Guest Review: Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

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Guest Reviewer: Briana, UCF Elementary Education Student

Thank You, Omu!
Author & Illustrator: Oge Mora
Published October 2, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: A generous woman is rewarded by her community in this remarkable author-illustrator debut that’s perfect for the Thanksgiving season, perfect for fans of Last Stop on Market Street.

Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu’s delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

About the Author: Oge Mora is a collage artist and storyteller. Her picture book, Thank You, Omu!, was a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner, and Ezra Jack Keats Book Award recipient.  Her second book, Saturday, won the 2020 Boston Globe—Horn Book Picture Book Award. Oge’s artwork has been applauded by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe. She also recently made the Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 list in Arts & Style.

Oge grew up in Columbus, Ohio but resides in Providence, RI. She is a fan of all things colorful, patterned, or collaged, and enjoys creating warm stories that celebrate people coming together.

Review: This is a beautiful and joyous book celebrating community, generosity, and reciprocity. What I like about this book is that everything is freely given: Omu shares her stew out of the kindness of her heart and all of the neighbors return that kindness without being asked or cajoled. I also like this book because it demonstrates how we can and should rely on each other in times of need. Everyone in the book receives and gives help at different points. And this shows how connected, strong communities make everyone’s life better. I think this book is important because there isn’t really any conflict or character growth in the story, instead everyone acts as they should, and this serves as a model for students about how to act and how the world should be.

The cut-paper illustrations, also done by Oge Mora, are colorful and vibrant. This makes the book and the town it depicts feel warm, inviting, and idyllic which draws the reader in and supports the text’s message about the value of community. This book is set within an urban setting, which is a refreshing change of place from the suburbs, and idealized rural and wilderness settings of so many children’s books. And it is important for children to see urban communities as beautiful and valuable.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book is a valuable addition to your classroom library and it is an excellent book for whole class read aloud. This book can be used with the guided questions to prompt discussions about sharing and about the students’ own communities. It is also useful to build a healthy classroom community. Students are going to be asked to share and work together throughout the year. Students can also explore the illustration style while exploring the central theme. For example, students could be tasked to depict a scene of a time when they shared or someone shared with them using cut construction paper. After reading the story students should be able to understand and reflect on their own communities, the members that make it up  and how everyone works towards a happy community. You can also discuss the elements of Nigerian American culture that are prevalent in this book, such as the one pot stew and Omu’s name herself.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Omu make that has everyone starving?
  • Why do you think Omu shares with everyone?
  • How do you think all the characters know each other?
  • How did the community thank Omu for sharing?
  • Omu helped her community by sharing! What are things you could share that would help your community? Remember that you can share things that are not physical.
  •  What makes a good neighbor?
  • Why is sharing important? Can sharing be hard? Why or why not?

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Briana, for your review!

Wave by Diana Farid, Illustrated by Kris Goto

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Wave
Author: Diana Farid
Illustrator: Kris Goto
Published March 29th, 2022 by Cameron Kids

Summary: A coming-of-age novel in verse set in 1980s Southern California, about a Persian American girl who rides the waves, falls, and finds her way back to the shore.

Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.

Praise: 

“Processing her feelings through music empowers Ava and gives her a new understanding of home and the connections she shares with others. Raw and powerful, this free verse novel honestly explores issues of identity, culture, grief, and hope… Rich, layered, and heart-rending.”―Kirkus Reviews

“Farid’s poetry rides the page like a wave, charting the ups and downs of Ava’s emotions. . .The verse format makes this text extremely accessible, and readers will be delighted to find elements of Ava’s Persian heritage and 1980s childhood also woven throughout.” ―School Library Journal

“Farid brings her expertise as an MD to Ava’s story, simplifying the complexity of lymphoma while packing an emotional punch with the musical references that Ava uses to cope.” ―Booklist

About the Creators: 

Diana Farid is the author of When You Breathe, published by Cameron Kids. She is a poet and a physician at Stanford University. She lives in the Bay Area.

Honolulu-based fine artist Kris Goto was born in Japan. She spent most of her adolescence in Hong Kong and New Zealand, where she became inspired by the outside world and a passion for manga.

Review: This book is actually hard for me to write about because it is just so beautiful in all the right ways. It is full of so many emotions, beautiful writing, important topics, characterization, and 80s references. The author’s inclusion of such a specific setting and pop culture references could have easily turned off a reader, but Farid seamlessly blends it into Ava’s story to where it is all part of one amazing package. A package that includes a lot but that is because a 14 year old Persian girl growing up in California would have dealt with a lot: identity, self-love vs. loathing, immigrant experience, expectations, friendship, hobbies, school, racism, family… and on top of that Ava has Phoenix’s and (my favorite character) Room 509’s health to think about, her own broken leg, surfing, music, and a single parent. Add to all of this plot poetry that is robust in its rhythm and variety in a way that makes reading the book an experience, a wonderful reading experience.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to all of the reading discussion that can happen with this book, it is also a wonderful poetry writing mentor text. Each poem has its own format, personality, mood, tone, etc. so students have so many choices about which they would want to be inspired by. Goto’s illustrations show how art can add to poems as well, so students could create their own drawings to accompany their poems. Also, with the inclusion of music, students could turn their poems into songs.

