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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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

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

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

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

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

You can also access the teaching guide here.

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

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

You can also access the teaching guide here.

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

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The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

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The Lost Girl
Author: Anne Ursu
Published February 12th, 2019 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

About the Author: Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. She is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. You can visit her online at www.anneursu.com.

Praise: 

The Lost Girl is a jewel of a book—hard, bright, sharp, and precious. It reminds us of the boundless and subversive power of sisterhood and the inherent magic of girls.”—Kelly Barnhill, Newbery-Medal winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“I raced through The Lost Girl, breathless. And when I was finished, I found myself full of hope. It’s a beautiful, riveting, important book.”—Laurel Snyder, award-winning author of Orphan Island

“When the world makes no sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. When the world makes all the wrong kinds of sense, I read books by Anne Ursu. If you crave a story with the wit, wisdom, and magic to unriddle the world, then you need to read The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu.”—William Alexander, award-winning author of A Festival of Ghosts

“A beautiful, timeless tale of love conquering darkness in the midst of mystery and the angst of change. A must-have for any middle grade collection.” School Library Journal (starred review)

“This suspenseful mystery offers a story of empowerment, showing how one girl with the help of others can triumph.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“National Book Award nominee Ursu laces her story with fairy-tale elements and real-life monsters, while taking great care to cast girls in an empowering light and as authors (and heroes) of their own stories.” Booklist (starred review)

Review: Anne Ursu has a way of telling what seems like an ordinary tale and adding twists and turns that the reader does not expect but once you are on the narrative ride she has created, you never want to get off! And although I am always skeptical of magical realism, she does it in a way that just makes her books seem like realistic fiction that just happens to be bit magical, so it is hard not to buy in. In The Lost Girl, the story also is fascinating in the way that the author plays with the narrator/point of view as well as how she shapes both girls equally as the story moves between their narratives and shows the strengths and weaknesses in both. It is impossible to tell who the lost girl is and who is the ones saving because both sisters feel like they play a part in saving the other. I’m still thinking about responsibilities, love, and protection long after the book ended. You are going to love Lark and Iris and will root for both of them until you turn that final page.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers who need this book. There are kids that don’t feel like they belong in this world or kids who feel like they don’t mesh with others their own age or kids dealing with a huge change in their life. These are the kid who will need this book. They need the lost girl to guide them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the twins is the lost girl?
  • How did the crows play a part in the story?
  • Without the magic in the story, how would everything have been different?
  • What mistakes does Iris make in her decision making once the girls enter 5th grade?
  • What lesson are the adults trying to teach the girls?
  • How did the Club Awesome girls turn out differently than Iris assumed? What does this tell you about them? Iris?
  • How are the sisters alike? Different?

Flagged Passages: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different. Iris and Lark Maguire were identical twins, and people who only looked at the surface of things could not tell them apart. Same long busy black hair, same pale skin, same smattering of freckles around the cheeks, same bright hazel eyes and open face.

But Iris and Lark had no patience with people who only looked at the surface of things, when what lay beneath was the stuff that truly mattered.

Because the girls were identical, but not the same.

Iris was the one who always knew where she’d left her shoes. Iris was the one who could tell what the collective nouns were for different animals and that Minnesota was home to the world’s largest ball of twine. Iris always knew when her library books were due.

Lark always knew when their parents had been arguing. Lark could tell you what the consequences for stealing were in different fairy tales, and that the best bad guys had interesting back stories. Lark always knew which books she wanted to check out from the library next.

No they were not the same.” (p. 1-2)

Read This If You Love: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Watch Hollow by Greg Funaro, The Explorers by Adrienne KressWishtree by Katherine Applegate, The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1: Teach Mentor Texts
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: About to Mock
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Novel Novice
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4: Maria’s Melange
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6: Bluestocking Thinking
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7: Kirsticall.com
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Unleashing Readers
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9: Book Monsters
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10: Fat Girl Reading
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11: Word Spelunker
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12: Nerdy Book Club

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Waiting for Pumpsie
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published February 21st, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: In 1959 the Boston Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate. But when they call Elijah “Pumpsie” Green up from the minors, Bernard is overjoyed to see a black player on his beloved home team. And, when Pumpsie’s first home game is scheduled, Bernard and his family head to Fenway Park. Bernard is proud of Pumpsie and hopeful that this historic event is the start of great change in America.

This fictionalized account captures the true story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s rise to the major leagues. The story is a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement and a great discussion starter about the state of race relations in the United States today.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.

Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks

Praise: 

“A grand slam” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Bernard’s conversational narration creates a warm bond with readers from the get-go, and although Wittenstein and Ladd never sugarcoat instances of racial prejudice, the story’s moments of triumph sound the loudest notes.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“This uplifting account of a family and the integration of Boston baseball will be inspiring to many youngsters.” — School Library Journal

“This picture book contributes to children’s understanding of America’s past, while telling a good story”— Booklist

Kellee’s Review: This story was one that is new to me, and as a baseball fan and interested in social justice history, I found it so fascinating! Like the author’s note suggests, the history of baseball integration has been skewed in its telling over time because it does seem to those ignorant in the history that Jackie Robinson started up, fought the racial prejudice, then everyone was integrated; however, Pumpsie’s story shows us that this false truth is far from the truth. I really love that the author took something he did not know about and wrote a book to share the story with an audience. 

The author and illustrator told Pumpsie’s story from the point of view of a young Red Sox fan named Bernard and his anticipation for a Black baseball player on the team he loves and how one player can change the morale of fans.

Ricki’s Review: This is a wonderful book. My family is divided (half Yankees fans and half Red Sox fans), and yet, no one seemed to mind that this story featured Pumpsie, a Red Sox player. He isn’t one of the more famous, well-known Red Sox players, but he truly should be. This book gives careful insight into Pumpsie, his career, and his struggles, and readers will see layers of topics—even beyond baseball and equity. The illustrations and dialogue bring readers right to the stadium and field during the time period. My older son had a lot of questions as we read the book, and it felt good to navigate such a richly complex text with him. This is a must-have for libraries. It offers great themes to be discussed in the classroom setting, and students will be interested in this piece of our history. Also, it makes for a great read aloud. We were roaring right along with the stadium. 🙂

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are so many different ways that this story can be integrated into a classroom setting! First and foremost, it is a fantastic read aloud. The narrative will suck students in and will lead to some great discussion. Additionally, it could be used in equity discussions when looking at the history of the fight for equal rights. Lastly, I can definitely see this picture book being an asset in a baseball history book clubs/lit circles.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why was Pumpsie’s debut so important to Bernard?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story change how baseball integration is traditionally told?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story fit into a bigger story of Civil Rights in the United States?
  • Other than baseball and equity, what other topics does this text touch on?
  • Who did the prejudice man in the stands represent within the larger world?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: I am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, Something to Prove by Robert Skead, Silent Star by Bill Wise

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

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