Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: Charlie Thorne and the Lost City 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,

I am back with another amazing book that will knock you off of your feet! Introducing…Charlie Thorne and The Lost City by Stuart Gibbs! This is the second book in a series called Charlie Thorne. I have already reviewed the first one, but do not worry if you haven’t read it because this book is still understandable without the knowledge of the first book. This is another book that I have read in the book club with my friends and our book loving secretary and they all rated it a 10/10. I think this would be a great gift for any tween or teen who loves action, adventure, mysteries and comedy! This book also taught me and my friends a lot of things and I thought that was really good. This book is recommended for ages 10+.

Charlie Thorne is on another adventure again! After her first adventure she is hiding in the Galapagos Islands. She has made friends with the people living there and is even helping out at the Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center. One day a woman named Esmeralda shows up at her tiny house with a code that was engraved into the shell of a dead turtle by the famous Charles Darwin. She says she came to her because her co-workers said that if anyone could solve the encrypted code then it was Charlie. While she and Esmeralda are talking, Charlie sees a strange man talking to her surfing friends and then her surfing friends pointing to her house. Charlie Thorne has always been living on the edge of caution so she decides to make a dramatic escape. They take off in a seaplane that belongs to the company that Esmeralda works for.

At first they head off in the direction of the Darwin Research Station where the dead turtle is. Then, Charlie remembers that the seaplane for the Darwin Research Station is easily trackable and suspects that the mysterious person who was following her would know what plane it was and head over to the Darwin Research Station to see what its course is! To avoid being tracked down they change course to an airport nearby.

They follow clues to Quito. The clue says something about finding the devil’s stone so they go to the place that the devil’s stone is supposed to be. What will happen? You have to read the book to find out!

I love this book so much! I expected adventure from this book and I got it! This is an amazing book for explorers because it talks so much about wilderness and exploring all of these hidden places in the Amazon! I found this book very interesting because it talked about Charles Darwin’s work! I also loved how I learned so many things. I thought that a book could not be exciting and educational together but this book proved me wrong! Have fun!

**Thanks so much, Sofia! We love that this series combines excitement and education!**

 

Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code by Rebecca E.F. Barone

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Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code
Author: Rebecca E.F. Barone
Publishing October 25th, 2022 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Unbreakable is the true story of the codebreakers, spies, and navy men who cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma encryption machine and turned the tide of World War II.

As the Germans waged a brutal war across Europe, details of every Nazi plan, every attack, every troop movement were sent over radio. But to the Allied troops listening in—and they were always listening—the crucial messages sounded like gibberish. The communications were encoded with a powerful cipher, making all information utterly inaccessible . . . unless you could unlock the key to the secret code behind the German’s powerful Enigma machine.

Complete with more than sixty historical photos, Unbreakable tells the true story of one of the most dangerous war-time codebreaking efforts ever. While Hitler marched his troops across newly conquered lands and deadly “wolfpacks” of German U-Boats prowled the open seas, a team of codebreakers, spies, and navy men raced against the clock to uncover the secrets that hid German messages in plain sight. Victory—or defeat—in World War II would hinge on their desperate attempts to crack the code.

Praise: 

*”A riveting tribute to epic tests of men against the elements.” —Kirkus, starred review

*”A compelling narrative focused on science and technology, embedded in a cluster of thrilling adventure stories . . . Highly ­recommended.” —School Library Journal, starred review

*”Readers will be caught up in the real-time action sequences.” —Booklist, starred review

*”Exemplary.” —BCCB, starred review

About the Author: Rebecca E. F. Barone holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University along with multiple graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. Her technical projects include injury analysis for the National Football League, and her short-form STEM writing has been published in the award-winning Muse magazine. She is passionate about serving and mentoring underrepresented populations in STEM. She is also the author of Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica (which received four starred reviews).

Review: This book read like a page-turning, action-packed thriller and adventure story. But it is all real! Which makes it even better because it is truly unbelievable. Barone writes the different scenes, shared in vignette-type short stories that come together to show a whole picture, in a way that just grabs the reader’s attention and keeps you reading to figure out how everyone comes together to crack the secret code.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will find its most success as an independent reading book and will definitely be a book to share with middle school readers who think they do not like nonfiction.

Also, check out the cover reveal on MGBookVillage for some background information from the author.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did all of the countries work together (or not work together) to crack the code?
  • Who do you think was the greatest asset in the journey?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write the book in vignette-type short stories?
  • How does the inclusion of photographs add to the book?
  • The author states that the mathematicians were the hero of the story–do you agree? Why or why not?

Flagged Passages: 

ONE: TRAITOR
1929—Warsaw, Poland

THE BOX ARRIVED on the last Saturday in January.

Business in the Polish customs office went on as usual, the rhythm of sorting and inspecting undisturbed by the heavy package with a German postmark. In fact, the officer in charge had nearly finished when the urgent request came in.

