How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon


how it went down

How It Went Down
Author: Kekla Magoon
Published: October 21, 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.

Goodreads Summary: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

Ricki’s Review: In light of the recent protests, this is an incredibly insightful book that is very important. The point-of-view shifts every 2-3 pages, which was very thought-provoking. Too often, books depict stereotypical portrayals of members of cultures, and the gamut of characters within this text felt very realistic. For some, this book may be too gritty and too uncomfortable. There is nothing comfortable about discussions regarding inequities and privilege in society. But if you walk down the halls of my high school, there is nothing in the book that is not a concern in schools. This is not a feel-good read, but it made me think. And thinking…is a very good thing.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: There is much to discuss in this book. Teachers could use it to start conversations about power and privilege. There are a lot of discrepancies between the characters’ perceptions of the shootings, and I imagine students would disagree about what happened. Teachers might elect to hold a verbal or silent debate. Also, I would love to discuss the structure of the text. The creativity in the form is purposeful, and it would be interesting for students to investigate why Magoon structured it in the way she did.

Discussion Questions: Why does Magoon structure the novel with alternating voices? How is the novel structured as a whole?; Does this story serve as a counter-narrative? If so, how? If not, why not?; Did Tariq have a gun in his hand? Why do/don’t you think so?; How does the story evolve as time passes?

We Flagged: “As a black man, you have to keep your head down. You have to keep yourself steady. You have to follow every rule that’s ever been written, plus a few that have always remained unspoken.”

Read This If You Loved: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, On the Run by Alice Goffman, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees, Autobiography of my Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven


all the bright places

All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Published: January 6, 2015 by Knopf

Goodreads Summary: The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this compelling, exhilarating, and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Ricki’s Review: A publishing representative who I deem to be a friend pressed this book into my hand. “Read it,” she insisted. She told me I would want to curl up into a ball in my bed and fall into this book. I fell hard. The writing is incredible. I hate to compare books with others because it creates a sense of expectation that often goes unfulfilled for future readers, but I couldn’t help but consider comparisons with my all-time favorite YA texts. The quirky nature of the characters reminded me of Pudge, Alaska, Charlie, Eleanor, and Park. The direction of the plot reminded me of other titles (which will remain unnamed to prevent spoilers). But I cannot compare this book to others because while it allowed to me reminisce about my favorite titles, it was quite different. The deep, honest, hard-hitting depiction of mental illness was enough to take my breath away. I felt rage that made me want to punch my mattress; I felt sadness that made me feel a hopeless sense of emptiness; but above all, I felt the power of love, loyalty, and friendship that made my heart both ache and swell. This is an unforgettable book. I suspect it will be the book that everyone will be talking about this year and for years to come.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Mental illness and bullying are pervasive in our schools. We can’t teach enough books about these themes because they are incredibly relevant for young people. As a former teacher, I was jealous of the teacher who created the assignment for Violet and Finch, and I wanted to do it with my former students. It would be so neat to duplicate this project while students read the book. Additionally, I think students would benefit from creating their own version of the post-it collages that Violet and Finch make. As an alternative, I would consider having students research the warning signs of suicide and finding these instances in the text. There are so many themes for the students to consider, the teaching categories at the top and tags at the bottom of this post show a variety of different directions a teacher might take with the instruction of this text.

Access the book’s website to share your bright place or read Germ MagazineThe educator guide also has CCSS tie-ins.

Discussion Questions: What is the end message of this book? What is the author’s purpose?; What foreshadowing does Niven provide?; How do Violet’s family members show their grief in different ways?; Do you agree with the ending? Would you change it? Why do you think Niven ended the book in the way she did?

We Flagged: “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

**Please note: The above quotation is from an advanced reader copy. The quotation may change in the final published form of the text.**

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Burn by Suzanne Phillips

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A Christmas Wish for Corduroy by B.G. Hennessy



A Christmas Wish for Corduroy
Author: B.G. Hennessy
Based on the characters created by Don Freeman
Illustrator: Jody Wheeler
Published October 21st, 2014 by Viking Juvenile

Goodreads Summary: Before he met Lisa, Corduroy was just a little bear in the toy department of a big store, waiting for somebody to take him home.

