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Anything Can Happen in Mrs. Whynot’s Room
Author: Jayne Peters
Illustrator: Traci Van Wagoner
Published October29,2014 by Puddle Duck Publishing

Summary: In Mrs. Whynot’s classroom writing is magical; pencils hover and clay characters come to life. But… everyone has something they find difficult and Marcy is no exception. She would like to do ANYTHING but write. She has NOTHING to write about. By talking to her classmates, playing with words and listening to stories Marcy realizes she has lots of tales to tell.

Classroom Ideas Written By the Author: 

To the reader, once a book has been published, writing can seem magical and easy. (Disclaimer: There is some magic in Anything Can Happen in Mrs. Whynot’s Room) However, writing is the product of many hours of thinking, talking, questioning, observing, reading, and imagining with a huge amount of perseverance, grit and love. These are some of the skills our students need to further their creative journey and their love of reading and writing.

So let’s start with the first hurdle. Everyone, at one time or another, struggles with capturing ideas to write about. Mrs. Whynot, in Anything Can Happen in Mrs. Whynot’s Room, generates excitement and urges her students to think differently. She encourages discussion and creativity when she hands each student a hunk of clay that can be molded into any character they’d like. She wants them to write about everyday things and to use their imagination. Students learn they have full control over their story and that anything can happen as long as they can convince their reader.  Mrs. Whynot gives some good advice when she says, “Write about what you know! Write about what you do! But most importantly, write about what you love!”

Read Aloud: Discussion Questions

Before Reading

Look at the cover

  1. Who are the author and illustrator?
  2. What do you notice?
  3. What do you think the book will be about?
  4. What characters would you expect to find in the story?
  5. Do you think Mrs. Whynot’s name was chosen for a reason?

Read the back cover

Synopsis: In Mrs. Whynot’s classroom writing is magical; pencils hover and clay characters come to life. But… everyone has something they find difficult and Marcy is no exception. She would like to do ANYTHING but write.  She has NOTHING to write about. By talking to her classmates, playing with words and listening to stories, Marcy realizes she has lots of tales to tell.

  1. What do you know now?
  2. What is one thing you find difficult?

During Reading

  1. Page 4: Look at the door. It says “Imagination Required”.  What does that mean?
  2. Page 4: Why did the author use the word trudged? If she used skipped, walked, ran, plodded, etc… would they mean the same thing? Discuss the importance of using verbs that carry the message you want as an author.
  3. Page 15: What do you think the grayed illustration represents? (Could she be imagining herself restless and tired as she tries to come up with an idea? Could she be thinking that her ideas are so boring, everyone has fallen asleep?
  4. Page 29: “She bounced up to the whiteboard and whirled around to face the class.” Discuss how Marcy is feeling now. What words did the author use to help you understand how she feels?
  5. Page 32: Talk about the gray bubble. (Do you think she is continuing her story that she shared with the class?)

After Reading

  1. Was the title an appropriate one? Why or why not? What would you call the book if it was your story?
  2. Can anyone make connections to Marcy? (Text to self, text to text or text to world)
  3. Make a list like the one below with the students as you discuss all of the things Marcy did to help her become more comfortable and confident writing:
  • Molding a clay character
  • Talking about and listening to ideas
  • Creating an authority list
  • Making an “All About Me” collage
  • Getting ideas from other stories and changing them to suit your writing
  • Becoming a word sleuth
  • Carrying a writer’s notebook everywhere so that you can write down ideas
  1. Have students:
  • create an “authority list” in their writer’s notebook listing all of the things they know about or like
  • create an “All About Me” collage to jumpstart their ideas
  • keep lists of interesting words as they are reading or listening to others. Interesting verbs can be especially useful.
  • Talk about their writing ideas and tell lots of oral stories
  1. Teach students to “Show Don’t Tell” when they write. When we read we often need to infer (read between the lines) so when we write we need to show the reader what is happening instead of telling them.
    Example: (Page 12) Marcy gulped, her hands began to sweat, and she stammered, “But I can’t write.” How is Marcy feeling? Nervous? Afraid? Unconfident? That’s way more interesting than if I just said: Marcy was nervous. “But I can’t write,” she said.
  2. Page 24: We hear the beginning of Larissa’s story. Challenge students to finish it. I would love to hear about the mischief Herman gets himself into
  3. Pages 31-32: Finish Marcy’s story for her. Figure out what the promise was her dad made to the witch and write about it.
  4. Traci Van Wagoner did an amazing job illustrating Anything Can Happen in Mrs. Whynot’s Room. Learn more about her: https://tracivanwagoner.blogspot.com/ https://www.tracivanwagoner.com/
  5. Have students mold their own clay characters and use them in their next story.

