Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota, Illustrated by J.R. Doyle

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Pixels of You
Author: Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota
Illustrator: J.R. Doyle
Published February 8, 2022

Summary: A human and human-presenting AI slowly become friends—and maybe more—in this moving YA graphic novel.

In a near future, augmentation and AI changed everything and nothing. Indira is a human girl who has been cybernetically augmented after a tragic accident, and Fawn is one of the first human-presenting AI. They have the same internship at a gallery, but neither thinks much of the other’s photography. But after a huge public blowout, their mentor gives them an ultimatum: work together on a project or leave her gallery forever. Grudgingly, the two begin to collaborate, and what comes out of it is astounding and revealing for both of them. Pixels of You is about the slow transformation of a rivalry to a friendship to something more as Indira and Fawn navigate each other, the world around them—and what it means to be an artist and a person.

Praise: 

“Ultimately a short but sweet story about two girls slowly falling in love. . .The art, however, is striking, with bold, stark colors; plays on light and dark; and disrupted frames depicting photos and extending emotional moments.”

Kirkus Reviews

“The robot/human relationship serves as a reflection on managing cultural alienation, and the girls’ chemistry is well developed, building to a surprising, sweet conclusion. Hirsh and Ota’s story is a combination of broad narrative strokes and intimate moments, and Doyle’s manga-inspired, deliciously purple and pink illustrations float with ease through a near-future New York.”

School Library Journal

About the Creators: Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota are the Ignus Award winning team behind Lucky Penny, which won a Cybil Award, was a JLG selection, and received a starred review from PW. They live in Brooklyn. J.R. Doyle is an up-and-coming artist, creator of Knights-Errant, a successful web comic and Kickstarter project. They live in Brooklyn.

Review: This short but impactful graphic novel hits on so much! It is an interesting look at where our world may be going when it comes to AI and humans living side by side. It can be taken on the surface for what it is: a human dealing with the rise of AI and her own inclusion of an eye transplant and a human-presenting AI who is dealing with not fitting in anywhere. But it can also be discussed within the context of identity in general. There is one point where Fawn is trying to prove herself to Indira when two robot-presenting AI tell her that she isn’t better than them. This can definitely tie into so many trying to find their place when they are in between worlds.

I will say, my one criticism is actually what also may be one of its strengths: its length. I felt like there was so much unanswered in the story, specifically in the world building, but maybe we’ll have more in the future!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to finding love from your sci-fi graphic novel fans, I’d love to see the premise for this world to be used as a creative writing prompt or even an exploratory essay about how the students would take the world or the commentary throughout that discusses bias could be used as a short research project or expository essay. Additionally, there are great aspects throughout that talk about photography, such as lighting, exposure, and setting.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is Indira haunted by AI in her dreams?
  • What did Indira originally think about Fawn?
  • How does Fawn not fit in anywhere? How does that make her feel?
  • In the future, do you think AI and humans will be seen as equals?
  • How does photography bring Fawn and Indira together?
  • What did Indira realize after meeting Fawn’s parents?
  • Why does Fawn call her parents her parents even though AI wouldn’t have parents?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Science fiction, graphic novels, Isaac Asimov’s robot short stories

Recommended For: 

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

Blog Tour with Review: Stowaway by John David Anderson

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Stowaway
Author: John David Anderson
Published August 3rd, 2021 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: The beloved author of Posted and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day returns with the first book in a coming-of-age sci-fi duology about Leo, a kid trying to navigate the galaxy in order to save his family—and, possibly, the planet Earth.

When scientists discover a rare and mysterious mineral buried in the Earth’s crust, they have no idea that it just happens to be the most valuable substance in the entire universe. It’s not long before aliens show up to our little corner of the galaxy offering a promise of protection, some fabulous new technology, and entry into their intergalactic coalition—all in exchange for this precious resource. A material so precious that other alien forces are willing to start a war over it. A war that soon makes its way to Earth.

Leo knows this all too well. His mother was killed in one such attack, and soon after, his father, a Coalition scientist, decides it would be best for them to leave Earth behind. It’s on this expedition that their ship is attacked, Leo’s father is kidnapped, and Leo and his brother are stranded in the middle of space. The only chance they have is for Leo to stow away on a strange ship of mercenary space pirates bound for who knows where and beg the captain to help him find his father.

