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

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Brian, for your review!

It Fell From the Sky by the Fan Brothers

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It Fell From the Sky
By the Fan Brothers
Published: September 28, 2021 by Simon & Schuster

Summary: From the creators of the critically acclaimed The Night Gardener and Ocean Meets Sky comes a whimsical and elegantly illustrated picture book about community, art, the importance of giving back—and the wonder that fell from the sky.

It fell from the sky on a Thursday.

None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.

Spider builds a wonderous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore?

But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?

Review: I cannot get enough of this book. I just want to hug it every time I see it. The story and illustrations work in a way that is simply magical. Their talent is simply remarkable. When an object falls from the sky (“A marble!” -My 7-year-old), the insects are convinced it must be from another world. Spider decides to develop a display and invites the insects far and wide. They merely need to pay a leaf to see the object. But spider learns an important lesson—one that serves as a good reminder to all of us. I loved this book and expect it to see some awards. It dazzled me.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might to ask students to choose an object to examine from a different perspective than their own. They could write their own picture books.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the creators of the book use color to enhance their story?
  • How do the creators of the story use personification to teach a lesson?
  • What do we learn from this story? What does the spider teach us?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers; What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada; What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada; Magic Candies by Heena Baek; The Caiman by María Eugenia Manrique; Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett; Hug Machine by Scott Campbell

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Beth from Simon & Schuster for Providing a Copy for Review!**

Giveaway and Review!: Magic Candies by Heena Baek, Translated by Sophie Bowman

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Magic Candies
Author: Heena Baek
Translator: Sophie Bowman
Published: September 1, 2021 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Summary: A quirky story about finding your voice, from internationally acclaimed author Heena Baek.

Tong Tong could never have imagined what everyone around him was thinking. But when he gets hold of some magic candies, suddenly there are voices everywhere. He can hear how his couch feels, what upsets his dog, that his demanding dad loves him. He even gets to catch up with his dead grandmother. It turns out, these voices in Tong Tong’s life have A LOT to say! Is Tong Tong ready to hear it?

At turns funny, weird, and heartfelt, this imaginative picture book from award-winning Korean author Heena Baek will take readers along on Tong Tong’s journey as he goes from lonely to brave.

★“Show-stopping spreads by Baek, similar to art by Red Nose Studio, feature molded, emotive figures in meticulously constructed scenery with miniature furniture, photographed under dramatic lighting—an effect startlingly close to animation. It’s a fully realized world that considers discerning meaning and making friends, while offering artwork that lingers in the memory.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“The enhanced artwork establishes depth and perspective…depictions of facial expressions are skillful and endearing, and the interplay between text and illustrations will cause readers to linger and ponder. An enigmatic, quirky representation of an active imagination in search of understanding and companionship.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Deeply touching, funny, and incredibly odd, this is the kind of picture book that gets you excited about picture books all over again…Magic Candies is so remarkable…a book that is both about giving voice to the voiceless and finding your own.” —Betsy Bird, School Library Journal

Heena Baek is an acclaimed picture book author and illustrator from South Korea. She won the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, a huge international award honoring the body of work of children’s book creators. She studied educational technology at Ewha Womans University and animation at the California Institute of the Arts. Utilizing her diverse animation production experience, Heena creates powerful and interesting picture books, often sculpting characters and building sets. She is the author and illustrator of a number of picture books, many of which have been translated and have received awards from South Korea and internationally. Follow her on Twitter @heenastory. On Instagram: @baekheena

Sophie Bowman is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, studying Korean literature. She was awarded the ICF Literature Translation Fellowship at Ewha Womans University. In 2015, she won the Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award grand prize for poetry with her translations of Jin Eun-young and co-translated Kim Bo-Young’s I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories. Follow her on Twitter @SophieOrbital.

Review: I was fortunate to receive this book about a month ago, and I have read it at least one hundred times to my children. They just can’t get enough of the quirkiness, and neither can I. After my very first reading, I immediately flipped to the first page to read it again. It’s a really neat book that sparks readers’ imaginations. The kids and I love to debate about which sculpture/illustration is our favorite. This book reminds me why I love picture books so much. It’s difficult to describe, but it offers a sense of magic for me. The main character’s words and actions bring out so many emotions for me. I felt simultaneous humor and sadness when he speaks to his grandmother through bubble gum under the table, for instance. The book is such a fascinating concept, and the author/illustrator is incredibly talented.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might to ask students to use clay to sculpt and write a missing spread with a different colored candy in the book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author make the narrator come alive?
  • How does the candies differ? Evolve?
  • What is the dog’s name? Why is this interesting?
  • What does this book teach you about being human?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Caiman by María Eugenia Manrique; Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett; Hug Machine by Scott Campbell; Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

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!**

This Book is Gray by Lindsay Ward

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The Day the Crayons Quit
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: December 1, 2019 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary:Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.

Ricki’s Review: I adored this book. I love stories about the underdog, and gray is definitely an underdog color! Fans who love The Day the Crayons Quit will absolutely love this story. It is very funny and a fantastic read aloud. There are many themes for discussion within the book. Kids might consider whose stories are missing as they think about gray’s emotions. They might also think about the other colors and how they are rude to gray and what this might feel like. The characterization of all of the colors offers much for discussion, too. Teachers and parents will love to read this aloud to children.

