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Whether celebrating the arts, the seasons, community, family, friends or ourselves, the ROW December 2016 titles are great books to read and discuss. Check them out below. Find discussion questions here and other resources at TeachingBooks.net!

global baby bedtimes

waiting

happy in our skin small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

song within my hearthanahashimotoweb

dragons beware small

winter-bees

 

friends-for-life

this-one-summer

girls-like-us

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Icon_HighSchool1girls-like-usGirls Like Us by Gail Giles. Candlewick, 2014

A 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Winner

We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.  From the publisher

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What lessons do other characters learn from their interactions with Biddy and Quincy?
  2. How are Biddy and Quincy’s lives after graduation similar to most young adults? How are their lives different?
  3. What rights does a mother have after she has given her baby up for adoption?
  4. What does the duck symbolize? Why? Does this help you make sense of Biddy’s story?

this-one-summer

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, 2014

A 2015 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Early adolescence is a fluid and challenging period of awakening and discovery and in-between-ness in this graphic novel that beautifully and keenly captures that time. In this summer of tension and change, Rose and her parents are at the cottage they have gone to for years. Rose is between child and teenager, more mature in some ways than her younger friend, Windy, even as Windy’s innocence helps ground them both. At the store where the girls go to get videos on languid days, Rose is drawn to the local teenage clerk. She picks out horror movies to impress him, and is intrigued by the drama surrounding the boy and his girlfriend who, she learns, is pregnant. Windy is still sure enough of herself to see and state things in a refreshingly straightforward, uncomplicated way, and calls Rose out for her sexism in blaming the pregnant girl. Meanwhile, Rose’s mother is battling depression and something else Rose doesn’t understand. Rose’s parents are tense and often fighting, and Rose thinks her mother can and should just choose not to be sad. Everything feels profoundly connected in this story that illuminates that time of adolescence when young teens are just starting to open their eyes to the world in new ways; when their interests outpace their experience or their understanding; and when their ability to understand can mature at an astonishing rate.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What was your first reaction to the cover and the illustrations of this book? How does this reaction compare to your reaction to the novel after reading it?
  2. What characters did you most identify with? Why?
  3. What aspects of Rose’s life drive her urge to grow up?
  4. How do the illustrations and texts work together and apart to tell this story? What do the illustrations add that the text leaves out?

Find resources for Girls Like Us and This One Summer at TeachingBooks.net!

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Books for Middle School Agefriends-for-lifeFriends for Life by Andrew Norris. David Fickling Books/Scholastic Inc., 2015

A timeless and uplifting book about friendship, filled with humor and heart.

When Jessica sits next to Francis on a bench during recess, he’s surprised to learn that she isn’t actually alive — she’s a ghost. And she’s surprised, too, because Francis is the first person who has been able to see her since she died.

Before long, Francis and Jessica are best friends, enjoying life more than they ever have. When they meet two more friends who can also see Jessica, the question arises: What is it that they have in common? And does it have something to do with Jessica being a ghost?  From the publisher

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What do you think makes the adults turn to a 13 year-old like Francis to solve their parenting problems?
  2. Why do you think Andi risks being expelled to defend Francis?
  3. How do the three friends change after meeting Jessica?

Find more resources for Friends for Life from TeachingBooks.net

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dragons beware smallIcon_Intermediate1Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre. Illustrated by Rafael Rosado. First Second, 2015

She’s back! Still the “act first, think later,” wooden-sword wielding fighter introduced in Giants Beware, bold Claudette is itching to protect her town from the menacing sorcerer Grombach and his army of gargoyles. With her best friend, Marie, and little brother, Gaston, at her heels, Claudette follows her father on his quest to reclaim his powerful sword and face their foe. Grombach’s true identity is revealed, a cursed hag provides a helpful tool, and a sword-swallowing dragon is convinced to return his plunder (albeit in a disgusting vomit-manner). Drawing on a combination of courage, luck, and a dose of cooperation and diplomacy, the three kids again save their community from looming disaster. Appealing characters and large doses of humor (like the seven hopeful princes trailing after Marie) complement the non-stop action of this full-color graphic novel.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. The heroine, Claudette, is a fighter. She likes to “act first, think later.” How does compromise work better than force in this story?
  2. The children’s father has physical limitations. How does he persevere?
  3. How does this book challenge gender stereotypes? Have you ever felt that because of your gender you should or shouldn’t do something?
  4. If you could play a character in this book, who would you want to be and why?

