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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
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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Novel Novice
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4: Maria’s Melange
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6: Bluestocking Thinking
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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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The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown

Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
  • Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
  • Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
  • Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?

We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”

Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne

Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
  • What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
  • There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?

We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).

Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender

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The Girl With More Than One Heart
Author: Laura Geringer Bass
Published April 17th, 2018 by Abrams Books

Summary: There are times we all feel we need more than one heart to get through. When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.

Find Her!  it says. Be Your Own!  

How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock” she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.

About the Author: Laura Geringer Bass is the author of over 20 highly acclaimed books for children, tweens, and teens. Her new novel for middle graders about friendship, love, and loss — The Girl with More Than One Heart — is the lyrical story of a courageous girl who imagines she needs an extra heart to navigate her grief after the death of her dad. It will be published by Abrams this Spring. Laura serves on the National Advisory Board of First Book, a non-profit organization that has delivered over 170 million books to children in need and as a mentor for Girls Write Now and Prison Writes, teaching teens at risk.

Review: This book looks at the struggle of grief when life keeps moving on around you. And like another book I love, Courage for Beginners, it shows the struggle a child has if a parent is suffering and they have to step up in a way that is not what their peers have to. Briana doesn’t know how to deal with the grief and with her mother incapacitated with grief also, Briana finds that she needs a second heart to help guide her through this huge bump in her life. Briana’s story also shows the struggle yet love of being a sibling to a child with special needs.

Written beautifully in a way that will pull at your heartstrings, Bass’s story shows how one girl uses art, love, and courage to make her way through a loss that is unimaginable for most of us.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Girl With More Than One Heart needs to be in classroom, school, and public libraries. There are so many readers that need this book. There are other readers that will want this book. There are definite readers for this book.

Another way in the classroom that it could be used is a mentor text for writing about memories. Briana’s second heart shares memories with her, one of the ways we get to know her dad, and the memories are so full of imagery. There are many sections that could be read for a mentor text when asking students to write a personal narrative.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Briana use art to help her through her grief?
  • How did Briana’s life change after the loss of her dad?
  • Aaron is described in the summary as her demanding little brother, but Briana loves him. What are some examples in the story that show this love?
  • How does Grandpa Ben help guide Briana?
  • Briana’s second heart is only figurative. What does it represent?

Flagged Passage: “The day my father’s heart stopped, I discovered an extra heart deep in my belly, below my right rib. It talked to me. I wasn’t crazy. Before that day, I had just one heart that never said a word.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington, Rules by Cynthia Lord, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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