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The Remember Balloons
Author: Jessie Oliveros;  Illustrator: Dana Wulfekotte
Published: August 28, 2018 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads Summary: James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for NavigationThis book is beautifully conceived. James’ grandpa has colored balloons that represent his favorite memories. Some of these memories begin to slip away, and James cannot catch them as they fly into the sky. Soon, his grandpa starts forgetting who James is, too. I read this in my son’s new school’s library and had to work very hard not to hold back tears. It is a stunning story, and I think it will resonate with both adults and children. This book allows for rich discussions of senility and Alzheimer’s Disease.

As I read this with my son, I was compelled to have him draw his own balloons to represent his favorite memories. While he drew his balloons, I drew a balloon of a shared memory at the same time. Teachers might have students cut balloons out of colored paper and ask students to create a giant bulletin board filled with their memories together.

This is a great text to teach the concept of the extended metaphor.

Discussion Questions: How does James feel when his grandpa starts to lose his balloons?; What memories would make up your own balloons?; What is a metaphor? How are the balloons a metaphor?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Loved: What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine; Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan; The Memory Box by Mary Bahr, Still My Grandma by Veronique Van Den Abeele, Really and Truly by Emilie Rivard, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, written by Mem Fox, What’s Happening to Grandpa? by Maria Shriver

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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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Wake Up, Color Pup
Author and Illustrator: Taia Morley
Published March 12, 2019 by Random House

GoodReads Summary: A beautiful picture book about a little pup’s colorful journey through the range of his emotions!

A bright yellow bird promises to bring adventure to sleepy Pup’s gray world. As Pup follows his new friend on a walk, each discovery ignites a new feeling and corresponding color, until Pup is saturated with them. But when a storm comes, Pup’s color is drained as fear sweeps through him. Only his curious yellow friend remains bright, and encourages him to keep his chin up, play, and carry on!

This is a remarkably simple and resonant examination of exploration and resilience, and introduces the idea of abstract association.

My Review: I loved the concept behind this book! The puppy is an energetic, spritely character, and he bounces through life and experiences a range of emotions. With each emotion, the page is lit up with color. The story is very sweet, and the rhymes flow  well. My two-year-old loves reading this book and is drawn to the colorful pages. It is a great way to practice colors together. If you aren’t convinced that you need to check out this book, I recommend you check out the page spreads featured below. They are really quite captivating.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Kids would have fun creating their own color-engaged stories. They might find a different metaphor than emotions and demonstrate how colors shift through the metaphor.

Discussion Questions: Which color page was your favorite, and why?; How does the author and illustrator demonstrate emotions through color?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Dogs; Photography

About the Author: Taia Morley has worked as a toy and game designer and is an illustrator whose work appears in books and magazines. Her books include My New Big-Kid Bed and some titles in the HarperCollins Let’s Read and Find Out series. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. To learn more, and to download a curriculum guide for her latest book, visit taiamorley.com.

Twitter: @taiamorley

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**

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Tiger Days: A Book of Feelings
Author: M.H. Clark; Illustrator: Anna Hurley
Published: February 5, 2019 by Compendium

Summary: From tiger fierce to snail slow, there are lots of ways to feel and be. A walk through the menagerie of Tiger Days helps young readers see all the feelings they have and the ways those feelings change. Through playful rhymes and colorful illustrations, this spirited book gives children new tools to understand the range of their emotions and express themselves to family, teachers, and friends.

Ricki’s Review: Compendium books always make me smile, and this book was no different. I have a two-year-old, and we talk a lot about feelings. I think this one will be particularly helpful in our discussions because he loves animals. The metaphor of animals as a way to express feelings is brilliant. We are going to keep this book nearby at all times, so I can say things like, “Are you having a Bull Day today?” For older kids, the book offers an accessible way to consider metaphor.

