Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen, Maya and the Robot by Eve Ewing, and The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

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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 science fiction novels.

Concealed
Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Published October 19th, 2021 by Scholastic

Summary: Ivette, Joanna, and now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, new hair color, new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Katrina embarks on a dangerous rescue mission to save them-and find out the truth of her past at last.

Yet every new discovery shows that the Katrina’s entire life has been nothing but lies. Katrina has always kept her parents’ secrets. But it turns out, they were the ones keeping secrets from her this whole time. Could she be the reason they’ve been hiding all these years? The truth will throw everything Katrina has ever believed about herself into question.

Concealed is an action-packed adventure story by award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great relatable book for young adults! Throughout the story, Katrina, the main character, fights for more information about herself and her family and why they are on the run, but she often gets overlooked and ignored when she’s asks questions. A lot of teens experience this and I think it would be a great book for a book club or even an assigned read for the class to explore sci-fi and have good discussions.

This books interdisciplinary elements include science and family and friendship values. It touches on the development of science in the DNA and gene makeup, which students may be unaware of at the time of reading which may lead them to explore more on their own. The family and friendship values show that no matter what a family goes through there is still love there. Along with this it shows the importance of friendship and everything that goes along with having a good friend by your side, even when at first you don’t think it is important.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you do if you were Katrina and no one would answer your questions?
  • Would you have wanted to go with Katrina on this adventure? Why or why not?
  • Katrina’s skill is drawing and Parker’s skill is computers, describe what your skill is.
  • Describe how you would feel if you found out that you had a lost twin sister/brother.
  • What did you think of X in the story? Did you think he was a good character or a bad character? Why?
  • What would be your name if you had to choose another one?
  • Describe the relationship between Katrina and Parker.
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most and give your reasoning.
  • Why do you think Katrina didn’t like moving so much? How would you have felt if you were in her shoes?
  • Why do you think the main character’s family has to run and change their identity so many times?
  • Do you think it would be safer for Katrina to leave Parker out of her life? Why or why not?
  • Describe the relationship Katrina has with her parents as the book goes along. What about Parker? X?
  • Why do you think Katrina was so open with Parker, even at the beginning of their friendship?
  • Do you believe X is trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe B and L refuse to tell Katrina the truth about what happened before she lost her memory?
  • Do you think Ellla will side with her family or Mr. Sterling?
  • Describe what part of the book surprised you the most.
  • Do you think it is a good idea for Ellla and Katrina to share their life story on social media? Why or why not?

Recommended For: 

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The Last Gate of the Emperor
Authors: Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen
Published May 4th, 2021 by Scholastic Press

Summary: An Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this journey to the stars.

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime — a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family… and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis — a game rival turned reluctant ally — Yared must search for his uncle… and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In a way, students can learn about culture in this book. From there, diversity can be introduced into the lesson. Also, it would be great for discussing using your own personal interests and culture in your writing. The story also intertwines Ethiopian history and culture with space adventure and science fiction. This will be entertaining for the students while also educational. Another thing that can be taught while reading this book is that you will have to face the consequences of your own actions. If you are going to do something that you know is wrong, something bad will happen afterwards.

Students could also make timeline of events which would be interesting to see Yared’s adventure and battles laid out.

This novel would be considered interdisciplinary because it intertwines history with science fiction. It also introduces the idea of secret underground games, space & robots, as well as intergalactic war. These topics are mostly seen in movies but the main plot line is finding the uncle who would have the answers. It shows the students that even in stressful situations, never giving up and determination in hard times shows better outcomes.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Think about what makes up you. What aspects of yourself would you reflect in your stories?
  • Compare a time when Yared was brave to one where he was scared? How did he overcome his fear?
  • Describe a time Yared had to ask for help?
  • What futuristic items in the book do you wish we had now? Why?
  • Describe the relationship between Yared and his uncle.
  • Predict what you think Yared will do in the next book.
  • How would you characterize Besa? How does the author convey her feelings without talking?
  • Why do you think the story starts with an audio transcript? Did it grab your attention or confuse you?
  • How do you feel about the rules on Addis Prime? Would you want to follow them?
  • Does this novel remind you of any movies or maybe other literature you have read?
  • How would you feel if you were in the same situation as Yared?
  • Do you think Yared has good qualities or does he often find himself in trouble because of them?
  • What other Ethiopian stories have we read in class before? Do you find similarities in the novels?
  • Do you think the illustrations on the cover with Yared and the robots in space gave you a good summary of what the book might be about?
  • What inferences can you make by looking at the cover of the book?
  • How and why did the setting change?
  • What key words from the novel stood out to you the most and why?
  • If the authors were to write another novel using Yared and Besa, what do you think it would be about?

