The More You Give by Marcy Campbell, Illustrated by Francesca Sanna

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The More You Give
Author: Marcy Campbell
Illustrator: Francesca Sanna
Publishing December 28, 2021 by Chronicle

Summary: A modern-day response to The Giving Tree, this lyrical picturebook shows how a family passes down love from generation to generation, leaving a legacy of growing both trees and community.

Once there was a wide-open field, and a boy who loved his grandmother,
who loved him back.

The boy’s grandmother gives him many gifts, like hugs, and Sunday morning pancakes, and acorns with wild and woolly caps. And all her wisdom about how things grow. As the boy becomes a father, he gives his daughter bedtime stories his grandmother told him, and piggyback rides. He gives her acorns, and the wisdom he learned about how things grow. His daughter continues the chain, then passing down gifts of her own. Here is a picture book about the legacy of love that comes when we nurture living things—be they people or trees.

Ricki’s Review: This book is absolutely stunning. It captures the beautiful spirit of giving as it passes through generations. I found myself drawn into the text, captivated by the words and the powerful illustrations. I loved the ways in which the spirit of giving is captured across three generations. Overall, I love the way it captures kindness, wisdom, and love.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might read The Giving Tree and then read this book. Students could engage in a discussion of giving. The two texts exist as foils for each other, and the giving does not just go one way.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do we give? What do we give?
  • What does it mean to give?
  • What does giving mean for the boy in the book? His grandmother?
  • What have elders given to you?

Book Trailer:

Read This If You Love: Books about Giving; Books about Intergenerational Love; Books about Kindness

Recommended For: 

**Thank you to Cynthia at Random House Children’s Books for providing a copy for review!**

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee

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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Author: Barbara Dee
Published September 27th, 2022 by Aladdin

Summary: Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.

But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.

She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.

About the Author: Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

Review: I’ve never read a book about eco-anxiety before, but I could definitely empathize with Haven Jacobs and her true anxiety over the state of our planet. I loved that the book gave tangible things that could be done in a community and also looks at global issues. Additionally, like all of Barbara Dee’s books, she does a great job balancing teaching (about science and climate change) and storytelling.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher-provided reading group guide also includes extension activities:

1. Choose one of the following and write an essay:

– How does Haven’s name reflect the major theme of the book?

– Revisit the chapter titled “The Scratch,” and the scene in which the author describes Haven’s room and talks about how her room shows readers who she is and what’s important to her. Then write a description of your own room, and ask a partner if they can identify what is most important to you.

– Using the quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”), write an essay about what that means, giving specific examples from the book.

2. Haven’s heroine is a fictional Inuit teen climate activist named Kirima Ansong. Choose a real-life teen activist and write a report about them, the issue they support, and the actions they’ve taken.

3. The headline of the RiverFest story is “SEVENTH GRADER GRIPPED BY ECO-ANXIETY,” which nicely sums up the major theme of this book. How prevalent is eco-anxiety among the kids at your school? Create a survey and share it to discover the answer. Write a report sharing your findings.

4. Choose one of the following topics from the book to research and write a report about, using the facts shared in the book as a jumping-off point to learn more.

Discussion Questions:
(Chosen questions from the publisher-provided reading group guide; there are 16 questions on the guide)

1. Talk about how the two events that Haven relates in the book’s opening chapter illustrate two of the book’s major themes. What does the bouncy house incident show readers about Haven’s personality? Do you agree with Grandpa Aaron that “‘Haven’s a true problem solver’”? (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you consider yourself to be a problem solver?

2. Why does Haven decide to become a vegetarian? Do you understand and sympathize with her reaction when she goes fishing with Carter and her dad? Are you a vegetarian, or do you have friends who are? What are some other reasons that people make this choice? Talk about how vegetarianism connects with the issue of climate change.

3. Do you understand why Haven is so upset about climate change? How do you feel about her statement that “’no one cares about anything except what’s going on in their own lives’”? (Chapter: Dinner) Why do some of her friends think climate change is too depressing to talk about? Haven tells Lauren, the reporter, that all kids are worried about the issue. How do you and your friends feel?

4. Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? What are some of the signs of eco-anxiety that Haven is experiencing? How might eco-anxiety feel different from other things kids are anxious about, like taking tests or giving oral reports? What are some actions Haven takes, or could take, to relieve this anxiety?

