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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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The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World
Creators: Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Running Press

Summary: A whimsical and imaginative catalog of fantastical beasts and creatures of myth and legend from around the world-complete with a code that needs cracking to uncover the mystery of the monster atlas!

One day a collection of very old maps is found in a dusty library. They show where in the world monsters and creatures from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with the maps, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 15th century. But did Walters really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain . . . and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log? The codes throughout, once cracked, may indeed lead to something sinister that will happen should the atlas ever be published!

This is a gorgeously illustrated and comprehensive catalog of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures from around the globe, with an easy-to-read format and incredible detail on each spread. It is many things, all at once:

  • A reference guide: Grouped by continent, this illustrated atlas lists and defines magical creatures from folklore around the world. Readers will find creatures from stories they’ve heard–like leprachauns, manticores, zombies–and learn about lesser-known creatures like the squonk, the tatzelwurm, and the fengu.
  • A journal: Presented as a record created by a fifteenth-century voyager named Cornelius Walters, the book includes Cornelius’s personal anecdotes about encountering monsters during his journey.
  • A mystery: The book also includes notes from a librarian who supposedly found the atlas and is trying to figure out whether Cornelius was making up stories for the monsters…or whether monsters are real.
  • A code: A mysterious code appears on each page and is referred to by both Cornelius and the librarian, encouraging readers to crack it…before it’s too late.

For kids (and adults) who love mythology, the supernatural, mysteries, or code-breaking, this whimsical blend of folklore and fiction provides both a joy and a surprise on every page.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Lawrence is an author and journalist. She is the author of two middle grade history books: Grisly History: Death and Destruction and Grisly History: Trials and Treachery. She lives in London, England.

Stuart Hill is an illustrator and designer. He is especially interested in printed textures, hand-lettering, and map illustration. He lives in England.

Review: This book is really everything that the summary states. It is fascinating! And beautiful! There is some humor because of the voyager’s anecdotes and the librarian’s notes, too, which is always nice. And the addition of the code adds an interactive element to the text. Highly recommended for any teacher teaching mythology or any traditional stories with monsters/creatures.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be perfect for teaching and discussing the Literacy.RL.9 standard which discusses how modern texts uses traditional text. Using The Atlas of Monsters, students can get an introduction to allusion around a discussion of where they have heard of the monsters before. And this is just the beginning! It would be so much fun to make your own Atlas of Monsters!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Find the clues throughout each page, and crack the codes in the book.
  • How many different points of view are shared in the book? How does this affect the reading experience?
  • Pick one of the creatures and do further research and create a longer profile about them.
  • Before reading about one of the continents, do your own research and try to predict which mythical creatures will be mentioned.
  • What are some similarities/differences between what you knew about ____ and what is in the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Cryptozoology, Folklore, the supernatural, code breaking

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**Thank you Running Press Kids for providing a copy of the book to review!**

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Isle of Blood and Stone
Author: Makiia Lucier
Published: April 10, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

Review: I absolutely adore this book. Makiia Lucier did an excellent job of incorporating strong characters, resistance to discrimination, mystery, romance, and interesting elements of the fantastic all in one novel. The plot had me completely riveted and I spent a lot of time while not reading thinking about the big reveal I knew was coming. Lucier had strong female characters who consistently proved to be as independent and capable as their male counterparts. The quest narrative was something new and fascinating that will certainly have all readers sticking around until the end. And best yet, this was the first book I have ever read about map-making. The incredible world building required no info dump, nor unrealistic exposition, because Lucier’s characters are often seen either drawing or studying maps. The issues discussed, the characters created, and the world formed came together to make a wonderfully mysterious and incredibly fun novel to read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book is a great way for students to look at discrimination. Although the races represented in this novel are of a fantastical nature, they are still ripe for discussion. You can ask your students to think about the real-life connections to the way that Mercedes is treated, being of mixed race. There are many books that address this type of racism directly, making it one of the main aspects of the story. Lucier addresses the issue a few times but does not make it a major plot point. It would be really interesting to discuss this as a plot element but not a form of social commentary.

It could also be interesting to look at and start a discussion on the treatment of illness in our society. There is an island in this novel where lepers are quarantined, often against their will. Although we have nothing exactly like this in society, there are certainly loose parallels in the ways that we treat people with diseases and disorders. It would be really beneficial to start a conversation with students about this form of social imprisonment that is rarely discussed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What parts of this novel reaffirm gender stereotypes, and which break away?
  • Can you think of any ways that Mercedes’s treatment in the novel is reflected in the real world?
  • What does this novel say about the way that illness is treated in society?

We Flagged: “It was not the first time someone had spat at Mercedes, or even the fifth, but it had been some years since Elias had witnessed the insult.”