But the road is dangerous, and pirates, of course, only look out for themselves. Leo must decide who to trust as he tries to stay alive and save his family, even as he comes to understand that there aren’t many people—human or alien—that he can count on in this brave new universe.

Praise: “The Mandalorian meets Guardians of the Galaxy in this fast-paced space adventure that will have readers turning the pages as they are pulled into a unique yet strangely familiar world that reflects our own. This series opener is an ideal pick for middle-grade sci-fi fans.” – Booklist, starred review 

“This novel not only provides an otherworldly adventure, but a sincere tale about dealing with loss, finding bravery, and navigating the complexity of war. VERDICT: A page-turning space adventure that deals with complex issues.” – School Library Journal

“Anderson spins a fast-paced tale of piracy among the stars. Featuring a winning cast of misfits who stumble into unexpected kinship, Anderson employs warm humor and pop culture references to ground the narrative against cosmic-level stakes and underlying commentary about exploitation and the cost of war.” – Publishers Weekly

“Leo’s narration aches with pathos but also provides moments of humor and finally ends on a cliffhanger. A heartfelt adventure.” – Kirkus

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 are very few authors that I have encountered that can write across genres and do it well. John David Anderson is one of those authors. I have read almost all of his books and they include fantasy, realistic fiction, and sci-fi, and all are so well done and so different than each other. Stowaway adds another awesome title to his works list.

Once again, Anderson is able to mix adventure, humor, and seriousness in a way that only he can to have the reader reflect on death, choices after loss, mental health, first impressions, and war while also making us laugh about snoring, clothing, descriptions of gyurt, and bad (GOOD!) puns.

And you will love the world-building in this one. Anderson did a great job of making the universe as vast and diverse as it is but not making it all so complicated that the reader cannot keep up with the planets and species.

But I think my favorite thing about this book is the characters. Each character is intriguing, has its own back story, and is so much more than you at first realize. And this is not just Leo’s character, it is all of the characters in the book. I love Baz and his crew, I love Leo and his family, and I love all of the aliens & humans that Leo meets along the way, good and bad! And I assume we’ll get to know even more in the 2nd book!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: On John David Anderson’s website, you can find writing prompts specifically for Stowaway: 

Hi All! John David Anderson here. If you’re like me, you like to ponder the really deep existential questions challenging humanity, such as, is there other intelligent life out there in the galaxy, and if so, are they friendly or do they want to eat us? And if they eat us, will they find us gamey or surprisingly moist and tender? What kinds of flavorings will they use? Have they heard of garlic?

Also if you are like me, you like to write down some of your thoughts when you are pondering what kind of meal you might make for our future alien overlords. So with that in mind I’ve penned a few writing prompts to get you started. You can use these to write a story, a novel, a poem, a list of things you should do to prepare for the impending invasion—whatever. The important thing is to use your imagination and have fun.

  • Imagine you are told that you have to leave Earth on a spaceship and you aren’t sure when you will return. All essentials such as clothes, food, toiletries, and medicine will be provided for you. Otherwise you are allowed to take one backpack with you. What do you put in your pack and why?
  • Imagine aliens show up at our doorstep tomorrow and bring with them all kind of advanced technology, the likes of which we’ve only dared to dream. What is one piece of technology or scientific advancement you would want the aliens to give us and why?
  • Imagine you and your sibling (or best friend) are both stricken by some terrible disease that only gives you days to live, but you are given one pill that you’re told might cure the disease. Would you take the pill yourself or give it to this other important person in your life (note: these are the only two available options. Don’t try to cut the pill in half or study it to determine its chemical compound in the hopes of recreating a duplicate)?
  • Describe the scariest possible alien you can imagine. Consider its appearance, temperament, technology, and desires. Give the alien a name. Now imagine it shows up at your doorstep.
  • Pick a necessity that we currently have plenty of (water, trees, daylight, rain, electricity) and imagine what the Earth would be like if what you chose suddenly disappeared. How would humans adjust to the sudden absence? What would it change about society and culture? What disastrous consequences could it lead to?

