Just one tiny bit of GRAY? Is that so much to ask?”

You can also look inside the book HERE.

Read This If You Loved: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, The Dot and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Not a… series by Antoinette Portis, Art by Patrick McDonnell, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!!**

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5 Worlds #3: The Red Maze
Author: Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel
Illustrator: Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, Boya Sun
Published May 7th, 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary: In book 3, Oona Lee is determined to light Moon Yatta’s beacon and continue her quest to save the galaxy. But reaching the red beacon means navigating an impossible maze of pipes and facing devious enemies at every turn. Luckily, her friend Jax Amboy has returned from his adventures transformed! Now he must confront the owner of his former starball team, a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing to get his best player back on the field . . . and who can grant them access to the beacon. Meanwhile, Oona and An Tzu find a mysterious rebel leader and release a surprising power within Oona’s magic. Will they make it in time to stop the evil force seeking to rule the 5 Worlds?

About the Creators: 

Praise: 

Review:

If you have not read the first two books in this series, stop reading. Go get them. And read them. Then come back. 🙂 It is worth it I promise! Here’s my review of book one: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=13265.

As for book 3, The Red Maze, it starts off with a bang as we learn what happened to Jax as he recaps for Oona and An Tzu. The trio are on their way to Moon Yatta to complete their mission of lighting the red beacon. It jumps right into where book 2 left off.

Like the others, the story is full of adventure, battles, betrayal, surprises,

I love the underdog trio that are fighting to save the world. They are fearless and so empathetic, putting their lives on the line to save all. An Tzu is especially interesting as we are still looking for a reason for his rare disappearing illness.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use The Red Maze to ask some very deep analysis and reflective questions to your students (see below). The story can also be easily connected to significant historical events.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you truly destroy evil?
  • What can you compare the corporation takeover on Moon Yatta to here in America?
  • How does the removal of laws protecting the environment affect the world?
  • What can you compare the shapeshifters being banned to in history?
  • What would you be willing to do to save the world?
  • How can pressure affect performance?
  • What makes something alive?
  • What are examples of people ignoring evil to help reach their own wants in history like what happened in The Red Maze?

Flagged Passages: 

First, view these amazing animation test for the series:

These definitely show the brilliance of the creators!

Read This If You Love: The first 5 Worlds books, the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, Mighty Jack series by Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke, The Time Museum series by Matthew Loux

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**Thank you to Mark Siegel and Random House for providing a copy for reivew**

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“Suspension of Disbelief: Walking the Fine Line” 

In many works of science fiction or fantasy, books or movies, the reader or viewer is often required to do what’s called “suspending disbelief.”

This means that the reader must gently suppress some of the logical response to features of the story in order to enjoy the story itself. This is not a bad thing, and it happens all the time, particularly in fantasy. That’s why it’s called fantasy. When you read Watership Down, you know quite well that rabbits aren’t intelligent, and can’t talk, but you easily overlook it to immerse yourself in the book. Talking animals in stories predates writing itself, which tells you how long people have been suspending disbelief to enjoy a good yarn, or a fable with a lesson.

It’s not all that easy, though. As a writer of fantasy or SF, you need to encourage the suspension, but not push it too far, and it’s way too easy to push it too far. The last thing you want from your reader is the response, “Oh, come on, now. I’m not buying this!” The response isn’t usually that specific in the reader’s mind, it’s more often just a nagging discomfort that the writing has some big bumps in it that are distracting from the story itself.

My own book, Roger Mantis, is a humorous take-off of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In this case, the victim of a surprise transformation into a giant insect is an 11-year old boy, Roger McGillicutty. Roger Mantis is about how Roger manages to deal with it, how his friends and family deal with it, and how Roger manages the loss of his baseball dreams and tries to find new ones.

To make the story work, it was essential that the people around Roger accept his transformation into a giant praying mantis much more easily than would probably happen in real life. Otherwise, the idea of Roger talking to friends, going to school, and trying to play baseball just wouldn’t work at all.

If I were totally realistic about the situation (other than the giant mantis itself), my book would have ended at Chapter Two with poor Roger up a tall tree with terrified townspeople waving pitchforks, shotguns, and torches down below. So, a little suspension of disbelief, please.

My first attempt at this was to directly follow the lead of The Metamorphosis, where the characters are almost weirdly blasé about Gregor becoming a huge bug. It’s more of a household inconvenience than anything else. Even Gregor seems more concerned about his work issues than his six legs.

So, I tried this with Roger Mantis. This moved the story along nicely, but … well, here’s an early draft from the start of my story, as Roger the Giant Mantis surprises his mother coming out of his bedroom:

His mother dropped the laundry basket, and clothes fell on the floor as she stared at Roger.

“Mom?  Mom!  It’s me!  Roger!”  Roger tried to hold his evil-looking claws behind his narrow back.  It didn’t really work.

“Roger?  Roger!  What on earth have you done to yourself?” She looked at the floor. “Oh, no! My clean clothes!”