winter-bees

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman. Illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Tundra swan, snake, snowflake. Bees in their hive, a vole under snow, the fly-high raven and the earth-bound wolf. The lives of these and other creatures in winter are the subject of poems by Joyce Sidman that crackle with cold and sing with warmth. “We scaled a million blooms / to reap the summer’s glow. / Now, in the merciless cold, / we share each morsel of heat, / each honeycombed crumb…. / Deep in the winter hive, / we burn like a golden sun.” (From “Winter Bees”) Sidman’s evocative, lyrical poems are paired with brief factual information written to resonate with an illuminating the imagery by showing how it is drawn from what the poet knew about each of her subjects. Gorgeous, stylized linoblock and digitally rendered art by Rick Allen is an elegant backdrop to a lovely and inspired collection. (MS)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think the poem “Winter Bees” was chosen for the title? Which poem would you have selected and why?
  2. The author pairs poems and informational text to describe animals and their habitats in the winter. Why do you think the author chose to use both formats? Do you like the poems or the informational text better, or do you like them both? Why?
  3. What role do you think the fox plays in the illustrations?
  4. What Wisconsin animal would you add to the book?

Find more resources for Dragons Beware! and Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold at TeachingBooks.net!

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hanahashimotoPrimary Icon of a White-Tailed DeerHana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki. Illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2014

Hana’s decision to enter the school talent show is met with derision by her older brothers. “It’s a talent show, Hana.” “You’ll be a disaster.” It’s true she’s only had three violin lessons. But on their summer visit to Japan, their grandfather, Ojiichan, played for them every day. Hana’s favorite was the song about a crow calling for her chicks. “Whenever Ojiichan played it, Hana would feel a shiver of happy-sadness shiver through her.” She also loved the way he could make his violin sound like crickets or raindrops. She practices every day for the show, and when the time comes to step onto the stage, the sixth violin performance of the night, she’s nervous but determined. She begins with three “raw, squawky notes” to mimic the caw of a crow, followed by a “the sound of my neighbor’s cat at night” as she drags the bow across the strings in a “yowl of protest.” Hana also makes the sound of buzzing bees, squeaking mice, and croaking frogs before taking a bow. Not everyone can be a prodigy, but in a warm, refreshing, beautifully told and illustrated story, loving what you do is enough of a reason to share it.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do you think Hanna’s performance at the talent show differs from the other five violinists? How does her performance surprise her brothers?
  2. In what ways does Grandfather’s playing of the violin inspire Hanna?
  3. How does Hanna overcome her stage fright at the talent show?

song within my heartThe Song within My Heart by David Bouchard. Illustrated by Allen Sapp.  Red Deer Press, 2015

A grandmother guides her grandson through his first pow-wow. He hears the beating of the drums and the singing, but does not understand what they are saying. By urging him to listen and hear, the grandmother gently directs her grandson until he finds the stories and an understanding of his culture. With her warm presence and thoughtful words, the boy’s grandmother, his nokum, grounds her grandson in the history and present of this First Nations experience as well as leads him into his future, encouraging her grandson to own his “stories, songs, and beating heart.” Written in both English and Cree, this story showcases the stunning, brilliant colored and evocative artwork by renowned Cree artist Allen Sapp. Poetic, tender, and informative, the paintings and text are based on Sapp’s memories of being raised by his grandmother on the Red Pheasant reservation in Saskatchewan.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think the story is written in two languages — English and Cree? Why do you think the larger grey-colored words are included?
  2. How does the beating drum tell the story of an individual boy and of his people? How do the illustrations and captions improve your understanding of the story?How does listening to the CD increase your understanding of the story?
  3. Why do you think Nokm tells her grandson to value the songs and stories more than toys, clothes, jewels, or cars, and other material things?

Find more resources for Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin and Song Within My Heart for TeachingBooks.net.

