Author: Aisha Saeed
Published May 8, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Goodreads Summary: Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.
Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal—especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.
Ricki’s Review: I read this book in one sitting. I’ve been thinking about it almost daily since I’ve read it. It’s an unforgettable story about a girl’s courage to survive. I don’t know her age, and although I suspect that the book is targeted by marketing teams for middle graders, it is quite simply a must-read for everyone. The book provides layers upon layers of themes and issues to consider. It made me think about privilege, freedom, education, and bravery, in particular. Amal is inspiring, and I greatly admire her courage in the face of adversity. When I was reviewing this book on GoodReads, I noticed that every one of my reader friends rated the book highly, and I am not surprised. Amal’s story is one that will stick with all readers.
This is an important book. This is a book that will make your heart race. This is a book that I will read again and again.
Kellee’s Review: This story affected me much in the way that Sold, A Long Walk to Water, Rickshaw Girl, or Queen of Water did. As we fight for so many injustices here in America, there are unimaginable things happening to humans in other places around the world. Often somewhere like Pakistan seems so far away, but then you read a story like Amal’s and you see that the gap between you and her is not that big and we all just want happiness in our life. Amal’s strive for knowledge and willingness to help others are traits that make her unforgettable mostly when paired with the bravery she shows throughout this book. Amal’s story will truly help readers look through windows (and possibly mirrors) and have to face the privilege we do have and the injustice others face.
On top of the very important theme and amazing main character, the story of Amal Unbound is heartwarming as well as heartbreaking and heart wrenching. And there is a truly suspenseful part also! The story is definitely one that will keep kids reading while also doing all of what I said above.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could use this book as a read aloud, close reading/analysis, lit circle/book club, or classroom library text. It is rare that Kellee and I designate a book with all of these categories, but it’s a very adaptable text. It might be interesting for teachers to use this book as a whole-class read but using book groups. The groups could select a theme to study (e.g. education) and read other fiction and nonfiction related to the theme. This might allow for rich discussion across groups where they share their findings and teach each other.
- In what ways did Amal show courage? Did you agree with all of her actions?
- What is the role of education in this book?
- Which characters stood out to you? What made them three-dimensional?
- What is the role of family in the text?
- What do you think the author’s purpose(s) might be?
We Flagged: “If everyone decided nothing could change, nothing ever would.”
Read This If You Loved: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, Sold by Patricia McCormick, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, The Queen of Water by Laura Resau, Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams, Diamonds in the Shadows by Caroline B. Cooney, Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples, So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Published June 13th, 2017 by Clarion Books
Summary: This summer, comedy writer and YA author Michael Rubens makes his middle grade debut with Emily and the Spellstone, a hilarious and accessible fantasy about growing up and coming into your own.
Emily is fed up with her frustrating family and the clique-filled hallways of elementary school. All she wants for her twelfth birthday is a cell phone, but of course her tech-obsessed older sister had to go and get carpal tunnel, so now Emily isn’t allowed to have one. Worst birthday ever. As she stomps off down the beach to get away from it all, she stumbles across a strange stone that seems to speak to her, and looks oddly like the cell phone she desperately wants. What Emily doesn’t know is that this weird rock is actually an ancient Spellstone, and only she can unlock its powers. What could go wrong?
Rubens’ whimsical wordplay and delightful prose bring this unpredictable adventure to life. Monsters and magic will inspire readers’ imaginations, while Emily’s more terrestrial troubles like mean girls and annoying little brothers will resonate with anyone who has ever been new or felt out of place in their own family. According to Booklist, “the quick pacing, playful narration, and high stakes are plenty to keep reluctant readers and young fantasy fans engaged.” With a diverse cast of supporting characters and a spunky heroine, this wacky romp is a perfect summer read.
About the Author: Michael Rubens is the author of two YA novels, Sons of the 613 and The Bad Decisions Playlist, and one novel for grownups, The Sheriff of Yrnameer. A correspondent and producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, he has also been a producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His writing has appeared in places like The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, Salon and McSweeney’s. He lives with his family in Brooklyn. Visit his website at www.michaelrubens.com.