Kellee’s Review: As a daughter of an art teacher and art museum director, art education has always been important to me. I think the lack of art classes in elementary and secondary school as well as the push away from imagination in schools is a detriment to our children, so books like this give me so much hope! This book celebrates color education, creative writing, word play, and mood. It even pulls in social emotional learning with a focus on friendship and cooperation. Lindsay Ward did such a fantastic job with all of the elements of the story, and I cannot wait to share this book far and wide. It will be a fantastic read aloud in classrooms when discussing primary/secondary colors, story telling and mood, or even just to talk about how to work together. I cannot tell you enough how much you, your teacher friends, your parent friends, and all the kids you know need this book 🙂

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The possibilities of this text are very exciting. Teachers might have students choose a story of a lesser known or lesser considered character and have students develop their own fiction! They can share these stories and have a discussion about the people and things we don’t often consider.

Discussion Questions: How does gray feel? How do the other crayons make him feel?; How might you apply gray’s experiences to your own life?; How does the author make the book funny? How does this add to your experience as a reader?

We Flagged: “They never let me color! Just one tiny bit of GRAY? Is that so much to ask?”

You can also look inside the book HERE.

Read This If You Loved: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, The Dot and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Not a… series by Antoinette Portis, Art by Patrick McDonnell, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

Recommended For: 

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

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

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

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

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

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended For: 

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RickiSig

You Choose In Space: A New Story Every Time–What Will YOU CHOOSE? by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

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You Choose in Space
Author: Pippa Goodhart
Illustrator: Nick Sharratt
Published March, 2019 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: Zoom off into space for an adventure where you choose what happens next. Which alien would you most like to be friends with? And what fantastically freaky food will you decide to munch for lunch?

The possibilities are infinite in this mesmerizing creative toolkit which will inspire children to make their own stories time and again — it’s out of this world!

Ricki’s Review: The You Choose series books are easily among my favorite books to read to my kids. We take them on family vacations and visits with relatives and friends because we love to hear what our friends and family would choose. This is one of the best books to bring in car trips because kids can select a different ending every time! When this book came in the mail, my kids shrieked with joy. Since then, we’ve read it dozens of times. I love seeing how my kids’ tastes are different. There is also a lot of great classroom potential in these books (see below).

Kellee’s Review: I’m so glad that Ricki told me to review this You Choose book with her! She received the first one, but I was booked at the time, but she said that I could not let this chance pass, and I am so glad! It is a choose your own adventure book for the picture book age. It really does build up the story-telling capacity because it gives a foundation and lets the reader build up from there. It is such a fun book that is different every time, so a reader is never done!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You Choose in Space, Just Imagine, and You Choose make for fantastic texts for creative writing units and courses. As teachers, we know that students often struggle to get started, and paging through these books allows for wonderful story starters. I use these books to discuss teaching composition with preservice teachers, and I also use them for a unit about using picture books in the classroom. My students love these books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you choose? Why?
  • What did you NOT choose? Why?
  • Which page was your favorite? Why was the spread most interesting to you?
  • Did you notice any trends or patterns with your choices?

Ricki’s family reading one of the You Choose books on vacation: 

Flagged Spread:

Read This If You Loved: Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; Choose Your Own Journey by Susie Brooks and Tracy Cottingham; Story Path: Choose a Path, Tell a Story by Madalena Matoso; Where’s Will? by Tilly; I Want to Be… books by Ruby Brown

Recommended For: 

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 RickiSigand 

**Thank you to Lynn Kelley at Kane Miller Books for sending us this book!**

Blog Tour with Review and Giveaway!: What If…? Then We…: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Possibilities by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (Author) and Fred Koehler (Illustrator) #WhatIfThenWe

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What If…? Then We…: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Possibilities
Author: Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published February 19th, 2019 by Boyds Mills Press

Summary: Two polar bear friends have a thrilling adventure as they imagine solutions to a variety of possible situations; their story will show readers how to create their own tales in response to the question “What if…?” in this ingenious picture book. 

“What if . . . we got lost far, far, far away, and couldn’t find our way home? Then we would become the bravest explorers in the world.” So begin the adventures of two intrepid polar bears. Traveling on a ship imagined from an iceberg, the bears encounter magnificent sights and scary situations. When a city made of crayons melts, the bears use pencils to create a beautiful gray world. When all the words in the universe disappear, the bears invent their own language. When something really big and really scary happens, they whistle and hold hands until it’s not as big or scary anymore. And when they find their way back home, they’re ready to imagine a thousand more possibilities. 

This companion title to the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book One Day, The End. is ultimately a book about imagination, friendship, and finding possibilities in the smallest moments.

Follow Rebecca @Rebeccakai and Fred @Superfredd

Review: Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler are a super team! I love so many of their books without each other and their books together are only that much more special. Their imagination will take readers on adventures through places they’ve only dreamt of and will help them realize that their imagination can take them anywhere they can dream of. This newest book by the duo not only promotes imagination but also grit, courage, resilience, and friendship. These two polar bear cubs go on a fantastical adventure which will leave the readers wanting to know what is going to happen next. This book is full of possibilities in story that will be adored by so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: WRITING MENTOR TEXT ALERT! Two ideas: 1) Have students write and illustrate their own “What If…? Then We…” stories. 2) Have students illustrate the words in the original text showing what else the words could mean. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What if? Then We!
  • What other adventures could this story have been telling? 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler; Penguin books by Salina Yoon

Recommended For: 

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Don’t miss the other Blog Tour stops: 

Monday, 2/11                       Simply 7 Interview
Tuesday, 2/12                      Storymamas
Wednesday, 2/13                Librarian in Cute Shoes
Thursday, 2/14                    Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Friday, 2/15                          Miss Marple’s Musings
Monday, 2/18                      Bridget and the Books
Tuesday, 2/19                      Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme
Thursday, 2/21                    KidLit Frenzy
Friday, 2/22                         Unleashing Readers
                                                Book Seed Studio

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills for providing books for review and giveaway!**