Read This If You Loved: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Scythe Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Published: April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth, in the new century! When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

About the Author: Lamar Giles is a well-published author and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Lamar has two novels forthcoming in 2019: his debut middle grade fantasy The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (Versify / HMH) and his fourth YA thriller Spin (Scholastic).

Lamar Giles is a two-time Edgar Award finalist in the YA category, for his debut YA thriller Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014), and his second YA thriller, Endangered (HarperCollins, 2015). His third YA thriller, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) received this glowing New York Times review, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. You can see the book trailer for Overturned here. FAKE ID has been optioned by Sony Pictures.

Lamar is a contributor to the YA anthology Three Sides of a Heart (HarperCollins, 2017), the editor of the We Need Diverse Books YA short story anthology Fresh Ink (Random House 2018), a contributor to the forthcoming YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America (HarperCollins / Balzer & Bray 2019), and a contributor to a forthcoming We Need Diverse Books middle grade anthology The Hero Next Door (Random House 2019). He has published several short stories for adults. You can see tv interviews with Lamar here, and here, and here, and in a truly fun “Fun Facts” short interview, created by HarperCollins.

Lamar Giles — About the Book: “I’ve spent a lot of time talking with kids and their parents as I’ve crisscrossed the country on my writing journey,” says Giles. “Parents are looking for books to ignite a love for reading in their children, and kids are looking for fun books. I swore that if I ever had the chance to put a book full of words I’d written in the hands of a young reader they’d be the kinds of stories that drew them in willingly, entertained them, opened portals that they’d get lost in for hours. Every day I approach the blank page hoping I can write the One Book that makes all the difference in some reader’s life. I hope that The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer is that book for at least a few children.”

Praise: 

“The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminds me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of The Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder.”
– Jason Reynolds, author of Newbery Honoree Long Way Down

“The legendary heroes of this legendary book are already legendary when the story begins! From there things can only get legendary-er!”
– Tom Angleberger, author of the Origami Yoda series

“Lamar Giles has written an instant classic – readers won’t want their time with the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County to end.”
– Gwenda Bond, author of the Lois Lane series

Ricki’s Review: Can I go on an adventure with Otto and Sheed? This pair is full of excitement, and it made me want to leap into the book to join them in their sleuthing. I loved the concept of freezing time, and I giggled as they interacted with characters who were frozen in time. This book will set children’s minds into imaginative wonder, and it will spurn creativity. Objects are personified in exciting ways, and it just tilts reality on its head. I don’t read a lot of middle grade texts, but this one was particularly fun. I am looking forward to reading this to my sons when they are a tiny bit older.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book! Let me count the ways: 1) robots; 2) time travel; 3) mysterious evil person; 4) giant platypus-like creatures; 5) flying cars; 6) giant fly paper; 7) monsters trapped in mirrors; 8) frozen time; etc. etc. So much is going on in this book that makes it so engaging. Take all of this and pair it with a cousin team who solve mysteries in their slightly-off county that now have the fate of everyone they know and love on their shoulders, and you have a book that is going to be a favorite!

I also would love to talk about the theme! However, I cannot talk about the theme. (I know–a tease!) The theme is part of the big reveal at the end. But I want to vaguely say that it is a theme that so many kids need to hear and we, as adults, need to talk to them about. (Though–even with this important theme, the book’s main pull is its just pure, fun adventures!)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to encourage students to shift reality in a bit. They might begin by brainstorming possibilities of objects to personify in the world or constants to disrupt (e.g. time). This allows for very creative and fun storytelling possibilities!

The text is also a wonderful one to practice prediction and spotting foreshadowing! As you read the text aloud, have students stop you when they think they have spotted a clue to the mystery and also make predictions between chapters about what is going to happen (don’t forget to check the predictions!).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was your favorite part of Otto and Sheed’s adventure?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
    • How do you think these comparisons/contrasts help make them a good team?
  • After each chapter make a prediction. Check your predictions throughout the book.
  • What events in the book caused other events to happen?
    • Look particularly at how time traveling affected the timeline.
  • What literary devices did Giles use that were particularly effective for you?
  • This book contains a fast-moving plot and exciting adventure. But it also contains depth in its themes and lessons. What did you learn? What would you apply to your own life?

Flagged Passage: 

“‘Well, hello, young men!’

Otto spun at the sound of the new voice. Sheed hinged up at his waist, shielding his eyes with one had and squinting into the sunlight. The approaching silhouette was string-bean slim and taller than most, thanks to the stovepipe hat propped crookedly on his head. He stepped quickly, his skinny arms and legs whipping him forward with almost boneless ease. Tipping his head toward them, the hat’s brim slashed a shadow across his face, dividing it diagonally, leaving a single crystal blue eye, half a nose, and a split grin visible.

‘Who are you?’ Sheed said, getting his feed under him.

Otto, shorter and wider than his cousin, gravitated to Sheed’s side. Both of them angled slightly  away from each other for a better view of their flanks, in case something dangerous tried to sneak up on them Maneuver #24.