Review: It is obvious that Rubens writes comedy for a living. Emily’s story is a perfect mix of laugh out loud moments, puns, and crazy adventures with monsters and evil. And unlike other books this reminded me of, Rubens has created his own monsters and villains instead of using an established mythology which means it made it really hard for me to make predictions, so I was on the edge of my seat (LAUGHING along the way) the entire novel. As soon as I finished, I went on Twitter to make sure all of my middle grade teacher friends knew about this one because I think that fans of Riordan’s books are going to really enjoy this one.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, I picture this book in classrooms/libraries for independent reading or being used in classes during lit circles/book clubs. However, there are some really funny read aloud parts that could definitely be used to discuss humor, word choice, puns, and voice. It would also be lots of fun to make up apps that could be on Emily’s Spellstone.
- How did Emily change from the beginning to the end of the novel? What plot points were key in her character development?
- Find examples in the book that show Emily’s and Gorgo’s sense of humor.
- How do you think Emily feels by the end of the book about being a Stonemaster?
- Were there any signs throughout the book to indicate that Gorgo was going to make the decision he did?
- If all of the humorous passages were eliminated from the book, how would that change the tone of the book? How does the word choice the author chose help make the tone what it is?
- Why were the Venomüch family included in the story?
Flagged Passages: “Emily lay as still as she could, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe.
There was something lurking in the darkness.
She couldn’t hear it or see it, but she could feel it, the sheer foulness of its presence.
It wasn’t Gorgo. She knew that. This was something else. Something far worse. . . . . .
‘There was. . . something in my room last night.’
‘Ah, right. I thought I felt somehthing. Some sort of shade or spirit, probably sniffing around after the Stone.’
He shrugged. ‘Dunno. Maybe someone sent it. Or maybe it just showed up, drawn by the Stone,’ he said. ‘You’re about to say ‘why’ again, aren’t you?’
‘Yes. Why. Why would that thing be drawn to this stone?’
‘Because it’s a Stone. They’re incredibly powerful, Stones are. Powerful and rare. A Stonemaster can use them to work great magics. That’s a very ancient relic you have there. Well, sort of modern ancient. The first Stones were massive. You’ve heard of Stonehenge, right? Well, thos are really old-fashioned. You couldn’t move them anywhere. The one you have, though, it’s portable, or, uh. . .’
‘Mobile?’ said Emily.
‘A mobile. . . Stone?’
‘A mobile Stone for casting spells.’
‘It’s a Mobile. Spell. Stone.’
‘You seem fixated on that.’
‘It’s like a mobile cell phone.’
‘Not sure what you’re talkinga bout, but if you say so.’ (p. 55, 69-70)
Read This If You Love: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw by Todd Calgi Gallicano, Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket
**Thank you to Tracy at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**
Landscape with Invisible Hand
Author: M. T. Anderson
Published: September 12, 2017 by Candlewick
Summary: National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.
When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth – but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem “classic” Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and what he’s willing to sacrifice – to give the vuvv what they want.
- Futuristic, dark satire that is an unusual, intelligent social commentary
- Forces readers to think deeply about their personal, social, and political lives
- Somewhat non-linear story with an interesting layout: each chapter has a title that corresponds with the artwork created by the main character
- Stylistically, Anderson chooses every word with intention. The text is a 149-page novella that features chapters that can be taught instructionally as vignettes.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to begin by looking closely at the text for short passages that they find particularly interesting or inspiring. Students might write a one-pager that a) unpacks the passage they chose, and b) examines the passage through the lens of a topic that they find particularly interesting and relevant. For example, they might connect a passage to the following topics which are relevant in the text:
After the students have written several one-pagers and explored a variety of topics, they might select one topic that interests them most. They can research scholarship about the topic and look across the entire text for relevant passages.
Sample research paper topics:
Examining economic disparities and classism within Landscape with Invisible Hand
Finding the soul: M.T. Anderson’s treatment of love and art in Landscape with Invisible Hand
Discussion Questions: Do you think M. T. Anderson had a purpose for writing this text?; What kind of social commentary does this text offer?; What does it tell us about love? Society? Humanity?; How does Anderson use art to enhance the story?; How is the text structured? How does this enhance your reading?
Flagged Passage: “We are tiny figures, faceless, pointing at wonders, provided for scale, no lives of our own, surveying the landscape that has engulfed us all.”
Read This If You Loved: Feed by M. T. Anderson; Books by Scott Westerfeld; The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Thank you, Candlewick!
