Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee

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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Author: Barbara Dee
Published September 27th, 2022 by Aladdin

Summary: Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.

But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.

She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.

About the Author: Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

Review: I’ve never read a book about eco-anxiety before, but I could definitely empathize with Haven Jacobs and her true anxiety over the state of our planet. I loved that the book gave tangible things that could be done in a community and also looks at global issues. Additionally, like all of Barbara Dee’s books, she does a great job balancing teaching (about science and climate change) and storytelling.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher-provided reading group guide also includes extension activities:

1. Choose one of the following and write an essay:

– How does Haven’s name reflect the major theme of the book?

– Revisit the chapter titled “The Scratch,” and the scene in which the author describes Haven’s room and talks about how her room shows readers who she is and what’s important to her. Then write a description of your own room, and ask a partner if they can identify what is most important to you.

– Using the quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”), write an essay about what that means, giving specific examples from the book.

2. Haven’s heroine is a fictional Inuit teen climate activist named Kirima Ansong. Choose a real-life teen activist and write a report about them, the issue they support, and the actions they’ve taken.

3. The headline of the RiverFest story is “SEVENTH GRADER GRIPPED BY ECO-ANXIETY,” which nicely sums up the major theme of this book. How prevalent is eco-anxiety among the kids at your school? Create a survey and share it to discover the answer. Write a report sharing your findings.

4. Choose one of the following topics from the book to research and write a report about, using the facts shared in the book as a jumping-off point to learn more.

Discussion Questions:
(Chosen questions from the publisher-provided reading group guide; there are 16 questions on the guide)

1. Talk about how the two events that Haven relates in the book’s opening chapter illustrate two of the book’s major themes. What does the bouncy house incident show readers about Haven’s personality? Do you agree with Grandpa Aaron that “‘Haven’s a true problem solver’”? (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you consider yourself to be a problem solver?

2. Why does Haven decide to become a vegetarian? Do you understand and sympathize with her reaction when she goes fishing with Carter and her dad? Are you a vegetarian, or do you have friends who are? What are some other reasons that people make this choice? Talk about how vegetarianism connects with the issue of climate change.

3. Do you understand why Haven is so upset about climate change? How do you feel about her statement that “’no one cares about anything except what’s going on in their own lives’”? (Chapter: Dinner) Why do some of her friends think climate change is too depressing to talk about? Haven tells Lauren, the reporter, that all kids are worried about the issue. How do you and your friends feel?

4. Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? What are some of the signs of eco-anxiety that Haven is experiencing? How might eco-anxiety feel different from other things kids are anxious about, like taking tests or giving oral reports? What are some actions Haven takes, or could take, to relieve this anxiety?

5. Ms. Packer says to Haven: “‘There’s a positive way to be upset, and another way that just makes you feel hopeless and depressed.’” (Chapter: The Blanks) Do you understand both options? Do you identify with one more than the other? What do you think when Haven says she feels that going to school is pointless, that there are more important things going on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning or reading about climate change, science, and/or mental health

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post: “It’s Okay to be Optimistic” by Laura Schaefer, Author of A Long Way from Home

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“It’s Okay to be Optimistic”

The soul of A Long Way from Home is its optimism, which leads me to reflect a little bit about where that comes from in my own life. Some of my best memories growing up involved my family’s regular visits to Florida in wintertime. Not only did I love the sun and the beach, but like most kids, I couldn’t get enough of Disney World. There was something about Epcot Center in particular that captured my imagination. The combination of Walt Disney’s cheerful vision of a World’s Fair-style utopia and the regular shuttle launches from Florida’s nearby Space Coast has always stayed with me.

When I moved with my family from Madison, Wisconsin to Central Florida as an adult, I knew I wanted to explore what the future could promise, and what our role could be in creating some kind of real solarpunk society. Feeling inspired by the advent of SpaceX and the ongoing work of NASA, with its regular rocket launches visible from our front yard, I began writing A Long Way from Home in 2018. Though I’m not a scientist or engineer by a long shot, I thought a lot about the people who were making these launches possible—and the skills, dedication, and hard work these events required.

