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Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.

Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.

Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.

About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.

Praise: 

“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine

Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.

Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me: 

Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.

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**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**

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The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael López have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Kellee’s Review: A beautiful book about the power of differences while also acknowledging the challenges that feeling as if you don’t fit in cause. I loved that the story was not exactly narrative but instead of a snapshot into multiple kids’ lives to help show different examples of differences. We are all unique and that is what makes this book and our world beautiful!

Woodson’s lyrical language with Lopez’s collage and colorful illustration makes this book a piece of art that is going to bridge gaps, help students think about others, give readers a mirror and a window, and build empathy in all that read it.

Ricki’s Review: A great many kids and adults will find solace in the text. The writing and illustrations are stunning. Every once in a while, a book comes around like this one. It is simply magical. I don’t often purchase bound copies of my F&Gs, but I knew I needed to pre-order this one after I read it. It is a great book for teachers to read on the first day. The emotional impact is powerful. Everyone has felt excluded at some time or another, and this book digs deeply into that emotion and pushes readers to analyze that feeling and push through it to find strength and resolve. I am having a difficult time conveying the power of this book. I promise you will love it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Building classroom community around kindness and empathy is essential in building a safe, trusting environment for our students, and this text will be a perfect addition to any text set you have that focuses on these topics. In addition to these social-emotional impacts, the text allows for talks of theme, mood, and author’s intent.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is one way that you feel very different than most people around you? How could people support you? How could you support others who feel different?
  • What examples of people’s differences did Woodson highlight in the story?
  • What was the mood for the first large portion of the text?
  • What is the theme of the book?
  • Why do you think the author felt compelled to write this book?
  • Why are differences important in our community? Nation? Classroom?

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, Pink is for Boys by Rob PearlmanCome with Me by Holly McGhee, We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio

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Goodbye Brings Hello: A Book of Firsts
Author: Dianne White
Illustrator: Daniel Wiseman
Published June 26th, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: There are many ways of letting go.
With each goodbye, a new hello.

From being pushed on a swing to learning how to pump your legs yourself, from riding a beloved trike to mastering your first bike ride, from leaving the comforts of home behind to venturing forth on that first day of school, milestones are exciting but hard. They mean having to say goodbye to one moment in order to welcome the next.   

Honest and uplifting, this cheerfully illustrated ode to change gently empowers readers to brave life’s milestones, both large and small. 

About the Author and Illustrator: 

When she was five, Dianne White said goodbye to her house and her teacher, Mrs. Dunlap, and hello to a new school, and her newest favorite teacher, Mr. Loop. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the award-winning author of Blue on Blue. She lives in Arizona, where she writes full-time. Her next book, Who Eats Orange?, is due out August 2018. For more information, and to download a free activity kit, visit diannewrites.com. Twitter: @diannewrites

Daniel Wiseman remembers saying goodbye to the training wheels on his bike, and saying a great big hello to skinned knees and elbows. But the freedom of rolling on two wheels was well worth the bumps and bruises. He still rides his (slightly larger) bike almost every day. Daniel loves to draw, and has illustrated several books for children. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit him at danieldraws.com. Instagram: @d_wiseman

Praise: 

“White and Wiseman have created an engaging set of vignettes that will appeal to young listeners in the process of learning new skills.”—Booklist

“This book will give courage to any child feeling a little nervous or scared to try something new.”—Kirkus

“The brightly colored, naive-style illustrations add a cheerful positivity to the book.”—School Library Journal

ReviewWow! What a great lesson within the pages of this book! As kids grow up, one of the hardest things is the saying goodbye to things as they outgrow or as the world changes. For example, Trent just finished preschool and is now in a jump start to pre-K program, so he is switching teachers. What a hard transition! We’ve also had a lot of change at my school that I teach at, and I have had to talk to my middle schoolers about change. It is hard for them, too! And the book doesn’t only deal with big changes, it also shows that seasons change, clothes change, haircuts change… Life is about changes, and we have to learn how to work through them to live our happiest life. Because of the way the book is written, a lot of discussion can happen inferring from the writing and the illustrations to help determine what change is happening to the kid in the illustration.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Activity kit including discussion questions, poetry, graphing, mazes, looking at seasons, and other fun activities here: https://bit.ly/2s3WA40