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happy in our skin smallIcon for Babies Toddlers & PreschoolersHappy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Lauren Tobia. Candlewick Press, 2015

“Look at you! You look so cute in your brand-new birthday suit. This is how we all begin: small and happy in our skin.” And skin, whatever beautiful color it comes in “keeps the outsides out and your insides in … When you fall, your skin will heal with a scab, a perfect seal.” A simple, rhyming text affirms both universality and uniqueness within the human family when it comes to skin: how it looks, what it does. The joyful narrative’s message is amplified by illustrations focusing on a mixed race family as part of a diverse-in-every-way, vibrant community. The light-skinned parent in the family is a woman; the Black parent’s gender is open to interpretation.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: Name your skin color. For instance, are you cocoa brown, cinnamon, honey brown, ginger, peaches and cream or something else entirely?
  • Sing: Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
  • Write: Draw a picture of yourself.
  • Math or Science: Explore your 5 senses, especially touch.

waitingWaiting by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2015

Childhood is full of waiting. It turns out childhood toys spend a lot of time waiting, too. An owl with spots waits for the moon, a pig with an umbrella waits for the rain, a bear with a kite waits for the wind, a puppy on a sled waits for the snow, and a rabbit with stars looks out the window in which they all sit, happy to be just be watching. Some waiting is easily fulfilled—the moon shows itself often. Some waiting stretches on and on. But there are always new things to see, occasional visitors, and sometimes delightful surprises. Kevin Henkes’s lyrical picture book is a graceful and perfect interplay between words and images. The finely paced narrative expresses and extends the sense of possibility in waiting, whether attached or unattached to expectation. The soft, muted illustrations expand on that possibility, further illuminating how the quiet between big moments is as important as the moments themselves. Time is measured in the repeated refrain of a four-paned window, through which seasons change and change again. Highly Commended, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: What are each of the toys waiting for? Are they waiting for different things or the same thing?
  • Sing: If You’re Happy and You Know It. Replace “happy” with a word that describes one of the toy’s feelings.
  • Write: What shapes can you find in the clouds? What shapes can you find (or make) in the snow?
  • Play: Play Mother, May I? How long do you have to wait to do what you ask to do?
  • Math or Sciences: Play the waiting game. Count while you wait. How long do you wait for snack? For friends? For holidays?

global baby bedtimesGlobal Babies: Bedtimes by Maya Ajmera. A Global Fund for Children Book. Charlesbridge, 2015

Babies love seeing other babies. So what could be more appealing than the sight of one sleeping baby? How about a book that shows 18 sleeping babies from countries around the world? Following the format of earlier books in the Global Babies series, this board book features a photograph of a sleeping baby (and in one case, twins) on every page. A very brief rhyming text points out that babies everywhere sleep, whether in a crib or on a floor, on the back or in the arms of someone who loves them. Every photograph is labeled with the country in which the baby pictured lives.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these early literacy activities with children:

  • Talk: Where do you sleep?
  • Sing: Sing a lullaby
  • Write: Tell a story about one of the babies in the book.
  • Play: Tuck a baby doll into bed.
  • Math or Science: Explore textures. What’s soft? What’s scratchy?

Try these poems:

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Bedtime section

Find more resources for Global Babies: Bedtimes, Waiting and Happy in Our Skin at TeachingBooks.net!

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each kindness cover

 

A book trailer throwback in honor of the Charlotte Zolotow lecture by Jacqueline Woodson this week! Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson graced the Read On Wisconsin Primary list back in 2013-2014. Click the book cover to view the book trailer of Each Kindness made by Madison and Middleton Middle and High School students from Simpson Street Free Press.

Watch the video, read the book!

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2012

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Alphabet SchoolIcon for Babies Toddlers & PreschoolersAlphabet School by Stephen T. Johnson. A Paula Wiseman Book / Simon & Schuster, 2015

Stephen T. Johnson brings his artist’s eye to a school environment to locate letters of the alphabet in ordinary objects and scenes. The shadow of a school bus mirror forms the letter B. Two flags on a pole make an F. Remnants of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich curl into a G. A flipped-up toilet seat is an almost perfect U. Johnson’s striking full-page, realistic paintings have a tinge of grittiness with their speckled texture, looking like well-worn photographs. The imperfections amplify the realism, and while these are surely images drawn from one or more specific places, there is also a universality, as if this could be any school. It’s hard to imagine children not being inspired to look closely around their own classrooms, hallways, gymnasiums, and playgrounds to see what letters might be lurking, and some will surely want to create images and books of their own.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading Alphabet School