Discussion Questions: Here are some extra discussion questions I came up with:

  • How were the pirates different than what Leo, or you, assumed?
  • Why would Leo’s father make the choice that he made at the end of the book?
  • Although Baz wants to be a notorious, vicious pirate, I think he is much more than that. What words would you use to describe him as a character?
  • There are flashbacks throughout the book. Why did the author include these in the story?
  • Which side would you choose in the war? Is there a “right” side?
  • What do you think is going to happen in the next book?

Flagged Passages: Prologue “The explosion nearly threw them off their feet as the Beagle lurched sideways. The steel beams shuddered. Leo’s ears rang. The links blinked off, on , then off again, triggering the fluorescent yellow emergency lighting that ran along the floor. Leo put a hand on the wall to steady himself. His brother’s eyes shone like moons. “What was that?”

The question was answered with a second explosion, the ship quaking again. Every alarm screamed at once. Leo stumbled, falling into his brother’s ready arms. From down the corridor he could hear the crew of the Beagle shouting to one another, though it was impossible to hear anything over the ship’s wounded bleating until the captain’s voice echoed over the coms.

“Attention crew of the Beagle. We are under attack. Security personnel report to the bridge immediately. Engineering to the drive chamber.”

Leo looked at his brother, still holding him tight. “Did she just say we’re under attack?”

Gareth nodded, then looked sideways, startled by the sound of boot heels clomping down the hall.

Leo knew the sound. He’d learned to recognize the rhythm of his father’s footfalls. Like the sound of his brother’s snoring or his mother’s pensive sighs. Leo spied his father turning the corner, his eyes falling on him and Gareth, pressed together. Dr. Calvin Fender’s face softened, then hardened again. He spoke in a whirlwind. “What are you two doing out here? Didn’t you hear what Captain Saito said? You need to hide. Hurry!”

Their father pointed to the nearest door, leading to an empty bunk room barely half the size of the one the Fenders shared. He hustled Gareth and Leo into a corner, his white lab coat flapping on both sides like broken wings. Leo could tell he was scared–he could see it in his father’s eyes, even if he couldn’t hear it in his voice.

His father was seldom scared.”

Read This If You Love: Bloom by Kenneth Oppel, The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Shusterman, Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix, or if you are just a huge fan of John David Anderson

Recommended For: 

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Stop by the other Blog Tour Stops!

August 15, 2021 Nerdy Book Club
August 17, 2021 Writer’s Rumpus
August 23, 2021 A Library Mama
August 24, 2021 Unleashing Readers
August 26, 2021 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for a copy for review!!**

Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World by Uma Krishnaswami

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Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World 
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Published August 17th, 2021 

Summary: Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. both shook, and changed, the world, in their quest for peace among all people, but what threads connected these great activists together in their shared goal of social revolution?

A lawyer and activist, tiny of stature with giant ideas, in British-ruled India at the beginning of the 20th century.

A minister from Georgia with a thunderous voice and hopes for peace at the height of the civil rights movement in America.

Born more than a half-century apart, with seemingly little in common except one shared wish, both would go on to be icons of peaceful resistance and human decency. Both preached love for all human beings, regardless of race or religion. Both believed that freedom and justice were won by not one, but many. Both met their ends in the most unpeaceful of ways—assassination.

But what led them down the path of peace? How did their experiences parallel…and diverge? Threads of Peace keenly examines and celebrates these extraordinary activists’ lives, the threads that connect them, and the threads of peace they laid throughout the world, for us to pick up, and weave together.

Praise: “The book’s attractive design, lucid text, and carefully chosen details combine to create an inviting and original treatment of its subjects. History has been carefully intertwined with the present in this engaging and reflective book.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

About the Author: Uma Krishnaswami is the author of several books for children including Book Uncle and Me (International Literacy Association Social Justice Literature Award, USBBY Outstanding International Book) and Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh (Asian Pacific American Librarians Award, FOCAL Award). She was born in New Delhi, India, and now lives in British Columbia, Canada. To learn more, visit her website: umakrishnaswami.org.

