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The Hate U Give
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Ricki’s Review: I don’t know where to begin with this very special book. To give proof of my love for it, I will share that this book is on my Adolescents’ Literature course syllabus for next year. It is the book that I am most excited to teach. My research concerns multicultural young adult literature, and I have read a lot of books that interrogate issues of race. When this book was hyped, I knew I had to read it, but I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as I wanted it to be. It was everything and more. The characters feel real, and the pacing is fantastic. The author beautifully captures dialogue and life in ways that will grab readers’ attention. It has a strong message without feeling didactic. Teachers will find much to talk about with this text.

You might notice that this book has a 4.66 average rating on GoodReads. I don’t know of any book with that high of an average rating. I am not one to buy into ratings, but I think this extremely high rating shows that this is a book that really resonates with people. If you plan to read one book this year, pick this one. 

Kellee’s Review: When I first heard about The Hate U Give at ALAN in November 2016, Jason Reynolds said it was going to be one of the most important books of our time. Then I started hearing about it being bid on by all of the major publishing houses. Reynolds’s recommendation mixed with the hype made me want to pick it up, but then I also was so worried that it wouldn’t live up to this hype. But it does. It lives up to it all. I have nothing negative to say about the book. It is poignant. It is thought-provoking. It pushes boundaries. It makes white people have to look at race a way that they may not have considered before. It is REAL. It is rough. It is truth. I think Thomas did a phenomenal job writing a narrative of truth that just lays out there the problems with race in our society in a way that no one can deny or argue; it just is. I think their story makes everyone more aware and more empathetic. I finished a month ago, and I still am thinking about Star and Khalil and Natasha and Kenya and Star’s family–I just didn’t want to stop being in their lives. I cannot say any more how phenomenal this book is. Pick it up if you haven’t. (And the audiobook is so brilliant if you want to listen to it.)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to analyze the varied themes of this text and dive deeply into discussions of each (power, economics, race, etc.). Then, they might create a civic video essay—one that considers a social issue and provides steps for social action to raise awareness for the viewing audience.

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: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Read This If You Loved: 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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The Wonderful Things You Will Be
Author: Emily Winfield Martin
Published: August 25, 2015 by Random House

A Guest Review by Jennifer Zafetti

Summary: This heartwarming picture book is from the point of view of a parent who is eager to see the development of their child. The parent questions who their child will become and what interests they will possess. In the end, there are endless possibilities that the future has to offer to the child.

Review: This is a great book to give to a parent with a small child! The Wonderful Things You Will Be would make for a soothing bedtime story. The sweet message of the story is that a child can be anybody that they want to be. There are no expectations set for a child to adhere to so their future is an empty canvas waiting to be painted! The book, using second person, discusses the uniqueness of you and the wonderful attributes you have to offer to the world. There are many “what if” questions that will get the reader thinking about all the wonderful things that they can do with their life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Wonderful Things You Will Be is an engaging children’s book that encourages the reader to embrace the future. There are beautiful illustrations to accompany the text. The teacher can use this book to discuss rhyming words, as well as point of view.

Discussion Questions: What are some rhyming words that you noticed in the story? How do the illustrations enhance the text? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, and If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

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Thank you, Jennifer!

RickiSig

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
Author: Jabari Asim
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Published October 11th, 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: A glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis.

John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice.

Review: John Lewis is an American hero and often what we hear about is his history as a Freedom Rider, Civil Rights Movement, and a politician, but Preaching to the Chickens shows us about John Lewis’s childhood and his faith and hard work as well as his passion and empathy for animals that helped build the foundation of who we see in the public eye. The truly inspiring story that Asim shares with us combined with Lewis’s illustrations really makes for a beautiful book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Civil Rights Movement and the individuals that fought (and continue to fight) for equal rights is something that we need to make sure the current generation of kids are knowledgeable about as equality (or even equity) are not  here yet. There are so many amazing texts out there from nonfiction to fiction and picture books to novels that share this time within our history. These texts make up a text set (or reading ladder) that can be utilized in the classroom in so many ways including lit circles, book clubs, jigsaw, or inquiry projects.  Preaching to the Chickens is not itself a story of Civil Rights but it is the story of how a Civil Rights leader and Freedom Rider became. It is the story of hard work, empathy, and faith that have led to a man who is unlike any other.

