Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Front Desk by Kelly Yang, Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell, Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar, Mary and the Trail of Tears by Andrea L. Rogers, and Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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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 some historical fiction books they read.

Front Desk
Author: Kelly Yang
Published May 29th, 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books

Summary: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in a classroom because it discusses real life topics like immigration, racism, poverty, bullying and even fraud. It gives a message to students on how important it is to fight for what’s right and to learn to treat others with respect, regardless of what they look like. It can be used as a platform for students to discuss issues that they can relate to.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was Mia’s job at the hotel? What characteristics she have to make her flourish doing that job?
  • Mia’s mom mothers says, were immigrants. Our lives are never fair,” what does she mean by that?
  • How did Mia change and grow throughout the book?
  • Within the book, Mias mother wanted her to practice her math skills despite how Mia felt. Has there ever been a time where you felt like you were in the same position as Mia?
  • Mia and her dad discuss the value of a penny. He says, “A mistake isn’t always a mistake. Sometimes a mistake is actually an opportunity. What does he mean by that?
  • Would you try to help immigrants the same way Mia’s family did or would you try to come up with a different solution? What would you do if you were caught by your employer?
  • If you were part of an immigrant family would you stay to work at this motel or would you leave to try better opportunities? Why would you stay or leave?
  • If you ran a motel how would you handle customers?
  • Do you think Mia’s mother was right to have her focus more on math or should she have been supportive of her daughter’s interest in writing? Why do you think one way or the other.

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Indian No More
Author: Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell
Published September 24th 2019 by Tu Books

Summary: Regina Petit’s family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. Her biggest worry is that Sasquatch may actually exist out in the forest. But when the federal government signs a bill into law that says Regina’s tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight–even though she was given a number by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that counted her as Indian, even though she lives with her tribe and practices tribal customs, and even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations.

With no good jobs available in Oregon, Regina’s father signs the family up for the Indian Relocation program and moves them to Los Angeles. Regina finds a whole new world in her neighborhood on 58th Place. She’s never met kids of other races, and they’ve never met a real Indian. For the first time in her life, Regina comes face to face with the viciousness of racism, personally and toward her new friends.

Meanwhile, her father believes that if he works hard, their family will be treated just like white Americans. But it’s not that easy. It’s 1957 during the Civil Rights Era. The family struggles without their tribal community and land. At least Regina has her grandmother, Chich, and her stories. At least they are all together.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is useful for teaching about the US Government and US History. This book also teaches about how people from diverse identities showed solidarity with each other in the face of white supremacy, which is a core value of US democracy. The book also teaches that one’s identity is personal and they cannot be defined by other people.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the significance of storytelling in Umpqua culture.
  • This book examines how identity is very complicated and mixed but the US government imposes very rigid categories on people. Discuss how the categories the US government attempts to put people in, then and now, can harm people and are inaccurate.
  • Describe the Grande Ronde Reservation from Regina’s point of view, is this different from other depictions of reservations you have seen?
  • What made the Thanksgiving and the Thanksgiving play so hard on Regina and her family?
  • Compare and Contrast the Indian Agency School on Grande Ronde Reservation and Budlong Elementary School in Los Angeles.
  • Reflect on Regina’s first Halloween off the Reservation. What went wrong and how do you think Regina and her friends felt? Think about how it could affect them even after the attack.
  • How did the passing of Chich affect the family? Why do you think Regina’s father reacted the way he did?
  • Regina connects to her culture and identity by storytelling. Write about a significant event that happened to you.
  • How does Regina’s father struggle with his identity after they move to Los Angeles?
  • Within the story Regina Petit called her grandmother and grandfather Chich and Chup. What do you call your grandparents where you’re from? Why do you think it differs from Regina?
  • Within the story, Regina was prideful of her long hair. It represented their culture back home. When Regina’s father cut it off, she was very upset. How do you think you would have reacted if someone took something that means alot in your culture and why?
  • Chich would keep the story of their homeland alive through her story telling. What stories do you have of your own culture that represents you? Why did you chose this?
  • Looking back at the story of the beaver, how can this relate to you in your life?
  • Have you ever experienced/seen someone experience what Regina and her friends did on Halloween? How would you react if you were in this situation? Do you think this was a fair treatment?
  • When Regina and her family wanted to celebrate her father promotion at work, they were denied service due to the color of their skin and appearance. Have you or someone you know experienced not being served at a restaurant just because of your appearance? Do you think this treatment of people of color is correct and just? How would you react if it were you in this very same situation?
  • What did you know about this time period prior to reading this book? Do you believe you learned more about the time period from the book after reading it? What have you learned?
  • How do you think Regina’s life differs from your own life? Do you think the time period has anything to do with that?
  • Have you ever experienced a great loss like Regina and her sister did towards the end of the book? How did you react to it?
  • If there was anything about the events in the book that you would change what would it be? Why did you choose this event to change?