Review: First, happy book birthday!!!!!! 🎉 

In the Author’s Note, Krishnaswami notes, “Then, in 2008, I read The End of Empires: African Americans and India by historian and African American studies professor Gerald Horne. It was an eye-opener. I was born in India and I’d lived in the United States for nearly thirty years, but in neither country had I ever learned this history.” As I’ve noted over and over again when I review nonfiction or historical fiction, it is only through brilliant books that I have learned true history as my history classes were so US-centered that we hardly learn anything other than basic history about the world and it is so white-washed that even when slavery or Civil Rights is covered, it very much focuses on the successes. It is because of this that I am so thankful that books like this exist and allow me to share the erased history with students. Because even with Martin Luther King Jr., who all are familiar with, there is so much of him and his journey and point of view that are erased in history books. 

Everything I learned about India’s history was from some books before I read this: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, I am Gandhi (both picture book & graphic novel) by Brad Meltzer, and A Taste of Freedom: Gandhi and the Great Salt March by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. That was all of my prior knowledge, so I was taken aback by the breadth of India’s history that I was ignorant about. Krishnaswami did a brilliant job telling about Gandhi’s personal life while also teaching about Indian history. In the second half of the book, we switch to Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the racial injustices happening in the United States. Again, the book focuses not only on King’s personal life but the history of the US at the time as well. I learned so much in this book. It made me think, reflect, get angry, cry, and have purpose for continuing with a focus on anti-racism. 

Uma Krishnaswami does a beautiful job using the imagery of threads figuratively throughout this book to tie Gandhi and King through their views on peace and nonviolence as well as Gandhi and King to the histories they helped shape. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: There is so much to discuss in this book! I could see parts of it being used to supplement curriculum, I could see it being used AS the curriculum, I could see it being used as a resource for research, I could see it being an independent reading book for an interested student…. It has endless potential. 

  • Why would the author choose thread to be the figurative imagery in the book? 
  • Although Gandhi and King both were focused on equality and nonviolence, they differed in many ways also–how so? 
  • In both cases, Gandhi and King continued their work despite potentially putting their family in danger. Why would they do this? 
  • How was India’s reach for freedom similar to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States? 
  • Both Gandhi and King had assassination attempts multiple times in their life. They both did not want their attackers charged–why not? What does this tell you about them? 
  • In the end they were both assassinated, how did hatred, fear, and ignorance lead to both of their deaths? 
  • Both had such strong women as wives. How did both women help support their husband’s mission? 
  • Do you believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would have the same beliefs without Gandhi pathing the way? 

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 25: Spinning New Threads of Peace”

To spin thread on a spilling wheel like the one Gandhi designed when he was in jail, you bein with a roll of fluffy, carded cotton. In the Hindi language, this is called pooni. You attach the pooni to a length of thread looped around a small metal spindle. You hold the fluffy cotton loosely in one hand and draw it slowly, outward and upward, to arm’s length. With your other hand, you turn a flat wheel. A few turns clockwise, then a quarter turn counterclockwise, over and over, until the rhythm takes hold of you and you no longer have to link about it. 

It takes patience. It takes time. Each had has to learn to do its work without getting distracted. 

At first, the cotton drifts apart. The yarn is not twisted enough. This it’s twisted too tightly. It breaks. The spindle falls off its course. The cord that drives the spinning wheel slips from its grove. But slowly, slowly, if you keep at it, the thousands of fibers contained within a single handful of cotton begin to twist around one another, becoming one, united and strong enough to endure. The cotton springs to life, and a thread begins to form! Only inches of it, but it is real cotton thread. 

The threads of peace movements are like that. They continue to spin outward over and over, long after they have been created. 

In April 1968, after Dr. King’s assassination, the Chicago Sun-Times published this cartoon: 

Look at Gandhi, seated on the floor, his hand outstretched, making his point to an attentive Dr. King. You’d think they were old friends. There they are in this alternate reality, perhaps even in the artist’s imagined heaven, reminding us that the voices of peacemakers can resonate long after they are gone. 

Although they never met, Gandhi and King were kindred spirits. Gandhi was aware of racial injustice in the United States and hoped that Black American would create their own nonviolent movement. 

