Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Astronuts by Jon Sciezska, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani, One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale, and Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these graphic novels.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published September 10th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animal astronauts that were sent on a mission to find a sustainable planet for humans to live on once we’ve ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet in the nose rocket! They must perform experiments to gather all the information needed to know if the planet would be able to sustain humans, Or do Plant Planet’s inhabitants have a different plan in store. This book uses real life science with a fun twist.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great for teaching all about planet Earth, how to recycle, and how to protect the planet. Also, this book does a great job on putting a fun, zany twist on its characters that make this educational, engaging, and entertaining. These are all great things that students can look forward to when reading this book and are introduced to it, in the classroom.

In terms of interdisciplinary elements, we have discussed that the best subject that the book AstroNuts can be connected to is science. This book can be seen from many different angles when connected to science, but can be more specifically geared towards the knowledge of climate change, protecting one’s planet, and cell information (ex: plant cells).

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think AstroWolf thought that he knew it all?
  • Out of all the characters in AstroNuts (AstroWolf, LaserShark, etc.), which character do you think you could relate to the most? Explain.
  • What could the AstroNuts have done differently in order to not anger the plants, when they first arrived on the planet?
  • Which of the AstroNuts do you feel accomplished their goal for the mission? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the story do you see in our society when it comes to protecting our planet?
  • How does this book inspire you when it talks about the environment and the ongoing topic of global warming?
  • Which AstroNut do you think contributed the most to their mission? Explain.
  • If you were an official for the NNASA how could you help prepare the AstroNuts for their next mission?
  • If you were to draw Plant Planet, how would it look different from Earth. What types of things would be shown in your illustration? Explain.

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El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published September 2nd, 2014 by Abrams Books

Summary: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: El Deafo teaches students about inclusivity which is something kids sometimes struggle with, and its books like this, that may just do the trick! This novel could also be a great choice as a book club book because it is a real-life story and could very well be a kids favorite. You can challenge your students, and have them create a piece of writing or art work that is inspired by this story, to show understanding. It’s great to have different books about kids with certain challenges, so other students can read and understand them better and see that they are not so different from other students, which is why it is encouraged that you to add this to your classroom library if it isn’t there already!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • In what ways can you relate to Cece?
  • Cece thought about herself as a superhero? What do you think makes a person a superhero?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • How did the illustration help you understand what is going on in the story?

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Jukebox
Author: Nidhi Chanani
Published June 22nd, 2021 by First Second

Summary: When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz discover a magical time traveling Jukebox and are transported throughout history. Traveling through time, Shahi and Naz race to find Gio and uncover the truth behind the Jukebox.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is educational because it goes over important social issues and it has an engaging story line that will catch the reader’s attention.

Literature logs would allow students to make connections and critically think while they read the novel. The students can then revisit their notes before coming together for class discussions. Free writes allow students to get their real impressions of the book out. They are asked to write freely about the novel for a given amount of time. The absence of a prompt gives the students the chance to explore the aspects of the novel that stood out to them the most.

This book’s interdisciplinary concepts contain history, music and sexuality. Each record that plays brings you back to an event in history without giving too much information, this may lead readers to want to learn more about what was happening at different points of musical history and history in general. Along with this, there was mention of sexuality and the acceptance of it in their family. This can show the reader that it is okay to have a sexuality that isn’t heterosexuality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship Shahi has with her parents and with Naz.
  • What clues does the illustrator use to let the reader know what time period they are in?
  • Why do you think Gio and Earl prefer to listen to music on records?
  • Are you familiar with any of the music artists talked about in the book? If so, who and how did you learn about them? If not, who do you think would listen to and why?
  • Do you think the store owner (Earl) was a bit selfish, if so, why do you think that?
  • How does music influence your life?
  • Do you think music and history go hand in hand to shape our communities today?
  • Which historic time travel trip stood out to you the most and why?
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most. Give your reasoning.
  • Did you think that Shahi and Naz were ever going to find their father/ uncle? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the Jukebox was so important to Gio and Earl?
  • Describe one time in history that was mentioned in the book that you would like to go back to.