Recommended For: 

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Lucky Broken Girl
Author: Ruth Behar
Published April 11th 2017 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: Based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.

Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom for group discussions about overcoming hardships. It is also useful in the classroom to help students who are learning English relate to Ruthie.

This book will be a good choice for a classroom library. This book represents the story of a strong girl living through a difficult time in her life. She had to move to a new country but also had a bad accident that left her physically and emotionally drained. This book can help children learn to face loss and have hope for a better future.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Ruthie faced hardship and she found it difficult to stay positive but her family and friends tried helping in the best way they could. How have your friends and family helped you when facing difficulties?
  • What is the theme of Lucky Broken Girl and how can you relate to the theme?
  • How are characters helping and not helping Ruthie cope during her recovery?
  • Was Chico a good friend to Ruthie? Why? What did he do during Ruthie’s recovery?
  • What did Ruthie learn about the immigration stories of the people around her?
  • Ruthie has been reading a lot during her recovery, especially Nancy Drew. How are these books helping her and encouraging her?
  • How was Ruthie “Lucky” while being bedridden for ten months?
  • What connection can you make with Ruthie or her family?
  • The painting of Frida Kahlo and the poems of Emily Dickerson help Ruthie understand her situation. What poems, books, or artists have helped you through a hard time, and why?

Recommended For: 

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Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story
Author: Andrea L. Rogers
Published January 1st 2020 by Stone Arch Books

Summary: Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Featuring nonfiction support material, a glossary, and reader response questions, this Girls Survive story explores the tragedy of forced removals following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The story goes into great detail from the time Mary learns what is happening and the journey across the land.  The characters face many different challenges on their journey, and the book does a great job at providing dates and locations.  Also, the drama response of the news reporter would be fun, as it is clear the characters in the story have many opinions and emotions.

This book could also be used as a read-aloud book. It would be great to read a chapter a day as a class, even having children popcorn read paragraphs.  After reading, students can do several different activities about the culture, history, and even character perspectives

Discussion Questions: 

  • In what ways would you try to communicate to the soldiers if you didn’t speak English like Mary.
  • In what ways would you try to comfort your younger family members knowing you had no home to return to?
  • When Mary and her family are trapped in the mud caused by the non-sto prain, they begin to sing a song they all remember. Do you have a song your whole family knows? What song(s) do you sing to make yourself feel better?
  • While reading this book what emotions trigger you the most: sad, happy, confused?
  • In what ways do you relate to Mary?
  • How does not being able to speak the language with the soldiers create a conflict for Mary?
  • We’ve all felt alone at some point whether its been when we lost our mom at the grocery store for a second or what have you, name a similar situation in which you felt alone like Mary. Elaborate.
  • When was there a time where you felt scared like Mary? What did you do to overcome this fear?
  • How do you think that this situation of being forcefully kicked out of your house would play out today because you were of a certain racial group? What would be the effects?
  • Explain a time you cried tears of joy?

Recommended For: 

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The Night Diary
Author: Veera Hiranandani
Published March 6th 2018 by Kokila

Summary: It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be useful in the classroom when talking about and learning about different cultures around the world. Students will have a better understanding of the differences of two close religions and cultures, as I learned when reading the book.

