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A Place Inside of Me
Author: Zetta Elliot
Illustrator: Noa Denmon
Published: July 21, 2020 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: In this powerful, affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year.

There is a place inside of me
a space deep down inside of me
where all my feelings hide.

Summertime is filled with joy―skateboarding and playing basketballuntil his community is deeply wounded by a police shooting. As fall turns to winter and then spring, fear grows into anger, then pride and peace.

In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of a child’s experiences following a police shooting―through grief and protests, healing and community―with washes of color as vibrant as his words.

Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers―children and adults alike―talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us.

My Review: Whew. This is a powerful text that is accessible to all ages. I could imagine reading this to a class of elementary schoolers, and I could imagine reading it aloud to a group of adults. The book is a poem that reads in layers. It offers a surface-level understanding for beginning readers and also offers a rich conception and application for more mature readers. Following a police shooting, the narrator feels a wealth of very real emotions, and each spread navigates the emotions with beautifully woven language and powerful images. I believe that Zetta Elliot is one of the greatest authors of our time, and I felt this book in my gut. It is a must read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this text to unpack the many levels of emotions that students experience with events. One way to use this book is to ask students to pick a recent event and write a poem about the varied emotions they felt (or feel) regarding the event.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the author and illustrator depict the emotions within the text?
  • What nuances do you see in the different emotions?
  • How can we use this text to enact change in our community?

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Read This If You Love: I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, You Matter by Christian Robinson, I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët

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Don’t Judge Me
Author: Lisa Schroeder
Publication Date: November 10, 2020 by Scholastic

Summary: Inspired by a true story of girl empowerment, acclaimed author Lisa Schroeder’s new novel explores trust, self-worth, and speaking up — especially when you’re told to keep quiet.

Hazel doesn’t like to make waves. Middle school is hard enough without causing more trouble, right? She’s happy just eating lunch in the library with her BFF, writing secret haikus, and taking care of an adorable rescue tortoise.

But then Hazel discovers a list that rates the girls at her middle school based on their looks — started by her best friend’s older brother. She knows she has to do something, and she can’t do it alone. The wave she’ll be making might turn into a tsunami, but if Hazel can find the courage to speak up, she might just change everything.

About the Author: Once upon a time, Lisa Schroeder wanted to join Encyclopedia Brown on his fun adventures. Since that didn’t work out, she decided to be an author instead. Lisa’s written over twenty books for kids and teens including the popular verse novels for teens I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and CHASING BROOKLYN, and her most recent YA novels, THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU and ALL WE HAVE IS NOW. She’s also the author of the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS, SEE YOU ON A STARRY NIGHT and WISH ON ALL THE STARS. Her books have been translated into foreign languages and have been selected for state reading lists. Lisa is a native Oregonian and lives with her family outside of Portland.

Review: This book is so timely and important! My county just changed their dress code, and it was introduced by a board member in our local newspaper with the title “Good riddance to dress code that singles out girls,” and there are groups of girls fighting for less descrimination in school all over the nationDon’t Judge Me is based off an event in 2019 where a group of girls in Bethesda, Maryland fought back about the toxic culture in their school.

But don’t worry–the book is not didactic, though it definitely does teach a lesson; instead, you get a book with a topic that is so important, combined with a engaging story with not only main characters who I ended up loving but also well constructed and detailed secondary characters, including parents! Oh, and a tortoise! I loved watching Hazel find her voice, Tori find her confidence, Dion find his friends, and Pip find his home!

Another thing I really liked about Schroeder’s story is she showed that kids can make a difference. She used Hazel to show that it doesn’t take radical insubordination to make that difference. Instead it takes a purpose, a plan, support, and execution. Hazel was awesome!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think Hazel did the right thing the notebook?
  • Why do you think popularity was so important to Tori?
  • How is Mr. Buck an example of one of the problems presented in the novel?
  • Why do you think the author included Dion in the story?
  • What is a safe place for you like the library was for Hazel, Dion, and Tori?
  • What do you think the author hopes you take from this book?
  • Do you think that Hazel dealt with meeting with admin well?
  • What is toxic masculinity and how can we fight it in our schools and community?