Discussion Questions: How did John Lewis’s childhood impact his outlook on life?; How did John Lewis’s practice sermons help him become the public speaker and politician he is today?; What character traits did you see in young John Lewis that show you what kind of man he is today?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Picture books and nonfiction texts focusing on the Civil Rights Movement including Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, The March Against Hate by Ann BausumThe First Step by Susan E. GoodmanBlood Brother by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace, and other texts listed on my Civil Rights Text Set

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The Dark
Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published April 2, 2013 by Little, Brown

Guest Post by: Nichole Pitruzzello

Summary: Laszlo is afraid of the dark. But is the dark afraid of Laszlo? They live in the same house, with the same creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs. But the dark mostly stays in the basement…until one night, when it doesn’t. Laszlo walks through his house, as the dark converses with him, on a journey to overcome his fear.

Review: In his unique writing style, Lemony Snicket takes an eerie childhood fear and personifies the dark in a soothing way. John Klassen’s illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the story of Laszlo, using black space and warm colors to enhance the mood. I’m very impressed by the way they take a concept that many children fear, and transform it into a friendly, calming presence. I cannot wait to add this book to my library!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book as a mentor text for a variety of mini lessons. Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, uses vivid language to talk about Laszlo’s house, and creates suspense through a blend of dialogue and narration. In addition, it’s an excellent book to teach a lesson about overcoming one’s fears. There’s so much that this book can add to a classroom!

Discussion Questions: What are some places that you are scared of, and why are they scary? Was the dark really scary? How did the dark help Laszlo? Why shouldn’t we be afraid of the dark? What should we do when we are afraid of something?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, 13 Words by Lemony Snicket

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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
Author: Scott Menchin
Illustrator: Henry Bliss
Published April 14, 2015 by Abrams

Guest Post by: Sarah Mangiafico

Summary: When a young boy learns about what makes art special—sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it tells a story—he realizes that these same characteristics are what make his grandmother special, too. As a result, he finds the inspiration to create his own masterpiece that’s one of a kind.

Christopher Award–winning author Scott Menchin and New York Times bestselling illustrator Harry Bliss have teamed up for a celebration of the power of art and expression, and the extraordinary love between grandparent and child.

Review: I love how this book expresses the different feelings that art can evoke in someone, along with the meaningful moments that it can capture. Sometimes something can be art simply for being funny or for making you feel nice; art does not have to be complicated to be art. This is a powerful message to share with readers, since many people often think that art needs to have many different meanings and lots of creativity in order to be art. The art that the boy makes about his grandma clearly shows the feelings and thoughts that can inspire someone to make art. The art that he makes about her is also very touching, and is a great ending to the book that leaves readers (including myself) ready to go out and create their own meaningful art pieces.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Grandma in Blue with Red Hat is a wonderful book that can show students how “Anything can be in an art exhibition,” and can teach them how anything that they create can be considered art (Menchin 3). This is a great book to introduce students to what art is, and can motivate kids to want to create their own art pieces for a “class art museum.” After creating their pieces, students can walk around the “class art museum” and write down why they think each piece is art. Grandma in Blue with Red Hat is a sure way to get students interested in art, and to create art that is meaningful to them in some way.

This book is also a wonderful book to share with students because the art pieces shown in the book are real and famous pieces of art. Reading this book as a read aloud can introduce students to these pieces and can lead to a more in-depth class study of them and the artists that made them. A variety of cultures are represented in the art pieces shown in the book as well, which makes this book culturally relevant.

Discussion Questions: What is art? Why did the boy in the story decide to use his grandma as an inspiration for his art? What are some things that you could make an art piece about? What makes you choose those things?