5. Ms. Packer says to Haven: “‘There’s a positive way to be upset, and another way that just makes you feel hopeless and depressed.’” (Chapter: The Blanks) Do you understand both options? Do you identify with one more than the other? What do you think when Haven says she feels that going to school is pointless, that there are more important things going on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning or reading about climate change, science, and/or mental health

Recommended For: 

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Signature

**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn by Patricia Newman, Illustrated by Natasha Donovan

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A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn
Author: Patricia Newman
Illustrator: Natasha Donovan
Published September 6th, 2022 by Millbrook Press

Summary: A mighty river. A long history.

For thousands of years, the Elwha river flowed north to the sea. The river churned with salmon, which helped feed bears, otters, and eagles. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, known as the Strong People located in the Pacific Northwest, were grateful for the river’s abundance. All that changed in the 1790s when strangers came who did not understand the river’s gifts. The strangers built dams, and the environmental consequences were disastrous.

Sibert honoree Patricia Newman and award-winning illustrator Natasha Donovan join forces to tell the story of the Elwha, chronicling how the Strong People successfully fought to restore the river and their way of life.

About the Creators: 

Patricia Newman’s books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. Her titles encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real world problems and act on behalf of their communities. These books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Orbis Pictus Recommended Book Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue; Booklist Editor’s Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Natasha Donovan is the illustrator of the award-winning Mothers of Xsan series (written by Brett Huson). She illustrated the graphic novel Surviving the City (written by Tasha Spillett), which won a Manitoba Book Award and received an American Indian Youth Literature Award (AIYLA) honor. She also illustrated Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer which won an Orbis Pictus Honor Book and an American Indian Youth Literature Award (AIYLA). Natasha is Métis, and spent her early life in Vancouver, British Columbia. Although she moved to the United States to marry a mathematician, she prefers to keep her own calculations to the world of color and line. She lives in Washington. www.natashadonovan.com

Review: This book is different than Newman’s other books as it is illustrated and more lyrical than her books of the past; however, there is no need to worry — the book is beautiful! Newman does a fantastic job balancing the narrative of the river and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe with informative information about water, salmon, dams, and other wildlife. Newman’s prose also does amazing justice when it comes to the river’s legacy and the indigenous tribes that relied on, and lost, the river.

To add to Newman’s work, Donovan’s illustrations bring everything to life that Newman shares. Her work is filled with color and life and brings the whole book together.

A spectacular nonfiction picture book that takes the reader on a journey of a river’s legacy filled with lyrical prose and important information.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher has provided a Teaching Guide for The River’s Gifts:

There is also an interview with Patricia Newman that digs deeper into her book:

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Environmental nonfiction picture books

Recommended For: 

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Signature

**Thank you to Patricia Newman and Lerner for providing a copy for review!**

Guest Review: A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, Illustrated by Sylvia Long

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Guest Reviewer: Natalia, UCF Elementary Education Student

A Butterfly is Patient
Author: Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrator: Sylvia Long
Published May 18th, 2011 by Chronicle Books

Summary: The creators of the award-winning An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy have teamed up again to create this gorgeous and informative introduction to the world of butterflies. From iridescent blue swallowtails and brilliant orange monarchs to the worlds tiniest butterfly (Western Pygmy Blue) and the largest (Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing), an incredible variety of butterflies are celebrated here in all of their beauty and wonder. Perfect for a child’s bedroom bookshelf or for a classroom reading circle!  (Summary from Goodreads)

About the Creators: 

Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of many books for children and is the founder of the nonprofit foundation for disadvantaged children, The Oz Project. She lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Sylvia Long is the illustrator of many best-selling books for children, including Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose and Hush Little Baby. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and their dogs.

Review: I loved this beautifully illustrated book by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long!  There is a wide variety of butterflies depicted in this nonfiction picture book about the life cycle and anatomy of butterflies.  Not only can it be enjoyed for its visual aspects, but the descriptive vocabulary shares basic facts about butterflies as well as more unusual information.  Did you know butterflies taste with their feet?  Some butterflies eat plants that are poisonous to their predators when they are caterpillars, so they will be poisonous as adults.  For such a seemingly delicate creature, A Butterfly is Patient shares that butterflies are so much more than they seem.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

In addition to providing beautiful, life-like illustrations of a variety of butterflies, this nonfiction picture book follows the life cycle of a butterfly.  There are many opportunities to infuse reading, ELA, math, art, and science and more using this book.  There is a rich descriptive vocabulary and uses key terms like anatomy, metamorphosis, migration, coloration/camouflage, and more.  I can see using these words cross-curricular lessons, from an ELA-based writing exercise to science-based compare/contrast activity with other animals and insects.  Math and geography activities can be used to calculate and track the migratory paths that different species of butterflies travel in their lifetimes.  Take it a step further, compare/contrast how many hours/days/weeks that would take a person using different modes of transportation.  Students can use what they have learned about butterfly camouflage and anatomy, to create their own butterfly.  They can describe why they chose the colors and features, then use art supplies to create a painting, drawing, or model of their “newly discovered” species.

