Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson

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Remember Us
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Published October 10th, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson brings readers a powerful story that delves deeply into life’s burning questions about time and memory and what we take with us into the future.

It seems like Sage’s whole world is on fire the summer before she starts seventh grade. As house after house burns down, her Bushwick neighborhood gets referred to as “The Matchbox” in the local newspaper. And while Sage prefers to spend her time shooting hoops with the guys, she’s also still trying to figure out her place inside the circle of girls she’s known since childhood. A group that each day, feels further and further away from her. But it’s also the summer of Freddy, a new kid who truly gets Sage. Together, they reckon with the pain of missing the things that get left behind as time moves on, savor what’s good in the present, and buoy each other up in the face of destruction. And when the future comes, it is Sage’s memories of the past that show her the way forward. Remember Us speaks to the power of both letting go . . . and holding on.

About the Author: Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) received a 2023 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. She was the 2018–2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and in 2015, she was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She received the 2014 National Book Award for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award, and a Sibert Honor. She wrote the adult books Red at the Bone, a New York Times bestseller, and Another Brooklyn, a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She is the author of dozens of award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a four-time National Book Award finalist, and a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include Coretta Scott King Award and NAACP Image Award winner Before the Ever After; New York Times bestsellers The Day You Begin and Harbor MeThe Other Side, Caldecott Honor book Coming On Home Soon; Newbery Honor winners FeathersShow Way, and After Tupac and D FosterMiracle’s Boys, which received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award; and Each Kindness, which won the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Jacqueline is also a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Review: Remember Us may be a historical fiction book, taking place in the 1970s, but Sage’s story is timeless. In the book, you have so many layers to look at. First, Woodson’s vignettes are beautifully crafted which makes the book such a wonderful read. Then you have the layer of the fires in Sage’s neighborhood and fire in her own life. There is also her love of basketball, and her amazing talent, as well as the questioning about her identity this leads to. Finally, it is a story of family and friends with Sage’s mom and Freddy playing star roles. All of this leads to a multi-layered novel that is a truthful look at growing up and remembering the past.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: Check out this Educator’s Guide from Penguin Random House!

Flagged Passage: 

After the year of fire
vines rise up
through the rest of our lives
of smoke
of flame
of memory.
As if to say
We’re still here.
As if to say
Remember us.

1

The moon is bright tonight. And full. Hanging low above the house across the street where an orange curtain blows in and out of my neighbors’ window. Out and in. And past the curtain there’s the golden light of their living room lamps. Beyond that, there is the pulsing blue of their tele­vision screen. I see this all now. I see a world continuing.

And in the orange and gold and blue I’m reminded again of the year when sirens screamed through my old neighborhood and smoke always seemed to be billowing. Somewhere.

That year, from the moment we stepped out of our houses in the morning till late into the night, we heard the sirens. Down Knickerbocker. Up Madison. Across Cornelia. Both ways on Gates Avenue. Down Ridgewood Place. Rounding the corners of Putnam, Wilson, Evergreen . . .

Evergreen. Sometimes a word comes to you after time has passed. And it catches you off guard. Evergreen. The name of a family of trees. And the name of a block in Brooklyn. Evergreen. Another way of saying forever.

That year, nothing felt evergreen.

Palmetto. A word that has never left me. A word that in my mind is evergreen. Palmetto. The name for both a stunning tree and an oversize cockroach. Palmetto was also the name of a street in my old neighborhood. And that year, Palmetto Street was burning.

2

That was the year when, one by one, the buildings on Palmetto melted into a mass of rock and ash and crumbled plaster until just a few walls were left standing. Walls that we threw our balls against and chased each other around. And at the end of the day, when we were too tired to play anymore, they were the walls we simply sat down by and pressed our backs into, staring out over a block that was already, even as we stared at it with our lips slightly parted and our hands shielding the last of the sun from our eyes, almost gone.

We said Well, nothing lasts for always, right?

We said One day even the whole earth will disappear.

We were just some kids making believe we understood.

But we didn’t. Not yet.

We didn’t understand the fires. Or life. Or the world.

But we knew that neighborhood was our world.

And we knew . . . our world was burning.

Read This If You Love: Jacqueline Woodson’s books such as brown girl dreaming and Harbor MeTroublemaker by John Cho, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, The Unsung Hero of Birdsong USA by Brenda Woods

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**Thank you to Penguin Young Readers for providing a copy for review!**

Educators’ Guide for The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo

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The Puppets of Spelhorst
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Published: October 10th, 2023 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From master storyteller Kate DiCamillo comes an original fairy tale—with enchanting illustrations by Julie Morstad—in which five puppets confront circumstances beyond their control with patience, cunning, and high spirits.