Kellee’s Review: Everyone has different moods each day. I, for example, have a mood calendar in my classroom that I use to show my students how I am feeling because, you know what? Some days are tiger days for me too. But as an adult, it is easy(ish) for me to identify how I am feeling, but kids have to be taught to understand feelings and emotions, and Tiger Days is a perfect foundation to start this conversation. (And P.S. LOVE the fuzzy cover!)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to introduce the idea of the metaphor. Older elementary school students could then create their own “Book of _________” using a metaphor. For instance, they might consider creating books like, “Color Days: A Book of Passions” and use colors as a metaphor for different types and levels of passion. It would require some scaffolding and careful planning, but it allows students to apply the concept of the metaphor to the world. Younger students might extend the book, instead, and create their own animal pages to create a classroom book of feelings.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal page was your favorite, and why?
  • If you could add one more animal to the book, which one would you pick? What feeling would it represent?
  • Which animal day are you having today, and why?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Loved: The Color Monster by Anna Llenas; The Feelings Book by Todd Parr; In My Heart by Jo Witek

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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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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Expected Publication May 1st, 2018 by Chronicle

Summary: Polly loves words. And she loves writing stories. So when a magic book appears on her doorstep that can make everything she writes happen in real life, Polly is certain all of her dreams are about to come true. But she soon learns that what you write and what you mean are not always the same thing! Funny and touching, this new chapter book series will entertain readers and inspire budding writers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Activities for Polly Diamond include:

Color Poem

On page one, Polly says that her teacher said her color poem was fantastic.

Have your students use the Read. Write. Think. template to create their own color poem.

Template: http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson375/PoemTemplates.pdf

Finish her perfect house story

On page 3, Polly is interrupted while writing her perfect house story.

Finish her story with what your perfect house would include.

Wishes

When Polly realizes her book is magical, she thinks of many things she can wish for such as a cell phone, not frizzy hair, more books, a flat screen TV, and world peace.

Using a brainstorming graphic organizer, have your students think of all the things they wish for.

After brainstorming all of their wishes, have them circle your top three.

Using the five-paragraph format for informative essays, have students write explaining their three wishes.

Measuring

For Polly’s grandmother’s recipe for pancakes called for a cup of flour and a cup of milk. Many times, when baking, you do not have what you need to make the recipe, and not just ingredients—you may not have the right measuring cup.

Bring in one cup measuring cups along with 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 3/4, tablespoon, and teaspoon measuring cups/spoons. Break students into groups and give each group one of each measuring cup/spoon as well as something to measure (water, rice, flour), and have them answering the following questions:

  • If you only had 1/4 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 1/3 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 1/2 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had 3/4 cup, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had a tablespoon, how could you get one cup of flour?
  • If you only had a teaspoon, how could you get one cup of flour?

Favorite words

Polly has a lot of favorite words: words with double letters like doozy and mutli-meaning words like basil.

Have students make a list of three words that they really like.

For each word, they should define it and also explain why they like the word.

When finished, students should do a word meet and greet. Using clock buddies or some other buddy system, have students meet with other students in the classroom and learn about their favorite words. They should add the favorite words they learn about to their list.

Paint names

On page 29, Polly makes up names for paint that describes the color such as muddy pond, lunch bag, and baboon butt.

First, have students look at the colors Polly described on page 29 and find the corresponding color in either a crayon box or a color exploration site online.

Then, have students create color names using imagery. Either have them use the color exploration site online or the colors from Microsoft Word.

Affixes

Show students how there are different word parts (affixes) that can be put together to make new words. They are like puzzle pieces! Share with them the different types of word parts (prefix, suffix, root, and base) and how they fit together.

On page 56, Polly explains how adding un- to the beginning of a word gives it an opposite meaning. The word she uses as an example is unobservant. Share with your students that un- is a prefix that means NOT which does make a word the opposite. Have student brainstorm a list of words with un- at the beginning and define them using NOT as the definition for un.

Extension: dis-, il-, im-, in-, and ir- also mean NOT. Students can also explore words with these
prefixes.

Extension: On page 57, Polly also talks about adding –fully to the end a word to make it bigger,
but it does more than that. Share with your students that –fully is actually a combination of ful, a root word that means full of, and –ly, a suffix that turns an adjective to an adverb, so her example of sorrowfully means full of sorrow (adv).

After showing students how words break apart and how affixes help with word meanings, give students words with un- and –ful (or any other affix you taught) and have them mark the different word parts and define the word.

Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets can also be downloaded from Chonricle’s website here.

See the Teaching Guide Created by Me (Kellee) for even more activities! 

You can also access the teaching guide through Chronicle’s website here.

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