Something I love to do with my children and students, is purchase milkweed plants.  They attract Monarch Butterflies.  Sometimes the plants already have tiny eggs or caterpillars living on them.  Other times, if I wait long enough, Monarchs will lay eggs on my plants.  We love to watch the caterpillars grow from teeny tiny slivers, to thick, fat caterpillars, which in turn, change into gorgeous jade chrysalis.  If we are lucky enough, we get to see the butterfly when it hatches.  There are butterfly net cages you can use in the classroom or just keep the plants outdoors if there is a safe place.  Students can track the growth and changes throughout the process with drawings and/or written descriptions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does a butterfly lay its egg under a leaf?
  • What does it mean to “molt?”
  • What is “metamorphosis?”
  • How does a caterpillar protect itself during metamorphosis?
  • How do butterflies help pollinate flowers?
  • What are some ways that butterflies use their wings to protect themselves?
  • How does a butterfly use its probiscis?
  • Are butterflies all the same size?
  • What would happen if a butterfly didn’t have scales?
  • How are butterflies’ scales helpful to them?
  • Where do Monarch butterflies migrate to and from?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Natalia, for your review!

Trex by Christyne Morrell

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Trex
Author: Christyne Morrell
Published August 30th, 2022 by Delacorte

Summary: This middle grade mystery follows the adventures of a boy with an experimental brain implant, and a reclusive girl training to be a spy, as they’re pitted against school bullies, their own parents, and an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Perfect for fans of Stranger Things.

Trex’s experimental brain implant saved his life–but it also made his life a lot harder. Now he shocks everything he touches. When his overprotective mother finally agrees to send him to a real school for sixth grade, Trex is determined to fit in.

He wasn’t counting on Mellie the Mouse. She lives in the creepiest house in Hopewell Hill, where she spends her time scowling, lurking, ignoring bullies, and training to be a spy. Mellie is convinced she saw lightning shoot from Trex’s fingertips, and she is Very Suspicious.

And she should be . . . but not of Trex. Someone mysterious is lurking in the shadows . . . someone who knows a dangerous secret.

About the Author: Christyne’s earliest completed work, written at age 7, told the story of Kermit the Frog meeting Miss Piggy’s parents for the first time. Kermit the Hog was a cautionary tale about pretending to be something you’re not. She still thinks it has potential.

Today, Christyne writes middle-grade novels across a number of genres. Whether they take place in quirky seaside towns or fantastical, faraway kingdoms, her stories all have one thing in common: clever kids accomplishing extraordinary things, like conquering a curse, overthrowing a king, or taking down an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Christyne believes that middle-grade books should challenge, intrigue, and inspire young readers – but above all, never underestimate them.

Christyne’s debut middle-grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, came out in August 2021 from Delacorte Press. Her next novel, TREX, releases in August 2022. She is also the author of the poetry book, The Fool Catcher (2021), and the picture book, Abra, Cadabra & Bob (2019), and her poems and stories have appeared in HighlightsSpider, and The School Magazine.

When Christyne isn’t writing for kids, she’s busy raising one. She’s an attorney by day, who enjoys reading, baking, and watching House Hunters marathons. She lives with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle in Decatur, Georgia.

Review: I LOVED Morrell’s first middle grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, so when she reached out for me to read her newest, I jumped at the chance! What is so interesting is how one author can come up with two completely different types of stories–two sides of the speculative coin, if you will. But man, does she knock this one out of the park, too. It is a mind bender of a story that, through red herrings, multiple points of view, and limited narrators, keeps you on your toes all the way until the end! There is so much to delve into with this book, and it is super engaging on top of it all. Another stellar middle grade novel!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is so much in this book to use in classrooms: STEM, journaling/spying, and mental health representation! And Christyne Morrell has so many resources on her website to utilize with Trex:

