Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel
Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth
Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.
Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.
The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.
Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?
We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’
‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’
‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’
‘Yes, the world as you see it!’
‘I saved you from that evil woman!’
‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).
Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**
What Do You Do with a Chance?
Author: Kobi Yamada
Illustrator: Mae Besom
Published: July 1, 2016 by Compendium Inc.
Summary: The award–winning creators of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea?and What Do You Do With a Problem? return with a captivating story about a child who isn’t sure what to make of a chance encounter and then discovers that when you have courage, take chances, and say yes to new experiences, amazing things can happen.
In this story, a child is visited by his first chance and unsure what to do with it, he lets it go. Later on, when a new chance arrives he reaches for it, but this time he misses and falls. Embarrassed and afraid, he begins ignoring each new chance that comes by, even though he still wants to take them. Then one day he realizes that he doesn’t need to be brave all the time, just at the right time, to find out what amazing things can happen when he takes a chance.
The final addition to the award-winning What Do You Do With…? picture book series created by New York Times best selling author Kobi Yamada and illustrator by Mae Besom, What Do You Do With a Chance? inspires kids of all ages and parents alike to find the courage to go for the opportunities that come their way. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.
Ricki’s Review: There is something absolutely magical about these books. This author/illustrator team is simply remarkable in their ability to make the abstract come alive. Each semester, I read one of the books from this series aloud to my preservice teachers. They will be teaching in secondary schools, but this book series makes it obvious about how they can powerfully use picture books in their classrooms. After I read the book aloud, I don’t need to go through a long justification of why picture books work well in middle and high schools. What I like about this series is that each book is different from the other two. They overlap in their conceptualization and they all are remarkable choices for the instruction of symbolism and creating writing–but they all teach very different, big ideas. I can see each book pairing well with a different canonical or YA text.
Kellee’s Review: I hope each and every one my students leave my class with is that life is about trying and working hard and being creative and kindness and so much more than just passing tests, and Yamada’s series teaches all of these things in such a beautiful, fun, and inspiring way! The newest book in the series looks at the fear that comes with new things, and I think this is something that is so important to talk to kids about, doing anything different or new can be scary for a bunch of different reasons. And this ranges from toddlers (Trent is afraid of fast rides) to teenagers (who may be afraid of doing something that may look uncool or are too busy to grab a chance when it comes by). I am so sad that this is the final installation of the series, but I am so glad that we have the three we do.
Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: In previous posts for this series, we have discussed how teachers might use this book to teach word choice, symbolism, and creative writing. Teachers might also consider reading all three books aloud to students and talking about the ways they are conceptually similar and different. Students might discuss the paratext of the novels and the marketing of the books. They might also compare and contrast how the books offer completely different, powerful illustrations of abstract ideas.
Discussion Questions: What do you do with a chance?; How do the author and illustrator work together to make the abstract concept of a “chance” more concrete?; What does the book teach about courage?; When have you taken a chance? Did it work out? What did it teach you? What famous people in history have taken chances? What do you think they learned?
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
Don’t Forget Dexter
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published January 1, 2018 by Two Lions
Summary: Introducing Dexter T. Rexter, the toughest, coolest dinosaur ever. At least he likes to think so.
When his best friend, Jack, leaves him behind at the doctor’s office, Dexter T. Rexter panics. First he tries to find Jack. Then he sings their special song. Then he sings their special song even louder. But when Jack still doesn’t appear, Dexter starts to wonder. What if he’s being replaced by another toy? It can’t be—after all, he can STOMP, RAWR, and CHOMP! Right? Right?!
This hilariously neurotic dinosaur will do whatever it takes to get his friend back—even asking the reader’s advice—in this first book of a brand-new series.