Students could also make their own mix tapes for different characters in the book using Ava’s and Phoenix’s as examples. Students could then explain why they chose the songs they did for the characters.

The inclusion of Rumi’s poetry could also lead to a poetry study of his poetry which could include historical instruction as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the author format __[poem]__ the way she did?
  • How did music influence Ava’s time during this point in her life?
  • How do you think Ava’s summer would have been different if she hadn’t broken her leg?
  • How did Phoenix and Ava’s friendship change over time? What caused their friendship to evolve?
  • Why does Ava blow up at Phoenix and Naz at the beach?
  • How does Room 509 play a part in Ava’s summer? What do you think the purpose of this character is?
  • How did Ava’s mother’s decision to leave Iran to go to medical school transform her life?
  • Farid included instances of racism in the book. Why is it important that she includes these? What does it show us about our country?
  • Do you believe Ava has OCD? What parts in the story show you this?
  • How does Ava both embrace her Persian culture but also resent the pressure it holds?
  • The author included Farsi throughout the book. Why is this translanguaging important to include when telling Ava’s story.
  • Find an example of when Farid captured the rhythm of the ocean in her poetry.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, Benbee and the Teacher Griefer by KA Holt, Open Mic edited by Mitali Perkins

Recommended For: 

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

Review and Giveaway!: Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by Brooke Smart

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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
Author: Laurie Wallmark
Illustrator: Brooke Smart
Anticipated Publication: March 2, 2021 by Harry N. Abrams

Goodreads Summary: Decode the story of Elizebeth Friedman, the cryptologist who took down gangsters and Nazi spies.

In this picture book biography, young readers will learn all about Elizebeth Friedman (1892-1980), a brilliant American code breaker who smashed Nazi spy rings, took down gangsters, and created the CIA’s first cryptology unit. Her story came to light when her secret papers were finally declassified in 2015. From thwarting notorious rumrunners with only paper and pencil to counter-spying into the minds and activities of&; Nazis, Elizebeth held a pivotal role in the early days of US cryptology. No code was too challenging for her to crack, and Elizebeth’s work undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. Extensive back matter includes explanations of codes and ciphers, further information on cryptology, a bibliography, a timeline of Elizebeth&;s life, plus secret messages for young readers to decode.

About the Creators: 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her at lauriewallmark.com. On Twitter: @lauriewallmark, Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor, Instagram: @lauriewallmark

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at brooke-smart.com. Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

Ricki’s Review: This book is packed with information! I wasn’t familiar with this Women in STEM series, and now I feel like I need to get all of the books! The book has a great complexity—from the way in which the story is told in an engaging way that draw readers in to the way the illustrations and text are laid on the page. Typically, I give books away after I read and review them, but I am going to have a hard time parting with this one. Elizebeth Friedman’s bravery is simply awe-inspiring. She is a true heroine who needs to be named more frequently in history. Get this book. You truly won’t be disappointed.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book begs to be read in literature circles with other books about heroes/heroines, women in STEM, or powerful people in history. It would ignite powerful conversations about the characteristics of historical and contemporary heroes and heroines.

Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page, where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is one intentional choice the author made in telling this story?
  • What are the qualities of a hero? Who are some historical and contemporary heroes who inspire you?
  • What are some of the pivotal moments in Friedman’s life story? How did she change the world for the better?

Flagged Spreads: 

Giveaway:

 

Other Books by Laurie Wallmark: Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code; Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor; Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you go Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

Blog Tour with Review and THREE BOOK Giveaway!: It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood by Josh Funk, Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

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It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Anticipated Publication: October 27, 2020 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Once again, the beleaguered storyteller tries to tell a traditional fairy tale, with little success. Red has some questions about her delivery to Grandma’s house, the wolf calls in sick, and more chaos ensues.

About the Creators: 

Like the characters in his books, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go—so he writes his own. He is the author of many popular picture books, including the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, and the It’s Not a Fairytale books, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor. He lives in New England with his family. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks and Instagram: @joshfunkbooks.

Edwardian Taylor is the illustrator of multiple children’s books, including Race!, written by Sue Fliess; the Toy Academy chapter books, written by Brian Lynch; and the It’s Not a Fairytale books, written by Josh Funk. He lives in Texas with his partner and their four dogs. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com.
Twitter: @edwardiantaylor
Instagram: edwardiantaylor
Tumblr: Edwardian Taylor

Review: With each book that comes out in this series, I have a long, intense internal debate. I ask myself, “But which one in the series is your favorite NOW?” And I simply cannot decide. Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor’s It’s Not a Fairytale books are the best picture book fairytale retellings that exist. I know that’s a bold statement, but it is the truth. If you’ve missed this series, you must order copies from your nearest bookstore. They are such beautiful, thoughtful texts, and they inspire amazing classroom opportunities and critical thinking.