About the Author:  Jayne Peters is an elementary school teacher/ literacy mentor who has taught in Nova Scotia for twenty-five years. As a child she loved sneaking up on tadpoles, late night reading under the covers and spending time at the cottage. Today, she loves watercolor painting, sunny days and country music. She currently lives in a house filled with red heads, loves molasses on “Grampy’s” homemade bread and wants the covers to stay neatly tucked in at night. When she isn’t teaching, reading or writing you will find her practicing yoga and spending quality time with her family. She is the author of Messy Jessy, Messy Jessy Get’s Active and Whispering Wings (available both in French and English). Jayne lives in Lantz, Nova Scotia, with her husband and their three children. Visit her website at http://puddleduckpublishing.com

About the Illustrator: Illustrator Traci Van Wagoner holds degrees in illustration from Utah State University and in toy design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. A longtime member of SCBWI, Van Wagoner has illustrated many children’s books, and her work appears in magazines, newsletters, and on toys and games. When not painting, she is designing and developing games with her husband at Imagine That! Design, gardening on her roof, or walking her dog in the BIG city. Her motto is live, laugh, and learn.

Thank you, Jayne, for your great classroom ideas with your book!

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Tiger Days: A Book of Feelings
Author: M.H. Clark; Illustrator: Anna Hurley
Published: February 5, 2019 by Compendium

Summary: From tiger fierce to snail slow, there are lots of ways to feel and be. A walk through the menagerie of Tiger Days helps young readers see all the feelings they have and the ways those feelings change. Through playful rhymes and colorful illustrations, this spirited book gives children new tools to understand the range of their emotions and express themselves to family, teachers, and friends.

Ricki’s Review: Compendium books always make me smile, and this book was no different. I have a two-year-old, and we talk a lot about feelings. I think this one will be particularly helpful in our discussions because he loves animals. The metaphor of animals as a way to express feelings is brilliant. We are going to keep this book nearby at all times, so I can say things like, “Are you having a Bull Day today?” For older kids, the book offers an accessible way to consider metaphor.

Kellee’s Review: Everyone has different moods each day. I, for example, have a mood calendar in my classroom that I use to show my students how I am feeling because, you know what? Some days are tiger days for me too. But as an adult, it is easy(ish) for me to identify how I am feeling, but kids have to be taught to understand feelings and emotions, and Tiger Days is a perfect foundation to start this conversation. (And P.S. LOVE the fuzzy cover!)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to introduce the idea of the metaphor. Older elementary school students could then create their own “Book of _________” using a metaphor. For instance, they might consider creating books like, “Color Days: A Book of Passions” and use colors as a metaphor for different types and levels of passion. It would require some scaffolding and careful planning, but it allows students to apply the concept of the metaphor to the world. Younger students might extend the book, instead, and create their own animal pages to create a classroom book of feelings.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal page was your favorite, and why?
  • If you could add one more animal to the book, which one would you pick? What feeling would it represent?
  • Which animal day are you having today, and why?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Loved: The Color Monster by Anna Llenas; The Feelings Book by Todd Parr; In My Heart by Jo Witek

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Love
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Published December 4, 2018 by Running Press

Summary:From award-winning author Stacy McAnulty comes a sweet story about love and what it’s really all about.