Praise for DON’T FORGET DEXTER!:
★ “Ward’s ink, colored-pencil, and cut-paper illustrations give readers a toy’s view of the world and allow children to stomp in Dexter’s feet for a while, his facial expressions giving them lots of clues to his feelings. Lost and found was never so riotously funny or emotionally draining.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Ward (Brobarians) is as funny as ever as she chronicles her orange hero’s nervous, no-filter state of mind, and her cut-paper, pencil, and ink drawings—with their visual asides, annotations, and shifts in scale—are irrepressible. It’s high anxiety made highly adorable.” —Publishers Weekly
Ricki’s Review: I simply adored this charming story about a toy that is mistakenly left behind by his best friend, Jack. It reminded me a bit of The Velveteen Rabbit and Toy Story (but different!), and it is very accessible for kids. This book teaches some great lessons, and my son and I had a long conversation about how being separated from his things doesn’t always have to be forever. We recently moved across the country, and he doesn’t have all of his favorite toys around, so this book was really helpful to me as a parent, and I imagine that other parents will find it to be a great resource. We received this book a few weeks ago and have read it several times. My son calls it his “dinosaur book.” We have several dinosaur books, so it is a big compliment that this book is the dinosaur book.
Kellee’s Review: I love the voice of Dexter in this book! And the breaking of the fourth wall really adds such humor to the story line. And although the story sounds a bit like Toy Story and other toy books, it is so different than what you’d expect because Dexter is all alone, doesn’t know why he’s still at the doctor’s office, and is having a bit of an identity crisis. However, the way that Dexter feels will be easily a feeling that readers will relate to because anyone who has ever felt left out from something will feel like Dexter does.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask kids to write about a time that they were separated from something that they value. They might consider how this separation may or may not have been permanent. Alternatively, teachers might ask kids to write a story in which one of of their toys comes to life.
Check out some fun activities here!
Discussion Questions: How do you learn about the feelings of the characters? What do the author and illustrator do to make these come to life?; When is a time that you were separated from something that you love? Was it permanent?; How do the author and illustrator make the text interactive? How do they engage readers?
About the Author: Lindsay Ward was inspired to write this book after her husband texted her a photo of a toy dinosaur abandoned at a doctor’s office. The caption read: “Well, they left me here.” Lindsay thought it was so funny that she sat down to write Dexter’s story immediately. She is also the author and illustrator of Brobarians, Henry Finds His Word, and When Blue Met Egg. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play.
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!!**
Inky’s Great Escape: The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
Published: November 7, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books
Goodreads Summary: Inky’s Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape .
Based on a true story, this tale follows a daring, Houdini-esque octopus as he performs his greatest escape act yet.
In April 2016, The New York Times published an article about an octopus named Inky who escaped from the National Aquarium of New Zealand through a drainpipe and into the sea. In this charming fictionalized account, Inky, worn out from his exciting life in the ocean, has retired to the aquarium. There he quietly plays cards, makes faces at the visitors, and regales his tankmate Blotchy with tales of his past adventures. Then Blotchy dares Inky to make one more great escape: out of their tank. Will Inky succeed?
Ricki’s Review: Inky! This is a fun, thrilling text that will surely entertain a classroom of kids. I can imagine all of the questions that would accompany a read-aloud of this book. When my son and I read it, the first thing we did was research Inky’s story on the internet (see Kellee’s review for more info about this). We talked about all of the exciting ways that an octopus might escape from an aquarium. I love how the author creatively interpreted Inky’s story and made it a sort of challenge from Inky’s friend Blotchy. This made me chuckle. This text is versatile and could be used in many ways in the classroom, and it has high appeal. Kids will love it.
Kellee’s Review: Although Inky’s Great Escape is a fictionalized version of the events that happened at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016, if you go and research about the escape, you’ll learn that the Inky truly is one incredible octopus! Although Lyall used creative freedom to build up Inky’s backstory (he’d retired to the aquarium after many daring escapes, and only escaped from the aquarium because Blotchy challenged him), much of the escape sequence was what truly transpired when Inky made his escape. Kids will fall in love with Inky’s bravery, personality, and with his contrasting friend, Blotchy, who stayed behind. With colorful full page illustrations and two octopuses with character traits and personalities that will start conversations, Inky’s Great Escape is going to be a favorite read aloud and classroom library book in elementary classrooms (and would be a great companion to a cephalapoda discussion!).