Discussion Questions: Here are some some of the discussion questions from the activity kit:

  • What are some things you’ve had to say goodbye to? Were you sad to leave them behind? Or did you feel happy that you were moving on to something new?
  • On the back cover of the book it says, “Trying new things takes courage.” What do you think this means?
  • Can you think ahead to what things you’ll do in the future? What will you be saying goodbye to soon? What hellos are you looking forward to?
  • Do you think saying goodbye and hello to things only happens when you’re a kid? Do grown ups say goodbye and hello to things?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: School People by Lee Bennett Hopkins; Time for School by Brian BiggsMonster Needs to Go to School by Paul CzajakOn My Way to School by Sarah Maizes; One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me by John MicklosWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

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

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There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published: September 26, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

My Review: This book was gripping from the first page. I found myself getting sucked into it, trying to figure out the mystery of who the killer was, but also of what Makani’s past entailed. The author, Stephanie Perkins, did an amazing job of planting foreshadowing and clues that hinted toward the answers to the multiple mysteries that kept my brain working the entire time that I was reading.

I also loved the emphasis on friendship groups, feeling like an outsider, and bullying/hazing as many adolescents face these topics every day. The way that these topics were portrayed in Makani’s friend group, and the way that the friends help Makani to deal with her hazing trials were something that I appreciated. However, there were two things that I wish were approached differently in this book. 1. Even though this is a small point, one of the characters was a stereotypical, loud Christian character who tried to force his beliefs on everyone else, including a mention of how he managed to get rid of any mention of evolution in his school textbooks. He was characterized as a Lutheran. While this probably wouldn’t mean much to other people, I am a Lutheran, and all of the Lutherans I know believe and support evolution, and don’t at all act like this negative christian stereotype character does. But, this book makes it look like all Lutherans act this way. I wish that there had been no mention of the character’s denomination.  2. I wish that more emphasis had been placed on dealing with the deaths that occurred in the books, as well as the motivations of the killer, as those were both just glanced over. This is problematic as it leaves a huge hole in understanding of the novel, and makes it harder to talk about some of the prominent events in the story. Overall though, it was a very entertaining novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to have in a classroom library for kids to enjoy. Given the graphic, violent nature of some of the scenes, I wouldn’t recommend teaching to an entire class. However, it will appeal to students who enjoy the horror genre. This book also has great potential in literature circles. Perkins does a great job of foreshadowing and giving hints not only as to what is going to happen, but to stories that have already happened that the readers don’t know about yet. As I was reading, I loved being able to piece together the clues that were given to try to guess what had happened and also what was going to happen. A literature circle could have a lot of fun trying to piece those clues together as a group. This book also touches on other important topics such as bullying/hazing and family struggles which could be discussed in a literature circle, as well as the elements of forgiving oneself/dealing with guilt (which Makani experiences as a result of the hazing incident). The one thing that I found this book lacking was any form of dealing/acknowledging grief and death, as well as an acknowledgement of mental health issues (which the killer would have to have). These failings in the book could also be discussed in relation as to how to acknowledge those topics in a healthy way.

Discussion Questions: Where do you see foreshadowing in the early parts of the books?; How does Perkins create suspense in her novel?; What is Makani’s relationship with her parents like?; What was Makani’s experience with hazing like? Have you experienced something similar?; How does blame and justice appear in this book? Is it always fair?

We Flagged: “Sharing her story now, however, had opened a valve of tremendous internal pressure. Her secret- this self-inflicted burden- had finally been released.” (page 207 of Advanced Reading Copy)

Read This If You Loved: The Merciless by Danielle Vega; Dead by Morning by Kayla Krantz; The Forest Dweller by Deborah McClatchey; Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson

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

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Love
Author: Matt de la Peña
Illustrator: Loren Long
Published January 9th, 2018

Summary: From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.