I’m lucky to count among my friends and family several engineers, whose abilities impress and baffle me. The best thing about being a writer is it gives me good excuse to pester them about what they do and why they do it. It was with their help that A Long Way from Home came to fruition. I hope if it contains any glaring inaccuracies, they’ll forgive me…or figure out a way for me to go back in time and fix them.

My wish for this book as it travels out into the world is that readers will get the sense that the events of history and the way that the future unfolds isn’t something apart from them or their lives. Each of us—as individuals and as pieces of a larger community—is engaged all the time in the act of creation. We create the kind of society we want to live in, which is why maintaining core optimism really matters. I believe it’s possible to make our world a peaceful and green one in which more than just a lucky few get to thrive.

It’s not my intention to sound Pollyanna-ish, but it is my intention to sound hopeful. I want to tell stories that inspire readers to make and do beautiful, astounding things in loving, fully participatory lives.

I also want readers to know that if they’re anxious or sad, they’re not alone and that it’s not forever. I see anxiety and sadness as part of being human. If we all talk about these feelings more and the ways we’ve learned to cope, we can be less isolated. Connection with others isn’t a cure, exactly, because there isn’t a cure. But connection is a way forward, even when it’s hard to find hope. I love the fact that Abby is changed by her time with Adam and Bix, and by the choices she makes in order to help them. Her new perspective on the enormity of the universe and the possibilities it contains breaks her malaise and puts her in the captain seat of her life. That’s optimism.

Other people (sometimes from very, very far away) can and do change us, usually for the better.

One of the best ways I personally deal with my feelings and fears is by reading a lot of fiction. It makes me feel better to know other human beings have grappled with tough situations or challenging emotions and grown as a result. Some of my favorite middle grade and young adult reads include:

  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Some of my favorite authors these days are Andy Weir, Neal Stephenson, Stuart Gibbs, Emily Calandrelli, Jennifer L. Holm, Tana French, Kira Jane Buxton, Hank Green, Ted Chiang, Martha Wells, Becky Chambers, Emily St. John Mandel, Ali Benjamin, Samantha Irby and Ann Patchett.

There’s nothing like a great book if you’re looking to feel better.

Publishing October 4th, 2022 by Carolrhoda Books

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Abby has a lot to worry about: Climate change. The news. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And now moving to Florida for her mom’s new job at an aerospace company.

On the Space Coast, Abby meets two boys, Adam and Bix, who tell her they’re a long way from home and need her help. Abby discovers they’re from the future, from a time when all the problems of the 21st century have been solved. Thrilled, Abby strikes a deal: She’ll help them–if they let her come to the future. But soon Abby is forced to question her attachment to a perfect future and her complicated feelings about the present.

About the Author: Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida, with her husband and daughter, where she enjoys visiting theme parks and watching rocket launches from her front yard. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and twitter.com/teashopgirl.

Thank you, Laura, for this enlightening post!

Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution by Kacen Callender

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Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution
Author: Kacen Callender
Published: September 27, 2022 by Amulet

Summary: From National Book Award–winner Kacen Callender, a contemporary YA that follows Lark’s journey to speak the truth and discover how their own self-love can be a revolution

Lark Winters wants to be a writer, and for now that means posting on their social media accounts––anything to build their platform. When former best friend Kasim accidentally posts a thread on Lark’s Twitter declaring his love for a secret, unrequited crush, Lark’s tweets are suddenly the talk of the school—and beyond. To protect Kasim, Lark decides to take the fall, pretending they accidentally posted the thread in reference to another classmate. It seems like a great idea: Lark gets closer to their crush, Kasim keeps his privacy, and Lark’s social media stats explode. But living a lie takes a toll—as does the judgment of thousands of Internet strangers. Lark tries their best to be perfect at all costs, but nothing seems good enough for the anonymous hordes––or for Kasim, who is growing closer to Lark, just like it used to be between them . . .

In the end, Lark must embrace their right to their messy emotions and learn how to be in love.

Review: This is a beautiful book that has so much heart. It feels as if Kacen Callender put their whole soul into it. The characterization, in particular, stood out to me. Even minor characters feel very developed. The characters remind us of the imperfections that we all have, and the value of remembering that we won’t get everything right. I was particular impressed by the ways in which love is depicted throughout the text. It is vast and expansive and knows no rules or boundaries. The LGBTQ representation and attention to intersectionality was among the best I’ve read (and I read a lot of YAL). Callender also depicts the raw brutality that can come with social media. There were moments in this text where I felt sick to my stomach.