  • STEM
    • Static Electricity: Trex’s brain implant gives him a persistent static electric charge, which has a significant impact on his daily life. Teachers and students can explore the causes of static electricity and consider the steps someone with Trex’s condition would have to take to avoid hurting themselves and others. There are tons of activities available online that demonstrate static electricity at work. Here are some of the best: 16 Fun Electricity Experiments and Activities For Kids.
    • Trex in Real Life: Could Trex’s static electricity problem exist in real life? In Australia, a man reportedly built up a charge of 30,000 volts and set fire to a carpet! (Report: Man Burns Carpet with Static Shock | AP News)
    • Dry Lightning: Dry Lightning is any lightning that occurs without rain nearby. It’s especially dangerous for Trex, but it poses a real risk to everyone. Dry Lightning is more likely than typical lightning to cause forest fires, especially in the western portion of the United States, where it occurs most frequently. (What is a Dry Thunderstorm? | Live Science)
  • Spies
    • Spy Museum: Did you know there’s an entire museum dedicated to spycraft? Future sleuths will have a blast at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Upon arrival, visitors receive a cover identity, an RFID-enabled badge, and a secret mission to complete. And for those who can’t make it to D.C., the Spy Museum offers a number of resources on their website, including podcasts, puzzles, and more. (Spy Resources | International Spy Museum)
    • Famous Female Spies: Mellie follows in the footsteps of a long line of female spies. From the Civil War to World War II, women have been covertly risking their lives on top secret missions in service to their country. Learn about some of history’s most famous and successful spies: 6 of History’s Most Notable Female Spies | HistoryHit.
    • Easter Egg Hunt: To kickstart your career as a future spy, I’ve included a major Easter egg (a hidden reference) within the text of Trex. If you’ve read my first book, Kingdom of Secrets, and have a keen eye, perhaps you spot the reference!
  • Mental Health
    • The Power of Introverts: Full of insightful research and powerful examples, Susan Cain’s Quiet makes the case that introverts as a group are undervalued in our society and that we should accept – even embrace – our introverted natures. The “Quiet Manifesto” on Susan’s website states, “The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.” And I wrote Trex for precisely that reason. There’s a version of Quiet for kids and a podcast for parents on Susan Cain’s website. (Home – Susan Cain)
    • Anxiety: One of the characters in Trex deals with anxiety – a sense of distress or fear when faced with uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or stressful situations. All of us experience some level of anxiety (on the first day of school, for example), but when it becomes debilitating or disruptive, it may require attention. Treatment for anxiety can range from simple tactics like breathing exercises to therapy and medication. If you’re experiencing anxiety, talk to a trusted adult or doctor, and check resources like Anxiety.org, Child Mind Institute, and CDC: Anxiety and depression in children.
    • Alphabetter: In the book, the characters play a game called “Alphabetter,” in which they take turns naming things that make them happy in alphabetical order. This is a simple and fun way for anyone to calm their stress and boost their mood!

Discussion Questions: 

Book Trailer:

Read This If You Love: Mysteries, Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman, Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to the author for providing an e-galley for review!**

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman, Melissa by Alex Gino, and Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

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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 realistic fiction books.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend
Author: Dawn Quigley
Illustrator: Tara Audibert
Published May 11th, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons, a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be used in the classroom as a tool to show the students that it’s important not to assume what another student is thinking. It is always best to vocalize concerns

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe what a reservation is according to the book?
  • Why did Kokum (grandma) move in with Jo Jo and her mom?
  • In what ways are cats and balloons different?
  • Why did Jo Jo Makoons cut the toes out of her socks? What did she do with them?
  • What happens when Jo Jo takes Mimi to school?
  • What did the new girl, Susan do when she saw Mimi in the classroom?  How did JoJo feel about Susan’s reaction?
  • What are some ways you may relate to Jo Jo?
  • Has anybody ever felt like they might lose their best friend? Why?
  • How do Jo Jo’s classmates help her see that they are friends at the end of the story.
  • What does it mean to be a good friend to you?
  • What are some positive traits we could learn from Jo Jo?
  • In the Book Jo Jo cut out the toes in her socks. Why did she do this?
  • Why do you feel that Jo Jo felt left out at school?
  • Why was it so important for Jo Jo to bring MiMi to school with her?
  • What ways could JoJo have approached her classmates at lunch before getting upset about eating alone?
  • Why do you feel it’s important for Jo Jo and her family to learn and know the language of her Ojibwe tribe?
  • What could JoJo have done better for her original rhyme to make it better?
  • Like Jo Jo if you had to bring your best friend to class with you, who would it be and why?
  • How did you feel about the nickname Jo Jo made for Chuck?
  • Why do you think Jo Jo thought the Gym teacher’s name was Jim?

