I Cannot Draw a Horse by Charise Mericle Harper

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I Cannot Draw a Horse
Author & Illustrator: Charise Mericle Harper
Publishing October 11th, 2022 by Union Square Kids

Summary: Award-winning author and illustrator Charise Mericle Harper delivers a fantastically funny adventure about doing the impossible: drawing a horse.

The cat wants a horse.
The book cannot draw a horse.
The book CAN draw a squirrel, a beaver, and a bunny.
Fun . . . but the cat still wants a horse.

Can the quick-draw book appease the horse-obsessed cat with an impressive collection of horse-y alternatives (all created from the same “nothing shape”)? Or will the cat finally get a horse? The cat REALLY wants a horse.

Praise: “This book is clever in its simple story and imaginative, 2-D illustrations, which are printed on pages like graph paper. Easy text appears in both standard form and yellow speech bubbles, giving it an easy-to-follow, graphic novel feel. Creative and loaded with humor, this story will have kids giggling in seconds and trying their hand at drawing a horse—or at least a gumdrop.” — Booklist, Starred Review

About the Author: Charise Mericle Harper is the award-winning author and illustrator of numerous books for children, including The Good for Nothing Button!CupcakeGo! Go! Go! Stop!So Embarrassing, and Bad Sister. Her children’s book series include Pepper & Boo, Just Grace, Fashion Kitty, Sasquatch and Aliens, Bean Dog and Nugget, and Crafty Cat. Charise lives with her family and furry pets in Portland, Oregon.

Review: This clever picture book is funny and inspiring! It shows readers to not give up and to push themselves creatively. It also shows the power of the basics of art, specifically shapes & lines, can be used to tell stories, show characters’ emotions, and be manipulated in so many different ways. And the basic graphic novel format will grab readers’ attention and will keep them reading. Over all a fun picture book read that will bring giggles and asks for rereading.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Educators will first want to read this book aloud–students will love the cranky cat and his demands! But then the book could easily lead into a discussion on creativity and creation of their own story using one shape. Use the book as a mentor text for students to imitate.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the cat wants a horse so badly?
  • What does the end of the story lead you to believe?
  • What is your go-to shape when drawing? What animals can you make from it?
  • Why is the cat getting so frustrated with the author/illustrator?
  • How does the author turn this basic concept into a plot?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Give This Book a Title by Jarrett Lerner, I Can Only Draw Worms by Will Mabbitt, Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi

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

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!**

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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Guest Review: The Bad Seed by Jory John, Illustrated by Pete Oswald

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Guest Reviewer: Katie, UCF Elementary Education Student

The Bad Seed
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
Published August 29th, 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers

Summary: This is a book about a bad seed. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad? Do you really want to know?

He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself, and decides that he wants to be—happy?

About the Creators:

Jory John is a New York Times bestselling author and two-time E. B. White Read Aloud Honor recipient. Jory’s work includes the award-winning Goodnight Already! series; the bestselling Terrible Two series; the popular picture books The Bad Seed, Penguin Problems, and Quit Calling Me a Monster!; and the national bestseller All My Friends Are Dead, among other books. He lives in Oregon.

Pete Oswald is an LA-based artist, kid lit author/illustrator, and production designer. He is the co-creator of Mingo the Flamingo, published in 2017 by HarperCollins. Pete is also the illustrator of The Bad Seed, by Jory John. When Pete is not working on books he is helping to uplift many of the most successful animated franchises as a character designer, concept artist, and production designer. Pete lives in Santa Monica, California, with his wife and two sons.

Review: I personally love this book and the character development it possesses throughout. There is a background on how the seed became to be “The Bad Seed”, which helps readers understand that there is always a reason behind their peers’ behaviors. The seed shared the things he does and the reasons he believes himself to be so bad but also a chance in his mindset, he no longer wants to be a bad seed. He starts changing his behavior and wants to be happy. This shows kids that it’s okay to want to make positive changes in themselves and it is possible for their peers to do so too. The seed also shares that he may not continue these positive behaviors at all times but does so from time to time. This shows that you can not be the perfect person at all times but it’s all about you trying to do so. With this, I think this would be a great book to start the year out with to show students that it is okay to start out being “bad” and changing for the better. It also gives students a chance to understand behaviors without telling them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book would be best for a classroom read aloud. This is because it would be a great introduction book or even if you notice there are a lot of negative behaviors happening in the classroom. It shows character development and how you can turn your behavior around. It also shows that there is a reason behind all negative behaviors and that these reasons are justifiable as well showing that you can get past it.

Some activities you could also do with it are:

Mapping: Mapping could be used for this book as you can map the journey the character takes to change his behavior from being bad to being good. You can have points that begin with the seed being happy, what happened that made him change his behavior, what he did while he was being bad, and what he started doing to become good.

Literature Logs: This could be used for older age groups, they can stop at the beginning to make connections or write down their initial thoughts after a picture walk. They can stop at different points to make inferences about what’s going to happen next or things they believe the character can do to turn around his behavior.

