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Isle of Blood and Stone
Author: Makiia Lucier
Published: April 10, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.

The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.

Review: I absolutely adore this book. Makiia Lucier did an excellent job of incorporating strong characters, resistance to discrimination, mystery, romance, and interesting elements of the fantastic all in one novel. The plot had me completely riveted and I spent a lot of time while not reading thinking about the big reveal I knew was coming. Lucier had strong female characters who consistently proved to be as independent and capable as their male counterparts. The quest narrative was something new and fascinating that will certainly have all readers sticking around until the end. And best yet, this was the first book I have ever read about map-making. The incredible world building required no info dump, nor unrealistic exposition, because Lucier’s characters are often seen either drawing or studying maps. The issues discussed, the characters created, and the world formed came together to make a wonderfully mysterious and incredibly fun novel to read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book is a great way for students to look at discrimination. Although the races represented in this novel are of a fantastical nature, they are still ripe for discussion. You can ask your students to think about the real-life connections to the way that Mercedes is treated, being of mixed race. There are many books that address this type of racism directly, making it one of the main aspects of the story. Lucier addresses the issue a few times but does not make it a major plot point. It would be really interesting to discuss this as a plot element but not a form of social commentary.

It could also be interesting to look at and start a discussion on the treatment of illness in our society. There is an island in this novel where lepers are quarantined, often against their will. Although we have nothing exactly like this in society, there are certainly loose parallels in the ways that we treat people with diseases and disorders. It would be really beneficial to start a conversation with students about this form of social imprisonment that is rarely discussed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What parts of this novel reaffirm gender stereotypes, and which break away?
  • Can you think of any ways that Mercedes’s treatment in the novel is reflected in the real world?
  • What does this novel say about the way that illness is treated in society?

We Flagged: “It was not the first time someone had spat at Mercedes, or even the fifth, but it had been some years since Elias had witnessed the insult.”

Read This If You Loved: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Scythe Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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On the Come Up
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 5, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

My Review: After reading this book, I promptly went into my course syllabus for next semester and swapped out another book to include this one. There are so many things that I love about this book. In particular, I really liked how this book tackled the issues of violence against and the assumptions stereotypically made of black females. There are only a few other recent books that tackle these issues, and they are critically important. I get incredibly frustrated by assumptions like “aggressive black female.” Angie Thomas deftly addresses these assumptions and provides a variety of angles for readers. Bri, the narrator, is incredibly strong, and I admire her greatly. I will never have a daughter, but if I did, I would be so proud if my daughter turned out to be like her. This book just feels different from any book that I’ve read. It offers something different that is going to make for great classroom conversations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am going to be using this book in a Social Movements and Collective Action course. I will be using it with other texts to talk about the history and currency of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I am very excited that this book exists in the world, and I know that my students will love it.

Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?

Flagged Passage: “There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”

Read This If You Loved: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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Rescued
Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press

Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

ReviewI think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.

I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.

I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.

As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.

Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!

The Unit

Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:

  • Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
    • These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
    • Focus questions:
      • 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
      • 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
      • 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
      • 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
      • 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
    • The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
  • Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
  • Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)

The Field Trip

Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!

I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit http://www.centerforgreatapes.org/.

Author Virtual Visit

After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:

  • Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet? 
  • Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
  • Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet? 
  • While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
  • Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When? 
  • Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
  • How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario? 
  • How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland? 
  • How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew? 
  • Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal? 
  • Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book? 
  • Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
  • Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
  • You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word? 
  • What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?

We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:

Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:

  • Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
  • Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
  • I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
  • Apes should not be kept against their will.
  • I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
  • Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.

Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).

  • What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
  • Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
  • In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
  • Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
  • How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?

Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)

Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions: 

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

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

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

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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?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Loved: Prince and Pirate 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

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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?

Flagged Spread: 

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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