“In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed
and the sound of their voices is love.

A cab driver plays love softly on his radio
while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Matt de la Peña and  illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

Kellee’s Review: I sat here for a long time trying to figure out how to put into words how I feel about this book. I just can’t, but I will try. 

Let me give you some history. At ALAN in 2016, I believe, Matt was a speaker, and he shared how he’d written a poem about love to share with his daughter when the world didn’t seem so loving. Matt’s daughter is approximately Trent’s age and she’s his first just like Trent is, so I completely understood his feelings–the reality that we’ve brought children into this hard world. When Matt read his beautiful words, I cried. It was beautiful. At the end of the poem, he let us know it was going to be a book, and I had very high expectations.

Then at NCTE 2017, I heard that Penguin had a finished copy. I thought that there was no way that the book could live up to what I expected. But then I read it. And I cried again. I, probably rudely, found Matt right away, maybe interrupting a conversation he was having with someone else, to tell him what a beautiful book he and Loren had created. Matt’s poem had been about love, but the book is about LOVE. Love in the sense that every one needs to start thinking about–love between every person. Empathy. Understanding. Tolerance. Unity. Love for all humans.

And as I read it over and over (after I was lucky enough to receive a copy), I couldn’t think of a kid I didn’t want to share it with. I wanted to share it with my son to talk about how much I love him and how he should love all of human kind; I wanted to share it with my friend who is a 2nd grade teacher, so she could share it with all of her students; I wanted to share it with my students, so we can discuss about the love and acceptance found in each spread and each word; and I am so happy to be sharing it here with all of you so that it can be in every person’s life.

Also, please read this amazing article by Matt de la Peña: “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness” from Time and Kate DiCamillo’s follow-up “Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Bit Sad” where she answers a question de la Peña posed in his article as well as this Twitter thread from Sayantani DasGupta where she explores the need for joy in the darkeness! It truly embodies my parenting and teaching philosophy: that although kids are kids, they are also humans and future adults; life should be about being real and about happiness.

In the end, I want to just thank these two amazing men for writing this phenomenal book that I so feel is needed so badly right now, and thank you for including nothing but truth within it including inclusion of all types of people and children and situations and cultures and races and ethnicities, etc.

Ricki’s Review: I am really looking forward to seeing Matt de la Peña next month during his tour! This book is absolutely stunning, and we will certainly be purchasing many copies to give as baby shower gifts. The entire text simply emanates love. It is honest, poetically, and it treats children as the intelligent people that they are. The illustrations are simply marvelous and the words dance across the page. I simply don’t have the words to share how absolutely beautiful this book is. When I think of this book, I think about a warm, cozy house and two little boys on my lap. And these little boys make me feel love, love, love.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’ll talk about one scene specifically, which happens to be my favorite.

As soon as I saw this scene, I wanted to show it to students and have discussions with them. How does this scene make them feel? Who is the family? What are they watching? What clues did they use to answer these questions?

Then I would add in the word that accompany the scene:

“One day you find your family
nervously huddled around the TV,
but when you asked what happened,
they answer with silence
and shift between you and the screen.”

And I would ask them how these words change the inferences they made about the spread.

Lastly, I would ask them why this stanza would be in a poem about love, how it fits with the theme, and what it represents.

Another idea that I brainstormed with my friend Jennie Smith are:

  • Recreate my experience by sharing the poem first with the circumstances I shared above. Then reread the poem to them but with the illustrations.
    • After the first read, you can also have them make their own illustrations analyzing the words then compare/contrast the choices that Loren Long made with what they did.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the author and illustrator include tough scenes in their picture book about love?
  • Which scene represents love the most for you?
  • Which scene are you glad they included?
  • How does the poem differ with and without the illustrations?
  • What different purposes could this poem of love be perfect for?

Flagged Passages: *psst!* Matt may have told me this is (one of) his favorite spreads:

Read This If You Love: Love. (But seriously, read this. Period.)

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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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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