The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

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The Pants Project
Author: Cat Clarke
Published March 1, 2017 by Sourcebooks Young Readers

Summary: A touching, humorous story of strong-willed eleven-year-old Liv, who is determined to challenge his school’s terrible dress code and change his life. Inspire empathy and compassion (and a few laughs!) in young readers with this stunning middle-grade novel.

Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.

“My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl. I’m transgender. Which is a bit like being a Transformer. Only not quite as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.”

Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.

Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.

“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”

I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me.
The issue was the first word. Girls.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy—it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Review: This book is a book about identity, but not completely about Liv’s gender identity. It is also about identity within a school, within a friend group, and within the greater system we are all in. With all of these identity journeys happening at once in the book, there is a lot of figurative bumps and bruises along the way in the form of losing friends, homophobic bullies, people stuck in their ways, and sexism; however, there is also some wonderful positives: a better friend who loves Live for who he is, no matter what; a family that is supportive and an example of what all families should be; teachers who are seen as allies within a system that not many are seen; and finding friends that feel like family.

On top of the identity journey, there is also the story of The Pants Project which showed Liv and other students fight a sexist part of their school’s system and doing it the right way.

All in all, it was a pleasure to read about Liv’s time starting middle school and all of the change he is able to make.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book tackles a healthy and practical way that students can make a difference. This book would be a great conversation about how to make a change that you want to see in a way that isn’t confrontational in a dangerous way.

The book will also find readers in school, classroom, and public libraries and book clubs!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is what Liv did to change his school’s policies go well? Not well?
  • How is Jacob a better friend than Maisie?
  • How were Liv’s parents supportive yet also tough on Liv?
  • Why do you think Jade acts and says the things she does? What do you think her consequences should be?
  • Do you agree how the news article was written? How would you have written the article?
  • Why did Mr. Lynch act the way he did during the protest? How do you think he wanted to act?
  • How would you feel if your dress code was as strict as Liv’s?
  • How was Liv’s first impression of Jacob wrong?
  • Did Jacob’s secret surprise you? What clues did you see? Why do you think he hid it?

Flagged Passages: “‘Hi, I’m Liv. What’s your name?’

The boy looked up at me, blinking slowly. He narrowed his eyes, acting as if I’d asked a really tough question. ‘Jacob. What kind of name is Liv anyways?’

I disliked him immediately. He was obviously one of those boys. The popular ones. His dark brown hair was messy, but not properly messy. It was the kind of messy that requires a lot of time spent in front of the mirror and loads of hair gunk. He was slouched in his seat, perfectly at ease, like there was no where he’d rather be. Whenever I sat that way at Gram’s house, she always told me to ‘sit up properly-like a lady.’ You can probably guess how much I enjoyed that.

The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope about Jacob was his eyes. They didn’t seem to be the eyes of a terrible person. There was kindness lurking there under the smirk.

I sat down next to him and shoved his leg so it was under his half of the table. Why do real boys always take up so much space? I mentally kicked myself. I don’t know when I’d started thinking of them as ‘real’ boys. I knew it was wrong; I wasn’t Pinnochio. I was as much a real boy as Jacob–even if no one else could see it yet.

‘It’s my kind of name.'” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Melissa by Alex Gino, Linked by Gordon Korman, Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Sourcebooks for providing a copy for review!**

Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution by Kacen Callender

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Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution
Author: Kacen Callender
Published: September 27, 2022 by Amulet

Summary: From National Book Award–winner Kacen Callender, a contemporary YA that follows Lark’s journey to speak the truth and discover how their own self-love can be a revolution

Lark Winters wants to be a writer, and for now that means posting on their social media accounts––anything to build their platform. When former best friend Kasim accidentally posts a thread on Lark’s Twitter declaring his love for a secret, unrequited crush, Lark’s tweets are suddenly the talk of the school—and beyond. To protect Kasim, Lark decides to take the fall, pretending they accidentally posted the thread in reference to another classmate. It seems like a great idea: Lark gets closer to their crush, Kasim keeps his privacy, and Lark’s social media stats explode. But living a lie takes a toll—as does the judgment of thousands of Internet strangers. Lark tries their best to be perfect at all costs, but nothing seems good enough for the anonymous hordes––or for Kasim, who is growing closer to Lark, just like it used to be between them . . .