This book would also be useful when it comes to the topic of World History. After reading this book, students would have had insight to another culture and perspective from a standpoint of someone of a different culture in a different country.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think Nisha felt when she had to move?
  • What do you think you would have done if you or a family member were attacked on a train like Nisha and her family was?
  • Nisha kept a diary, what kind of thing do you think you would put in yours if you had one? Would your diary be similar to Nishas?
  • Do you think Papa made the right decision on moving away? Explain why or why not.
  • Do you think Nisha preferred one religion to the other? Hindu or muslim?
  • Kazi was Nisha’s best friend but she had to leave her behind. Do you think they would still keep in touch if they could?
  • Why do you think there was so much division in India?
  • How did the book make you feel after and during reading? Was it what you expected? Explain.
  • Nisha is half Muslim and half Hindu. Do you only have one religion in your household, or do you come from two like Nisha?
  • How did reading about Nisha’s journey make you feel when she was attacked on the train? What would you do in that situation ?
  • What are two lessons you learned from reading this book that are specific to Nisha’s Journey?
  • Do you think Papa made a good choice by leaving? Why or why not?
  • If you had to be a character from the book, who would you choose? Why?
  • How did moving away affect Nisha?
  • Name one character that contributed to Nisha’s life and journey to find herself.
  • Does anyone have a diary? If so, do you think that you can relate to Nisha because she had one to? Why?
  • Why do you think Papa didn’t want his son to smile in the beginning? What does this say about their culture?
  • Think about your bond with your siblings if you have any. Do you find it to be similar to Nisha and her brothers in any way?
  • When Nisha had to leave Kazi behind she was very sad. Have you ever lost a friend the way Nisha did, if so what was that like ?

Recommended For: 

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus, Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, and The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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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 when reading these historical fiction books.

One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Published January 26th, 2010 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think of Cecile and the way she treats her daughters? How does that make you feel?
  • What do you think Cecile does for the black panthers? Do you think it is good or bad?
  • Explain why you think the girls were sent to visit their mother?
  • Why did the black panthers call Fern’s doll, Ms. Pattycake, self hatred?
  • Who or what is a black panther? (For background knowledge on the history in story)
  • Why do you think Vonneta didn’t stick up for Fern when her friend was calling her a baby? Why did she then destroy Fern’s doll?
  • Family is an important theme of the novel, write about your relationship with your family.
  • Do you think Delphine agrees with the black panthers are fighting for? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Fern’s name is the real reason Cecile left? Why or why not?
  •  Do you think Delphine forgives her mom for abandoning her? Why or why not?

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A Place to Hang the Moon
Author: Kate Albus
Published February 2nd, 2021 by Margaret Ferguson Books

Summary: Set against the backdrop of World War II, Anna, Edmund, and William are evacuated from London to live in the countryside, bouncing from home to home in search of a permanent family.

It is 1940 and Anna, 9, Edmund, 11, and William, 12, have just lost their grandmother. Unfortunately, she left no provision for their guardianship in her will. Her solicitor comes up with a preposterous plan: he will arrange for the children to join a group of schoolchildren who are being evacuated to a village in the country, where they will live with families for the duration of the war. He also hopes that whoever takes the children on might end up willing to adopt them and become their new family–providing, of course, that the children can agree on the choice.

Moving from one family to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets, and the hollowness of empty tummies. They seek comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Muller, seems an excellent candidate–except that she has a German husband whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Nevertheless, Nora’s cottage is a place of bedtime stories and fireplaces, of vegetable gardens and hot, milky tea. Most important, it’s a place where someone thinks they all three hung the moon. Which is really all you need in a mom, if you think about it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book could be used to teach children about the effects of World War II on England and specifically how it affected children. This book could also be used to have an open discussion about family. To help children understand how family changes and how your ideas and those you consider family can change over time.

This book should definitely be put in the classroom library. Close reading/analysis would be used especially when the children are learning about World War II, so they are able to better understand historical context and explore what else was going on in this time period and why the actions of the characters were necessary. And the book would be great in a book club could also be used to help students reflect upon what they were feeling and give them an opportunity to share their opinions of the story with their peers.