Recommended For: 

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The Length of a String
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Published May 1st, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birthparents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve–the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna’s diary and Imani’s birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use this book to discuss and learn about History-World War II/Holocaust, the Jewish faith, and adoption.

This book is educational because it discusses the Holocaust from the point of view of someone who experienced it. It also has an engaging story line that makes readers want to read more to find out what will happen. This book would be very useful when teaching about the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think Imani felt when she started to read about Anna’s life in her diary?
  • Think of a time you felt out of place and write about how that made you feel.
  • Why do you think Imani’s mom cries so much?
  • Have you ever felt a special connection with someone in you family?
  • If you were Imani, would you continue to look for your birth parents?
  • Suppose you wrote a diary about something that you want people/family in the future to know. What would it be about and why?
  • What are some special celebrations that you do with your family?
  • If you were Imani’s friend, what advice would you give her as she goes through this journey?
  • What is something you have that is special that you think you will give to someone in the future?
  • Why do you think people living around Imani insensitive questions?

Recommended For: 

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Melissa
Author: Alex Gino
Published August 25th, 2018 by Scholastic

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story is a good teachable book where certain themes can be brought up and talked about within the classroom setting. Where students can ask questions that may push boundaries but can be answered in a professional setting. This novel would be useful in the classroom to teach and promote gender diversity. This book would also be great as a classroom library so that students who may be facing these issues will have something relatable to read.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Identify some ways Melissa being trans affected their life.
  • Think about a moment when someone in the book was bullied. What could have been done differently?
  • Why do you think Melissa was so scared to tell her parents about who she is?
  • What does it mean to be an Ally?
  • Describe two ways someone else helped Melissa.
  • Describe Melissa’s disposition throughout the book. How did it change?
  • Do you think that it was a good idea to talk to a therapist about the issues between Melissa and her mom?
  • Write about a time you felt scared to tell someone the truth.
  • If you were in Melissa’s class what would you do to make her feel welcome?
  • Sketch a scene from the book. Why did you pick that scene?
  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    1. Classmates
    2. George’s mom and big brother
    3. School teacher/principal
    4. George’s best friend Kelly
    5. Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think they chose to do that?
  • How does Melissa feel in the first few chapters of the book?
  • How does Melissa feel at the end of the book?
  • Why did Ms.Udell not let Melissa play Charlotte?
  • Have you ever felt lost or scared to tell the truth? If so, how did that make you feel?
  • If Melissa was in your class, what are some ways you could make her feel welcomed?
  • Name a few things that Melissa had to struggle with, because she wanted to be trans.

Recommended For: 

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in a classroom for teachers to expose a lot of topics to students such as bullying, family relations, and relatable school interactions like wanting to play sports or friendships and grades. As well as students that are nervous about their 6th grade year or also starting sixth grade read about someone going through the same things as them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think caused Lolo to pick up the wrong twins?
  • Why do you think Merci and Edna are not friends?
  • Why do you think Edna is worried about appearances and mercy is not?
  • After their first interaction, do you think Merci will end up enjoying Michael as a sunshine buddy?
  • If you were a new kid would you want a sunshine buddy? Would you want to be a sunshine buddy? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Merci handled her situations maturely? Why or why not ?
  • Why did Merci’s parents hide Lolo’s conditions from her ?
  • How would you describe Merci’s relationship with her grandfather?
  • Do you think Merci’s culture made her feel different from her peers at school ? Why or Why not ?
  • How would you handle being falsely accused of something you didn’t do like Merci when edna destroyed the mask ?

Recommended For: 

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Blog Tour with Review by our 8-Year-Olds!: My Pet Feet by Josh Funk, Illustrated by Billy Yong

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My Pet Feet
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Billy Yong
Anticipated Publication: August 23, 2022 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads Summary: When the letter R suddenly vanishes, a whole town goes upside-down in this side-splitting picture book of alphabet chaos that’s Can I Be Your Dog? meets P Is for Pterodactyl.

A little girl wakes up one day to find that R, a vital piece of the alphabet, has vanished! Suddenly, she has pet feet instead of a ferret. Flocks of cows replace crows flying in the sky. Giant shoes (not shores!) live on the sandy beaches of her town.

What could have happened to the eighteenth letter of the alphabet? Did it get lost—or stolen? One way or another, the town needs to be saved!

When Trent first read this book, he said (and I quote), “This book should win all the awards! Not just now but forever!” Because of how much he loved the book, we decided to let him and Henry chat about and review the book for us!

Our 8-Year-Olds Chat About the Book:

Henry: Did you notice on the background on the first page that it said “fist place” instead of “first place”? That was so funny!