‘I’m a fan!’ The man offered his hand. ‘You two are the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, correct?’

Otto relaxed. ‘Yeah. We are!’

‘You all dispersed the Laughing Locusts before they devoured the county crops!’ he said. ‘You solved the Mystery of the Woman in Teal!’

Sheed stiffened. ‘How do you know that?’

‘Doesn’t everyone in Logan County know you two?’

Yes, Otto thought, proud of their reputation, they do!

Sheed, always a killjoy, said ‘You’re not from Logan County.'” (Chapter 2)

Read This If You Love: The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca AnsariThe Night Door by Frank Cammuso, The Explorers series (#1, #2) by Adrienne Kress, Watch Hollow by Gregory FunaroCoraline by Neil Gaiman

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Watch Hollow
Author: Gregory Funaro
Published February 12th, 2019 by HarperCollins

Summary: Deep within the enchanted woods in the town of Watch Hollow stands the once-grand Blackford House, whose halls hold a magical secret: a giant cuckoo clock that does much more than tell time. But when the clock’s gears cease to turn, an evil presence lurking among the trees begins to come out of the shadows.

When Lucy and Oliver Tinker arrive in Watch Hollow, they have no idea that anything is wrong. A mysterious stranger has made their father an offer that’s too good for him to refuse. All Mr. Tinker needs to do is fix the clock at Blackford House and fistfuls of gold coins are his to keep.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the children to realize that there is more to Blackford House than meets the eye. And before they can entirely understand the strange world they’ve stumbled into, Lucy and Oliver must join forces with a host of magical clock animals to defeat the Garr—a vicious monster that not only wants Blackford House for itself, but also seeks to destroy everything the Tinkers hold dear.

About the Author: Gregory Funaro grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, and wrote his first story, The Ghost in the Window, in the fourth grade. He considers this to be his finest work, but unfortunately it has been lost to time. Following high school Greg majored in theatre at the University of New Hampshire, and after various acting gigs, received his AM in Theatre Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. He began his literary career writing thrillers for adults, but switched to children’s books after the birth of his daughter. His first book for Disney-Hyperion, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM (2015), was a New York Times best seller and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and his second, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM (2016), received a Kirkus STARRED review. Look for WATCH HOLLOW and THE MAZE OF SHADOWS, coming from HarperCollins in 2019/20. Greg also teaches drama at East Carolina University, and is busy working on his next novel.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@GregoryFunaro) and visit his https://www.gregoryfunaro.com/ to learn more about his books and him.

Review: I am so glad that Harper allows Gregory Funaro to continue expanding his creative tendrils because every one of his books I read, I am intrigued by how he crafts a story, the voice he gives his characters, the point of view he decides, and the surprises he gives me throughout the reading. With Watch Hollow, I love how Lucy and Oliver obviously have a voice even though the book is in third person, the way he ties everything together from the slightest mention at the beginning of the book to huge events in the end, and I love that I cannot predict what is going to happen.

And not only is the story crafted well, the plot is one that is going to suck in our readers that are always looking for spookiness. It is just the right amount of weirdness, supernatural, creepy mansions, unknown creatures, and magic. The characters are also crafted really well which gives the readers someone to connect with.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Gergory Funaro’s fantasy is so different than the traditional fantasy books, and his stories will fascinate readers who may not be sure if they like fantasy because of the twist, turns, and intelligence in his narratives. Not only should his books be found in all libraries, classroom, public, and school, but it would also be an interesting to have an in-class book club focusing on different examples of fantasy and have students, at the end of the clubs, discuss what made their books fantasy and look at the wide variety within the genre.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the inclusion of illustrations throughout the book help with your understanding of the plot?
  • What does the animals quick acceptance of Lucy show you about her personality?
  • What were your initial assumptions about Mr. Quigley?
  • What did the inclusion of the crow from before they went to Blackford House tell you about the kids?
  • Once you find out the truth behind the house, what clues can you find when you go back through the book?
  • How did the third person limited point of view switching between the two siblings affect the narrative?
  • How did the author use imagery throughout the book to engage his readers?
  • How does the author set the Gothic and dark mood in the story?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oliver hung back in the doorway as Lucy and their father stepped into a cavernous, darkened foyer. Rectangles of dim dusty light filtered in from the rooms on the other side, and Oliver could just make out a wide staircase dissolving up into the gloom at the far end of the foyer…

Oliver pushed up his glasses, stepped inside, and set down his suitcase. His eyes had adjusted a bit, but with only the daylight streaming in, the foyer was still dim–in part because the walls were paneled three-quarters high in dark wood. To his left, he spied a shadowy parlor filled with antique furniture; to his right, a dining room with a long table. There were a handful of paintings on the walls, and where there was no paneling, the paper was peeled and gray…” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Explorer series by Adrienne KressThe Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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

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