Discussion Guide for Merci Suárez Plays it Cool by Meg Medina

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Merci Suárez Plays it Cool
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 13th, 2022 by Candlewick Press

Summary: In a satisfying finale to her trilogy, Newbery Medalist Meg Medina follows Merci Suárez into an eighth-grade year full of changes—evolving friendships, new responsibilities, and heartbreaking loss.

For Merci Suárez, eighth grade means a new haircut, nighttime football games, and an out-of-town overnight field trip. At home, it means more chores and keeping an eye on Lolo as his health worsens. It’s a year filled with more responsibility and independence, but also with opportunities to reinvent herself. Merci has always been fine with not being one of the popular kids like Avery Sanders, who will probably be the soccer captain and is always traveling to fun places and buying new clothes. But then Avery starts talking to Merci more, and not just as a teammate. Does this mean they’re friends? Merci wants to play it cool, but with Edna always in her business, it’s only a matter of time before Merci has to decide where her loyalty stands. Whether Merci is facing school drama or changing family dynamics, readers will empathize as she discovers who she can count on—and what can change in an instant—in Meg Medina’s heartfelt conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Newbery Medal–winning novel.

Discussion Questions: 

After writing the educators’ guide for Merci Suárez Changes Gears, I was so happy that Candlewick returned and asked me to create this discussion guide for the finale of the trilogy. Please view and enjoy the guide I created:

You can also access the discussion guide here.

You can learn more about Merci Suárez Plays it Cool on Candlewick’s page.

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Blog Tour with Review and Educators’ Guide: The Greatest Kid in the World by John David Anderson

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The Greatest Kid in the World
Author: John David Anderson
Published: May 9, 2023 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: From the beloved author of Posted comes the story of Zeke Stahls—a thoroughly average twelve-year-old who somehow finds himself in a competition to be named the World’s Greatest Kid.

Zeke Stahls is not the best kid in the world. Some days he struggles just to be good. He’d rather be pulling pranks than doing extra credit, and he’s too busy performing experiments on his little brother, Nate, or tormenting his older sister, Jackie, to volunteer for charity.

Which is why Zeke and his entire family are shocked when they receive word that he has been selected as a contestant in an online competition to find the World’s Greatest Kid.

Zeke has no idea how he was chosen for this, and he knows that measuring up to the other nominees–a saintly lineup of selfless, charming and talented do-gooders with photogenic smiles and hearts of gold–is hopeless. Still, with a $10,000 cash prize on the line, and Zeke’s mom struggling to hold the family together on her single-parent salary, he decides to give it his best shot.

As Zeke concocts various plots to show the world just how “great” he is, however, he finds himself wondering what that word even means, and who gets to decide. And what kind of kid he wants–and needs–to be.

About the Author: John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last DayPostedGrantedOne Last Shot, and Stowaway. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife, two frawesome kids, and clumsy cat, Smudge, in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

Review: There is more than one way to be great. This is a concept that kids have a hard time seeing (and adults!). For example, the kid who gets the highest grades may be great, but a kid who watches his siblings and takes care of his house while his adult works is also great. But what makes THE greatest? That is the question within John David Anderson’s newest book. Zeke knows he is not the greatest, but maybe he doesn’t know him self too well since he is chosen to be a finalist in the World’s Greatest Kid competition. Can a kid who causes trouble, does pranks, gets sent to the principals office, and torments his oldest sister be a great kid?

Just like every other Anderson book I’ve ever read (which is most of his!), I found the story to be unique, well written, and engaging. He always surprises me because his books differ so tremendously from each other! This time, what made the story for me was the characters. Everyone had flaws but everyone was loveable: Zeke reminds me of so many kids I know and have taught–wonderful and exhausting; his sister, Jasmine, was dealing with her own transitions much like most teenagers; Logan, the cameraman, was the surprise favorite character (read & you’ll see why!); Nate, Zeke’s brother, is just a ball of joy;  and Zeke’s mom is one that any adult with empathize with, and I want to give her a hug! The story itself is quiet, but these characters are loud and will fill your heart as you read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Discussion questions and activities can be found in the publisher shared Educators’ Guide:

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Make sure to stop by the other blog tour stops!

