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Maximillian Villainous
Author: Margaret Chiu Greanias
Illustrator: Lesley Breen Withrow
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018 by Running Press Kids

Summary: A humorous and important book about learning to follow your heart and proving that kindness can outweigh villainy any day.

Maximillian Villainous is a monster who doesn’t have the heart to be a villain. His famous family pulls pranks on the likes of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and Max spends his time undoing them. So when he brings home a bunny to be his sidekick, Max’s disapproving mother hatches a plan. She challenges Max and the bunny to become a devious duo; otherwise . . . the bunny hops. If they want to stay together, Max and the bunny have no choice but to go against their nature. They blunder into villainy with comical effect until Max discovers that embracing his good heart may just be the key to pulling off the most devious deed of all and winning his family’s acceptance.

Delightfully fun and irreverent, Maximillian Villainous is an empowering story about embracing one’s true self and finding acceptance. Up and coming illustrator Lesley Breen Withrow brings the characters to life with bold and colorful illustrations in a style reminiscent of Richard Scarry.

About the Creators: 

Margaret Greanias was inspired by her children’s love of the Despicable Me movies and all things Minion when writing Maximillian Villainous, her debut picture book. She lives with her husband, three children, and a fluffle of dust bunnies in the San Francisco Bay area.

Lesley Breen Withrow is the illustrator of several picture books, including You’re My Boo by Kate Dopirak and Bunny Bus by Ammi-Joan Paquette. Her artwork can also be seen on many products, including stationery collections and children’s games, toys, and apps. Lesley lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her family, a couple of crazy cats, and her daughters’ large and ever-growing collection of stuffed animals.

ReviewMaximillian’s story primarily focuses on someone being different than their family and how expectations set by others in the family may not fit what another person excels at. As a teacher, I wish I could read this book to so many people because I really struggle with parents and educators expect a kid to be a certain way because they know a sibling or a family member. That isn’t how it always works. I think this same theme could be used to talk about how expectations have to be differentiated in general, so I could actually see this story being used to talk to evaluators, leaders, etc. to talk about why Maximillian needed a change of assessment instead of the same as everyone else. Underlying, the message is that we can’t expect anyone to be anyway. Let them show you who they are and accept and love them as they are.

And all of these deep messages are within a funny story with fun illustrations about a monster who loves his bunny even though he is expected to be a villain.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Theme, theme, theme, theme!!! The author does a fabulous job writing a funny book that is just so perfect for talking about a lesson. The characterization of the Villainous family vs. Maximillian will allow for some fun compare/contrast and character trait activities as well. And this book definitely needs to join the empathy and community building read alouds–it will lead to some wonderful discussions and acceptance. Finally, I would love to see it used with teachers as a coaching tool to discuss the need to differentiate. Sometimes the directions we give need to be tweaked just a bit for certain kids, and we’ll get to see brilliance.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is Maximmillian different than the rest of his family?
  • How does his family react to his differences?
  • What does Maximillian prove by the end of the book?
  • How did Maximillian manipulate the situation to show his worth?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that something was unfairly expected of you?
  • What is the message of Maximillian’s story?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Monsters vs. Kittens by Dani Jones, Normal Norman by Tara Lazar, Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman

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**Thank you to Running Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Atlas of Imaginary Places
Author: Mia Cassany
Illustrator: Ana de Lima
Published: May 8, 2018 by Prestel Junior

Summary: This dreamy, gorgeously detailed picture book leads children on a journey to impossible but wonderfully imagined places.

Upside-down mountains, volcanoes that spew bubble gum, a gentle humpback whale keeping an entire city afloat. These and other wonderful worlds may not exist on Earth, but elsewhere–who knows? Each spread of this captivating book invites readers on a fantastic voyage. Ana de Lima’s whimsical, softly colored illustrations are filled with surprising details that reward close examination, while Mia Cassany’s soothing narrator is a nameless fellow traveler. A jungle where the animals exchange stripes, spots, and markings each time they sneeze, an archipelago made up of dessert-shaped islands, and a lighthouse so tall you can draw a new galaxy with your finger are just some of the wild places to visit. Perfect for before-bed reading, or daytime dreaming, this stunningly illustrated book will delight young readers and encourage them to conjure their own imaginary places.