Flagged Passages: [Hazel just entered the library during the first week of school during lunch]

As I started to unpack my lunch, I heard snifling.

I turned around and saw a boy curled up, arms hugging his knees, against the shelf of picture books that some of the Language Arts teachers like to use in their class. His face was buried in his arms so all I could see was his curly, black hair. I looked at Tori, hoping she’d run over to ask the boy what was wrong. I know I could have done it, but I’m not every good at that kind of thing…

‘What’s wrong?’ Tori asked. ‘Do you need help with something?’

He wiped his face across the sleeve of his shirt, then shook his head ducking back into his arms.

‘Come on,’ Tori said. We want to help. Can you talk to us? Please? We’re super nice, honest. Oh, and I’m Tori and this is Hazel. What’s your name?’

He raised his head and sniffled. ‘Dion. And don’t y’all go and tell people you saw me crying. It’ll justm ake things worse.’

‘We won’t,’ I said. ‘We’d never do that.’

‘My moms say boys should cry more often,’ Tori said matter-of-factly. ‘That the world needs more sensitive men. Or something like that.’

Dion sniffled again. ‘Tell that to the bullies of the world.’ (Chapter 11)

Read This If You Love: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee, Nat Enough series by Maria Scrivan, Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya, The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus, Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen

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**Thank you to Lisa for providing a copy for review!**

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Respect by Otis Redding, Illustrated by Rachel Moss
These Books Are Made for Walkin’ by Lee Hazelwood, Illustrated by Rachel Moss
Move the Crowd by Eric Barrier and William Griffin, Illustrated by Kirk Parrish
We Got the Beat by Charlotte Caffey, Illustrated by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor

All Published October 6th, 2020 by Akashic Books

Respect Summary: Respect is a children’s picture book based on lyrics written and originally recorded by Otis Redding in 1965. Aretha Franklin’s iconic rendition of the song later peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1967. Redding’s lyrics continue to resonate with listeners today.

With lyrics by Otis Redding and illustrations by Rachel Moss, this irresistible book shows a young girl, her brother, and her parents conjuring as many positive futures for each other as they can dream. Packed with playful vignettes as they imagine a life full of possibility, Respect provides families an opportunity to explore themes of mutual respect—while revisiting one of the greatest songs ever written.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ Summary: These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ is an adorable story of friendship and family set against the backdrop of Lee Hazlewood’s iconic song. While there have been numerous recordings over the past several decades, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” was originally recorded by Nancy Sinatra and released in early 1966 to instant success. A #1 Billboard hit in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia that was nominated for three GRAMMYs, Hazlewood’s song continues to be embraced to this day.

With lyrics by Lee Hazlewood and illustrations by Rachel Moss, this captivating picture book tells the story of a boy and his extremely attached and very jealous cat who must adapt to the introduction of a new family member—a puppy. The funny story line and delightful images are sure to have the entire family curled up and laughing together, pets included!

Move the Crowd Summary: Innovative illustrator Kirk Parrish brings the iconic song “Move the Crowd” to life for the first time as a children’s picture book. The lyrics to Eric B. and Rakim’s hit song provide the inspiration for this instant classic.

Follow along as Parrish pairs the lyrics with colorful illustrations about a boy being absorbed into his stereo and dropped into a colorless world where the music is dull and the people uninspired. The ensuing transformation he brings to the crowd with his music is one that the whole family can enjoy together.

We Got the Beat Summary: We Got the Beat is a children’s picture book based on the hit song by the 1980s new wave group the Go-Go’s. Consisting of five members, the all-female band rocked the nation with their charisma and musical genius. Their hit song “We Got the Beat” spent three weeks at #2 on the Billboard 100 and became their signature song. Says the New York Times: the Go-Go’s “taught a new generation the power of the girl gang.”