The word “revolution” is in the title, and there are many moments where readers are given space to explore conceptions and understanding of activism. I particularly liked that the revolution isn’t explicit, which made me think deeply long after I turned the last page of the text.

I loved this book, and I can’t wait to discuss it with others. I certainly have many pages flagged to read again and again!

As one side note, I couldn’t decide if this book was realistic fiction or if the splash of magical realism made it magical realism. I am not much of a genre sorter, but I thought I’d throw that out there in case you are. 😉

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The rep in this book! The rep! I wish I’d been exposed to more books with representation like this when I was in school. If I was teaching this book, I would introduce some of Crenshaw’s intersectionality articles to allow students to dive into these concepts together.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Lark learn in this book?
  • How does Kasim develop as a character?
  • What do we, the readers, learn from Sable?
  • What did you learn (or think about) related to social media?
  • How are the characters in this book imperfectly human?

Flagged Passage: “That feeling when you read the last line of a book that you love? I can’t think of a lonelier feeling in the world.”

Read This If You Loved:  Books by Kacen Callender,

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Trex by Christyne Morrell

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Trex
Author: Christyne Morrell
Published August 30th, 2022 by Delacorte

Summary: This middle grade mystery follows the adventures of a boy with an experimental brain implant, and a reclusive girl training to be a spy, as they’re pitted against school bullies, their own parents, and an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Perfect for fans of Stranger Things.

Trex’s experimental brain implant saved his life–but it also made his life a lot harder. Now he shocks everything he touches. When his overprotective mother finally agrees to send him to a real school for sixth grade, Trex is determined to fit in.

He wasn’t counting on Mellie the Mouse. She lives in the creepiest house in Hopewell Hill, where she spends her time scowling, lurking, ignoring bullies, and training to be a spy. Mellie is convinced she saw lightning shoot from Trex’s fingertips, and she is Very Suspicious.

And she should be . . . but not of Trex. Someone mysterious is lurking in the shadows . . . someone who knows a dangerous secret.

About the Author: Christyne’s earliest completed work, written at age 7, told the story of Kermit the Frog meeting Miss Piggy’s parents for the first time. Kermit the Hog was a cautionary tale about pretending to be something you’re not. She still thinks it has potential.

Today, Christyne writes middle-grade novels across a number of genres. Whether they take place in quirky seaside towns or fantastical, faraway kingdoms, her stories all have one thing in common: clever kids accomplishing extraordinary things, like conquering a curse, overthrowing a king, or taking down an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Christyne believes that middle-grade books should challenge, intrigue, and inspire young readers – but above all, never underestimate them.

Christyne’s debut middle-grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, came out in August 2021 from Delacorte Press. Her next novel, TREX, releases in August 2022. She is also the author of the poetry book, The Fool Catcher (2021), and the picture book, Abra, Cadabra & Bob (2019), and her poems and stories have appeared in HighlightsSpider, and The School Magazine.

When Christyne isn’t writing for kids, she’s busy raising one. She’s an attorney by day, who enjoys reading, baking, and watching House Hunters marathons. She lives with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle in Decatur, Georgia.

Review: I LOVED Morrell’s first middle grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, so when she reached out for me to read her newest, I jumped at the chance! What is so interesting is how one author can come up with two completely different types of stories–two sides of the speculative coin, if you will. But man, does she knock this one out of the park, too. It is a mind bender of a story that, through red herrings, multiple points of view, and limited narrators, keeps you on your toes all the way until the end! There is so much to delve into with this book, and it is super engaging on top of it all. Another stellar middle grade novel!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is so much in this book to use in classrooms: STEM, journaling/spying, and mental health representation! And Christyne Morrell has so many resources on her website to utilize with Trex:

  • STEM
    • Static Electricity: Trex’s brain implant gives him a persistent static electric charge, which has a significant impact on his daily life. Teachers and students can explore the causes of static electricity and consider the steps someone with Trex’s condition would have to take to avoid hurting themselves and others. There are tons of activities available online that demonstrate static electricity at work. Here are some of the best: 16 Fun Electricity Experiments and Activities For Kids.
    • Trex in Real Life: Could Trex’s static electricity problem exist in real life? In Australia, a man reportedly built up a charge of 30,000 volts and set fire to a carpet! (Report: Man Burns Carpet with Static Shock | AP News)
    • Dry Lightning: Dry Lightning is any lightning that occurs without rain nearby. It’s especially dangerous for Trex, but it poses a real risk to everyone. Dry Lightning is more likely than typical lightning to cause forest fires, especially in the western portion of the United States, where it occurs most frequently. (What is a Dry Thunderstorm? | Live Science)
  • Spies
    • Spy Museum: Did you know there’s an entire museum dedicated to spycraft? Future sleuths will have a blast at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Upon arrival, visitors receive a cover identity, an RFID-enabled badge, and a secret mission to complete. And for those who can’t make it to D.C., the Spy Museum offers a number of resources on their website, including podcasts, puzzles, and more. (Spy Resources | International Spy Museum)
    • Famous Female Spies: Mellie follows in the footsteps of a long line of female spies. From the Civil War to World War II, women have been covertly risking their lives on top secret missions in service to their country. Learn about some of history’s most famous and successful spies: 6 of History’s Most Notable Female Spies | HistoryHit.
    • Easter Egg Hunt: To kickstart your career as a future spy, I’ve included a major Easter egg (a hidden reference) within the text of Trex. If you’ve read my first book, Kingdom of Secrets, and have a keen eye, perhaps you spot the reference!
  • Mental Health
    • The Power of Introverts: Full of insightful research and powerful examples, Susan Cain’s Quiet makes the case that introverts as a group are undervalued in our society and that we should accept – even embrace – our introverted natures. The “Quiet Manifesto” on Susan’s website states, “The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.” And I wrote Trex for precisely that reason. There’s a version of Quiet for kids and a podcast for parents on Susan Cain’s website. (Home – Susan Cain)
    • Anxiety: One of the characters in Trex deals with anxiety – a sense of distress or fear when faced with uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or stressful situations. All of us experience some level of anxiety (on the first day of school, for example), but when it becomes debilitating or disruptive, it may require attention. Treatment for anxiety can range from simple tactics like breathing exercises to therapy and medication. If you’re experiencing anxiety, talk to a trusted adult or doctor, and check resources like Anxiety.org, Child Mind Institute, and CDC: Anxiety and depression in children.
    • Alphabetter: In the book, the characters play a game called “Alphabetter,” in which they take turns naming things that make them happy in alphabetical order. This is a simple and fun way for anyone to calm their stress and boost their mood!

Discussion Questions: 

Book Trailer:

Read This If You Love: Mysteries, Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman, Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Masterminds by Gordon Korman

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**Thank you to the author for providing an e-galley for review!**

Author Guest Post: “Five Tips to Excite Students About Writing” by Laurel Solorzano, Author of The Land of Fake Believe

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“Five Tips to Excite Students About Writing”

One of the most difficult parts of teaching writing is convincing all students to be involved in the various activities. Some of my students have reached the end of the writing period with NOTHING on their paper. How many distractions could they possibly have had? These five tips should help you get those students not only involved but excited to tell their story.

Tip #1

Allow Alternative Ways to Tell Their Story. Most of the time, my students who have trouble putting words on paper are the ones who talk. Everyone else may be working quietly, but they are talking- to me, to the other students, to themselves. It doesn’t matter if anyone is responding or not, their mouths are moving.

One way I’ve been able to get these students involved is by using a recording device (a phone or an app on a tablet works well). I move them out into the hall and have them record themselves telling their story or answering the prompt. I usually tell them that they have two minutes to record it (any longer than that, and transcription takes a while).

They LOVE doing this, because they can talk and avoid writing for a few minutes with the teacher’s permission!

Once they’ve recorded themselves, depending on the student’s age, I can either use an online program to transcribe it for them (I then have them read what they “wrote” and fix the errors), OR I’ll have them transcribe it themselves.

Tip #2

SHARE their writing. Some of my students have disliked writing because they don’t get the chance to talk/share with their classmates. They prefer to tell the story out loud rather than write it down and pass it to me.

