Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman, Melissa by Alex Gino, and Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these realistic fiction books.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend
Author: Dawn Quigley
Illustrator: Tara Audibert
Published May 11th, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons, a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be used in the classroom as a tool to show the students that it’s important not to assume what another student is thinking. It is always best to vocalize concerns

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe what a reservation is according to the book?
  • Why did Kokum (grandma) move in with Jo Jo and her mom?
  • In what ways are cats and balloons different?
  • Why did Jo Jo Makoons cut the toes out of her socks? What did she do with them?
  • What happens when Jo Jo takes Mimi to school?
  • What did the new girl, Susan do when she saw Mimi in the classroom?  How did JoJo feel about Susan’s reaction?
  • What are some ways you may relate to Jo Jo?
  • Has anybody ever felt like they might lose their best friend? Why?
  • How do Jo Jo’s classmates help her see that they are friends at the end of the story.
  • What does it mean to be a good friend to you?
  • What are some positive traits we could learn from Jo Jo?
  • In the Book Jo Jo cut out the toes in her socks. Why did she do this?
  • Why do you feel that Jo Jo felt left out at school?
  • Why was it so important for Jo Jo to bring MiMi to school with her?
  • What ways could JoJo have approached her classmates at lunch before getting upset about eating alone?
  • Why do you feel it’s important for Jo Jo and her family to learn and know the language of her Ojibwe tribe?
  • What could JoJo have done better for her original rhyme to make it better?
  • Like Jo Jo if you had to bring your best friend to class with you, who would it be and why?
  • How did you feel about the nickname Jo Jo made for Chuck?
  • Why do you think Jo Jo thought the Gym teacher’s name was Jim?

Recommended For: 

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The Length of a String
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Published May 1st, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birthparents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve–the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna’s diary and Imani’s birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use this book to discuss and learn about History-World War II/Holocaust, the Jewish faith, and adoption.

This book is educational because it discusses the Holocaust from the point of view of someone who experienced it. It also has an engaging story line that makes readers want to read more to find out what will happen. This book would be very useful when teaching about the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think Imani felt when she started to read about Anna’s life in her diary?
  • Think of a time you felt out of place and write about how that made you feel.
  • Why do you think Imani’s mom cries so much?
  • Have you ever felt a special connection with someone in you family?
  • If you were Imani, would you continue to look for your birth parents?
  • Suppose you wrote a diary about something that you want people/family in the future to know. What would it be about and why?
  • What are some special celebrations that you do with your family?
  • If you were Imani’s friend, what advice would you give her as she goes through this journey?
  • What is something you have that is special that you think you will give to someone in the future?
  • Why do you think people living around Imani insensitive questions?

Recommended For: 

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Melissa
Author: Alex Gino
Published August 25th, 2018 by Scholastic

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story is a good teachable book where certain themes can be brought up and talked about within the classroom setting. Where students can ask questions that may push boundaries but can be answered in a professional setting. This novel would be useful in the classroom to teach and promote gender diversity. This book would also be great as a classroom library so that students who may be facing these issues will have something relatable to read.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Identify some ways Melissa being trans affected their life.
  • Think about a moment when someone in the book was bullied. What could have been done differently?
  • Why do you think Melissa was so scared to tell her parents about who she is?
  • What does it mean to be an Ally?
  • Describe two ways someone else helped Melissa.
  • Describe Melissa’s disposition throughout the book. How did it change?
  • Do you think that it was a good idea to talk to a therapist about the issues between Melissa and her mom?
  • Write about a time you felt scared to tell someone the truth.
  • If you were in Melissa’s class what would you do to make her feel welcome?
  • Sketch a scene from the book. Why did you pick that scene?
  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    1. Classmates
    2. George’s mom and big brother
    3. School teacher/principal
    4. George’s best friend Kelly
    5. Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think they chose to do that?
  • How does Melissa feel in the first few chapters of the book?
  • How does Melissa feel at the end of the book?
  • Why did Ms.Udell not let Melissa play Charlotte?
  • Have you ever felt lost or scared to tell the truth? If so, how did that make you feel?
  • If Melissa was in your class, what are some ways you could make her feel welcomed?
  • Name a few things that Melissa had to struggle with, because she wanted to be trans.

Recommended For: 

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in a classroom for teachers to expose a lot of topics to students such as bullying, family relations, and relatable school interactions like wanting to play sports or friendships and grades. As well as students that are nervous about their 6th grade year or also starting sixth grade read about someone going through the same things as them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think caused Lolo to pick up the wrong twins?
  • Why do you think Merci and Edna are not friends?
  • Why do you think Edna is worried about appearances and mercy is not?
  • After their first interaction, do you think Merci will end up enjoying Michael as a sunshine buddy?
  • If you were a new kid would you want a sunshine buddy? Would you want to be a sunshine buddy? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Merci handled her situations maturely? Why or why not ?
  • Why did Merci’s parents hide Lolo’s conditions from her ?
  • How would you describe Merci’s relationship with her grandfather?
  • Do you think Merci’s culture made her feel different from her peers at school ? Why or Why not ?
  • How would you handle being falsely accused of something you didn’t do like Merci when edna destroyed the mask ?

Recommended For: 

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus, Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, and The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students when reading these historical fiction books.

One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Published January 26th, 2010 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think of Cecile and the way she treats her daughters? How does that make you feel?
  • What do you think Cecile does for the black panthers? Do you think it is good or bad?
  • Explain why you think the girls were sent to visit their mother?
  • Why did the black panthers call Fern’s doll, Ms. Pattycake, self hatred?
  • Who or what is a black panther? (For background knowledge on the history in story)
  • Why do you think Vonneta didn’t stick up for Fern when her friend was calling her a baby? Why did she then destroy Fern’s doll?
  • Family is an important theme of the novel, write about your relationship with your family.
  • Do you think Delphine agrees with the black panthers are fighting for? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Fern’s name is the real reason Cecile left? Why or why not?
  •  Do you think Delphine forgives her mom for abandoning her? Why or why not?

Recommended For: 

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A Place to Hang the Moon
Author: Kate Albus
Published February 2nd, 2021 by Margaret Ferguson Books

Summary: Set against the backdrop of World War II, Anna, Edmund, and William are evacuated from London to live in the countryside, bouncing from home to home in search of a permanent family.

It is 1940 and Anna, 9, Edmund, 11, and William, 12, have just lost their grandmother. Unfortunately, she left no provision for their guardianship in her will. Her solicitor comes up with a preposterous plan: he will arrange for the children to join a group of schoolchildren who are being evacuated to a village in the country, where they will live with families for the duration of the war. He also hopes that whoever takes the children on might end up willing to adopt them and become their new family–providing, of course, that the children can agree on the choice.

