The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla

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The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn
Author: Sally J. Pla
Published July 11th, 2023 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: Neurodivergent Maudie is ready to spend an amazing summer with her dad, but will she find the courage to tell him a terrible secret about life with her mom and new stepdad? This contemporary novel by the award-winning author of The Someday Birds is a must-read for fans of Leslie Connor and Ali Standish.

Maudie always looks forward to the summers she spends in California with her dad. But this year, she must keep a troubling secret about her home life–one that her mom warned her never to tell. Maudie wants to confide in her dad about her stepdad’s anger, but she’s scared.

When a wildfire strikes, Maudie and her dad are forced to evacuate to the beach town where he grew up. It’s another turbulent wave of change. But now, every morning, from their camper, Maudie can see surfers bobbing in the water. She desperately wants to learn, but could she ever be brave enough?

As Maudie navigates unfamiliar waters, she makes friends–and her autism no longer feels like the big deal her mom makes it out to be. But her secret is still threatening to sink her. Will Maudie find the strength to reveal the awful truth–and maybe even find some way to stay with Dad–before summer is over?

Praise: 

“A vulnerable portrait of one girl seeking to empower and redefine herself outside of her personal traumas.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Through Maudie’s earnest, occasionally poetic narration, Pla vividly explores the ways that physical and verbal abuse can distort self-perception. A perceptive, poignant tale of self-discovery.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A heartfelt story of courage and hope about Maudie, who navigates the world in her own unique divergent way, even while struggling with challenging family dynamics and loss. Readers will cry, cheer, and celebrate, and not soon forget, Maudie McGinn.”  — Pam Muñoz Ryan, Newbery Honor-winning author

“A gorgeous, bighearted, beautiful book. I loved it.”   — Elana K. Arnold, award-winning author of A Boy Called Bat

“A powerful and deeply affecting story that will carry readers along like the perfect wave.” — Barbara Dee, author of Maybe He Just Likes You 

“A breathtakingly beautiful ride of a story about an unforgettable, neurodivergent heroine.” — Jess Redman, award-winning author of The Miraculous

About the Author: Sally J. Pla writes stories for young people. Her books have been translated into many languages, garnered starred reviews, appeared on many ‘best book’ and state lists, and picked up a few awards, but the best thing they’ve done has been to connect her to readers like you. The Someday Birds; Stanley Will Probably Be Fine; Benji, The Bad Day, And Me; and her latest, The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn, all portray characters who see the world a bit differently. Because we are all stars shining with different lights.

Sally has English degrees from Colgate and Penn State, and has worked as a journalist and in public education. You can find her at sallyjpla.com.

Review: This book, y’all. I am so glad that it was put on my radar because it is more than I could have guessed from the summary–I am so glad that I read it. It was a one-sitting read; I couldn’t put it down.

Sally J. Pla has crafted a book that pulls at heartstrings; has moments written in prose AND verse that are mentor texts in craft; will be a window, mirror, or sliding glass door (Sims-Bishop, 1990) for so many readers; touches on a tough subject that I truly think will help some readers with talking about their own situation; and has an amazing cast of characters!

Teaching Tools for Navigation: This book will be loved by so many readers. It is a must buy for middle school libraries and classrooms and may even be a good book club choice, just make sure to discuss the content triggers before choosing. Help the right readers find this book, help the right ones talk about it, and help the book get the love it deserves.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the author chose not to tell Maudie’s secret from the beginning?
  • How does surfing both help and hurt Maudie’s situation?
  • How is Maudie treated differently with her mom versus her dad?
  • Why does her dad seem to understand her better than her mom?
  • Why did the author include sections in verse throughout the book?
  • Why do you think Etta helps Maudie?
  • Why does Maudie begin to find her voice more now that she is with her dad?
  • How is Paddi’s school different than Maudie’s school in Texas?
  • Masks are talked about figuratively within the book. Why does Maudie and her mom feel like they have to wear a mask?
  • What type of character traits does Maudie and her dad show by starting over after the fire?

Flagged Passage:

Chapter 2 Wowowowowowowowow

The Molinas emergency shelter is packed with stressed-out neighbors, grim-looking police, and frantic aid workers handing out things like bottles of water and crinkly silver blankets.

It’s not cold, but I can’t stop shivering.

There’s an old clipboard perched on a table under a stale copy cup–leftover from some meeting. I take it with me to one of the cots the volunteers have set up. Its thing blue mattress crunches underneath me; it feels like it’s filled with plastic pellets.

I unclip an old paper from the clipboard and turn it over. And just like Mr. Parris taught me, back at that noisy dance, I do his calm-down trick. I start to catalog the too-muchness.

SMELLS
stale coffee
stale soup
industrial carpeting
body odor
ashes
smoke
fabric softener

SOUNDS
kids crying
a couple arguing in staccato Spanish
an old man coughing and hacking up something wet and gross into a Kleenex, ugh
some lady shouting “Who took my phone? Who took my phone?” over and over
distant sirens: wowowowo-wowowowowo-wowwwwwwww

TOUCH
this silver emergency blanket, which feels like slippery aluminum foil
this sweaty plastic-pellet mattress under my butt and legs
burning eyes, like my lashes are gunked with hot grit
headache, blaring and pounding at my temples like a vise
a strange iron-band feeling around my chest, keeping me breathless
B R E A T H E
B R E A T H E
B R E A T H E

SIGHTS
The curve of my dad’s back

Read This If You Love: A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught; Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit; The Ship We Built by Lexie Bean; Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy of review!**

Educators’ Guide for A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

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A Match Made in Mehendi
Author: Nandini Bajpai
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Simran “Simi” Sangha comes from a long line of Indian vichole-matchmakers-with a rich history for helping parents find good matches for their grown children. When Simi accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.”

But Simi is an artist, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with relationships, helicopter parents, and family drama. That is, until she realizes this might be just the thing to improve her and her best friend Noah’s social status. Armed with her family’s ancient guide to finding love, Simi starts a matchmaking service-via an app, of course.

But when she helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the boys’ soccer team, she turns the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy, soon making herself public enemy number one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative Kitchen:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about A Match Made in Mehendi by visiting Cake Creative Kitchen’s Library.

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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!**