With lyrics by Go-Go’s member Charlotte Caffey and illustrations by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor, this picture book tells the story of what it is like to live life dancing to the beat, while enjoying friends, nature, and the fun that surrounds you. We Got the Beat will make both parents and children get their groove on and show off their best dance moves.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: These four additions to this series are just as good as the original four; I hope the company keeps creating these as they are a great addition to picture books! Just like the first four, Trent is addicted to listening to these songs and following along in the picture book. I love hearing him in the other room put on the song knowing that he is falling in love with the music, the lyrics, and the book all at once!

There are so many different ways to use these picture books in the classroom. In my post about the first four in the series, I shared the idea to break students up into groups and listen to the songs that have LyricPop books then create their own picture book followed by a comparison/contrast with the LyricPop books. Also, I shared the idea to have students read the lyrics first without listening to the song and create a book. Then, after listening to the song, ask how they would change their book.

I also think that lyrics are a wonderful way to teach poetry which gives a great reason to include LyricPop books in secondary classrooms as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Would you have interpreted the lyrics the same way?
  • What interpretation of the lyrics surprised you?
  • If you read the book first then listened to the song, did the type of song it was surprise you?
  • What is the main theme of the song?
  • What poetic elements can you find in the lyrics of the song?

Read This If You Love: Music

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**Thank you to Akashic Books for providing copies of these books for review!**

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Unicorns are the Worst!
Author: Alex Willan
Published September 29th, 2020 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: This wildly funny and imaginative picture book celebrates the value of differences as a grumpy goblin gets to know his new unicorn neighbors.

It’s an undeniable fact that unicorns are the worst!

Magic is serious business, but all unicorns do is frolic around, have tea parties, and leave glitter all over the place! They’re nothing like goblins—practical and hard-working, who can put magic to good use! Unicorns aren’t helpful at all.

Or are they?

About the Author: Alex Willan grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was seldom seen without his sketchbook in hand. His love of drawing led him to earn a BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Alex has exhibited in art galleries and has painted murals, theater sets, and squirmy kids’ faces, but his true love has always been children’s books. He lives in Chicago with his dog, Harley. Visit him online at Alex-Willan.Squarespace.com.

P.S. If you haven’t read Alex Willan’s Jasper and Ollie, I HIGHLY recommend it as well!!!

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Happy book birthday to this funny tale! I am a sucker for a funny and unique narrator, and our Goblin in Unicorns are the Worst! fits that bill. You can hear his grumpy voice as he tells of his tales of whoa trying to do his job while unicorns get to just frollick and be happy. You can feel his despair while he gets frustrated with his hardworking life versus the laidback life of the unicorns. But you also witness his realization that his assumptions were wrong.  Because the reader has such a connection with him, this realization comes to the reader as well because as you read, you are starting to agree with the goblin. All of this leads to the idea of assumptions, fake news and gossip, propaganda, different points of view on one thing, and envy–all topics that are tough to talk about with young children, but Unicorns are the Worst! gives the perfect context (and is hilarious!).

Book Trailer:

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Read This If You Love: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheep by Anthony Pearson

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**Thank you to Simon Kids for providing a copy for review!**

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Kat and Juju
Author: Kataneh Vahani
Published July 1st, 2020 by Two Lions

Summary: An unlikely duo star in a charming story about being different, finding courage, and the importance of friendship in the first book in a new series from an award-winning animation director.

Kat likes doing things her very own way, but sometimes she doubts herself. So when a bird named Juju arrives, Kat hopes he’ll be the best friend she’s always wanted. He’s outgoing and silly and doesn’t worry about what others think—the opposite of who she is. Bit by bit, with Juju’s help, Kat discovers her strength, and how to have a friend and be one—while still being true to herself.

Praise: “This debut gently encourages personal growth while reinforcing the value of being different.” —Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also saves fallen baby birds and rescues them. Together with her students, they have raised over 13 fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.

Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju.