Whenever I’ve given them the chance to read their story/writing out loud, then they get more excited about writing it. They can’t wait to make their classmates laugh!

I give other students the chance to share too, but don’t force it on the quieter ones who already enjoy the writing.

Tip #3

Give them creative freedom. While mentor texts or examples that students can follow is helpful for SOME students, it can make others struggle. How can they make their writing sound like that writing? They become overwhelmed trying to make it perfect, so they either don’t try at all or copy the example writing and just change a word or two.

For example, if you give them the topic of writing about a favorite memory, then give them subject examples, but not paragraph examples. “Did you ever receive a special Christmas or birthday present? What made it special? Where have you gone that you really enjoyed? The zoo, amusement park?” This can get their ideas pumping without feeling like they have to churn out a perfect paragraph.

Tip #4

Don’t compare writing. You probably already know this, and you wouldn’t do it on purpose. However, sometimes, comments slip out accidentally. “Wow! Did everyone see what a great paragraph Johnny wrote?” or maybe even something that you think is more subtle because you are just speaking to the student. “Johnny, that was really great. I don’t know how you do it!”

Written feedback helps avoid this comparison. I always write one thing each student did well and one thing they can improve. Instead of writing that one student needs to fix their verb tenses and their quotation marks, indent their paragraphs, not use fragments, and. . . well, you get the idea. That would be overwhelming as an adult.

Pick one, concrete thing that they can improve, and write that one. For example, “Don’t start sentences with ‘and’” or “Use an apostrophe to show possession.” That way, they can improve and not be overwhelmed.

Tip #5

Connect reading and writing. A lot of students who don’t necessarily enjoy writing do enjoy listening to stories. Even when students can read on their own, they aren’t too old to be read to as well.

Once they have a story in their head, writing prompts related to the story can turn on their creativity.

Read-aloud continues in my classroom even through fifth grade, which is why I love picking stories that are fun not only for the kids but for me to read year after year as well. Check out my book below for a fun classroom read!

Fun Writing Ideas

Now that you have some ideas about how to involve the non-writers in writing time, here are some prompts to use in your class.

  • If you could meet one fairy tale character, who would it be? What would happen when you meet them?
  • (After reading a book or part of a book together) What do you think should happen in the next chapter?
  • Pick one notoriously bad guy (the Joker, the Big Bad Wolf, or Maleficent for example) and write about them as if they were good.

Published September 1st, 2022

About the Book: The Land of Fake Believe is a twisted fairy tale about two siblings and their fateful encounter with real amusement park characters. It is geared to children ages eight to twelve, but can be read aloud to younger children.

In this fractured fairy tale story, twelve-year-old Taylan is angry when her mom scolds her for telling her five-year-old sister, Judy, that Cinderella isn’t real, just as the little girl is about to meet her favorite princess at the famed Happily Ever After amusement park. Relegated to their vacation hotel room for the evening as a punishment, Taylan enlists the help of her ten-year-old brother, Colby, to prove her mom wrong. What they discover in the park after dark is beyond their wildest dreams—or nightmares.

Soon, the siblings find themselves in the middle of a secret century-long battle among the park’s characters—the good Ever Afters and the dark Ever Afters—and are in a race to help their new friends before the Evil Queen takes over the park for good. With Beauty, Cindy, and Peter Pan on their side, will they be able to survive the conflict before it’s too late?

Fun activities after reading the book including a coloring sheet, quiz, and maze: https://www.laurelsolorzano.com/activities

About the Author: Children’s book author Laurel Solorzano has been creating stories since she first learned how to write, completing her first full-length novel while in middle school. Her love for fairy tales is what inspired her to write The Land of Fake Believe.

Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Yader, Laurel is a Spanish and English teacher. When she’s not penning creative stories for young readers, Laurel enjoys reading and spending time with her two dogs. Also the published author of five young adult books, Laurel’s book The Land of Fake Believe is the debut book in a series of twisted fairy tales including book 2-Once Upon a Climb and book 3- The Princess and the Key.

Author Q&A can be seen here. https://www.laurelsolorzano.com/about

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/laurelsbooks

Signing up for her newsletter on her website is the best way to stay connected!

Thank you, Laurel, for these amazing engaging tips!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for New Kid by Jerry Craft, Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez, and From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

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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. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these realistic fiction books.