Moving from one family to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets, and the hollowness of empty tummies. They seek comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Muller, seems an excellent candidate–except that she has a German husband whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Nevertheless, Nora’s cottage is a place of bedtime stories and fireplaces, of vegetable gardens and hot, milky tea. Most important, it’s a place where someone thinks they all three hung the moon. Which is really all you need in a mom, if you think about it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book could be used to teach children about the effects of World War II on England and specifically how it affected children. This book could also be used to have an open discussion about family. To help children understand how family changes and how your ideas and those you consider family can change over time.

This book should definitely be put in the classroom library. Close reading/analysis would be used especially when the children are learning about World War II, so they are able to better understand historical context and explore what else was going on in this time period and why the actions of the characters were necessary. And the book would be great in a book club could also be used to help students reflect upon what they were feeling and give them an opportunity to share their opinions of the story with their peers.

Interdisciplinary Aspects:

History- This book takes place during World War II students can take this as an opportunity to research the war and understand the setting of the novel and why the characters were forced to move away in more detail

Reading/Literature- Throughout the book the children are introduced to many different books and authors. Students can explore these books and read one of their choosing to understand these stories in more detail

Discussion Questions: 

  • Throughout the book the children mention that they know they will have found their new family when they find someone who believes that they had hung the moon. What do you believe that this phrase means?
  • During this book the children mention that they are frequently talking about rationing and the need for rationing coupons. What is rationing and why was it necessary during the war?
  • Why would Mrs.Mueller having a German husband make her unsuitable to house the children?
  • Which housing accommodation was the least suitable for the children? Why?
  • Throughout the book the children read different books to pass the time and feel better about their current situation? How can reading bring about comfort to these characters?
  • How is Edmunds understanding of the war and his actions to his billet hosts different from Williams?
  • Edmund tells William that he knows that the stories he tells about his parents are fake. Why does he still enjoy these stories even though he knows they aren’t real?
  • Each of the siblings is hoping to get something specific out of the new family. (Edmund wants someone to cook for him, William wants to not worry about taking care of his siblings and having so many burdens, and Anna wants someone to tuck her in and give her a hug) Why is their idea of parents so different? How does Mrs. Mueller meet each of their expectations?
  • Why do you think that none of the children were devastated at the death of their Grandmother? How do you think they acted at their parents’ funeral?
  • Why are the children sent to a village in the country?
  • What war did this story take place during?
  • Where did the children get sent off to?
  • What is one thing they encountered during their foster care?
  • What is the name of the librarian they fell in love with?
  • Who is the person that sent them into foster care and why?
  • What did it mean for them when they said they hung the moon?
  • Who sank the boat of refugee children?
  • Why did the English women who’s husband was German get a lot of prejudice from neighbors?

Recommended For: 

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Planet Earth is Blue
Author: Nicole Panteleakos
Published May 14th, 2019 by Random House

Summary: Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.

While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful for students who aren’t nonverbal and autistic, it would teach the perspective from these students who are  to better understand them and find ways to relate to them.

It can also be an introduction to space and the solar system focusing on science.

This would be a great book to have in the classroom library as it is easy to build a personal connection to the characters that students may not want to speak about to a larger group. This would give them the chance to dive into subjects that may be relatable to them but not others and provide a safe space for it.

Using this book for a close reading or analysis can be beneficial as it can be used as an introduction to the space unit. It can be used as a way to introduce the topic of differences in students’ lives and how it can be accepted rather than seen as a negative.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship between Nova and Bridget that was given by the narrator.
  • Why do you think Nova and Bridget were unable to live with their mother any longer?
  • Why do you think Nova took a special interest in space?
  • How does it make you feel that people are mean to Nova? Use describing words.
  • Nova often talks about being tested multiple times. How does Nova feel about this testing? Can you relate to this? Explain.
  • Why do you believe the book was written from the point of view of a narrator rather than Nova herself?
  • When Francine looks up the word Nova, how does this relate to her?
  • Why were the chapters counting down instead of up?
  • Describe the alternative ending you would have liked to read for Nova and Bridget.

Recommended For: 

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Shooting Kabul
Author: N.H. Senzai
Published June 22nd, 2010 by Simon & Schuster

Summary: In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.

Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?

Based in part on Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in the 1970’s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:This book would be useful in the classroom when talking about history. Events like 9/11 and especially the history of the Middle East and how refugees adapt to American culture. It speaks on culture and religion. It also creates a discussion for kids to speak on transitioning, which most can relate to.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do the events of September 11, 2001, affect Fadi’s school and home life?
  • How would you handle accidentally leaving your sibling behind in another country?
  • Would you go to another country if things are going bad in yours or would you stay to help? How would you help if you stay? Where did you leave and why did you choose there?
  • If you were put in charge of a country would you put your beliefs and needs first or would you worry more for your people’s wants and desires? How would you handle either situation?
  • Would you move on if the bullies had destroyed your camera? What would you do if the principal asked you who was there during the fight?
  • What kind of observations tell you on how Fadi has adapted to his new school and life in America?
  • If you were a member of Fadi’s family, how would you have felt about Habib, your dad, wanting to return to Afghanistan?
  • In the book, what types of misunderstandings about the Muslim faith and Middle Easterns are shown?
  • How do you think Fadi felt when in school? Was it difficult for him to cope with American culture ?

Recommended For: 

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The Dreamer
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan & Peter Sis
Published April 1st, 2010 by Scholastic Press

Summary: Neftali finds beauty and wonder everywhere: in the oily colors of mud puddles; a lost glove, sailing on the wind; the music of birds and language. He loves to collect treasures, daydream, and write–pastimes his authoritarian father thinks are for fools. Against all odds, Neftali prevails against his father’s cruelty and his own crippling shyness to become one of the most widely read poets in the world, Pablo Neruda. This moving story about the birth of an artist is also a celebration of childhood, imagination, & the strength of the creative spirit. Sure to inspire young writers & artists.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is more about beating the odds that someone has set in place for you. Neftali is told he should be a poet by his father but when Neftali decides to be who he is meant to be, a poet/ artist, he finds success and happiness there.

The Dreamer would be an excellent book for independent reading within the classroom. This book would be great to have in your classroom library so that there are an array of diverse books to choose from. There will be a student at some point that will be able to relate to Neftali’s story with his father. This book could definitely make an impact on a student.

