Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross


kiki and jacques

Kiki and Jacques
Author: Susan Ross
Published October 15th, 2015 by Holiday House

Goodreads Summary: Preteens prove that cultural differences can be overcome in this middle-grade novel about a native Mainer and a Somali girl who form an unlikely and supportive friendship.

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up.

About the Author: Susan Ross lives in Connecticut. She was born and grew up in the Lewiston, Maine, area. Susan was inspired to write this story by incidents in her childhood hometown when refugees from Somalia began to settle there in the early 2000s. Kiki and Jacques is her first novel.

Susan Ross recently was interviewed by HuffPost Live and wrote an article on the HuffPost Blog about Kiki and Jacques and the amazing refugee kids in Lewiston, Maine — and especially, the vital importance of teaching tolerance/ multiculturalism to children!

My Review: Kiki and Jacques is a perfect introduction to refugees for middle grade students. What makes the story work so well is that Jacques is just like so many middle school boys, so reading about Kiki and Mohammad from his point of view makes the story easy to connect with. The reader also gets to learn about the refugees and their lives and situations along with Jacques which makes it so students with no prior knowledge can live Kiki and Jacques story with them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Kiki and Jacques is a book that many different students are going to love reading for many different reasons. It is a book for sports lovers, realistic fiction fans, and students who want to learn about something and make a difference. It is a great book for classroom libraries.

Additionally, you can view a teaching guide for Kiki and Jacques which has many ideas for classroom uses: Kiki and Jacques Education Guide

Additionally, Mr. Gorman did an amazing activity with this novel using a mood meter. His blog post includes a wonderful writing activity.

Discussion Questions: How does soccer play a role in the story?; What did you learn about refugees in Kiki and Jacques?; What do you think the theme of the book is?; How does Jacques stay positive and “good” through everything that is going on in his life?; How does Jacques help Mohammad and Kiki?

We Flagged: “Frank Boucher broke out from the back and dribbled the ball toward the goal; in a minute he sliced it in. Boucher was tall, and broader than most of the kids. His bleach-blond hair was spiked marine-style, making him look even longer.

‘Holy crap.’ Jacques whistled. ‘That wasn’t bad.’

‘You’ll be captain,’ Sammy said. ‘Don’t worry. Boucher’s got muscle but your footwork’s better. And nobody trusts him.’

‘Wait up–who’s that kid?’Jacques nodded toward the far end of the field. ‘That big dude…is he one of the Somalis?’

A slim black teenager was dribbling toward them. Fast and accurate, the ball skipped effortlessly from side to side. The boy balanced the ball between his shin and knees, spun around and took a wild shot from mid-field. Tim O’Shea knocked his glasses off trying to stop it, but the ball slipped right past him into the goal.” (p. 6-7)

Read This If You Loved: Booked by Kwame Alexander, Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian; also middle grade books about refugees including Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Recommended For: 

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Q&A with the Author from Holiday House: 

Susan, this is the first novel you’ve written. Please tell us about it.

KIKI AND JACQUES is a story about kids from very different backgrounds growing up in a small Maine town. It’s about finding common ground and friendship in spite of cultural differences and challenges.

You were inspired to write this book when your hometown in Maine began to see an influx of Somali refugees in the early 2000s. Tell us a little bit about that experience and how the addition of Somalis to your home town changed the cultural landscape.

When I was growing up, we lived in the “twin cities” in Maine—the old mill town of Lewiston and its sister city, Auburn. My great-grandparents came from Russia and opened a store. Three generations later, my parents had a bridal shop in downtown Lewiston. The majority of the population was of French Canadian descent, and my parents often sold dresses speaking basic French. When I read a magazine article about the wave of Somali immigration to Lewiston, I thought that a small Maine town experiencing such profound cultural change would be an amazing setting for a middle-grade novel.

What kind of research did you do for this book? In researching, what did you find most interesting or surprising?

As with most things in life, I found the very best place to start my research was at the library. In this case, I went to the library in Lewiston and met with a librarian, who told me something very important: in her experience, teenagers of all cultures were more alike than they were different.

I spoke with a few Somali kids that day, who were at the library using the computers. I saw that they were on Facebook, just like my teenagers at home. Later, I met with other Somali teens and asked them to read chapters of my book. I was greatly inspired by how strong and ambitious these kids were, and I was touched by how glad they were to have an author listen and learn about their lives.