New Kid
Author: Jerry Craft
Published February 5th, 2019 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: A graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You can cover social topics like: Inclusion for BIPOC students and new kids, microaggressions, and stereotyping. If you have a new student in the class, maybe they could read and relate to this book. How to like the way Liam treated Jordan. Maybe you could also use Andy as an example of how not to treat others, since he is the antagonist of the story. Jordan also learned throughout the book how to be more confident, outspoken, stand up for others (telling the teacher that Andy was in the wrong over Drew in the lunch room scene), and how to be a bigger person (Jordan signing Andy’s yearbook at the end of the year).

Some topics for navigation would be using this text to discuss family dynamics and friendships. It would be great to also bring up the topic of diversity, bullying, and respect in the classrooms. Most of the characters in the book have some kind of conflict going on. Draw these conflicts to the students as some of these conflicts may mirror conflicts they could be personally dealing with. Open up the discussion for them to make connections to the story and its characters. Have the students discuss in what ways the conflicts in the book are fueled by social, racial, economic, and cultural differences? Using the book, have students do some freewriting about how to navigate through their emotions, just as Jordan found a way to cope. Teachers can also use the book to have students explore the ways the neighborhood Jordan speaks about is portrayed in the illustrations and words. They can investigate Washington Heights where Jordan and his family live and discuss how or why Jordan would camouflage.

Interdisciplinary options:

  • Geography: have students work with maps and have them draw a way that Jordan would have gone to school every day on the bus.
  • History: teach about how diversity is viewed now vs what it was in the past and why it is important to have it within our school and classroom.
  • Art: Jordan has great drawing skills and he loves to draw about what is going on in his life, maybe the students could try to draw what there day/week has looked like.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the many pressures that Jordan faced can you relate to the most?
  • How do you handle having a new kid at your school?
  • How does Jordan handle the impacts of race on his friendships?
  • Which character in the book do you identify with the most? Why?
  • Why do you think Jordan saying something when the altercation between Drew and Andy happened, made others step up to report the truth, too?
  • Jordan states that when he has to ride the bus to school he has to be like a chameleon. In your own words, explain what this simile means.
  • In your own opinion, explain why you think the teacher keeps calling Jordan by the wrong name.
  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • Why do you think Jordan at the end of the book decided to write in Andy’s yearbook?
  • Have you ever lost touch with a friend after moving? Why do you think that happens?
  • Have you ever been the new kid? What was that like?
  • How would you have handled the situation like Jordan where the teacher had his notebook? And why?
  • Do you think that Jordan Moving helped develop his character in the book? Why?
  • Why do you think Drew reacted upset towards his teacher calling him Deandre?
  • Write about a time that you didn’t fit in. What happened? How did this make you feel? Did anyone notice and include you?
  • How do you handle having a new kid at your school? Classroom?

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Other Words for Home
Author: Jasmine Warga
Published May 7th, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: I am learning how to be
sad
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book does a great job of taking a situation that is happening in the world and putting it into context in a way that resonates with students as is easy to understand.

A great activity for this book would be “Webbing what’s on my mind.” Students would take moments to write down key concepts throughout the book and talk about how they feel about the themes and issues that they read about. This will also give students time to research issues in the book, research it and then reflect. This will allow students to easily see key concepts in the books and compare their thoughts to the thoughts of their peers. This will allow a group discussion on key elements throughout the story.

Interdisciplinary opportunities:

Social Studies- Students will take this book as an opportunity to research about different countries and cultures to learn more about the characters and what they have gone through. This will also allow the students to understand the differences between the United States and Syria and the changes that Jude went through in the book.

Outreach/Humanitarian Aid- Students can learn about different organizations within their community and learn how to help those around them. Students can participate in drives to help refugees and those displaced by conflict.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Put yourself in Judes shoes. How would you have felt if you had to move across the country and leave your loved ones behind?
  • How does Baba feel when Mama and Jude say goodbye? Provide some examples from the book.
  • Why does Issa believe that he should protest?
  • Whose side do you understand more, the brothers or the parents?
  • Why did Jude have to move away?
  • How did Jude’s relationships with the other ELL students affect her confidence in school?
  • How did Mama and Jude first describe Cincinnati when they landed?
  • How did people treat Layla and Jude differently as one was born in America and spoke fluent English while the other struggled communicating and was seen as more of an outsider?
  • How did the behavior of those around Jude change after she began wearing a hijab. What evidence supports this?
  • The first time Jude is reminded of home in the US iis when she enters Layla’s family restaurant. How does this affect her relationship with Layla and her comfort level within Layla’s restaurant.