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Anticipated Publication: September 19, 2017 by Two Lions
Goodreads Summary: A fresh take on a young Jack who is not keen on climbing any beanstalks and would much prefer to tell his own story.
Ricki’s Review: This book is hysterical. My four-year-old and I love reading it. (I am not entirely sure he understands that it is a fairy tale retelling, but he still adores it.) Every night, it is the first book he picks to read together. The book has an unnamed narrator who insists on telling the traditional “Jack and the Beanstalk” story. Jack has other plans, though. He and the giant decide that they don’t want to follow the traditions of the story. As you can see below in the flagged spread, Jack pushes back on the tale. I laugh every time I read this. My favorite part is the appears of Cindy (Cinderella), who invites Jack to her ball. Josh Funk is an incredible author, and I will read anything that he writes. This is a fantastic book for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Kellee’s Review: Trent loves the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. They must read it at his school because he knew the whole story, and I think it is hilarious that he argues with me about what is happening in the book. We’ve talked about how this is a different Jack story but he, like the narrator, just really wants Jack to do what he is supposed to. I love the way that Josh Funk has broken the 4th wall and has the narrator talk to the characters; it is such a unique way to twist the fairy tale and makes it so hilarious. I look forward to reading this to Trent and students for many years.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Most obviously, this book would be great to kick off a unit on writing fairy tale retellings. It teaches students to break the mold and repurpose stories to add humor and intrigue. It would also be fun to pair this story with other fairy tale retellings to ask students: What did the authors do to revision the stories? How are they successful?
Check out a book trailer, collector’s cards, and more at https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/
Discussion Questions: How does Jack break our expectations?; How are Jack and the Giant different from the narrator? Who did you find yourself rooting for?; How does the author add humor to the story?; How is the text structured to help the reader follow both the narrator and Jack?; What other fairy tales could you retell?
Read This If You Loved: Dear Dragon by Josh Funk; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
About the Author and Illustrator:
**Special Thanks to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for Providing Copies to Review*
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
Author: Stephanie Roth Sisson
Published: October 14, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
A Guest Review by Brittany Brown
Summary: A curious boy living in a small city apartment finds the world astonishing. He wants to know about light bulbs, inch worms, and rocket ships. Carl sets out on a journey to find answers, but finds bigger, even more powerful questions. Through his research and studies, Carl eventually earns the title of Dr. Carl Sagan and spends his life seeking knowledge and understanding about the universe. This young
boy’s contributions to science and education have inspired many children everywhere to question the world around them. His story will resonate every child who has ever wondered “how” or “why” or spent an evening looking up at the night sky.
Review: I am constantly looking for books which will inspire my students and get them excited about learning. This book, which is brought to life with beautiful illustrations and the great mysteries of the universe, did that for myself as an adult, too. After reading it, everyday life is once again imbued with the magic and novelty it had in childhood. In Sagan’s eyes, there is no phenomenon too mundane to investigate. The curiosity which most adults leave behind drove Sagan to be the lifelong learner that all teachers hope to foster in their students. Reading this book shows that science is all around us, that we all belong here in the universe, and that in everyone there is a scientist. I absolutely loved reading this book, and as a new teacher building my classroom library, this is the first one which I will be purchasing multiple copies of to share with my students.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story would pair well with any science or biography unit. It would also serve as a great example of narrative nonfiction.
The most obvious use for this story is in a science unit. I would love to use this book to open up a discussion at the beginning of a unit on the solar system. Not only would it generate excitement, it would also begin to build some vocabulary and background knowledge. It would make the information in the unit more personal and relevant to kids, and would be a great launching point to encourage students to come up with their own questions about how the world works.
This book is also a wonderful book to use for mini lessons in writing. Using this book as an example, a teacher could lead a discussion on how to choose which life events to include in a biography, how to sequence and organize it, and how to incorporate quotes from a historical figure into a writing piece. It also shows how to include facts and achievements in an engaging way, and how to demonstrate a person’s impact on history.
Finally, this book would also be a superb example of narrative nonfiction. Despite containing lots of scientific facts, it reads like a storybook and the illustrations do much of the talking. Students will be captivated with the descriptive narration, and discussions could explore their experiences as readers or how they may be able to attempt this style in their writing.