KIKI AND JACQUES focuses on the importance of two kids respecting cultural, religious and racial differences, but still becoming friends. What do you hope young readers learn from this novel?

I hope that I’ve written a story that kids can relate to. Kiki and her brother Mohamed’s lives are very different than Jacques’s in many respects, but they also have a surprising amount in common—soccer, strong loyalty to family, and great loss (Kiki’s dad was killed in the war in Somalia and Jacques’ mom died in a car accident). Each kid is looking for a safe and permanent sense of home and  belonging.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I knew I wanted to become an author when I was in the fourth grade and liked to stay inside at recess and write. My first book was called Diablo, and it was about a wild horse with cruel masters. Not so coincidentally, I had just finished reading one of my  favorite books, Black Beauty. I became a lawyer, but after I stopped practicing law and my kids got older, I learned about the Somali immigration to Maine and thought, wow, this would be a wonderful and important topic to write about.

If you could give any advice to young authors, what would it be?

My best advice is simply that writers must write! Start a journal and keep it close, or take notes on your laptop or phone. Find a writing buddy and send ideas back and forth. Get your words down, whenever and however you’re inspired. Even if your writing isn’t close to perfect at first, it will get better, and you will learn and grow in the process—I promise!

Kellee Signature

**Thank you to Susan for providing a copy of the book for review and for sharing the teachers’ guide and Q&A!**

Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends by David Stabler



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

kid athlete

Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends
Author: David Stabler
Illustator: Doogie Horner
Published November 17th, 2015 by Quirk Books

Goodreads Summary: Forget the gold medals, the championships, and the undefeated seasons. When all-star athletes were growing up, they had regular-kid problems just like you. Baseball legend Babe Ruth was such a troublemaker, his family sent him to reform school. Race car champion Danica Patrick fended off bullies who told her “girls can’t drive.” And football superstar Peyton Manning was forced to dance the tango in his school play. Kid Athletestells all of their stories and more with full-color cartoon illustrations on every page. Other subjects include Billie Jean King, Jackie Robinson, Yao Ming, Gabby Douglas, Tiger Woods, Julie Krone, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Bobby Orr, Lionel Messi, and more!

My Review: I really enjoyed this book of short stories about sports legends as children. I think the author did a great job sucking the reader in by starting with something about each athlete’s career then tying their childhood obstacles into their successes. I was impressed by how each story did have a lesson, but they did not feel didactical, and the author also made the stories ones that kids are going to connect with. This allow with fun illustrations will definitely keep readers entertained!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’m in a theme unit in my class right now and as I was reading each story, I automatically grasped the theme the author was trying to get across for each short story. Some are quite explicit while others are inferred which makes it a perfect book as you scaffold students determining theme independently. The author also uses primary sources throughout the text would be a good way to discuss primary vs. secondary sources. It could even lead into students writing their own biographical story of a historical person using primary and secondary sources. Finally, I would love to discuss the illustrations with students! They all are a bit quirky and funny though tie into the story in different ways. It would be interesting to see if kids grasp the subtle humor.

Discussion Questions: What obstacle did ______ overcome?; What character traits did _____ show while overcoming ____?; What is the theme of ______ ? How did the author support the theme throughout?; How are the stories within each section similar? Different?

We Flagged: “In 1962, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Historians have praised him for refusing to fight back in the face of racial discrimination. But Jackie did fight back, in his won way, by being the best person he could be, instead of following the bad examples of his enemies. That was a lesson he had learned from his days as the tiny terror of the Pepper Street Gang.” (p. 38)


Read This If You Loved: Picture book biographies of athletes, Sports biographies

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Quirk Books for providing a copy for review!**

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Author and Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
Published March 10th, 2015 by Dial Books

Goodreads Summary: For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

In her graphic novel debut, real-life derby girl Victoria Jamieson has created an inspiring coming-of-age story about friendship, perseverence, and girl power!

