National Geographic Kids’ Mythical Beasts: 100 Fun Facts About Real Animals and the Myths They Inspire by Stephanie Warren Drimmer & Bling!: 100 Fun Facts About Gems by Emma Carlson Berne

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Mythical Beasts: 100 Fun Facts About Real Animals and the Myths They Inspire
Author: Stephanie Warren Drimmer
Published January 4th, 2022 by National Geographic Kids

Summary: Calling all fans of unicorns, dragons, sea monsters, and other mythical creatures! Discover 100 marvelous facts that add to the magic in this new reader for fluent readers.

Key features include:

  • Expert-vetted text appropriate for ages 7 to 9
  • Brilliant and eye-catching National Geographic images
  • 100 fun facts spread throughout the book
  • A fact roundup at the end of each book for kids to review what they’ve learned

Packed with weird-but-true facts and tons of info, this Level 3 reader explores animals that are mistaken for mythical creatures, critters that are almost too weird for reality, and other creatures with incredible abilities. Learn all about these amazing, unbelievable, and downright fantastical beasts!

About the Author: STEPHANIE WARREN DRIMMER writes books and magazine features for kids about everything from the strangest places in space, to the chemistry of cookies, to the mysteries of the human brain. Drimmer has a degree in science journalism from New York University, but she thinks she likes writing for kids because she’s secretly still one herself.

Bling!: 100 Fun Facts About Gems
Author: Emma Carlson Berne
Published January 4th, 2022 by National Geographic Kids

Summary: Get ready to be dazzled by some of the shiniest, most colorful, useful—and even dangerous—rocks, minerals, and gems on the planet! In this Level 3 reader, discover fascinating facts about the incredible rocks and minerals under our feet and deep in Earth’s crust. Budding geologists will love reading about how rocks form, learning the names and features of the coolest rocks and minerals, and exploring rare and beautiful gemstones.

Key features include:

  • Expert-vetted text appropriate for ages 7 to 9
  • Brilliant and eye-catching National Geographic images
  • 100 fun facts sprinkled throughout the book*
  • A fact roundup at the end of each book for kids to review what they’ve learned

Packed with weird-but-true facts and tons of cool info, this Level 3 reader explores the incredible world of geology.

About the Author: EMMA CARLSON BERNE writes juvenile, middle grade, and YA fiction and nonfiction for both educational and trade publishers. She has worked on projects with Disney/Lucasfilm Press, American Girl Publishing, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, Sterling Publishing, Capstone, Rosen, and Alloy Entertainment. Berne lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is the writer-in-residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.


About the Series: This high-interest, educationally-vetted readers series features magnificent National Geographic images accompanied by text written by experienced, skilled children’s book authors. Each reader includes a glossary and interactive features in which kids get to use what they’ve learned in the book. Level 1 readers reinforce the content of the book with a kinesthetic learning activity. Level 2 readers feature slightly higher-level text and additional vocabulary words. Level 3 readers have more layers of information to challenge more proficient readers. For emerging readers, the Pre-reader level introduces vocabulary and concepts, and the Co-reader level provides a collaborative reading experience.

Review: I am such a fan of National Geographic Kids’ books. They do such a great job with engaging material that is perfect for the audience they are aimed for. With these Fact Reader Level 3 books, I really loved the mix of chapters with expository text mixed with text features that add to the text as well as fact lists that will make sure the reader leaves with fun facts to share. Everything that is shared in the books are so interesting and will definitely grab the readers attention. For example, in Bling!  we learn about rocks and minerals in space, different types of rocks, the oldest rocks, difference between rocks and minerals, and geology & archaeology information. Mythical Beasts includes mistaken identities, strange animals that are hard to believe, and animals with mythical powers. Both books are great nonfiction texts that are going to find so many early elementary readers!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the table of contents and index help you when reading a nonfiction book?
  • What text features did you notice throughout the book? How did they add to the book?
  • What facts did you learn from the book? What was your favorite fact you learned?
  • What else would you like to learn about the topics?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Geology, Archaeology, Animals, Mythology, Nonfiction

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters for providing copies for review!**

Looking for a Jumbie by Tracey Baptiste, Ilustrated Amber Ren

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Looking for a Jumbie
Author: Tracey Baptiste
Illustrator: Amber Ren
Published September 21st, 2021 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Tracey Baptiste and acclaimed illustrator Amber Ren take readers on a fun, creepy, storytime-ready romp through a forest filled with creatures from Caribbean folklore.