  • Talk: Talk about the shapes within the letters. Which letters are curvy? Which are straight?
  • Sing: Sing the Alphabet Song. Try singing the alphabet to a different tune.
  • Write: Use different objects from around your house to form the first letter of your name.
  • Play: Go on a letter walk and look for the first letter of your name.
  • Math or Science: Make a cutout of the first letter of your name. Bring it with you on your letter walk.

i dont like snakesI (Don’t) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Luciano Lozano. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2015

When her puzzled, snake-loving family asks a young girl why she doesn’t like snakes, she points out that snakes slither and have “slimy, scaly skin” and “flicky tongues.” They also stare. In response to these and other points, her dad, mom, and brother have an explanation—and sometimes a correction (e.g., snakes aren’t slimy; their skin is dry)—expanding the girl’s understanding of and appreciation for snakes. This picture book deftly blends the appealing fictional story and its blithe illustration style with factual text and images about snake biology and behavior. A brief bibliography and an index conclude the volume.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading I Don’t Like Snakes

  • Talk: Find another book with snakes. Compare the snakes in the two books.
  • Sing: Can you hiss like a snake? Can you hiss like a snake? Try to “sing” a song by hissing.
  • Write: Can you draw a snake? What will your snake look like? Is it long? Is it curvy? What is your snake doing? Sleeping? Eating?
  • Play: Without using words, act out how you show that you don’t like something or do like something. Have someone guess which is like and which is dislike.
  • Math or Science: Snakes shed their skins. What else sheds its skin? Do you shed your skin?

 

moving blocksMoving Blocks by Yusuke Yonezu. U.S. edition: Minedition, 2015

A book offering a plethora of possibilities for interaction (color concept, spatial reasoning, prediction, and types of transportation for a start) begins with a page spread showing a rectangular pattern of yellow, green, blue, and red blocks with die-cuts suggesting a shape. The text asks, “What are you building? What can it be?” A page turn shows the die-cut shape surrounded by white against the block pattern on the previous page to reveal a vehicle made of blocks: car, bus, train, ship, rocket ship. The full rectangle of blocks and two questions repeat on every other spread before the next reveal, giving a sense of pattern and order to the book as a whole that is also visually suggested by the repetition of the block shapes in this clever, developmentally appropriate board book.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Try these literacy activities after reading Moving Blocks

  • Talk: Name the shapes. Talk about curves and straight lines in the shapes.
  • Sing: The Wheels on the Bus
  • Write: Draw shapes in the air.
  • Play: Create vehicles out of shapes and pretend to go on a trip.
  • Math or Science: Make shapes out of blocks. Count how many blocks you used for each shape.

Don’t forget this poem from Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow: page 30

Find more resources for Alphabet School, I (Don’t) Like Snakes and Moving Blocks at TeachingBooks.net!

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last stop on market streetPrimary Icon of a White-Tailed DeerLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Putnam, 2015

As he and his nana take the bus across town, observant young CJ is full of questions and more than a little wishful thinking: Why don’t they have a car instead of having to take the bus? Why do they always have to go somewhere after church? How come that man sitting near them can’t see? Why is the neighborhood where they get off the bus so dirty? In response, his nana points out everything they would miss if they weren’t right where they were at each moment, from the interesting people they get to see and meet to the realization that beauty can be found everywhere. Rather than telling CJ about what community means, she’s showing him that he’s a part of it. After an event-filled ride, they arrive at their destination. “I’m glad we came,” CJ says looking at the familiar faces in the window of the soup kitchen where they both volunteer. Wonderful descriptive writing (“The bus creaked to a stop in front of them. It sighed and sagged and the doors swung open.”) full of abundant, child-centered details propels an engaging picture book set against marvelous illustrations that have a naïve quality while reflecting the energy, vibrancy and diversity of a contemporary city. Honor Book, 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the text make us feel the sights, sounds, and smells of the city? What are some verbs and adjectives that the author uses to convey these feelings?
  2. In what ways do CJ and Nana see the world differently?
  3. How does CJ’s mood change throughout the book? How does the weather reflect CJ’s moods in the beginning and at the end of the book?