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One Dead Spy
Author: Nathan Hale
Published August 1st, 2012 by Abrams Books

Summary: Nathan Hale is the first ever American spy during the Revolutionary War, who is to be hung by the British.  Before the approval of the hanging a giant history book picks him up to go through the past events through Nathans’ point of view which made him a spy during the Revolutionary War, and what the future of the war will be.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book can be used with history and also when learning the time period the book is a good reference as far as word choice and vocabulary. It gives a good reference as far as seeing into the reality of the time period. It has great comedic relief and can be used to be an ice breaker when dealing with difficult things such as history, especially with our ELLs because it incorporates pictures and texts will allow them to make connections when reading and following along with pictures as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book compare to the textbook as far as history? Does this text provide more of a reference or as pleasant reading?
  • Knowing now that the main character is in reference to a real time activity, how does this change the pace and voice of the book?
  • What connections can we make from the graphic novel to the text as we are reading the text?
  • What can we infer from the textbook to foreshadow to happen in the graphic novel?
  • Why couldn’t the British soldier hang Nathan at the beginning of the graphic novel?
  • What were Nathan Hale’s famous last words?
  • What other history figures are present in the book?
  • How did Henry Knox get the cannons to General Wasington?
  • What was the first American victory of the war? And who won it?
  • How does the setting and the time period give more background knowledge as a reader? Does it help you for see the ending of the book?

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Squish: Super Amoeba
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published May 10th, 2011 by Random House

Summary: A student named Squish (who loves Science) encounters school life with his friends Peggy and Pod. In the midst of his everyday shenanigans, Squish discovers the meaning of right and wrong when faced with unexpected occurrences at his school. Looking up to his favorite role model, “Super Amoeba”, Squish is determined to become his own superhero, save his friend Peggy from the school bully, and fight against the difficulties that come his way!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When it comes to interdisciplinary elements in this book, we have found that the closest subject that could be connected to Squish is science. Some ways in which you could connect the book to science is by conducting a couple of experiments where students can find amoebas, or other microorganisms,  under a microscope. Amoebas can be found in water puddles and lakes, and most of these places are nearby a school, which can be a great field day for students as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What event(s) in the book do you think shows poor/unfriendly behavior? Why?
  • What is a Planaria? Why did the authors make the principal of Squish’s school a Planaria?
  • If you were a friend of Squish, what advice would you give him when confronting the bully in the story? Would you not give him advice? Why or why not?
  • What types of connections could you make with Squish’s character, and his emotions at the end of the story? Explain.
  • Why do you think Mr. Rotifer didn’t ask more questions on why Squish helped Lynwood?
  • Is Pod a good friend in your opinion? Why or why not?
  • What animal would you want to eat the bully in the story? Explain.
  • Would you help the bully cheat to protect your friend?
  • What are some ways that Squish could have handled his bullying situation?Why or why not?

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Guest Review: Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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Guest Reviewer: Kayla, UCF Elementary Education Student

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Published

Summary: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.

They participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America’s first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.

In this illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career.

About the Creators: 

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow/HarperCollins). Shetterly is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. Shetterly is a Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

Originally from New York City, Laura Freeman now live in Atlanta with her husband and their two children. Freeman received my BFA from the School of Visual Arts and began her career working for various editorial clients. She has illustrated over thirty children’s books, including Hidden Figures written by Margot Lee Shetterly, the Nikki & Deja series by Karen English and Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal. In addition to illustrating books and editorial content, Freeman’s art can be found on a wide range of products, from dishes and textiles to greeting cards.

Review: This book was a gem to find. I didn’t really know the story of how NASA got the skills to make it to space when planning the exploration. I was very intrigued when I read the story of these four African American women who were mathematical geniuses. These women were around during the segregation era but that didn’t stop them from doing what they loved even through tough times. In this picture book I was able to explore their story and how they made everything possible to help NASA put the first man into space. I also really like the message of women entering a career we only see men in but overcoming gender and racial barriers will allow any women to be successful in her career.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be used in many ways. We can use in social studies when talking and exploring segregation and how these women overcame a lot of obstacles to help NASA but men into space. We can also speak about STEM based careers and how difficult it was for many women to enter science or engineering jobs or schools because it was considered a “mans” job. This book will allow many children to see that hard work and dedication pays off. We should follow are dream and work hard and overall, not let any obstacle allow us to fail.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did these 4 women make NASA hire them to work on the program to allow humans into space?
  • Was it easy for these women to get into school or even work for NASA? Why?
  • Who would you identify more with Dorothy, Mary, Katherine or Christine?
  • Descried how the segregation affected Black people?
  • What two major obstacles did Dorothy Vaughan face to become a computer at the Langley Laboratory?
  • Using the timeline in the book what were the most important events in the story?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker, Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

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Thank you, Kayla, for your review!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, Magnificent Makers: How to Test a Friendship by Theanne Griffith, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, and Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about fantasy novels.

