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The Forest Queen
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Published: August 7, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.

Review: Anyone familiar with the tale of Robin Hood likes the idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Betsy Cornwell’s twist on this idea changes it just enough to give the story some flavor and novelty. The characters were compelling and the relationships were truly touching, but everything felt a little too convenient to me. There were several times when characters all but died and ended up making it out without a scrape. In a world where all of the favorable characters are on the lamb, there was a fair amount of luck and inaction that saved nearly every one of them. As a gender bent twist on a fairytale and a lively retelling of an old story, this novel had merit, but there wasn’t quite enough to it to call it a masterpiece.

However, as far as representation goes, Betsy Cornwell hit it on the head. The Forest Queen, as the title lets on, has a female leading things. The role of Robin Hood was usurped by a woman and amplified by the fact that the woman is stealing from her own family to give to the poor. The other females in the novel show strength in the face of things like rape and a shocking lack of agency. There are even LGBTQ characters that add to the sense that women in this world are the epitome of overcoming their circumstances.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation:This novel is a great outlet in which to discuss rape culture. Although it is not the most prominent part of the story, it plays a part and is represented in an ideal way in relation to discussion. Because this subject is extremely difficult to discuss in general, let alone in a classroom, talking about it within the realm of this fantastical society may make it a bit easier. It would be interesting to reflect upon the similarities between the culture in the novel and our own culture in this society. It is so incredibly important to discuss difficult subjects in the classroom, but when it is in reference to a novel like The Forest Queen, it can be looked at in a more academic way.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did Sylvie have a right to encourage the village people to rebel against her brother?
  • What do the ties to the story of Robin Hood do for this novel?
  • How do women take power in this story and how does that differ from classic fantasy?

Read This If You Loved: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

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The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Published: April 11, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review: This heart-warming, flirtatious, love-filled book will bring you a wave of nostalgia. From the sunny summer days to all of Molly’s firsts, Becky Albertalli’s story is sure to set your heart a-flutter. The main characters make up an interracial family with LGBTQ members and an amazing affinity for love and forgiveness. With every passing page, the characters grow a little more, figuring out how to live their own lives while still making time for each other. There can be no doubt for the reader that despite all the conflict, Molly and Cassie will survive their teenage years with their strong relationship intact. Albertalli’s firm grasp on young love makes this book sweet and fun, with twists and turns that will make you read until the last word. This is a must read for any young adults, parents of teens, teachers, or anyone who enjoys a quick, uplifting read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: The Upside of Unrequited can start a lot of amazing conversations in the classroom. One really important aspect of the story is the main character, Molly’s weight. She has felt her whole life as though she deserves the harsh words people send her way simply because of her weight. It could be very interesting to start a conversation with students about bullying and the effect it can have on people in the long run. Another important aspect of the story that can be brought up in the classroom is identity. In the novel, Molly self-identifies as fat. She doesn’t necessarily want to become skinnier or have people stop looking at her as fat, but she wishes that her weight didn’t matter. She adopts it as part of her identity and wants acceptance for it. It would be really beneficial to discuss identity and the specific positives and negatives that can stem from it.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did the first-person point of view do for the story?
  • Did you find the adult characters in this novel realistic?
  • What was important about the familial relationships in this novel?
  • What is the poignancy of the title?

We Flagged: “I think this is me letting go. Bit by bit. I think these are our tiny steps away from each other. Making not-quite-identical footprints in not-quite-opposite directions. And it’s the end of the world and the beginning of the world and we’re seventeen. And it’s an awesome thing.”

Read This If You Loved: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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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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If I Were a Park Ranger
Author: Catherine Stier
Illustrator: Patrick Corrigan
Published April 1st, 2019 by Albert Whitman Company

Summary: If you were a national park ranger, you’d spend every day in one of the most treasured places in America. You’d have an amazing job protecting animals, the environment, and our country’s natural and historical heritage, from the wilds of Denali to the Statue of Liberty!

About the Creators:

As a child, Catherine Stier wanted to be an author or park ranger. She visited her first national park as a baby and has been a fan ever since. She is the author of If I Were President and several other award-winning picture books, and has worked as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist, writing instructor, and children’s literature researcher. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and volunteers with programs that connect families and children with nature and the outdoors. To learn more, and to download free activity sheets and curriculum guides, visit her website: catherinestier.com.

Patrick Corrigan was born in the north of England and grew up drawing and designing. After University, he was an art director in a design studio for nearly ten years. He now lives in London with his wife and cat, illustrating children’s books. See more of his work at www.patrickcorrigan.co.uk.

