Monday, September 30, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 9.30.19

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures

Some nonfiction picture books to use for read alouds!

The new Scholastic Acorn's line is perfect for 1st-3rd grade readers.  Here are some sequels to their line.

Picture Books

The Scarecrow
The Scarecrow
written by Beth Ferry
illustrated by The Fan Brothers
I think I can reread this book over and over and it will always warm my heart.  
The beautiful illustrations may be the best of the the Fan Brothers... yet!  
The story is one that you can talk about and go deeper - what lesson can you learn from the scarecrow.  I would add this to theme and SEL collections.

Astro Girl
Astro Girl
by Ken Wilson-Max
A book that defies gender norms in a beautiful story.  
Astrid and her father go back and forth, Papa asking Astrid if she's ready for something space might offer - like zero gravity, eating out of containers, and science experiments - and Astrid always answering with a confident yes!  At the end of the story, Astrid and her father go pick up a very special astronaut who has returned from a trip.  Can you guess who it is?
I liked how there was some brief backmatter that gives some additional information, including women who have gone into space!

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever
by Matt Tavares
Tavares is becoming master of the modern Christmas story.  A few years ago we got Red and Lulu from Tavares, this year we get to know the story of Dasher, one of the famous reindeer.  What stands out more than the story are the amazing illustrations.  I feel like Tavares has been missed as someone who deserves to be lauded for his illustrations.... The dark night sky and background are in stark contrast to the Christmas red of Santa and some of the accents of his sleigh and horse.  A beautiful story to be shared.

Stormy: A Story About Finding a Forever Home
Stormy: a story about finding a forever home
by Guojing
Oh this wordless picture book has my heart.  It's absolutely beautiful.  Guojing has done it again, the illustrations are outstanding, but the story will touch your heart.  A story about a stray dog and a human... the dog shies away from the woman, but she doesn't give up.  She tries to entice the dog to play with a ball, but the dog is distrustful and isn't willing to engage in playing with her.  She returns to the spot she found the dog and tries to play day after day.  Finally, she leaves but unbeknownst to her, the dog follows her home.  When a horrible storm comes, will the dog finally trust the woman and allow help?  It's so beautiful!

Bruce's Big Storm
Bruce's Big Storm
by Ryan T. Higgins
This is one of those Bruce stories that is sweeter than grumpy.  A story that shows you that friendships can always make you feel a little less grumpy.

by Barbara McClintock
This book could almost work as a wordless picture book.  A young girl uses the power of imagination to take her car out for a wild ride on the road.  Betsy Bird has been listing this book on her Caldecott predictions....

Middle Grade

The Gauntlet  (The Gauntlet, #1)
The Gauntlet
by Karuna Riazi
As I mentioned in a tweet, I had preordered this book, had it delivered on its publication date, and then it sat in a pile with other books because I HAVE TOO MANY BOOKS.  #booknerd problems.
I got to it because I have the follow up to this book - The Battle - and I want to read it too!
The Gauntlet is just like what I had heard it would be - it's a steampunk version of Jumanji and challenges that seem reminiscent of The Hunger Games or other survivalist stories.  If you are looking for an adventure with suspense and something a little different than other books, this is the one you're looking for!  

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
by Laura Shovan
A novel in verse that contains 18 characters (yes, a character map would help, write down memorable things about the characters) in a classroom.  The class is writing poems throughout the school year to put in a time capsule.  Their school will be razed at the end of the year and a supermarket will be built in its spot.  The students will attend a variety of middle schools in the fall, so for many, this is a goodbye-year.  Change is hard for kids and I think Shovan captures it well with this groups of almost-middle-schoolers!

Currently Reading

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia
Still reading this one!  Coming in at almost 500 pages, it's a long read, especially when reading time is at a premium during the week.  It was not a great reading week so still have a bit to go in this one.  Out of all the actual Rick Riordan/Presents books, I think this one has me laughing out loud the most!  Lots to keep track of in this novel.

Happy Fall Reading!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

#road2reading Challenge - more Acorn books! 9.26.19

All journeys have a starting place.
This is a weekly place to find books and tools
that you may use with readers 
at the start of their independent reading journey.
Join in the conversation at #road2reading.