I’m looking for a jumbie, I’m going to find a scary one.

But Mama says jumbies exist only in stories. So Naya sets out on a nighttime adventure to find out for herself.

No such thing, say the friends she makes along the way.

But Naya is sure that jumbies are real. Some have big mouths. Or thick fur. Or glowing skin. Or sharp teeth. Kind of like her new friends….

Looking for a Jumbie is a gentle, bouncy, and creepily fun read-aloud inspired by traditional Caribbean tales.

Praise:

“A vibrant and entertaining tale filled with mythical creatures from Caribbean stories that is perfect for Halloween and year-round.” -School Library Journal

“The illustrations are colorful and dreamlike, and Ren pays special attention to accentuating the features of characters. A nice addition to offerings on being afraid of the dark, monsters, or nighttime adventures.” –Booklist

About the Author: Tracey Baptiste is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade novels Minecraft: The CrashThe JumbiesRise of the Jumbies, and The Jumbie God’s Revenge. A former elementary school teacher, Tracey is now on the faculty at Lesley University’s creative writing MFA program. Raised in Trinidad until she was fifteen, she now lives with her family in New Jersey. You can visit her online at www.traceybaptiste.com.

About the Illustrator: Amber Ren is the illustrator of Because by Mo Willems, a New York Times bestseller. She is also a visual development artist, and her work has been featured in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s first online exhibition, “ART in PLACE: Social Distancing in the Studio.” You can find her online at www.amber-ren.com.

Kellee’s Review: This book is equally compelling, spooky, and fun! Trent and I had a great time chanting the “I’m looking for a jumbie…” part of the story (great repetition & rhythm!) and meeting all of the jumbies that Naya meets along the way. The illustrations were also perfect for the story! I loved the way that Ren was able to bring such beautiful coloring in even in a story happening at night. After we were done, we went on a Google hunt to learn more about jumbies, and I introduced Trent to Baptiste’s middle grade Jumbies books too–he says he can’t wait to read them when he is older!

Ricki’s Review: This book feels like an instant classic to me—it is one that I will read and enjoy with my kids again and again. There are so many different ways to approach this text for kids, and it offers so much potential for classrooms. I love the ways in which the jumbies are made approachable for kids. It offered wonderful conversations in my family about fears and bedtime scary things. This is a book that belongs in every home. I think it will find a place in all readers’ hearts.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great addition to lessons about mythology/folklore for young readers! Looking for a Jumbie is a perfect introduction to Caribbean folklore and can start a delve into more stories.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which Jumbie would you like to meet?
  • Why was Naya never scared of the Jumbies?
  • Was Mama right or wrong about the Jumbies?
  • How did the illustrator leave clues about the upcoming Jumbie?
  • What is the mood of the book? How did the illustrations add to the mood of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Activity Guide:

Read This If You Love: Folklore & Mythology; Magical Stories

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studio for providing copies for review!!**

Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley

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Feral Youth
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.

In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.

Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.

Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?  

Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).

Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies

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Author Guest Post: “Combining History with Fantasy – Why and Three Hows” by Malayna Evans, Author of Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh

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“Combining History with Fantasy – Why and Three Hows”

To be an historian, you must be detail oriented. But writing fantasy is about creativity and imagination. So when I decided to use my Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history to write a fantasy story for middle grade readers—a story that sends two South Side Chicago kids 3,000 years into the past—figuring out how to merge the historian with the storyteller was a painful task. It seemed so simple the day my son—then nine, now sixteen—first suggested I write a book about a kid who looked like him lost in time. It took many years, and a lot of false starts, but eventually I figure out a few ways to merge the historical details stuffed in my head with the imagination that fired up my heart.