Shut up in a trunk by a taciturn old sea captain with a secret, five friends—a king, a wolf, a girl, a boy, and an owl—bicker, boast, and comfort one another in the dark. Individually, they dream of song and light, freedom and flight, purpose and glory, but they all agree they are part of a larger story, bound each to each by chance, bonded by the heart’s mysteries. When at last their shared fate arrives, landing them on a mantel in a blue room in the home of two little girls, the truth is more astonishing than any of them could have imagined. A beloved author of modern classics draws on her most moving themes with humor, heart, and wisdom in the first of the Norendy Tales, a projected trio of novellas linked by place and mood, each illustrated in black and white by a different virtuoso illustrator. A magical and beautifully packaged gift volume designed to be read aloud and shared, The Puppets of Spelhorst is a tale that soothes and strengthens us on our journey, leading us through whatever dark forest we find ourselves in.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy The Puppets of Spelhorst educators’ guide I created for Candlewick Press:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about The Puppets of Spelhorst on Candlewick’s page.

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Drawing Deena by Hena Khan

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Drawing Deena
Author: Hena Khan
Publishing February 6th, 2024 by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes a tenderhearted middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American artist determined to manage her anxiety and forge her own creative path.

Deena’s never given a name to the familiar knot in her stomach that appears when her parents argue about money, when it’s time to go to school, or when she struggles to find the right words. She manages to make it through each day with the help of her friends and the art she loves to make.

While her parents’ money troubles cause more and more stress, Deena wonders if she can use her artistic talents to ease their burden. She creates a logo and social media account to promote her mom’s home-based business selling clothes from Pakistan to the local community. With her cousin and friends modeling the outfits and lending their social media know-how, business picks up.

But the success and attention make Deena’s cousin and best friend, Parisa, start to act funny. Suddenly Deena’s latest creative outlet becomes another thing that makes her feel nauseated and unsure of herself. After Deena reaches a breaking point, both she and her mother learn the importance of asking for help and that, with the right support, Deena can create something truly beautiful.

Praise: *Khan skillfully weaves in cultural references and Urdu phrases alongside thoughtful questions about the arts, mental health, social media, parent-child relationships, and the pressures adolescent girls face about their appearances. A nuanced and quietly powerful story. – Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

About the Author: Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at HenaKhan.com or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

Review: Art + middle school + identity + family struggles + friends + growth of so many characters = a book that I couldn’t put down. 

As a mental health advocate and someone who believes we should all share our struggles public much more than we do, Drawing Deena is a book that went straight to my heart.

Deena has so much going on. She is truly just trying to hold it together, but it is all too much. However, if you look on the surface, she looks like any other pre-teen and she has learned to mask all of her emotions. But that is what makes the book so insightful. This is how most of our students who are suffering from mental illness deal on a day to day basis–the best they can and often they make it so outside people wouldn’t notice. But throughout the book, she learns to find her voice: her advocacy voice, her friendship voice, her stern voice, her artist voice… She learns that her voice matters.

There is a part of the press release I had to share that pulls it all together: “According to the CDC, anxiety affects approximately one in 11 children aged 3-17. A panel of experts recently recommended that all children 8 and older be screened for anxiety. Thus, Khan hopes to help address America’s mental health crisis among children through her work. Deena is a lovable and relatable character, a young artist who struggles with anxiety, who wants her parents to stop fighting and having money woes, and dreams of being a painter like her idol Vincent van Gogh. She learns to stand up against bullies of all ages and that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Tools for Navigation: In addition to the advocacy of mental health, I love the art aspects of the book! I think it is a perfect way to move a discussion of art history to contemporary and diverse artists and finding your own style of art. This was a very powerful aspect of the book!

I also love how Deena helps her mother with her business, and I think that what she does for the store could become an activity as well: create a logo, create a website, plan finances, etc.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the first sign that Deena is struggling with her mental health?
  • Why is meeting Salma such a pinnacle event in Deena’s life?
  • Why does the Van Gogh experience affect Deena the way it does?
  • Do you think Deena should have gotten mad at Parisa when she did?
  • How is Deena’s school helping her with her anxiety?
  • Why is Deena’s father so hesitant for her to get help? What does this show us about shift in the view of mental health between generations?
  • Why is Deena’s mom so hesitant about Deena’s changes for her business? In the end, do you think that Deena helped her out?
  • Why is everyone so interested in getting on social media so quickly? Do you believe this is good for teen’s mental health?