This book would be an excellent shared reading pick or book club choice. The story takes place in Chile, so can be used when teaching about other countries, specifically focusing on the norms, culture, and government. This story is also based on the childhood of poet Pablo Neruda. The book serves as an excellent introduction to poetry. The book is also a great aid for social emotional learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think Neftali enjoys daydreaming?
  • How would you describe Neftali’s relationship with his father?
  • What does Neftali’s father think of Rodolfo’s singing?
  • Why does he want Rodolfo to focus on business or medicine, instead of singing?
  • Compare Neftali’s father to Neftali’s uncle, Orlando. How are they similar or different?
  • Who did you think Neftali relates more to, his father or his uncle? Why?
  • How did Neftali’s relationship with his father change after his trip to the forest?
  • Why does Neftali love and hate the ocean?
  • Has anyone ever told you what you should be when you grow up? If so, how did it make you feel? What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Why does Neftali’s have a hard time making it to school on time?
  • What does Neftalis’ collections represent? How do they make him feel?
  • Has someone ever told you that you should do something- as your father did with Neftali? How did that make you feel?
  • What does Neftali dream of becoming? Does his father agree? Why or why not?
  • Neftali’s father called him by really harsh names, such as “idiot”- Do you think that Neftali was truly any of those things?
  • In the beginning, Neftali was shy, frail, didn’t say much, and spent a lot of time alone. How did Neftali begin to change throughout the book?
  • In what ways did Neftali’s relationship begin to change with his father?
  • What do you think it feels like to be Neftali?
  • Draw a specific scene from the book, why did you choose this scene to draw?

Recommended For: 

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Latinitas by Juliet Menendez, Lost in the Antarctic by Tod Olson, On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, and Stamped adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students found for these nonfiction books they read.

Latinitas: Celerating 40 Big Dreamers
Author: Juliet Menendez
Illustrator:
Published

Summary: Dream big with the Latinitas in Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers.

Discover how 40 influential Latinas became the women we celebrate today! In this collection of short biographies from all over Latin America and across the United States, Juliet Menéndez explores the first small steps that set the Latinitas off on their journeys. With gorgeous, hand-painted illustrations, Menéndez shines a spotlight on the power of childhood dreams.

From Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to singer Selena Quintanilla to NASA’s first virtual reality engineer, Evelyn Miralles, this is a book for aspiring artists, scientists, activists, and more. These women followed their dreams–and just might encourage you to follow yours!

The book features Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Juana Azurduy de Padilla, Policarpa Salavarrieta, Rosa Peña de González, Teresa Carreño, Zelia Nuttall, Antonia Navarro, Matilde Hidalgo, Gabriela Mistral, Juana de Ibarbourou, Pura Belpré, Gumercinda Páez, Frida Kahlo, Julia de Burgos, Chavela Vargas, Alicia Alonso, Victoria Santa Cruz, Claribel Alegría, Celia Cruz, Dolores Huerta, Rita Moreno, Maria Auxiliadora da Silva, Mercedes Sosa, Isabel Allende, Susana Torre, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Sonia Sotomayor, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Mercedes Doretti, Sonia Pierre, Justa Canaviri, Evelyn Miralles, Selena Quintanilla, Berta Cáceres, Serena Auñón, Wanda Díaz-Merced, Marta Vieira da Silva, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Laurie Hernandez.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are so many ways this book provides an opportunity to be used in the classroom. The book can be used during a history lesson as a resource. The book can also be used on its own for women’s month to learn about all of the Latina women who have made an impact in the world, or this book can also be used for Hispanic Heritage Month. This book could also be a resource if a student is looking to learn more about the women who have impacted their culture or just a Latina woman whose story has caught their attention. This book could also be used for language arts and social studies. This is an excellent book for reading circles, independent reading, or even book clubs. The children can choose a Latina they would like to focus on and write an essay on how they captured their attention or their accomplishments. This book is a quick read with various Latinas that will capture any student’s attention during reading time.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Choose one of the Latinitas highlighted in this book and write about how they inspired you.
  • Juana Azurduy de Padilla is one of the many women who fought for their country’s independence. What are some of the reasons people have fought for a nation’s independence?
  • Pick your favorite subject or topic and find a Latinita that shares that interest. What does she do in that field and how did she get there?
  • Many Latinitas were inspired by other great minds, who inspires you? Why?
  • Where they came from and where they called home heavily impacted the women in this book. How has your identity impacted your life?
  • Compare and contrast two Latinitas from different time periods. What did they have in common? What was different?
  • Explain why the work of an Archeologist, like Zelia Nuttall, is important?
  • Choose one of the Latinitas highlighted in this book and write about how they inspired you.
  • Juana Azurduy de Padilla is one of the many women who fought for their country’s independence. What are some of the reasons people have fought for a nation’s independence?
  • Explain why the work of an Archeologist, like Zelia Nuttall, is important?
  • Pick your favorite subject or topic and find a Latinita that shares that interest. What does she do in that field and how did she get there?
  • Many Latinitas were inspired by other great minds, who inspires you? Why?
  • Where they came from and where they called home heavily impacted the women in this book. How has your identity impacted your life?
  • Compare and contrast two Latinitas from different time periods. What did they have in common? What was different?
  • Compare two women that you read about in this book. Explain any similarities and differences between the two.
  • Write about two examples of Latinitas that had to fight for their education and explain how this was important.

Recommended For: 

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Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance
Author: Tod Olson
Published January 1st, 2019 by Scholastic

Summary: There wasn’t a thing Ernest Shackleton could do. He stood on the ice-bound Weddell Sea, watching the giant blocks of frozen saltwater squeeze his ship to death. The ship’s name seemed ironic now: the Endurance. But she had lasted nine months in this condition, stuck on the ice in the frigid Antarctic winter. So had Shackleton and his crew of 28 men, trying to become the first expedition ever to cross the entire continent.

Now, in October 1915, as he watched his ship break into pieces, Shackleton gave up on that goal. He ordered his men to abandon ship. From here on, their new goal would be to focus on only one thing: survival.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would make a great book club where students sit in groups and discuss their thoughts about the reading. This would also make an exceptional classroom library book because this could introduce students to survival based books that they may not have a lot of access to and may discover an interest in. This may also make them interested in Narrative Nonfiction that they may not have realized existed before.

This book could be interdisciplinary with science for the climate in the Antarctic and harsh conditions, along with social studies for a nonfiction historic event. Social studies with geography can also be involved as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • On what day did The Endurance ship slip past the rotting whale carcasses into the South Atlantic?
  • Do you think Shackleton was a good captain for this voyage? Why or why not?
  • How do the images impact the story being told in the story? Do these images give you additional information? Explain how the images impact how you read the story.
  •  Do you think that the cold weather made it more difficult for Shackleton along his crew to survive? What if the weather was hotter, do you think they could’ve survived more easily?
  • Do you think there was a specific action that led to the doom of the voyage? Why do you think this?
  • If you could bring one person with you on this voyage who would you bring and why?
  • What would you do to stay positive in this scenario? Use specific instances from the story in your response.
  • What roles would you assign to each of your classmates on this voyage?
  • How long do you think you and your class would survive in the antarctic? What would be important to think about, based on what you read in the story, when considering how long your survival would be and what you would need.