What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn’t always what you expect!

With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, thisis the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it’s important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives.

My Review: This is a very heart-warming book. I received it on Valentine’s Day, and my kids and I have read it dozens of times. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend or family member because it offers many angles for the power of love. This book offers a lot of teaching potential as students explore abstract concepts and the idea of the metaphor. One thing, in particular, that I like about this book is that it resists the commercialization of love. As readers might see in the spread below, “love needs special presents” but those presents are homemade or expressed with kindness. This is a very touching book, and I think readers will find joy in it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students take an abstract concept (hope, grief, etc.) and create their own books to parallel this one. It would require a lot of brain power and would help students explore the idea of metaphors in their writing. I might even offer poetry that does this (e.g. “Hope is a thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson).

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is love? Who do you love?
  • How do you express your love?
  • Write your own page to add to this book. How does it fit in with the other pages?

Flagged Spread:

 

Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?

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Make This!: Building, Thinking and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You
Author: Ella Schwartz
Published February 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: This book is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and supports all kinds of kid creators: those who prefer guided instruction, those who prefer to dream up and design objects on their own, and everyone in between. Within the nearly 160 pages of this book kids get the tools and the know-how to tackle all kinds of exciting projects: building a kaleidoscope, designing a fidget spinner, planting a rain forest, creating a musical instrument, and more. Unconventional scenarios inspired by real National Geographic Explorers give kids a chance to think outside the box and apply their maker skills to real life. Chapters are divided up by scientific principle, such as simple machines, energy, and forces. In each chapter, kids can start by following step-by-step activities, or get creative by tackling an open-ended challenge. Helpful sidebars explain the science behind what’s happening every step of the way.

My Review: My son loves this book so much that he took it for show-and-tell at his preschool. The teacher liked it so much that she purchased a copy for the classroom. This is a phenomenal book with loads of hands-on, easy-to-do activities. Many of the activities use materials that were available in my house (or easy to acquire). The first project my son completed was the straw rocket. He used two straws, some tape, and some paper to draw his own rocket and shoot it into the air. He has folded down the corners of almost every project as his next to-do. I love how the book is sectioned off into scientific principles. This even impressed my engineer husband. The sidebars allow me to read about the science behind the project as my son is constructing it. It is a wonderful book for learning. Although the book is marketed to ages 8-12, my 5-year-old was able to complete the projects with my help. I think 8-12-year-olds will appreciate this book just as much and be able to self-create.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book just screams for use in classrooms. It makes science learning incredibly fun. I can see it in classrooms as young as preschool and all the way through elementary school. The concepts can be scaffolded to the age of the learners, and the projects range in difficulty level.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which scientific principle(s) do you enjoy learning about? Which projects taught you a lot about the principle?
  • Which real-life things (e.g. airplanes, hydraulic systems) relate to these scientific projects?

Read This If You Love: Science Books; Engineering Books; National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas

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

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Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures
(How Nature Works series)
Author: Paul Erickson
Photographer: Andrew Martinez
Published

Summary: How Nature Worlds books don’t just catalog the natural world in beautiful photographs. They seek to understand why nature functions as it does. They ask questions, and they encourage readers to ask more. They explore nature’s mysteries, sharing what we know and celebrating what we have yet to discover.

Scorpions and brown recluse spiders are fine as far as they go, but if you want daily contact with venomous creatures, the ocean is the place to be. Blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins—you can choose your poison in the ocean. Venoms are often but not always defensive weapons. The banded sea krait, an aquatic snake, wriggles into undersea caves to prey on vicious moray eels, killing them with one of the world’s most deadly neurotoxins, which it injects through fangs that resemble hypodermic needles.