Graffiti Boards: This could be used just like the literature logs but may be more fun for the students as it is less structured. Here they have a chance to write, draw and interpret ideas on their own with little guidance other then the initial instructions and it can be done at any point without having to stop as a whole class to complete.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe in your own words the reasoning behind the bad seed becoming bad?
  • Why do you think the seed is considered to be the bad seed just from looking at the cover?
  • Do you think the seed will be able to overcome his “bad” behavior? Why or why not?
  • Describe a time in your life where you interacted with someone who acted like the bad seed? How did it make you feel?
  • Why do you think the seed wanted to turn his behavior around and become good again?
  • What do you think we can learn from the bad seed and his journey to become good?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Understanding behavior, colorful illustrations

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Thank you, Katie, for your review!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o; The Crown by Derrick Barnes; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds; and You Matter by Christian Robinson

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these six picture books.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published August 27th, 2001 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Molly Lou Melon is short, clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bull-frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor… But she doesn’t mind.

Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book can be used to set a president within the classroom to advise at the beginning of the year that bullying is not okay.
  • Teach about how having a positive attitude can affect the world around you
    • Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards us. – John Mitchell
  • Have the students go into a small group to talk about what happens when another student is being bullied.
    • Writing-in-role: Each student can discuss what they would do in Molly’s shoes with each encounter with the bully.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you feel if you were in Molly’s situation?
  • What advice has a family member given you that has gotten you through a tough time?
  • What are some things that you like about yourself?
  • How do you think Molly was able to keep a positive attitude?
  • How did the illustrations make you feel?
  • What did you like about the story?
  • What are some things you would have done if you heard Ronald making fun of Molly?
  • If Molly had a negative attitude toward Ronald, how would have had the story turned out differently?
  • How can you use this story in our classroom?
  • If Molly had not received advice from her grandmother do you think she would have had such a positive attitude?

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Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: T

  • Good as a read-aloud and book club book.
  • A good book to introduce a discussion about skin color.
  • Beginning BLM topic.
  • Encourages children to be comfortable in their own skin.
  • Encourages children to love themselves.
  • Modern-day text.
  • May be used during social studies instruction. Prompts discussion about skin color and different cultures. Introduces self and encourages students to reflect on their own family and community.
  • After reading activity: Students may respond to the text by drawing a self-portrait of themselves. After drawing a self-portrait of themselves, they can share it with their peers and reflect on their own similarities and differences. The activity encourages students to recognize the importance of each member of their community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ideas do you think will be present in this text?
  • How did the author use the title of this book in the text?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • How do you think Sulwe feels regarding how her classmates are treating her? How do you feel about this treatment?
  • What use of imagery sparked your imagination?
  • What could happen to make this character feel a different way?
  • What type of emotions do you feel during the daytime versus the nighttime? Explain why?
  • How does the word choice contribute to the tension throughout the story and ultimately the theme at the end?
  • What do you think the author wanted you to feel after reading this book?
  • How do Sulwe’s feelings change from the beginning to the middle, to the end of the story?
  • What evidence of organization do you see throughout the story?

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The Crown
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Published October 10th, 2017 by Agate Bolden

Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Notes about when the book would be useful in the classroom:

  • To show feelings towards a certain moment in life.
  • This can be used for language arts practice (events, plot, meaning).
  • Asking students about a time where they felt a personal experience with something that they do often.
  • Reflect on how they feel after receiving a haircut.
  • Reflect on something that excites you, like the haircut in the story.

This book is best done as a read aloud and a book club book. The reason for this, is that Crown integrates great opportunities because it helps students to understand a character’s feelings written into text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The boy in the story talks about his passion of having a haircut. When has there been a time where you felt passionate about something?
  • How does the author in the story convey emotion through colors?
  • What did you think the story might have been about?
  • What do you think that the boy in the story is feeling when he enters the barber shop?
  • If you could write a sequel to this book, what would it be about and why?
  • What have you might have changed in this story?
  • Has there been a time where you think you have gotten a nice haircut? Why or why not?
  • Describe the boy’s feelings about getting a haircut? Why do you think this?
  • The boy in the story felt confident and positive after getting a haircut. When was there a time where you felt confident and positive about something?

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The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
Published August 28th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: After reading this book it would be best if students use this as a community building opportunity to celebrate their differences and learn about their peers. This book opens up a discussion about the lives that others live and how although they have a different background we should treat everyone with respect and encourage others to be true to themselves. After reading this book the classroom can do a reading analysis of the book to help establish classroom norms and expectations. This book would be best as a read aloud preferably towards the beginning of the school year. Afterwards this book may go to the classroom library. This book is interdisciplinary as it can be used in social studies to help explore different cultural backgrounds. The students can be given the opportunity to explore the different customs and regions brought up in the book to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the symbolism behind rulers being present in the illustrations of the book?
  • What differences did you notice in each of the characters?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to celebrate our differences?
  • What differences do you notice within your classmates or others around you?
  • How did the students’ perceptions of each other change over time?
  • Describe something that makes you unique compared to your classmates
  • What is one way to support a classmate that feels isolated because of their differences?
  • Why do you think Angelina felt less nervous towards the end of the book?
  • What is the overall message of the story?
  • Why do we notice the differences of our peers?
  • Why are we different from those around us?
  • Pick two different interactions in the story and write about you would change the characters behavior to be more respectful of their peers

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Word Collector
Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Published January 30th, 2018 by Orchard Books

Summary: Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
And Jerome?
Jerome collected words . . .

