Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs

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Sofia is a 10-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer, who started with us when she was 8 years old. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares 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,

When I saw this book I was immediately hooked to it and got it straight away. It turned out I was right and the book was amazing! Everybody, get ready for…Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs! This is a book that is action-packed and super fun at the same time! This book is recommended for ages 10+.

Charlie is a child genius. She is a stubborn one, but still a child genius.  A couple of decades before the story takes place Albert Einstein hides a precious equation, called Pandora, which would make the building of bombs far easier. Albert knew that humanity was not ready for this equation because if it got into the wrong hands, the world could, and probably would, be destroyed. As you might have guessed, all of the spy organizations in every country are looking for it. When the CIA finds Charlie, they ask her to join their team and she says yes. They tell her that a group of terrorists is focused on getting the equation, and they need Charlie to find Pandora before them.

I love this book so much because of the feeling of mystery. I have always liked mystery books. While reading this book I was thinking a lot about finding Pandora, and it was really fun to piece the clues together. Happy deducting!

**Thanks so much, Sofia! We love books that incorporate interdisciplinary subjects like math!**

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found by Laurel Snyder

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Charlie & Mouse
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Expected Publication August 23, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: It’s puppy love! This latest continuation of the award-winning Charlie & Mouse early chapter book series will delight newly independent readers. Lost and Found is full of relatable trials (a lost blanket), surprises (a lost dog), and delights (a new puppy!) and overflows with the series’ signature humor and heart.

Charlie and Mouse are finding surprises in all sorts of unexpected places. After Mouse’s beloved blanket is lost and then found, they find a lost dog (and eventually her owner), seek out some ice cream, and discover a new puppy friend to take home at last.

BROTHERS ARE THE BEST: The Charlie & Mouse books show a sibling friendship and a family dynamic that is kind as well as playful.

AN ANIMAL LOVER’S DELIGHT: Featuring not one but two dogs—one very big and one very small—this fifth book in the Charlie & Mouse series makes a wonderful gift for any canine-loving kid! From going on walks to snuggling up together at the end of a long day, the furry friends in these sweet and silly stories are sure to enchant young animal enthusiasts.

IDEAL FOR NEWLY INDEPENDENT READERS: The interconnected but distinct short stories in this book offer an accessible transition for readers who are just moving into longer books, especially for reluctant readers.

HUMOR WITH HEART: The Charlie & Mouse books bring a fresh, humorous, and heartwarming approach to central themes to which readers of all ages can relate: imagination, creativity, play, and family are fondly celebrated in each of these stories.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS: Charlie and Mouse are mixed-race Japanese characters growing up in Hawaii, a setting inspired by the childhood of up-and-coming Asian-American artist Emily Hughes. Every book of this early chapter book series offers an opportunity for young children of many different backgrounds to see themselves reflected in the stories they love.

Perfect for:

• Newly independent readers
• Parents
• Dog lovers

Ricki’s Review: Ahhh, I will read every Charlie & Mouse book that is ever published. This series has captured my heart. In this edition, there’s a lost blanket (Mouse’s) and lost dog. Charlie & Mouse care for the dog and eventually find its owners. There’s just something really special about Charlie & Mouse, as characters. They are charming and sweet, and I just can’t get enough of them. I highly recommend this series for early readers. The books remind me of an updated Frog and Toad in so many ways—the pictures, word spacing, humor, friendship, and charming characters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: These books beg readers to write their own fan fiction—their own Charlie & Mouse stories. Teachers could allow students to work together or in groups and then bind them together in a class book.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What happens to Charlie and Mouse in this book?
  • How does the author use humor to make the story enjoyable to read?
  • What do Charlie and Mouse do with the dog?
  • What does this book teach you?

We Flagged:

“Blanket is missing,” said Mouse after lunch.

“Oh no,” said Charlie. “Where did you leave him?”

“If I knew that,” said Mouse, “he would not be missing.”