Flagged Passages/Spreads: I open the door and Parisa bounds inside. My cousin is always in a hurry, whether she’s running for the bus, walking to a store at the mall, or racing down the halls at school. I struggle to keep up with her wherever we go together. It doesn’t help that she’s at least two inches taller than me and has super long legs.

“Be careful, this is still hot,” Saima Khala says, handing me a pot with two worn oven mitts. “Put it on the stove.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“Chicken pulao. Your mother said she didn’t have time to cook, and I was already making this.”

“Yum.” My aunt’s pulao is the best, but I’d never admit that to Mama.

I take the pot, heavy with rice, and carry it to the kitchen, and Parisa sets a bag filled with containers on the counter. Some are full, and others are empty and will probably go back full. This is how it works between our families, there’s a constant exchange of food.

“Leave the daal out and put the rest in the fridge. Where’s your mother?” Khala asks as she opens a drawer and takes out a big spoon.

“I think she’s upstairs. Rubina Auntie just left,” I say.

Khala smiles and pats my cheek. She looks like a younger and more stylish version of my mom although she’s a couple of years older than her. That’s something else I’d never tell Mama.

“How are you?” she asks, her eyes piercing in a way that makes me feel like she cares, and that she remembers what it’s like to be my age.

“Good,” I say, smiling back. “But I haven’t started my homework or studying for my test. We went to the dentist after school.”

“What kind of test?”

“Science.”

“Go study. Parisa can help you. She remembers what she studied last year, right?”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Parisa says. “I remember every single thing I’ve ever learned in school.” She grins at me.

“Okay, smarty-pants, well don’t distract her then!” Khala smacks Parisa playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll take care of this and help your mom.”

“Come on,” I say to Parisa.

Parisa beats me up the stairs and heads to my room. It’s the smallest one in the house, but I have a bigger closet than Musa. My cousin plops down on my bed and sticks out her hand. Her nails are purple with a gold streak running through them.

“What do you think?”

“Did you do them yourself?” I ask, taking her hand and looking at it closely.

“Of course.”

“It totally looks professional.” I’m seriously impressed with Parisa’s nail art skills. She’s been doing her nails since I was ten and she was eleven, and she’s gotten better and better over time. It looks like she got them done at a salon, which she basically did.

Parisa’s mom started offering eyebrow threading to ladies in the community from home a few years ago. She gradually added waxing, facials, and other skin care services. Now, my Khala’s got a legit home-based salon and is always busy. Parisa knows a lot about it and helps her mom out with booking appointments and other stuff. My cousin is the reason I’ve been taking more of an interest in Mama’s boutique lately. Maybe I can help her business take off the same way.

“You should let me do yours,” Parisa says, glancing at my nails, jagged in places from where I chew on them. I try not to, but it’s a bad habit when I’m nervous.

“I’m good.” I clench my fists and hide my nails.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ve got a bunch of new colors,” Parisa says.

“It’ll get messed up when I do my art projects.” I shake my head. I don’t add that I’m more interested in painting a canvas than either my nails or my face.

“Fine.” Parisa fake pouts. “But you have to let me do your hair then. Honestly, Deena, you would look so pretty if you curled your hair and put some anti-frizz in it.”

I try not to react, even as her words grate on my nerves. My cousin’s always pointing out how much better I’d look if I only did something to change myself.

“My hair’s fine,” I mumble, noticing how Parisa’s hair is shiny and smooth with loose curls on the ends. I picture my own head, filled with tighter curls, topped with a layer of frizz. But it takes too long to fight my hair into submission. And the few times I ever had it blow-dried straight, I hated the way it made me look like a different person. I’m not interested in doing that again, so Parisa can make me her project. No, thanks.

“You’re in seventh grade now, Deena. You should pay a little more attention to the way you look. I didn’t care when I was younger either, but now I realize my mom’s right. It’s good to take pride in your appearance.”

Is it though? I want to say. How much pride?

But instead, I swallow my irritation and try to think of a way to change the subject.

“Want to help me choose which photo of you to use for my art assignment?” I ask.

“Sure, Deenie Beenie.” Parisa is instantly interested, and she uses the nickname she’s had for me since we were little. I pull up the photos of Parisa on my phone and swipe through them. There’s one of her seated on my bed, another in a big chair, her gazing directly into the camera, and my favorite, her reading a book.

“That one,” Parisa says, pointing. It’s the one of her looking directly into the camera. She’s got a teasing smile, like she’s hiding a secret.

“Not the one with the book?”

“I look like a dork in that one. Plus, I like the way my hair is falling over my eyes here.”