Recommended For: 

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Maya and the Robot
Author: Eve Ewing
Illustrator: Christine Almeda
Published July 13th, 2021 by Kokila

Summary: An illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend—and a science fair project.

Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom in order to get children interested in STEM:

Students could learn more about robotics and electrical elements. Following along with Maya as they learn students are introduced to new ideas and definitions that will bridge their understanding of STEM.

Students will be able to create their own science fair projects. Students can present their own ideas and also learn about how projects in the book worked

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think that her finding the robot impacted her in a good or bad way? Why?
  • What piece of modern technology does Ralph remind us of?
  • What modern upgrade would you give Ralph?
  • What is something in your life that you would consider your Ralph?
  • Who can relate to Maya? Explain why?
  • Throughout Maya and the Robot there are many different lessons you can take away. What lessons can you take away from the book and why?
  • How did Ralph allow Mr. Mac to heal after Christopher’s death?
  • Throughout the book Maya often feels alone in the classroom. What is one way to make your classmates feel included?
  • Could Maya have fixed her relationship with MJ and Jada earlier in the book? Why or why not?
  • Throughout the book Maya’s teacher calls her by the incorrect name. Why is it important to stand up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable?

Recommended For: 

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Illustrator: Dapo Adeola
Published April 2nd, 2019 by Versify

Summary: When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Using this book in the classroom could help students become more brave or confident. Majority of the students should be able to relate to this story because it is almost like a dream come true. This book could open up a lot of “What if” questions for students and I love it. Students will be able to use their imaginations, better their reading skills, and have fun at the same time.

This story would also be a fun story to read together as a class and it is a fun novel to get students eager to read!

Once students are done reading this book, there could be a class reflection on how we can all be brave heroes in real life in our homes and at school. To make this even more exciting students can create their own super hero crest and name. Students will practice helping others and I will make sure their parents know about this assignment to help the students with understanding that we help each other all of the time not just at school, but to practice it everywhere if applicable and not dangerous.

Students can also respond by writing their own fictional story about their own adventures on the last day of summer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the novel the acronym BTSFOASTF is written by Grandma. What does it mean?
  • With a partner, come up with an answer together and write it on the white board. Grandma is diabetic, What medicine did she take and what is it for?
  • When Otto and Sheed took the picture, what happened?
  • Why did Sheed decide not to tear up the picture?
  • What was the one thing Otto discovered had been consistent since time had been frozen, and in which chapter was this discovered? Would you have noticed the same thing? Why?
  • For how long did Otto and Sheed’s adventure last, and why do you think so?
  • How do you unfreeze a person in the story?
  • Why did TimeStar lie?
  • Who is TimeStar and why do you think so?
  • What role did the clock watchers play in this story?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
  • How do Otto and Sheed work together and overcome their differences?
  • What were some clues that you noticed when reading, that something was not right after the boys took the photo?
  • Describe the boys relationship with their grandmother
  • If you could time travel, would you rather go forward in time or backward in time?
  • What was your favorite part about Sheed and Otto’s day?
  • Are you surprised by who Mr. Flux is?
  • Is this how you would want to spend your last day of summer?

Recommended For: 

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Guest Review: Why? by Nikolai Popov

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Guest Reviewer: Heather, UCF Elementary Education Student

Why?
Author & Illustrator: Nikolai Popov
Published 1996 by North-South Books

Summary: A frog sits peacefully in a meadow. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he is attacked by an umbrella-wielding mouse in a confrontation that quickly turns into a full-scale war.