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Stella Díaz Has Something to Say
Author: Angela Dominguez
Published January 16th, 2018 by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.

Stella Díaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Díaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.

When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say!

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say introduces an infectiously charming new character with relatable writing and adorable black-and-white art throughout. Simple Spanish vocabulary is also integrated within the text, providing a bilingual element.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful by helping students know that they can overcome the fear of speaking and sharing  opinions, beliefs or ideas to other people, even if it means that those opinions may be different from other people. It also has bilingual opportunities!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Have you ever been the new students at school, if you have, how did you begin to make friends? If you haven’t, did you still feel nervous on your first day, why or why not?
  • If you moved to a different state and had to introduce yourself to the class, what would you say? Would you bring gifts for your classmates?
  • Do you think it’s an important best friend rule to match one another and no one else or do you think Stella was being over-protective of her best friend?
  • List some questions you would ask a new classmate to get to know them. What would you share with a classmate for them to get to know you?
  • How does Jenny suggest Stella start conversations with people? Do you think it is good advice?
  • Why do you think Stella doesn’t let people see her artwork until it’s perfect?
  • Why do you think Stella was afraid of speaking in public?
  • How did the spelling bee or marine report help Stella overcome her fear of speaking in public? What has helped you overcome the fear of speaking in public?
  • Stella and her family celebrate the new year with a trip to Wisconsin, how does your family celebrate special occasions or holidays?

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Author: Janae Marks
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary: Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is AMAZING, and is recommended for all to young readers to dive in. This story is also relatable and a lot of young readers can relate to this story and have a special bond with this book. This story also teaches the lesson to fight for what you believe in which is a great lesson to teach students.

This book would be useful to teach kids to fight for what they believe in. Even though Zoe didn’t know her father, she still fought to prove his innocence and was willing to uncover hard truths.

A great tool to use for this story is chronological order journals and open discussions. This book talks about a tough topic that may be hard for other students and this would be the perfect opportunity for teachers to connect with students and have an honest discussion about how the book makes them feel, what they think, and if they are open to sharing stories. You can also have a “mailbox” where students can send you mail and let them know that whatever mail  they send is only for your eyes, if they are uncomfortable with the conversation.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the theme of the book from the desk of Zoe Washington?
  • Describe where “From The Desk of Zoe Washington” take place.
  • How did the letter’s in the novel make you feel while reading the book?
  • What would you have done in Zoe’s  mother’s shoes? Why? What about other characters?
  • How do you think Zoe’s grandmother handles the situation?
  • Why do you think Zoe was so eager to rebuild her friendship with Trevor after he found out about Marcus?
  • Describe your favorite scene in the book and the way you imagined it while reading.
  • Why do you think it was so important for Zoe to build a relationship with his biological father?
  • Describe the conflicts that came up in Zoe and her mothers relationship when Zoe found the letter on her 12th birthday.

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman, Melissa by Alex Gino, and Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

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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 about these realistic fiction books.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend
Author: Dawn Quigley
Illustrator: Tara Audibert
Published May 11th, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons, a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be used in the classroom as a tool to show the students that it’s important not to assume what another student is thinking. It is always best to vocalize concerns