My Review: Ever since I finished reading this book (the first time), I have been really looking forward to reviewing it. I cannot get over how wonderfully imaginative it is. It’s absolutely breath-taking. I’ve read it about fifteen times now, and every time, I notice something different. When my son pulls it off of the bookshelf for our nightly reading routine, I silently cheer. I love reading it and pouring through the pages with him. I include a spread below to give you a sense of the gorgeous pages within the book. In the spread featured below, a humpback whale rests just below the surface of the ocean. An entire city is afloat, and the page tells readers that when the city goes to sleep, the whale will wake. But because the city never sleeps, the whale will never wake. I sat with this page for quite some time. I love the magical notion that beneath the surface of the island rests a beautiful, unseen whale. I’ve read thousands of picture books, and this one ranks as one of my favorites. It’s remarkable.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book belongs in every creative writing class (at all age levels). Teachers might ask students to imagine their own imaginary place. They could write and illustrate a spread, and the spreads could be combined to form a class book. Older writers might examine the prose and the imagination that brings this book alive.

For my Teaching Writing college course, I intend to ask students to select a spread and begin to draft a story. The pages of this book make great story starters. It would also be a great book to talk about setting.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which page is your favorite? Why?
  • Compare and contrast the pages. What is similar? What is different?
  • How do the author and illustrator seem to work to together to make this book come alive?
  • What is an imaginary place that you might add to this collection? What would it look like?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada; The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires; The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Journey by Aaron Becker

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*Thank you to Casey from Media Masters Publicity for providing this book for an honest review!*

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Nocturnals: The Slithery Shakedown
Author and Illustrator: Tracey Hecht
Published: April 10, 2018 by Fabled Films Press

Goodreads Summary: Discover the friendship and humor of the Nocturnals Brigade! In The Slithery Shakedown, three unlikely friends—Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark a loud-mouthed sugar glider and Dawn, a serious fox—stand up to a big bully snake. In the process, they find themselves some spec-tac-u-lar snakeskin capes!

Includes Bonus Animal Glossary!

About the Author: Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed, and produced for film. The American Booksellers Association chose her first book in The Nocturnal series, The Mysterious Abductions, as a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Last year, in partnership with the New York Public Library, she created a Noctural Read Aloud Writing Program for middle graders that has expanded worldwide. She splits her time between Oquossoc, Maine and New York City.  Check out our Q&A with her here!

Ricki’s Review: I don’t tend to gravitate to early readers because they can be awfully boring. This book breaks the mold. It’s fun and engaging, and my son loves reading it. I frequently catch him looking through the pages and staring at the pictures.  He didn’t know what nocturnal animals were before he read this book, and now, any time we see an animal, he asks if it is nocturnal. The conflict in this book is wonderfully portrayed, and it teaches about the power of friendship and bravery. I recommend this book for folks seeking engaging early readers that will capture children’s attention. It’s wonderfully done.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book to read! It not only will be great for Trent when he is a beginning reader to practice his reading, it is overall a fun story that is a fantastic read aloud. It looks at the idea of bravery and fear as well as friendship while also introducing scientific ideas like nocturnal animals and carnivore animals. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:  The Summer Reading Kit is available on the publisher’s website. This book begs readers to research nocturnal animals, and it provides a lot of opportunity for classroom use.

Additionally, the author uses a ton of alliteration which makes it super fun to read out loud but also gives a chance to introduce this literary device.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal is most afraid? How does friendship influence this character’s bravery?
  • How does the snake react to the friends? What does this tell you?
  • What other nocturnal animals do you know?
  • What do you think the setting of the book is based on the animals?
  • How does the author use alliteration throughout the book?
  • What words did you not know in the story? Using context what do you think they mean?

Flagged Passages: 

“Chapter 3

‘Did sss-someone sss-say breakfassst?’ the snake said.

Bismark spun around.

Behind hijm was a long, blue, shimmery snake.

The snake slid from the grass.

The snake raised its head.

The snake flicked its flickery tongue.

‘Bismark, look out!’ Dawn cried.” (p. 24-25)

Read This If You Loved: Night Animals by Gianna MarinoBaby Animals at Night by Kingfisher Publications, National Geographic Early Readers

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**Thank you to Stacey and Nicole at Fabled Films for providing copies for review!**

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Where’s Halmoni?
Author: Julie Kim
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Little Bigfoot

Summary: Where’s Halmoni? is a picture book in a graphic novel style, which follows the story of a young Korean girl and boy whose search for their missing grandmother leads them into a world inspired by Korean folklore, filled with mischievous goblins (dokkebi), a greedy tiger, a clever rabbit, and a wily fox.
Two young children pay a visit to Halmoni (grandmother in Korean), only to discover she’s not home. As they search for her, noticing animal tracks covering the floor, they discover a pair of traditional Korean doors, slightly ajar, new to their grandmother’s home. Their curiosity gets the best of them, and the adventure begins when they crawl through and discover an unfamiliar, fantastical world. As they continue to search for their grandmother and solve the mystery of the tracks, they go deeper into the world of Korean folklore and experience their cultural heritage in unexpected ways, meeting a number of Korean-speaking characters along the way.

Translations to Korean text in the story and more about the folktale-inspired characters are included at the end.