Okay, it’s funny, in a British humor kind of sense, but my editors thought it was a bit over the top as far as “acceptance” went. And if that’s what occurs to the reader first, instead of wanting to see what happens next, then you’ve gone over the suspension line. I had to agree with them, and the beginning of the book now has Roger hiding in the woods first, and his transformation is broken more slowly to his parents.

Okay, the level of acceptance is still a bit unrealistic, but hopefully not enough so that the reader gets pulled out of the book, and we can go on to the fun parts, and the real story of a boy dealing with something that can’t help but change his life drastically.

There were other issues of suspension of disbelief in Roger Mantis. The story depends on an entire town being able to mostly keep the secret of Roger’s existence. I placed the story back in the 70s to avoid the ubiquitous smartphones that make secrecy on almost anything impossible. But even so, it’s probably unlikely the existence of a giant talking insect wouldn’t leak out to a much larger extent than it did in the book. But by keeping it gentle, and having a few small leaks, I think I kept it within the suspension-of-disbelief limits.

And then of course, there’s the science. As one character in the book, Marlene, points out, a real giant insect couldn’t even stand up, and certainly couldn’t fly, but Roger does all these things easily. Weirdly, a character “hanging a lampshade” on something like this often actually helps the writer get across a disbelief hump. It kind of sends a message from the author to the reader, “Yeah, I know about this, but let’s all agree to overlook it together so we can have some fun.” Note to science fiction writers: you have a tougher row to hoe in this area than fantasy writers.

It’s not just about fantasy and science fiction, either. The suspension of disbelief problem can be an issue for any kind of story. Way too many coincidences in the plot? A first-class deus ex machina? A glaring plot hole? Even a mystery or romance book can fall afoul of these problems, and haul the reader uncomfortably out of the story.

Are there hard and fast rules to help with suspension of disbelief? Not really. The borderline between belief and disbelief depends on genre, writing style, humorous or serious, age of the target reader, and way too many other things.

So how do you deal with it? Experience helps, including a lot of reading in your chosen genre and age group, and some good beta readers. And of course, a good editor helps a lot more.

Roger Mantis: The Remarkable Transformation of Roger McGillicutty
Author: Tom Alan Borsz
Published April 2nd, 2019 by Tantrum Books

About the Book: Roger McGillicutty, 11, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he has unexpectedly transformed into a five-foot praying mantis.

His parents seem to be coping with it fairly well, and his dog Lou is okay with it, but how will the rest of the town of Highland Falls handle it? Roger has school on Monday, the carnival’s coming to town next week, and his Little League team is playing their biggest rival Centerville next Saturday. Being a giant bug will seriously cramp his style!

Or maybe not. Things begin to change when Roger performs a spectacular rescue of his classmates from a broken Ferris wheel.

Roger McGillicutty: a six-legged freak, or just possibly a superhero?

Roger’s story takes off from the famous beginning lines of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and then flies in an entirely different direction. Behind the adventure and the humor is a story about accepting who you are—your talents and limitations—and learning how to make the most of it.

About the Author: Tom Alan Brosz actually is a rocket scientist (sort of), having done design and engineering work in the private space industry back before the private space industry was cool. His qualifications for writing this book are that he has experience in raising children who like bugs and raising pet mantises for those children. Normal-sized mantises, of course.

Blog: https://tomalanbrosz.wordpress.com/
Roger Mantis website: https://rogermantis.com/

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at the thought process into fantasy writing!

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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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The Forest Queen
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Published: August 7, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.

Review: Anyone familiar with the tale of Robin Hood likes the idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Betsy Cornwell’s twist on this idea changes it just enough to give the story some flavor and novelty. The characters were compelling and the relationships were truly touching, but everything felt a little too convenient to me. There were several times when characters all but died and ended up making it out without a scrape. In a world where all of the favorable characters are on the lamb, there was a fair amount of luck and inaction that saved nearly every one of them. As a gender bent twist on a fairytale and a lively retelling of an old story, this novel had merit, but there wasn’t quite enough to it to call it a masterpiece.

However, as far as representation goes, Betsy Cornwell hit it on the head. The Forest Queen, as the title lets on, has a female leading things. The role of Robin Hood was usurped by a woman and amplified by the fact that the woman is stealing from her own family to give to the poor. The other females in the novel show strength in the face of things like rape and a shocking lack of agency. There are even LGBTQ characters that add to the sense that women in this world are the epitome of overcoming their circumstances.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation:This novel is a great outlet in which to discuss rape culture. Although it is not the most prominent part of the story, it plays a part and is represented in an ideal way in relation to discussion. Because this subject is extremely difficult to discuss in general, let alone in a classroom, talking about it within the realm of this fantastical society may make it a bit easier. It would be interesting to reflect upon the similarities between the culture in the novel and our own culture in this society. It is so incredibly important to discuss difficult subjects in the classroom, but when it is in reference to a novel like The Forest Queen, it can be looked at in a more academic way.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did Sylvie have a right to encourage the village people to rebel against her brother?
  • What do the ties to the story of Robin Hood do for this novel?
  • How do women take power in this story and how does that differ from classic fantasy?

Read This If You Loved: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

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