About the Author: Nikolai Popov is a well-known Russian visual artist and illustrator. He has won multiple gold medals and Grand Prix at international exhibitions of children’s book illustration. Popov has had personal exhibitions in many cities of the world, including Moscow, Tokyo, Rome and Venice. He is an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

Review: I found this book to be a beautiful way to describe the trials and tribulations of war without using words or realistic art depicting the violence war contributes to. It is a E-rated way to show that war is seemingly senseless and can be an endless cycle, where ultimately no one wins. I think on top of that, the artwork of watercolor and animals was really beautiful, and seemed very fairytale-like. I liked that the frog found a pretty flower and that the mouse is shown to be jealous even though he is surrounded by similar florals. I think this is a good way to show (not only a war aspect) but just a way to describe how we may not know what we have available to us because we are so focused on what others have instead. The fact that this book has no words and the story is completely implied by the images is also an important thing to note here because it can be up for debate as to what the actual goal of the story is – is it war? Or could it be selfishness, jealousy, or some could even think maybe the mouse doesn’t like frogs (micro-aggressions?). This availability for interpretation is a good way to get a multitude of ideas started without given any hints as to the authors key goals (if not getting author/book background information before reading).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be supplemental in unison with history lessons revolving around a time-period of another war scenario, like WWI or WWII. It would be a good way to help students navigate how easily wars can start and how hard it is to find a real reason for violence when the outcome is unclear. This book would also be good to use when discussing the problem with bullying or isolating others, it would be a good way to give students an idea of why it is crucial to be kind and think of others because in the end, you end up asking WHY did we even do this in the first place? Students can learn about needless fighting and apply this mindset/theory to their own lives, from how they treat others, to family and school environments as well.

And the last page! Looking at it I get that “throat swelling” feeling right before you cry. Its a painful image. The flowers are gone, the animals are sad, everything is ruined – the worst part is, no one got to enjoy what an entire field had to offer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • On page 4, the mouse looks around after coming up from the ground, what do you think he is looking at?
  • On page 5, we see the mouse looking at the frog – what is he thinking?
  • On page 7, the frog looks upset, and on the next page, more frogs come into the picture – do you think the frog called for them? What if the frogs didn’t come?
  • What kind of weapons are the animals using? Why do you think the illustrator chose these items?
  • In the end, how do the frog and mouse appear to be feeling?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Concepts of peace, unity, discussing the issues with our world and problems with humanity

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Heather, for your review!

Have You Seen Gordon? by Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan

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Have You Seen Gordon?
Author and Illustrator: Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan
Published: September 28, 2021 by Simon & Schuster

Summary: Packed with vibrant and dizzying artwork, this hilarious story cleverly riffs on classic seek-and-find books and will have young ones laughing out loud as the narrator struggles to get the characters to play along.

Have you seen Gordon? Oh. There he is. Gordon isn’t very good at hiding, is he?

The narrator wants to play hide and seek with Gordon and the reader, but Gordon just wants to stand out. This madcap, fourth wall–breaking picture book is packed with humor and full, zany spreads with details kids will return to again and again.

Review: This book is very funny, and my kids loved it. It is a more humorous, more accessible Where’s Waldo? but for younger children. That said, all of my children (ages 2-8) loved it. Readers are finding Gordon (and others) across the pages, and they are also listening to a very clever tale about him. As an underling theme, Gordon doesn’t want to hide anymore. I adored this charming book and will enjoy reading it again and again.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students could be inspired to reimagine their own favorite picture books, and they need not be hide-and-seek texts!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why doesn’t Gordon want to cooperate in the text?
  • What did you learn about him?
  • How is this text creatively imagined?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Funny stories, Hide-and-seek stories, Where’s Waldo? books, I Spy books

Recommended For:

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RickiSig

**Thank you to Chantal at Simon & Schuster for providing a copy for review!**

Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier, Illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

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Mr. Watson’s Chickens
Author: Jarrett Dapier
Illustrator: Andrea Tsurumi
Published: October 5, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: Interrupting Chicken meets Click, Clack, Moo in this zany classic-in-the-making!