Interdisciplinary Aspects:

History- This book takes place during World War II students can take this as an opportunity to research the war and understand the setting of the novel and why the characters were forced to move away in more detail

Reading/Literature- Throughout the book the children are introduced to many different books and authors. Students can explore these books and read one of their choosing to understand these stories in more detail

Discussion Questions: 

  • Throughout the book the children mention that they know they will have found their new family when they find someone who believes that they had hung the moon. What do you believe that this phrase means?
  • During this book the children mention that they are frequently talking about rationing and the need for rationing coupons. What is rationing and why was it necessary during the war?
  • Why would Mrs.Mueller having a German husband make her unsuitable to house the children?
  • Which housing accommodation was the least suitable for the children? Why?
  • Throughout the book the children read different books to pass the time and feel better about their current situation? How can reading bring about comfort to these characters?
  • How is Edmunds understanding of the war and his actions to his billet hosts different from Williams?
  • Edmund tells William that he knows that the stories he tells about his parents are fake. Why does he still enjoy these stories even though he knows they aren’t real?
  • Each of the siblings is hoping to get something specific out of the new family. (Edmund wants someone to cook for him, William wants to not worry about taking care of his siblings and having so many burdens, and Anna wants someone to tuck her in and give her a hug) Why is their idea of parents so different? How does Mrs. Mueller meet each of their expectations?
  • Why do you think that none of the children were devastated at the death of their Grandmother? How do you think they acted at their parents’ funeral?
  • Why are the children sent to a village in the country?
  • What war did this story take place during?
  • Where did the children get sent off to?
  • What is one thing they encountered during their foster care?
  • What is the name of the librarian they fell in love with?
  • Who is the person that sent them into foster care and why?
  • What did it mean for them when they said they hung the moon?
  • Who sank the boat of refugee children?
  • Why did the English women who’s husband was German get a lot of prejudice from neighbors?

Recommended For: 

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Planet Earth is Blue
Author: Nicole Panteleakos
Published May 14th, 2019 by Random House

Summary: Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.

While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful for students who aren’t nonverbal and autistic, it would teach the perspective from these students who are  to better understand them and find ways to relate to them.

It can also be an introduction to space and the solar system focusing on science.

This would be a great book to have in the classroom library as it is easy to build a personal connection to the characters that students may not want to speak about to a larger group. This would give them the chance to dive into subjects that may be relatable to them but not others and provide a safe space for it.

Using this book for a close reading or analysis can be beneficial as it can be used as an introduction to the space unit. It can be used as a way to introduce the topic of differences in students’ lives and how it can be accepted rather than seen as a negative.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship between Nova and Bridget that was given by the narrator.
  • Why do you think Nova and Bridget were unable to live with their mother any longer?
  • Why do you think Nova took a special interest in space?
  • How does it make you feel that people are mean to Nova? Use describing words.
  • Nova often talks about being tested multiple times. How does Nova feel about this testing? Can you relate to this? Explain.
  • Why do you believe the book was written from the point of view of a narrator rather than Nova herself?
  • When Francine looks up the word Nova, how does this relate to her?
  • Why were the chapters counting down instead of up?
  • Describe the alternative ending you would have liked to read for Nova and Bridget.

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Shooting Kabul
Author: N.H. Senzai
Published June 22nd, 2010 by Simon & Schuster

Summary: In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.

Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?

Based in part on Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in the 1970’s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:This book would be useful in the classroom when talking about history. Events like 9/11 and especially the history of the Middle East and how refugees adapt to American culture. It speaks on culture and religion. It also creates a discussion for kids to speak on transitioning, which most can relate to.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the events of September 11, 2001, affect Fadi’s school and home life?
  • How would you handle accidentally leaving your sibling behind in another country?
  • Would you go to another country if things are going bad in yours or would you stay to help? How would you help if you stay? Where did you leave and why did you choose there?
  • If you were put in charge of a country would you put your beliefs and needs first or would you worry more for your people’s wants and desires? How would you handle either situation?
  • Would you move on if the bullies had destroyed your camera? What would you do if the principal asked you who was there during the fight?
  • What kind of observations tell you on how Fadi has adapted to his new school and life in America?
  • If you were a member of Fadi’s family, how would you have felt about Habib, your dad, wanting to return to Afghanistan?
  • In the book, what types of misunderstandings about the Muslim faith and Middle Easterns are shown?
  • How do you think Fadi felt when in school? Was it difficult for him to cope with American culture ?

Recommended For: 

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The Dreamer
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan & Peter Sis
Published April 1st, 2010 by Scholastic Press

Summary: Neftali finds beauty and wonder everywhere: in the oily colors of mud puddles; a lost glove, sailing on the wind; the music of birds and language. He loves to collect treasures, daydream, and write–pastimes his authoritarian father thinks are for fools. Against all odds, Neftali prevails against his father’s cruelty and his own crippling shyness to become one of the most widely read poets in the world, Pablo Neruda. This moving story about the birth of an artist is also a celebration of childhood, imagination, & the strength of the creative spirit. Sure to inspire young writers & artists.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is more about beating the odds that someone has set in place for you. Neftali is told he should be a poet by his father but when Neftali decides to be who he is meant to be, a poet/ artist, he finds success and happiness there.