trombone shortyTrombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and Bill Taylor. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Abrams, 2015

Growing up in Tremé, a New Orleans neighborhood, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was surrounded by music. It was in his house as his brother played trumpet, in the streets, in the air all year long, but especially during Mardi Gras. And he loved it. Wanting to create musical “gumbo” of his own, he used homemade instruments and paraded behind his brother before he found a broken trombone. His brother gave him his nickname, and Andrews was still smaller than his trombone when Bo Diddley called him up to play on stage at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Today the young man is a performer around the world, but he always returns to New Orleans. The musical energy and vibrancy of that city burst from every page of a dynamic picture book written by Andrews and featuring the pulsing images of Bryan Collier. A photo essay at book’s end, also by Andrews, expresses more of his appreciation for the city and people who nurtured him.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the Tremé community shape or influence Trombone Shorty’s passion for making music on the trombone?
  2. This book talks about New Orleans gumbo as food and as music, how do the illustrations remind you of the cooking (food) and composing (music)? How are the illustrations like gumbo?
  3. What do you think “Where y’at” means? Do you know different phrases that have a similar meaning?

Find more resources for these Last Stop on Market Street and Trombone Shorty at TeachingBooks.net!

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war that saved my lifeIcon_Intermediate1The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial, 2015

Ten-year-old Ada was born with a club foot that was never fixed and her abusive, financially struggling mother has kept her isolated all her life. The evacuation of London children during World War II gives Ada and her little brother, Jamie, a chance to escape their grim life. The two end up in a small village at the home of a woman named Susan Smith. There is not necessarily anything extraordinary or unpredictable in this satisfying story in which the three become a close and loving family except for the telling itself, which reveals refreshing complexities of characters and situations. As Ada, Jamie, and Susan adjust, it becomes clear that Ada, despite many seemingly idyllic elements of her new life, feels immense anger and grief over a mother who could not love her. Susan, too, is grieving—her former housemate died the year before and though it’s never stated, it’s clear the two women were a couple. Susan is also figuring out parenting and caretaking, tasks made more difficult by the children’s abusive history and the temporary nature of the arrangement. A nearby RAF airfield, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the bombing of London all come into play in a story that also offers honesty regarding the hard truths of war but is ultimately full of the hope that comes with kindness and connection.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Ada and James have quite a lot of freedom in Kent. Talk about times when you get to make your own decisions.
  2. The children find some great friends in the adults around them. Do you have any intergenerational friendships? How or why did these friendships begin?
  3. What is it about Stephen that allows him to more easily befriend people that society views as different?
  4. How did the war save Ada’s life? Do you currently see war impacting lives around you?

lilliansrighttovoteLillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Schwartz & Wade, 2015

“A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It’s Voting Day, she’s an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name.” An informative picture book covers an expanse of history and emotion as 100-year-old Lillian ascends the hill, reflecting on African Americans and voting. Her great-great-grandparents were sold on the auction block in front of a courthouse where only white men could vote. Her great grandfather, her grandfather and uncle, her parents, and Lillian herself lived through times when the right to vote existed in theory but was denied in fact or pursued with great risk. Lillian remembers struggles and losses of the Civil Rights Movement, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, after which she cast her first ballot. Her ascent is a metaphor in which the struggle is tangible, palpable (“my, but that hill is steep”). Her encounter with a young man whom she asks, “Are you going to vote? … You better” is one of many powerful moments. Shane W. Evans’s layered art skillfully distinguishes present from past and is full of its own rich symbolism.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. How do the illustrations of the current story differ from the illustrations of the past? Why do you think the illustrator chose these two different styles to represent present day actions and past memories?
  2. What are some examples of hope in the story? Show evidence from the book.
  3. How has the right to vote continued to be an uphill battle? How is this uphill battle conveyed in the illustrations and text of the book?

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better nate than everBooks for Middle School AgeBetter Nate Than Ever! by Tim Federle. Simon & Schuster, 2013

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom. from the publisher

  1. How does the author use imagery to create a sense of being in New York City?
  2. The author doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in this story. Why do you think the author ended the story this way? How would you finish this story?
  3. How does Nate break the rules of what is expected of boys’ identities?