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: How did I not read this book the instant it came out?! First, it has eye-catching, colorful artwork which is my favorite in graphic novels. Yes, everyone is comparing it to Raina’s work, and I can see why, because they are both just so well done and fun to read. Second, it is such a girl power book. Not an over-the-top girl power book, but it is a book about being a girl and being awesome at it. Third, it has roller derby in it! I love that we get to learn about the sport with Astrid. Fourth, the book has an awesome mom! Even when Astrid is complaining about her, she is being awesome (like taking her to poetry readings and the art museum). Fifth, this book is also about friendships and the ebbs and flows that come with teenage friends. Finally, it is about putting your mind to something and doing it! Astrid works her butt off, and it pays off.  I think Roller Girl is also a great jumping off point to talk about bullying, friendship, and working hard to meet a goal.

This book is going to be loved by fans of Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo, The Dumbest Idea Ever!, Astronaut Academy, and Cleopatra in Space. It is definitely going to make the rounds in my classroom library!

Discussion Questions: How should Astrid had dealt with Nicole not going to derby camp?; Have you had a friend like Nicole?; Astrid really wants to learn roller derby; Nicole wants to get better at ballet–what is your passion?; How did Rainbow Brite help Astrid?; What do you think about Astrid’s mom?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Smile, Sisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece BellThe Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley, Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman, Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack

Recommended For: 



Reviews and Educators’ Guide: Matt Tavares’s Baseball Biographies


henry aaronted williams

 babe ruthpedro

Henry Aaron’s Dream
Author: Matt Tavares
Published January 12th, 2010 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: Matt Tavares hits one out of the park with this powerful tale of a kid from the segregated south who would become baseball’s home-run king.

Before he was Hammerin’ Hank, Henry Aaron was a young boy grow ing up in Mobile, Alabama, with what seemed like a foolhardy dream: to be a big-league baseball player. He didn’t have a bat. He didn’t have a ball. And there wasn’t a single black ball player in the major leagues. B ut none of this could stop Henry Aaron. In a captivating biography of Henr y Aaron’s young life – from his sandlot days through his time in the Negro Leagues to the day he played his first spring training game for the Braves – Matt Tavares offers an inspiring homage to one of baseball’s all-time greats.

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
Author: Matt Tavares
Published February 14th, 2012 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: A lively picture book biography of Ted Williams from a master of the genre — just in time for Fenway Park’s centennial.

Ted Williams lived a life of dedication and passion. He was an ordinary kid who wanted one thing: to hit a baseball better than anyone else. So he practiced his swing every chance he got. He did fingertip push-ups. He ate a lot of food. He practiced his swing again. And then practiced it some more. From his days playing ball in North Park as a kid to his unmatched .406 season in 1941 to his heroic tours of duty as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, the story of Teddy Ballgame is the story of an American hero. In this engrossing biography, a companion to Henry Aaron’s Dream, Matt Tavares makes Ted Williams’s life story accessible to a whole new generation of fans who are sure to admire the hard work, sacrifice, and triumph of the greatest hitter who ever lived.


Becoming Babe Ruth
Author: Matt Tavares
Published February 12th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Goodreads Summary: Matt Tavares’s striking homage to one of baseball’s legends offers a rare view into Babe Ruth’s formative years in “the House that built Ruth.”

Before he is known as the Babe, George Herman Ruth is just a boy who lives in Baltimore and gets into a lot of trouble. But when he turns seven, his father brings him to the gates of Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and his life is changed forever. At Saint Mary’s, he’s expected to study hard and follow a lot of rules. But there is one good thing about Saint Mary’s: almost every day, George gets to play baseball. Here, under the watchful eye of Brother Matthias, George evolves as a player and as a man, and when he sets off into the wild world of big-league baseball, the school, the boys, and Brother Matthias are never far from his heart. With vivid illustrations and clear affection for his subject, Matt Tavares sheds light on an icon who learned early that life is what you make of it — and sends home a message about honoring the place from which you came.

Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made it From the Dominican Republic All Way to the Major Leagues
Author: Matt Tavares
Published February 10th, 2015

Goodreads Summary: The love between brothers is key to Matt Tavares’s tale of Dominican pitcher Pedro Martinez, from his days of throwing rocks at mangoes to his years as a major-league star.

Before Pedro Martinez pitched the Red Sox to a World Series championship, before he was named to the All-Star team eight times, before he won the Cy Young three times, he was a kid from a place called Manoguayabo in the Dominican Republic. Pedro loved baseball more than anything, and his older brother Ramon was the best pitcher he’d ever seen. He’d dream of the day he and his brother could play together in the major leagues—and here, Matt Tavares tells the story of how that dream came true. In a fitting homage to a modern day baseball star, the acclaimed author-illustrator examines both Pedro Martinez’s improbable rise to the top of his game and the power that comes from the deep bond between brothers.