The Dreamer would be an excellent book for independent reading within the classroom. This book would be great to have in your classroom library so that there are an array of diverse books to choose from. There will be a student at some point that will be able to relate to Neftali’s story with his father. This book could definitely make an impact on a student.

This book would be an excellent shared reading pick or book club choice. The story takes place in Chile, so can be used when teaching about other countries, specifically focusing on the norms, culture, and government. This story is also based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda. The book serves as an excellent introduction to poetry. The book is also a great aid for social emotional learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think Neftali enjoys daydreaming?
  • How would you describe Neftali’s relationship with his father?
  • What does Neftali’s father think of Rodolfo’s singing?
  • Why does he want Rodolfo to focus on business or medicine, instead of singing?
  • Compare Neftali’s father to Neftali’s uncle, Orlando. How are they similar or different?
  • Who did you think Neftali relates more to, his father or his uncle? Why?
  • How did Neftali’s relationship with his father change after his trip to the forest?
  • Why does Neftali love and hate the ocean?
  • Has anyone ever told you what you should be when you grow up? If so, how did it make you feel? What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Why does Neftali’s have a hard time making it to school on time?
  • What does Neftalis’ collections represent? How do they make him feel?
  • Has someone ever told you that you should do something- as your father did with Neftali? How did that make you feel?
  • What does Neftali dream of becoming? Does his father agree? Why or why not?
  • Neftali’s father called him by really harsh names, such as “idiot”- Do you think that Neftali was truly any of those things?
  • In the beginning, Neftali was shy, frail, didn’t say much, and spent a lot of time alone. How did Neftali begin to change throughout the book?
  • In what ways did Neftali’s relationship begin to change with his father?
  • What do you think it feels like to be Neftali?
  • Draw a specific scene from the book, why did you choose this scene to draw?

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Warrior Princess: The Story of Khutulun by Sally Deng

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Warrior Princess: The Story of Khutulun
Author and Illustrator: Sally Deng
Published: August 23, 2022 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary: This picture book follows the life of the great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan, a princess who could rule on the battlefield as well as—or better—than any soldier, and when faced with a potential marriage, learns that sometimes the best way to serve one’s community is to stay true to oneself.

Ricki’s Review: This creative nonfiction text shares what we know about the life of Khutulun, great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan. She was a princess who had never been defeated in a wrestling match and was a force on the battlefield. When she is forced to marry, she agrees that she will only do so if a man can defeat her in a wrestling match. If they lose, they owe her family ten horses. I really, really enjoyed reading this story. I started reading it to two of my sons, and my third son creeped on over because he was listening and was hooked. It is captivating! The characters are well drawn and the pacing is perfect. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would inspire students to research and learn more about Khutulun and Genghis Khan. Teachers might include other books that creatively imagine people of the past to talk about writers craft and agency in reimagining people of our past.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In what ways does Khutulun show strength?
  • What important decisions does she make in the text? Why does she make it?
  • What themes does this text teach you?

Flagged Spread:

Read This If You Love: Creative nonfiction, historical fiction, autobiographies, reading about historical figures

 

**Thank you, Macmillan for sending an advanced reading copy for an honest review!**

Wave by Diana Farid, Illustrated by Kris Goto

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Wave
Author: Diana Farid
Illustrator: Kris Goto
Published March 29th, 2022 by Cameron Kids

Summary: A coming-of-age novel in verse set in 1980s Southern California, about a Persian American girl who rides the waves, falls, and finds her way back to the shore.

Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.