Read This If You Love: The previous Charlie & Mouse Books (See Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3); Frog & Toad series; Books About Friendship; Early Readers Books

Recommended For: 

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Don’t miss out on this one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Guide with Teachers’ Tools & Discussion Questions: 

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

You can also access the teaching guide here.

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

Recommended For: 

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Educators’ Guide for The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

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The Rock from the Sky
Author & Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: April 13, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Look up!

Turtle really likes standing in his favorite spot. He likes it so much that he asks his friend Armadillo to come over and stand in it, too. But now that Armadillo is standing in that spot, he has a bad feeling about it . . .

Here comes The Rock from the Sky, a meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Candlewick Press for The Rock from the Sky:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about The Rock in the Sky on Candlewick’s page.

Recommended For: 

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PlayShifu’s Plugo Letters, Count, and Link

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I am extremely excited to share this virtual-hands on learning system with you because my kids love it. Plugo offers a variety of learning options, and I elected to get their Letters, Count, and Link package. I chose the Letters kit by itself, and it came with a very high quality gameboard and alphabet kit (a lot of letters and a display that allows the app to read the letters). I also chose to get the Count and Link dual package, which also came with the gameboard, a three-spiked device named Spike, a lot of numbers that fit on spike, and magnetic patterned tiles for building. All of the materials are very well-made, and the app is very easy to download and follow (my three-year-old, for instance, figured it out immediately).

One thing I love about this system as opposed to other similar systems is that it adapts to the child’s age level. Each of my children have a profile with their grade level noted, and the app saves their progress.

I also like how well-made the product is. The magnets are strong, and the system feels very sturdy. My three-year-old has dropped several of the activity kits a few times, and they are still doing well.

Below, I share more details about each of the systems, all of which I recommend highly. As a family who is home for the summer (we’ve canceled all summer camps), this is what we’ve needed. The kids used to beg me for television, which we only use as a real treat, but now they beg me to play Plugo. This is much, much more exciting than their workbooks, and they love to engage in the varied games that each of the system offers.

Plugo Letters

An alphabet kit that goes beyond word-building. Develop grammar concepts like verbs, vowels, synonyms & more. Learn to spell & use new words through story-based games.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: language development, comprehension, storytelling

I love how my kids use this system and are reading and developing their language without even knowing it. I can hear them whispering the words as they sound them out. I see them trying out different vowels and experimenting with words.

Here, my 6-year-old spells out words along his pathway.

I thought my 3-year-old would be too young for the game, but sure enough, he played for almost an hour (when I cut him off).

The games are fun, and it goes all the way up to fifth grade. This is going to be a learning system that grows with our kids, and I am glad that they are learning letters and words through story. Rather than a video game, the app is more of a narrative that kids follow and stop at selected points to interact with the story using the letter tiles. If they get tired of a story, there are other games within the app to play!

Plugo Count

Traditional math made fun with an innovative hands-on approach. Plugo Count reinvents math with engaging stories that help kids understand and fall in love with numbers.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: math (+ – x /), problem-solving, logical reasoning

I love, love, love how this system adapts to the age level of the child, too. My 6-year-old loved playing the games and using operators like addition and subtraction. The repetition of the addition phrases is helping strengthen his memory of common equations. He goes through the story and learns math through authentic examples. I am looking forward to him being able to try out the multiplication and division operators in the future.

When my 3-year-old asked to play Count, I hesitated because I didn’t think he’d be able to play it. Imagine my relief when he started playing and the game asked him to count items in the story and complete the missing number (3, 4, 5, ___). I think about all of the worksheets within workbooks that ask kids to do these same skills, but with Count, he is able to count images that go along with a story. This feels more authentic and exciting!

Plugo Link

Classic building blocks meet modern digital play with Plugo Link! Build and balance the magnetic blocks in real world to solve exciting engineering puzzles on the screen.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: engineering, analytical thinking, creative design

My kids are Lego lovers. They could sit at the table for hours with a new Lego kit. So it comes as no surprise that they are obsessed with Link. In the image above, you see my 3-year-old linking up gears to complete an animal. In another game in the app, for instance, He is figuring out how to build pipes to prevent water from flowing out. Older kids can play a game like a word search to connect letters to make words with the patterned tiles. The kids absolutely love Link and enjoy all of the different building games.

Among Letters, Count, and Link, do I have a favorite? No. All three feel very educational and offer something different that is valuable for a child. It would be like asking me if I wanted my kids to attend math, reading, or engineering class. We’ve had a lot of fun with all three of the systems, and we recommend them all. For parents who are looking for more learning options and for parents who are looking to engage kids with hands-on learning, Plugo offers a fun and exciting option that kids will love.

From a teacher perspective, these systems would be really great options for learning stations and fast finishers. I would be really, really excited to see them in my kids’ classrooms because they offer a kinesthetic approach to learning.

**Thank you to PlayShifu for providing Letters and Count for Review!**

Osmo’s Genius Starter Kit: Math, Spelling, Problem Solving, Creativity, and More!

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Osmo is an add on for your tablet (iPad or Fire) that brings digital learning to life! The Osmo Genius Starter Kit (from Tangible Play, Inc.) comes with materials for 3 of their different apps and with the Osmo stand and reflector, there are 2 other apps availabe to play without any materials.

Osmo knows kids learn by doing, so each game uses physical action. Whether it’s arranging tangrams, zooming number tiles around, or even freehand drawing, Osmo sees and reacts to every real-live move. Users will receive real-time feedback which lets kids learn through experimentation in a stress-free environment.

To date Osmo has been named one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions, is a Parents’ Choice award winner, a winner of the prestigious Oppenheim award, and a 2016 finalist for Toy of The Year.

Tangram Demo: https://assets.playosmo.com/videos/games/tangram/tangram-demo-loop.webm

Words Demo: https://assets.playosmo.com/videos/games/words/words-demo-loop.webm

Numbers Demo: https://assets.playosmo.com/videos/games/numbers/numbers-demo-loop.webm

Newton Demo: https://assets.playosmo.com/videos/games/newton/newton-board-demo-loop.webm

Masterpiece Demo: https://assets.playosmo.com/videos/games/masterpiece/masterpiece-demo-loop.webm

Kellee’s Review: What I love about Osmo is that it takes technology and adds kinesthetic aspects to it. It is truly the best of both worlds. This combination of hands-on learning and technology is how we are going to prepare our students for their life journey.

Trent loves Osmo because he thinks everything about it is fun. Even when there is a challenge, he faces it, figures it out, and moves forward because of the engagement he has for the activities. And if it gets too tough, the app is intuitive and helps him out when needed.

It is hard to pick his favorites apps. I think Masterpiece and Newton would be what he picked first to play, but he wouldn’t argue about playing any of them.

Masterpiece shows his paper on the screen and an outline of what he wants to draw. It can be from their gallery, online, or even a picture he took. Then he can look at the screen and follow the lines. He loves drawing, so him loving Masterpiece makes so much sense.

As for Newton, which is a problem-solving physics platform. I found it to be extremely difficult, so I was pleasantly surprised that Trent loved it so much. He figured out so many creative ways to solve the puzzles, past the drawing that it initially instructs the user to do. It was fascinating watching him! (Please note: the Osmo whiteboard in the image is not from the Genius Starter Kit. Trent loved the starter kit so much, we bought other games and it came with another game; however, any white board or paper would work for Newton.)

Words is at this point a bit easy for him, but I know there are ways to up the difficulty, but he is really enjoying it and getting used to searching for the letters, so I don’t want to frustrate him.

Numbers starts with addition which is perfect for Trent and lets him practice his number skills in a low-stakes, fun environment. He is a math fan, so this is another favorite app.

Tangrams is probably the one he struggles with the most. When the tasks get more difficult and do not show which shapes go where, Trent has trouble visualizing which are correct (but I’m the same way, so maybe like mom, like son).