My Review: These four superbly crafted biographies take a look at the life of each man, but as more than a baseball player. We learn about their childhoods, where they came from, and their dreams and hopes. Each book includes aspects of the history surrounding them including the Depression, wars, and racism. Additionally, these books are crafted beautiful with lyrically written prose. These books are must reads for lovers of baseball, history, and biographies in general.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was lucky enough to be asked to write a teachers’ guide for each of these books. For each book, I created discussion questions and activities (including cross-curricular activities). I plan on using this guide in my own classroom with the books in a lit circle type of setting. Each group will be given one of the biographies, will complete the discussion questions and activities, and then become experts on their player before presenting. These biographies are asking to be in classrooms, and I hope the guide helps show how they can fit into a language arts/reading class.

Please check out the complete guide at 

Examples from the guide: 

Becoming Babe Ruth
News spread differently in the early twentieth century. Discuss with your students the way news about Babe Ruth was spread during his lifetime and have students find examples in the text. Then have them discuss the way news is spread digitally nowadays. Invite the class to debate the pros and cons of digital news.; How did Babe Ruth’s life change when he left Saint Mary’s to play for the Orioles?

There Goes Ted Williams
Have students write down Ted Williams’s batting average and home run stats as well as those of two other Hall of Famers. After comparing the players’ stats, have students write a paragraph discussing whether or not they believe that Ted Williams is the best hitter ever.; How did Ted Williams’s childhood perseverance help him become a professional baseball player?

Henry Aaron’s Dream
Baseball began integrating before all cities in the United States had ended segregation. As a class, discuss how this reality affected black players on major-league baseball teams and how black players’ trips to segregated cities differed from those of their white teammates. Then, with your students, complete a graphic organizer comparing and contrasting the life of white and black baseball players during Hank Aaron’s lifetime. Invite students to write an essay about how life has changed for players of color over time.; How did Jackie Robinson influence Henry Aaron? What did Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments mean for other black baseball players? 

Growing Up Pedro
Pull up a map of North America. Have students mark all the different places that Pedro played: the Dominican Republic, Montana, Montreal, and so on. Ask students to determine the miles between each location. Which place was the farthest from Pedro’s home? Which place was the closest?; Have students write a journal entry as Pedro Martínez. Invite them to write, from Pedro’s point of view, what it feels like to move so far away from home when he is so young. Does he miss his family? Is he sad, happy, or excited to be in Montana.

Discussion Questions: Examples of discussion questions and activities for each of the biographies can be found in my teachers’ guide; however, after reading all four of the books, two discussion questions could be: Most of the baseball players had a mentor or idol that he looked up to and learned from. How did these mentors or idols help guide the players into becoming the greats they are?; Each of the baseball players helped a charity that was close to his heart. Who did each player help? Why did players choose the charity they did?

We Flagged: 

Becoming Babe Ruth, byMatt Tavares from Becoming Babe Ruth

Check out Matt Tavares’s You Tube channel to see sneak peeks into Growing Up Pedro and  There Goes Ted Williams.

Recommended For: 

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The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


the crossover

The Crossover
Author: Kwame Alexander
Published March 18th, 2014 by Harcourt Brace and Company

Goodreads Summary: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Review: Wow. What a powerful piece of narrative and poetry. Any poem from Josh’s story could easily be taken out of context and used as a piece of exemplar poetry writing. In addition to the amazing writing, Josh is a kid that is so easy to connect with. He is so real. You love him (even if he is a little cocky). By the end of the book, you feel like you are part of Josh’s family, and you don’t want to leave.

And to top it all off: one of my reluctant readers grabbed this book and zoomed right through it. It quickly became one of his favorite books! I love when the Newbery Medal winner is accessible to students. Now to just get more students to read it and experience the awesomeness.

(Also, Kwame was one of my favorite presenters at ALAN, and he was such a pleasure to meet!)


Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I cannot wait to have my students make vocabulary poems like Josh does. Such a fun way to play with words. Additionally, like I stated above, any poem in this novel could be used in a poetry unit. I’d also love to have students come up with rules like Josh’s dad did for basketball and have them write them in verse.