Dragons in a Bag
Author: Zetta Elliott
Published October 23rd, 2018 by Random House

Summary: Jax is left by his mom to an old lady by the name of Ma. Jax later finds out that Ma is a witch who has 3 dragon eggs that hatched. They need to return the eggs because they won’t survive in the regular world due to lack of magic. They go to portals through time that takes them to the time of dinosaurs. Along the way, Jax meets his grandfather who also knows magic, and has him return two of the dragons to the magic council but accidentally left one left behind so he returns to the regular world. He forces his mom and the witch to hash out their problems.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When using fantasy in the classroom it is always a good way to spark your students’ creativity. This source could be used as a creative writing prompt to boost off their creativity of the story: Conduct an activity based upon the book like have them write a short story about what they would do if they were in Jax’s shoes and have them draw pictures of dragons, name them, and design the dragons how they would like them to be pictured.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was Jax’s first impression of Ma?
  • How do you think Jax will return the last dragon to the magic council?
  • Who do agree with and why? Ma who wants to keep the world of magic separate or L. Roy who wants magic to come back to earth.
  • Why do you think Jax decided to open the window for the squirrel?
  • What were 2 things the dragons were not allowed to have?
  • When you first hear the word apprentice what comes to mind?  Did you have the same thinking as Jax?
  • How does the story tie in with real-life scenarios with the fantasy?
  • Who are the most influential character apart from Jax?
  • When do we see the change of events come in play throughout the story?
  • When reading the book your imagination goes wild,in what other circumstances does your mind go other places when reading this story?

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The Magnificent Makers: How to Test Friendship
Author: Theanne Griffith
Illustrator: Reggie Brown
Published May 19th, 2020 by Random House Children’s Books

Summary: Pablo, Violet and Deepak are three friends who get sucked into a telescope and must play science games to come back and play again. Deepak is the new kid who makes Pablo jealous with his presence. Throughout the book, the team works together and build their friendship to complete the games.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book could be used as a classroom read-aloud over the course of a few days or a week.  Due to the science elements, this book would be a good way to start off science discussions in the classroom. For example, the second chapter includes the students learning about food chains. This book is perfect to make connections back to science.

Discussion Questions: 

  •   Why do you think Pablo was jealous of Deepak?
  •   What were some of the challenges they had and what did they have to do?
  •   Why do you think Pablo, Violet, and Deepak were chosen for the Maker’s Maze?
  •    What do you know about producers, consumers, decomposers, and scavengers?
  • What were your favorite aspects of science that you learned from the book?
  • What type of emotion did the characters experience in the book?
  • When Deepak arrived to class, what did Pablo notice about him?
  • How does Pablo overcome is jealous toward Deepak?
  • Toward the end of the book why did they relate their friendship to the ecosystems?

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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published April 22nd, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly Diamond is a little girl who receives a magic book that lets her bring to life the things that she writes and draws. She has a little sister who she doesn’t like very much and a brother on the way. Polly loves to write, she writes lists and stories and anything that she thinks is worth writing. When she starts writing in her magic book she realizes that the book can talk back to her. She writes to her book and comes up with lists and stories to write. She realizes that whatever she writes in the book comes to life when she writes about making a ladder to paint her room and the books on the floor magically move to make a ladder. The book tells her that is what she’s for and Polly quickly learns she can do anything she writes. She makes herself invisible and her sister into a banana. But she realizes that the book is taking everything she says literally. When she writes about eating a club sandwich the book gives her two slices of bread with a bat in between because it took the definition of a club literally. She told the house to fix up the carpet and turn her room into an aquarium. But the carpet was on the ceiling and fish were swimming around her room. She then realizes that everything she wrote was crazy and tries to put the house back to normal because she can’t even recognize it anymore. She fixes it just in time for her parents to come home with her new baby brother. At the end of the story she gives the book a name, Spell. And looks forward to writing and drawing another day with her new book, and friend Spell.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Polly uses and explains words like metaphor, affixes, alliteration, and hyperbole.  This is a great opportunity to talk about these definitions, make lists of words and phrases that relate to these words, and do activities where the students use metaphors, alliteration, homophones, homonyms etc.  It seems like a useful book to have in a first grade classroom and use with a higher level reading small group or a second grade class.    It could also be used as a read aloud, again discussing the key words and their meanings, then practicing using those skills.  There is a lot of use of imagery in this book as well as understanding literal meaning and how words matter.