The topsy-turvy journey was worth the effort. I wanted to share my passion for ancient Egypt with middle school aged kids, in part, because I think it’s important that today’s youth recognize that the practices, systems, and objects we enjoy today were inherited from across the globe, including from this impressive African culture. And my hunch was that some kids who wouldn’t read straight history would be open to fantasy drenched in mummies and giant scorpions and magician princesses.

Here are three things I did to make the history in Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh more fantastical…

1. Integrating the theme

The first breakthrough came when I integrated the history into my worldbuilding by selecting a theme that relates to both. Since it’s a three book series, I chose an ancient blessing that captures three themes worthy of exploration: ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. Book one is about life (ankh), which brings us to our mummy—the princess Meketaten, who really did die around the time my book is set. But since it’s ancient Egypt, Jagger’s task is not to save her life—that wouldn’t honor the history—but her afterlife. The ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife is both fantastical and historical!

2. Mixing it up … literally

My biggest aha moment came when I figured out a way to mix the modern with the ancient. Artifacts, aka things, were the key. See, everyone has things, modern sixth graders and ancient princesses alike. I thought kids would be interested in the things ancient Egyptians valued, like magical amulets and small figurines designed to spring to life in the afterworld to care for the dead. And imagine the shock an iPhone 3,000 years in the past would trigger. But the real fun came when I started switching modern things with ancient artifact. For example, when the kids’ magician sidekick loses the wax she needs to cast a magic spell, it gets replace by gum from Aria’s purse. (It’s the best way to magic up a killer Apep serpent! Who knew?)

3. Digging the details

Yes, details are key for all writers. But when you’re creating new worlds (writing fantasy) or taking people into unfamiliar historical periods (writing history), giving readers information on what things look like, sound like, and feel like is even more important. When your historical period is ancient Egypt, addressing the sense of smell is a must. That’s because ancient Egypt was a smelly place. No, I haven’t traveled back in time to confirm that suspicion, but scents are so commonly referenced in stories and texts and even images that I feel secure with the assumption. One way I highlighted the sense of smell in my series was to give magicians unique scents—the princess Tatia’s magic spells smell like fresh herbs, while the lovely Mut’s spells release the scent of lotus blossoms. It was just one small way to weave real history into the fantasy.

With book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, available in late May, I hope kids enjoy the adventure and don’t mind the history they pick up on the journey. You can learn more about Egyptian history, my books, and classroom activities like my Jagger Jones themed escape the room activity, on my website here: http://malaynaevans.com

Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh
Author: Malayna Evans
Published May 28th, 2019 by Month9Books

About the Book: Jagger Jones is a whiz kid from Chicago’s South Side. Ask him anything about Ancient Egypt, and Jagger can fill hours describing all that he knows. But when he and his precocious little sister Aria fall more than three thousand years back in time to the court of Amarna, Egypt, Jagger discovers a truth that rocks his world: books don’t teach you everything there is to know.

Mummies, pyramids, and cool hieroglyphics make awesome movie props, but the ancient court of Amarna is full of over-sized scorpions, magical amulets, and evil deities determined to scare unwanted visitors away. If Jagger and Aria are to return safely home, they must find nine soul-infested gemstones, defeat an evil general, save the royal family, and figure out how to rescue themselves!

Armed only with Jagger’s knowledge of history and a few modern objects mined from his pockets and Aria’s sparkly purse, the siblings have exactly one week to solve supernatural riddles and rescue the royal family. If they can pull it off, Jagger Jones just might return to Chicago a hero.

About the Author: Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, she earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is out in May of 2019. Malayna spends her time visiting classrooms to share her passion for ancient Egypt, traveling with her two kids, and walking her rescue dog, Caesar. She lives in Oak Park, Il.