Praise: 

“Processing her feelings through music empowers Ava and gives her a new understanding of home and the connections she shares with others. Raw and powerful, this free verse novel honestly explores issues of identity, culture, grief, and hope… Rich, layered, and heart-rending.”―Kirkus Reviews

“Farid’s poetry rides the page like a wave, charting the ups and downs of Ava’s emotions. . .The verse format makes this text extremely accessible, and readers will be delighted to find elements of Ava’s Persian heritage and 1980s childhood also woven throughout.” ―School Library Journal

“Farid brings her expertise as an MD to Ava’s story, simplifying the complexity of lymphoma while packing an emotional punch with the musical references that Ava uses to cope.” ―Booklist

About the Creators: 

Diana Farid is the author of When You Breathe, published by Cameron Kids. She is a poet and a physician at Stanford University. She lives in the Bay Area.

Honolulu-based fine artist Kris Goto was born in Japan. She spent most of her adolescence in Hong Kong and New Zealand, where she became inspired by the outside world and a passion for manga.

Review: This book is actually hard for me to write about because it is just so beautiful in all the right ways. It is full of so many emotions, beautiful writing, important topics, characterization, and 80s references. The author’s inclusion of such a specific setting and pop culture references could have easily turned off a reader, but Farid seamlessly blends it into Ava’s story to where it is all part of one amazing package. A package that includes a lot but that is because a 14 year old Persian girl growing up in California would have dealt with a lot: identity, self-love vs. loathing, immigrant experience, expectations, friendship, hobbies, school, racism, family… and on top of that Ava has Phoenix’s and (my favorite character) Room 509’s health to think about, her own broken leg, surfing, music, and a single parent. Add to all of this plot poetry that is robust in its rhythm and variety in a way that makes reading the book an experience, a wonderful reading experience.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to all of the reading discussion that can happen with this book, it is also a wonderful poetry writing mentor text. Each poem has its own format, personality, mood, tone, etc. so students have so many choices about which they would want to be inspired by. Goto’s illustrations show how art can add to poems as well, so students could create their own drawings to accompany their poems. Also, with the inclusion of music, students could turn their poems into songs.

Students could also make their own mix tapes for different characters in the book using Ava’s and Phoenix’s as examples. Students could then explain why they chose the songs they did for the characters.

The inclusion of Rumi’s poetry could also lead to a poetry study of his poetry which could include historical instruction as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the author format __[poem]__ the way she did?
  • How did music influence Ava’s time during this point in her life?
  • How do you think Ava’s summer would have been different if she hadn’t broken her leg?
  • How did Phoenix and Ava’s friendship change over time? What caused their friendship to evolve?
  • Why does Ava blow up at Phoenix and Naz at the beach?
  • How does Room 509 play a part in Ava’s summer? What do you think the purpose of this character is?
  • How did Ava’s mother’s decision to leave Iran to go to medical school transform her life?
  • Farid included instances of racism in the book. Why is it important that she includes these? What does it show us about our country?
  • Do you believe Ava has OCD? What parts in the story show you this?
  • How does Ava both embrace her Persian culture but also resent the pressure it holds?
  • The author included Farsi throughout the book. Why is this translanguaging important to include when telling Ava’s story.
  • Find an example of when Farid captured the rhythm of the ocean in her poetry.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, Benbee and the Teacher Griefer by KA Holt, Open Mic edited by Mitali Perkins

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review**

Review and Giveaway!: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

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Once Upon a Camel
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Published September 7th, 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Summary: An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

About the Author: Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Find Kathi Appelt on Facebook and Pinterest!

Richard, the camel, and Kathi Appelt taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum.

Review: Happy book birthday, Kathi & Once Upon a Camel! So honored to review this special book on your special day!

In all of Kathi Appelt’s books, what I have found that I adore the most is her ability to craft voice. She is brilliant. In this book, Zada the camel’s voice rings throughout with patience and determination. I was calmed by her stories of her upbringing as she works to keep the baby kestrels’ minds off of their parents. I think part of Appelt’s magic to craft voice is through her very specific word choice in all instances. Her descriptive words are so precise, and she is never deterred to use a word that may be challenging if it is the correct word. This leads to such lyrical prose–it is a pleasure to read!

