Chickens on the Loose
Author: Jane Kurtz
Illustrator: John Joseph
Published May 11, 2021 by West Margin Press
Summary: A happy-go-plucky rhyme adventure of chickens frolicking in an urban environment as they run rampant all around town!
Chickens on the loose.
Chickens on the lam.
Zipping from the yard,
As quickly as they can.
Chickens don’t just live on farms—they’re in the city too! In the store, on the street, they bring mayhem and excitement to all the surprised people. See where these mischievous chickens go in this brightly illustrated picture book told in verse. Also included at the back are fun facts and tips for the urban chicken farmer.
About the Creators:
Jane Kurtz is an award-winning children’s book author, speaker, educator, and she is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA Literature. She is a co-founder of the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads, an organization that brings books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia, where Jane grew up. She also heads the creative team of Ready Set Go Books, a project of Open Hearts Big Dreams to create fun, colorful, local language books for people in Ethiopia. She is the author of many books for children, including River Friendly River Wild, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book text, and What Do They Do With All That Poo?, a finalist to the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Excellence in Science Books list; it has also been named to several state reading lists, voted on by children.
John Joseph is an artist, illustrator, elementary school teacher, avid gardener, and community leader. He earned a degree in visual arts from Colorado State University and a Masters from Lesley University, and has won the ACP Excellence in Publishing Award for Best Picture Book. He lives in Colorado with his wife, two sons, and a German shepherd.
Meet Jane Kurtz and learn more about Chickens on the Loose:
“Urban backyard chickens go on a madcap tour of the city in this rhyming romp. . . the narrative bounces off the tongue. The marker-bright illustrations are frenetic and filled with humorous details.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“In jaunty pitch-perfect rhyme and splendiferous, chaotic color, Jane Kurtz and John Joseph combine forces to tell the story of recalcitrant urban chickens who burst forth from forced chicken coopery to explore a lively, diverse neighborhood rich with thrift shops, yoga studios, food carts, pet shops, and street art–all free for the pecking. At the end of an energetic day, the chickens-on-the-loose return to their henhouse, bedraggled but with plans for a rerun! Prepare for a rambunctious reading experience.” ~ Toni Buzzeo, Author of 28 picture books for children, including the 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, ONE COOL FRIEND
Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love urban chickens! We have a town nearby (Oviedo) which has chickens that roam in their downtown, Jim has a cousin with chickens, and I have a past student with chickens. I love the idea of mixing farm animals and cities because it adds a bit of whimsy and quietness to the bustle and hustle.
Though in Chickens on the Loose the chickens definitely add whimsy but are not quiet–instead they add a bit of chaos. 😂
Reading this out loud was so much fun! The rhyming and rhythm added a musical element to reading the book. And within the rhymes there are great vocabulary moments, too! For example, some words Trent and I got to talk about were lam, peckish, and plucky.
Also while reading, Trent definitely saw that the book alludes to the gingerbread man story. It was fun listening to him share how the book is similar and different to The Gingerbread Man. There’s also a chicken Mona Lisa at the end that cracked him up! Great way to introduce allusion!
Additionally, the backmatter of the book gives information about keeping urban chickens and some fun chicken facts. It is a great way to connect the story to science.
The publisher also has an activity kit available for the book:
- What would you name the painting the chick painted at the end?
- Where do you think chickens would run to in your town?
- Write your own rhyme that starts with “Chickens on the loose,…”
- What new words did you see in the book?
Read This If You Love: The Gingerbread Man by various; Other chicken picture books like Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl, Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, Little Chicken’s Big Day by Jerry Davis, Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman, Chicken Story Time by Sandy Asher, Pirate Chicken by Brian Yanish, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, Chicken Little by Sam Wedelich; Follow that Frog! by Philip C. Stead; Nibbles series by Emma Yarlett
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**
Pippa Park Raises Her Game
Author: Erin Yun
Published February 4th, 2020 by Fabled Film Press
Summary: Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”
At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.
As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.
A Contemporary Reimagining of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for Middle Graders
About the Author: Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas. She received her BFA in English from New York University and served as president of its policy debate team. This experience came in handy when she became the debate consultant for the Tony-nominated Best Play on Broadway―What the Constitution Means to Me. Erin is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has written reviews and articles for BookBrowse. She developed her author program, an interactive writing workshop, which she has conducted in person and virtually at schools, libraries, and bookstores. She currently lives in New York City, and yes―she used to play basketball as a middle grader!