About the Author: Julie Kim is an author and illustrator living in Seattle, WA. She has published with Cricket Magazine, Scholastic, and Mondo. Where’s Halmoni? is her authorial debut.

Praise: “Julie Kim has created a visually stunning world that effortlessly infuses Korean text (Hangul) in rich, expressive art.”Cybils Awards, winner

“For its jaw-dropping art, encouraging bilingual attitude, and conscientious portrayal of Korean culture, Where’s Halmoni? is a perfect choice.” —School Library Journal, starred

“A sophisticated mélange of urban households, traditional Asian landscapes, vibrant color schemes, cultural details, subtle visual jokes, [and] pitch-perfect dialogue… This book is an excellent choice for either the picture-book or graphic-novel collection.” —Booklist, starred

“Kim’s bright, expressive illustrations are a delight…an accessible, diverse title for a broad readership.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“The sibling banter is believable and delightful, [and] Kim’s panel sequences teem with energy.” —Publishers Weekly, starred

ReviewThis book is a piece of art. The way that Kim combined traditional Korean folklore characters, including giving an explanation about each of them in the back; realistic sibling relationships; an adventure with beautiful settings; and her amazing artwork lent to the creation of a very special book. There is so much to unpack including homage to traditional Asian art styles, inferring opportunities, introduction to Korean folktales, and inclusion of Korean language. This book will be perfect as a read aloud with discussions, lit circles looking at folktales, or as an independent book for your adventure or graphic novel fans.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Where’s Halmoni? and its back matter are a perfect addition to a folklore unit including a discussion on how authors fracture/retell/modernize folktales in all cultures.

And P.S. a whole discussion/lesson could be done around the end pages!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Kim intertwine traditional Korean folktale characters into her story?
  • What do the end sheets tell you that the rest of the story did not?
  • What clues were there at the beginning of the book that ultimately they would encounter a tiger and a fox?
  • How could you infer that Halmoni was their grandmother?
  • Before reading the translations of the Korean in the back of the book, use the context clues and try to guess what the characters are saying.
  • Would you consider this book a picture book or a graphic novel? Why?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Retellings and new takes on folktales

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**Thank you to little bigfoot for providing a copy for review!**

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Tsu and the Outliers
Author: E. Eero Johnson
Published May 8th, 2018 by odod books

Summary: Tsu and the Outliers is a graphic novel about a non- verbal boy whose rural existence appears unbearable until rumors of a monstrous giant upend his mundane life. Tsu finds himself at the center of the mystery, as his strange metaphysical connection with the creature is revealed.

As the dragnet closes in, Tsu is forced to choose between a dangerous path leading beyond the periphery of human perception or a life without his only friend.

About the Author: E. Eero Johnson (Erik T. Johnson) is a Minneapolis-based illustrator, graphic designer, and comic book artist. His illustrations have appeared in GQThe New YorkerNewsweekWired, and The New York Times, and on several book covers. His comic book projects, The Outliers and Kozmo-Knot, have gained a growing interest from the indie comic world. He lives with his wife, Tammy, sons, Emmett and Eilif, and a crazy Boston terrier.

ReviewTsu and the Outliers is an interesting look at a new type of superhero: a young non-verbal boy who is able to communicate with a creature that his world is afraid of. There are some interesting discussion points when it comes to bullying since Tsu is judged by his classmates because of his disability. This is a big theme during the beginning of the book as we get to know Tsu. The creature also ends up being a Sasquatch and they are being chased by a chupacabra-like creature which introduces North American folklore. Overall, the story is pretty crazy (in a good way), and the end of the book sets up for a definite sequel which I NEED because Tsu makes a crazy decision at the end of the book with no explanation.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the scene where Tsu is bullied by Jespers to start a dialogue about bullying. Discuss why the scene makes them angry and uncomfortable and what could have been done by others to help Tsu. Have students create anti-bullying advertisements to share in your school.

When mythology and folklore are discussed, the focus is primarily on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian. Use Tsu and the Outliers to discuss North American folklore including the Sasquatch and chupacabra. Have them research the tales about these creatures and create their own myth with them in it. Also, as a class, discuss the difference between the characters is Tsu and traditional folklore.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What foreshadowing was there to show that Tsu was more than what everyone assumed?
  • Tsu’s lack of verbal communication in the end of the book ended up not being a disability. What do you think caused it?
  • Why do you think Tsu made the choice he did at the end of the book?
  • Why do you think Tsu’s mother made the claim she did at the end of the book covering up for Tsu?
  • Why does the Chimpanzee-professor want Tsu?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Superpowers, Folklore, Superhero comics

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**Thank you to odod books for providing a copy for review!**

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Islandborn
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Published: March 13, 2018 by Dial

Summary: From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.

Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.

Review: This book is absolutely enchanting. I can confidently say that it will always be one of my favorite picture books of all time. When Lola asks family and friends about the island that she came from, they have wonderful memories that they share with her. The illustrations and words dance off of the page—Díaz and Espinosa, the author-illustrator team, combine to create a work that will stun readers with its beauty and complexity. I took the pages from the F&G and hung them on my office walls, and they inspire me daily.

As I read this book, I continually paused to reflect on the words (“Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you” and “Memory is magic.”). There is so much to teach from this book, and I am really looking forward to sharing it with students. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you get in your car and drive immediately to the bookstore.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many possibilities for this section for teacher. They might analyze text and word choice, focusing on figurative language. Or they could examine the emotions that Lola experiences as she tries to learn about the place that she comes from. Or they might have students research their own countries of origin and create an image that represents the magic of the country. Or they might consider a monster that exists in their country and draw it metaphorically or symbolically. This is a book that is meant to be shared and shared.

Discussion Questions: How does Lola feel when she can’t remember the country she came from? How does she learn more about it?; What do Lola’s friends and family tell her about the country she came from? What are the good and bad memories that they share? What might the bad memory represent?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved: Works by Junot Díaz; Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Bone’s Gift
Author: Angie Smibert
Published March 20th, 2018 by Boyd’s Mill Press

Summary: Boyds Mills Press is pleased to announce the March publication of BONE’S GIFT, a supernatural historical mystery written by Angie Smibert about twelve-year-old Bone, who possesses a Gift that allows her to see the stories in everyday objects. When Bone receives a note that says her mother’s Gift killed her, Bone seeks to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s death, the schisms in her family, and the Gifts themselves.

In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in 1942, Bone Phillips has just reached the age when most members of her family discover their Gift. Bone has a Gift that disturbs her; she can sense stories when she touches an object that was important to someone. She sees both sad and happy—the death of a deer in an arrowhead, the pain of a beating in a baseball cap, and the sense of joy in a fiddle. There are also stories woven into her dead mama’s butter-yellow sweater—stories Bone yearns for and fears. When Bone receives a note that says her mama’s Gift is what killed her, Bone tries to uncover the truth. Could Bone’s Gift do the same?

This beautifully resonant coming-of-age tale about learning to trust the power of your own story is “charming” says School Library Connection, while Kirkus Reviews says, “Smibert surrounds Bone with a loving, complicated extended family….(with) language, which feels real and down-to-earth, like her characters. An intriguing blend of history and magic.”

About the Author: Angie is the author of several young adult books, including Memento NoraThe Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague, and numerous nonfiction books for children, as well as many short stories for both adults and teens. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

ReviewBone’s Gift was a special story looking at a well-known time period in a less-known setting. Normally stories in the 1940s focus primarily on the World War in Europe and the Pacific Islands, but this story focuses on a young girl who stays home when her father leaves to fight for his country. What happens to the children who have no mother and whose father leave for the war? Mostly a young girl whose family don’t all get along? And a young girl who is working very hard to figure out something important in her life while also learning truths about her mother’s life. This is that story. Bone is a character that the reader will love and will want to know what happened to her. Between Bone’s loss of her mother, her father going to WWII, Appalachian folklore & setting, and family dynamics, Bone’s Gift has so many different aspects weaving their way throughout the story, but it is all done beautifully in a way that all comes together in the resolution.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

(Resources from http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?mbdb_book=bones-gift)

Discussion Questions: 

  • What genre would you consider Bone’s Gift?
  • How did the author incorporate Appalachian Folklore in Bone’s story?
  • What theme would you say was the main theme of the story?
  • What incident in the book changed the trajectory of the plot?
  • How would a changed setting have changed the story?

Flagged Passages: “Bone Phillips floated in the cool, muddy water of the New River up to her eyeballs. The sky above was as blue as a robin’s egg, and the sun was the color of her mama’s butter-yellow sweater.

Her mother was still everywhere and nowhere Bone looked.

She let herself sink under the water and swam along the river bottom toward shore–toward Will.

In the shallows, her hand brushed against something hard and jagged on the silky river bottom. An image poured over her like cold bathwater. A young boy had hit his head on this rock. He struggled for air. The current grabbed at him–and her, pulling her along back in time. Bone snatched her hand away from the rock and came up for air with a gasp.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Magical Realism, Folk lore, Historical Fiction, Mysteries

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Don’t miss the other stops on the blog tour!

Monday, April 9 YA Books Central

Tuesday, April 10 Ms. Yingling Reads

Wednesday, April 11 Unleashing Readers

Thursday, April 12 The Brain Lair AND Genrefluent

Friday, April 13 Always in the Middle

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