Discussion Questions: What are your big mystery questions? Where would you go to try to find answers to them? What character traits helped Carl on his journey? What impact did he have on the world? Who does he remind you of?
Read This If You Loved: What Do You Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada, I Wonder by Annaka Harris, You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Edros by Deborah Heiligman, Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, a Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh
Thank you, Brittany!
Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick
A Guest Review by Emily Baseler
GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.
The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.
Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.
Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?
Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)
Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
Thank you, Emily!
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
Created by and Photographer: Joel Sartore
Poet: Kwame Alexander
Published February 14th, 2017 by National Geographic Society
About the Book: National Geographic Kids proudly announces the release of Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures, a picture book for children ages 4-8 written by Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander and featuring photographs by acclaimed National Geographic Fellow and photographer Joel Sartore. Animal Ark pairs Alexander’s uplifting poetry and prose with more than 100 of Sartore’s most compelling images of the world’s species to create a book for children that highlights the importance of conservation and the beauty of the animal kingdom.
Animal Ark is inspired by the National Geographic Photo Ark, a multiyear effort with Sartore and the National Geographic Society to document every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. To date, Sartore has completed portraits of more than 6,000 species, photographed on either a plain black or white background. No matter its size, each animal is treated with the same amount of affection and respect. The results are portraits that are not just stunningly beautiful, but also intimate and moving.
The companion adult book, National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals (National Geographic Books)—with a foreword by Harrison Ford—also showcases Sartore’s animal portraits: from tiny to mammoth, from the Florida grasshopper sparrow to the greater one-horned rhinoceros. In 2017, National Geographic Photo Ark exhibitions are opening at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Dallas Zoo, and the Cincinnati Zoo. Learn more at NatGeoPhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.
About Joel Sartore: Joel Sartore is a photographer, speaker, author, teacher, conservationist, National Geographic fellow, regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark. In addition to the work he has done for National Geographic, Sartore has contributed to Audubon magazine, Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, the Smithsonian magazine and numerous book projects. His next book for adults, National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals will be released in March 2017.
About Kwame Alexander: Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times bestselling author of 21 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children. His other recent works include Booked, Surf’s Up, and He Said, She Said. He is the founder of Book-in-a-Day, a student-run publishing program that has created more than 3,000 student authors in 75 schools; and LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy project that builds libraries, trains teachers, and empowers children through literature. In 2015, Kwame served as Bank Street College of Education’s first writer-in-residence.
My Review: I am in love with all of these animals! Do you see how cute they are?!?! And I love the message that Joel Sartore, National Geographic Kids, and Kwame Alexander are spreading with this text: “At its heart, the Photo Ark was born out of necessity… I started to see that people weren’t paying much attention to the fate of all the others species we share this planet with. Without action, and soon, I worried that many animals could go extinct. The Photo Ark is my answer to this. By introducing the entire world to thoughts of photographs of [animals], I hope we can get everyone following, liking, tweeting, and even talking about this wondrous world of ours.” -Joel Sartore. I care deeply for all living things, and I have the same fear that Sartore has–that too many people are so caught up in their own little worlds that they aren’t focusing on the big world around us. The continual denial of climate change, the recent possible elimination of many of the EPA’s environmental protections, and so many other things makes the possibilities of us ruining our Earth even closer to reality 🙁
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Animal Ark has writing and science opportunities for the classroom. First, the theme of the book works beautifully within a science unit about endangered animals. Mix the text with the website What is Missing? by Maya Lin, and there are so many opportunities to discuss conservation and sustainability. Kwame Alexander’s poetry also gives an opportunity for poetry writing. In the Author’s Note, National Geographic shares information about haiku. Although all of Kwame’s poetry does not fit the traditional haiku format and we wouldn’t recommend it for a haiku mentor text, it shows how poets can take a traditional format and embrace yet manipulate it for their purpose.
Discussion Questions: Which animal would you like to learn more about?; What can humans do to help save these animals?; What is the theme of Animal Ark? What is the author/photographer trying to teach us?
Read This If You Love: National Geographic texts about animals, Poetry anthologies about nature including Water is Water by Miranda Paul, Books about making a difference like Dare to Dream…Change the World by Jill Corcoran & Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thomson
**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing copes for review!**
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