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On the Horizon
Author: Lois Lowry
Published April 7th, 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: From Lois Lowry comes an account of the lives lost in two of WWII’s most infamous events: Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. With black-and-white illustrations by Kenard Pak.

Lois Lowry looks back at history through a personal lens as she draws from her own memories as a child in Hawaii and Japan, as well as from historical research, in this work in verse for young readers.

On the Horizon tells the story of people whose lives were lost or forever altered by the twin tragedies of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.  Composed of poems about individual sailors who lost their lives on the Arizona and about the citizens of Hiroshima who experienced unfathomable horror.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom to teach about two major historical events that happened. Additionally this book can be used to teach students about citizenship, understanding, and cause and effect.

Students could also use the events in the book to create a newspaper because this gives the students a chance to interview people from the book that went through major historical events and offers a range of perspectives for students to look from.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think these events affected her?
  • Why do you think Lois Lowry decided to write about this event?
  • What connections can you make to the events of Horoshima and Pearl Harbor and your life?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write in poems?
  • Writing prompt: What would your feelings have been if you experienced the wars of Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor?
  • Why do you think the author chose the title “On the Horizon?”
  • What do you think Lois Lowry was trying to accomplish by giving different peoples perspectives?
  • How do you think the events of the war made Lois feel during and after the war?
  • What were your feelings when reading about the stories of sailors that lost their lives?

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Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You
Authors: Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
Adapted by: Sonja Cherry-Paul
Published May 11th, 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: This chapter book edition of the #1 New York Times bestseller by luminaries Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds is an essential introduction to the history of racism and antiracism in America

RACE. Uh-oh. The R-word. 
But actually talking about race is one of the most important things to learn how to do.

Adapted from the groundbreaking bestseller Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, this book takes readers on a journey from present to past and back again. Kids will discover where racist ideas came from, identify how they impact America today, and meet those who have fought racism with antiracism. Along the way, they’ll learn how to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book could be incorporated in classrooms as an introduction to a study. This book discusses an ongoing topic that is still controversial today. With a book like this, it opens up a door for students to discuss whether the author made valid points and how we could contribute his theories in today’s society.

The book is told in mostly chronological order when speaking about the evolution of racism throughout history. So the students could draw out a timeline and write the dates and facts they see throughout the story while they read. For this particular book it would be easier for them to do them in pairs.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the book what actions lead to the civil war?
  • How did literature play a big role with how African American as slaves were viewed by society back then?
  • After reading the book, what part of American History did you learn that you hadn’t previously known?
  • What is the author’s motive for writing this book?
  • Can you name one person in the book that contributed to the author’s point? Why?
  • Who is Nat Turner and what was his role?
  • Why do you think this author mentioned, “This is not a history book?”
  • What form of media such as movies or TV shows  make you rethink about the content of racism after reading this book?
  • Who did the author name as the “world’s first racist person” early in the book?
  • What was the curse theory, and how did it have an effect on the justification of slavery?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stargazing by Jen Wang, The Party by Sergio Ruzzier, Twins by Varian Johnson, and When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students created for these graphic novels they read.

Stargazing
Author: Jen Wang
Published September 10th, 2019 by First Second

Summary: Christine is a young girl who plays the violin and is suggested by her parents to join the talent show. She then meets a girl, Moon, who is rumored to beat up other kids. Once she gets to know her, she finds out that she is actually a good person and they become great friends who decide on performing in the talent show together. The girls get closer but when Christine’s schedule gets busier, Moon finds a new friend in Madison, making Christine jealous to the point she leaves Moon’s journal open on the table for everyone to see. The girls start laughing at the drawings in the journal but when Moon encounters situations that upset her, she doesn’t know how to act and gets violent. After attacking a classmate, Moon passes out and it’s discovered she has a tumor in her brain that requires surgery. Christine avoids talking to Moon as she was the one that caused the fight and Moon gets surgery to remove her tumor. The girls make up afterwards and Christine bands together with their other classmates to perform at the talent show in tribute to Moon while the school hosts the night as a Fundraiser for Moon and her mother.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom to help students learn the importance of accepting differences, treating others fairly and anger management. The book touches on topics such as stereotyping, homelessness, and bullying which can help students in the classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you react if you were Christine and learned that your new friend has a brain tumor?
  • Have you ever had a vegetarian dish, if so what was it?
  • What are some other ways Moon could handle Angela reading her pictures to everyone at the birthday party?
  • In the book the characters participate in a talent show, if you were to participate one what would your talent be?
  • Why do you think Moon left during Chinese learning class, do you think she should’ve gone back to learn Chinese?
  • If one of your friends were feeling sad and alone like Moon was after her surgery, how would you comfort them?
  • Do you think that Moon was wrong in sharing her concert ticket with Madison after Christine said she didn’t want to go?
  • Do you believe it was right for Moon to attack Gabrielle for making fun of Vivian about her math puzzles.
  • Was Christine’s father right for getting mad at Christine for painting her nails and not telling her parents about it?

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Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories
Author: Sergio Ruzzier
Published April 17th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Fox and Chick don’t always agree. But Fox and Chick are always friends.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A great activity to do with this book would be “post-ful thinking” where students put sticky notes on pages where they have a connection to while reading and jot a quick comment. These connections are shared when the group meets to identify issues for discussion. The sticky notes can also be used to revisit the book around a particular issue by marking pages relevant to the issue as a way to prepare for the discussion.

This book touched on more of the social-emotional aspects of life which is important for the age that the book is for.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you believe Chick’s question was properly stated in The Party?
  • Did Chick do as he said he would in The Party?
  • How would you reword Chick’s question in The Party?
  • How would you react if someone did something they didn’t mention before?
  • What time of day do you think the story Good Soup is?
  • Have you ever found yourself not being able to sit still like Chick?
  • What did you do to help yourself sit still in this situation?
  • Do you think Fox was correct when they didn’t paint Chick? What would you have done if your friend would not sit still?
  • What lessons can you take away from this book?
  • Have you ever made assumed something before you got to know someone like Chick did?

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Twins
Author: Varian Johnson
Illustrator: Shannon Wright
Published October 6th, 2020 by Graphix

Summary:Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!

Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in classrooms when trying to teach students about the importance of self-confidence, friendships and personal identity.

