Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, Magnificent Makers: How to Test a Friendship by Theanne Griffith, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, and Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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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. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about fantasy novels.

Dragons in a Bag
Author: Zetta Elliott
Published October 23rd, 2018 by Random House

Summary: Jax is left by his mom to an old lady by the name of Ma. Jax later finds out that Ma is a witch who has 3 dragon eggs that hatched. They need to return the eggs because they won’t survive in the regular world due to lack of magic. They go to portals through time that takes them to the time of dinosaurs. Along the way, Jax meets his grandfather who also knows magic, and has him return two of the dragons to the magic council but accidentally left one left behind so he returns to the regular world. He forces his mom and the witch to hash out their problems.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When using fantasy in the classroom it is always a good way to spark your students’ creativity. This source could be used as a creative writing prompt to boost off their creativity of the story: Conduct an activity based upon the book like have them write a short story about what they would do if they were in Jax’s shoes and have them draw pictures of dragons, name them, and design the dragons how they would like them to be pictured.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was Jax’s first impression of Ma?
  • How do you think Jax will return the last dragon to the magic council?
  • Who do agree with and why? Ma who wants to keep the world of magic separate or L. Roy who wants magic to come back to earth.
  • Why do you think Jax decided to open the window for the squirrel?
  • What were 2 things the dragons were not allowed to have?
  • When you first hear the word apprentice what comes to mind?  Did you have the same thinking as Jax?
  • How does the story tie in with real-life scenarios with the fantasy?
  • Who are the most influential character apart from Jax?
  • When do we see the change of events come in play throughout the story?
  • When reading the book your imagination goes wild,in what other circumstances does your mind go other places when reading this story?

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The Magnificent Makers: How to Test Friendship
Author: Theanne Griffith
Illustrator: Reggie Brown
Published May 19th, 2020 by Random House Children’s Books

Summary: Pablo, Violet and Deepak are three friends who get sucked into a telescope and must play science games to come back and play again. Deepak is the new kid who makes Pablo jealous with his presence. Throughout the book, the team works together and build their friendship to complete the games.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book could be used as a classroom read-aloud over the course of a few days or a week.  Due to the science elements, this book would be a good way to start off science discussions in the classroom. For example, the second chapter includes the students learning about food chains. This book is perfect to make connections back to science.

Discussion Questions: 

  •   Why do you think Pablo was jealous of Deepak?
  •   What were some of the challenges they had and what did they have to do?
  •   Why do you think Pablo, Violet, and Deepak were chosen for the Maker’s Maze?
  •    What do you know about producers, consumers, decomposers, and scavengers?
  • What were your favorite aspects of science that you learned from the book?
  • What type of emotion did the characters experience in the book?
  • When Deepak arrived to class, what did Pablo notice about him?
  • How does Pablo overcome is jealous toward Deepak?
  • Toward the end of the book why did they relate their friendship to the ecosystems?

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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published April 22nd, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly Diamond is a little girl who receives a magic book that lets her bring to life the things that she writes and draws. She has a little sister who she doesn’t like very much and a brother on the way. Polly loves to write, she writes lists and stories and anything that she thinks is worth writing. When she starts writing in her magic book she realizes that the book can talk back to her. She writes to her book and comes up with lists and stories to write. She realizes that whatever she writes in the book comes to life when she writes about making a ladder to paint her room and the books on the floor magically move to make a ladder. The book tells her that is what she’s for and Polly quickly learns she can do anything she writes. She makes herself invisible and her sister into a banana. But she realizes that the book is taking everything she says literally. When she writes about eating a club sandwich the book gives her two slices of bread with a bat in between because it took the definition of a club literally. She told the house to fix up the carpet and turn her room into an aquarium. But the carpet was on the ceiling and fish were swimming around her room. She then realizes that everything she wrote was crazy and tries to put the house back to normal because she can’t even recognize it anymore. She fixes it just in time for her parents to come home with her new baby brother. At the end of the story she gives the book a name, Spell. And looks forward to writing and drawing another day with her new book, and friend Spell.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Polly uses and explains words like metaphor, affixes, alliteration, and hyperbole.  This is a great opportunity to talk about these definitions, make lists of words and phrases that relate to these words, and do activities where the students use metaphors, alliteration, homophones, homonyms etc.  It seems like a useful book to have in a first grade classroom and use with a higher level reading small group or a second grade class.    It could also be used as a read aloud, again discussing the key words and their meanings, then practicing using those skills.  There is a lot of use of imagery in this book as well as understanding literal meaning and how words matter.