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

Educators’ Guide for Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

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Tiny Pretty Things (#1)
Shiny Broken Pieces (#2)
Authors: Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
Published: May 26th, 2015 & July 12th, 2016 by Harper Teen

Tiny Pretty Things Summary: Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton, and the author of the highly anticipated Symptoms of a Heartbreak, Sona Charaipotra.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet-star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever.

When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Don’t miss the gossip, lies, and scandal that continues in Tiny Pretty Things’ gripping sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Cake Creative for Tiny Pretty Things & Shiny Broken Pieces:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces on Cake Creative’s OUR LIBRARY page.

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Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

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Promise Boys
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: January 31, 2023 by Macmillan

Goodreads Summary: The Hate U Give meets One of Us Is Lying in Nick Brooks’s Promise Boys, a trailblazing, blockbuster mystery about three teen boys of color who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names—for fans of Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Karen McManus.

“A brilliant pulls-no-punches mystery with bruised hearts at its core.” —Adam Silvera, #1 New York Times bestselling author of They Both Die at the End

“Thrilling, captivating, and blade-sharp. Promise Boys will stay with you long after the last page.” —Karen M. McManus, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying

The Urban Promise Prep School vows to turn boys into men. As students, J.B., Ramón, and Trey are forced to follow the prestigious “program’s” strict rules. Extreme discipline, they’ve been told, is what it takes to be college bound, to avoid the fates of many men in their neighborhoods. This, the Principal Moore Method, supposedly saves lives.

But when Moore ends up murdered and the cops come sniffing around, the trio emerges as the case’s prime suspects. With all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. But is the true culprit hiding among them?

Ricki’s Review: After reading this book, I adopted it for my young adult literature class this semester. This required me to a) change my book order–which makes several people annoyed, b) adjust my syllabus and move sections around, and c) message the campus book store that, yes, I know that the book isn’t out yet, but I still want them to pre-order it.

I say all of this to demonstrate how much I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of Monster by Walter Dean Mayes a bit in the topic. Three teenage boys are all suspected of murdering their principal. The book is written from the different perspectives and allows the reader to explore any biases they might hold about teenage boys of color. It is set in a very strict school that thinks that hyper discipline will fix kids. This is an important book. I am so glad it exists, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book for students to analyze the rules that come with their schools and within other systems. They might then write narratives related to the rules that they perceive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • When you were reading the book, who did you think did it?
  • Why does the school use discipline? What are their assumptions?
  • What did you learn from this book?

Flagged Spreads: “Rumor has it a student brought a gun to school the day of the murder. You didn’t hear that from me.”

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Play Like a Girl by Misty Wilson, Illustrated by David Wilson

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Play Like a Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Misty Wilson
Illustrator: David Wilson
Published: September 22, 2022 by Balzer + Bray

Goodreads Summary: Debut author Misty Wilson chronicles her seventh-grade experience as the only girl on her town’s football team in this empowering graphic memoir about teamwork, friendship, crushes, and touchdowns.

Misty never shies away from a challenge, on or off the field. So when the boys tell her she can’t play football, there’s only one thing to do: join their team and show them what she’s got.

But the training is rougher than she thought—and so are the other guys, who aren’t thrilled about having a girl on their team.

Middle school isn’t so easy, either. Misty wants to fit in with the popular kids, but they think a girl playing football is “weird.” Even her best friend doesn’t get it.

Can Misty find a way to score points with her teammates, make new friends, and show everyone—including herself—what it means to play like a girl?

“I am a huge fan of Misty and her courageous journey of staying true to herself. Readers will love her!” —Terri Libenson, New York Times bestselling author of the Emmie & Friends series

“This is the book I wish I’d had as a kid. Misty’s passion for football and her fight to play in a male-dominated sport while balancing friendship and crushes makes for a winning read!” —Dr. Jen Welter, first female NFL coach, first female running back in men’s pro football, and founder of Grrridiron Girls.

