The Witch of Woodland
Author: Laurel Snyder
Published: May 16th, 2023 by Walden Pond Press
Summary: Laurel Snyder, author of Orphan Island, returns with a story of one girl’s quest to answer the seemingly unanswerable questions about what makes us who we are.
Hi, whoever is reading this. I’m Zipporah Chava McConnell, but everyone calls me Zippy.
Things used to be simple—until a few weeks ago. Now my best friend, Bea, is acting funny; everyone at school thinks I’m weird; and my mom is making me start preparing for my bat mitzvah, even though we barely ever go to synagogue. In fact, the only thing that still seems to make sense is magic.
See, the thing is, I’m a witch. I’ve been casting spells since I was little. And even if no one else wants to believe in magic anymore, it’s always made sense to me, always felt true. But I was still shocked the day I found a strange red book at the library and somehow…I conjured something. A girl, actually. A beautiful girl with no memory, and wings like an angel. You probably don’t believe me, but I swear it’s the truth.
Miriam is like no one else I’ve ever met. She’s proof that magic is real. And, it’s hard to explain this part, but I just know that we’re connected. That means it’s up to me to help Miriam figure out what she is and where she came from. If I can do that, maybe everything else in my life will start to make sense too.
Anyway, it’s worth a try.
About the Author: Laurel Snyder is the beloved author of many picture books and novels for children, including the National Book Award nominee Orphan Island and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner Charlie & Mouse. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program. Laurel lives in Atlanta with her family and can be found online at www.laurelsnyder.com.
Review: Zippy was so happy; her best friend Bea and her bonded over magic and everything has been Bea and Zippy since then and it has been wonderful. Then 7th grade begins and Bea is different and Zippy is not. This leads to Zippy feeling socially isolated and just so different than everyone else, a feeling that so many middle schoolers & those us of who went through middle school, will understand. This is the feeling that the book starts with–Zippy just wants someone who understands her again. This is the foundation for the rest of the book.
Laurel Snyder’s middle grade writing always enchants me, and Witch of Woodland is no different. Her characters in Witch are so easy to connect with (including her parents, who I love are included in such a realistic way), the magic she includes is captivating and unique, and her stories are unlike anyone else’s. What got me the most about this book, though, is Zippy. Zippy is special. She is a walking contradiction, just like many early teens are: she is strong and weak, confident and insecure, magical and human, quiet and loud, angry and optimistic… she is all of this and more, and none of that changes, though she evolves and grows in a way that she is just a better version of her same self. Zippy makes this book, everything else just supports her.
I want to note with this review that I am not Jewish, so I did not comment on the religious aspects of the book as I do not have the prior knowledge to do so. However, I did learn a lot about Jewish religion and faith through this book.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Please view and enjoy the publisher-shared Educators’ Guide:
**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**
The Marvellers (Marvellverse #1)
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Published: May 3rd, 2022 by Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: Author Dhonielle Clayton makes her middle-grade debut with a fantasy adventure set in a global magic school in the sky.
Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, where Marvellers from all around the world come together to practice their cultural arts like brewing Indian spice elixirs, practicing Caribbean steel drum hypnosis, and bartering with fussy Irish faeries. Ella knows some people mistrust her Conjuror magic, often deemed “bad and unnatural,” but she’s eager to make a good impression—and, hopefully, some friends.
But Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy, and not all of the Marvellers are welcoming. Still, she connects with fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, who is never found without a magical creature or two. Just as Ella begins to find her way at the A.T.I., a notorious criminal escapes from prison, supposedly with Conjurors’ help. Worse, her favorite teacher Masterji Thakur never returns from a research trip, and only Ella seems concerned about his disappearance.
As tensions grow in the Marvellian world, Ella finds herself the target of vicious rumors and growing suspicions. With the help of her new friends, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her beloved mentor Masterji Thakur . . . before she loses her place at the A.T.I. forever.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions:
Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for The Marvellers:
It’s Not the Three Little Pigs Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Published November 1st, 2022 by Two Lions
Summary: Meet the three (ahem—four!) little pigs as they convince the narrator to tell a slightly different version of their fairy tale:
First there’s Alan, the one pig in the bunch who is actually a builder. He’s got a BIG problem with building a home out of flimsy straw. Next there’s Alfred, who wants to be an actor and wouldn’t dream of getting his hands dirty. Then we have Alvin, whose dream is to be . . . a pumpkin. Last but not least is Alison, the fourth pig who is ready to bring some flair to this story, if only she can get the narrator to agree to a few changes. . . . And what about that wolf?