After reading the text, students can respond to the story by engaging in a free write activity after they finish the reading. As a teacher, we could set a timer for five minutes and ask the students to write continuously about their thoughts on the book, good or bad, and afterwards, go over it as a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Polly had many favorite words throughout the book, what are some of your favorite words and why?
  • Make a list of activities you would do to have a Super-Fantastic-Day.
  • In the book, Polly writes down what her dream bedroom would look like. If you could have your dream bedroom, what would it look like?
  • When Polly writes in the magic book, she learns that she needs to write clearly and use as much detail as possible. What are some important rules to follow when writing so people can understand your message clearly?
  • When Polly is playing hide-and-seek, why does she become invisible?
  • Imagine the turquoise notebook has changed your house like Polly’s. Please write a short story explaining what your home looks like in order to get it back to normal.
  • How does Polly feel having to share a room with her little sister when her brother is born?
  • If you had a magic notebook that could bring three things you wrote about to life, what 3 things would you write or draw and why?
  • Polly loves words with double letters like “Dizzy.” List 5 words you can think of that have double letters.
  • Polly loves alliteration.  That’s when  two or more words in a row begin with the same letter.  What alliterations can you think of?

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Sisters of the Neversea
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Published June 1st, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: This book is a tale about three children, Lily, Wendy, and Michael. Their parents, Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene Roberts-Darling are separating, splitting the family between two different locations.  The night before Wendy and Mr. Darling are supposed to leave, the children are visited by a boy named Peter Pan and Belle. Stories of pirates and merfolk persuade the children to follow Peter Pan and Belle off to a mystical land called Neverland.  Upon arriving the children are separated and discover once you arrive you can never leave.  The children meet merfolk, pirates, native children, the lost, and fairies in a desperate attempt to figure out how to get home.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be great for a read aloud, book club, or close reading because it involves a lot of higher level vocabulary than some students may currently be reading at and it has long sentences and dialogue which again, some children could struggle with. These classroom uses would allow for discussions.

Geography could also be tied in because students could illustrate and demonstrate caves and waterways the Merfolk might have dwelled in. They also could show their knowledge of what an island like Neverland might have, and include what trees they think the lost boys were living in.

And, of course, it could be looked at versus Peter Pan as it is a retelling.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • If you were to create a different ending, How would it go?
  • Why do you think Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene wanted to separate?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • What were some challenges that the children had to face or overcome?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan and Belle appeared?
  • Why do you think it was hard for the lost boys to remember who they are?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan never wanted to grow up?
  • Why do you think Belle brought Peter Pan to the island?
  • Why do you think the crocodile made a TikTok sound?
  • Does this book remind you of any other children’s stories?  If so why?

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Guest Review: There’s Only One You by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, Illustrated by Rosie Butcher

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Guest Reviewer: Jessica G., UCF Elementary Education Student

There’s Only One You
Authors: Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Illustrator: Rosie Butcher
Published May 7th, 2019 by Union Square Kids

Summary: This feel-good book reassures kids that, whoever and whatever they are, it’s awesome being YOU! Expertly written to include all kinds of children and families, it embraces the beauty in a range of physical types, personalities, and abilities. Kids will love discovering and recognizing themselves in these pages—and they’ll feel proud to see their special qualities acknowledged. Adorable illustrations by Rosie Butcher show a diverse community that many will find similar to their own. (Goodreads)

About the Creators:

Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook have coauthored several books for children, including Ten Lucky Leprechauns (Scholastic) and Mouse Makes Words: A Phonics Reader (Random House). Kathryn is a school psychologist and Deborah is a kindergarten teacher. They both live in WI. Learn more at helinghembrook.com.

Rosie Butcher lives in East Yorkshire and spends her summers in Sweden. Follow her @scrimmle.