With rollicking rhythms, nonsensical refrains, and too many chickens to count, this modern classic will inspire unstoppable giggles and endless rereads. Bawka-bawka!

Mr. Watson has 456 chickens in the sink, on the bed, in the bread box. When his partner, Mr. Nelson, threatens to leave, Mr. Watson takes his chickens to town to sell only for them to escape! Young readers will follow Mr. Watson all around town as he gathers up his chickens. But, when they’re all rounded up, does he have the heart to sell them? Does a different fate await these chickens?

This quirky, irresistible book is full of read-aloud fun with its onomatopoeia, rollicking rhythm, and familiar refrains and ends with a touch of sweetness. It has all the makings of a classic, with a farm theme, hilarious refrains, and a familiar narrative structure that unfolds in threes. Librarians, teachers, and parents looking for a new book that feels traditional will love sharing this book with children.

A JOY TO REREAD: This is a very classic-feeling storybook. Paired with its funny farm setting and hilarious refrains, this book is sure to inspire countless rereads and endless giggles.

PERFECT READ-ALOUD: This book is full of nonsensical sounds and repetition that make it fun to read out loud and invite audience participation. It’s a perfect choice for classroom events and laptime reads.

LIKE CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM, WITH CHICKENS!: With its bouncy refrains and rollicking rhythms, this book will remind readers of classic bestsellers like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

REALISTIC RELATIONSHIP UNUSUAL IN PICTURE BOOKS: This book features a gay couple at its center, but doesn’t call specific attention to it. It simply portrays a healthy relationship between two men (and their chickens!).

WRITTEN BY A NEW TALENT WHO REALLY UNDERSTANDS KIDS: This is Jarret Dapier’s first book! He’s a popular, award-winning teen librarian who works with kids, knows what they like, and is well-versed in the rhythms of the classic children’s book—and he has many more stories up his sleeves.

DELIGHTFUL, DETAILED DRAWINGS OF OVER 400 CHICKENS!: With hundreds of chickens to find and scenes crammed with action and detail, the pages of this book are chock-full of things to look at. Young readers will spend hours poring over each spread.

Perfect for: parents, families looking for LGBTQIA+ stories, fans of funny books.

Ricki’s Review: This book is hysterical. The chickens cracked me up. Teachers will love reading this book aloud. Mr. Watson’s partner Mr. Nelson is threatening to leave because they have TOO MANY CHICKENS (456, actually). So they take their chickens into town to give them away to chicken homes, but all does not go as planned. There is so much care and thought in this book–from the writing to the illustrations of all of the chickens. Kids will love it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book takes a twist on typical counting books and adds a delightful story. Kids might consider the numbers used in this book and how this may be intentional and create their own counting books.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some of the reasons that Mr. Nelson got frustrated with the chickens? Do you think he had a valid reason to be frustrated? How does Mr. Watson respond?
  • Where was Aunt Agnes? How does this enhance your reading of the story?
  • How does the story end? What do you think a sequel might look like?

Read This If You Love: Funny stories; counting stories; animal stories

Recommended For:

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RickiSig

**Thank you to Eva at Chronicle for providing copies for review!**

Violets are Blue by Barbara Dee

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Violets are Blue
Author: Barbara Dee
Published: September 28, 2020 by Aladdin

Summary: From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

Ricki’s Review: This book ripped me apart and put me back together. It is unflinchingly honest, and it is a book that so many middle grade kids need. The characterization is beautiful, and the book would make for a great study on the relationships between humans and a general study on humanity. No character in this book is perfect—all are flawed, and this reflects who we are as people. I stayed up late at night reading this book (when I should have been sleeping), and I cannot recommend it highly enough. We all deserve to reinvent ourselves, and this book gives us permission to do so.