Flagged Passages: “Grandma is beautiful. Grandma is different. Grandma is funny. Grandma tells me stories. Grandma comes from far away. Grandma makes me feel good” (p. 17).

Read This If You Loved: Draw! by Raúl Colón, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, My Pen by Christopher Myers

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The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Published: April 5, 2016 by Yearling

A Guest Review by Kelsey Iwanicki

Summary: The Fourteenth Goldfish follows the story of Ellie, an 11-year-old girl, who is currently struggling to find her passion, especially following the gradual drop off with her one and only friend, Brianna. However, everything changes when her mother brings home a quirky and crabby 13-year-old boy, Melvin. Ellie notices striking similarities between Melvin and her seventy-something year-old grandfather until he comes clean and tells her that they are in fact the same person. Melvin has worked on developing a drug to reverse the signs of aging, which has successfully worked on himself.

As Ellie and Melvin get closer, they also form an unlikely friendship with a goth student, Raj. Together they give Melvin advice about being a teenager, such as giving him acne medicine and hair elastics. They also help Melvin eventually, after a few failed attempts, steal the same compound that reversed his age. Melvin’s original plan was to steal the gene so he could share it with the world and receive the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Ellie persuaded him not to on the grounds of moral ethics and how scientific impacts can be both positive and negative. Due to this, Melvin flushes the compound down the drain and starts to tour the country. Thanks to her time with her grandfather, Ellie is able to discover his passion in science and also gain a few friends along the way, Raj and Momo.

Review: What I liked most about this book was its quirkiness, mostly exemplified through Melvin. Although the relationship between Ellie and Melvin is untraditional, you can also get glimpses of a typical relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter is like, one that isn’t usually written about. The majority of characters are nontraditional, such as Raj, who is explicitly written as goth; Ellie, a girl scientist (although this is becoming more popular, usually boys are the ones in the STEM fields); and Melvin, as a grumpy 13-year-old.

What I didn’t like about the book was the build-up. Although they failed multiple times at stealing the compound, there was no suspense for when Melvin actually succeeded. Rather, he just came home one day with it. The climax actually was when Ellie had a self-realization that science has both positives and negatives, which honestly was kind of a let down because the plot had focused around getting the compound from the lab. Ultimately, it was a good theme because Ellie realizes there are good and bad things with any passion.

All in all, I did like the book, I think it could appeal to students who are interested in science and realistic fiction books.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book should definitely be included in a classroom library for independent reading because I think it would appeal for students because it is a little quirky and has some interesting characters. It could also prompt some interesting discussions for literature circles because students could discuss the ethics behind using a compound to reverse aging.

A teacher could also use it as a read aloud for a few reasons. It would be interesting to consider the other perspectives of characters such as Melvin or Melissa, Ellie’s mother. Additionally, they could talk about the character traits and what makes Melvin and Ellie such strong characters. Or, they could talk about science and ethics behind what scientists release.

Discussion Questions: If you had a compound that could reverse aging, would you take it? Why or why not?; If you discovered a compound that could reverse aging, would you deliver it to the public? Why or why not?; What do you think will happen to Ellie and Brianna’s friendship? Ellie and Momo’s?; What do you think the side affects are from taking the compound? / What do you think happened to Melvin?; Put yourself in Ellie’s shoes, how would you feel if your grandfather attended the same school as you?; What is the importance of the fourteenth goldfish?

Flagged Passage: “Average people just give up at the obstacles we face every day. Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don’t give up, because we want to solve the puzzle” (p. 47).

Read This If You Loved: El Deafo by Cece Bell; Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin; Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

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Thank you, Kelsey!

RickiSig

Posted
Author: John David Anderson
Published May 2nd, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: From John David Anderson, author of the acclaimed Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, comes a humorous, poignant, and original contemporary story about bullying, broken friendships, and the failures of communication between kids. In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.

When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same.