Review: What a great informational text about National Parks and the park rangers that take care of them! The text did a wonderful job introducing not only the National Parks and all the different ones throughout the country but also all of the amazing things that park rangers do to take care of these national treasures. I was most impressed by how it was all inclusive of all the different types of jobs that keep the parks going as well as all the different types of parks that can be visited. The text, filled with information, along with the colorful illustrations bring it all to life for the reader and keeps them engaged in a way that other non-narrative informational texts struggle with sometimes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

2019’s National Park Week is April 20-28th, and If I Were a Park Ranger is a perfect read aloud for the week! It would be perfect for when a class is learning about Theodore Roosevelt or any other founder of National Parks also.

The author’s website also includes activity pages for the book: http://www.catherinestier.com/curriculum-guides/!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What National Park would you want to visit?
  • What does it take to be a park ranger?
  • What type of person do you think would succeed the most as a park ranger?
  • How does science fit into a park ranger’s job? Technology? Engineering? Math? Art?
  • What is the author’s purpose for creating the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: National Parks, Nature, Conservation

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Giveaway!

Ten lucky winners will receive a copy of If I Were A Park Ranger by Catherine Stier. One Grand Prize winner will receive a signed copy of the book PLUS a Park Ranger Stuffed Doll, a “National Park Geek” Iron-on Patch, National Park Animal Cookies, Camping Stickers, Woodland Animal Mini Notebook, and Book Cover Postcards! Winners will be selected at random and notified via email. One entry per person, please. US addresses only. Entries are due by 5/3/19. Follow this link to enter!

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

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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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You Are Never Alone
Author: Elin Kelsey
Illustrator: Soyeon Kim
Published April 15th, 2019 by Owl Kids

Summary: You Are Never Alone is a picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature.

Drawing examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, it explores how we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it’s gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.

Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this informational picture book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas.

About the Creators:

Elin Kelsey, PhD, is an award-winning author and a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment. In 2014, she co-created #OceanOptimism, a Twitter campaign to crowd-source and share ocean conservation successes which has reached 90 million users to date. She frequently works on projects with the Monterey Bay AquariumStanford University and the University of Victoria and is passionate about engaging kids in hopeful, science-based, environmental solutions.

Soyeon Kim is a Toronto-based, Korean-born artist who specializes in fine sketching and painting techniques to create three-dimensional dioramas. She is a graduate of the Visual Arts and Education programs at York University.

Praise for Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim:

“Both important and breathtakingly beautiful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Never Alone

“The depth of the images and the surprising facts work together to create a lovely connection between the readers and the natural world.” –The Boston Globe on Wild Ideas

“Demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Stardust

“This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn. Profound and entirely wonderful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on Wild Ideas

Review: What a beautiful representation of how humans and nature intertwine with each other. Often, when we speak of our impact on our planet and the planet’s impact on us, we focus on very huge ideas that may seem so far away for kids, but You Are Never Alone shows the small things that have a large impact.

The mix of beautiful art and research-based science make for a picture book that covers such a wide range of opportunities for classroom discussions and educational activities including themes, poetic verse, science, and diorama art.

Educators’ Guide:  

Flagged Passages: 

Behind the Scenes: 

Soyeon talks about the process of creating the diorama artwork in the book.

Elin explains the scientific research behind three of the poetic lines in the book.

Read This If You Love: The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield; Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot; Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre; Over and Under Snow (and its companions) by Kate Messner

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Published: April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Hardy Boys meets The Phantom Tollbooth, in the new century! When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

About the Author: Lamar Giles is a well-published author and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. Lamar has two novels forthcoming in 2019: his debut middle grade fantasy The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (Versify / HMH) and his fourth YA thriller Spin (Scholastic).

Lamar Giles is a two-time Edgar Award finalist in the YA category, for his debut YA thriller Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014), and his second YA thriller, Endangered (HarperCollins, 2015). His third YA thriller, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) received this glowing New York Times review, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. You can see the book trailer for Overturned here. FAKE ID has been optioned by Sony Pictures.

Lamar is a contributor to the YA anthology Three Sides of a Heart (HarperCollins, 2017), the editor of the We Need Diverse Books YA short story anthology Fresh Ink (Random House 2018), a contributor to the forthcoming YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America (HarperCollins / Balzer & Bray 2019), and a contributor to a forthcoming We Need Diverse Books middle grade anthology The Hero Next Door (Random House 2019). He has published several short stories for adults. You can see tv interviews with Lamar here, and here, and here, and in a truly fun “Fun Facts” short interview, created by HarperCollins.