Discussion Questions: Why is Josh so impacted by Jordan getting a girlfriend?; Who do you think influences Josh more: his dad or his mom? Explain.; Within his poems, Josh uses formatting, bolding, and different fonts to put emphasis on certain words. Why does he do this?; Josh uses figurative language throughout his poems. Find an example and share why you think Josh used it.; How are Josh and Jordan similar? Different?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott (YA), The Sports Pages edited by Jon Sciezska, The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks, Summer Ball by Mike Lupica

Recommended For: 

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I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer



Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


I am Jackie Robinson
Author: Brad Meltzer
Illustrator: Christopher Eliopoulos
Published January 8th, 2015 by Dial

Goodreads Summary: This New York Times Bestselling picture book biography series by Brad Meltzer has an inspiring message: We can all be heroes.

Jackie Robinson always loved sports, especially baseball. But he lived at a time before the Civil Rights Movement, when the rules weren’t fair to African Americans. Even though Jackie was a great athlete, he wasn’t allowed on the best teams just because of the color of his skin. Jackie knew that sports were best when everyone, of every color, played together. He became the first black player in Major League Baseball, and his bravery changed African-American history and led the way to equality in all sports in America.

This engaging series is the perfect way to bring American history to life for young children, providing them with the right role models, and best of all, inspiring them to strive and dream.

Kellee’s Review: Since Brad Meltzer published his first “Ordinary People Change The World” book, I have been intrigued by them. I am a huge fan of how he and Chris Eliopoulos format the books, and how they truly help engage their reader throughout. Their newest book in the series focuses on Jackie Robinson and how he went from a young kid loving and excelling at sports to changing the world by becoming the first black MLB player. It deals with acceptance and bravery and overcoming obstacles.

What makes this story of Jackie so unique though is how it is executed. First, I love how it is told in first person. Second, they included humor throughout. For example, there are two kids that keep guessing what the “B” on Jackie’s hat stands for, and they are such comic relief. Finally, the book is a picture book/graphic novel mix which I think really adds to the engagement of the book. And on top of all of this, the book is inspirational! Jackie’s story is always an awe-inspiring one, but this book specifically focuses on how you can truly change your own life if you put your mind to it even if there are truly tough obstacles.

Ricki’s Review: This book! From time to time, a book really impacts me, and I absolutely fell in love with this one. I have always found Jackie Robinson to be inspirational, but the way this story is crafted is uplifting. I am thrilled that kids will be exposed to this story–it teaches resilience and strength, and above all, it shows an extraordinary human being who made a difference in the world.

Like Kellee, I love the way this book is formatted. It will be great for all types of readers, and teachers will love how accessible it is for reluctant readers. The graphic novel style (with one panel per page) is intriguing and engaging. The last page provides a visually appealing fact-page to learn more about Robinson. I will absolutely be getting more books in this series.

Teachers’ Tools For Navigation: Meltzer’s series is a wonderful introduction to some phenomenal people in history that all children should learn about and aspire to be. “Ordinary People Change The World” would actually be a fantastic unit. You could read all of Meltzer’s titles (whole group or in lit circles) then research Lincoln, Parks, Einstein, Earhart, and Robinson to learn more about them. The students could then look into other ordinary people who have changed the world.

Discussion Questions: What do you think the hardest thing about being the first black MLB player would be?; Why do you think Jackie was chosen as the first black player?; What did the B on his hat stand for?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Any of the Ordinary People Change the World series books by Brad Meltzer, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe Dimaggio by Robert Skead

Recommended For: 

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Signatureand RickiSig

**Thank you to Penguin for providing copies for review!!**

Blog Tour with Review, Giveaway, and Author’s Guest Post!: Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson



Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
Author: Laurie Ann Thompson
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Published January 6th, 2015 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.

Includes an author’s note with more information about Emmanuel’s charity.

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah quote_Unleashing Readers

Author’s Bio: Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice, Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel’s Dream is her picture-book debut. Visit her at

lauriethompson_PhotoByMaryBalmaceda (2)

Kellee’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Emmanuel is inspiring. It is no wonder that Laurie Ann Thompson wrote this story: Emmanuel is truly a changemaker. What gets me about Emmanuel’s story is that he never gives up even when faced with challenges that most of us would crumble under. He proves that kids can make a tremendous difference and that we should be strong in the face of hardships.

Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls did an amazing job on this text. The story is perfectly paced and truly takes readers on Emmanuel’s journey with him. Additionally, the illustrations are pieces of artwork. I think mixed media was the perfect form for the story.

Please read this story to your students. Talk about Emmanuel, talk about the theme of his story, talk about how he changed the world, and talk about how anyone can do the same.

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As Kellee said, this is an inspirational story about a boy who refuses to be overcome by his disability. Others tell him he should just become a beggar, but he is determined to be the best he can be. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and the story flows well. Students will find hope and strength in Emmanuel’s strong, resilient spirit.

There aren’t enough books about disabilities in classrooms, and this frustrates me as a teacher. Frankly, there aren’t enough books being published about disabilities–both physical and mental. After reading this book, students could be encouraged to research about different individuals who have been strong in the face of disability. Then, as students share these stories with the class, students will learn lessons of bravery and resilience.

A CCSS-aligned curriculum guide is available at

Discussion Questions: What adjectives would describe Emmanuel?; How has Emmanuel changed life for himself and other people with disabilities in Ghana or worldwide?; How does Emmanuel show strength—both physically and emotionally? Can you relate him to anyone in your life?

We Flagged: “…He would honor them by showing everyone that being disabled does not mean being unable. It was a big dream, but Emmanuel had a plan.”

Read This If You Loved: Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, The Queen of Water by Laura Resau, Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams, Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli

Recommended For: 

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Author Guest Post

At the very end of Emmanuel’s Dream, you’ll find this quote:

“In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.” –Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

I chose to include that quote from Emmanuel because I think it exemplifies Emmanuel’s attitude toward life, but also because it was an important lesson for me to learn in my life… and it’s one I still need to be reminded of sometimes.

When I was a child, I was a perfectionist. I would never raise my hand in class. I always chose comfortable options over more challenging ones. I lived in constant fear of making a mistake—any mistake, in any area of my life. Of course, I still made them, and each one haunted me.

After college I got a job as a software engineer. In programming, I soon discovered, there’s no such thing as perfect. Every decision comes with a trade-off: better performance vs. flashy bells-and-whistles, a sooner delivery date vs. adding more features, a clean and simple design vs. a complex and robust one, cross-platform portability vs. the benefits of customization. You learn to do the best you can for the user in the time you have available. And, always, you know there will be bugs.

When I got involved in entrepreneurship, imperfection still ruled. Most startups fail, and successful entrepreneurs accept that, preparing themselves mentally (and financially) to try and try again until they find something that sticks. Even then, they’re often forced to make decisions quickly without having all the relevant information but knowing that to wait would also risk failure.

And now, with writing, perfection is just as hard to come by. Deadlines can cause us to put things out before we’re ready. Even without the pressure of a deadline, knowing when something is good enough to take to the next level is a guessing game. And what’s “good,” anyway? Despite years of working on them and dozens—if not hundreds—of revisions, copyedits, and proofs, there are still things I wish I could go back and change about each of my published books. I love them, but they can never be perfect.

What all of this has taught me is that it’s far better to do something and fail than to do nothing at all just because you were too worried about making a mistake. Worrying never does anyone any good, and the stress from it can actually harm you. But when you DO something, you learn, whether you succeed or not. You move forward, and you help everyone else following along behind. It’s not about perfection: it’s about progress.

I hope readers of Emmanuel’s Dream (and readers of this blog post!) will be inspired to follow their own dreams,  that they’ll accept that they’re not perfect but resolve to do their best anyway. Maybe just doing our best is—in its own way—the very perfection we are seeking.

Follow all the stops on Laurie’s blog tour!
Mon, Jan 12
Great Kid Books
Tues, Jan 13
5 Minutes for Books
Wed, Jan 14
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Jan 15
Fri, Jan 16
Cracking the Cover
Sat, Jan 17
Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 19 (MLK Jr bday)
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20
Wed, Jan 21
Geo Librarian
Thurs, Jan 22
Nonfiction Detectives
Fri, Jan 23
The Fourth Musketeer
Mon, Jan 26
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27
Teach Mentor Texts


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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and to Laurie Ann Thompson for her guest post!**