In the end, Lark must embrace their right to their messy emotions and learn how to be in love.

Review: This is a beautiful book that has so much heart. It feels as if Kacen Callender put their whole soul into it. The characterization, in particular, stood out to me. Even minor characters feel very developed. The characters remind us of the imperfections that we all have, and the value of remembering that we won’t get everything right. I was particular impressed by the ways in which love is depicted throughout the text. It is vast and expansive and knows no rules or boundaries. The LGBTQ representation and attention to intersectionality was among the best I’ve read (and I read a lot of YAL). Callender also depicts the raw brutality that can come with social media. There were moments in this text where I felt sick to my stomach.

The word “revolution” is in the title, and there are many moments where readers are given space to explore conceptions and understanding of activism. I particularly liked that the revolution isn’t explicit, which made me think deeply long after I turned the last page of the text.

I loved this book, and I can’t wait to discuss it with others. I certainly have many pages flagged to read again and again!

As one side note, I couldn’t decide if this book was realistic fiction or if the splash of magical realism made it magical realism. I am not much of a genre sorter, but I thought I’d throw that out there in case you are. 😉

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The rep in this book! The rep! I wish I’d been exposed to more books with representation like this when I was in school. If I was teaching this book, I would introduce some of Crenshaw’s intersectionality articles to allow students to dive into these concepts together.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Lark learn in this book?
  • How does Kasim develop as a character?
  • What do we, the readers, learn from Sable?
  • What did you learn (or think about) related to social media?
  • How are the characters in this book imperfectly human?

Flagged Passage: “That feeling when you read the last line of a book that you love? I can’t think of a lonelier feeling in the world.”

Read This If You Loved:  Books by Kacen Callender,

Recommended For:

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Review and Giveaway!: A Dream of Birds by Shenaz Patel, Illustrated by Emmanuelle Tchoukriel, Translated by Edwige-Renée Dro

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A Dream of Birds
Author: Shenaz Patel
Illustrator: Emmanuelle Tchoukriel; Translator: Edwige-Renée Dro
Published August 16, 2022 by Amazon Crossing

Summary: Sara has a thing for birds. They remind her of her grandfather, who loved birds, and the wonderful show the creatures would put on in his yard each day―like a cloud of colorful flowers carried by the wind.

As Sara walks to school in her island town, she longs for the freedom of those birds. Then she spots a new birdhouse full of parakeets in someone’s yard. Sara feels drawn to them and unable to forget them. So what happens the next time, when she finds the door to the birdhouse unlocked?

With poetic language and beautiful art, this story set on the African island of Mauritius brings to life a little girl’s deep love of nature, her brash but well-meaning choice, and ultimately, her redemption and dream for a better world.

About the Creators:

Shenaz Patel was born and lives on Mauritius Island. She has several jobs: journalist, playwright, novelist, and translator, and she is also a comics and children’s book author. She has written nine books for children, including A Dream of Birdswhich was first published in French and English in Mauritius and France. She was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2013, a high honor given by the French minister of culture.

Emmanuelle Tchoukriel was born and lives in France. Passionate about nature, she studied visual communication before entering the Estienne School in Paris. She specialized in scientific drawing, and she excels in illustrating flora and fauna. On Instagram: @emanuelle_tchoukriel

Edwige-Renée Dro is a writer, translator, and literary activist from the Ivory Coast, in Africa. Her writings have been published in anthologies such as New Daughters of Africa and Africa39, among others. She has judged many literary prizes, including the PEN International New Voices Award and the Etisalat Prize for Literature. She was awarded the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2018 and is a 2021 resident of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Learn more at edwigedro.wordpress.com. Twitter: @DroEdwige; Facebook: Renée Edwige Dro

Ricki’s Review: For me, this beautiful translation is about freedom and preservation. It reminds readers to pause and pay attention to the world around them and to act. It allows readers opportunities to evaluate the decisions they have made in their lives and the impact they have. It also allows readers to consider the lessons they have learned throughout their lives. A Dream of Birds celebrates the diversity of birds in Mauritius, an African island in the Indian Ocean, and it celebrates the passion and commitment of a child.

I loved how the backmatter gave more background of the story. This book is a translation, and there are more words on the page than stories I’d typically find in US households. Yet my kids (ages 8, 5, and 3) sat and listened to the story without breaking their gaze. They were drawn in by the onomatopoeias, the engaging story, and the bright illustrations. We need more international literature in our schools and homes, and this book shines brightly.