After reading the book, students can make a quick graphic or symbolic drawing reflecting how the story Twins made them feel/what they thought about the story and discuss their drawings.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Maureen and Francine find self-confidence?
  • How do Maureen and Francine change throughout the story?
  • What parts of the story do you see these changes?
  • How are Maureen and Francine alike?
  • How are Maureen and Francine different?
  • Why do you think Maureen ran for President instead of another position, such as Vice President or Treasurer?
  • Why do you think Maureen and Francine’s parents asked the twins to keep the election civil?
  • How do you think the parents feel about Maureen and Francine feuding with each other?
  • How does Maureen and Francine’s story influence how you see yourself? Do you know yourself?
  • Has the story of Maureen and Francine influenced how you view the concept of self confidence?

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When Stars Are Scattered
Author: Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
Published April 14th, 2020 by Dial Books

Summary: Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When Stars are Scattered is an impactful graphic novel that tells the story of the authors hardships throughout his childhood.  It places us into his shoes as he navigates his new life in a Kenyan refugee camp.  It was interesting to see our country from another persons point of view.  Throughout this book Omar and his brother had to face challenges not familiar to most his age.  They often went hungry, not knowing when or where the next meal would be coming from.  It was really great to see and show children that what we might take for granted is not available to others across the world.  In the book Omar had to decide if school was worth leaving his brother by himself everyday.  School wasn’t accessible to everyone in the camp, especially middle and high school.  It was a great accomplishment that Omar was accepted into middle school.  Omar also had to battle taking care of his brother by himself with the help of a neighbor.  Omar and his brother got separated from their mother shortly after fleeing their home.  Overall this book is a great example of what children across the world go through on a daily basis. 

This book has a lot in it that can be unpacked and discussed within the classroom.  This book hits on war, disability representation, women’s rights, and perseverance.  Omar and his brother were faced with challenges they shouldn’t have been faced with at their age.  But they overcame them and eventually accomplished their goal.  You could open up a discussion within the classroom talking about the hard topics that might not get talked about anywhere else.  You could talk about war and how it happens around the world.  You could show how Omar’s brother had a disability but didn’t let it stop him from achieving his goals.  You could hit on how women are treated in other countries compared to our own.  Honestly I feel this book is a great book to just promote a safe space for open discussions.  Children might not have a safe space to discuss these types of things.

Social Studies tie-in: The students can use this graphic novels to study the region of this book, the conflicts that have taken place, and how others around the world live.

Math tie-in: The refugee camps that are mentioned in the graphic novel are very large have the students calculate how large these camps by adding together the size of the three. Have the students graph the number of refugees coming to the camp every year.

Art tie-in: Have students draw their own section of a graphic novel inspired by this book.

Economics tie-in: Throughout this book Omar and Jeri do their best to make money in order to buy new essentials such as clothing and food. Have the students analyze how the market in the refugee camp fluctuates and how Jeri and Omar made profits.

Astronomy/History tie-in: Students can learn about stars and how they have guided travelers of the past.

Social Emotional Learning tie-in: The book could teach students about responsibility, compassion and values. Students can relate to the message this story brings. Some kids can be going through a somewhat similar situation that you may not be aware of. It teaches students the importance of perseverance through difficult times. It allows for students to engage in discussions about social issues that are going on and how to be compassionate about them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Who do you believe had the most influence on Omar’s life in the camp?
  • What is your first impression of Omar and Hassan?
  • Why do the boys think of Fatima as their foster mom? What is a foster parent?
  • Why was Omar hesitant to go to school?
  • Why was Maryam forced to quit school?
  • When Omar went to school why was there less girls then boys?  Was this normal?
  • Why was it so difficult for Omar to talk about his mom at the UN?
  • Why was Omar not going to school and when Salmen offered for him to go to school?
  • Write a diary entry from the perspective of Omar, describing thoughts and feelings about your day at school.
  • Omar realizes that he does have many people that love and support him, write about what you are grateful for, do you feel that love and support are things that mean the most in the world?
  • If you were Omar, would you have chosen the same path and attended school? Or stayed home to take care of Hassan? Explain
  • Throughout this graphic novel young girls and boys are treated differently within camp. Write about a time that you have seen someone be treated differently based on something they can’t control.
  • How were the schools within the refugee camp different from the schools in the United States?
  • Fatuma is considered a part of Omar and Hassan’s family despite not being related to them. Write about a person who is not related to you but who you love and consider a part of your family.
  • Which child in the story did you relate to and why?
  • Did this novel change your perspective of school? How so?
  • What is one lesson you learned from this book?
  • Have you ever read a story about a refugee before? Did it change your thoughts about what it means to be a refugee?
  • Who do you believe had the most influence on Omar’s life in the camp?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?  What makes you want to do that?
  • What is your first impression of Omar and Hassan?
  • Why do the boys think of Fatuma as their ‘foster mum’? What is a foster parent?
  • Why did the author choose “Hooyo” to be the last words said in the story?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Astronuts by Jon Sciezska, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani, One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale, and Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these graphic novels.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published September 10th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animal astronauts that were sent on a mission to find a sustainable planet for humans to live on once we’ve ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet in the nose rocket! They must perform experiments to gather all the information needed to know if the planet would be able to sustain humans, Or do Plant Planet’s inhabitants have a different plan in store. This book uses real life science with a fun twist.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great for teaching all about planet Earth, how to recycle, and how to protect the planet. Also, this book does a great job on putting a fun, zany twist on its characters that make this educational, engaging, and entertaining. These are all great things that students can look forward to when reading this book and are introduced to it, in the classroom.

In terms of interdisciplinary elements, we have discussed that the best subject that the book AstroNuts can be connected to is science. This book can be seen from many different angles when connected to science, but can be more specifically geared towards the knowledge of climate change, protecting one’s planet, and cell information (ex: plant cells).

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think AstroWolf thought that he knew it all?
  • Out of all the characters in AstroNuts (AstroWolf, LaserShark, etc.), which character do you think you could relate to the most? Explain.
  • What could the AstroNuts have done differently in order to not anger the plants, when they first arrived on the planet?
  • Which of the AstroNuts do you feel accomplished their goal for the mission? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the story do you see in our society when it comes to protecting our planet?
  • How does this book inspire you when it talks about the environment and the ongoing topic of global warming?
  • Which AstroNut do you think contributed the most to their mission? Explain.
  • If you were an official for the NNASA how could you help prepare the AstroNuts for their next mission?
  • If you were to draw Plant Planet, how would it look different from Earth. What types of things would be shown in your illustration? Explain.