Review: I really enjoyed reading There’s Only One You. It is a wonderful book embracing diversity, inclusion, and individuality. The book is filled with beautiful illustrations demonstrating what makes us unique. The book is written in a rhythmic style, so it is engaging for young readers. Each spread beautifully displays the range of physical characteristics, personalities, or abilities individuals may have. The book is filled with bright vivid colors. Each page is filled with many details. Readers will enjoy exploring each page. The book and the illustrations go beyond inclusion of physical characteristics and incorporate physical attributes and challenges such as being in a wheelchair, using arm crutches, a walker, or using a hearing aid. The book also includes multiple spreads showing differences in families. Illustrations include families that comprise of a mom and a dad, or two moms, or two dads, or a single mom, or a single dad. The authors and illustrator do an excellent job displaying diversity within each page. The book also addresses differences in personalities, such as “crying when you’re sad, or keep tears inside”. The story emphasizes that being unique is what we all have in common. It is what makes us extraordinary.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I believe There’s Only One You is a wonderful book to kick start a new school year. It is a great read aloud choice that reminds students that we are all unique and that is special. The story celebrates all learners. It also encourages empathy among students. It is an excellent aide to teach social emotional learning concepts such as self-esteem, managing thoughts, emotions,

and behaviors, and being against bullying. The book can also be used interdisciplinary in reading, social studies, and art. The text and illustrations are filled with many details that prompt discussion among readers. Students may also respond in a journal entry to some of the subjects addressed in the book or write and draw about their own family. Students may also respond by creating an acrostic poem. In social studies, students can utilize individuality to explore what makes us diverse. For example, exploring

what country each student is from, their culture, traditions, and norms. In art, students can draw a self-portrait of themselves, then share with their classmates.There’s Only One You provides a great opportunity to build a classroom community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • On page 3, the author writes, “It’s awesome being unique!” Based on what we have read so far, what do you think being unique means?
  • On page 4, the author writes, “Do your feelings spill out? Do they lay low and hide? You might cry when you’re sad or keep tears inside.” The author is trying to tell us we differ in how we express our emotions. What are ways you can respond if you do not like something or it is not what you may have wanted?
  • On pages 8 and 9, we see students at the zoo. The author wants us to know how they are different and special. How does the author tell us that the students are different? What can we see from the illustrations?
  • Is there something that makes you unique or different from your classmates?
  • On pages 12 and 13, we can see all the children doing different activities. What kind of activities do we see in the picture? Do you have an activity that you love to do?
  • On pages 14 and 15, we can see some cool tools that may help our friends. Can you recall any of these tools? How do they help?

Flagged Passages: 

 

Read This If You Love: Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López; You Are Enough: A Book about Inclusion by Margaret O’ Hair, illustrated by Sofia Cardoso; Different–A Great Thing to Be! by Heather Avis, illustrated by Sarah Mensinga

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Thank you, Jessica, for your review!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o; The Crown by Derrick Barnes; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds; and You Matter by Christian Robinson

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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 for these six picture books.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published August 27th, 2001 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Molly Lou Melon is short, clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bull-frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor… But she doesn’t mind.

Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book can be used to set a president within the classroom to advise at the beginning of the year that bullying is not okay.
  • Teach about how having a positive attitude can affect the world around you
    • Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards us. – John Mitchell
  • Have the students go into a small group to talk about what happens when another student is being bullied.
    • Writing-in-role: Each student can discuss what they would do in Molly’s shoes with each encounter with the bully.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you feel if you were in Molly’s situation?
  • What advice has a family member given you that has gotten you through a tough time?
  • What are some things that you like about yourself?
  • How do you think Molly was able to keep a positive attitude?
  • How did the illustrations make you feel?
  • What did you like about the story?
  • What are some things you would have done if you heard Ronald making fun of Molly?
  • If Molly had a negative attitude toward Ronald, how would have had the story turned out differently?
  • How can you use this story in our classroom?
  • If Molly had not received advice from her grandmother do you think she would have had such a positive attitude?

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Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: T

  • Good as a read-aloud and book club book.
  • A good book to introduce a discussion about skin color.
  • Beginning BLM topic.
  • Encourages children to be comfortable in their own skin.
  • Encourages children to love themselves.
  • Modern-day text.
  • May be used during social studies instruction. Prompts discussion about skin color and different cultures. Introduces self and encourages students to reflect on their own family and community.
  • After reading activity: Students may respond to the text by drawing a self-portrait of themselves. After drawing a self-portrait of themselves, they can share it with their peers and reflect on their own similarities and differences. The activity encourages students to recognize the importance of each member of their community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ideas do you think will be present in this text?
  • How did the author use the title of this book in the text?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • How do you think Sulwe feels regarding how her classmates are treating her? How do you feel about this treatment?
  • What use of imagery sparked your imagination?
  • What could happen to make this character feel a different way?
  • What type of emotions do you feel during the daytime versus the nighttime? Explain why?
  • How does the word choice contribute to the tension throughout the story and ultimately the theme at the end?
  • What do you think the author wanted you to feel after reading this book?
  • How do Sulwe’s feelings change from the beginning to the middle, to the end of the story?
  • What evidence of organization do you see throughout the story?