- She’s obsessed with personality quizzes and takes them for her characters.
- She is half Korean, and half Polish/Germanic.
- Her favorite foods include: kimchi-jjigae, cherry ice cream, and walnut cakes filled with red bean.
- She ran a bubblegum-selling business in middle school until it was shut down.
- Her family lore says that her grandfather lost part of his farm in a game of Go-Stop.
- She likes creating scavenger hunts in which participants dress like secret agents and follow clues.
- Her favorite places in the world include Seoul, London, and Tokyo.
- She was president of the New York University policy debate team.
- Her family dogs, Belle and Yoko, both bark incredibly loudly despite being foolishly tiny.
- She lives in New York City, but folks can tell she grew up in Texas by how often she says ya’ll.
Review: Okay, okay, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover was yelling READ ME to me, and I am so glad that I finally had the chance to and now share it with you all!
There is so much good happening in this book!
First, I love a good retelling! It brings a classical tale and its themes to a modern era.
Second, so many readers are going to connect with Pippa either because they understand what it is like to go to a new school or to fit in with a cool crowd or to have people not understand how important something is to you.
Third, there is so much to discuss with the book! You’ll see below in the discussion questions that in addition to connecting it with Great Expectations, there are opportunities to discuss family, the American Dream, culture, empathy, friendship, and more!
Fourth, I loved how complex the characters and situations were. Pippa is our protagonist but anything but perfect. Mina, Pippa’s sister, is so strict and seems heartless, but there is more there. Eliot is so cold, but there is a whole story there. And more! Such truth in the characterization of these middle schoolers and secondary characters.
Author Guest Post: Visit our Author Guest Post by Erin Yun as she shares five classics reimagined as middle grade novels.
Also, in her latest blog, Erin opened up on why she wrote this Korean American story for kids and how the recent #AAPI conversation about the lack of diverse Asian voices mirrors her own experience as a young reader. Read the blog here.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: At Pippa Park.com, there are so many wonderful resources to help use this book in classrooms!
The Tween Book Club Activity Kit includes the discussion questions below, word games, writing prompts, language arts guide, virtual author visit program, and an escape room activity! (The Common Core Language Arts Guide, Escape Room Activity, and Author Program Worksheet can also be downloaded separately.)
Erin Yun is also available for author events!
From the back matter (some aspects of the questions removed because of spoilers)
- Pippa isn’t an orphan, but at times she feels like one. Describe Pippa’s relationship with Mina, her older sister. Why is Mina so tough on Pippa? Discuss whether Mina resents taking care of Pippa. How is Jung-Hwa, Mina’s husband, a father figure to Pippa? How does he make Pippa feel better after she has a fight with Mina?
- What is the definition of family? Explain why Pippa’s mother had to return to Korea. How are Mina and Jung-Hwa realizing the American Dream? Discuss how Pippa’s family situation is similar to that of new American’s throughout our nation. How are many of them separated from their loved ones? Discuss why it’s important to celebrate all types of families.
- Pippa says, “At Lakeview I could be anyone, as long as they didn’t find out the truth about me.” What doesn’t she want the kids at Lakeview to know about her? What does she do to keep her home life private? What does Pippa think would happen if the girls found out the truth about her?
- How does trying to fit in cause Pippa Pippa to lose her sense of self? Why is she ashamed of her family and the way they live?
- Pippa’s best friend at Victoria Middle School is Buddy Johnson. Think about how she betrays him.
- Why does Pippa think that Eliot’s life is more messed up than hers? How does knowing about his family make her better understand Eliot?
- Olive Giordana is the student ambassador that shows Pippa around the school. How does Olive’s desire to be popular affect her judgement?
- Discuss what Jung-Hwa means when he says, “The lower you fall, the more room you have to rise.” What is Pippa’s lowest point? How do you know that she is about to rise? Have you ever felt that way?
- Pippa’s family celebrates Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day. Learn more about the traditions associated with this holiday on the Internet. Describe and discuss the holiday and the food that is prepared. What cultural holidays does your family celebrate? Is there anything special that you eat?
- Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a contemporary reimagining of Great Expectations. Use books or the Internet to find out about the main characters in Great Expectations. What is each character’s counterpart in Pippa Park Raises Her Game? List the characters side by side and as a group apply two or three adjectives that best describe each of them.
