Guest Review: Magyk by Angie Sage

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Guest Reviewer: Grace, UCF Elementary Education Student

Magyk (Septimus Heap Book One)
Author: Angie Sage
Published March 2nd, 2005 by Bloomsbury Publishing

Summary: The first part of this enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells, and a yearning to uncover the mystery at the heart of this story…who is Septimus Heap?

The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?

Angie Sage writes in the tradition of great British storytellers. Her inventive fantasy is filled with humor and heart: Magyk will have readers laughing and begging for more.

About the Author: Angie Sage began her career illustrating books, and then started writing – first toddler books, later chapter books and then the masterful Septimus Heap. She lives in a fifteenth-century house in Somerset. She has two grown-up daughters.

Review: Magyk is an interesting fantasy adventure that provides children an alternative to the increasingly controversial Harry Potter series. It has themes of wizardry/magic and adventure and focuses on a small group of young characters that age throughout the series.

Magyk and the rest of the Septimus Heap series promotes gender equality as it has several strong female characters and shows women in positions of power without questioning from other characters. In addition, this book and its series promote friendships between characters not only of different genders but of different backgrounds and races.

This book also has strong themes of found-family as well as other complicated family relationships that can be comforting to children without a more traditional nuclear family structure. One of the main characters, Jenna, has been adopted and struggles with her relationships with her non-adopted siblings. This is explored further in later books in the series when she meets her biological father and learns the identity of her birth mother.

The series associated with Magyk grows with its reader as Septimus, the main character, ages throughout the series. The books introduce increasingly mature themes over time, introducing readers to new ideas as they are ready for them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book touches upon the idea of found family. This theme could be implemented in the classroom to help students better understand the importance of relationships between themselves and those around them. Highlighting the importance of the people we surround ourselves with and the aid they can provide is an important lesson to learn as it gives us strength to go about our day.

This book also teaches students to trust themselves and bare more responsibility as time goes by. Throughout the book, the characters discover that true power comes from themselves. It is only by trusting themselves and working hard that can they achieve their goals. This teaches students the importance of a good work ethic and how you have to work in order to achieve your goals. By adding additional responsibilities to characters throughout the book you can see how their wants and needs change over time however, this does not take away from the goals and aspirations they want to achieve.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Although Jenna is not related to the Heaps by blood she is raised as their daughter. How does Jenna’s relationship with her parents differ from that of her “siblings”?
  • Boy 412 and Jenna both have complicated pasts. How does their relationship change throughout the book as they learn more about themselves and each other?
  • How does Boy 412 relationships with others vary compared to how other children in the book make relationships?
  • How do the circumstances in which Jenna and Boy 412 discover their identities vary? How does this affect how they react to the news?
  • Boy 412 was raised in a militaristic environment, how does this shape the person he has become? If he was raised in a different environment do you think his personality would be different?
  • How do Marcia, Sarah, Zelda, and Silas treat the children differently? Why do you believe they have such different approaches?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oh it’s a pebble… But it’s a really nice pebble Dad thanks.”

Read This If You Love: Books about witches/wizards, Books that age with you

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Grace, for your review!!

 

Guest Review: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

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Guest Reviewer: Brian, UCF Elementary Education Student

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

Summary: From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.

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.

About the Creators: 

Lupita Nyong’o is a Kenyan actress and producer. Her first feature film role was in the film 12 Years a Slave, for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as multiple accolades, including the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Critics’ Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and the NAACP Award. She has since starred in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ryan Coogler’s record-breaking box office hit Black Panther, and most recently in Jordan’s Peele’s critically acclaimed horror film Us. Nyong’o earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed. She lives in Brooklyn.

Vashti Harrison, author and illustrator of the bestselling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, is an artist, author, and filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. She earned her MFA in film and video from California Institute of the Arts, where she snuck into animation and illustration classes to learn from Disney and DreamWorks legends. There she rekindled a love for drawing and painting. Now she uses her love for both film and illustration to craft beautiful stories for children.

Review: This book was just amazing! The story, the art, the lesson–everything was perfect. The message that is written in this story is not just for kids, even though the intended audience is children. The book talks about colorism and how one should love themselves just the way they are. We are all unique and special, and we should not try to change ourselves for nobody. In the world we live in today, there is so much negativity, but with this book for children, they can learn to be the light in the midst of darkness, no matter what the color of your skin is. Sulwe’s skin is the color of Midnight, but to me she shines the brightest in her family. Without midnight, everyone else’s shine would be pointless. I hope that when children read this book, they will appreciate who they are and be confident in themselves. This is a story I would definitely keep in my classroom. My favorite quote from the story, “When you are darkest is when you are most beautiful. It is when you are most you.” This left me very emotional and I’m a grown adult now. I should not be tearing up like this!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Sulwe has many topics that can be discussed and is a great read aloud to teach social emotional learning; it can also be used to teach a variety of literacy skills. Here are some ideas that can be used to incorporate Sulwe into the lesson plan:

The first thing the students can do would be to practice their compare and contrast skills by discussing how the character changes and feels throughout the story. Another activity the students can do would be to practice descriptive writing by having them describe their own appearance. The last activity that can be done is having the students practice writing book reviews after they have read the story. If none of these activities work for you or aren’t that interesting, asking questions about the story to the students is always an option. Here, the teacher can discuss important topics like bullying, appreciating others, respect, and loving oneself.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does the name Sulwe mean?
  • How are the pet names for “day” and “night” different?
  • What types of food did Sulwe eat to try and change her color?
  • What appeared through Sulwe’s window?
  • Why did Sulwe want to change the way she looked?
  • Have you ever been teased because of the way you look? How did that make you feel?