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The Crown
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Published October 10th, 2017 by Agate Bolden

Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Notes about when the book would be useful in the classroom:

  • To show feelings towards a certain moment in life.
  • This can be used for language arts practice (events, plot, meaning).
  • Asking students about a time where they felt a personal experience with something that they do often.
  • Reflect on how they feel after receiving a haircut.
  • Reflect on something that excites you, like the haircut in the story.

This book is best done as a read aloud and a book club book. The reason for this, is that Crown integrates great opportunities because it helps students to understand a character’s feelings written into text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The boy in the story talks about his passion of having a haircut. When has there been a time where you felt passionate about something?
  • How does the author in the story convey emotion through colors?
  • What did you think the story might have been about?
  • What do you think that the boy in the story is feeling when he enters the barber shop?
  • If you could write a sequel to this book, what would it be about and why?
  • What have you might have changed in this story?
  • Has there been a time where you think you have gotten a nice haircut? Why or why not?
  • Describe the boy’s feelings about getting a haircut? Why do you think this?
  • The boy in the story felt confident and positive after getting a haircut. When was there a time where you felt confident and positive about something?

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The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
Published August 28th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: After reading this book it would be best if students use this as a community building opportunity to celebrate their differences and learn about their peers. This book opens up a discussion about the lives that others live and how although they have a different background we should treat everyone with respect and encourage others to be true to themselves. After reading this book the classroom can do a reading analysis of the book to help establish classroom norms and expectations. This book would be best as a read aloud preferably towards the beginning of the school year. Afterwards this book may go to the classroom library. This book is interdisciplinary as it can be used in social studies to help explore different cultural backgrounds. The students can be given the opportunity to explore the different customs and regions brought up in the book to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the symbolism behind rulers being present in the illustrations of the book?
  • What differences did you notice in each of the characters?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to celebrate our differences?
  • What differences do you notice within your classmates or others around you?
  • How did the students’ perceptions of each other change over time?
  • Describe something that makes you unique compared to your classmates
  • What is one way to support a classmate that feels isolated because of their differences?
  • Why do you think Angelina felt less nervous towards the end of the book?
  • What is the overall message of the story?
  • Why do we notice the differences of our peers?
  • Why are we different from those around us?
  • Pick two different interactions in the story and write about you would change the characters behavior to be more respectful of their peers

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Word Collector
Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Published January 30th, 2018 by Orchard Books

Summary: Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
And Jerome?
Jerome collected words . . .

In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words—and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book would be useful during a read aloud when teaching about vocabulary. You can use the book as a good jump start into vocabulary. Seeing another child interested in learning words will catch the students attention and make them more interactive while learning vocab.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some words that you would like to share?
  • Is there anything you wished for your class to learn like the main character did?
  • Did you learn any new words?
  • Why does Jerome like to collect words?
  • Where do you find new words not counting in a book?
  • Which types of words were the most powerful for Jerome?
  • What do you like to collect for yourself and why?
  • Why do you think Jerome threw his words across town?
  • What do you do to make yourself happy?
  • What was your favorite part about the book?

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You Matter
Author & Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published June 2nd, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson.

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The response best for after reading this text would be a group discussion of their thoughts on the book, a compare and contrast of everyone’s differences that “matter,” reflect on things that students think matters to them, and think they want to not matter. And the the book is interdisciplinary due to its multiple subject related ideas, because it addresses science related topics like planets and plants, and even geography.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is there something that one of your siblings does that you don’t like? Why? Does that mean that they don’t matter?
  • What is something that you think matters?
  • What is something that you think makes you different?
  • Why does that make you special?
  • Why are differences important?
  • Why do you think the last picture was of the whole city?
  • Who is the astronaut thinking about when she is looking down on earth?
  • On the cover, what do you notice about all the children playing, what happens if there is only one kid playing with the parachute?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Why do you matter?

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Guest Review: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

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Guest Reviewer: Brian, UCF Elementary Education Student

Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.

Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

About the Creators: 

Lupita Nyong’o is a Kenyan actress and producer. Her first feature film role was in the film 12 Years a Slave, for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as multiple accolades, including the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Critics’ Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and the NAACP Award. She has since starred in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ryan Coogler’s record-breaking box office hit Black Panther, and most recently in Jordan’s Peele’s critically acclaimed horror film Us. Nyong’o earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed. She lives in Brooklyn.