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might take some time to point out New Zealand on a map and to research the habitat in New Zealand. They might specifically look into Inky’s story and how the author took a bit of creative license to interpret the truth a bit. Teachers might also ask students to create their own escape stories with another animal. They could illustrate these and bind them into books!
Discussion Questions: Why does Inky decide to escape? What does he do?; What is Blotchy’s role in the story? How might we compare this to situations in our lives?; What is the true story? How did the author creatively interpret that story?
1. The Mouse of Monet
2. Impressions of the Master
3. The Flames of Limelight
4. The Tears of the Painter
Published August 2nd, 2016; November 1st, 2016; April 11th, 2017; October 10th, 2017 by odod books
1. The Mouse of Monet
2. Impressions of the Master
3. The Flames of Limelight
4. The Tears of the Painter
Published August 2nd, 2016; November 1st, 2016; April 11th, 2017; October 10th, 2017 by odod books
Summary: A young boy mouse travels the country side looking for work and happens upon the Monet’s garden. He takes on a job and becomes inspired to learn to paint. Will he paint in the classical ways, or in the new style of the impressionist? Which way will his brush sway?
Musnet wants to be the best mouse painter that ever was. But, he’s caught between two worlds. On one paw, Musnet loves the classical style of his old teacher, the squirrel Remi. On the other paw, Musnet can’t help to be drawn to the fresh and new art of the human master, Monet. Which path will the Mus choose?
It’s dark season in Musnet’s world. His adoptive family faces eviction, his Master Remi is deathly ill, he’s chased by snakes, cats, and vampire bats, and—on top of all that—Musnet faces the most challenging painting commission of his life! Can he rise to challenges and brush them all away?
As snow and ice chill Monet’s garden, even colder things await Musnet this winter season. Mya, Musnet’s best friend, gets her own adventure. Chiby, the Japanese spider, gets in a tangle with a certain muscular rat. Is there even any room left for our vagabond mouse? Drama, action, adventure, abound in the final volume of the award nominated series.
Musnet is drawn and painted in a beautiful, lush and inky style popularized by Paul Pope and French comics masters such Blutch and Christophe Blain.
“It’s a really enjoyable story that brings Monet’s paintings to life through some incredibly sweet and memorable characters. It’s challenging and imaginative, and I’m sure it will spark an obsession with painting (and maybe also mice).”—Girls Like Comics
“This new series revolves around a painting mouse found in Monet’s famous gardens in Giverny: the nameless, orphan mouse is befriended by Mya and her mouse family, who live inside the artist’s house. Introduced to painting after he begins working for Remy, an old squirrel painter, he is enchanted by Monet’s work. Beautifully painted […] charming tale of humour, art, and adventure, as the little mouse grows to find his meaning and place in the world.”—The Guardian
“Musnet: The Mouse of Monet is a gorgeous and friendly story about a mouse discovering his calling in life and also what he wants to be called. Take a friendly and likable orphaned mouse, place him in a beautifully rendered watercolor and ink medium with miniature Monet masterpieces and you get a stunning and engaging story of a mouse learning to become an artist. He makes friends, finds a mentor, and even gets to sneak a peek inside Monet’s studio. It’s incredibly well executed, entertaining, informative, and absolutely absorbing. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year.” —The Picture Book Review
Review: After I read book one of this series, I could not wait to share it with everyone I talked to: “I love when books include art history in them because it makes me feel at home since I grew up in art museums as a museum director’s daughter. Musnet is no different. As soon as I realized that Musnet had ended up in Monet’s famous garden, I was fascinated with Musnet’s story and his journey to becoming an artist. Kickliy’s artwork pays perfect homage to Monet’s work and is a beautiful backdrop to Musnet’s story.” And I was really excited to read the rest of the books in the series.
Luckily they did not disappoint! Book one was just an introduction to the characters who continued to mature throughout the arc of the story. Musnet’s situation fluctuates causing the reader to quickly move from relief to panic which ensures the reader wants to keep going through the series. Although the series begins with Musnet just looking for a home, it ends with Musnet looking for what life has in store for him as an artist.