Martin Luther King Jr. read books by and about Gandhi. He knew people who had met Gandhi. Gandhi’s teaching supported King’s own beliefs that grew out of the love of family, of community, of Jesus. King integrated Gandhian methods and principles into the work of his life, much as he did with the Christian gospel.”

Read This If You Love: I am Gandhi (both picture book & graphic novel) by Brad Meltzer; A Taste of Freedom: Gandhi and the Great Salt March by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel; Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson; Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport; Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford; Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan; March trilogy by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Ramée; The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Recommended For: 

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

 

Blog Tour with Giveaway, Educators’ Guide, and Review: The House That Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold

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The House That Wasn’t There
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Published March 30th, 2021 by Walden Pond Books

Summary: Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California. And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood between his house and the one next door. That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts the tree down.

Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.

As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together.

At least not without each other’s help.

Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold returns with an unforgettable story of the strange, wondrous threads that run between all of us, whether we know they’re there or not.

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.

Praise for The House That Wasn’t There:

“In this luminous story full of mystery and magic, Elana K. Arnold weaves a shimmering tapestry about the lovely and surprising ways we’re connected to each other. Heart-healing, hopeful, and wonderfully inventive, this beautiful novel by a master storyteller is not to be missed.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan

“Told through alternating perspectives that offer clearly rendered details, this compassionate novel gives a unique twist to familiar situations—feeling lonely, adjusting to new environments, forging new bonds—while inviting readers to open their imaginations to all sorts of wonderful possibilities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The author enriches her sparely told story with hints of magic, song lyrics, good choices that key sudden sea changes in several relationships, and the small background details that make settings and backstories seem real. A low-key marvel rich in surprises, small fuzzy creatures, and friendships old and new.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review: I love what Elana K. Arnold can do with a story! She is brilliant when it comes to weaving in secondary stories that often have way more impact than the reader realizes and for building secondary characters that leave a lasting impression.

In The House That Wasn’t There, I was struck with this talent again as I followed Alder’s and Oak’s life as they collide suddenly at the beginning of 6th grade and how their school project, a walnut tree, a dead possum, and adopted kittens all intertwine to help tell their story. The reader at times will wonder why certain things are happening or why something is being mentioned and then BAM it is revealed. It is quite fun to read! And with a bit of magical realism thrown in just for fun, a seemingly “normal” story becomes an extraordinary one!

It was also quite interesting how Arnold set up the chapters, alternating between Alder and Oak but in 3rd person. It helped keep the POV clear while also showing the reader a bit more about each of the character’s lives.

And finally: A shout out to Beck for not being what was expected; Faith for having a name, being a part of the story instead of the background, and being wonderful; and Mr. Rivera for being an innovative teacher that promotes collaboration, cross-curricular activities, and outside of the box thinking!

Educators’ Guide: 

Flagged Passages: Preview the first two chapters from the publisher: READ A SAMPLE

Read This If You Love: A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano YoungBrave in the Woods by Tracy HolczerQuintessence by Jess Redman, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, The Trouble with Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra

Recommended For: 

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Don’t Miss the Other Stops on the Blog Tour!

March 28 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
March 29 YAYOMG @yayomgofficial
March 30 Unleashing Readers @UnleashReaders
March 31 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read
April 2 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke
April 7 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl
April 10 A Library Mama @librarymama
April 12 Storymamas @storymamas

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

Brave in the Woods by Tracy Holczer

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Brave in the Woods
Author: Tracy Holczer
Published January 5th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.

Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.

Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.

From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope.

About the Author: Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. The Secret Hum of a Daisy was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found there if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. Following her debut, Everything Else in the Universe was published, and  Brave in the Woods is her third novel.

Praise: 

★ “This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. . . Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. . . Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journalstarred review

“Holczer’s clear, gentle prose allows the emotional and descriptive elements of the text to shine in this multilayered road-trip story . . . A thoughtful exploration of grief, family lore, and human connection.” —Kirkus Reviews

“By turns heartbreaking and humorous, this is a story that hints at the possibility of magic while remaining rooted in real-world problems and relationships. There is love and hope amid the grief and confusion, just as the Grimm tales contain both wonders and horrors in their own right. A heartfelt lesson on the power of love and the tales we tell ourselves.” —Booklist

Review: Brave in the Woods is the story of grief, hope, true friendship, love, and truth. With Holczer’s brilliance of story telling, just about every emotion is felt while reading this novel as Juni goes through all of the emotions alongside us. And with just a dash of magical realism, the story has a magical feeling weaved throughout it from beginning to end.