Lamar Giles — About the Book: “I’ve spent a lot of time talking with kids and their parents as I’ve crisscrossed the country on my writing journey,” says Giles. “Parents are looking for books to ignite a love for reading in their children, and kids are looking for fun books. I swore that if I ever had the chance to put a book full of words I’d written in the hands of a young reader they’d be the kinds of stories that drew them in willingly, entertained them, opened portals that they’d get lost in for hours. Every day I approach the blank page hoping I can write the One Book that makes all the difference in some reader’s life. I hope that The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer is that book for at least a few children.”

Praise: 

“The Last Last-Day-of-Summer reminds me that all children deserve to exist in magical spaces where their imaginations and familial bonds will them into heroism. Every single child should have the freedom to be one of The Legendary Alstons. And I, for one, am grateful to Giles, and this brilliant story, for that reminder.”
– Jason Reynolds, author of Newbery Honoree Long Way Down

“The legendary heroes of this legendary book are already legendary when the story begins! From there things can only get legendary-er!”
– Tom Angleberger, author of the Origami Yoda series

“Lamar Giles has written an instant classic – readers won’t want their time with the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County to end.”
– Gwenda Bond, author of the Lois Lane series

Ricki’s Review: Can I go on an adventure with Otto and Sheed? This pair is full of excitement, and it made me want to leap into the book to join them in their sleuthing. I loved the concept of freezing time, and I giggled as they interacted with characters who were frozen in time. This book will set children’s minds into imaginative wonder, and it will spurn creativity. Objects are personified in exciting ways, and it just tilts reality on its head. I don’t read a lot of middle grade texts, but this one was particularly fun. I am looking forward to reading this to my sons when they are a tiny bit older.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book! Let me count the ways: 1) robots; 2) time travel; 3) mysterious evil person; 4) giant platypus-like creatures; 5) flying cars; 6) giant fly paper; 7) monsters trapped in mirrors; 8) frozen time; etc. etc. So much is going on in this book that makes it so engaging. Take all of this and pair it with a cousin team who solve mysteries in their slightly-off county that now have the fate of everyone they know and love on their shoulders, and you have a book that is going to be a favorite!

I also would love to talk about the theme! However, I cannot talk about the theme. (I know–a tease!) The theme is part of the big reveal at the end. But I want to vaguely say that it is a theme that so many kids need to hear and we, as adults, need to talk to them about. (Though–even with this important theme, the book’s main pull is its just pure, fun adventures!)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to encourage students to shift reality in a bit. They might begin by brainstorming possibilities of objects to personify in the world or constants to disrupt (e.g. time). This allows for very creative and fun storytelling possibilities!

The text is also a wonderful one to practice prediction and spotting foreshadowing! As you read the text aloud, have students stop you when they think they have spotted a clue to the mystery and also make predictions between chapters about what is going to happen (don’t forget to check the predictions!).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was your favorite part of Otto and Sheed’s adventure?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
    • How do you think these comparisons/contrasts help make them a good team?
  • After each chapter make a prediction. Check your predictions throughout the book.
  • What events in the book caused other events to happen?
    • Look particularly at how time traveling affected the timeline.
  • What literary devices did Giles use that were particularly effective for you?
  • This book contains a fast-moving plot and exciting adventure. But it also contains depth in its themes and lessons. What did you learn? What would you apply to your own life?

Flagged Passage: 

“‘Well, hello, young men!’

Otto spun at the sound of the new voice. Sheed hinged up at his waist, shielding his eyes with one had and squinting into the sunlight. The approaching silhouette was string-bean slim and taller than most, thanks to the stovepipe hat propped crookedly on his head. He stepped quickly, his skinny arms and legs whipping him forward with almost boneless ease. Tipping his head toward them, the hat’s brim slashed a shadow across his face, dividing it diagonally, leaving a single crystal blue eye, half a nose, and a split grin visible.

‘Who are you?’ Sheed said, getting his feed under him.

Otto, shorter and wider than his cousin, gravitated to Sheed’s side. Both of them angled slightly  away from each other for a better view of their flanks, in case something dangerous tried to sneak up on them Maneuver #24.

‘I’m a fan!’ The man offered his hand. ‘You two are the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, correct?’

Otto relaxed. ‘Yeah. We are!’

‘You all dispersed the Laughing Locusts before they devoured the county crops!’ he said. ‘You solved the Mystery of the Woman in Teal!’

Sheed stiffened. ‘How do you know that?’

‘Doesn’t everyone in Logan County know you two?’

Yes, Otto thought, proud of their reputation, they do!

Sheed, always a killjoy, said ‘You’re not from Logan County.'” (Chapter 2)

Read This If You Love: The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca AnsariThe Night Door by Frank Cammuso, The Explorers series (#1, #2) by Adrienne Kress, Watch Hollow by Gregory FunaroCoraline by Neil Gaiman

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