When I pulled out It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, I suspect the shrieks of joy from my children could be heard by passersby outside of my house. These books are so cherished in our home. I’ve had It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood about a week, and I think we’ve read it about fifteen times (no exaggeration). Similarly to the other books in the series, Red is smarter than the narrator, and she tells her own story and does so boldly. Readers will laugh aloud as they read it! It offers good critical discussions about the stories we hear and read. I loved it and can’t wait to read it (several times) tomorrow. Thanks so much to Josh and Edwardian for another great book in this series!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great to read as a Readers’ Theatre. Students could read different characters and the narrator aloud to create a powerful effect. Fairy tale retellings offer great opportunities for kids to tell counterstories to the narratives that are popular in society or the media, and teachers might ask students to write retellings and counterstories to those that are commonly told.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you describe Red?
  • How do the author and illustrator work together to create a story?
  • What aspects of the retelling are different from the traditional fairy tale? What does this make you think about when you consider the original fairy tale? How is the story improved in this retelling?

Flagged Spreads: 

Giveaway:

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Read This If You Loved:  It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk; Dear Dragon by Josh Funk; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

Unicorns are the Worst by Alex Willan

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Unicorns are the Worst!
Author: Alex Willan
Published September 29th, 2020 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: This wildly funny and imaginative picture book celebrates the value of differences as a grumpy goblin gets to know his new unicorn neighbors.

It’s an undeniable fact that unicorns are the worst!

Magic is serious business, but all unicorns do is frolic around, have tea parties, and leave glitter all over the place! They’re nothing like goblins—practical and hard-working, who can put magic to good use! Unicorns aren’t helpful at all.

Or are they?

About the Author: Alex Willan grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was seldom seen without his sketchbook in hand. His love of drawing led him to earn a BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Alex has exhibited in art galleries and has painted murals, theater sets, and squirmy kids’ faces, but his true love has always been children’s books. He lives in Chicago with his dog, Harley. Visit him online at Alex-Willan.Squarespace.com.

P.S. If you haven’t read Alex Willan’s Jasper and Ollie, I HIGHLY recommend it as well!!!

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Happy book birthday to this funny tale! I am a sucker for a funny and unique narrator, and our Goblin in Unicorns are the Worst! fits that bill. You can hear his grumpy voice as he tells of his tales of whoa trying to do his job while unicorns get to just frollick and be happy. You can feel his despair while he gets frustrated with his hardworking life versus the laidback life of the unicorns. But you also witness his realization that his assumptions were wrong.  Because the reader has such a connection with him, this realization comes to the reader as well because as you read, you are starting to agree with the goblin. All of this leads to the idea of assumptions, fake news and gossip, propaganda, different points of view on one thing, and envy–all topics that are tough to talk about with young children, but Unicorns are the Worst! gives the perfect context (and is hilarious!).

Book Trailer:

Flagged Passages:  

Read This If You Love: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheep by Anthony Pearson

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Simon Kids for providing a copy for review!**

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

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Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books

GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.

My Review: This book rocked me. It is so beautifully written, and I felt so lucky to be able to share it with others at NCTE this year. Because I have so many teaching ideas for this book, I am organizing this post a bit differently and focusing on many more teaching tools than usual. I hope that the information below helps other teachers use this book in their classrooms. It is so worthy of being read, studied, and loved.

Inquiry to Consider the Complexity of The Fountains of Silence:

The Connection of People: Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Fuga, Julia, Puri
“Some friendships are born of commonality. Others of proximity. And some friendships, often the unlikely ones, are born of survival” (p. 53).

Place as Character
The Castellana Hilton Madrid and Madrid
“After all, a hotel is a house of secrets” (p. 171).
“Madrid’s soil is untender, strong, and enduring like many who walk upon it” (p. 457).

Gender Norms
“Estamos más guapas con la boca cerrada. We are prettier with our mouths shut” (p. 240, 243, 300).

Social Class
“What lies outside the country’s borders is untouchable for families like hers” (p. 47).

Family Responsibility
“Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts” (p. 63).
“The family business needs you” (p. 82).

Human resilience
“It’s warrior skin, very strong” (p. 113)

Secrets
“There is a category of unspeakable things, a dark drawer where inexpressible truths live in exile” (p. 240).

Dreams
“Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain” (p. 24).

Fountains of Silence
Analysis of the power of the title. Whose stories are heard? Whose are silenced?

Culminating Project Idea: Multigenre Inquiry Project
The Fountains of Silence is story which uses layered writing to illuminate the fear and terror that people experienced under Franco’s fascist regime. The novel reveals the brute strength and resilience of the people during the time period. Select a time and place in history to research. Consider researching a time and place which is deeply connected with your own story. Read the narratives of the people and develop a multigenre project which reflects your learning. You might include fictional narratives of stories you create, nonfiction excerpts that you find in your research, a photo essay which includes photos you find in your research. Whatever the final form, your culminating project should include various types of writing and media and demonstrate your knowledge about the time and place you selected to research.

Recommended For:

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RickiSig

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Recommended For: 

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RickiSig