Add to these emotions a road trip, fun and unique characters, a dog (and a ornery cat), and a quirky family history, and you have a must read middle grade novel for so many readers who need this story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Juni’s family legend says that they are related to the Grimm Brothers, so there are allusions to the Grimm fairy tales throughout the book. Use these to introduce and discuss allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the author chose a stag throughout the novel?
  • Why was it so important to Juni to get Elsie?
  • Which of the characters who helped Juni along the way do you like the best? Why?
  • How are Juni and Anya alike?
  • How are each of the characters grieving differently?
  • How does the author compare bees and asthma?
  • How does the author use the setting like a character to drive the plot?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Velvet Bones

Juniper felt it when her brother disappeared.

She was certain of this.

Oddly, her lungs didn’t go all wonky the way they sometimes did when bad things happened. Like a hive of bees inside her chest, using up every bit of her breath with their buzzing and swarming.

That feeling would come later.”

Read This If You Love: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, Other Tracy Holczer novels

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A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliot, Illustrated by Noa Denmon

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A Place Inside of Me
Author: Zetta Elliot
Illustrator: Noa Denmon
Published: July 21, 2020 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: In this powerful, affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year.

There is a place inside of me
a space deep down inside of me
where all my feelings hide.

Summertime is filled with joy―skateboarding and playing basketballuntil his community is deeply wounded by a police shooting. As fall turns to winter and then spring, fear grows into anger, then pride and peace.

In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of a child’s experiences following a police shooting―through grief and protests, healing and community―with washes of color as vibrant as his words.

Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers―children and adults alike―talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us.

My Review: Whew. This is a powerful text that is accessible to all ages. I could imagine reading this to a class of elementary schoolers, and I could imagine reading it aloud to a group of adults. The book is a poem that reads in layers. It offers a surface-level understanding for beginning readers and also offers a rich conception and application for more mature readers. Following a police shooting, the narrator feels a wealth of very real emotions, and each spread navigates the emotions with beautifully woven language and powerful images. I believe that Zetta Elliot is one of the greatest authors of our time, and I felt this book in my gut. It is a must read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this text to unpack the many levels of emotions that students experience with events. One way to use this book is to ask students to pick a recent event and write a poem about the varied emotions they felt (or feel) regarding the event.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the author and illustrator depict the emotions within the text?
  • What nuances do you see in the different emotions?
  • How can we use this text to enact change in our community?

Flagged Passage: 

 

Read This If You Love: I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, You Matter by Christian Robinson, I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët

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Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

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Sofia is an 8-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia will share her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

This book is entertaining for ages young and old and is very sweet. It is called…The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds! This picture book has been recommended to me by my little sister and she loves the illustrations. I do too. I recommend this book to teachers and parents for read alouds for any age.

I am going to tell you what my family thinks about this book. My sister says “I love everything about this book!” My dad says “It’s a good book!”(Translated out of my dad’s language that means amazeballs!) My mom says “This book is beautiful beyond words!” And I think it definitely deserves a review!

Jerome collects words. Some words catch his interest. Some are multi-syllable while some have only one syllable. Jerome writes these words on tiny scraps of paper and sticks those scraps into the fitting book for the word. For example, the word Peru would go in a book called Geography. But one day Jerome slips and his words get mixed up! After that he sees words in a different way. He makes poems and songs with his words and they delight people.

I love this book because it teaches wonderful lessons. For example the book teaches that small nice words can make people’s day. I also like this book because of its eye catching illustrations. The illustrations are by the author, Peter H. Reynolds, and I think he did a quite lovely job. Happy reading!

If you love the lessons this book teaches, the wonderful illustrations and are just wanting to get another of Peter H. Reynolds books, then I definitely recommend The Dot by him.

**Thank you, Sofia, for your continued brilliance. You inspire us!**