Kellee’s Review: Barbara Dee is so wonderful at writing such relatable middle school books with characters that deal with the real issues that middle schoolers are dealing with today. This book is no different as we get to watch Wren deal with her own identity, dealing with divorce & remarriage, moving, finding new friends, and just learning how to be happy. All of this in addition to what Wren ends up needing to work through when it comes to her mom. Dee does a great job balancing all of these plot points while also building such full characters. All characters in the main characters in the book are well developed and are truly themselves–flaws and all!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book works beautiful to teach about characterization. Students might select a character to study in a group and then work individually to study a person in their own lives (personal or famous). This offers opportunities for rich discussions about imperfection and the flaws in all of us.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does Wren’s hobby with makeup reflect her life? How does it connect with the story?
  • How does Wren’s mother evolve in the story, and why do you think she makes specific decisions in the text?
  • Why do we keep secrets? How does secret-keeping impact others?
  • What did you learn from this story? What will you take with you?
  • How does Wren and her mom moving change the trajectory of the story?
  • Were there clues about Wren’s mom earlier in the book?
  • Why is it that people have such a hard time with girls and boys just being friends with each other?

Flagged Passage:

Chapter 2: Changes: “The day Dad left us, just a little over nine months ago, it all happened so fast. One gray Saturday morning in February, when we were still living in the house in Abingodon, I woke up to the sound of loud arguing in the kitchen. Yelling, actually, which happened a lot those days, followed by a car zooming out of our driveaway.”

Chapter 9: Nebula “[CatFX’s YouTube Channel] Here’s my secret message to you guys: fantasy is not the opposite of truth.”

Read This Book If You Loved: My Life in a Fish Tank by Barbara Dee; The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner; Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm; Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Recommended For: 

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

Long Distance by Whitney Gardner

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Long Distance
Author: Whitney Gardner
Published June 29th 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Summary: From the creator of Fake Blood comes another exceptionally charming middle grade graphic novel about friendships both near and far, far away.

Vega’s summer vacation is not going well.

When her parents decide it’s time to pack up and leave her hometown of Portland, Oregon, behind for boring Seattle, Washington, Vega is more than upset—she’s downright miserable. Forced to leave her one and only best friend, Halley, behind, Vega is convinced she’ll never make another friend again.

To help her settle into her new life in Seattle, her parents send Vega off to summer camp to make new friends. Except Vega is determined to get her old life back. But when her cellphone unexpectedly calls it quits and things at camp start getting stranger and stranger, Vega has no choice but to team up with her bunkmates to figure out what’s going on!

Ricki’s Review: I read this book with my 7-year-old (he is not the target audience), and we really enjoyed it. The book has a very drastic twist towards the end of the book that will shock readers. The illustrations are wonderful, and the characters are quirky and fun, and I am glad that I read the book. It teaches about the layers of friendship, and the different ways in which we judge (and don’t judge) humans. Long Distance will offer teachers and students rich opportunities to discuss and consider how we think about others, and how we engage and participate in friendships.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun new graphic novel to add to my library! This book is going to have no trouble finding readers because it has a great mix of realistic (moving, friendship), information (all the science), and sci fi (you’ll see!). Because of these three factors, it is going to have a wide range of readers. The diversity of characters will help with the reach also: Vega is a girl of color, she has two fathers who are both people of color, and the twins at camp are characters of color also. Additionally to the diverse representation of identities, the characters area all quite different personality-wise, so every reader is going to find someone that they are rooting for or connect with. 

You’ll see below in the “Flagged Passages” that the illustrations are super colorful and eye catching, but not so busy that you lose focus. This is a huge benefit, specifically in middle school, because students love a color-filled graphic novel. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As described above, the twist in this book drastically shifts the storyline. Teachers might ask students to rewrite the twist to shift the story’s ending in a different direction.

The book also has a great SEL opportunity to look at how to make friends, using George as a great example of how not to. 

The text could also be used for prediction as the reader is as ignorant about the facts of the camp as Vega is but there are clues to something odd going on. As you read, students can look at the clues and try to make guesses about what the truth about the camp is. 