After reading the text, students can respond to the story by engaging in a free write activity after they finish the reading. As a teacher, we could set a timer for five minutes and ask the students to write continuously about their thoughts on the book, good or bad, and afterwards, go over it as a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Polly had many favorite words throughout the book, what are some of your favorite words and why?
  • Make a list of activities you would do to have a Super-Fantastic-Day.
  • In the book, Polly writes down what her dream bedroom would look like. If you could have your dream bedroom, what would it look like?
  • When Polly writes in the magic book, she learns that she needs to write clearly and use as much detail as possible. What are some important rules to follow when writing so people can understand your message clearly?
  • When Polly is playing hide-and-seek, why does she become invisible?
  • Imagine the turquoise notebook has changed your house like Polly’s. Please write a short story explaining what your home looks like in order to get it back to normal.
  • How does Polly feel having to share a room with her little sister when her brother is born?
  • If you had a magic notebook that could bring three things you wrote about to life, what 3 things would you write or draw and why?
  • Polly loves words with double letters like “Dizzy.” List 5 words you can think of that have double letters.
  • Polly loves alliteration.  That’s when  two or more words in a row begin with the same letter.  What alliterations can you think of?

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Sisters of the Neversea
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Published June 1st, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: This book is a tale about three children, Lily, Wendy, and Michael. Their parents, Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene Roberts-Darling are separating, splitting the family between two different locations.  The night before Wendy and Mr. Darling are supposed to leave, the children are visited by a boy named Peter Pan and Belle. Stories of pirates and merfolk persuade the children to follow Peter Pan and Belle off to a mystical land called Neverland.  Upon arriving the children are separated and discover once you arrive you can never leave.  The children meet merfolk, pirates, native children, the lost, and fairies in a desperate attempt to figure out how to get home.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be great for a read aloud, book club, or close reading because it involves a lot of higher level vocabulary than some students may currently be reading at and it has long sentences and dialogue which again, some children could struggle with. These classroom uses would allow for discussions.

Geography could also be tied in because students could illustrate and demonstrate caves and waterways the Merfolk might have dwelled in. They also could show their knowledge of what an island like Neverland might have, and include what trees they think the lost boys were living in.

And, of course, it could be looked at versus Peter Pan as it is a retelling.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • If you were to create a different ending, How would it go?
  • Why do you think Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene wanted to separate?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • What were some challenges that the children had to face or overcome?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan and Belle appeared?
  • Why do you think it was hard for the lost boys to remember who they are?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan never wanted to grow up?
  • Why do you think Belle brought Peter Pan to the island?
  • Why do you think the crocodile made a TikTok sound?
  • Does this book remind you of any other children’s stories?  If so why?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen, Maya and the Robot by Eve Ewing, and The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about science fiction novels.

Concealed
Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Published October 19th, 2021 by Scholastic

Summary: Ivette, Joanna, and now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, new hair color, new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Katrina embarks on a dangerous rescue mission to save them-and find out the truth of her past at last.

Yet every new discovery shows that the Katrina’s entire life has been nothing but lies. Katrina has always kept her parents’ secrets. But it turns out, they were the ones keeping secrets from her this whole time. Could she be the reason they’ve been hiding all these years? The truth will throw everything Katrina has ever believed about herself into question.

Concealed is an action-packed adventure story by award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great relatable book for young adults! Throughout the story, Katrina, the main character, fights for more information about herself and her family and why they are on the run, but she often gets overlooked and ignored when she’s asks questions. A lot of teens experience this and I think it would be a great book for a book club or even an assigned read for the class to explore sci-fi and have good discussions.

This books interdisciplinary elements include science and family and friendship values. It touches on the development of science in the DNA and gene makeup, which students may be unaware of at the time of reading which may lead them to explore more on their own. The family and friendship values show that no matter what a family goes through there is still love there. Along with this it shows the importance of friendship and everything that goes along with having a good friend by your side, even when at first you don’t think it is important.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you do if you were Katrina and no one would answer your questions?
  • Would you have wanted to go with Katrina on this adventure? Why or why not?
  • Katrina’s skill is drawing and Parker’s skill is computers, describe what your skill is.
  • Describe how you would feel if you found out that you had a lost twin sister/brother.
  • What did you think of X in the story? Did you think he was a good character or a bad character? Why?
  • What would be your name if you had to choose another one?
  • Describe the relationship between Katrina and Parker.
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most and give your reasoning.
  • Why do you think Katrina didn’t like moving so much? How would you have felt if you were in her shoes?
  • Why do you think the main character’s family has to run and change their identity so many times?
  • Do you think it would be safer for Katrina to leave Parker out of her life? Why or why not?
  • Describe the relationship Katrina has with her parents as the book goes along. What about Parker? X?
  • Why do you think Katrina was so open with Parker, even at the beginning of their friendship?
  • Do you believe X is trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe B and L refuse to tell Katrina the truth about what happened before she lost her memory?
  • Do you think Ellla will side with her family or Mr. Sterling?
  • Describe what part of the book surprised you the most.
  • Do you think it is a good idea for Ellla and Katrina to share their life story on social media? Why or why not?

