Review with Educators’ Guide for The Incredible Octopus by Erin Spencer

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The Incredible Octopus: Meet the Eight-Armed Wonder of the Sea
Author: Erin Spencer
Published: April 16th, 2024 by Storey Publishing

Summary: Packed with mesmerizing undersea photography, this book invites kids to explore the fascinating behavior and intelligence of this remarkable creature of the deep.

The Incredible Octopus combines amazing photos with in-depth facts to get kids aged 7 and up excited about octopuses and the underwater world in which they live. Readers are introduced to the fascinating biology of the octopus, from its 3 hearts and 9 brains to suction cups and how they work, and learn all about what it’s like to be an octopus: how they use camouflage and ink, what they eat, and how they reproduce (nests and eggs!). The book also explores the  intelligence and playfulness of this animal—and, of course, the famous stories of octopuses who escaped their tanks. Readers will meet 13 different species of octopuses and find out what makes them unique, from the most venomous and best disguised to the deepest and coldest. They’ll also get a glimpse into exciting octopus research, technology inspired by octopuses, and ways to help conserve our oceans.

About the Author: Erin Spencer is the author of The Incredible Octopus​ and The World of Coral Reefs. She is a marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer whose articles, photos, and videos of marine life have been featured in National Geographic, PBS, CBS Sunday Morning, and in publications of Ocean Conservancy. She is an avid public speaker and has presented to National Geographic, the World Bank, MCON, and TEDx, as well as many school groups. Originally from Maryland, she now lives in South Florida where she studies great hammerhead sharks and their prey for her PhD.

Review: The octopus is truly incredible, and this book is a fantastic introduction to everything about these amazing animals. The book really does touch on a little bit of everything you’d want to know about octopuses with a text structure that makes sense: going from the biology of the octopus to their life, specific examples, and people & octopuses. I also think the author was very smart with their writing as well–while much of it is traditional informational nonfiction, the author included narrative elements, text features, and interviews to make the reading interesting in a whole other way.

I learned so much about octopuses, and they really are fascinating. I was sitting at my son’s karate dojo while I read, and I kept sharing facts with my husband and friend because I just was blown away by so many things in the book. I think a nonfiction book making me want to share things is one of the greatest compliments you can give!

This nonfiction book is a great one to read from front to back but is also one that can be perused by your nonfiction skimmers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy this curriculum guide from the publisher.

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

Flagged Spreads: 

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Author Guest Post: “An Extreme Measure for Extreme Research” by JoAnna Lapati, author and illustrator of Guts for Glory: The Story of Civil War Soldier Rosetta Wakeman

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An Extreme Measure for Extreme Research

I blame my new picture book biography of Rosetta “Lyons” Wakeman for sparking my imagination and setting me off into a near quarter-century whirlwind of books, paper, and miniature toy soldiers—all in the name of research. But sometimes you have to go to extremes, especially when you’re inspired to write a book about someone as extraordinary as Wakeman, a heroic woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Inspired research can take you to unimaginable places physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Research–specifically travel–helped create an emotional core for my writing.

Early in my Guts for Glory research, I planned four separate trips, based on specific dates of Rosetta’s real-life letters, all with the goal of better understanding the local and regional histories of the places she traveled and fought.

A trip to Binghamton, New York, allowed me to explore the Chenango Canal area where Rosetta worked after first leaving home. I collected tourist pamphlets from visitor centers and visited the Erie Canal Village in Rome, New York, where I experienced a canal ride on a packet boat pulled by a pair of mules. I observed the steersman operating the tiller and photographed the tacking of mules, which served helpful when developing sketches. On my second trip to upstate New York, I visited the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, where I boarded a life-size replica of a canal boat and explored the interior live-in quarters of a cabin. Then, I went to Delaware, where my measurements were taken for a custom-tailored Union frock coat and forage cap at Grand Illusions Costume Co., a reproduction clothing manufacturer that’s no longer in business. It offered an authentic portrayal of the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers uniform.