Return it immediately, the German embassy demanded. There had been a mistake. It was a German package, intended for a German recipient. It should never have been sent to Poland. Cease operations and give it back.

Now, that made the customs officer pause.

He did not return the box. He opened it.

A polished surface gleamed in the light. Along a hinge in the back, a wood cover opened to reveal something almost like a typewriter. Elevated keys were arranged in three rows along the bottom, each labeled with a letter of the German alphabet.

But that was where the similarity to a typewriter ended.

There was no inked ribbon, no carriage in which to hold paper to type a letter. Instead, the top of the box was filled with small circular windows arranged in three rows identical to the keyboard below; each window contained a single letter printed on translucent material.

If the customs officer pressed a key, instantly, in the top rows, one letter began to glow. As soon as he released the key, the light went out. If he pressed the same letter key again, an entirely different light and letter shone back.

Quickly, the Polish customs officer made a call. Across town, two men secretly working for the Polish cipher agency understood immediately and rushed to the customs office.

Over the next two days and through the next two nights, the men disassembled, examined, and reassembled the machine.

By Monday morning, they had meticulously put every part back into place. They repackaged the machine in the same box and wrapped it in the same brown paper in which it had arrived.

Poland would return German property to Germany, as requested. The delay, inevitable, due simply to the weekend.

No one in Germany suspected a thing.

Enigma in use.

[Bundesarchiv, Bild 183–2007–0705–502 / Walther / CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Two years later, Sunday, November 1, 1931—the German-Belgian border

Hans-Thilo Schmidt rushed through the doors of the Grand Hotel in Verviers, Belgium, two hours late. He never saw the man sitting in the lobby waiting for him.

To this man, Schmidt was an ordinary German of average build, wearing a dark hat and dark coat. Schmidt was red in the face and puffy around the eyes, both traits the man watching him had been expecting. He knew that Schmidt’s train was late, and Schmidt sweated and grew flushed as he hurried to make up lost time. Schmidt’s puffy eyes had been expected as well. The people this man watched often suffered from sleepless nights. Treason was never an easy decision.

Not that Schmidt would have noticed the man even if he’d been relaxed and alert. Hans-Thilo Schmidt was far from experienced in spy craft. Last June, when he had first decided to trade secrets for money, he simply walked into the French embassy in Berlin. Incredibly, he plainly announced his intent to sell information to the French government. Without cover and without any personal security, he asked whom he should contact in Paris to do so. Somehow, he had neither been arrested by the Germans nor ignored by the French.

Now, five months later, the German Schmidt was about to meet face-to-face with a French intelligence officer. Hans-Thilo was nervous, and he was late.

At the front desk, the receptionist checked Schmidt into a room already reserved for him and handed him an envelope along with his key. He entered the elevator, and as the doors closed in front of him, the man watching him from the lobby saw him rip into the letter, which read “You are expected in suite 31, first floor, at 12 noon.”

At precisely noon, as the letter instructed, Schmidt knocked at suite 31.

The door opened into another world where time seemed to slow as an older woman with elegantly styled white hair greeted him and asked him to wait in the comfortable, richly furnished room. Soft music played gently over the radio. An inviting arrangement of liquor and crystal glasses was set out next to a display of fine cigars. Gratefully, Schmidt eased himself into a plush chair.

“Guten Morgen, Herr Schmidt! Hatten sie eine gute Reise?”

Schmidt jumped as an unfamiliar voice boomed at him in German. An immense man with a shaved head came through a doorway, entering the living area through another room in the suite. Round, dark spectacles framed icy blue eyes that pierced Schmidt with an unwavering stare.

“Sit down, please,” the man continued. “How are Madame Schmidt and your two children?”

Schmidt, already on edge, tensed more. He was currently living alone, and his wife, son, and daughter were living with his wife’s parents.

“I know,” the man said, cutting Schmidt off before he had a chance to answer. “You will want to bring your family back together soon and resume a pleasant life. That, of course, depends on you. We will assist you if your cooperation proves fruitful to us.”

Taking an offered glass of whiskey, Schmidt sat back down.

The man confronting him became even more serious. “Your resourcefulness last June in Berlin was quite exceptional and effective, Mr. Schmidt. Quite fortunately you happened upon an official of the French embassy who … was inconspicuous. What would you have done if he had thought you were an agent provocateur and called the police?”

This pushed Hans-Thilo Schmidt to his limit. “I thought you would understand!” he snapped, defiant. “If you feel this way, my only option is to withdraw. Others will know how to interpret my motivations and the rationale of my propositions.”

“Easy now, Mr. Schmidt,” the man responded. “We appreciate your initiative and the benefit we can gain from it.

“Let me be frank,” the man continued, “my name is Lemoine, and I represent the French Intelligence Bureau.”

Read This If You Love: World War II (and other war) nonfiction books

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you, Kelsey from Macmillan Publishing, for providing a copy for review!**

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!**