Grab your jet-packs and get ready for this rollicking retelling of the popular tale.
“Those who love to make up their own stories will be inspired, and readers who march to the beats of their own drums will be delighted. Will leave readers as happy as a pig in mud.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Creators:
Like the characters in his books, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go―so he writes his own. He is the author of a bunch of picture books, including My Pet Feet, illustrated by Billy Yong; the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney; How to Code a Sandcastle, illustrated by Sara Palacios; and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. He lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and follow him on social media:
Edwardian Taylor is the illustrator of multiple children’s books, including Hey, You’re Not Santa!, written by Ethan T. Berlin; Goldibooks and the Wee Bear, written by Troy Wilson; the Toy Academy chapter books, written by Brian Lynch; and the It’s Not a Fairy Tale books, written by Josh Funk, among other titles. He lives in Texas with his partner and their three dogs. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com and follow him on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter@edwardiantaylor.
Kellee’s Review: I just find the concept of these books so clever; all of them! The breaking of the third wall between narrator and characters just makes them so funny, and I love that the characters go against the narrator. Often times through this exchange, the author is able to teach both the narrator and the reader lessons about assumptions, in this case when it came to the wolf. Other times, the characters just go silly which is also quite fun to read. This time the silliness comes in hot air balloons and jet packs! And, as a literacy teacher, I particularly loved the two literacy loving pigs: Alison, the storyteller, and Alfred, the scriptwriter and star.
Trent’s Review:I liked this new book in the series because it is pretty much the opposite of the original three little pigs which adds a lot of action and surprises. I like that at the end of the story they’re actually on a stage and performing the tale because the set up for this was all through the book (and most of the other characters from the It’s Not books were in the audience!). The most surprising part of the story for me was that there was a fourth pig, and that makes it fit even more with the title because there is not three but four. I also like that the fourth pig is a girl and a storyteller. I was also surprised that the big bad wolf was a salesman trying to sell automatic vacuums because you assume usually that wolves are not nice in fairy tales, so this teaches the reader that not all things you assume are bad actually are bad. Josh Funk books are funny and questy, and this one was, too; I always like them! I like all of the picture books that Josh has written.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a perfect mentor text for rewriting a fairy tale. Students can read the different books in the It’s Not series to see all of the creators’ examples of their factured fairy tales then they can pick their own to redo. First they would read the original fairy tale, determine how they were going to change it up, and write their own version of the fairy tale. Remind them to add some surprising elements, lessons, and silliness, just like Josh Funk.
For an enrichment activity, they could take their fairy tale and turn it into a play like Alfred did!
What was the most surprising part of the story for you?
Why are different speech bubbles written in different font colors?
How did you assume the different pigs’ personalities would be like? How is that the same/different than the book?
How does the author use the narrator differently than in most books?
Were there any vocabulary words you didn’t know? Were you able to determine the meaning from the context?
In addition to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, what other fairy tale creatures did you notice in the background of this book?
Read This If You Love: Fractured Fairy Tale Picture Books
**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**
Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings! Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Summary: This funny, original choose-your-path picture book of fractured fairy tales will charm any young fan of the genre, putting the power of storytelling right in the reader’s hands!
Grab your basket and your coat. Put on some walking shoes.
Turn the page and begin: Which story will you choose?
Award-winning creators Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat transform a crowd of classic tales into an ever-changing, fascinating, laugh-out-loud choose-your-path picture book, in which you may find a sleeping maiden, waste away in a sticky licorice cage, discover the gold at the end of a wild goose chase, or maybe (just maybe) save yourself―and the day!
GIVES YOUNG READERS THE POWER OF CHOICE: Where do you want to take the story next? Choice and autonomy are essential concepts for children to learn at a young age, and this choose-your-path picture book puts the decision-making power right in their hands.
FUNNY TWISTS ON CLASSIC FAIRY TALES: “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and more—characters and settings from these classic fairy tales take on hilarious new life in a brand-new story, just right for the youngest fairy tale fans.