There is also so much to learn throughout this story about stories: weather events (haboobs), animals of West Texas (kesterels, mountain lions, hawks, and more), and the history of camels. I found myself going on research tangents as I was introduced to different animals or different adventures that Zada goes on. It is no wonder that the Reading Group Guide is so extensive–there is so much to delve into!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (Excerpt from the publisher provided Reading Group Guide): 

  • Explain to students that alliteration is a literary device in which initial consonant sounds of successive or closely related words are repeated. This book contains tons of alliteration. Some examples include “arches and arroyos,” “moving mountain,” “posh Pasha palace,” “Pasha’s princess turns a little pale,” and “best beloved babies.” Using game tiles with letters or small pieces of paper with letters written on them, allow each student to draw a letter and write five alliterative sentences using that letter. Each sentence must contain a subject, verb, and describing words. Once everyone has written their sentences, each person should share their best alliterative sentence with the class.
  • Zada has had a long life filled with experiences and relationships. Her story in the book moves in time as she shares memories while continuing present experiences. Ask students to create a time line for Zada. There are online resources such as Adobe (https://www.adobe.com/express/create/timeline) and TimeGraphics (https://time.graphics) to help with organization. They may also do this in a slideshow format. Have them include dates, locations, and important experiences.
  • Beulah licks Wims, and he is upset. He is described as being “incensed. Put out. Piqued.” Discuss with students how this alliterative and repetitive approach to communicating his feelings is an effective way to convey the strength of those feelings as well as a lyrical way to engage the reader. Ask students to choose one emotion and make a list of synonyms or short expressions that express that emotion. Next, ask them to express the emotion in as many ways as possible in short sentences. Finally, ask them to use their list and sentences to write a paragraph that first explains why their character is feeling that emotion and that then elaborates on how they are feeling in as many ways and with as much creative imagery as possible.
  • Like humans and all other members of the animal kingdom, camels and kestrels have been classified based on shared characteristics. Looking at the list below, you can see that camels, kestrels, and humans are classified together in their kingdom and phylum, but begin to diverge at class groups and fully diverge in orders. Ask students to review the table and have a class discussion about classification. Give students the opportunity to consult some sources, if necessary, to answer their questions.
    • Camels: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Mammalia (Class) / Artiodactyla
      (Order) / Camelidae (Family) / Camelus (Genus) / Dromedarius or Bactrianus (Species)
    • American Kestrels: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Aves (Class) / Falconiformes
      (Order) / Falconidae (Family) / Falco (Genus) / F. tinnunculus (Species)
    • Humans: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Mammalia (Class) / Primates (Order) / Hominidae (Family) / Homo (Genus) / Homo Sapiens (Species)
    • After review and discussion, ask students to write short answers to the following questions:
      • Why do we classify animals and other living things in this manner?
      • What characteristics do all living things have in common?
      • Do camels, kestrels, and humans have the same basic needs?
      • Do humans understand more about animals than animals know about humans?
      • Even though humans and camels are both mammals, do humans or camels have more in common with kestrels than they do with one another?

Discussion Questions (Excerpt from the publisher provided Reading Group Guide): 

  • The story’s action begins with Pard and Perlita telling Zada that a mountain is eating everything and is soon going to eat them. Zada cannot comprehend this. Why do you think that is? How do you handle things you don’t understand? In truth, the mountain is a great sand-and-dust storm coming their way. How does knowing this change your perspective of the situation? How does Zada react?
  • The author explains how a camel has adapted to the desert, and how American kestrels are built for flight. All animals have adaptations: evolved physical and behavioral traits that help their species survive and thrive. Can you think of any other examples of this? What about cultural adaptations? Are there ways in which groups or individuals adapt for their own safety, comfort, or survival?
  • As Zada tries to outrun the storm, she wishes she could fly. This is not the first time in her life she has wished this. Why do you think she has continued to yearn for this ability? Thinking about your life and the environment in which you live, what other animal adaptations would come in handy for you? Explain your answers.
  • As Zada worries about Pecos de Leon, she reflects on the fact that she and the mountain lion have “both traveled a lot of miles and traversed a lot of country. That was worth something.” How can having many experiences help you? Do you think it’s important to experience situations similar to and different from your own life? What might you learn from someone who has lived a long time and done many things? Explain your answers.
  • As Zada moves through the storm carrying the chicks, an enormous old tree comes down behind them. “The wind had yanked it up by its roots. A hundred years, that old tree had stood there, watching over the creek, keeping generations of bird families safe. Now it lay in a heap on its side.” How does the falling tree make Zada feel? How did it make you feel? Do you think generations of bird families will be able to find a new home?
  • As the storm spins Perlita and Pard around, they call out, “‘Keep them safe!’” This is described as the “universal prayer” of parents. What does it mean for something to be universal? Do you have knowledge, ideas, or habits that are universal?
  • Zada’s and Asiye’s motto is “En parlak yildiz ol.” This means “Become the brightest star.” What do they mean by this? How do you see them striving to do this throughout the story?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Foothills, Chisos Mountains West Texas, 1910

“Incoming!”