Also, the book has many cross overs with science! If you look at the “Flagged Passages” below, you’ll see that Vega is gifted a star chart by her friend and the author uses the opportunity to talk about what a star chart is. This happens a handful of times within the book with topics including astronomy, geology, and electrical engineering. In addition to the sidebars with info, there is science strewn throughout the narrative! 

Finally, Simon & Schuster has created “Drawn to Reading: A S&S Guide to Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom” which might assist you in utilizing this book with students. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Vega learn about friendship?
  • Which camper was most interesting for you? What did you find interesting about them?
  • Many of the characters have different hobbies. What are your hobbies, and how do they compare with those of the characters in the book?
  • How did the author tie science into this science fiction graphic novel? 
  • How does Vega’s interest in stars and space help her discover the truth about the camp? 
  • If you had been in Vega’s position, would you have stayed with George? 
  • How did Halley figure out where Vega was? 
  • What scientific information that was shared in the book would you like to learn more about? 
  • Do you think we are alone in this universe? 

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence, HiLo series by Judd Winick, Katie the Catsitter by Colleen A.F. Venable, Real Friends series by Shannon Hale, Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Recommended For:
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RickiSigand

**Thank you, Audrey, at Simon & Schuster, for providing copies for review!**

Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne Morrell

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Kingdom of Secrets
Author: Christyne Morrell
Expected Publication August 3rd, 2021 by Delacorte Press

Summary: Prismena’s father is the hot air balloonist in the peaceful kingdom of Oren. She assists him by mending torn balloons, but she yearns to build and fly the complicated machines herself. One day, a waif named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated in Oren, that single act of rebellion results in her father’s arrest and kicks off a spiraling series of events that will yank Prissy out of her predictable life.

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a sadistic schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, schooled in the art of stealing, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren – with its glitzy neighborhoods and its seedy underbelly – Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

About the Author: Christyne Morrell is a children’s book author and attorney. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle. Christyne has been writing poems and stories since she could hold a pencil, but KINGDOM OF SECRETS (Delacorte 2021) is her debut middle-grade novel. 

Christyne is also the author of the picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (Clear Fork Publishing 2019), and her work has appeared in Highlights, Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites. Christyne is represented by Danielle Chiotti at Upstart Crow Literary.

Review: When I started reading this book, it caught me right away because Abi comes out of nowhere, blackmails Prissy, then her dad gets arrested, and really I truly had no idea what was going on! Since the book is in Prissy’s point of view it gives the reader the suspense and disbelief that Prismena has as the story begins. This makes you want to just keep reading to figure everything out.

Then, add in a second story about a mysterious young lady named Wren from the past that will crash land into the main story in a very unexpected way–it just sucks the reader in more!

In addition to the plot, I found the characters intriguing and very well crafted. The development of Prismena is definitely the highlight as she learns how to be on her own and have her own thoughts, but even the secondary characters had stories that Morrell found time to tell in the book. I do wish I knew more about Abi’s life, but maybe that will come in another book!

I also think the book is timely as it looks at government corruption and propaganda based in fear of others and loss of power. Because of Prismena’s ignorance, we get to experience the realizations as she does, so this allows for good discussions about these topics without bringing up current events.

I am pretty picky about high fantasy, but this one is one of my recent favorites, and I cannot wait to share it with my students!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The author’s website has a plethora of extra information to bring great discussions about this book to your classroom or book club!

First, there is an interview with balloonists which goes more into the science of the balloons, how Prissy’s valves would work, and other fun balloon anecdotes.

Second, she has Kingdom of Secret themed activities that are engineering, robotics, and science focused! These include making their own Dress Fit for a Queen, Rubber Band Flying Machine, Hot Air Balloon, and Mini-Catapult.

Finally, she has a section on “Fun Facts and Further Research” that looks at balloon history and fashion.

(And side note: I love a good map of a high fantasy setting, and the author gives us a very detailed and beautiful map of Oren.)