- Think about all that has happened to Pippa. Then consider the following quote from Great Expectations: “And it was not until I began to think, that I began fully to know how wrecked I was, and how the ship in which I had sailed was gone to pieces.” What is the metaphorical ship that Pippa sails? at what point does Pippa realized “how wrecked” her life is? How does she turn her life around once she begins “thinking”?
- If you were to pick on character from Pippa Park Raises Her Game who is most like you, who would it be and why? Who is most unlike you and why? Which character from the book would you want as your friend and why?
Flagged Passages: “Chapter One: The Strange Encounter
I was the only person in the park.
Tucking a damp strand of hair back behind one ear, I surveyed the abandoned slides and empty benches. It was just past six p.m. on a Friday, but it looked like nobody else wanted to be out in the rain. As I strode briskly forward, icy wind numbed the tips of my fingers, making me clutch my basketball tighter. Even though we hadn’t officially left summer behind, the cold front that had settle over Victoria, Massachusetts, did show any signs of leaving.
So … empty court. Lousy weather. And things at home were just as dismal.
My older sister, Mina, had just grilled me for nearly an hour after finding out about the ‘unacceptable’ grade I had received on my latest algebra quiz. When she finally finished, I stormed out of the apartment, making sure to grab my basketball and water bottle; I planned on being gone awhile. Now I kind of wish I had taken a warmer jacket, too. Or at least a hat. But rain or shine, I wasn’t ready to go home yet.”
Read This If You Love: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit; Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler; Kiki and Jacque by Susan Ross; It Doesn’t Take a Genius by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich; Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
**Thank you to Dienesa at Fabled Films for providing a copy for review!!**
Brave in the Woods
Author: Tracy Holczer
Published January 5th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.
Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.
Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.
From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope.
About the Author: Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. The Secret Hum of a Daisy was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found there if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. Following her debut, Everything Else in the Universe was published, and Brave in the Woods is her third novel.
★ “This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. . . Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. . . Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“Holczer’s clear, gentle prose allows the emotional and descriptive elements of the text to shine in this multilayered road-trip story . . . A thoughtful exploration of grief, family lore, and human connection.” —Kirkus Reviews
“By turns heartbreaking and humorous, this is a story that hints at the possibility of magic while remaining rooted in real-world problems and relationships. There is love and hope amid the grief and confusion, just as the Grimm tales contain both wonders and horrors in their own right. A heartfelt lesson on the power of love and the tales we tell ourselves.” —Booklist
Review: Brave in the Woods is the story of grief, hope, true friendship, love, and truth. With Holczer’s brilliance of story telling, just about every emotion is felt while reading this novel as Juni goes through all of the emotions alongside us. And with just a dash of magical realism, the story has a magical feeling weaved throughout it from beginning to end.
Add to these emotions a road trip, fun and unique characters, a dog (and a ornery cat), and a quirky family history, and you have a must read middle grade novel for so many readers who need this story.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Juni’s family legend says that they are related to the Grimm Brothers, so there are allusions to the Grimm fairy tales throughout the book. Use these to introduce and discuss allusions.
- Why do you think the author chose a stag throughout the novel?
- Why was it so important to Juni to get Elsie?
- Which of the characters who helped Juni along the way do you like the best? Why?
- How are Juni and Anya alike?
- How are each of the characters grieving differently?
- How does the author compare bees and asthma?
- How does the author use the setting like a character to drive the plot?
Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Velvet Bones
Juniper felt it when her brother disappeared.
She was certain of this.
Oddly, her lungs didn’t go all wonky the way they sometimes did when bad things happened. Like a hive of bees inside her chest, using up every bit of her breath with their buzzing and swarming.
That feeling would come later.”
Read This If You Love: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, Other Tracy Holczer novels
Eat the Cake
Author: M. H. Clark
Illustrator: Jana Glatt
Published February 1, 2020 by Compendium
Summary:It’s your day to be wild and fearless and free. It’s your day for becoming the next thing you’ll be. Though today is your party, it doesn’t stop here–it should keep right on going and last you all year.
Roll out the streamers, blow up the balloons, and celebrate all the great things that are coming your way! With its colorful cast of characters, delightfully detailed illustrations, and playful rhymes, this festive book will ignite good feelings for birthdays and any occasion where cake is appropriate. (And cake is always appropriate!) A fun and joyfilled gift for anyone ages 5 to 105. Features a hardcover with embossing.