It’s almost Christmas and Corduroy wishes he could be a child’s holiday gift—but he’s a plain bear, and nobody seems to notice him. He sets out across the store to ask Santa Claus for help, but he can’t visit without wearing a special outfit! After stopping to try on hats, boots, and even baby clothes, Corduroy finally arrives at the North Pole. Can Santa help Corduroy find a new home in time for Christmas?

With warm humor and classic art, A Christmas Wish for Corduroy takes readers back to the beginning and shows how Corduroy became the beloved bear we know today. This is a heartwarming story about the power of hope, perseverance, and friendship–an important addition to any Corduroy collection.

My Review: This prequel to Corduroy is a perfect Christmas story. It takes the Corduroy story and added a perfect amount of holiday flare. In the story you learn how Corduroy gets his famous overalls and how he gets his famous name. There are even some quite funny parts. I really enjoyed reading it to Trent. The colorful photos really held his attention, and he especially loved his new Corduroy stuffed animal (he held him through the whole reading and was even giving him kisses!). I know that this will become a book we read every year.

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Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Primarily, this book will be a wonderful read aloud; however, after reading, it would be fun to have students write their own stories of how Corduroy got his name and overalls (or they could write a prequel to a different picture book classic).

Discussion Questions: Do you think Santa helped Corduroy get his wish?; If you were the clerk, how would you think that Corduroy got to Santa’s chair?; If you were in the toy store, which toy would you have chosen?

We Flagged: “One December afternoon, a toy bear in a big store was just waking up when he heard a mohter asking a boy, “Have you decided what you would like for Christmas yet?” The bear sat taller and perked up his ears. Maybe this boy wanted a bear! But the boy zipped right by him and pointed to a bright red, shiny fire engine. “I’m going to ask Santa for a fire truck with a big ladder and a bell!” the boy said. The bear watched sadly as the boy walked away.” (p. 1-3)

Read This If You Loved: Corduroy by Don Freeman, Christmas picture books

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Happy holidays to you and yours!!!


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

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (Kellee’s Review)



Rain Reign
Author: Ann M. Martin
Published October 7th, 2014 by Feiwel & Friends

Goodreads Summary: In her most powerful novel yet, Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin tells the story of girl with mental/emotional challenges and the dog she loves.

Rose Howard has OCD, Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter.

Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.

Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If you have read A Corner of the Universe,  you know what an emotionally-charged author Ann M. Martin can be, and she once again tells a heart-wrenching story with a voice that will not leave your head. In Rain Reign, Martin tackles Rose’s story. Rose is such a true character. A brilliant young girl with OCD and Asperger’s syndrome who is obsessed by homonyms. She is a girl that is so unique and intriguing. As a teacher, I very much connected with her and how I would nurture her gifts within my classroom; however, I also saw the challenges that Rose faces as well.

What makes this book truly stand out is the first person point of view. You, as the reader, are in Rose’s mind and living her life. You experience the neglect of her father, the love of Reign, the obsessiveness, the homonyms, the outbursts, and the support of her uncle. Because I was IN her life, I just couldn’t put down the book. I had to know that Rose and Rain were going to be okay.

As a teacher, I want kids to read this book because they will fall in love with Rose and Rain. Through this love, they will build empathy in their hearts because they will just want to know that Rose and Rain will be okay.

Ricki’s Review: Check out Ricki’s Review here!

Discussion Questions: How do you feel about Rose’s dad?; Can you think of homonyms that weren’t mentioned in the book?; Do you think it was right of Rose’s dad to take Rain?; How would you feel if your dog disappeared?

We Flagged: “I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a true story, which makes it a piece of nonfiction.

This is how you tell a story: First you introduce the main character. I’m writing this story about me, so I am the main character.

My first name has a homonym, and I gave my dog a homonym name too. Her name is Rain, which is special because it has two homonyms–rein and reign. I will write more about Rain in Chapter Two. Chapter Two will be called “My Dog, Rain (Rein, Reign).”