Kellee’s Review: Sara’s story is multi-faceted. It is a story of captivity and longing and family and memories. It is a story of beauty and nature and freedom and dreams. It is also a story of reality and consequences.

The story looks at Sara who meets a man with pet birds which reminds her of feeding wild flocks of birds with her grandfather. She hates seeing the captured books, all wings and beauty, not allowed to be free, so she makes a rash decision and frees the birds. Although her motives are made clear, her mother also explains to her that it was wrong to let domesticated birds go–this is a good lesson because it distinguishes between a well meaning action and a well thought out positive action. The book ends with a celebration of the diverse birds on Mauritius, an African Island in the Indian Ocean, and a reminder to celebrate animals’ wildness.

Although the narrative was a bit wordy for me at some points, the beautiful illustrations make the reader want to savor each page which helps move you through Sara’s story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might use this book as a jumping off point to learn more about Mauritius, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. They could pick a specific topic of exploration related to their interests.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Sara learn? Do you agree with the decisions she made?
  • What did you learn about Mauritius, Africa, and/or the Indian Ocean?
  • What lessons have you learned in your life?
  • What birds do you observe around your home?
  • Why was it wrong for Sara to let the birds go? Were her intentions good or bad?
  • Why is it important to leave wild animals wild?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Birds, Animals, Environment

Giveaway:

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Recommended For: 

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

Instagram: @blue_slip_media; Facebook: Blue Slip Media

Warrior Princess: The Story of Khutulun by Sally Deng

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Warrior Princess: The Story of Khutulun
Author and Illustrator: Sally Deng
Published: August 23, 2022 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary: This picture book follows the life of the great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan, a princess who could rule on the battlefield as well as—or better—than any soldier, and when faced with a potential marriage, learns that sometimes the best way to serve one’s community is to stay true to oneself.

Ricki’s Review: This creative nonfiction text shares what we know about the life of Khutulun, great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan. She was a princess who had never been defeated in a wrestling match and was a force on the battlefield. When she is forced to marry, she agrees that she will only do so if a man can defeat her in a wrestling match. If they lose, they owe her family ten horses. I really, really enjoyed reading this story. I started reading it to two of my sons, and my third son creeped on over because he was listening and was hooked. It is captivating! The characters are well drawn and the pacing is perfect. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would inspire students to research and learn more about Khutulun and Genghis Khan. Teachers might include other books that creatively imagine people of the past to talk about writers craft and agency in reimagining people of our past.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In what ways does Khutulun show strength?
  • What important decisions does she make in the text? Why does she make it?
  • What themes does this text teach you?

Flagged Spread:

Read This If You Love: Creative nonfiction, historical fiction, autobiographies, reading about historical figures

 

**Thank you, Macmillan for sending an advanced reading copy for an honest review!**

Guest Review: Magyk by Angie Sage

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Guest Reviewer: Grace, UCF Elementary Education Student

Magyk (Septimus Heap Book One)
Author: Angie Sage
Published March 2nd, 2005 by Bloomsbury Publishing

Summary: The first part of this enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells, and a yearning to uncover the mystery at the heart of this story…who is Septimus Heap?

The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?

Angie Sage writes in the tradition of great British storytellers. Her inventive fantasy is filled with humor and heart: Magyk will have readers laughing and begging for more.

About the Author: Angie Sage began her career illustrating books, and then started writing – first toddler books, later chapter books and then the masterful Septimus Heap. She lives in a fifteenth-century house in Somerset. She has two grown-up daughters.

Review: Magyk is an interesting fantasy adventure that provides children an alternative to the increasingly controversial Harry Potter series. It has themes of wizardry/magic and adventure and focuses on a small group of young characters that age throughout the series.

Magyk and the rest of the Septimus Heap series promotes gender equality as it has several strong female characters and shows women in positions of power without questioning from other characters. In addition, this book and its series promote friendships between characters not only of different genders but of different backgrounds and races.

This book also has strong themes of found-family as well as other complicated family relationships that can be comforting to children without a more traditional nuclear family structure. One of the main characters, Jenna, has been adopted and struggles with her relationships with her non-adopted siblings. This is explored further in later books in the series when she meets her biological father and learns the identity of her birth mother.

