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Islandborn
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Published: March 13, 2018 by Dial

Summary: From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.

Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.

Review: This book is absolutely enchanting. I can confidently say that it will always be one of my favorite picture books of all time. When Lola asks family and friends about the island that she came from, they have wonderful memories that they share with her. The illustrations and words dance off of the page—Díaz and Espinosa, the author-illustrator team, combine to create a work that will stun readers with its beauty and complexity. I took the pages from the F&G and hung them on my office walls, and they inspire me daily.

As I read this book, I continually paused to reflect on the words (“Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you” and “Memory is magic.”). There is so much to teach from this book, and I am really looking forward to sharing it with students. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you get in your car and drive immediately to the bookstore.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many possibilities for this section for teacher. They might analyze text and word choice, focusing on figurative language. Or they could examine the emotions that Lola experiences as she tries to learn about the place that she comes from. Or they might have students research their own countries of origin and create an image that represents the magic of the country. Or they might consider a monster that exists in their country and draw it metaphorically or symbolically. This is a book that is meant to be shared and shared.

Discussion Questions: How does Lola feel when she can’t remember the country she came from? How does she learn more about it?; What do Lola’s friends and family tell her about the country she came from? What are the good and bad memories that they share? What might the bad memory represent?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved: Works by Junot Díaz; Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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You’re My Little Cuddle Bug
Author: Nicola Edwards; Illustrator: Natalie Marshall
Published February 1, 2017 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Celebrate your little cuddle bug with this sweet and colorful rhyming board book!

Celebrate your little cuddle bug with this sweet and colorful rhyming board book! With chunky pages for little hands and die-cut cuddle bugs to add depth and interest, children will love the interactive features alongside the story.

My Review: The bright bugs pop on the page in a way that emanates warmth. This book reminds me of the popular classics like Time for Bed by Mem Fox. It’s fun for parents/guardians to read to their children, and the sweetness of the story and illustrations pop off of the page. The book is set up with cutouts and raised illustrations. On the first page, there is a baby bug, and when the reader turns the cut-out page, the baby bug is joined by a cuddling parent. It’s quite a charming little board book that made me smile.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book’s audience seems to be children and families, but I think it would also make a sweet read-aloud at a daycare or preschool before naptime. Children might draw their own cuddle bugs and write a verse from a parent or guardian to a child.

Discussion Questions: Which is your favorite bug? Why? How is this bug different from all of the other bugs in the book?; How do the bugs cuddle differently?

We Flagged: “So when the night is beetle black, and daytime’s at an end, we’ll snuggle up, two cuddle bugs, and sleep my little friend.”

Read This If You Loved: Time For Bed by Mem Fox; Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley; Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise BrownGoodnight Songs by Margaret Wise BrownA Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na, I’m Not Sleepy by Jonathan Allen, Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski 

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**Thank you to Casey from Media Masters for sharing these books with us!**

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Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.

He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.

Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.

Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.

This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is identity explored in this novel?
  • How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
  • What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
  • How is death/dying portrayed?
  • How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?

We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224

Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

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  RickiSig

**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Illustrator: Kerascoët
Anticipated Publication: April 24, 2018 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team—tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

My Review: I was very fortunate to receive an F&G of this book at ALA Midwinter. Whew! I was told that this book was inspired by a true story of a large group of students who walked with a student who was being bullied. It’s really quite magical. This is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide assortment of readers at a wide range of ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book rakes in a few awards next year. The story is beautifully done. It inspired some great conversations with my four-year-old. We were able to point to each of the characters and talk about what they were doing in each situation. That said, if I had to place this book in one age group, I think it would make a great fit at the early elementary school level.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a phenomenal book to talk about the bystanders. It would pair beautifully with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. When I read this with my son, we spent a lot of time point out several of the students on the pages. We talked about what each of them were doing and in some cases, what they weren’t doing. This book is a must-read.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the illustrator team chose to make the book wordless? How does this make the book more or less powerful for you?; What emotions do you see in the characters? Why are they feeling the way that they feel?; Do bystanders have a responsibility?

Flagged Passage: 

Image from Amazon

Read This If You Loved: My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review); Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Adventures in Science: Human Body
Author: Courtney Acampora
Published: December 12, 2017 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Which part of the brain is in charge of creativity? What is the smallest human muscle? Take a trip inside the human body and discover the amazing systems that allow us to move, breathe, and speak. After reading about everything from the digestive tract to the cornea, kids can assemble their own plastic skeleton and view the systems of the body in a layered cardstock model. With 20 fact cards, 2 sticker sheets, and a double-sided poster, this interactive kit is a perfect primer for learning about how the human body works.

ReviewThis book kit is so much fun! It’s very cleverly designed to engage readers. It includes an informational book about the human body, a skeleton to build, flash cards, a sticker sheet that features the major bones of the human body, a sticker sheet that features the organs within the human body, and a double-sided poster with outlines to help readers stick the bone and organ stickers in the correct places. As we read the book, we did the activities and filled in the human body. What a powerful learning experience! I am crossing my fingers that this kit becomes a series. I would love to purchase a kit for space, geography, etc.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could purchase five kits and divide their classes into five different groups to build the skeleton and affix the stickers onto the appropriate parts of the body. I sent a message to a few of my friends who homeschool their children. I think this kit will be a huge hit in their families.

Discussion Questions: What did you learn as you did the activities?; What parts of the human body do you find most interesting? Why?; How do the different parts of the body work together?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about the human body; interactive books and kits

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

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Astronaut Annie
Author: Suzanne Slade; Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Published March 6, 2018 by Tilbury House Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she’ll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom’s favorite sport in high school — basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.

ReviewThis book served as a gentle reminder to me, as a parent! As Annie prepares for career day, all of her family members think she’d be great at their jobs. Annie honors their suggestions by creating a costume that incorporates all of their ideas, and just in case readers doubt her ability to be a female astronaut, the back matter (which features four famous women in space) would prove them wrong. This is a great story about a girl who sets her heart firmly on her dreams and is determined to pursue her passion. I particularly appreciated the ending, in which all of her family members are supportive of her dreams. I got emotional as I read it! I adored this book and feel lucky to have it in my library.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was very inspired by the school’s Career Day setup! Each child dresses like the career they want to be. Our local school districts does a lot of neat things, and this is the kind of idea that they would adopt. Perhaps teachers could read this book and then set up a Career Day that allows kids to dress up to represent a career that interests them. What a great, inspiring school day this would be!

Discussion Questions: How does Annie react to her family members’ suggestions? How does she honor their suggestions at the end of the story?; Are her family member supportive of her dreams?; What do you want to be when you grow up? What famous people have held this career? How could you learn more about this career?

We Flagged: “And Annie jumped high off her chair, explored far-off places and soared through the air.”

Read This If You Loved: Books about space, books that feature strong females(!), books that feature family

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Nicole for providing a copy for review**

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When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel
Author: G. Neri
Illustrator: David Litchfield
Expected Publication on March 20th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From childhood friendship to brief teenage stardom, from early failures to musical greatness — the incredible story of how Simon & Garfunkel became a cherished voice of their generation.

Long before they became one of the most beloved and successful duos of all time, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were just two kids growing up in Queens, New York — best friends who met in a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland and bonded over girls, baseball, and rock ’n’ roll. As teens, they practiced singing into a tape recorder, building harmonies that blended their now-famous voices until they sounded just right. They wrote songs together, pursued big-time music producers, and dreamed of becoming stars, never imagining how far their music would take them. Against a backdrop of street-corner doo-wop gangs, the electrifying beginnings of rock ’n’ roll, and the rise of the counterculture folk music scene, G. Neri and David Litchfield chronicle the path that led two young boys from Queens to teenage stardom and back to obscurity, before finding their own true voices and captivating the world with their talent. Back matter includes an afterword, a discography, a bibliography, and a fascinating list of song influences.

ReviewWow. G. Neri and David Litchfield have captured the story of Simon & Garfunkel and released it into the world in a way that oozes the same beauty that their music does. Neri’s lyrical narrative flows and is perfect for a biography of one of the most beloved duos ever while Litchfield’s illustrations have the tone and coloring that just fit Simon & Garfunkel’s music–a bit dreamy yet raw and colorful. Their two pieces of artwork put together make for a beautiful picture book biography.

P.S. Make sure you take off the cover and look at the book design. BEAUTIFUL!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: While I’m not sure if such a class exists, this text would be perfect for a history of rock and roll class. It really goes through how the time period was changing when it came to music and how each artist influenced each other. If this class doesn’t exist, I wish it did, and I wish I could take it!

The structure of the text also lends to a great lesson looking at both why the author chose verse instead of prose as well as why he chose the timeline that he did. What was his purpose?

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author structure the book?
  • Why do you believe that the author chose to write the narrative in verse?
  • Paul and Artie, as children, are both different and similar. Explain.
  • How did Artie use his interest in math to help the duo?
  • How did music around Paul and Artie affect their music?
  • Why is this time period so important for the history of rock and roll?
  • What other artists does the author and illustrator highlight during the book as influences for Simon & Garfunkel?
  • What would have happened if Paul and Artie had given up after all of the rejection?
  • How did the duo go from rejection to success?
  • What clues can the musical connections give to us about the duo’s musical journey?

Flagged Passages: 

“We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’

…When he takes the high
tenor melody, and Paul
the low-scale harmony,
something clicks.
It reminds Paul of his dad
tuning his bass guitar:
when two strings come into focus,
they suddenly resonate
as one…”

“Bookends

…At the dawn of a new year,
the new kinds of the charts
have no idea that their lives
will be forever changed.
For one last moment,
sitting int he car together,
Paul and Artie
are still just
two boys
from Queens
dreaming about
the future.”

Read This If You Love: Music, the 60s, Rock and Roll, biographies

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**Thank you to Raquel at Candlewick for providing a copy for review!!**

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