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El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published September 2nd, 2014 by Abrams Books

Summary: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: El Deafo teaches students about inclusivity which is something kids sometimes struggle with, and its books like this, that may just do the trick! This novel could also be a great choice as a book club book because it is a real-life story and could very well be a kids favorite. You can challenge your students, and have them create a piece of writing or art work that is inspired by this story, to show understanding. It’s great to have different books about kids with certain challenges, so other students can read and understand them better and see that they are not so different from other students, which is why it is encouraged that you to add this to your classroom library if it isn’t there already!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • In what ways can you relate to Cece?
  • Cece thought about herself as a superhero? What do you think makes a person a superhero?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • How did the illustration help you understand what is going on in the story?

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Jukebox
Author: Nidhi Chanani
Published June 22nd, 2021 by First Second

Summary: When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz discover a magical time traveling Jukebox and are transported throughout history. Traveling through time, Shahi and Naz race to find Gio and uncover the truth behind the Jukebox.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is educational because it goes over important social issues and it has an engaging story line that will catch the reader’s attention.

Literature logs would allow students to make connections and critically think while they read the novel. The students can then revisit their notes before coming together for class discussions. Free writes allow students to get their real impressions of the book out. They are asked to write freely about the novel for a given amount of time. The absence of a prompt gives the students the chance to explore the aspects of the novel that stood out to them the most.

This book’s interdisciplinary concepts contain history, music and sexuality. Each record that plays brings you back to an event in history without giving too much information, this may lead readers to want to learn more about what was happening at different points of musical history and history in general. Along with this, there was mention of sexuality and the acceptance of it in their family. This can show the reader that it is okay to have a sexuality that isn’t heterosexuality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship Shahi has with her parents and with Naz.
  • What clues does the illustrator use to let the reader know what time period they are in?
  • Why do you think Gio and Earl prefer to listen to music on records?
  • Are you familiar with any of the music artists talked about in the book? If so, who and how did you learn about them? If not, who do you think would listen to and why?
  • Do you think the store owner (Earl) was a bit selfish, if so, why do you think that?
  • How does music influence your life?
  • Do you think music and history go hand in hand to shape our communities today?
  • Which historic time travel trip stood out to you the most and why?
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most. Give your reasoning.
  • Did you think that Shahi and Naz were ever going to find their father/ uncle? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the Jukebox was so important to Gio and Earl?
  • Describe one time in history that was mentioned in the book that you would like to go back to.

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One Dead Spy
Author: Nathan Hale
Published August 1st, 2012 by Abrams Books

Summary: Nathan Hale is the first ever American spy during the Revolutionary War, who is to be hung by the British.  Before the approval of the hanging a giant history book picks him up to go through the past events through Nathans’ point of view which made him a spy during the Revolutionary War, and what the future of the war will be.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book can be used with history and also when learning the time period the book is a good reference as far as word choice and vocabulary. It gives a good reference as far as seeing into the reality of the time period. It has great comedic relief and can be used to be an ice breaker when dealing with difficult things such as history, especially with our ELLs because it incorporates pictures and texts will allow them to make connections when reading and following along with pictures as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book compare to the textbook as far as history? Does this text provide more of a reference or as pleasant reading?
  • Knowing now that the main character is in reference to a real time activity, how does this change the pace and voice of the book?
  • What connections can we make from the graphic novel to the text as we are reading the text?
  • What can we infer from the textbook to foreshadow to happen in the graphic novel?
  • Why couldn’t the British soldier hang Nathan at the beginning of the graphic novel?
  • What were Nathan Hale’s famous last words?
  • What other history figures are present in the book?
  • How did Henry Knox get the cannons to General Wasington?
  • What was the first American victory of the war? And who won it?
  • How does the setting and the time period give more background knowledge as a reader? Does it help you for see the ending of the book?

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Squish: Super Amoeba
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published May 10th, 2011 by Random House

Summary: A student named Squish (who loves Science) encounters school life with his friends Peggy and Pod. In the midst of his everyday shenanigans, Squish discovers the meaning of right and wrong when faced with unexpected occurrences at his school. Looking up to his favorite role model, “Super Amoeba”, Squish is determined to become his own superhero, save his friend Peggy from the school bully, and fight against the difficulties that come his way!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When it comes to interdisciplinary elements in this book, we have found that the closest subject that could be connected to Squish is science. Some ways in which you could connect the book to science is by conducting a couple of experiments where students can find amoebas, or other microorganisms,  under a microscope. Amoebas can be found in water puddles and lakes, and most of these places are nearby a school, which can be a great field day for students as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What event(s) in the book do you think shows poor/unfriendly behavior? Why?
  • What is a Planaria? Why did the authors make the principal of Squish’s school a Planaria?
  • If you were a friend of Squish, what advice would you give him when confronting the bully in the story? Would you not give him advice? Why or why not?
  • What types of connections could you make with Squish’s character, and his emotions at the end of the story? Explain.
  • Why do you think Mr. Rotifer didn’t ask more questions on why Squish helped Lynwood?
  • Is Pod a good friend in your opinion? Why or why not?
  • What animal would you want to eat the bully in the story? Explain.
  • Would you help the bully cheat to protect your friend?
  • What are some ways that Squish could have handled his bullying situation?Why or why not?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, Magnificent Makers: How to Test a Friendship by Theanne Griffith, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, and Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about fantasy novels.

Dragons in a Bag
Author: Zetta Elliott
Published October 23rd, 2018 by Random House

Summary: Jax is left by his mom to an old lady by the name of Ma. Jax later finds out that Ma is a witch who has 3 dragon eggs that hatched. They need to return the eggs because they won’t survive in the regular world due to lack of magic. They go to portals through time that takes them to the time of dinosaurs. Along the way, Jax meets his grandfather who also knows magic, and has him return two of the dragons to the magic council but accidentally left one left behind so he returns to the regular world. He forces his mom and the witch to hash out their problems.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When using fantasy in the classroom it is always a good way to spark your students’ creativity. This source could be used as a creative writing prompt to boost off their creativity of the story: Conduct an activity based upon the book like have them write a short story about what they would do if they were in Jax’s shoes and have them draw pictures of dragons, name them, and design the dragons how they would like them to be pictured.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was Jax’s first impression of Ma?
  • How do you think Jax will return the last dragon to the magic council?
  • Who do agree with and why? Ma who wants to keep the world of magic separate or L. Roy who wants magic to come back to earth.
  • Why do you think Jax decided to open the window for the squirrel?
  • What were 2 things the dragons were not allowed to have?
  • When you first hear the word apprentice what comes to mind?  Did you have the same thinking as Jax?
  • How does the story tie in with real-life scenarios with the fantasy?
  • Who are the most influential character apart from Jax?
  • When do we see the change of events come in play throughout the story?
  • When reading the book your imagination goes wild,in what other circumstances does your mind go other places when reading this story?