But what makes this series even more unique is the level of graphics. Kickliy’s ink, watercolor, and oil illustrations are reminiscent of the period in which Monet lived–it is like reading art. Kickliy even paints little oil paintings for the book for whenever a Musnet or Monet work is shown.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: “Musnet lives in Monet’s garden. Was there a roach under Van Gogh’s bed? Or a fish behind Munch’s Scream? If so, what would their story be like?” Have students create stories of animals that ‘live’ in the background of famous paintings. They’d need to research the art styles for illustrations and the time period/place of the painting for their setting, so this activity would be a perfect cross-curricular for writing, reading, art, and history.
Parts of the book would also be really great assets for engagement and information in art classrooms. Remi, Monet, and Musnet are talented artists who share insight throughout the series.
- After book one, did you think Musnet was going to become a successful artist?
- How does Kickliy’s illustrations fit the period of the book’s setting?
- Which conflict in Musnet’s story affected Musnet’s conclusion the most?
- Why do you think Kickliy chose Monet as the artist inspiration for his book?
- What artist would you want to meet?
- How did meeting Mya change Musnet’s life? Remi? Chiby?
Read This If You Love: Art, Graphic Novels, Monet, Mira’s Diary by Marissa Moss, The Museum by Susan Verde, Babymouse series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Redwall by Brian Jacques, The Museum by Susan Verde
Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books
Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.
Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?
Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, “the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.
About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, Salon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at www.michaelrubens.com.
Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.
- How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
- Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
- How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
- Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
- If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
- Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?
Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.
There was something lurking in the darkness.
She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.
It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .
‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’
‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’
He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’
‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’
‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’
‘Mobile?’ said Emily.
‘A mobile. . . Stone?’
‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’
‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’
‘You seem fixated on that.’
‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’
‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)
Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket
**Thank you to Tracy at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**
Prince and Pirate
Author: Charlotte Gunnufson
Illustrator: Mike Lowery
Anticipated Publication: May 9, 2017 by Putnam
Goodreads Summary: When two little fish with big personalities have to share the same tank, there are rough seas ahead!
Prince and Pirate are proud masters of their very own fishbowls, and life goes along swimmingly–until they’re scooped up and plopped into shared waters.
Prince is horrified to find this cheeky cod trespassing in his kingdom.
Pirate is sure this scurvy sea slug has come to plunder his treasure.
Thus, a battle of regal sneers, seaworthy stink-eyes, and off-the-hook insults begins.
Prince and Pirate’s hilarious duel for territory will elicit gales of giggles, hearty guffaws, and heartfelt smiles. Just when it seems their struggle might end in a silly stalemate, a little surprise convinces them to find a way to get along–swimmingly.
Ricki’s Review: My son has Charlotte Gunnufson’s Halloween Hustle, and we read it quite often. He loves the kooky characters and fun within the text. Prince and Pirate is no different. I loved reading this book aloud, and my son was giggling as turned each page. The book is cleverly crafted, and the words and illustrations pop off of the pages. I can’t help but think about how the author conceptualized the novel. I imagine her looking at a fishbowl and thinking about the characters amongst her fish. This book would make a wonderful text to spur creative writing amongst students. I think their imaginations would soar after reading it.
Kellee’s Review: I think Mike Lowery’s illustrations are so much fun and add such a special personality to any story, and with this book, his illustrations met a story that definitely lived up to his standards. (I also want to compliment the book’s designer who also made the font as fun as the illustrations.) Prince and Pirate were loners who all of a sudden are forced to live together and do. not. like. it. However, when they both have the same goal to try to reach, they are able to cooperate and learn to work (and live) together. Through humor and ridiculous name calling, Gunnufson tells a story that shows how differences don’t have to be the end of a possible friendship.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to create their own fish characters. They could use the prince and pirate as a model and design a similar text. This book serves as a wonderful mentor text for learning about how to build character and/or teaching dialogue. Don’t forget to check out the Educator’s Guide along with other fun, free activities on the author’s website, https://www.booksbycharlotte.com/activities.
Discussion Questions: How do you think the author conceptualized this book?; How do the words and illustrations work together to form an effective story?; How does the author build character? What other fish characters might emerge in the story? How would the story be different if the author introduce a ____ type of fish?
Read This If You Loved: Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery
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