About the Creators: 

Paul Erickson creates websites, exhibits, guides, and videos for zoos, museums, and aquariums nationwide. He has authored or co-authored numerous magazine articles and three books about undersea life. His book The Pier at the end of the World (Tilbury House) was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book of 2016 by the National Science Teachers Association.

Andrew Martinez specializes in images of the undersea world and is the author and photographer of Marine Life of the North Atlantic. He travels the world to photograph sea life, and was the photographer for The Pier at the End of the World.

Review: Don’t Mess with Me is a step up on the reading ladder from basic nonfiction books about undersea life because it takes the basic information about these venomous sea creatures and dives deeply (pun intended) into the actually whys and hows of their existence.

I was fascinated by so many of the facts in the book, and I loved learning about creatures I didn’t know about as well as learning more about ones I did. Check out the Flagged Passages to see how in depth the authors got which allows the reader to get a quite solid foundation about the different creatures. Additionally, the photographs are so cool because many of these creatures live where we’ll never see them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the Nature Works series (Catching Air; City Fish, Country Fish; Extreme Survivors; and One Iguana, Two Iguanas) in a lit circle/jigsaw setting where each group becomes an expert on the different topics in the series the creates a presentation of their choosing to share what they learned about nature with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?
  • What are some clues that an animal is venomous?
  • Why are some animals in the sea venomous?
  • How does the “How Nature Works” text features help when reading this nonfiction text?
  • What are some ways that animals are venomous?
  • Pick a venomous sea creature. Create a list of 5 facts about the sea creatures to share with your classmates.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction texts exploring nature and animals

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The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

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The Story of Rock
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: 1…2…3…4! Let’s rock and roll, babies!

From Elvis Presley to Beatlemania, from Janis Joplin to David Bowie—rock has transformed through generations while ringing true with passionate sound. Rock along with the greats in this delightful baby book that introduces little ones to the rockers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to play the air guitar with adorable frequency.

My Review: Last night, my husband was reading to my son, and he asked me to bring this book from downstairs. It’s a great, enjoyable book to read and entertained both my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old. I liked how I could cater my reading differently to each of them. For my 5-year-old, I was able to show him pictures of the bands online and talk about the evolution of rock. For my 2-year-old, I was able to talk about music and instruments. We played sample music of many of the bands and had a lot of fun. I could see this working well in the classroom setting. Students might create their own Story of _________ books for children. It teaches excellent skills of summary, synthesis, and brevity.

The Story of Rap
Published: May 7, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Lay down a baby beat and learn all about the history of rap!

From Grandmaster Flash to Kendrick Lamar, rap has shaped generations and brought a voice to the voiceless. Bop along with the greats in this adorable baby book that introduces little ones to the rappers that started it all!
Parental Advisory: May cause toddlers to develop excessive amounts of swagger.

My Review: I will admit that I know a lot less about rap than I know about rock, so reading this book was a different experience. I knew many of the names but had less background information to share with my children. So together, we looked up the musicians to read and learn more about them together. It was fun to learn more about a music genre that I am less familiar with. This is another book that would pair well with a student assignment to create their own Story of _________ books for children. I love nontraditional synthesis assignments.

Wild Bios: Frida Catlo
Published: January 8, 2019 by Silver Dolphin Books

Summary: Frida Catlo was one purr-fect painter!

Meet one of history’s greatest figures in this adorable board book with an animal twist! Famous Meowxican painter Frida Catlo was a pioneer for female artists. She always painted from the heart, even in the face of health problems and personal struggles. With hilarious puns and colorful illustrations, this book brings Frida’s legacy to life for babies and parents alike!

My Review: Ahh, how I love Frida Kahlo. This book made me chuckle a bit. I will admit that I read it to my kids the first time without any of the cat references, but then I went through and read it again with the cat jokes. I wanted them to get a sense of Frida (who they are unfamiliar with) before they considered the cat jokes. This would make for a really fun classroom book. I can envision students enjoying a project that asks them to create their own Wild Bios for a person in history.

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