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The Last Gate of the Emperor
Authors: Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen
Published May 4th, 2021 by Scholastic Press

Summary: An Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this journey to the stars.

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime — a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family… and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis — a game rival turned reluctant ally — Yared must search for his uncle… and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In a way, students can learn about culture in this book. From there, diversity can be introduced into the lesson. Also, it would be great for discussing using your own personal interests and culture in your writing. The story also intertwines Ethiopian history and culture with space adventure and science fiction. This will be entertaining for the students while also educational. Another thing that can be taught while reading this book is that you will have to face the consequences of your own actions. If you are going to do something that you know is wrong, something bad will happen afterwards.

Students could also make timeline of events which would be interesting to see Yared’s adventure and battles laid out.

This novel would be considered interdisciplinary because it intertwines history with science fiction. It also introduces the idea of secret underground games, space & robots, as well as intergalactic war. These topics are mostly seen in movies but the main plot line is finding the uncle who would have the answers. It shows the students that even in stressful situations, never giving up and determination in hard times shows better outcomes.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Think about what makes up you. What aspects of yourself would you reflect in your stories?
  • Compare a time when Yared was brave to one where he was scared? How did he overcome his fear?
  • Describe a time Yared had to ask for help?
  • What futuristic items in the book do you wish we had now? Why?
  • Describe the relationship between Yared and his uncle.
  • Predict what you think Yared will do in the next book.
  • How would you characterize Besa? How does the author convey her feelings without talking?
  • Why do you think the story starts with an audio transcript? Did it grab your attention or confuse you?
  • How do you feel about the rules on Addis Prime? Would you want to follow them?
  • Does this novel remind you of any movies or maybe other literature you have read?
  • How would you feel if you were in the same situation as Yared?
  • Do you think Yared has good qualities or does he often find himself in trouble because of them?
  • What other Ethiopian stories have we read in class before? Do you find similarities in the novels?
  • Do you think the illustrations on the cover with Yared and the robots in space gave you a good summary of what the book might be about?
  • What inferences can you make by looking at the cover of the book?
  • How and why did the setting change?
  • What key words from the novel stood out to you the most and why?
  • If the authors were to write another novel using Yared and Besa, what do you think it would be about?

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Maya and the Robot
Author: Eve Ewing
Illustrator: Christine Almeda
Published July 13th, 2021 by Kokila

Summary: An illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend—and a science fair project.

Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom in order to get children interested in STEM:

Students could learn more about robotics and electrical elements. Following along with Maya as they learn students are introduced to new ideas and definitions that will bridge their understanding of STEM.

Students will be able to create their own science fair projects. Students can present their own ideas and also learn about how projects in the book worked

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think that her finding the robot impacted her in a good or bad way? Why?
  • What piece of modern technology does Ralph remind us of?
  • What modern upgrade would you give Ralph?
  • What is something in your life that you would consider your Ralph?
  • Who can relate to Maya? Explain why?
  • Throughout Maya and the Robot there are many different lessons you can take away. What lessons can you take away from the book and why?
  • How did Ralph allow Mr. Mac to heal after Christopher’s death?
  • Throughout the book Maya often feels alone in the classroom. What is one way to make your classmates feel included?
  • Could Maya have fixed her relationship with MJ and Jada earlier in the book? Why or why not?
  • Throughout the book Maya’s teacher calls her by the incorrect name. Why is it important to stand up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable?

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Illustrator: Dapo Adeola
Published April 2nd, 2019 by Versify

Summary: When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Using this book in the classroom could help students become more brave or confident. Majority of the students should be able to relate to this story because it is almost like a dream come true. This book could open up a lot of “What if” questions for students and I love it. Students will be able to use their imaginations, better their reading skills, and have fun at the same time.

This story would also be a fun story to read together as a class and it is a fun novel to get students eager to read!