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The Magnificent Makers: How to Test Friendship
Author: Theanne Griffith
Illustrator: Reggie Brown
Published May 19th, 2020 by Random House Children’s Books

Summary: Pablo, Violet and Deepak are three friends who get sucked into a telescope and must play science games to come back and play again. Deepak is the new kid who makes Pablo jealous with his presence. Throughout the book, the team works together and build their friendship to complete the games.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book could be used as a classroom read-aloud over the course of a few days or a week.  Due to the science elements, this book would be a good way to start off science discussions in the classroom. For example, the second chapter includes the students learning about food chains. This book is perfect to make connections back to science.

Discussion Questions: 

  •   Why do you think Pablo was jealous of Deepak?
  •   What were some of the challenges they had and what did they have to do?
  •   Why do you think Pablo, Violet, and Deepak were chosen for the Maker’s Maze?
  •    What do you know about producers, consumers, decomposers, and scavengers?
  • What were your favorite aspects of science that you learned from the book?
  • What type of emotion did the characters experience in the book?
  • When Deepak arrived to class, what did Pablo notice about him?
  • How does Pablo overcome is jealous toward Deepak?
  • Toward the end of the book why did they relate their friendship to the ecosystems?

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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published April 22nd, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly Diamond is a little girl who receives a magic book that lets her bring to life the things that she writes and draws. She has a little sister who she doesn’t like very much and a brother on the way. Polly loves to write, she writes lists and stories and anything that she thinks is worth writing. When she starts writing in her magic book she realizes that the book can talk back to her. She writes to her book and comes up with lists and stories to write. She realizes that whatever she writes in the book comes to life when she writes about making a ladder to paint her room and the books on the floor magically move to make a ladder. The book tells her that is what she’s for and Polly quickly learns she can do anything she writes. She makes herself invisible and her sister into a banana. But she realizes that the book is taking everything she says literally. When she writes about eating a club sandwich the book gives her two slices of bread with a bat in between because it took the definition of a club literally. She told the house to fix up the carpet and turn her room into an aquarium. But the carpet was on the ceiling and fish were swimming around her room. She then realizes that everything she wrote was crazy and tries to put the house back to normal because she can’t even recognize it anymore. She fixes it just in time for her parents to come home with her new baby brother. At the end of the story she gives the book a name, Spell. And looks forward to writing and drawing another day with her new book, and friend Spell.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Polly uses and explains words like metaphor, affixes, alliteration, and hyperbole.  This is a great opportunity to talk about these definitions, make lists of words and phrases that relate to these words, and do activities where the students use metaphors, alliteration, homophones, homonyms etc.  It seems like a useful book to have in a first grade classroom and use with a higher level reading small group or a second grade class.    It could also be used as a read aloud, again discussing the key words and their meanings, then practicing using those skills.  There is a lot of use of imagery in this book as well as understanding literal meaning and how words matter.

After reading the text, students can respond to the story by engaging in a free write activity after they finish the reading. As a teacher, we could set a timer for five minutes and ask the students to write continuously about their thoughts on the book, good or bad, and afterwards, go over it as a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Polly had many favorite words throughout the book, what are some of your favorite words and why?
  • Make a list of activities you would do to have a Super-Fantastic-Day.
  • In the book, Polly writes down what her dream bedroom would look like. If you could have your dream bedroom, what would it look like?
  • When Polly writes in the magic book, she learns that she needs to write clearly and use as much detail as possible. What are some important rules to follow when writing so people can understand your message clearly?
  • When Polly is playing hide-and-seek, why does she become invisible?
  • Imagine the turquoise notebook has changed your house like Polly’s. Please write a short story explaining what your home looks like in order to get it back to normal.
  • How does Polly feel having to share a room with her little sister when her brother is born?
  • If you had a magic notebook that could bring three things you wrote about to life, what 3 things would you write or draw and why?
  • Polly loves words with double letters like “Dizzy.” List 5 words you can think of that have double letters.
  • Polly loves alliteration.  That’s when  two or more words in a row begin with the same letter.  What alliterations can you think of?

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Sisters of the Neversea
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Published June 1st, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: This book is a tale about three children, Lily, Wendy, and Michael. Their parents, Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene Roberts-Darling are separating, splitting the family between two different locations.  The night before Wendy and Mr. Darling are supposed to leave, the children are visited by a boy named Peter Pan and Belle. Stories of pirates and merfolk persuade the children to follow Peter Pan and Belle off to a mystical land called Neverland.  Upon arriving the children are separated and discover once you arrive you can never leave.  The children meet merfolk, pirates, native children, the lost, and fairies in a desperate attempt to figure out how to get home.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be great for a read aloud, book club, or close reading because it involves a lot of higher level vocabulary than some students may currently be reading at and it has long sentences and dialogue which again, some children could struggle with. These classroom uses would allow for discussions.

Geography could also be tied in because students could illustrate and demonstrate caves and waterways the Merfolk might have dwelled in. They also could show their knowledge of what an island like Neverland might have, and include what trees they think the lost boys were living in.

And, of course, it could be looked at versus Peter Pan as it is a retelling.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • If you were to create a different ending, How would it go?
  • Why do you think Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene wanted to separate?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • What were some challenges that the children had to face or overcome?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan and Belle appeared?
  • Why do you think it was hard for the lost boys to remember who they are?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan never wanted to grow up?
  • Why do you think Belle brought Peter Pan to the island?
  • Why do you think the crocodile made a TikTok sound?
  • Does this book remind you of any other children’s stories?  If so why?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen, Maya and the Robot by Eve Ewing, and The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about science fiction novels.

Concealed
Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Published October 19th, 2021 by Scholastic

Summary: Ivette, Joanna, and now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, new hair color, new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Katrina embarks on a dangerous rescue mission to save them-and find out the truth of her past at last.

Yet every new discovery shows that the Katrina’s entire life has been nothing but lies. Katrina has always kept her parents’ secrets. But it turns out, they were the ones keeping secrets from her this whole time. Could she be the reason they’ve been hiding all these years? The truth will throw everything Katrina has ever believed about herself into question.

Concealed is an action-packed adventure story by award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great relatable book for young adults! Throughout the story, Katrina, the main character, fights for more information about herself and her family and why they are on the run, but she often gets overlooked and ignored when she’s asks questions. A lot of teens experience this and I think it would be a great book for a book club or even an assigned read for the class to explore sci-fi and have good discussions.