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe what a reservation is according to the book?
  • Why did Kokum (grandma) move in with Jo Jo and her mom?
  • In what ways are cats and balloons different?
  • Why did Jo Jo Makoons cut the toes out of her socks? What did she do with them?
  • What happens when Jo Jo takes Mimi to school?
  • What did the new girl, Susan do when she saw Mimi in the classroom?  How did JoJo feel about Susan’s reaction?
  • What are some ways you may relate to Jo Jo?
  • Has anybody ever felt like they might lose their best friend? Why?
  • How do Jo Jo’s classmates help her see that they are friends at the end of the story.
  • What does it mean to be a good friend to you?
  • What are some positive traits we could learn from Jo Jo?
  • In the Book Jo Jo cut out the toes in her socks. Why did she do this?
  • Why do you feel that Jo Jo felt left out at school?
  • Why was it so important for Jo Jo to bring MiMi to school with her?
  • What ways could JoJo have approached her classmates at lunch before getting upset about eating alone?
  • Why do you feel it’s important for Jo Jo and her family to learn and know the language of her Ojibwe tribe?
  • What could JoJo have done better for her original rhyme to make it better?
  • Like Jo Jo if you had to bring your best friend to class with you, who would it be and why?
  • How did you feel about the nickname Jo Jo made for Chuck?
  • Why do you think Jo Jo thought the Gym teacher’s name was Jim?

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The Length of a String
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Published May 1st, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birthparents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve–the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna’s diary and Imani’s birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use this book to discuss and learn about History-World War II/Holocaust, the Jewish faith, and adoption.

This book is educational because it discusses the Holocaust from the point of view of someone who experienced it. It also has an engaging story line that makes readers want to read more to find out what will happen. This book would be very useful when teaching about the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think Imani felt when she started to read about Anna’s life in her diary?
  • Think of a time you felt out of place and write about how that made you feel.
  • Why do you think Imani’s mom cries so much?
  • Have you ever felt a special connection with someone in you family?
  • If you were Imani, would you continue to look for your birth parents?
  • Suppose you wrote a diary about something that you want people/family in the future to know. What would it be about and why?
  • What are some special celebrations that you do with your family?
  • If you were Imani’s friend, what advice would you give her as she goes through this journey?
  • What is something you have that is special that you think you will give to someone in the future?
  • Why do you think people living around Imani insensitive questions?

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Melissa
Author: Alex Gino
Published August 25th, 2018 by Scholastic

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story is a good teachable book where certain themes can be brought up and talked about within the classroom setting. Where students can ask questions that may push boundaries but can be answered in a professional setting. This novel would be useful in the classroom to teach and promote gender diversity. This book would also be great as a classroom library so that students who may be facing these issues will have something relatable to read.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Identify some ways Melissa being trans affected their life.
  • Think about a moment when someone in the book was bullied. What could have been done differently?
  • Why do you think Melissa was so scared to tell her parents about who she is?
  • What does it mean to be an Ally?
  • Describe two ways someone else helped Melissa.
  • Describe Melissa’s disposition throughout the book. How did it change?
  • Do you think that it was a good idea to talk to a therapist about the issues between Melissa and her mom?
  • Write about a time you felt scared to tell someone the truth.
  • If you were in Melissa’s class what would you do to make her feel welcome?
  • Sketch a scene from the book. Why did you pick that scene?
  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    1. Classmates
    2. George’s mom and big brother
    3. School teacher/principal
    4. George’s best friend Kelly
    5. Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think they chose to do that?
  • How does Melissa feel in the first few chapters of the book?
  • How does Melissa feel at the end of the book?
  • Why did Ms.Udell not let Melissa play Charlotte?
  • Have you ever felt lost or scared to tell the truth? If so, how did that make you feel?
  • If Melissa was in your class, what are some ways you could make her feel welcomed?
  • Name a few things that Melissa had to struggle with, because she wanted to be trans.

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in a classroom for teachers to expose a lot of topics to students such as bullying, family relations, and relatable school interactions like wanting to play sports or friendships and grades. As well as students that are nervous about their 6th grade year or also starting sixth grade read about someone going through the same things as them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think caused Lolo to pick up the wrong twins?
  • Why do you think Merci and Edna are not friends?
  • Why do you think Edna is worried about appearances and mercy is not?
  • After their first interaction, do you think Merci will end up enjoying Michael as a sunshine buddy?
  • If you were a new kid would you want a sunshine buddy? Would you want to be a sunshine buddy? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Merci handled her situations maturely? Why or why not ?
  • Why did Merci’s parents hide Lolo’s conditions from her ?
  • How would you describe Merci’s relationship with her grandfather?
  • Do you think Merci’s culture made her feel different from her peers at school ? Why or Why not ?
  • How would you handle being falsely accused of something you didn’t do like Merci when edna destroyed the mask ?

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