TEACHES STORYTELLING BY EXAMPLE: This playful picture book offers young readers the chance to build their own narratives out of the decisions they make each step of the way, powerfully illustrating how a story is created and how it proceeds from beginning to middle to end. Both a teaching tool and an exciting adventure in its own right, this book is a great resource for learning storytelling.
FABULOUS AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR TEAM: Laurel Snyder is the author of the Geisel Award–winning Charlie & Mouse early chapter book series. Her books have earned numerous starred reviews and Best Book designations, and her middle grade novel Orphan Island was longlisted for the National Book Award. Acclaimed artist Dan Santat has illustrated over 50 books for children, earning a Caldecott Medal for his picture book The Adventures of Beekle and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Drawn Together.
Teachers and librarians
Lovers of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings
Readers who enjoy choose-your-path stories
Parents and caregivers seeking a story that will continue to surprise and delight, even after the 100th time through
Gift-givers looking for a beautiful present that can be read again and again
Anyone who appreciates clever, hilarious takes on classic fairy tales
“Invoking myriad fairy tale scenarios throughout a cascading choose-one’s-path format, Snyder (the Charlie and Mouse series) builds a fairy story with logic gates. . . . Santat (The Aquanaut) romps lushly through this fairy tale universe, giving the folklore mainstays . . . an exaggerated, kinetic quality. . . . Readers accustomed to video game–style endings won’t be bothered by Rosie’s many demises; turning the page resumes the action and leads to more choices, and employing frenetic action right through to the end—er, ends.”
“Grab your favorite outerwear (cozy coat or riding hood?) and your sense of adventure because Snyder and Santat have created a fun-filled fairy-tale mashup that puts kids in the driver’s seat. . . . [Endlessly Ever After’s] interactive nature, large trim size, and bold, full-bleed illustrations make it an excellent candidate for group sharing. There is also a fractured-fairy tale aspect to the stories featured, which ensures there are surprises around every corner. A highly entertaining read, full of possibilities.”
“Multiple reader options give the woodsy road to Grandma’s house any number of surprise twists and diversions. . . . Some choices are hard but not this one: Pick it up!”
“[G]et comfortable; kids will insist on multiple readings . . . The humorously grim text is well matched with amusing illustrations that keep even the darker story elements lighthearted . . . Both text and art are endlessly clever.”
—The Horn Book Magazine
About the Creators:
Laurel Snyder is the author of many children’s books, including Swan, Hungry Jim, and Charlie & Mouse, which won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. A graduate of the Iowa Writers? Workshop, Laurel teaches creative writing at Hamline University and lives with her family in Atlanta, GA.
Dan Santat is a Caldecott-Medal-winning author-illustrator of many children’s books. An honors graduate of ArtCenter College of Design, in Pasadena, he is also the creator of the Disney animated hit The Replacements. Dan lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, and various pets.
Review:Jim and I were just telling Trent about Choose Your Own Adventure books when this arrived, so I was very excited to see this book arrive, and it does not disappoint. If anything, it blew my description of the original series out of the water because of its cleverness, humor, suspense, fairy tale fracturing, and brilliant illustrations.
Snyder and Santat were the perfect team for this book! Snyder’s writing is lyrical and has amazing rhythm which makes the book a delight to read aloud. She also adds perfect twists to well known stories, giving them a new life! I was always so impressed at an author who can craft a book with multiple paths because the actual text structure must be so complicated, and there is no room for flaws; Snyder shows that she has the chops for this! Santat’s art brings it to life through modernized illustrations of our favorite fairy tale characters as well as some new characters, and as always his art is brilliantly crafted and just so much fun to look at!
All in all, a must pick up for any person who reads aloud to students–these 85 pages of adventure will reel them in!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to some reading analyses that will work perfectly with the text (prediction, cause/effect relationships, etc.), I would also love to see students work to create their own choose your own adventure stories. It gives them a chance to problem solve how to structure the story in addition to write the story. Chronicle’s activity kit has a great start for this activity.
How does Endlessly Ever After compare to the original fairy tales?
What other fairy tale would you have liked to see get twisted in?
Were there any indications of the effects of your decisions before you chose what Rosie should do?
Before choosing the next page, predict what you think is going to happen.
How did the choice of illustrator add to the experience of reading the book?
Read This If You Love: Choose Your Own Adventure books, Fractured Fairy Tales
**Thank you to Chronicle Books for providing a copy for review!!**
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
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.
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.)
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.”
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