Next, I made a brief visit to Alexandria, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., where I photographed the United States Capitol from the Supreme Court, where the Old Capitol Prison once stood. This particular image was helpful for developing the center spread showing where Lyons and her regiment guarded Washington, D.C. Lyons was on duty at the Old Capitol Prison from August to October 1863 (Note: Rosetta Wakeman appears on the Carroll Prison Guard Reports during August, September, and October of 1863).

My last trip was to Louisiana, where I took a luncheon cruise on the steamboat Natchez. Then I followed the Red River Campaign, traveling by car from Algiers, outside of New Orleans, (where Lyons Wakeman is buried) to Shreveport, visiting places of interest along the way like Lafayette, Natchitoches, Alexandria, and important landmarks such as the Mansfield State Historic Site and the Pleasant Hill Battle Field Park. All of this travel helped me to better interpret Rosetta’s experience.

Inspired research can stretch your imagination further than expected.

One could spend a lifetime in study, as many Civil War scholars and buffs do. During my research, I devoured book after book, finding bibliographies treasure troves of information, leading to the discovery of works by nineteenth-century as well as modern-day authors and artists. I read books by writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Jacobs and Richard Taylor and artists such as Winslow Homer, William Michael Harnett, Fanny Palmer, and Lily Martin Spencer. Each work contributed to my understanding of a bygone era, fueling my imagination. and eagerness.

But what better way to understand a character than to walk in their ill-fitting brogans, which I did as a Civil War re-enactor. I could use my five senses in experiences much like Rosetta’s. I’ve had plenty of black gunpowder grit between my teeth when tearing open blank (ammunition) paper cartridges during living history and mock battle events.

I’ve suffered from blisters on both Achilles heels after light marching, later relegating to wearing plastic bread bags on both my feet to reduce the friction, only to have them gathering at my toes.

I wore my blood-stained wool socks as my Red Badge of Courage until discovering sometime later with much horror, my rescue dog had snacked on them. Gross! I recall stepping and sliding into a manure patch when pitching my army pup tent. Thankfully, I never lost my balance. And during rainy events, my uniform smelled like a barn animal, but during dry events, I favored the lingering trace of campfire smoke left on my uniform.

Whatever you absorb, even if it’s by incredible means, you might end up only including about 10% of it. Leaving out 90% of hard-fought, time-invested research is one of the toughest parts of the writing and/or illustrating process. After all, your character’s emotional core, built through that research, is the true heart of the story.

Inspired research can ultimately carry your interest beyond life’s obstacles (A.K.A. The Struggle) and into something beyond your biggest dreams.

So, what inspired me about Rosetta Wakeman to devote over two decades of study? In hindsight, I was inspired by a young, strong-willed woman, struggling for the privilege to live independently, an unobtainable goal for most women in that time, especially a poor, rural farm girl, who put herself at great risk with her choices.

Writing and illustrating Guts for Glory involved a lot of choices, too, along with sacrifice and continued research of the actual publishing process. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) organization to learn more about the industry. Each year, I remained committed to attending the New England Regional Conferences. I learned how to write a manuscript, create a dummy book, assemble and update an illustrator’s portfolio, create eye catching promotional cards. I received constructive criticism year after year for five years. I even put Guts For Glory aside and began working on a second book until Eerdmans contacted me in 2013. I had forgotten I sent them an unsolicited manuscript! And now the book is here.

I loved living inside a book, filled with creative bliss for 20 years. It was truly inspiring. Reality is much harder. So, what research is your writing inspiring you to do?

Published February 27th, 2024 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

About the Book: A dramatically illustrated biography of Private Rosetta “Lyons” Wakeman, the only soldier whose letters capture the Civil War from a woman’s perspective. In 1862, the war between North and South showed no signs of stopping. In rural New York, nineteen-year-old Rosetta Wakeman longed for a life beyond the family farm. One day she made a brave, bold she cut her braid and disguised herself as a man. No one suspected that “Lyons” was a woman—not even when she signed up to fight for the Union. As Rosetta’s new regiment traveled to Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Louisiana, she sent letter after letter home to New York. Army life wasn’t easy, but Rosetta knew it was where she belonged—keeping her family safe and her country free. Through intricately detailed scratchboard art and excerpts from Rosetta’s letters, this fascinating biography introduces young readers to an unconventional woman who was determined to claim her own place in history. Memorable and inspiring, Guts for Glory is a stirring portrait of the Civil War and the courage of those who fought on its front lines.