Flagged Passages: 

When you are darkest is when you are most beautiful. It is when you are most you.”

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry or Eyes that Kiss in the Corner by Joanna Ho

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Brian, for your review!

Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

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Bright Star
Author and Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Published September 7, 2021 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: A Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book

Inspiring, reassuring, and beautifully illustrated, this new story from the creator of the New York Times bestseller Dreamers is the perfect gift for every child.

New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year

With the combination of powerful, spare language and sumptuous, complex imagery characteristic of her work, Yuyi Morales weaves the tale of a fawn making her way through a landscape that is dangerous, beautiful—and full of potential.  A gentle voice urges her onward, to face her fears and challenge the obstacles that seek to hold her back.

Child, you are awake!
You are alive!
You are a bright star,
Inside our hearts.

With a voice full of calm, contemplative wisdom, readers are invited to listen and observe, to accept themselves—and to dare to shout!

In a world full of uncertainty, Bright Star seeks to offer reassurance and courage. Yuyi Morales’ first book since her New York Times bestseller Dreamers explores the borderlands—the plants, animals, and insects that make their home in the desert, and the people who live and travel through this unique and beautiful part of the world.

Created with a combination of techniques including hand-embroidered lettering, painting, sketching, digital paintings with textures from photographs of the Sonoran Desert, this stunning book is full of beauty—from the handwoven blanket of the endpapers through the last inspiring spread of young families facing their future with determination and hope.

A Spanish language edition, Lucero, is also available.

Ricki’s Review: I took a deep breath after I finished this book. It’s really quite magnificent. The words, the use of language, the mixed media of the illustrations—it all works together to offer a warm embrace for readers. I felt as if Yuyi was speaking directly to me, as the reader. This is a book that will resonate with all readers. It share the beauty of the borderlands and demonstrates Morales’ flexibility to maneuver language and illustration in ways that are, quite simply, captivating. Typically, I donate my books after I read them, but this is going to be one that I have a hard time giving away. I want to read it again and again. I might just need to buy copies for everyone I know. Most of all, I love how this book offered great hope.

Kellee’s Review: This beautiful book is a guide to life and an ode to parenthood & community. The use of second person engages the reader in a way that wouldn’t have happened without this choice. This moves the reader and really sets the mood of the book and makes it an excellent read aloud! The book is alsoabout facing fears, all types of fears that may come a child’s way during their life. But it also promotes students advocating for their feelings and using their voice to share what they feel. All of this in a beautifully illustrated, scarcely (but specifically) worded text. This shows what a brilliant author and illustrator Yuyi Morales is.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to share out the many ways that they can layer literacies—through images and language. Then, they might try to layer literacy themselves. Perhaps they could translanguage or offer images layered in text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the use of second person point of view draw you into the text?
  • What types of illustration and imagery does Morales use?
  • What did you learn about the borderlands?
  • What did you learn about yourself?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Love: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, The Refuge by Sandra Le Guen, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Refugee by Alan Gratz, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Recommended For: 

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and Signature

**Thank you, Sara at Holiday House, for providing copies for review!**

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

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Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 5, 2020 by HarperTeen

Summary: In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Ricki’s Review: I was so happy to see that this book won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. It is one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read. It made me laugh, it made me weep, and it filled me with so many emotions and so many wonderings. The book is beautifully lyrical, and the voices are so strong. There’s a scene in the book that simply took my breath away. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend you head out and purchase it now. It’s absolutely magnificent.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the two perspectives of the story work together? How did it enhance your reading of the story?
  • How does place function in the story?
  • Where is home for the characters?
  • How do the characters in the story grieve? What understandings did it offer about grief and loss?
  • How do the characters in this book show strength in many different ways?

Flagged Passage: 

“Can you be from a place
you have never been?

You can find the island stamped all over me,
but what would the island find if I was there?

Can you claim a home that does not know you,
much less claim you as its own?”

Read This If You Love: Books. Seriously, it would be very difficult not to see the beauty of this book. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the greatest writers of our time.

Recommended For: 

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Watercress by Andrea Wang, Illustrated by Jason Chin

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Watercress
Author: Andrea Wang
Illustrator: Jason Chin
Published: March 30, 2021 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.

Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.

At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection!