Something important about the word write is that is has three homonyms–right, rite, and wright. That’s the only group of four homonyms I’ve thought of. If I ever thing of another four-homonym group, it will be a red-letter day.” (Chapter One)

Read This If You Loved: Rules by Cynthia Lord, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper, Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson

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The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson (Kellee’s Review)


NF PB 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


The Man with the Violin
Author: Kathy Stinson
Illustrated: Dušan Petričić
Published August 8, 2013 by Annick Press

Goodreads Summary: “Who is playing that beautiful music in the subway? And why is nobody listening?”

This gorgeous picture book is based on the true story of Joshua Bell, the renowned American violinist who famously took his instrument down into the Washington D.C. subway for a free concert. More than a thousand commuters rushed by him, but only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute. In “The Man With the Violin,” bestselling author Kathy Stinson has woven a heart-warming story that reminds us all to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

Dylan is someone who notices things. His mom is someone who doesn’t. So try as he might, Dylan can’t get his mom to listen to the man playing the violin in the subway station. But Dylan is swept away by the soaring and swooping notes that fill the air as crowds of oblivious people rush by. With the beautiful music in his head all day long, Dylan can’t forget the violinist, and finally succeeds in making his mother stop and listen, too.

Vividly imagined text combined with illustrations that pulse with energy and movement expertly demonstrate the transformative power of music. With an afterword explaining Joshua Bell’s story, and a postscript by Joshua Bell himself.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I must preface by saying that this book is not technically nonfiction. It is based on nonfiction, but the story is actually made up.

Too often our days go by without us slowing down and taking anything in. It may be that we are busy or stressed or late , but it has become too common to see people always rushing wherever they are going. This book shows how much we may be missing out on. It also shows the innocence of childhood, and how we need to allow children to explore and slow down even if we are moving fast. It is wonderful how the illustrations capture this for the reader. Combined with the story, this one definitely hits close to home.

Ricki also had some great thoughts and ideas in her review.

Discussion Questions: This book is an important discussion starter. What have you seen recently that was beautiful that others didn’t notice?; Sit ____ and listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear that is beautiful?; Why do you think people didn’t stop to hear Joshua Bell play?; Why did the author feel this was an important story to turn into a picture book?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon, Marvin Makes Music by Marvin Hamlisch

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**Thank you to Annick Press and Netgalley for providing a copy for review**

Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Just Call My Name

Just Call My Name
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published: August 5, 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: The happily-ever-after of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s acclaimed debut, I’ll Be There, is turned on its head in this riveting, emotional sequel about friends, enemies, and how those roles can shift in a matter of moments.

Emily Bell has it all. She’s in love with a boy named Sam Border, and his little brother has become part of her family. This summer is destined to be the best time of their lives–until a charismatic new girl in town sets her sights on Sam. Now Emily finds herself questioning the loyalty of the person she thought she could trust most.

But the biggest threat to her happiness is someone she never saw coming. Sam’s criminally insane father, whom everyone thought they’d finally left behind, is planning a jailbreak. And he knows exactly where to find Emily and his sons when he escapes…and takes his revenge.

Review: Holly Goldberg Sloan is an incredible writer. I enjoyed the first book in the series, but I liked this one even more. I appreciate the great depth of her characters. Often, coincidences are categorized as poor writing, but Sloan uses them intentionally and in a clever way—defying literary assumptions about quality writing. The book is quite suspenseful, and readers will have the urge to race through it to learn how the plot unravels. The way Sloan builds the plot details is very thoughtful and meticulous, and I found myself constantly reflecting about how intelligent she is. This sequel is well worth the read. It is a difficult one to put down! It reads like a very literary mystery and would be a great text for teachers to have in their classrooms. One aspect that I love about this series is it turns our concept of family on its head; it will teach readers about the power of a strong family unit—traditional or not.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a fantastic resource for teachers teaching plot, suspense, and foreshadowing. The way Sloan builds the events and details is admirable, and students would learn a lot from her design. While it is a sequel, I think this book could certainly stand alone. The ominous mood made my heart race! Check out more curricular connections here: Curricular Connections.