Rhythm-RideRhythm Ride: A Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Roaring Brook Press,2015

From award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney comes the story of the music that defined a generation and a movement that changed the world.

Berry Gordy began Motown in 1959 with an $800 loan from his family. He converted the garage of a residential house into a studio and recruited teenagers from the neighborhood-like Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross-to sing for his new label. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a cultural revolution, and one of the most powerful agents of change in the following decade would be this group of young black performers from urban Detroit. From Berry Gordy and his remarkable vision to the Civil Rights movement, from the behind-the-scenes musicians, choreographers, and song writers to the most famous recording artists of the century, Andrea Davis Pinkney takes readers on a Rhythm Ride through the story of Motown. from the publisher

  1. How was the creation of Motown Records an act of promoting social justice?
  2. How did Berry Gordy’s experience at the Ford assembly line affect his work at Motown?
  3. Berry Gordy created a hits-making machine with Motown Records. What contributed to Gordy’s success?
  4. Would an “Artist Development Department” (finishing, etiquette, etc.) be successful today? Who are artists that could use this help? Which artists already know these things and would be qualified to teach it?

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out of darknessIcon_HighSchool1Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Carolrhoda Lab, 2015

A gripping work opens with the explosion of the white school in New London, Texas, in 1937. The fictional story, woven around the facts of this actual event that killed almost 300 students and teachers, examines racism, sexual abuse, religion, and the powerful pull of family. At the center is the love between two teenagers, Mexican American Naomi and African American Wash. Much of the novel is in flashback. Wash befriends Naomi and her younger half-siblings, twins Cari and Beto, after they move to town. Naomi’s white stepfather, Henry, sexually abused her years before when her mother was dying. She told no one. When it becomes clear Henry’s intent, at the suggestion of his pastor, is to marry Naomi, she is desperate to leave, but she won’t go without the twins. Wash is determined to run away with them, despite his own family’s plans for him to go to college. Then the school explodes. In the aftermath, an angry and grieving white community is looking for someone to blame, and Wash is in their sights. Vivid, complex, and nuanced in both characters and telling, this novel is also incredibly forthright, building to a brutal climax. The violence is horrifying, but to make it anything less would be to undermine telling the truth of racism and sexual violence. But there is a thread of hope in one survivor’s determination to tell the story whole.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. Fire is a recurring theme in the book. Why do you think the author repeatedly uses fire and how does it affect the story?
  2. What role does gossip play in the story? Does it affect the outcomes of any of the characters in the end? What purpose do the chapters from the point of view of “The Gang” have?
  3. This story is based on a historical event. Why do you think most people have never heard of such a tragic event?

drowned cityDrowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

An informative and deeply moving chronicle of Hurricane Katrina opens as “a swirl of unremarkable wind leaves African and breezes toward the Americas. It draws energy from the warm Atlantic water and grows in size.” As he did in The Great American Dust Bowl, Don Brown offers a factual account that makes brilliant use of the graphic novel form both to provide information and to underscore the human impact and toll of a disaster. As the storm builds and unleashes its power, it wreaks havoc—on levees and on neighborhood and on people, so many people. Some of those affected wouldn’t leave the city of New Orleans; most of them couldn’t, and this becomes an integral part of his narrative: all the failures that pile up one after another. Empty Amtrak trains leaving the city before the storm when Amtrak’s offer of transport was ignored; thousands of people in misery at the convention center with FEMA seemingly oblivious to their well-documented plight; some police deserting their posts, even joining the looting. The travesties go on and on. But there is courage and compassion, too, including many who risked their lives to help others. Brown pulls no punches in a book offering a clear and critical point of view. The straightforward presentation of grim and sometimes shocking facts paired with emotionally rich images results in a work that is powerful, poignant, and sometimes haunting. There is clear documentation with an extensive list of source notes for this notable work. (MS) ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  1. What lessons have we learned from the many failures of the response to Hurricane Katrina? Are we more prepared to help people in the event of another natural tragedy?
  2. Clearly poverty played a role in the tragedies of Katrina. How do you think things would have played out differently in a more affluent city?
  3. What were some of the stylistic choices made by Don Brown when he illustrated this book? How did choices affect your reaction or further your understanding?

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