Kellee’s Review: Kat feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers: she worries, follows the rules, and doesn’t know how to let go and have fun, so she hopes and hopes that her birthday animal best friend will finally give her someone to play with and feel included; however, the problem is Juju, her new animal friend, is nothing like her. But it is through their time together that Kat realizes that her and Juju can be friends even if different and Kat even finds it in herself to do her own happy dance!

I do hope that the message that comes across to readers is that everyone should be whomever they are and others will accept you. I could see some reading it as Kat needing Juju to change her to get others to like her, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as Juju just showing and helping Kat see what an amazing person she is.

One of my favorite things about this book is the illustrations–the way that color is used so intentionally and are just so fun!

Ricki’s Review: I think we all have this yearning to be more ____ or more ____. As an adult, I really identified with Kat. As I always work to improve myself, I try to be more like other people I admire. This made for a phenomenal conversation with my children. We talked about people who we admire and how we can take slivers of these people to be better versions of ourselves, but we don’t need to (and shouldn’t) be these people. We are individuals with our own strengths.

This book is beautifully written and it is clear to readers the care and precision the author took to characterize Kat and Juju. I felt like the author was deeply connected to and understanding of the emotions that kids face. The friendship between these two characters is quite magical. I am looking forward to and excited about reading other books by this author.

Please Note: Together, we did find one aspect of the text that we wanted to comment about. We were concerned with an image of the characters wearing sombreros and playing instruments traditionally attached to mariachi music. For us, this felt like cultural appropriation. We would encourage all authors to avoid images where characters dress up in costume like this (see, for instance, the Clifford the Big Red Dog Halloween book where Clifford dresses up like a Native American). We write this not as a critical attack of the book but instead, as a way that we think all of us (authors, illustrators, teachers, publishers, etc.) can work together to think carefully about the images we portray. This does not take away from our desire to read more adventures of Kat and Juju.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Along with a read aloud of this book, great discussions could happen focusing on self-esteem, worrying, and friendship. It could also offer opportunities for critical thinking about the concept of cultural appropriation.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were going to have an animal best friend, what type of animal would you want? What would its personality be like?
  • Why was Kat so worried that others wouldn’t like her? Should anyone ever feel that way?
  • Were there times in the book that Kat’s peers could have been more interactive to make Kat feel more accepted?
  • Why is it important to have all sorts of different types of people in the world?
  • Is it okay to worry? If you are worrying too much, what should you do?
  • How are Kat and Juju like other two-character, opposite friends books like Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival, I’m Bored series by Michael Ian Black, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton

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

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This is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Dear Martin meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting YA novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Review: This is a book that will stick with me forever. The characters are powerfully written, and the plot unfolds itself beautifully. It tackles complex themes that offer excellent fodder for classroom discussion. Some of these include implicit and explicit racism, the ripple effects of White supremacy and racism, White privilege, and injustices in the judicial system. I could go on. This book is truly exceptional, and I envision it winning some big awards this year. There is so much to unpack and so much to admire in Johnson’s writing. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you buy no other book this summer, buy this one. It will make you think deeply about equity and justice.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I highlighted so many passages of this book while I was reading it. There are so many sections that would make phenomenal close readings in the classroom. I highly recommend pairing this text with portions or all of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the injustices in this text?; How can we, as a society, work to change these injustices?; How do the injustices have a ripple effect on other characters?; How does Johnson layer the plot to elevate the reading and message of the text?

Flagged Passage: “Corinne never held that memory [of Daddy getting arrested], but I know she feels it in everything we breathe. It’s in the polite nods across the street we have to make, the way our family turns down our music when there are others around. Say yes ma’am and no sir. Leave our jackets and backpacks in the car when we go shopping.

It’s in the way I carry myself that tells our story now. I can’t risk being accused of anything. Because if something goes wrong or missing, I know it’s in the back of someone’s mind that maybe I had something to do with it. And it’s in the way that the voice of the strongest woman I know stumbles when saying, ‘Hello, Officer’ as she walks through the visitation gates to see Daddy.”

Read This If You Loved: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; 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;

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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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