Trent: Hahahaha! Fist place! Hahahaha! What do you think will happen next because the bees are taking the Zs?

Henry: I would say that…hmm… I don’t know. I think the bees will just be quiet and will say Zs. What do you think?

Trent: Same.

Henry: Have you seen the mice? Have you seen the mice on most of the pages? There’s a little mouse holding a donut on the pages. I love that! Why do you think they did that?

Trent: I didn’t notice that. Oh look at that! I think they are actually rats.

Henry: Yah! Rats without the Rs. 

Trent: They are taking the donuts at the bake shop! What are three words without Rs and what would they say?

Henry: Hmm….[looking around the room] Roar would be oa! Hahahahaha! Grown would be gown! Growl would be gowl! Hahaha! Those are so funny!

Trent: In the book, the doo is the door. The cows are the crows. The cane is the crane.

Henry: Oh. You meant from the book! Hahaha! I just picked words!

Trent: Well we are talking about the book, silly.

Henry: Reading would be eading, like eating. Isn’t that funny?

Henry’s little brother: I love this book! 

Henry: The go-carts are go-cats! The feet is ferret! The fist is first! What do you think another good letter missing book would be, like this one, that is just as funny as this one?

Trent: But we are talking about this book!

Henry: I know, but I am talking about how this book is funny and thinking about other ones Josh Funk could make.

Trent: E would be good!

Henry: Oh nice! Like “see” would be “ssssss,” hahaha! I like that. Good one, Trent. “Fled” would be “fld.”

Trent: Oh! Compare the spreads on pages 8 and 20. What is the same and what is different? Bake shop, brake shop. That stuff. I like these ones. Taco caves! What do you think taco caves is?

Henry: Oh! Ha! I don’t know! I don’t know! It sounds so funny! 

Trent: It’s taco cravers, I think. If you look at the toon town closely inside the brake shop sign, you see posters. And then they are actually different, too.

Henry: Oh!! Taco cravers! Toon Town. Oh! Tires on Brake Shop! I love this book. Oh! Instead of Brake Shop, it is Bake Shop, Trent! We also fix ties instead of tires, it says. Cool! Haha. 

Trent: What could the sequel be called with the Zs? It could be My Pet Zzzs. 

Henry: Instead of Zzzs for sleeping, it would just say NOTHING! Ha! Why do you think the Bs are taking the Zs away?

Trent: I already asked you that question. Haha!

Henry: On the final page, page 20, in the corner, near Pam’s Bake Shop, the rats are finally eating the donut. Haha! It’s cute. There’s a dog on top, too!

Trent: Oh yah! I see it!

Henry: On page 15, in the left top corner, there is a shoe!

Trent: I know. The sea shore. Shoe, shore. And the pie is the pier.

Henry: Oh yah! 

Trent: Josh Funk told me that the illustrator and him didn’t meet before, and there are jokes in the illustration that he didn’t write. Henry, go to the butt page! The gassy field! Page 13!

Henry: Oh, hahahaha! I love this page. Did Josh Funk put that in?

Trent: I think that the illustrator put that in.

Henry: What is your favorite part about the book? 

Trent: I like the gassy field the best.

Henry: Hahahaha! I like how they take out the Rs. And I like the gassy fields. And I like the big, giant cow poop. On page 9, they are chasing the poop. And it says “town hall” and it has the poop in front of it.

Trent: It’s the door. It’s supposed to be the door!

Henry: On page 10, if you look in the corner, the door or doo is even bigger.

Trent: Hahahah poop. Hahaha poop.

Henry: What would you rate this book from 1 to 10?

Trent: 10! 10! 10! It was a really good book.

Henry: Same! I rate it a 10, too! I love the crane. The cane!

Trent: Yah, the cane! I like the cane, too. And I like the cows.

Henry: What kind of kids do you think would like to read this book?

Trent: Kindergarten to third, like us.

Henry: Yah, and fourth grade, too. And kids who like potty talk like me. And words.

Trent: Kids who like funny things would really like this book.


Parent Perspective: Not only does this book allow our kids to play with words, they maintained a long conversation about the book without parent prompts. It offered them so much to talk about. In particular, they loved the humor. It made them laugh, and it made them think about different word combinations. This book pushed our kids as readers because they had to pause and consider where the Rs were missing. 

We loved this book and think it would be a wonderful addition to classrooms. Although our kids were limited to their own age group, we think readers of all ages would find great joy in the play on words in this book. 

 

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