And like I mentioned above, we loved Osmo so much, we’ve purchased other kits which Trent have all enjoyed also! I highly recommend Osmo to parents and teachers as an extension to other learning.

Ricki’s Review: Kellee did an amazing overview of each of the games within the kit, so I will offer more of a holistic overview and perspective from two different kids’ age levels. We have been staying at home pretty much exclusively for three months. My kids are in need of something different. My 3yo is able to read simplistic books and words, and my 6yo is reading fairly fluently now. They are tired of workbooks, they are tired of any book that looks like an early reader, and they are looking for something more interactive. Osmo is the answer.

The kids beg me to play with it during the day. We are pretty strict about screentime in our house, but the Osmo is so interactive that it doesn’t feel like screentime to me. As a parent, it feels remarkably guilt-free as the kids cheer and play the games together.

What intrigues me the most is that Kellee’s son, who is the same age as Henry and has similar interests, has different favorite games than my son. (Although, truly, my kids love ALL of the games.) Tangrams is both of my kids’ favorites. It seems to come naturally to them (which surprises me because I am not very good at spatial recognition). Masterpiece is the hardest for them, and I wonder if they will progress more with it with some time. Regardless, all of the games are huge hits, and they want to play all of them every time they play with the Osmo.

Here, you see my 6yo cheering wildly for himself while he plays numbers. When he met his teacher for a small math group at the end of the school year, she spent a lot of time decomposing numbers. As a parent, I have been focused with addition, subtraction, and number sentences. I hadn’t realized how much decomposing numbers helps their math sense. Osmo’s Numbers does just this. My son is breaking down numbers and figuring out how they work. Using this game in repetition will surely help his math abilities.

Not pictured: the INTENSITY of this shot. Here, the boys are playing two-player Words. They are each tossing letters into the center and hoping to guess the spelling of the word. For the 6yo, it is conscientious. He is able to consider which vowels are the right fit. For the 3yo, it is a lot of guesswork. He focuses on the first and last vowels. The middle is still confusing, as is suspected. I stress here that despite the 3yo being outside of the age level, he is still able to have fun and try out words, which is fun and exciting for him (and for me!).

And lastly, I share a picture of the boys playing Newton together. (Kellee highlights Tangrams and Masterpiece above.) I said earlier that Tangrams is my kids’ favorite, but now I wonder if their favorite might also be Newton. Gosh this game is so fun. They are considering gravity and physics. The game forces them to problem solve. If they mess up, they might slide the paper a little bit.

If you are on the fence, we recommend the Osmo highly. The kids have been having a BLAST, and it makes learning really fun. As an educator who doesn’t believe much in worksheets, this is a phenomenal system that has brought a lot of joy to our house.

The kids have been making big plans for which kits they are going to put on their wishlists for birthdays and holidays! I am very intrigued by the Pizza kit, so that might be next!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We highly recommend Osmo for centers in classrooms. There are ways to set up multiple profiles which will make it so students can each have their own progress and with the hands-on + technology, students will have so much fun while learning!

Here are the subjects that the Genius Starter Kit compliments:

  • Math: Tangram and Numbers
  • Reading: Words
  • Handwriting: Masterpiece
  • Science: Newton
  • Basic geography (maps): Masterpiece
  • Spatial relationships: Tangram

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**Thank you to Tangible Play, Inc. for providing starter kits for review!**

Teachers’ Guide for Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

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Beverly, Right Here
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: September, 2019 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away.

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. In a touching, funny, and fearless conclusion to her sequence of novels about the beloved Three Rancheros, #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a character who will break your heart and put it back together again.

Revisiting once again the world of Raymie Nightingale, two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo turns her focus to the tough-talking, inescapably tenderhearted Beverly.

View my post about Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home to learn about the two companion books to Beverly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Beverly, Right Here:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Beverly, Right Here on Candlewick’s page.

Recommended For: 

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