Critical Praise: 

“Written with understated humor and fine-tuned perception, Frost’s first-person narrative offers a riveting story as well as an uncomfortably realistic picture of middle school social dynamics.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Anderson dives into the world of middle school with a clear sense of how it works and what it needs. Kids, and the rest of the world, need more books like this one.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Anderson captures the tumultuous joys and pains of middle school with honesty, creating characters with whom readers will find common ground and insight. Words have lingering and persistent power, Anderson makes clear, but so does standing up for others and making one’s voice heard.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Acute observations about social media and school life and a smart, engaging narrator make this a journey well worth taking. Readers might even want some Post-it notes to mark the good parts.” — The Horn Book

About the Author: John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org

Review: First, I must start with stating my awe with Mr. Anderson. I have read four of his five books and each is stellar. But what really makes him stand out as an exemplar author to me is that he has tackled three different genres in his five books and each one was just as good as the others. Ms. Bixby and Posted are realistic fiction, Sidekicked and Minion are superhero sci-fi, and Dungeoneers is high fantasy. How impressive! Now onto my review of Posted

There are books that I read that just feel true to me, and Posted fits that. As a middle school teacher, I could picture all of the characters as true middle school students and know that so many readers will connect with someone in the book. Although some of the adults in the book fit a typecast of teachers (they are probably pretty realistic representations of how middle schoolers see some teachers though), they were needed to propel the story. And Mr. Sword is anything but a stereotype and one of those teachers that I just love in books because he cares! I also felt that the bullying represented is, sadly, probably a pretty true representation. Middle school really is all about finding your tribe. So many kids are trying to find their identity and are influenced by so much which sometimes leads to mean kids; however, there are really awesome middle schoolers as well which you can also see in this book. I love these middle schoolers (Frost, Rose, Wolf, Deedee, and even Bench), and I know you and any kid you share this book with will as well. 

What I think makes this book stand out, though, is the theme that words can hurt. They are powerful and can change lives. They can be used for good or evil.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Much of what Mr. Sword does in his class is easily transferable to a classroom. Throughout the book, he is teaching Julius Caesar so quotes/discussions throughout could definitely be used in conjunction with a Julius Caesar lesson. I, personally, love his aphorism activity. It reminded me a bit of the precept activity in Wonder (and they could easily work together if you do a precept activity). Mr. Sword has students create their ow aphorism to share with their students. I think this, like Mr. Sword says, helps students realize that “all of us have something meaningful to share.” Frost also talks about poetry throughout the book, his poetry and Robert Frost, and these sections could be used to inspire students when it comes to poetry.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever had a nickname? Did you like it or not? Out of all the nicknames, one seems to be more negative than the others–which one is it? Do you think the character likes his nickname?; Do you think Deedee started the war? Should he blame himself?; Do you agree with what Wolf’s parents decided?; How did Rose change everything? Do you think everything would have changed without her moving to the school?

Flagged Passages: “Words accumulate. And once they’re free, there’s no taking them back.

You can do an awful lot of damage with a handful of words. You can destroy friendships. You can end a marriage. You can start a war. Some words can break you to pieces.

But that’s not all. Words can be beautiful. They can make you feel things you’ve never felt before. Gather enough of them and sometimes they can stick those same pieces back together.” (p. 342)

Characters: 

Read This If You Loved: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Zack De La Cruz by Jeff AndersonFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly HuntWarp Speed by Lisa Yee, Schooled by Gordon Korman, Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Loser by Jerry Spinelli

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April 17           Librarian’s Quest

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April 18           Nerdy Book Club

April 19           For Those About to Mock

April 20           Teach Mentor Texts

April 21           Unleashing Readers

April 22           Next Best Book

April 23           Bluestocking Thinking

April 24           Litcoach Lou

Book Monsters

April 25           Kirsti Call

April 26           Educate-Empower-Inspire-Teach

April 27           The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

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April 28           Maria’s Mélange 

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April 29           The Hiding Spot

April 30           This Kid Reviews Books

 

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