Vashti Harrison, author and illustrator of the bestselling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, is an artist, author, and filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. She earned her MFA in film and video from California Institute of the Arts, where she snuck into animation and illustration classes to learn from Disney and DreamWorks legends. There she rekindled a love for drawing and painting. Now she uses her love for both film and illustration to craft beautiful stories for children.

Review: This book was just amazing! The story, the art, the lesson–everything was perfect. The message that is written in this story is not just for kids, even though the intended audience is children. The book talks about colorism and how one should love themselves just the way they are. We are all unique and special, and we should not try to change ourselves for nobody. In the world we live in today, there is so much negativity, but with this book for children, they can learn to be the light in the midst of darkness, no matter what the color of your skin is. Sulwe’s skin is the color of Midnight, but to me she shines the brightest in her family. Without midnight, everyone else’s shine would be pointless. I hope that when children read this book, they will appreciate who they are and be confident in themselves. This is a story I would definitely keep in my classroom. My favorite quote from the story, “When you are darkest is when you are most beautiful. It is when you are most you.” This left me very emotional and I’m a grown adult now. I should not be tearing up like this!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Sulwe has many topics that can be discussed and is a great read aloud to teach social emotional learning; it can also be used to teach a variety of literacy skills. Here are some ideas that can be used to incorporate Sulwe into the lesson plan:

The first thing the students can do would be to practice their compare and contrast skills by discussing how the character changes and feels throughout the story. Another activity the students can do would be to practice descriptive writing by having them describe their own appearance. The last activity that can be done is having the students practice writing book reviews after they have read the story. If none of these activities work for you or aren’t that interesting, asking questions about the story to the students is always an option. Here, the teacher can discuss important topics like bullying, appreciating others, respect, and loving oneself.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does the name Sulwe mean?
  • How are the pet names for “day” and “night” different?
  • What types of food did Sulwe eat to try and change her color?
  • What appeared through Sulwe’s window?
  • Why did Sulwe want to change the way she looked?
  • Have you ever been teased because of the way you look? How did that make you feel?

Flagged Passages: 

When you are darkest is when you are most beautiful. It is when you are most you.”

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry or Eyes that Kiss in the Corner by Joanna Ho

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Thank you, Brian, for your review!

Educators’ Guide for Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers: A Story Inspired by Loujain Alhathloul by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery, Illustrated by Rebecca Green

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Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers
Authors: Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery
Illustrator: Rebecca Green
Published: February 8, 2022 by Astra Publishing

Summary: A courageous girl follows her dream of learning to fly in this beautifully illustrated story inspired by imprisoned human rights activist Loujain AlHathloul.

Loujain watches her beloved baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined that some day, she too will learn to do it–especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying will she be able to see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain’s impossible dream becomes reality–inspiring other girls to dare to learn to fly. Inspired by co-author Lina al-Hathloul’s sister, formerly imprisoned Saudi women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. This gorgeously illustrated story is lyrical and moving.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I co-created for Astra Publishing for Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers on Astra Publishing’s page.

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Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson by Sandra Nickel, Illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia

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Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson
Author: Sandra Nickel
Illustrator: Helena Perez Garcia
Published March 8, 2022 by Abrams

Summary: An inspiring picture book about the meteorologist whose discoveries helped us understand how weather works. When Joanne Simpson (1923-2010) was a girl, she sailed her boat beneath the puffy white clouds of Cape Cod. As a pilot, she flew her plane so high, its wings almost touched them. And when World War II began and Joanne moved to the University of Chicago, a professor asked her to teach Air Force officers about those very clouds and the weather-changing winds.

As soon as the war ended, Joanne decided to seriously study the clouds she had grown to love so much. Her professors laughed. They told her to go home. They told her she was no longer needed. They told her, “No woman ever got a doctorate in meteorology. And no woman ever will.”

But Joanne was stubborn. She sold her boat. She flew her last flight. She saved her money so that she could study clouds. She worked so hard and discovered so much that—despite what the professors said—she received a doctorate in meteorology. She was the first woman in the world to do so.

Breaking Through the Clouds tells the story of a trailblazing scientist whose discoveries about clouds and how they work changed everything we know about weather today.

Praise: “An energetic, compassionate examination of a determined researcher who left her mark on the field of atmospheric sciences.” — Publishers Weekly

About the Author: Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was awarded a Christopher Award and was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com. To learn more, visit https://sandranickel.com/.