Once students are done reading this book, there could be a class reflection on how we can all be brave heroes in real life in our homes and at school. To make this even more exciting students can create their own super hero crest and name. Students will practice helping others and I will make sure their parents know about this assignment to help the students with understanding that we help each other all of the time not just at school, but to practice it everywhere if applicable and not dangerous.

Students can also respond by writing their own fictional story about their own adventures on the last day of summer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the novel the acronym BTSFOASTF is written by Grandma. What does it mean?
  • With a partner, come up with an answer together and write it on the white board. Grandma is diabetic, What medicine did she take and what is it for?
  • When Otto and Sheed took the picture, what happened?
  • Why did Sheed decide not to tear up the picture?
  • What was the one thing Otto discovered had been consistent since time had been frozen, and in which chapter was this discovered? Would you have noticed the same thing? Why?
  • For how long did Otto and Sheed’s adventure last, and why do you think so?
  • How do you unfreeze a person in the story?
  • Why did TimeStar lie?
  • Who is TimeStar and why do you think so?
  • What role did the clock watchers play in this story?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
  • How do Otto and Sheed work together and overcome their differences?
  • What were some clues that you noticed when reading, that something was not right after the boys took the photo?
  • Describe the boys relationship with their grandmother
  • If you could time travel, would you rather go forward in time or backward in time?
  • What was your favorite part about Sheed and Otto’s day?
  • Are you surprised by who Mr. Flux is?
  • Is this how you would want to spend your last day of summer?

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Guest Review: Why? by Nikolai Popov

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Guest Reviewer: Heather, UCF Elementary Education Student

Why?
Author & Illustrator: Nikolai Popov
Published 1996 by North-South Books

Summary: A frog sits peacefully in a meadow. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he is attacked by an umbrella-wielding mouse in a confrontation that quickly turns into a full-scale war.

About the Author: Nikolai Popov is a well-known Russian visual artist and illustrator. He has won multiple gold medals and Grand Prix at international exhibitions of children’s book illustration. Popov has had personal exhibitions in many cities of the world, including Moscow, Tokyo, Rome and Venice. He is an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

Review: I found this book to be a beautiful way to describe the trials and tribulations of war without using words or realistic art depicting the violence war contributes to. It is a E-rated way to show that war is seemingly senseless and can be an endless cycle, where ultimately no one wins. I think on top of that, the artwork of watercolor and animals was really beautiful, and seemed very fairytale-like. I liked that the frog found a pretty flower and that the mouse is shown to be jealous even though he is surrounded by similar florals. I think this is a good way to show (not only a war aspect) but just a way to describe how we may not know what we have available to us because we are so focused on what others have instead. The fact that this book has no words and the story is completely implied by the images is also an important thing to note here because it can be up for debate as to what the actual goal of the story is – is it war? Or could it be selfishness, jealousy, or some could even think maybe the mouse doesn’t like frogs (micro-aggressions?). This availability for interpretation is a good way to get a multitude of ideas started without given any hints as to the authors key goals (if not getting author/book background information before reading).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be supplemental in unison with history lessons revolving around a time-period of another war scenario, like WWI or WWII. It would be a good way to help students navigate how easily wars can start and how hard it is to find a real reason for violence when the outcome is unclear. This book would also be good to use when discussing the problem with bullying or isolating others, it would be a good way to give students an idea of why it is crucial to be kind and think of others because in the end, you end up asking WHY did we even do this in the first place? Students can learn about needless fighting and apply this mindset/theory to their own lives, from how they treat others, to family and school environments as well.

And the last page! Looking at it I get that “throat swelling” feeling right before you cry. Its a painful image. The flowers are gone, the animals are sad, everything is ruined – the worst part is, no one got to enjoy what an entire field had to offer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • On page 4, the mouse looks around after coming up from the ground, what do you think he is looking at?
  • On page 5, we see the mouse looking at the frog – what is he thinking?
  • On page 7, the frog looks upset, and on the next page, more frogs come into the picture – do you think the frog called for them? What if the frogs didn’t come?
  • What kind of weapons are the animals using? Why do you think the illustrator chose these items?
  • In the end, how do the frog and mouse appear to be feeling?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Concepts of peace, unity, discussing the issues with our world and problems with humanity

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Thank you, Heather, for your review!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o; The Crown by Derrick Barnes; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds; and You Matter by Christian Robinson

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these six picture books.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published August 27th, 2001 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Molly Lou Melon is short, clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bull-frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor… But she doesn’t mind.

Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book can be used to set a president within the classroom to advise at the beginning of the year that bullying is not okay.
  • Teach about how having a positive attitude can affect the world around you
    • Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards us. – John Mitchell
  • Have the students go into a small group to talk about what happens when another student is being bullied.
    • Writing-in-role: Each student can discuss what they would do in Molly’s shoes with each encounter with the bully.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you feel if you were in Molly’s situation?
  • What advice has a family member given you that has gotten you through a tough time?
  • What are some things that you like about yourself?
  • How do you think Molly was able to keep a positive attitude?
  • How did the illustrations make you feel?
  • What did you like about the story?
  • What are some things you would have done if you heard Ronald making fun of Molly?
  • If Molly had a negative attitude toward Ronald, how would have had the story turned out differently?
  • How can you use this story in our classroom?
  • If Molly had not received advice from her grandmother do you think she would have had such a positive attitude?

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Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: T

  • Good as a read-aloud and book club book.
  • A good book to introduce a discussion about skin color.
  • Beginning BLM topic.
  • Encourages children to be comfortable in their own skin.
  • Encourages children to love themselves.
  • Modern-day text.
  • May be used during social studies instruction. Prompts discussion about skin color and different cultures. Introduces self and encourages students to reflect on their own family and community.
  • After reading activity: Students may respond to the text by drawing a self-portrait of themselves. After drawing a self-portrait of themselves, they can share it with their peers and reflect on their own similarities and differences. The activity encourages students to recognize the importance of each member of their community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ideas do you think will be present in this text?
  • How did the author use the title of this book in the text?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • How do you think Sulwe feels regarding how her classmates are treating her? How do you feel about this treatment?
  • What use of imagery sparked your imagination?
  • What could happen to make this character feel a different way?
  • What type of emotions do you feel during the daytime versus the nighttime? Explain why?
  • How does the word choice contribute to the tension throughout the story and ultimately the theme at the end?
  • What do you think the author wanted you to feel after reading this book?
  • How do Sulwe’s feelings change from the beginning to the middle, to the end of the story?
  • What evidence of organization do you see throughout the story?

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The Crown
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Published October 10th, 2017 by Agate Bolden

Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Notes about when the book would be useful in the classroom:

  • To show feelings towards a certain moment in life.
  • This can be used for language arts practice (events, plot, meaning).
  • Asking students about a time where they felt a personal experience with something that they do often.
  • Reflect on how they feel after receiving a haircut.
  • Reflect on something that excites you, like the haircut in the story.

This book is best done as a read aloud and a book club book. The reason for this, is that Crown integrates great opportunities because it helps students to understand a character’s feelings written into text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The boy in the story talks about his passion of having a haircut. When has there been a time where you felt passionate about something?
  • How does the author in the story convey emotion through colors?
  • What did you think the story might have been about?
  • What do you think that the boy in the story is feeling when he enters the barber shop?
  • If you could write a sequel to this book, what would it be about and why?
  • What have you might have changed in this story?
  • Has there been a time where you think you have gotten a nice haircut? Why or why not?
  • Describe the boy’s feelings about getting a haircut? Why do you think this?
  • The boy in the story felt confident and positive after getting a haircut. When was there a time where you felt confident and positive about something?

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

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez 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 Lopez’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.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: After reading this book it would be best if students use this as a community building opportunity to celebrate their differences and learn about their peers. This book opens up a discussion about the lives that others live and how although they have a different background we should treat everyone with respect and encourage others to be true to themselves. After reading this book the classroom can do a reading analysis of the book to help establish classroom norms and expectations. This book would be best as a read aloud preferably towards the beginning of the school year. Afterwards this book may go to the classroom library. This book is interdisciplinary as it can be used in social studies to help explore different cultural backgrounds. The students can be given the opportunity to explore the different customs and regions brought up in the book to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the symbolism behind rulers being present in the illustrations of the book?
  • What differences did you notice in each of the characters?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to celebrate our differences?
  • What differences do you notice within your classmates or others around you?
  • How did the students’ perceptions of each other change over time?
  • Describe something that makes you unique compared to your classmates
  • What is one way to support a classmate that feels isolated because of their differences?
  • Why do you think Angelina felt less nervous towards the end of the book?
  • What is the overall message of the story?
  • Why do we notice the differences of our peers?
  • Why are we different from those around us?
  • Pick two different interactions in the story and write about you would change the characters behavior to be more respectful of their peers

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Word Collector
Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Published January 30th, 2018 by Orchard Books

Summary: Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
And Jerome?
Jerome collected words . . .