Discussion Questions: The Kingdom of Secrets Book Club Discussion Guide is available now and includes discussion questions such as:

  • At the beginning of A Blood Red Smile, a little girl treats Prissy like a celebrity because she’s the “balloonist’s daughter.” Later, Marybeth does the same. Why do you think that is?
  • Mr. Dudley is arrested for having “contraband,” including rubber. It may seem silly to you that something as common as rubber would be considered dangerous. Why do you think King Michael feels that rubber and other simple inventions are threatening?
  • When they first meet, Prissy and Abi don’t get along. Why not? What are some of their differences? What do they have in common? What changes over the course of the book that leads to them becoming friends?

Note: Some of the discussion questions in the complete guide are spoilers!!

Book Trailer:

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1. The Stranger and the Scarf

Abigail Smeade arrived like a black eye: sudden, fierce, and blossoming under my skin. When I met her, I was sitting in the shade of an old oak tree, minding my own business. I’d just removed a burlap sack from a hollow in the tree’s trunk and poured its contents out in the grass–scraps of metal, twisted brackets, and a few strips of a stretchy material called rubber. Most people would’ve described those things as junk fit for the bin, but I knew better. Pieced together just right, that “junk” would become more than the sum of its parts. And figuring out which way was just right happened to be one of my favorite pastimes.

But Father didn’t like me tinkering with the odds and ends I gathered (and sometimes even pinched from his workshop). It wasn’t proper, he said, and making something nobody had ever seen before might get a person looked at twice, which was the last thing we wanted. That’s why I kept my collection stashed inside an oak tree in the middle of Fletcher’s field. Nobody but Mr. Fletcher and me ever wandered into that field anymore, if you didn’t count the sheep.

At the bottom of the bundle, rolled up tight, was a scarf, a single piece of fabric more precious than all the rest of it put together. I unfurled it across my knees, and the silk shone and rippled like running water. It was cool to the touch, but the pattern–in shades of blue and yellow and purple–made me think of places drenched in sun. The kind of faraway places Mother liked to visit when she was flying hot-air balloons. In fact, the scarf had been a souvenir from one of her trips. She’d had a weakness for beautiful, unnecessary things. She’d filled the house with them once.

“Peanut brittle?”

Startled, I crumpled the scarf and crammed it back into the sack. Then I whipped my head left and right, hunting for the owner of that voice. It wasn’t until I looked up that I spotted her, sitting on a branch of the tree and kicking her legs like she was lounging on a swing. She peered down at me with shrewd, glittering brown eyes. Without prompting, she extended a half-eaten shard of candy through the leaves. It glistened with a semicircle of saliva where she’d taken the last bite.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“Your loss.” She wedged the peanut brittle into the far reaches of her mouth and cracked off a piece. It rattled against her teeth as she spoke. “What’s that?” She pointed down at one of my projects, something I was still trying to get just right. A small flying machine I’d made using those strips of rubber Mr. Dudley had given me.

“Excuse me . . . who are you?” I asked. She looked about my age–long-limbed and gangly, with light brown skin. Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail that erupted at the back of her head in a burst of copper corkscrews. She wore several layers of clothes–an apple-green vest, a striped jacket two sizes too small, and two gauzy skirts that looked like petticoats that had been dyed pink and cut short. Her scuffed boots kicked at the air over my head.

“Abigail Smeade, at your service,” she said. “You can call me Abi.” She smiled with a mouth full of crowded, crooked teeth, each one shoving its way to the front. She stretched her arm down to me again, this time offering her long, tapered fingers for a handshake. As though it were completely normal to meet someone while perched in a tree. I unpretzeled my legs and stood on tiptoes to give her hand a single uninspired shake.

“I’m Prismena,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you,” she said. “Trespassing.”

(Read more of this excerpt at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/652736/kingdom-of-secrets-by-christyne-morrell/)

Read This If You Love: The Land of Stories books by Chris Colfer, The Trouble with Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra, A Tear in the Ocean by H.M. Bouwman, and other middle grade fantasy books

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**Thank you to the author and publisher for providing a copy for review!**