The series associated with Magyk grows with its reader as Septimus, the main character, ages throughout the series. The books introduce increasingly mature themes over time, introducing readers to new ideas as they are ready for them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book touches upon the idea of found family. This theme could be implemented in the classroom to help students better understand the importance of relationships between themselves and those around them. Highlighting the importance of the people we surround ourselves with and the aid they can provide is an important lesson to learn as it gives us strength to go about our day.

This book also teaches students to trust themselves and bare more responsibility as time goes by. Throughout the book, the characters discover that true power comes from themselves. It is only by trusting themselves and working hard that can they achieve their goals. This teaches students the importance of a good work ethic and how you have to work in order to achieve your goals. By adding additional responsibilities to characters throughout the book you can see how their wants and needs change over time however, this does not take away from the goals and aspirations they want to achieve.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Although Jenna is not related to the Heaps by blood she is raised as their daughter. How does Jenna’s relationship with her parents differ from that of her “siblings”?
  • Boy 412 and Jenna both have complicated pasts. How does their relationship change throughout the book as they learn more about themselves and each other?
  • How does Boy 412 relationships with others vary compared to how other children in the book make relationships?
  • How do the circumstances in which Jenna and Boy 412 discover their identities vary? How does this affect how they react to the news?
  • Boy 412 was raised in a militaristic environment, how does this shape the person he has become? If he was raised in a different environment do you think his personality would be different?
  • How do Marcia, Sarah, Zelda, and Silas treat the children differently? Why do you believe they have such different approaches?

Flagged Passages: 

“Oh it’s a pebble… But it’s a really nice pebble Dad thanks.”

Read This If You Love: Books about witches/wizards, Books that age with you

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Grace, for your review!!

 

Review and Giveaway!: Pink Is Not a Color by Lindsay Ward

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Pink Is Not A Color
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: July 1, 2022 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Pink finds happiness right where she always knew it was in this colorful companion to the popular picture book This Book Is Gray.

Pink loves her rosy world, from her pink toy dinosaur to her pet flamingo, Phil. But when she sees the Primaries and Secondaries getting ready for the Rainbow Extravaganza, she begins to wonder why she isn’t in the rainbow…and if that means she’s not really a color. Then she meets the Tints, and she’s even more confused. Luckily, a friend shows her the many ways she spreads joy—reminding Pink that she is truly one of a kind, rainbow or not.

Featuring the world of colors introduced in This Book Is Gray—and a few new color concepts—this is a tale about appreciating who you are and realizing that only you can decide what makes you happy.

“Ward’s cast of colors, pink-cheeked and wearing accessories, speak in color-coded speech bubbles; appropriately, pink hues dominate the exuberant art. A rosy take on selfhood.” ―Kirkus Reviews

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as Between the Lines, Scooper and Dumper, Rosie: Stronger than Steel, This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio with her husband, three boys, one dog, and eight ducks. When she’s not drawing, Lindsay loves to bake. Pink-frosted cupcakes are her favorite. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward
Instagram: lindsaymward

Check out activities and more here on Lindsay Ward’s website!

Ricki’s Review: Lindsay Ward is simply an incredible author/illustrator. She takes a concept that is deceivingly simple (the color pink) and connects it with readers through big themes of not fitting in. I have read this book to my son (whose favorite color is pink) so many times, and each time, we are able to have a discussion about his personal connections to the text. When I dropped him off to his new classroom, we talked about Pink and how she might feel in that moment, and how she was very brave. This is one of those books that will appeal to readers of all ages because it captures a complex concept (colors versus tints) that will teach readers something new, and it has so much heart that will ring loudly for all readers. I recommend it highly! (Side note: Her Dexter T. Rexter series is one of my favorites. Her books are just so fun to read aloud!)

Kellee’s Review: I want to start with the backmatter of this book. I love how it shows the research process behind Lindsay’s book and how one piece of information led to more research which led to Pink is Not a Color. It seems so much like a passion project which makes me love how that could show students the power of research and the creative process. And the research is so interesting! The science behind colors is so much more than most realize, and I love this introduction. I’d love to pair this book with Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky to look at the history AND the science of color. Pink is NOT a Color will also pair with This Book is Gray which shows how Lindsay Ward is making a canon of color books that are so much fun to read and even more fun to learn from.