Review: We all need to celebrate ourselves! This book gives readers the perfect excuse to do so! This is a very motivational text that reminds readers all of the reasons that they should be proud and happy to be themselves. Readers will come away from this book wanting to try new things and go to new places. This book would make a WONDERFUL gift to readers of all ages. Folks tend to buy the Oh, the Places You’ll Go book, but Eat the Cake offers something new and fresh (and something that another relative might not buy!).
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If I was still teaching K-12 and had the means to do so, I would buy this book for every single one of my students at graduation. It would make a wonderful read aloud for the last day. I don’t think I could read this to my exiting students without crying! I will be purchasing this treasure for my graduate assistants. 🙂
Book Spreads! Book Spreads!:
Read This If You Loved: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, Inspirational Books
**Thank you to Compendium for providing a copy for review!!**
And we conclude with a PARTY!:
Bob Ross and Peapod the Squirrel
Author: Robb Pearlman
Illustrator: Bob Ross with Jason Kayser
Published October 8th, 2019 by Running Press Kids
Summary: Bob Ross paints a stunning home for his squirrel friend, Peapod, in this delightful nod to a painter icon.
This is the sweet story of a painter (Bob Ross) who helps his squirrel friend, Peapod, find the perfect home to live in. Bob paints an actual Ross painting, “Meadow Lake,” in this charming tale about helping friends and embracing the serenity of life. Bob, along with Peapod, go through the various steps and processes to painting, including praising those “happy little accidents” that happen along the way.
About the Creators: Robb Pearlman is the author of many books, including Groundhog’s Day Off, Raggedy Ann and Andy: Leaf Dance, and Passover is Here! Today, his favorite color is blue, but it may be purple tomorrow! He grew up in New York City and now lives in a white and green house in New Jersey with his husband and Oscar, the butterscotch-colored best puppy in the world.
Bob Ross — artist, painting instructor, and television personality — has for decades charmed and inspired the world with his matchless look, signature style, and words of wisdom and encouragement.
Review: This picture book definitely captures the whimsy and gentleness of Bob Ross. Anyone who has ever watched his show knows that Bob just loves creating things and making something beautiful. He always continues even through (happy little) mistakes and other obstacles, and his work is always something that takes the viewers’ breath away. I think it was very smart of the publishers to use an actual Bob Ross painting in the text because it is like the cherry on top. That, with the addition of his fun pet Peapod, really brings Bob’s personality to the book.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be a wonderful book to use to compare a written work with a televised work. Students could look at what ways the book captures Bob Ross’s personality, style, speech, etc.
Additionally, the book ends with instructions on paint and supplies for readers to recreate the painting made in the book.
- What Bob Ross phrases did the author include?
- How did the inclusion of Peapod change what the story would have been without him?
- What type of person do you think Bob Ross is based on how he instructs?
- What do you think Bob Ross would tell you about accidents or mistakes?
- How did Bob Ross create the image with only white, brown, green, blue, yellow, and crimson?
- What words would you use to describe Peapod’s personality? Bob Ross’s?
But don’t worry–Bob Ross always embraces happy little accidents! And it turns out beautifully:
Read This If You Love: Bob Ross, Art, The Masterpiece by Jay Miletsky, Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter, Paint Me a Picture by Emily Bannister
**Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for review**
The Trouble with Shooting Stars
Author: Meg Cannistra
Published: August 20th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
Summary: Twelve-year-old Luna loves the nighttime more than anything else. It’s when no one gives her “that look” about the half mask she has to wear while healing from a disfiguring car accident. It’s also the perfect time to sit outside and draw what she sees. Like the boy and girl from the new family next door…zipping out of the window in a zeppelin and up to the stars.
At first she thinks she’s dreaming. But one night the siblings catch her watching. Now Luna spends her nights on adventures with them, as they clean full moons, arrange constellations, and catch jars of stardust. She even gets to make a wish on a shooting star they catch.
But Luna learns that no wish is strong enough to erase the past — as much as she may hope to.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for The Trouble with Shooting Stars:
You can also access the teaching guide here.
You can learn more about The Trouble with Shooting Stars on Meg Cannistra’s Cake Literary page.
Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse
Guest Review by Natalia Sperry
Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.
Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.
Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.
In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.
Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.
Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?
Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).
Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies
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