This books interdisciplinary elements include science and family and friendship values. It touches on the development of science in the DNA and gene makeup, which students may be unaware of at the time of reading which may lead them to explore more on their own. The family and friendship values show that no matter what a family goes through there is still love there. Along with this it shows the importance of friendship and everything that goes along with having a good friend by your side, even when at first you don’t think it is important.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you do if you were Katrina and no one would answer your questions?
  • Would you have wanted to go with Katrina on this adventure? Why or why not?
  • Katrina’s skill is drawing and Parker’s skill is computers, describe what your skill is.
  • Describe how you would feel if you found out that you had a lost twin sister/brother.
  • What did you think of X in the story? Did you think he was a good character or a bad character? Why?
  • What would be your name if you had to choose another one?
  • Describe the relationship between Katrina and Parker.
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most and give your reasoning.
  • Why do you think Katrina didn’t like moving so much? How would you have felt if you were in her shoes?
  • Why do you think the main character’s family has to run and change their identity so many times?
  • Do you think it would be safer for Katrina to leave Parker out of her life? Why or why not?
  • Describe the relationship Katrina has with her parents as the book goes along. What about Parker? X?
  • Why do you think Katrina was so open with Parker, even at the beginning of their friendship?
  • Do you believe X is trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe B and L refuse to tell Katrina the truth about what happened before she lost her memory?
  • Do you think Ellla will side with her family or Mr. Sterling?
  • Describe what part of the book surprised you the most.
  • Do you think it is a good idea for Ellla and Katrina to share their life story on social media? Why or why not?

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The Last Gate of the Emperor
Authors: Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen
Published May 4th, 2021 by Scholastic Press

Summary: An Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this journey to the stars.

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime — a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family… and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis — a game rival turned reluctant ally — Yared must search for his uncle… and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In a way, students can learn about culture in this book. From there, diversity can be introduced into the lesson. Also, it would be great for discussing using your own personal interests and culture in your writing. The story also intertwines Ethiopian history and culture with space adventure and science fiction. This will be entertaining for the students while also educational. Another thing that can be taught while reading this book is that you will have to face the consequences of your own actions. If you are going to do something that you know is wrong, something bad will happen afterwards.

Students could also make timeline of events which would be interesting to see Yared’s adventure and battles laid out.

This novel would be considered interdisciplinary because it intertwines history with science fiction. It also introduces the idea of secret underground games, space & robots, as well as intergalactic war. These topics are mostly seen in movies but the main plot line is finding the uncle who would have the answers. It shows the students that even in stressful situations, never giving up and determination in hard times shows better outcomes.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Think about what makes up you. What aspects of yourself would you reflect in your stories?
  • Compare a time when Yared was brave to one where he was scared? How did he overcome his fear?
  • Describe a time Yared had to ask for help?
  • What futuristic items in the book do you wish we had now? Why?
  • Describe the relationship between Yared and his uncle.
  • Predict what you think Yared will do in the next book.
  • How would you characterize Besa? How does the author convey her feelings without talking?
  • Why do you think the story starts with an audio transcript? Did it grab your attention or confuse you?
  • How do you feel about the rules on Addis Prime? Would you want to follow them?
  • Does this novel remind you of any movies or maybe other literature you have read?
  • How would you feel if you were in the same situation as Yared?
  • Do you think Yared has good qualities or does he often find himself in trouble because of them?
  • What other Ethiopian stories have we read in class before? Do you find similarities in the novels?
  • Do you think the illustrations on the cover with Yared and the robots in space gave you a good summary of what the book might be about?
  • What inferences can you make by looking at the cover of the book?
  • How and why did the setting change?
  • What key words from the novel stood out to you the most and why?
  • If the authors were to write another novel using Yared and Besa, what do you think it would be about?

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Maya and the Robot
Author: Eve Ewing
Illustrator: Christine Almeda
Published July 13th, 2021 by Kokila

Summary: An illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend—and a science fair project.

Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom in order to get children interested in STEM:

Students could learn more about robotics and electrical elements. Following along with Maya as they learn students are introduced to new ideas and definitions that will bridge their understanding of STEM.

Students will be able to create their own science fair projects. Students can present their own ideas and also learn about how projects in the book worked

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think that her finding the robot impacted her in a good or bad way? Why?
  • What piece of modern technology does Ralph remind us of?
  • What modern upgrade would you give Ralph?
  • What is something in your life that you would consider your Ralph?
  • Who can relate to Maya? Explain why?
  • Throughout Maya and the Robot there are many different lessons you can take away. What lessons can you take away from the book and why?
  • How did Ralph allow Mr. Mac to heal after Christopher’s death?
  • Throughout the book Maya often feels alone in the classroom. What is one way to make your classmates feel included?
  • Could Maya have fixed her relationship with MJ and Jada earlier in the book? Why or why not?
  • Throughout the book Maya’s teacher calls her by the incorrect name. Why is it important to stand up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable?

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Illustrator: Dapo Adeola
Published April 2nd, 2019 by Versify

Summary: When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Using this book in the classroom could help students become more brave or confident. Majority of the students should be able to relate to this story because it is almost like a dream come true. This book could open up a lot of “What if” questions for students and I love it. Students will be able to use their imaginations, better their reading skills, and have fun at the same time.

This story would also be a fun story to read together as a class and it is a fun novel to get students eager to read!

Once students are done reading this book, there could be a class reflection on how we can all be brave heroes in real life in our homes and at school. To make this even more exciting students can create their own super hero crest and name. Students will practice helping others and I will make sure their parents know about this assignment to help the students with understanding that we help each other all of the time not just at school, but to practice it everywhere if applicable and not dangerous.

Students can also respond by writing their own fictional story about their own adventures on the last day of summer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the novel the acronym BTSFOASTF is written by Grandma. What does it mean?
  • With a partner, come up with an answer together and write it on the white board. Grandma is diabetic, What medicine did she take and what is it for?
  • When Otto and Sheed took the picture, what happened?
  • Why did Sheed decide not to tear up the picture?
  • What was the one thing Otto discovered had been consistent since time had been frozen, and in which chapter was this discovered? Would you have noticed the same thing? Why?
  • For how long did Otto and Sheed’s adventure last, and why do you think so?
  • How do you unfreeze a person in the story?
  • Why did TimeStar lie?
  • Who is TimeStar and why do you think so?
  • What role did the clock watchers play in this story?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
  • How do Otto and Sheed work together and overcome their differences?
  • What were some clues that you noticed when reading, that something was not right after the boys took the photo?
  • Describe the boys relationship with their grandmother
  • If you could time travel, would you rather go forward in time or backward in time?
  • What was your favorite part about Sheed and Otto’s day?
  • Are you surprised by who Mr. Flux is?
  • Is this how you would want to spend your last day of summer?

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