Discussion Questions: How does Sloan thoughtfully use coincidence to build her story?; What is Destiny’s role in the novel? How does Sam perceive her? Is he right? What does this tell us about Sam? Why does the author name her, “Destiny”?; How do the shifts in point-of-view add to your reading of the text?

We Flagged: “That happens to really happy people. They don’t notice the little things” (p.81).

Read This If You Loved: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan, We Were Liars by e. lockhart, YA Suspense/Mystery

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The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman



The Milk of Birds
Author: Sylvia Whitman
Published April 16th, 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: This timely, heartrending novel tells the moving story of a friendship between two girls: one an American teen, one a victim of the crisis in Darfur.

Know that there are many words behind the few on this paper…

Fifteen-year-old Nawra lives in Darfur, Sudan, in a camp for refugees displaced by the Janjaweed’s trail of murder and destruction. Nawra cannot read or write, but when a nonprofit organization called Save the Girls pairs her with an American donor, Nawra dictates her thank-you letters. Putting her experiences into words begins to free her from her devastating past—and to brighten the path to her future.

K. C. is an American teenager from Richmond, Virginia, who hates reading and writing—or anything that smacks of school. But as Nawra pours grief and joy into her letters, she inspires K. C. to see beyond her own struggles. And as K. C. opens her heart in her responses to Nawra, she becomes both a dedicated friend and a passionate activist for Darfur.

In this poetic tale of unlikely sisterhood, debut author Sylvia Whitman captures the friendship between two girls who teach each other compassion and share a remarkable bond that bridges two continents.

My Review: This is a special book. First, because of the characters who tell the story. K.C. is a young girl with learning disabilities which have caused her to hate reading, writing, and school. Nawra is a refugee in Darfur who continues to have an optimistic view of the world even after she has been surrounded by horrors that I can’t even imagine. Both of these girls are not represented very often in books, and they are both so important to know.  Through this book, the reader gets to see the intensity of the situation in Sudan and refugees’ power in overcoming however they can. They also get to see the brilliance of students with learning disabilities. There are so many students in our school just like K.C., and too many of their peers would judge them by their struggles instead of by their heart and soul.

Second, this book is special because of the way the author is able to intertwine these two stories in a flawless way, and a way that keeps the reader engaged in both stories simultaneously. Third, the lyrical writing of Whitman makes this story not only interesting and important, but also beautiful to read. Last, the power of this book lies in the book, and how the book will change those who read it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book has some incredibly lyrical aspects which would be perfect for mentor texts for imagery and other descriptive language. I also love the idea of written pen pals, and I would love to see this book being used to start pen pals in a classroom. Finally, K.C.’s friendship with Nawra helps her become an advocate for refugees in Darfur. This would be a great way to talk about ways to make a difference in the world. I would pair it with A Long Walk to Water which shows the same thing. Powerful.

Discussion Questions: What does K.C. teach us about students with learning disabilities?; What does Nawra teach us about Sudanese refugees?; What is your favorite Nawra saying? Why?; How does life here compare to life in the Sudan?; What is a way you could help the refugees in Sudan?; What is another cause in the world that you could help?

We Flagged: “My mother is sitting on the mat where I left her. She shows no surprise that Adeeba and I return so soon with nothing but more words from the khawaja. She does not protest when I lift her.

I carry my mother as I used to carry wounded animals from pasture, arms on one side, legs on the other, her body draped behind my neck and across my shoulders. She is not much heavier than a goat.” (Nawra, p. 3)

“When she explains things, they make sense, for a while. Who cares about the area of a trapezoid, though? That question stumped my teacher for a minute, and then he launched into this spiel about geometry in everyday life, and if I were someone with a trapezoidal yard, I might need to figure out how much fertilizer to spread. As if. Hook up your hose to a bottle of Miracle-Gro, point, and shoot.” (K.C., p. 12)

Read This If You Love: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

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