Readers will love Pink’s personality and will definitely connect with her as she figures out her place in the world through the help of some friends, some discovery, and some reflection.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is one of those books that makes us really, really want to work with younger children. And yet, it is great for all ages! We would love to read this book in tandem with other identity stories like This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward and Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. Each offers an important message about ourselves but does so through color.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does the author convey the message implicitly and explicitly?
  • Is Pink happy? Where does Pink find happiness?
  • Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in? What did you do?

Flagged Spreads:

Giveaway!:

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Read This If You Loved: This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Recommended For: 

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

Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers edited by Rose Brock

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Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers
Editor: Rose Brock
Published: May 10, 2022 by Philomel

Summary: In a collection of personal stories and essays, award-winning and bestselling artists from Matt de la Peña and Veera Hiranandani to Max Brallier and R.L. Stine write about how hope always wins, even in the darkest of times.

Where does hope live?
In your family?
In your community?
In your school?
In your heart?


From a family restaurant to a hot-dog shaped car, from an empty road on a moonlight night to a classroom holiday celebration, this anthology of personal stories from award-winning and bestselling authors, shows that hope can live everywhere, even–or especially–during the darkest of times.

No matter what happens: Hope wins.

Contributors include: Tom Angleberger, James Bird, Max Brallier, Julie Buxbaum, Pablo Cartaya, J.C. Cervantes, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Stuart Gibbs, Adam Gidwitz, Karina Yan Glaser, Veera Hiranandani, Hena Khan, Gordon Korman, Janae Marks, Sarah Mlynowski, Rex Ogle, James Ponti, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Ronald L.Smith, Christina Soontornvat, and R.L. Stine.

Ricki’s and Kellee’s Review: We love that Rose Brock decided to take the idea of Hope Nation and create a version for younger readers because all ages need to hear stories from those they look up. This is especially true about stories that are filled with adversity and hope. Usually with anthologies from various authors, we find ourselves liking only some of the stories and finding that others are dragging; however, with this text, we found that each story fit purposefully in the book. And because of the purposeful choices, every reader will find something in the book to connect with and will learn a little bit of something from each story.

Although we liked all the stories, we did have some favorites:
-Pablo Cartaya speaks from the heart and definitely made us cry (and clap for the young lady who we know inspired one of Kellee’s favorite books, Each Tiny Spark);
-James Bird shows that there is hope even in the darkest of times and the power of a strong support system;
-J.C. Cervantes shared how a teacher changed everything even if the teacher nor the student realize it at the time;
-Adam Gidwitz writes about what so many of us have felt at one time or another, and we felt it deep in the gut;
-Christina Soontornvat shows what life can teach that school cannot;
-Stuart Gibbs tells the truth about adversity and absolute grief;
-Janae Marks speaks to how hopes and dreams can lead to different hopes and dreams, you just need patience;
-Gordon Korman speaks about that feeling of revision and the emotional roller coaster that come with it;
-Hena Khan speaks about what it means to feel different and to want to share a piece of ourselves with others;
-Sarah Mlynowski writes about the powerful bond of sisterhood and the feeling of being far from those we love; and
-James Ponti showed how even in middle school you can stand up for who you want to be, and the power of names and naming.

Although the diversity of stories and authors is vast and all readers will find something to connect with, we did wish there were a few more queer stories in the collection. With the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we are particularly thinking about this topic. This could be supplemented by teachers with other essays beyond the collection.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book easily lends itself to a personal narrative unit or a college essay unit. Both of these are very prevalent in curricula, which makes this book a phenomenal fit. Ricki showed the first chapter to her neighbor who is writing her college essay, and it inspired a great discussion.

Discussion Questions:  

  • What is hope?
  • Where and how do we seek hope?
  • When have you found hope in your life?
  • Which stories resonated with you? Why?

Flagged: “The daily reminder of how our own lives can be turned upside down made me realize why it’s so important to hang on to hope. It’s not always an easy thing to do—sometimes, it feels downright impossible—but the thing I know is that difficult times in life come and go; with those experiences, we grow as people. The key is to find ways to motivate and inspire our spirits—stories of hope can do that” (n.p.)

Read This If You Love: Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock; The Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series; Essay Collections; Anthologies; Middle Grade Authors

Recommended For: 

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