Book Trailer:

Discussion Guide:

About the Author: JoAnna Lapati is a writer and artist based in Warwick, Rhode Island. While researching this book, she retraced Rosetta’s footsteps by traveling to sites like the Chenango Canal, the US Capitol, and the Mansfield Historic Site Museum and Pleasant Hill Battle Park. JoAnna also spent six years as a Civil War reenactor with the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteers- disguised as a man, just like Rosetta. Guts for Glory is JoAnna’s debut picture book. Visit her website at joannalapati.com.

Thank you, JoAnna, for this look into your research and how research inspires!

Educators’ Guide for The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi

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The Partition Project
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Published: February 27th, 2024 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: When her grandmother comes off the airplane in Houston from Pakistan, Mahnoor knows that having Dadi move in is going to disrupt everything about her life. She doesn’t have time to be Dadi’s unofficial babysitter—her journalism teacher has announced that their big assignment will be to film a documentary, which feels more like storytelling than what Maha would call “journalism”.

As Dadi starts to settle into life in Houston and Maha scrambles for a subject for her documentary, the two of them start talking. About Dadi’s childhood in northern India—and about the Partition that forced her to leave her home and relocate to the newly created Pakistan. As details of Dadi’s life are revealed, Dadi’s personal story feels a lot more like the breaking news that Maha loves so much. And before she knows it, she has the subject of her documentary.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for the author:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about The Partition Project on Saadia Faruqi’s website.

Flagged Passage: View an excerpt HERE.

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Educators’ Guide for Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

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Promise Boys
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: January 31st, 2023 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Promise Boys is a blockbuster, dark academia mystery about three teens of color who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names. This page-turning thriller is perfect for fans of Karen McManus, Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Holly Jackson .

The prestigious Urban Promise Prep school might look pristine on the outside, but deadly secrets lurk within. When the principal ends up murdered on school premises and the cops come sniffing around, a trio of students―J.B., Ramón, and Trey―emerge as the prime suspects. They had the means, they had the motive . . . and they may have had the murder weapon. But with all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. Or is the true culprit hiding among them?

Find out who killed Principal Moore in Nick Brooks’s murder mystery, Promise Boys ― The Hate U Give meets One of Us Is Lying.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative Kitchen:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

Recommended For: 

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The Witness Trees: Historic Moments and the Trees Who Watched Them Happen by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Illustrated by Ððm Ððm

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The Witness Trees: Historic Moments and the Trees Who Watch Them Happen
Author: Ryan G. Van Cleave
Illustrator: Ððm Ððm
Publishing May 9th, 2023 by Bushel & Peck Books

Summary: For generations, trees have silently witnessed history’s most pivotal moments. Here are their stories.

In the sweep of wind over grass,
near the pulse of rivers,
we stand,
monuments of bark
and age-curled green.

Above, an avalanche of stars.
Below, the ocean of earth.
Within, the uncounted lives
birthed, bloomed, and plucked
from the gardens we tend.

We survive.
We remember.
We witness.

In evocative verse and stunning artwork, Witness Trees is the story of the world’s most enduring witnesses: the trees. From the Flower of Kent apple tree still standing in Sir Isaac Newton’s yard, to the English oak given to Jesse Owens after facing down Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to the California redwood saved from destruction by July Butterfly Hill, to the Callery pear tree still miraculously alive after the World Trade Towers fell, Witness Trees is a moving tribute to the world’s most famous trees, many of which still need humanity’s protection. Be moved, be inspired, be amazed by the quiet, reverberating voices of nature’s sentinels: the witness trees.

For each tree depicted, there is information about that tree and the events it witnessed. Among the trees lovingly discussed are 20 trees you can visit today.

About the Creators:

Ryan G. Van Cleave wrote his first poem at age five, and he’s been writing, reading, and loving poetry ever since. He earned a Ph.D. in American Literature with an emphasis in poetry and has taught at numerous colleges and universities. Currently, he runs the creative writing major at Ringling College of Art and Design. As The Picture Book Whisperer, he helps celebrities and high-profile clients write picture books and kidlit projects. Visit his blog at https://www.onlypicturebooks.com/.