Ricki’s Review: I loved this graphic memoir. It felt very real to me, and the scenes really packed a punch. I especially loved the football scenes, which were full of great plays and amazing strategies. I wish I’d had this book when I was a middle school girl. In the scenes where the boys were rude, I remembered a similar comment when I was in 8th grade taking tech ed.

The book does a particularly good job depicting middle school. It’s a tough time and a struggle for a lot of kids, and I think middle schoolers will find solace in this book. There are great themes of identity and friendship.

I’ve already recommended this book to several young people, and I am so glad it exists!

Kellee’s Review: Misty Wilson’s memoir starts with “I wish someone had told me middle school would be so hard.” As a middle school educator, I felt this and knew that this books as going to hold some middle school truths. And it did: growing up, figuring out who you are, finding and keeping friends, navigating crushes, and more. All of this is so tough in middle school, so having a book to read about it really helps middle schoolers navigate it all.

I really loved reading Misty’s story. I, too, was a tomboy who didn’t do make up, would love to play a sport more than anything, and just couldn’t figure out how to be a good friend with the people who I thought I should be friends with. So much of middle school is fighting who you really are versus who everyone else and society wants you to be (and ignoring the mean comments along the way). This story was refreshing and will definitely find readers in middle school.

Play Like a Girl will add to the books I can recommend to Telgemeier fans, and it has the extra topic of football which will lend itself to finding even more readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is a great tool for teachers who are teaching memoir. It demonstrates how illustrations can depict a story richly and realistically. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What struggles does Misty experience?
  • What words would you use to describe Misty, and why?
  • What did you learn from this book?
  • Is this a book that is just for girls? Why might all kids learn from this book?

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**Thank you to Katie at HarperCollins for providing us with copies of this text for honest reviews!**

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight by Erin Yun

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Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight
Author: Erin Yun
Published September 13th, 2022 by Fabled Films Press

Summary: Korean American Pippa Park picks up right where she left off . . . trying to balance basketball, school, friends, working at the struggling family laundromat, and fitting in. Eliot, her math tutor—and the cutest boy at school—is finally paying attention to her. And Marvel—her childhood friend—is making her required volunteering much more interesting. But things with the Royals, her new friends and teammates who rule the school, still feel a bit rocky. Especially because Caroline, a head Royal, would like nothing more than to see Pippa fail.

So when Pippa is faced with hosting the annual Christmas Eve party that could make or break her social life, how can she say no? Will Pippa make enough money to cover the costs while juggling crushes and everything else? With courage and determination, Pippa sets out to host the party, find the perfect dress, pick the right boy, and stay true to her real self.

Praise: “Pippa explores the highs and lows of friendships and first crushes in this well-crafted sequel to Pippa Park Raises Her Game. ..VERDICT This warm-hearted, feel-good series continues to realistically explore one Korean American girl’s middle school experience in a relatable way.” —School Library Journal

About the Author: Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas and used to play basketball as a middle grader. She received her BA in English from New York University and is currently pursuing her Masters in Creative Writing at Cambridge. She developed the Pippa Park Author Program, an interactive writing workshop, which she has conducted in person and virtually at schools, libraries, and bookstores.

Review: The second Pippa Park book does everything that the first book did well: a plot and characters that any middle schooler will connect with! When the book opens, Pippa has finally found her friends, even though he doesn’t feel totally accepted, and everything is going swell, but that doesn’t ever stay in the world of middle school drama–in comes a party to plan on a non-existent budget and two crushes that Pippa can’t choose between. Add into that a dash of strict guardian, an unexpected change in holiday plans, and an unwanted guest, and you have a story that keeps the reader guessing, rooting for Pippa (and sometimes screaming at Pippa), and waiting to see how it all works out. I love a true middle school book, and Pippa Park fits right in that range! It is a must get for libraries and classrooms!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: The publisher has provided an educator’s guide for the book:

Flagged Passages: Read an excerpt of Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight here!

Read This If You Love: Middle school books filled with friendship and crush drama

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

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagged Passages: 

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

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