In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words—and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book would be useful during a read aloud when teaching about vocabulary. You can use the book as a good jump start into vocabulary. Seeing another child interested in learning words will catch the students attention and make them more interactive while learning vocab.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some words that you would like to share?
  • Is there anything you wished for your class to learn like the main character did?
  • Did you learn any new words?
  • Why does Jerome like to collect words?
  • Where do you find new words not counting in a book?
  • Which types of words were the most powerful for Jerome?
  • What do you like to collect for yourself and why?
  • Why do you think Jerome threw his words across town?
  • What do you do to make yourself happy?
  • What was your favorite part about the book?

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You Matter
Author & Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published June 2nd, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson.

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The response best for after reading this text would be a group discussion of their thoughts on the book, a compare and contrast of everyone’s differences that “matter,” reflect on things that students think matters to them, and think they want to not matter. And the the book is interdisciplinary due to its multiple subject related ideas, because it addresses science related topics like planets and plants, and even geography.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is there something that one of your siblings does that you don’t like? Why? Does that mean that they don’t matter?
  • What is something that you think matters?
  • What is something that you think makes you different?
  • Why does that make you special?
  • Why are differences important?
  • Why do you think the last picture was of the whole city?
  • Who is the astronaut thinking about when she is looking down on earth?
  • On the cover, what do you notice about all the children playing, what happens if there is only one kid playing with the parachute?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Why do you matter?

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Guest Review: Magyk by Angie Sage

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Guest Reviewer: Grace, UCF Elementary Education Student

Magyk (Septimus Heap Book One)
Author: Angie Sage
Published March 2nd, 2005 by Bloomsbury Publishing

Summary: The first part of this enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells, and a yearning to uncover the mystery at the heart of this story…who is Septimus Heap?

The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?

Angie Sage writes in the tradition of great British storytellers. Her inventive fantasy is filled with humor and heart: Magyk will have readers laughing and begging for more.

About the Author: Angie Sage began her career illustrating books, and then started writing – first toddler books, later chapter books and then the masterful Septimus Heap. She lives in a fifteenth-century house in Somerset. She has two grown-up daughters.

Review: Magyk is an interesting fantasy adventure that provides children an alternative to the increasingly controversial Harry Potter series. It has themes of wizardry/magic and adventure and focuses on a small group of young characters that age throughout the series.

Magyk and the rest of the Septimus Heap series promotes gender equality as it has several strong female characters and shows women in positions of power without questioning from other characters. In addition, this book and its series promote friendships between characters not only of different genders but of different backgrounds and races.

This book also has strong themes of found-family as well as other complicated family relationships that can be comforting to children without a more traditional nuclear family structure. One of the main characters, Jenna, has been adopted and struggles with her relationships with her non-adopted siblings. This is explored further in later books in the series when she meets her biological father and learns the identity of her birth mother.

The series associated with Magyk grows with its reader as Septimus, the main character, ages throughout the series. The books introduce increasingly mature themes over time, introducing readers to new ideas as they are ready for them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book touches upon the idea of found family. This theme could be implemented in the classroom to help students better understand the importance of relationships between themselves and those around them. Highlighting the importance of the people we surround ourselves with and the aid they can provide is an important lesson to learn as it gives us strength to go about our day.

This book also teaches students to trust themselves and bare more responsibility as time goes by. Throughout the book, the characters discover that true power comes from themselves. It is only by trusting themselves and working hard that can they achieve their goals. This teaches students the importance of a good work ethic and how you have to work in order to achieve your goals. By adding additional responsibilities to characters throughout the book you can see how their wants and needs change over time however, this does not take away from the goals and aspirations they want to achieve.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Although Jenna is not related to the Heaps by blood she is raised as their daughter. How does Jenna’s relationship with her parents differ from that of her “siblings”?
  • Boy 412 and Jenna both have complicated pasts. How does their relationship change throughout the book as they learn more about themselves and each other?
  • How does Boy 412 relationships with others vary compared to how other children in the book make relationships?
  • How do the circumstances in which Jenna and Boy 412 discover their identities vary? How does this affect how they react to the news?
  • Boy 412 was raised in a militaristic environment, how does this shape the person he has become? If he was raised in a different environment do you think his personality would be different?
  • How do Marcia, Sarah, Zelda, and Silas treat the children differently? Why do you believe they have such different approaches?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oh it’s a pebble… But it’s a really nice pebble Dad thanks.”

Read This If You Love: Books about witches/wizards, Books that age with you

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Thank you, Grace, for your review!!