Website: http://malaynaevans.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Malayna
IG: https://www.instagram.com/malaynaevans/
GR: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17571369.Malayna_Evans

So cool to hear from a real Egyptologist! Thank you! I know my Riordan fans are going to adore this book!

The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World by Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill

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The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World
Creators: Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Running Press

Summary: A whimsical and imaginative catalog of fantastical beasts and creatures of myth and legend from around the world-complete with a code that needs cracking to uncover the mystery of the monster atlas!

One day a collection of very old maps is found in a dusty library. They show where in the world monsters and creatures from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with the maps, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 15th century. But did Walters really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain . . . and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log? The codes throughout, once cracked, may indeed lead to something sinister that will happen should the atlas ever be published!

This is a gorgeously illustrated and comprehensive catalog of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures from around the globe, with an easy-to-read format and incredible detail on each spread. It is many things, all at once:

  • A reference guide: Grouped by continent, this illustrated atlas lists and defines magical creatures from folklore around the world. Readers will find creatures from stories they’ve heard–like leprachauns, manticores, zombies–and learn about lesser-known creatures like the squonk, the tatzelwurm, and the fengu.
  • A journal: Presented as a record created by a fifteenth-century voyager named Cornelius Walters, the book includes Cornelius’s personal anecdotes about encountering monsters during his journey.
  • A mystery: The book also includes notes from a librarian who supposedly found the atlas and is trying to figure out whether Cornelius was making up stories for the monsters…or whether monsters are real.
  • A code: A mysterious code appears on each page and is referred to by both Cornelius and the librarian, encouraging readers to crack it…before it’s too late.

For kids (and adults) who love mythology, the supernatural, mysteries, or code-breaking, this whimsical blend of folklore and fiction provides both a joy and a surprise on every page.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Lawrence is an author and journalist. She is the author of two middle grade history books: Grisly History: Death and Destruction and Grisly History: Trials and Treachery. She lives in London, England.

Stuart Hill is an illustrator and designer. He is especially interested in printed textures, hand-lettering, and map illustration. He lives in England.

Review: This book is really everything that the summary states. It is fascinating! And beautiful! There is some humor because of the voyager’s anecdotes and the librarian’s notes, too, which is always nice. And the addition of the code adds an interactive element to the text. Highly recommended for any teacher teaching mythology or any traditional stories with monsters/creatures.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be perfect for teaching and discussing the Literacy.RL.9 standard which discusses how modern texts uses traditional text. Using The Atlas of Monsters, students can get an introduction to allusion around a discussion of where they have heard of the monsters before. And this is just the beginning! It would be so much fun to make your own Atlas of Monsters!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Find the clues throughout each page, and crack the codes in the book.
  • How many different points of view are shared in the book? How does this affect the reading experience?
  • Pick one of the creatures and do further research and create a longer profile about them.
  • Before reading about one of the continents, do your own research and try to predict which mythical creatures will be mentioned.
  • What are some similarities/differences between what you knew about ____ and what is in the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Cryptozoology, Folklore, the supernatural, code breaking

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you Running Press Kids for providing a copy of the book to review!**

Gods and Heroes by Korwin Briggs

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Gods and Heroes
Author: Korwin Briggs
Published August 21, 2018 by Workman

GoodReads Summary: Meet the Original Superheroes.

Before there was Batman, Wonder Woman, or Black Panther…there was Indra, Hindu king of gods, who battled a fearsome snake to save the world from drought. Athena, the powerful Greek goddess of wisdom who could decide the fate of battles before they even began. Okuninushi, the Japanese hero who defeated eighty brothers to become king and then traded it all for a chance at immortality.

Featuring more than 70 characters from 23 cultures around the world, this A-to-Z encyclopedia of mythology is a who’s who of powerful gods and goddesses, warriors and kings, enchanted creatures and earthshaking giants whose stories have been passed down since the beginning of time—and are now given fresh life for a new generation of young readers.