Ricki’s Review: This book took my breath away. A girl’s family stops by the side of the road, and she is embarrassed as they fill paper bags with muddy watercress and eat it for dinner. Her mother shares a story of her childhood and talks about a brother who has passed on. I will be recommending this book over and over again. The story is stunningly written and captures painful memories that are passed intergenerationally. The author writes that it is “both an apology and a love letter” to her parents. I imagine the story would make her parents very proud. There is a bond between the family that reaches off the pages and pulls readers into the story. I highly recommend this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book to ask students to share moments that they were embarrassed about a family or friend situation. They might then add layers to that story–what do these stories tell? How do these stories reveal layers of their lives?

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author write about emotion? What feelings does the narrator have, and how do these feelings change?
  • How are stories passed intergenerationally?
  • What does the narrator learn, and how does this knowledge change her?

Flagged Spread:

 

Read This If You Love: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin; Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

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**Thank you, Sara, from Holiday House and Pixel+Ink for sending a copy for review!**

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho

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Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Author: Joanna Ho
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Published: January 5, 2021 by HarperCollins

Summary: This lyrical and stunning picture book tells a story about learning to love and celebrate your Asian-shaped eyes, in the of spirit of Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers’. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self love and empowerment.

This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages and is a celebration of diversity.

Ricki’s Review: This book is beautiful and poetic. You could give it to any reader of any age, and they would be captivated by how beautifully it is conceived, constructed and delivered. The lyrical lilt of the words as it is read aloud are captivating. I found myself pausing at the end of reading each page to take in the beauty of the author’s language. Ahh, and the illustrations! The cover is just a teaser for the stunning pictures within this book. I am really excited to gift this book to friends and family. It exemplifies the beauty and power of pictures books. I plan to read it aloud to my YAL class next semester. This book just hit the shelves, and I expect it to be very popular.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book to offer students examples of figurative language. Often, figurative language can feel forced, but here, it flows magically with the storyline. I found that reading this book inspired me to want to write!

“Mama’s eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea

crinkle into crescent moons…”

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author use figurative language effectively?
  • What do you believe to be the author’s and illustrator’s message? How do they convey this message?
  • Who does the main character draw strength from? Who do you draw strength from?

Flagged Spread:

Image from: https://www.joannahowrites.com/eyes-that-kiss

Read This If You Love: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

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**Thank you, Keely, from SparkPoint Studio for sending a copy for review!**

Sometimes a Wall… by Dianne White, Illustrated by Barroux

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Sometimes a Wall…
Author: Dianne White; Illustrator: Barroux
Published: October 15, 2020 by OwlKids

Summary: An afternoon in the playground introduces different kinds of walls: a brick wall to draw on with chalk, a water wall, and a climbing wall. What follows is a playful yet profound exploration of the many ways walls can divide us or bring us together. When one child is excluded from a game, another builds a castle to leave him out. When the builder declares the castle MINE, other kids feel alienated―but the builder becomes lonely, too, when the others have fun without him. The book ends with the optimism of a new start: friendship, forgiveness, and imagination give the wall new meaning.

Told with short, simple lines of playful, rhyming text and loose line illustrations by internationally known artist Barroux, this book sparks questions with empathy, insight, and charm. It’s a timely tool for inquiry-based and social-emotional learning, sharing the important message that walls can unite or divide, depending on the choices we make. 

“Rhyme, rhythm, and simple art—all including references to walls—show children expressing different emotions and behaviors… Mending walls for the nursery crowd.” –Kirkus Reviews

Review: My own children have been asking about walls. They hear about them in school (in preschool and first grade), and they come home with a lot of questions. This book offers such great fodder for conversations about walls. The wall in this book evolves, and it is up to the reader to interpret many aspects about the wall and its purpose. I love how this opens discussions for what walls might represent and how they might differ in various conceptions. For instance, the wall in this book might be described as a border wall or it might be describe attached to a metaphorical or ideological wall. This is a book that will make readers of all ages think. I read the book three times in a row (which is not often my approach) because I kept thinking about new applications of the text. This would make a phenomenal classroom text and would be great for critical thinking and discussions. I recommend it highly.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: I’d love to use this book to teach the concept of a metaphor. For me, the wall in this text can be used as a metaphor to talk about a lot of concepts (concrete and abstract).

The “Why” Behind the Book:

A Letter to Parents and Educators

A Letter to Young Readers

Discussion Guide:

Sometimes a Wall… Discussion Guide

A Lesson In 3 Movements:

• Intro to the Unit (PLEASE READ FIRST!)

• What’s Different About Reading Wordless/Nearly Wordless Picture Books?

• 1st Movement: TOGETHER (I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët)

 2nd Movement: APART (Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi)

• 3rd Movement: REGRET. NEW START? (Sometimes a Wall … by Dianne White, illustrated by Barroux)

Coloring Pages For Younger Students:

We Are Kind coloring page

Be Kind coloring page

Discussion Questions: 

  • What might the wall represent?
  • How does the wall evolve in the text?
  • What kinds of walls do you have in your life? Do they serve good or bad purposes (or both)?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët, Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi, The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

Recommended For: