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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Author Guest Post: “Museum Mysteries” by K.H. Saxton, Author of The A&A Detective Agency: The Fairfleet Affair

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“Museum Mysteries”

In The A&A Detective Agency: The Fairfleet Affair, 12-year-old detectives Alex and Asha get their first big case when Dr. Alistair Fairfleet disappears under suspicious circumstances. Dr. Fairfleet, the agency’s primary benefactor, is also the chairman of the Fairfleet Institute and its world-famous museums. As Asha and Alex follow the trail of clues and puzzles that their mentor left behind, they must explore the four main branches of the Institute: the Fairfleet Museum of Art, the Fairfleet Historical Archives, the Fairfleet Center for the Performing Arts, and the Fairfleet Museum of Natural History. These centers of history and culture provide the sleuths with plenty of topics to research and mysteries to investigate, and they present a similar entry point for young readers hoping to learn and engage more deeply with the text.

The Fairfleet Museum of Art

The many masterpieces of the art museum are curated by the equally impressive Dr. Prudence Ito. Admiring the artwork leads Alex and Asha to some important clues as well as more questions. What do an ancient Greek bust of Pallas Athena and a painting of a frog by an elusive French artist have in common? Perhaps that there is more to each of their stories than meets the eye…

Class Activity: You don’t need to travel to Northbrook to give students access to great artwork. Visit a local gallery, explore a student art exhibit at your school, or browse the online collection of a well-known museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Let students pick a piece of artwork for a creative writing exercise, then ask them to write a short fictional narrative inspired by their selection. Give them time to observe the piece, brainstorm, freewrite, and share.

  • Does your piece suggest characters and a conflict?
  • Does it make you think of a particular setting, theme, or mood? Feel free to embrace abstract or creative connections.
  • Can you imagine a story in which the piece of art itself shows up as a key detail, plot point, or symbol?

The Fairfleet Historical Archives

The archives house a wide variety of documents and primary sources related to the history of Northbrook, the Fairfleet family, and the other branches of the Institute. A young archivist named Minnie Mayflower helps the sleuths piece together evidence from the past. As Asha and Alex soon discover, good research is critical to good detective work.

Class Activity: Consider what archival materials exist at your school and what might be available for classroom use—an old yearbook or student newspaper, for example. Allow students to peruse one such source and choose a photograph, article, or something else that interests them for further reflection.

  • What do you notice? What details stand out to you?
  • Can you make any inferences about this moment in the past based on your observations?
  • How does the experience of students at the time seem similar to or different from your own?
  • If you could talk to these students from days gone by, what would you ask them?

The Fairfleet Center for the Performing Arts

Quentin Carlisle, the charismatic but conniving artistic director of the FCPA, tests the detectives’ patience as well as their theatrical knowledge as he prepares for a production of King Lear and gives Alex and Asha some additional insight into the Shakespeare-themed clues of the case.

Class Activity: Have students think of a book or a play that they have both read and seen in performance. For many students, this might be a book that was adapted into a movie. Students should spend a few minutes jotting down notes on what they remember about each version and then address the questions below.

  • How was reading this story different from watching it? Which experience did you prefer and why?
  • What changes were made between the text and the performance? Were these changes necessary or effective?
  • If you were to direct your own performance, what choices would you make? Who would you cast in important roles? What costumes, props, or set details would help you realize your vision?

The Fairfleet Museum of Natural History

The natural history museum and its serious executive curator, Dr. John Wright, are at the heart of The Fairfleet Affair. In the Hall of Cultural Artifacts, objects like the Nabataean Zodiac fascinate Asha and Alex and lead them to contemplate questions about museum curation, provenance, and cultural heritage.

Class Activity: Students should pick an object from home that is especially meaningful to them and then imagine that a museum curator 200 years in the future is trying to decide how best to display or share this object with the public.

  • Where and how should the object be displayed? What other items or artifacts might be nearby? What would you call the exhibit?
  • What information should be included on the museum placard?
  • Does the object have personal, family, or cultural significance for you? Do you think that the museum can honor this special meaning? If so, how? If not, what fate would you prefer for the object?

Published September 19, 2023 by Union Square & Co.

About the Book: Follow clues, solve puzzles, crack the code… find the missing millionaire.

The celebrated museums of the Fairfleet Institute are known for curating the mysteries of humanity. But they don’t solve mysteries. Luckily, twelve-year-old friends Alex Foster and Asha Singh of the A&A Detective Agency do. Or they will . . . once they get a real case to test their skills as sleuths.

When Dr. Alistair Fairfleet, the institute’s eccentric chairman, disappears on the first day of Alex and Asha’s summer vacation, they receive a letter written by the missing millionaire himself inviting them to a game involving complicated clues and puzzles. It is just the sort of case they’ve been waiting to tackle. But nothing in the Fairfleet case has a simple solution. As the kids track down clues, they uncover art forgeries, archaeological crimes, and Fairfleet family secrets. All of this tests their partnership and forces them to confront the complicated legacies of the people and places they admire most.

Praise for the Book: 

““[T]he intricate plot—jam-packed with brain teasers, convoluted twists, and red herrings—keeps readers in suspense while neatly paving the way for a sequel in Saxton’s series-starting debut.” —Publishers Weekly

“A complex, cinematic, and eclectic page-turner.” – Kirkus

“Saxton reveals a knack for constructing a mystery, planting baffling clues, and creating interesting characters of varied ages Tension rises and falls, but the pace of the narrative never falters, and readers will enjoy seeing the puzzle pieces fall into place during the satisfying conclusion. A smart, involving first novel.”—Booklist

“Young readers will find The Fairfleet Affair a solid introduction to the genre and will, most likely, look forward to forthcoming Northbrook crimes the A&A duo can solve.” —New York Journal of Books

“Full of clues and puzzle pieces to ponder, this complicated mystery will keep readers guessing all the way until the end.”—School Library Journal / Teen Librarian Toolbox

About the Author: K. H. Saxton is an English teacher and boarding school administrator in Connecticut. The A&A Detective Agency: The Fairfleet Affair is her first novel.

Thank you, K.H., for these amazing activities that tie into your book!

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 Night Raven (The Moonwind Mysteries #1) by Johan Rundberg

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The Night Raven
Author: Johan Rundberg
Translator: A.A. Prime
Published November 1st, 2023 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: Mika is not your average orphan—and she’s about to prove it.

It’s 1880, and in the frigid city of Stockholm, death lurks around every corner. Twelve-year-old Mika knows that everyone in her orphanage will struggle to survive this winter. But at least the notorious serial killer the Night Raven is finally off the streets…or is he?

Mika is shocked when a newborn baby is left at the orphanage in the middle of the night, by a boy with a cryptic message. Who is he? And who is this “Dark Angel” he speaks of? When a detective shows up, Mika senses something even more sinister is going on.

Drawn in by Mika’s unique ability to notice small details—a skill Mika has always used to survive—the gruff Detective Hoff unwittingly recruits her to help him with his investigation into a gruesome murder. Mika knows she should stay far, far away, and yet…with such little hope for her future, could this be an opportunity? Maybe, just maybe, this is Mika’s chance to be someone who matters.

Praise: 

★“This gripping, fast-paced mystery comes together well, with Mika’s deductions based firmly in logic and connections based in her own clear observations…A thrilling and thoughtful period murder mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Mika is a brave, resourceful heroine, and her warm relationships with Valdemar and her peers at the orphanage counterbalance the bleak backdrop.” Publishers Weekly

“Originally published in Sweden, the novel ends with justice done and, for Mika, a newfound sense of purpose. While not every mystery introduced is solved, this is only the first volume in the Moonwind Mysteries series.” Booklist

★“This English translation of Rundberg’s lively historical mystery…is something to celebrate…Joyous, funny, suspenseful, and serious—an unusual and winning combination for middle-grade readers. Let’s hope its three sequels appear in [A. A.] Prime’s English translation, too.” —The Horn Book (starred review)

“Middle-school-age historical mystery fans will appreciate the fast-moving story and intriguing setting, as well as the splashes of humor throughout.” Historical Novels Review

“It’s a testament to the authors that none of the solutions comes easily — in any good mystery story, truth is a messy and painful business.”  —The New York Times Book Review

About the Author & Translator:

Johan Rundberg is an award-winning author of children’s books who lives in Stockholm. He has written picture books, early readers, and middle grade, including KärlekspizzanKnockad Romeo, and the series Häxknuten. In 2021, he was awarded Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize, the August Prize, in the children’s and YA category for Nattkorpen, the original edition of The Night Raven, which was first written in Swedish. Nattkorpen was also the winner of a Swedish Crimetime Award in the children’s and YA category. There are now four books in this series published in Sweden.

A. A. Prime (Annie Prime) is an award-winning translator of Swedish literature. She was born in London and traveled the world studying a number of languages before settling in the English coastal town of Hastings. She now works full-time as a translator, specializing in the weird, witty, and wonderful world of children’s and young adult fiction. She holds an MA in translation from University College London and has published more than twenty books in the UK and US. In her free time, she can be found belly dancing, folk singing, horse riding, and sea swimming.

Review: Mika is such an impressive detective! Following her unexpected journey helping Detective Hoff solve a murder, the reader gets insight into her process of finding and following clues–very Sherlock Holmes-y! I was a bit worried, at first, that the story was going to be slow because it starts with something that seems so unrelated to what the book promises, but not long after everything starts to happen and we learn later that the beginning definitely connects to the story.

I read this book in one sitting because I had to know what was going on in the town, and I cannot wait to read more mysteries for Mika to solve, mostly now that we know Mika, the detective, and a few other orphans more–I want their story to continue!

I do want to add that this is a bit of a dark book–there are definitely murders,  mentions of abuse & neglect, and has some scary parts. I can definitely think of so many readers in middle school that are going to love this book, but I wanted to make sure adults know that the author did not go light on the themes, descriptions, or topics. But in the end, there is definitely hope, which is the most important in a grim story.

Tools for Navigation: This book is going to be a perfect book to hand to your middle school readers that are looking for mysteries, even if they aren’t interested in historical stories because the mystery and darkness will suck them in.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What makes Mika a wonderful detective?
  • How does the author bring insight into the lives of orphans in the 19th century? What was life like for them?
  • How would you describe Mika’s life at the beginning of the book versus at the end of the book?
  • Do you think the detective was smart or careless in having Mika help him with the case?
  • Did you catch any of the clues Mika did to figure out who had committed the murder?
  • Were you surprised by the connections between the murderer and Mika’s orphanage?
  • Do you think all of the secrets within the orphanage were necessary?
  • How would the story be different if it was from the point of view of the detective? The murderer? Edvin? Rufus?
  • How is the setting a part of the story? How is it different from where you live?
  • What is the mood of the book?

Flagged Passages/Spreads: 

Chapter 3

Mika has learned to identify where most customers work. The ones from the tanneries are recognizable by the smell. The ones from the tobacco factory have stained hands. The men in the corner are neither. They’re not in uniform, but Mika can tell they’re cops. She can tell because everyone else is avoiding their gaze. No one else is sitting anywhere near them. As if the violence surrounding them gives off a stench.

Mika puts the tankards down on their table. The larger of the two men signals to her to fill the smaller glasses as well. She fetches a bottle from the cupboard behind the bar. The big man’s hand shakes as he reaches for the glass. Not with cold or drunkenness. This is something else. It only takes one quick glance for Mika to see the same thing she saw in that boy last night. Fear.

She fills the glasses while the men continue talking in low voices.

“Nordell and I were first on the scene,” says the big guy. “Looking back, I wish we hadn’t gone in such a rush.”

He raises his glass and grimaces as the liquor pours down his throat.

“The body was pretty much drained of blood, like the kill of a hunt.”

The thinner man raises his eyebrows. “I thought you said he was alive when you arrived?”

The big man looks grimly at his empty glass. Then nods. “Barely. We came just in time to hear his last words. He said . . .” He turns his empty schnapps glass upside down hopefully and drips the dregs onto his tongue before leaning over the table and concluding his sentence in a hushed tone: “. . . that the Night Raven had come for him.”

Mika lingers at the next table. With her back turned to the men, she pretends to wipe a dropped knife on her dress. Behind her she hears the thinner man’s incredulous voice.

“You must have heard wrong. You can’t possibly mean that . . .”

Read This If You Love: Murder mysteries, Historical mysteries

Recommended For: 

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

Discussion Guide for Futureland: Battle for the Park by H.D. Hunter

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Futureland: Battle for the Park
Author: H.D. Hunter
Published: November 8th, 2022 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary: When an extraordinary flying theme park arrives above Atlanta, one boy must stop a sinister force from stealing the park’s tech and taking over the world.

Welcome to the most spectacular theme park in the world.

Everyone wants a ticket to Futureland, where you can literally live out your wildest dreams. Want to step inside your favorite video game? Go pro in a sports arena? Perform at a real live concert? Grab your ticket and come right in.

Yet with all its attractions, Futureland has always just been home to Cam Walker, the son of the park’s famous creators. And when Futureland arrives at its latest stop, Atlanta, Cam is thrilled for what promises to be the biggest opening ever. . . .

But things aren’t quite right with the Atlanta opening. Park attractions are glitching. Kids go missing. And when his parents are blamed, Cam must find the missing kids and whoever’s trying to take down his family . . . before it’s too late.

Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the discussion guide I created for Futureland: Battle for the Park:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

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Pigeon Private Detectives #1: The Case of the Missing Tarts by Christee Curran-Bauer

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Pigeon Private Detectives #1: The Case of the Missing Tarts
Author: Christee Curran-Bauer
Published August 29th, 2023 by Union Square & Co.

Summary: The Pigeon Detectives are looking forward to devouring a delectable platter of jam tarts—until the tasty treats are stolen from right under their beaks! With tummies grumbling, the PPD are on the hunt for clues, but can the detectives recover the tarts in time before they are all eaten—or worse—stale? As the list of suspects grows longer, our heroes wonder if they’ll ever catch the thief jam-handed.

Pigeon Private Detectives: The Case of the Missing Tarts, Christee Curran-Bauer’s author-illustrator debut, pokes fun at detective procedurals with kid-friendly humor!

Praise: 

“[W]ith a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of puns. The narrative, told through a mix of comic book–style panels and prose, is brought to life with crisp-lined cartoons with mostly pastel tones and a bit of film noir thrown in when the mood is right. An enjoyable homage to the dramatic mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Readers will flock to Curran-Bauer’s lighthearted mystery. A glossary defining detective terms and a fact sheet conclude.” —Publishers Weekly

“Full of clues and coos, The Case of the Missing Tarts is a delightful and delicious detective tale!” –John Patrick Green, author of the InvestiGators series

About the Author: Christee Curran-Bauerhas a BFA from Pratt Institute in communications design/illustration, and is a proud member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Christee is a Jersey girl currently living in Virginia Beach with her family and spoiled French bulldog. She invites you to visit her at christeewithadoublee.blogspot.com and on Twitter at @ChristeeDoubleE.

Review: This book is going to be a great ladder between early readers and longer chapter books as it is an introduction to pages with a bit longer text but it is mixed with paneled pages. This aspect, combined with the cartoon-esque illustrations, is going to lend itself to finding so many readers. Oh, and everyone loves a mystery, and this series is off to a great start with its first case. I also was a fan of the three pigeons, their different personalities, job focuses, and sense of style.

Tools for Navigation: The mystery of this text lends itself directly to predicting. Readers can look at clues and make guesses right along side the Pigeon Private Detectives! Also, the book takes the reader through 6 steps of an investigation which could lead directly to activities and could even be compared to the scientific method. OH! And with so much baking in the book–a baking cross-curricular activity would fit right in.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Follow the investigative steps with the Pigeon Private Detectives. Did you predict who the culprit was? If so, what clues did you use? If not, what tricked you and what did you miss?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Mysteries, animal chapter books

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Jenny at Union Square for providing a copy for review!**

Review and Educators’ Guide!: The Witch of Woodland by Laurel Snyder

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The Witch of Woodland
Author: Laurel Snyder
Published: May 16th, 2023 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: Laurel Snyder, author of Orphan Island, returns with a story of one girl’s quest to answer the seemingly unanswerable questions about what makes us who we are.

Hi, whoever is reading this. I’m Zipporah Chava McConnell, but everyone calls me Zippy.

Things used to be simple—until a few weeks ago. Now my best friend, Bea, is acting funny; everyone at school thinks I’m weird; and my mom is making me start preparing for my bat mitzvah, even though we barely ever go to synagogue. In fact, the only thing that still seems to make sense is magic.

See, the thing is, I’m a witch. I’ve been casting spells since I was little. And even if no one else wants to believe in magic anymore, it’s always made sense to me, always felt true. But I was still shocked the day I found a strange red book at the library and somehow…I conjured something. A girl, actually. A beautiful girl with no memory, and wings like an angel. You probably don’t believe me, but I swear it’s the truth.

Miriam is like no one else I’ve ever met. She’s proof that magic is real. And, it’s hard to explain this part, but I just know that we’re connected. That means it’s up to me to help Miriam figure out what she is and where she came from. If I can do that, maybe everything else in my life will start to make sense too.

Anyway, it’s worth a try.

About the Author: Laurel Snyder is the beloved author of many picture books and novels for children, including the National Book Award nominee Orphan Island and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner Charlie & Mouse. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program. Laurel lives in Atlanta with her family and can be found online at www.laurelsnyder.com.

Review: Zippy was so happy; her best friend Bea and her bonded over magic and everything has been Bea and Zippy since then and it has been wonderful. Then 7th grade begins and Bea is different and Zippy is not. This leads to Zippy feeling socially isolated and just so different than everyone else, a feeling that so many middle schoolers & those us of who went through middle school, will understand. This is the feeling that the book starts with–Zippy just wants someone who understands her again. This is the foundation for the rest of the book.

Laurel Snyder’s middle grade writing always enchants me, and Witch of Woodland is no different. Her characters in Witch are so easy to connect with (including her parents, who I love are included in such a realistic way), the magic she includes is captivating and unique, and her stories are unlike anyone else’s. What got me the most about this book, though, is Zippy. Zippy is special. She is a walking contradiction, just like many early teens are: she is strong and weak, confident and insecure, magical and human, quiet and loud, angry and optimistic… she is all of this and more, and none of that changes, though she evolves and grows in a way that she is just a better version of her same self. Zippy makes this book, everything else just supports her.

I want to note with this review that I am not Jewish, so I did not comment on the religious aspects of the book as I do not have the prior knowledge to do so. However, I did learn a lot about Jewish religion and faith through this book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the publisher-shared Educators’ Guide :

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**