Plus, You’ll Learn All About:
Dragons: The Hydra, St. George’s Dragon, and the Australian Rainbow Snake
Giants: Grendel, Balor of the Evuil Eye, Polyphemus, and the Purusha with the thousand heads
Monsters: Manticore, Sphinx, Minotaur, Thunderbird, and Echidne, mother of the Nemean lion that nearly killed Heracles
Underworlds: Travel to Hades, Valhalla, and the Elysian Fields

Review: I always enjoy Workman books. The offer nonfiction information in a way that is fun and engaging. My four-year-old loved this book (even though most of it was a bit over his head). I’d recommend this book for the targeted audience (grades 3-7), but I think younger and older kids would really enjoy it (I know I did!). There are a diverse set of gods and heroes within this story, and they don’t originate from one culture, which I liked a lot. My son seemed to love the Greek/Roman gods the most, so those are the ones that we’ve read so far. We read about a different god/hero each night, and we’ve been going strong for about two weeks. We look forward to reading these stories each night. It makes for a fantastic bedtime routine.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask each student to pick a different god or hero and present it to the class. I’d encourage students to choose a god/hero that interests them, and I think this onus would help students get excited about their presentations!

Discussion Questions: Which heroine/hero did you enjoy the most? Why?; Did you notice any similarities across cultural heroes? Differences? Which hero would you want to learn more about?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Gods, Heroes, History

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Diana at Workman for providing a copy for review!**

Tsu and the Outliers by E. Eero Johnson

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Tsu and the Outliers
Author: E. Eero Johnson
Published May 8th, 2018 by odod books

Summary: Tsu and the Outliers is a graphic novel about a non- verbal boy whose rural existence appears unbearable until rumors of a monstrous giant upend his mundane life. Tsu finds himself at the center of the mystery, as his strange metaphysical connection with the creature is revealed.

As the dragnet closes in, Tsu is forced to choose between a dangerous path leading beyond the periphery of human perception or a life without his only friend.

About the Author: E. Eero Johnson (Erik T. Johnson) is a Minneapolis-based illustrator, graphic designer, and comic book artist. His illustrations have appeared in GQThe New YorkerNewsweekWired, and The New York Times, and on several book covers. His comic book projects, The Outliers and Kozmo-Knot, have gained a growing interest from the indie comic world. He lives with his wife, Tammy, sons, Emmett and Eilif, and a crazy Boston terrier.

ReviewTsu and the Outliers is an interesting look at a new type of superhero: a young non-verbal boy who is able to communicate with a creature that his world is afraid of. There are some interesting discussion points when it comes to bullying since Tsu is judged by his classmates because of his disability. This is a big theme during the beginning of the book as we get to know Tsu. The creature also ends up being a Sasquatch and they are being chased by a chupacabra-like creature which introduces North American folklore. Overall, the story is pretty crazy (in a good way), and the end of the book sets up for a definite sequel which I NEED because Tsu makes a crazy decision at the end of the book with no explanation.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the scene where Tsu is bullied by Jespers to start a dialogue about bullying. Discuss why the scene makes them angry and uncomfortable and what could have been done by others to help Tsu. Have students create anti-bullying advertisements to share in your school.

When mythology and folklore are discussed, the focus is primarily on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian. Use Tsu and the Outliers to discuss North American folklore including the Sasquatch and chupacabra. Have them research the tales about these creatures and create their own myth with them in it. Also, as a class, discuss the difference between the characters is Tsu and traditional folklore.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What foreshadowing was there to show that Tsu was more than what everyone assumed?
  • Tsu’s lack of verbal communication in the end of the book ended up not being a disability. What do you think caused it?
  • Why do you think Tsu made the choice he did at the end of the book?
  • Why do you think Tsu’s mother made the claim she did at the end of the book covering up for Tsu?
  • Why does the Chimpanzee-professor want Tsu?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Superpowers, Folklore, Superhero comics

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to odod books for providing a copy for review!**