Even in her sleep, Zada recognized that voice.

The old camel raised one eyelid. It was still dark. There was at least an hour left before dawn. She did not recall setting an early alarm bird.”

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison Mcghee, The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher, Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, Granted by John David Anderson

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

Encounter by Brittany Luby, Illustrated by Michaela Goade

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Encounter
Author: Brittany Luby
Illustrator: Michaela Goade
Published: October 1, 2019 by Little, Brown

GoodReads Summary: A powerful imagining by two Native creators of a first encounter between two very different people that celebrates our ability to acknowledge difference and find common ground.

Based on the real journal kept by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534, Encounter imagines a first meeting between a French sailor and a Stadaconan fisher. As they navigate their differences, the wise animals around them note their similarities, illuminating common ground.

This extraordinary imagining by Brittany Luby, Professor of Indigenous History, is paired with stunning art by Michaela Goade, winner of 2018 American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award. Encounter is a luminous telling from two Indigenous creators that invites readers to reckon with the past, and to welcome, together, a future that is yet unchartered.

Ricki’s Review: This powerful book belongs in every classroom. It offers a counterstory that does not fit the typical narrative. The backmatter offers even greater depth and begs for the text to be taught in classrooms. I would use this book with students of all ages (including adults), and it is such an important book to the field. This story is grounded in a primary historical source from the timer period and is beautifully done.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this text to discuss the multiple ways in which fiction humanizes experiences and teaches us about history and the world. One theme, for instance, is that of communication. Students might select a topic or theme and read the text through the lens of that theme to offer a better understanding of history, narrative, and the world.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the story reach readers?
  • How does the story offer an account of history, and how does it expand our understandings of history?
  • How do the words and pictures work together to create meaning?

Read This If You Loved: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom; The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz; At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell; We Are Grateful/Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell; Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition by Kevin Noble Maillard

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Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

 

Dear readers,

If you are looking for a book that takes place maybe 100 years ago then this is the book for you. The book, Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk takes place in 1925! It is an amazing historical fiction adventure about a girl, named Crow, who is curious about where she came from and who her parents are. I recommend this book for 10-13 year olds. By the way, when I started reading this book I was a bit confused, but after maybe the thirtieth page I understood everything. I am saying this so you don’t get discouraged in the first few pages.

When Crow was a newborn baby she got sent off on a skiff and landed on a beach where a person nicknamed Osh took her in and cared for her. Osh’s neighbour, Miss Maggie, came over every day to help him with Crow and bring her gifts. As Crow grew older she began to wonder more about her background, where she came from and who her parents were. Ever since she lived on the island everybody avoided her except for Miss Maggie and Osh. Due to her mysterious appearance a lot of people thought she was from Penikese, an island where a few years before people sick with leprosy, a bad sickness that can kill people, were sent to live in. She gets even more curious about her background when a mysterious fire appears on Penikese. She tells Osh about it and tells him that she wants to go there. Osh says that is just the old bird keeper and that all is ok on the island but she convinces him to go there anyway. If you were wondering, Penikese is burnt down when he says that. A few days later when they go to the island they meet a big mad man. He claims to be the bird keeper, but Crow heard a clunk before he came to greet them that makes her suspicious. Do you think something is wrong with that acclaimed bird keeper and the clunk or do you think that it was nothing?

I love this book because of the different lifestyle she lives. She basically lives in a cottage made of pieces of ships that got shipwrecked. She also lives a different life because she is homeschooled and because she helps out on a farm anytime she wants for fun. I also love this book because no matter how weird it seems, a lot of people can relate to Crow! For example I related to Crow when she sees the fire on Penikese island and wants to investigate it, I would do that too. Enjoy the ride!

If you liked this book then you might want to check out The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, which I wrote a review about last week! The characters are alike in the way that they both don’t really live a normal life.

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We love historical fiction, and we are excited to feature this one on the blog!**