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The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Publication Date: January 11, 2022 by Random House

Summary: Congressman and civil rights advocate Elijah Cummings dedicated his life to public service. This comprehensive and visually stunning biography details his humble beginnings and unwavering faith as he waged an endless battle for truth, justice, and equality.

We can do better.

When Elijah Cummings was a little boy, he struggled in school. His teachers thought he talked too much and asked too many questions. They said he’d never be able to read or write well.

Despite his difficulties, Elijah never gave up. He persevered, having faith that with hard work, he’d be able to achieve his goals.

Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.

Carole Boston Weatherford and Laura Freeman marry words and images beautifully in this picture book biography of politician and civil rights champion Elijah Cummings, detailing his inspiring journey–from his humble beginnings as the son of former sharecroppers to his unwavering faith as he became a lawyer, state legislator, and leading congressman. Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.Discussion

Ricki’s Review: This book had phenomenal pacing. I felt like I really came to understand Elijah Cummings’ life story, and I learned a lot. It includes information about his childhood through his adulthood, which I really appreciated. All three of my children loved reading it, and even my two-year-old sat for the entire book and asked questions.

In classrooms, some stories are highlighted and emphasized every year, and I was glad to read a book highlighting Elijah Cummings’ story and his impact on the Civil Rights movement. He was a phenomenal human being who contributed greatly to the world, and this story beautifully depicts his story.

Kellee’s Review: You can always trust Carole Boston Weatherford to write a beautiful, researched, and well done piece of art, and this is no exception. Elijah Cummings was called the North Star of Injustice because he was a beacon for others to follow in what was just.

However, unlike other civil rights leaders, his history is less known, so this book will perfectly serve as an introduction to Cummings’ life from childhood to death. It shows how his foundation for faith and justice built him up to be the man he was.

I also loved the shout out to the library and librarians! (Though the story of his school counselor telling him he couldn’t be a lawyer was devastating, and I am so glad he proved them wrong!)

And I cannot talk about this book without talking about the beautiful illustrations. Freeman’s art brings the story to life and is so realistic!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn about Elijah Cummings?
  • How did Elijah Cummings’ early life impact his adulthood?
  • What contributions did Elijah Cummings make on the Civil Rights Movement?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, We March by Shane W. Evans, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

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**Thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**

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Waffles and Pancake: Planetary-YUM
Author: Drew Brockington
Published October 26, 2021 by LBYR

Summary: Inspired by his beloved Catstronauts series, Drew Brockington is going back in time to when everyone’s favorite Catstronaut, Waffles, was a kitten!

One very special Saturday, Dad-Cat decides to take Waffles and his sister Pancake to the big city to go to the science museum! While they’re there, the kittens see extraordinary things, like dino-cats, hairballs in 4D, and even the planetarium. But as the kittens learn about constellations and Neil Pawstrong, they get separated from Dad-Cat. Oh no!

Will the kittens be able to find their (possibly invisible) Dad-Cat? Or will they get stuck living in the museum and eating star tots and tuna melts fur-ever?!

Ricki’s Review: The Catstronaut series is a huge hit in our house, so I was thrilled to receive this book. This prequel is so fun, and I love talking about prequels with students. It inspires so many questions and also reminds readers to think about story context in magnificent ways. My kids love to read books that offer interdisciplinary and nonfiction information, so I was very pleased with this book. It allows for rich opportunities for inquiry. Teachers will find easy connections and teachable moments within this text. 

The humor of this text makes it a very fun book to read with kids. My two boys (ages 5 and 8) absolutely loved it.

Kellee’s Review: First, I must share how much Trent loves the Catstronaut series. It was the first series that he found on his own, loved, and even asked his librarian to get the rest of the series for him. When he heard I was going to get and review a Catstronaut prequel, Trent was SO EXCITED! And he loved it, too.

This prequel sets up the stage for the Catstronaut books. It shows where Waffles and Pancakes got their love for science which is a great set up for the main series. I also love that this book is for younger readers so will be a great scaffold.

I also really liked the cross-curricular aspect of the graphic novel. It adds an extra element to it that will lend to it being a great addition to home, classroom, and school libraries.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • Read Waffles and Pancake and have students guess what they think the kittens will do when they grow up. Then read the first Catstronauts book, and have students check their prediction.
  • There is a lot of science in this little book! As reading it, connect science lessons with the book. Topics include: Electric charge, astronomy, constellations, moon landing (history, too!), meteors/meteoroids/meteorites.
  • Have students look up the closest science museum to them and look at the map. Compare/contrast with the Big City Science Museum. (This read aloud would also be a fun reason to go on a field trip!!)

Discussion Questions: 

  • Waffles and Pancake lose their dad when at the science museum. What did they do that you should always do if you lose your adult?
  • The author created Waffles as a puppet, who stars in the author’s YouTube drawing show, “Let’s Do Fun Stuff Together.” How does this show inspire you? What kinds of characters can you imagine?
  • This book is a prequel. If you have read the Catstronaut series, is this what you imagined for the prequel? How might you imagine it differently?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: the Castronaut series, the Narwhal & Jelly series, the Elephant & Piggie series

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**Thank you to Julia at Wunderkind PR for providing a copy for review!**

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Have You Seen Gordon?
Author and Illustrator: Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan
Published: September 28, 2021 by Simon & Schuster

Summary: Packed with vibrant and dizzying artwork, this hilarious story cleverly riffs on classic seek-and-find books and will have young ones laughing out loud as the narrator struggles to get the characters to play along.

Have you seen Gordon? Oh. There he is. Gordon isn’t very good at hiding, is he?

The narrator wants to play hide and seek with Gordon and the reader, but Gordon just wants to stand out. This madcap, fourth wall–breaking picture book is packed with humor and full, zany spreads with details kids will return to again and again.

Review: This book is very funny, and my kids loved it. It is a more humorous, more accessible Where’s Waldo? but for younger children. That said, all of my children (ages 2-8) loved it. Readers are finding Gordon (and others) across the pages, and they are also listening to a very clever tale about him. As an underling theme, Gordon doesn’t want to hide anymore. I adored this charming book and will enjoy reading it again and again.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students could be inspired to reimagine their own favorite picture books, and they need not be hide-and-seek texts!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why doesn’t Gordon want to cooperate in the text?
  • What did you learn about him?
  • How is this text creatively imagined?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Funny stories, Hide-and-seek stories, Where’s Waldo? books, I Spy books

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**Thank you to Chantal at Simon & Schuster for providing a copy for review!**

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A Hundred Thousand Welcomes 
Author: Mary Lee Donovan; Illustrator: Lian Cho
Published October 12, 2021 

Summary: Welcome, come in! You are invited to travel to homes around the world in this beautifully illustrated picture book about hospitality and acceptance, featuring the word “welcome” in more than twelve languages. Fans of Here We Are and The Wonderful Things You Will Be will enjoy this timeless story about family, friendship, empathy, and welcoming others.

Welcome, friend. Welcome.

There are almost as many ways of making someone feel welcome as there are people on our planet. To welcome another is to give that person and yourself a chance at a new connection, a new friendship, and maybe even new eyes through which to view the world.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes introduces the word for “welcome” in more than twelve languages to illuminate a universal message of hope and acceptance. Mary Lee Donovan’s spare text is brought to life by Lian Cho’s illustrations that are full of rich details to pore over.

Includes a pronunciation guide, a note from the artist, a note from the author, and information about the languages featured in the book.

Review: I read this book back in August and was eager to get closer to its publication date to share it with you all. Readers are introduced to the word “Welcome” in 14 different languages, with beautiful illustrations of different cultural settings. New connections, new friendships—the book celebrates language and cultural difference. This is a book that would be lovely to share in language classrooms and would make a great book for the first day of school.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: I would love to have students learn about a different language note featured in this book. The students’ contributions could be collected and bound into their own edition!

  • What language did you learn about?
  • How does knowing how to say “Welcome” in different languages benefit you? Benefit us?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; I am Gandhi (both picture book & graphic novel) by Brad Meltzer; I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët; What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers

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**Thank you to Keely at SparkPoint Studio for providing a copy for review!**

 
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A Sari for Ammi
Author: Mamta Nainy
Illustrator: Sandhya Prabhat
Publication Date: November 9, 2021 by Amazon Crossing

Summary: Ammi weaves the most beautiful saris but never gets to wear any of them. Her two little daughters decide to do something about it—break their piggy bank! But when there isn’t enough money to buy Ammi a sari, the two girls must work together to find a solution. Will they be able to buy Ammi the gift she so deserves? With a text full of heart, and bright, cheerful artwork, this story brings readers into the home of a weaver’s family in Kaithoon, India, where the creation of saris is an art form. The book includes a glossary of Indian terms and a note about the saris made in this region.

“This delightful picture book shines a spotlight on a rural, underrepresented Indian Muslim community.” —Kirkus Reviews

Mamta Nainy is a children’s writer, editor, and translator based in New Delhi, India. She is the author of many children’s books, including A Brush with Indian Art, illustrated by Aniruddha Mukherjee, which won the Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award in 2019; and Bioscope, illustrated by Shanti Devi, which was named to the IBBY Honor List in 2012. Follow the author on Instagram @mamtanainy.

Sandhya Prabhat is an independent animator and illustrator from Chennai, India, who resides in the United States. She has a master’s degree in animation and digital arts from New York University. She has illustrated nearly a dozen picture books, including her recent book I Am Brown, written by Ashok Banker. She animates for TV and movies and creates content for social media websites such as Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Follow the artist on Instagram @sandhyaprabhat.

Review: This is one of those books that makes readers want to be better people. The two sisters in this book have so much heart and so much love for their mother that they are determined to buy her a sari. It is clear that their mother is so beautiful of a person that they feel she must own a beautiful sari. I love, love this book and really enjoyed reading it to my children. Afterwards, we talked about the many ways we can be better people.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book invites readers to take action. After reading the text, I might ask students the ways in which they can show their gratitude for the people in their lives. Then, we might begin a community action project together.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why doesn’t Ammi own a sari?
  • What do her daughters decide to do? What do they learn along the way?
  • How might you show your gratitude for the people in your life?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Each Kindness by Jacqueline WoodsonI Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët, Normal Norman by Tara LazarAdrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers

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Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.

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Having authors visit my school will NEVER get old! It is such an amazing experience for my students (and me)!

For Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s visit, she was at our school for half a day (we were splitting with another middle school), but we were able to fit in 2 presentations and book signings during this time.

The first presentation was to our two-way dual language students, and Christina gave the presentation completely in Spanish! It was awesome to support the magnet program and literacy! For this presentation, she talked a bit more about Red Umbrella because my Spanish Honors teacher plans to teach the book.

The second presentation was to our Student Literacy Leaders, 7th grade Latinos in Action, Lunch Book Club members, and several students who signed up to fill in the last of the 75 available spots. This presentation was focused on promoting her newest book, Concealed, which we were able to give a copy to each student who attended! After the presentation, Christina signed each students book and chatted with each student.

It was a whirlwind of an visit, but it was wonderful! I highly recommend Christina Diaz Gonzalez for visits–she was engaging, interesting, and the students loved her! I asked my Student Literacy Leaders to reflect on the visit, and here are some of their responses:

  • I really liked the author and she seemed like a great person and learning about her secret dream of being an author and her becoming one was honestly really inspirational.
  • It was very inspirational! I also loved how passionate she seemed about writing and reading books.
  • My favorite part was when she was talking about her idea process and how she got the idea for Concealed.
  • I learned that being an author doesn’t mean you need to have your whole book planned out from chapter to chapter, as long as you have a start and finish, you could write a book.
  • I learned that anyone can be an author if they enjoy it.
  • The visit was important to me because I love meeting an author and seeing what they are like outside of what is written in their books.
  • The visit was important because she was a Latina author, and I haven’t met that many female authors of color.
  • The visit was important to me because it was a new experience for me when it comes to visiting authors and getting a little sneak peek of their life. I enjoyed every second of it and getting a signed book for free just seemed like a huge honor.
  • It was important because it was my first time meeting an author!
  • The visit was important to me because it gave me (alongside others) a chance to take things in from an author’s perspective; it really was refreshing to hear and gain a sense of.
  • I learned that even if there’s no motivation left is to always push through the matter/problem.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Books

Concealed
Concealed

The Red Umbrella
The Red Umbrella

Moving Target (Moving Targe... Return Fire (Moving Target,...
Moving TargetReturn Fire

A Thunderous Whisper
A Thunderous Whisper

Stormspeaker (Spirit Animal...
Stormspeaker

Hope Nation: YA Authors Sha...
Hope Nation

Thank you so much, Christina, for this wonderful visit!

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Inside Cat
Author: Brendan Wenzel
Published: October 12, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: Told in rhyming text, Inside Cat views the world through many windows, watching the birds, squirrels, and people go by—but when the door opens it discovers a whole new view.

Review: Brendan Wenzel regularly impresses me. I use his They All Saw a Cat to teach about perspective, and it reminds us of the value of picture books at all levels of class instruction. I was really excited to read Inside Cat because I knew it would be just as compelling—and it was! Inside Cat can see the world in so many ways. It travels around the house and sees so much. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but the last page of this book will make you gasp.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book should be paired with They All Saw a Cat to teach perspective. Both offer different angles to questions of perspective. I think it could also be used to teach about authorship (as in authority and authenticity). Teachers might ask students to think critically about what perspectives we do or do not hold.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Inside Cat do?
  • What does Inside Cat see?
  • How do the images on the page work together?
  • What does the surprise ending teach you?

Read This If You Love: They All Saw the Cat by Brendan Wenzel, The Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker

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**Thank you to Eva at Chronicle for providing a copy for review!**

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