In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words—and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book would be useful during a read aloud when teaching about vocabulary. You can use the book as a good jump start into vocabulary. Seeing another child interested in learning words will catch the students attention and make them more interactive while learning vocab.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some words that you would like to share?
  • Is there anything you wished for your class to learn like the main character did?
  • Did you learn any new words?
  • Why does Jerome like to collect words?
  • Where do you find new words not counting in a book?
  • Which types of words were the most powerful for Jerome?
  • What do you like to collect for yourself and why?
  • Why do you think Jerome threw his words across town?
  • What do you do to make yourself happy?
  • What was your favorite part about the book?

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You Matter
Author & Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published June 2nd, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson.

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The response best for after reading this text would be a group discussion of their thoughts on the book, a compare and contrast of everyone’s differences that “matter,” reflect on things that students think matters to them, and think they want to not matter. And the the book is interdisciplinary due to its multiple subject related ideas, because it addresses science related topics like planets and plants, and even geography.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is there something that one of your siblings does that you don’t like? Why? Does that mean that they don’t matter?
  • What is something that you think matters?
  • What is something that you think makes you different?
  • Why does that make you special?
  • Why are differences important?
  • Why do you think the last picture was of the whole city?
  • Who is the astronaut thinking about when she is looking down on earth?
  • On the cover, what do you notice about all the children playing, what happens if there is only one kid playing with the parachute?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Why do you matter?

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Review and Giveaway!: Pink Is Not a Color by Lindsay Ward

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Pink Is Not A Color
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: July 1, 2022 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Pink finds happiness right where she always knew it was in this colorful companion to the popular picture book This Book Is Gray.

Pink loves her rosy world, from her pink toy dinosaur to her pet flamingo, Phil. But when she sees the Primaries and Secondaries getting ready for the Rainbow Extravaganza, she begins to wonder why she isn’t in the rainbow…and if that means she’s not really a color. Then she meets the Tints, and she’s even more confused. Luckily, a friend shows her the many ways she spreads joy—reminding Pink that she is truly one of a kind, rainbow or not.

Featuring the world of colors introduced in This Book Is Gray—and a few new color concepts—this is a tale about appreciating who you are and realizing that only you can decide what makes you happy.

“Ward’s cast of colors, pink-cheeked and wearing accessories, speak in color-coded speech bubbles; appropriately, pink hues dominate the exuberant art. A rosy take on selfhood.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as Between the Lines, Scooper and Dumper, Rosie: Stronger than Steel, This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio with her husband, three boys, one dog, and eight ducks. When she’s not drawing, Lindsay loves to bake. Pink-frosted cupcakes are her favorite. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward
Instagram: lindsaymward

Check out activities and more here on Lindsay Ward’s website!

Ricki’s Review: Lindsay Ward is simply an incredible author/illustrator. She takes a concept that is deceivingly simple (the color pink) and connects it with readers through big themes of not fitting in. I have read this book to my son (whose favorite color is pink) so many times, and each time, we are able to have a discussion about his personal connections to the text. When I dropped him off to his new classroom, we talked about Pink and how she might feel in that moment, and how she was very brave. This is one of those books that will appeal to readers of all ages because it captures a complex concept (colors versus tints) that will teach readers something new, and it has so much heart that will ring loudly for all readers. I recommend it highly! (Side note: Her Dexter T. Rexter series is one of my favorites. Her books are just so fun to read aloud!)

Kellee’s Review: I want to start with the backmatter of this book. I love how it shows the research process behind Lindsay’s book and how one piece of information led to more research which led to Pink is Not a Color. It seems so much like a passion project which makes me love how that could show students the power of research and the creative process. And the research is so interesting! The science behind colors is so much more than most realize, and I love this introduction. I’d love to pair this book with Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky to look at the history AND the science of color. Pink is NOT a Color will also pair with This Book is Gray which shows how Lindsay Ward is making a canon of color books that are so much fun to read and even more fun to learn from.

Readers will love Pink’s personality and will definitely connect with her as she figures out her place in the world through the help of some friends, some discovery, and some reflection.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is one of those books that makes us really, really want to work with younger children. And yet, it is great for all ages! We would love to read this book in tandem with other identity stories like This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward and Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. Each offers an important message about ourselves but does so through color.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does the author convey the message implicitly and explicitly?
  • Is Pink happy? Where does Pink find happiness?
  • Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in? What did you do?

Flagged Spreads:

Giveaway!:

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Read This If You Loved: This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

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RickiSigand Kellee Signature

**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**