Parisa made this decision easy. I pull out my pencils and my drawing pad. I’ve already made a big grid with rulers on the page like my teacher Mr. Carey instructed. He said that for portraiture it helps to make sure that you get proportions right. I prefer to freehand, but he’s going to be checking our progress, so I have to do it this way.

I start to sketch out a basic outline of the photo while Parisa watches.

“Can you make my eyes a little bigger?” she asks. “And my nose a little smaller? Right there.”

She points at the photo.

“I’m getting graded on how much it looks like the photo,”

I laugh.

“Yeah, but can’t you, like, put a filter on it?” Parisa grins.

Every time Parisa takes a picture of us, she messes around with it for a while using a glam app. It makes your skin glow and does other things. By the time she’s done with it, we almost look like different people, and then she posts it on her socials.

I’m not allowed to have any accounts until I’m in high school but I wonder if her followers would recognize me if they ever met me in real life.

“Well, just make me look good,” Parisa says after I stare at her and don’t respond.

“You always look good,” I finally say. And I mean it. Parisa is a pretty girl, and she knows it. At least I think she does. Because she also acts like she needs other people to remind her.

I’m going to make sure her portrait is beautiful. But I’m not changing the way she looks.

Read This If You Love: Iveliz Explains it All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers by Caela Carter, Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

Educators’ Guide for Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont by Nick Brooks

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Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: October 4th, 2022 by Union Square Kids

Summary: Something cool happening in Ferrous City? Not a chance.

Until one day . . . when self-proclaimed genius inventor Ethan Fairmont runs into an abandoned car factory to avoid a local bully and accidentally stumbles across his ex-best friend Kareem, new kid Juan Carlos, and an extraterrestrial visitor. Cheese (the alien) is stuck on Earth in need of some serious repairs, spicy snacks—and absolute, total secrecy. That’s easier said than done when mysterious agents descend on Ferrous City to search for Cheese. With time running out and their family and friends in potential danger, can Ethan, Kareem, and Juan Carlos pull off an intergalactic rescue before they’re all found out?

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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Educators’ Guide for Love Radio by Ebony LaDelle

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Love Radio
Author: Ebony LaDelle
Published: May 31st, 2022 by Simon & Schuster’s Books for Young Readers

Summary: Hitch meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this novel about a self-professed teen love doctor with a popular radio segment who believes he can get a girl who hates all things romance to fall in love with him in only three dates.

Prince Jones is the guy with all the answers—or so it seems. After all, at seventeen, he has his own segment on Detroit’s popular hip-hop show, Love Radio, where he dishes out advice to the brokenhearted.

Prince has always dreamed of becoming a DJ and falling in love. But being the main caretaker for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis, and his little brother means his dreams will stay just that and the only romances in his life are the ones he hears about from his listeners. Until he meets Dani Ford.

Dani isn’t checking for anybody. She’s focused on her plan: ace senior year, score a scholarship, and move to New York City to become a famous author. But her college essay keeps tripping her up and acknowledging what’s blocking her means dealing with what happened at that party a few months ago. And that’s one thing Dani can’t do,

When the romantic DJ meets the ambitious writer, sparks fly. Prince is smitten, but Dani’s not looking to get derailed. She gives Prince just three dates to convince her that he’s worth falling for. Three dates for the love expert to take his own advice, and just maybe change two lives forever.

Love, Radio is a 2024 Project Lit Book

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy Love Radio‘s educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

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Educators’ Guide for Airi Sano, Prankmaster General: New School Skirmish by Zoe Tokushige, Illustrated by Jennifer Naalchigar

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Airi Sano, Prankmaster General: New School Skirmish
Author: Zoe Tokushige
Illustrator: Jennifer Naalchigar
Published: September 20, 2022 by Philomel Books

Summary: A hilarious story of new-school hijinks, filled with friendship, family, and plenty of pranks–perfect for fans of Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

Meet Airi Sano. After spending her entire childhood moving from one military base to another, she’s excited to be settling down for the long-term in Hawai’i. She’s less excited about her new teacher, who’s determined to make Airi like school. But she’s got a plan: prank her teacher so hard that she gives up on even trying to get Airi to do any work–especially any reading.

But Mrs. Ashton won’t give up, no matter what Airi does. Airi will need the help of her new classmates–who might even be her new friends–to get Mrs. Ashton to crack. It’s time . . . for a prank war!

With fun and funny black-and-white illustrations throughout, New School Skirmish kicks off a brand-new series for readers to adore!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for New School Skirmish:

You can also access the educators’ guide 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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