Twitter:  @senickel
Facebook: @sandranickelbooks
Instagram: @sandranickelbooks

Review: I love learning about the women in our history that have broken through barriers to make it so we are where we are today with women’s rights, and there are so many and so many wonderful stories to tell–I am always so happy when I find a new one, and this one is a gem! Joanne Simpson is so kick butt! She not only broke barriers, she smashed them, jumped in a plane, and then broke through the clouds (hence the title!). It was so wonderful learning about her and how she stuck it to the men and showed what a phenomenal person she was.

Nickel does a fantastic job balancing Simpson’s story as a meteorologist with her story of the sexism she faced during her education and working. We learn about how she used the traits that others saw as negative, like stubbornness and focus, to take the world by storm. Along with the colorful, page-filling illustrations, this book is beautiful, educational, and inspiring.

Curriculum Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions:

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Picture book biographies, especially about science, weather, or women’s history

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

Teacher Guide for Astro-Nuts Mission Three: The Perfect Planet by Jon Scieszka, Illustrated by Steven Weinberg

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Astro-Nuts Mission Three: The Perfect Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: September 21st, 2021 by Chronicle Books

Summary: This series is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets The Bad Guys in a funny, visually daring adventure series for reluctant readers, teachers, and librarians alike.

This hilarious, visually groundbreaking read is the conclusion to a major series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a final mission, where AlphaWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

Time is up for our friends the AstroNuts. In fact, time is up for you, too. If they don’t succeed on this mission, Earth is doomed! So when the team finds out they’re being sent to a place called “the perfect planet,” their mission sounds way too easy. Unfortunately, the second they land, they realize they’ll be dealing with the most dangerous species of all time . . . humans. Huh? Where in the universe is this supposedly perfect place? And how will the Nuts manage to convince the humans to risk death . . . for the sake of their lives?!

Featuring full-color illustrations throughout, Planet Earth as the narrator, an out-of-this-world gatefold, and how-to-draw pages in the back, eager and reluctant readers alike will be over the moon about this new mission. Full of laugh-out-loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story, this creatively illustrated, full-color, action-packed space saga is a can’t-put-it-down page-turner for readers of all levels and fans ready to blast past Dogman.

  • EXCITING BIG-NAME TALENT: Jon Scieszka is one of the biggest names in children’s books. The first National Ambassador of Young People’s literature, he and Steven Weinberg toured extensively for this series. They’ll continue making their way around the world for Book 3!
  • POPULAR SERIES: MISSIONS 1 and 2 received starred reviews, amazing blurbs, and tons of industry love. MISSION 1 was an Amazon Best Book of the Year! Dav Pilkey, Jennifer Holm, LeUyen Pham, and Gene Luen Yang are all big fans—check out those blurbs!
  • FUN AND SCIENTIFIC: The book incorporates STEM elements in a way that readers will find fun and entertaining, while teachers and librarians will find it clever and original.
  • PERFECT FOR BUDDING GRETA THUNBERGS: This book successfully talks about the effect of climate change and impels its readers to take action, without feeling didactic or message-y at all.
  • TIES TO REAL-WORLD ISSUES: Readers will recognize quite a few dilemmas the AstroNuts face from current events on Earth. Making connections between fiction and non-fiction is a big developmental milestone for young readers, and this book works as an effective allegory for our most dire contemporary concerns.
  • RELUCTANT READER–FRIENDLY: The book is a great vehicle for reluctant readers, featuring cool topics and bright art, and relying on visual literacy and very few words.
  • A CONSTELLATION OF TOPICS: Space, STEM, and talking animals: There’s something here for every reader!
  • LOLs FOR DAYS: The book is funny and will delight kids who love books like Wimpy Kid, The 39-Story Treehouse, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants. While it contains serious ideas, it’s a quick, easy, and fun visual read.
  • GROUNDBREAKING DESIGN: The hundreds of pages of full-color art are dynamic and engaging—and it doesn’t look like anything else out there. Steven Weinberg bases his art on public domain pieces from the Smithsonian museum! Teachers turn to the books for this element of the art and use it in classrooms to talk about collage, idea sourcing, history, and art medium.
  • PERFECT ART PROJECT: On the website, kids can download pages of the “original” art and use it to make their own hybrid animal collages.

Teachers Guide with Teachers’ Tools & Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I (Kellee) created for Chronicle Books for Astro-Nuts Vol. 3:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Astro-Nuts Vol 3 on Chronicle’s page.

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