Ððm Ððm is an illustrator who uses his art to sow seeds of joy. He has illustrated multiple books and lives in Vietnam.

Review: This book is intriguing and beautiful. First, the verse is very well written. It is lyrical and beautiful–it will lend its self so well to reading aloud. Second, the art is superb! It is realistic, colorful, eye catching, and breathtaking! Third, the idea of this book is just so fascinating. I, obviously, knew trees had been around much longer than most of us could imagine, but to see the timeline included in the book and all of the history included within just blew my mind.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be amazing to take each of the Witness Trees and let a group of students learn more about the historical event as well as the tree that witnessed it. Each group could then present to the class. (Please note that many of the events are tragic, so choose the events and students for each wisely.)

Also, at the beginning of the book, the author includes some trees that aren’t included in the book, so students could take each of these books and create their own spreads with a poem about the tree based in its history.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author’s choice of verse affect the tone of the book?
  • How did the illustrators structure of putting the tree on one side of a spread and an illustration related to the history on the other side add to the history shared?
  • What makes trees so amazing? What about these trees specifically?
  • What time in history do you wonder if there is a Witness Tree for it? (Extension: Have students research and see if there is one.)

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: History, Interest in trees, Picture books in verse

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**

Maps for Penguins and Other Traveling Animals by Tracey Turner, Illustrated by Hui Skipp

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Maps for Penguins and Other Traveling Penguins
Author: Tracey Turner
Illustrator: Hui Skipp
Published January 1st, 2022 by Kane Miller Press

Summary: Follow the treks, long or short, made by ten different animals all over the world.

Animals don’t actually use maps, so how do they find their way without them? This book focuses on different animals, including elephants, penguins, tigers, and more, and maps of their migrations, territories, and routes to food. Along with discovering fascinating information about the animals and their amazing ability to navigate without GPS, readers will also learn about distances, geography, climate, and habitats .

Includes:

  • Migration paths plus lots of facts about ten animals and their varying habitats.
  • Introduction to maps and geography.
  • Glossary and index included.
  • Perfect STEM title.

About the Author: Tracey Turner is an author and editor has written more than 70 books that cover a wide range of topics. She lives in Bath, England, with her partner and son.

ReviewThis book is the perfect book for the scientist or animal lover kid in your life! It has so much information that readers will find interesting, even more than what is promised. In addition to maps and migration information, the author includes information about diet, mating, families, habits, and more! And the variety of the animals, from all over the world and habitats, are great also, so the reader takes a trip around the world. All accompanied by colorful and eye catching illustrations! All accompanied by colorful and eye catching illustrations!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers will find so much to use in classrooms! I would love to see this used in a jig saw where each member of a group is given one of the animals, learns all about them by studying the 2 spreads about the animal, then going back to their home group to share what they learned. It could also be used as a jumping off for an inquiry project about another animal using Maps for Penguins as a mentor text for creating their own maps and information spread. The book is also a great early introduction to geography and maps and the glossary and index in the back are helpful to the reader as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal migrates or has habitats near where you live?
  • Which animal would you like to learn more about?
  • What other animals do you know about that migrate or travel in another way?
  • Why do animals travel? What are some similarities/differences between the different animals and why/how they travel?
  • Which continents were represented in the book? Which oceans?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals, Geography

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**Thank you to Lynn at Kane Miller for providing a copy for review!**

Educators’ Guide for Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

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Tiny Pretty Things (#1)
Shiny Broken Pieces (#2)
Authors: Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Published: May 26th, 2015 & July 12th, 2016 by Harper Teen

Tiny Pretty Things Summary: Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton, and the author of the highly anticipated Symptoms of a Heartbreak, Sona Charaipotra.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet-star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.

When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Don’t miss the gossip, lies, and scandal that continues in Tiny Pretty Things’ gripping sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Cake Creative for Tiny Pretty Things & Shiny Broken Pieces:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces on Cake Creative’s OUR LIBRARY page.

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