I cannot say enough positives about Scholastic's new Acorn line.  Following in the tradition of the Branches line, Acorn is providing early readers with a line of series that are extremely engaging, have memorable characters, and with its neat and trim size, very accessible for young hands to hold!
As an educator, I can tell you first hand the positives of these books.  This line is intended for readers who are reading at an approximate H-J Fountas and Pinnell guided reading level.  Readers at these levels are looking for books that they can not only read independently, but they also want books that are fun for all kids to read.  Too often books at this level are monotonous, don't have fun characters, and well... are kind of a bore to read.  Not this series.  They are engaging and have characters that you either want to be friends with or laugh along with.  The Acorn line have chapters, which for a young reader, it is a "status" thing to say you are reading chapter books!  
I am excited to see there are more Acorn books coming.  Yay for our young readers!  
Here are some of the new additions to the line:

Let's Play, Crabby! by Jonathan Fenske
Let's Play, Crabby!
by Jonathan Fenske
Crabby is definitely one of my favorite characters - he's snarky and is unapologetic about it!  Crabby's snark and fellow ocean dweller, Plankton's happy-go-lucky attitude are the perfect combination for a fun read.  In this second book of the series, Plankton does his best to convince Crabby to play some games.  It goes about how you expect it to go....

Let's Have a Sleepover! by Norm Feuti
Let's Have a Sleepover!
by Norm Feuti
Hedgehog and Harry are having a sleepover.  Harry has dilemma after dilemma - should he bring a favorite stuffed animal?  What happens when Hedgehog wants to sleep outside in a tent?  That is outside Harry's comfort zone!  Luckily Hedgehog is a good friend and can figure out a compromise.

I Am a Super Girl! by Kelly Greenawalt
Princess Truly: I Am a Super Girl!
written by Kelly Greenawalt
illustrated by Amariah Rauscher
You may have met Princess Truly in her picture book series, now told in chapters and fitting in this trim size, Princess Truly fits right into the Acorn line.
I love that this character is a girl princess and a super hero!

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant
written by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Mark Teague
Another series that has been remarketed for Acorn - kids will like the short episodic stories of this pig and his friends.

Dragon's Fat Cat by Dav Pilkey
Dragon's Fat Cat
by Dav Pilkey
The second book in this remarketed series is even better than the first!  Dragon finds a cat outside of his home and brings her in and they become fast friends - through stinkiness and a surprise!

A Good Team by Heather Ayris Burnell
Unicorn and Yeti:  A Good Team
written by Heather Ayris Burnell
illustrated by Hazel Quintanilla
The first book in this series was a huge hit for my readers.  My reading intervention students who are in second grade were so happy with this series - it was a longer book, broken into chapters, and a graphic novel.  Perfect!  In this second book Unicorn and Yeti find ways to think creatively to play games together.

Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Max Brallier
Mister Shivers: Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories
written by Max Brallier
illustrated by Letizia Rubegni
A book that is very reminiscent of the book In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz - episodic, creepy stories that have decodable and controlled text but are CREEPY!  There are a couple of stories in here that gave me the shivers!  I think this is going to be a very well read series!

And don't miss the end of each book where there are step by step directions for drawing a character!
I'm glad to see that all of these series have more books coming.  They are all well loved by readers.  Perfect for 1st-3rd graders!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - what's in my nonfiction stack? 9.25.19

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

Here are the nonfiction picture books that jumped out of my stack recently:

Billie Jean! by Mara Rockliff
Billie Jean! How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women's Sports
written by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
With the recent books about superstar tennis players, the Williams Sisters, I'm glad to have a picture book biography about the woman who helped pave their way - for women to be equal on the courts!  
While the book focuses on the fact that Billie Jean was a tremendous athlete who worked hard at what she loved doing, it also shares some of the great work Billie Jean did to get women equal rights on the court.  There is even mention of the "Battle of the Sexes" match against Bobby Riggs.
Billie Jean's sexuality is mentioned in the author's note which further explains the additional work Billie Jean did to speak out against discrimination in all forms.

Birds of a Feather by Susan L. Roth
Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
by Susan L. Roth
This book is really unique.  It's about the bowerbirds.  There's information about how they use tools, how they create their nests, why they create their nests, the work they do.  Sounds like a typical nonfiction book, right?  But Roth puts a spin on it by comparing all of those things a bowerbird does to they way she works as an artist.  The backmatter has additional information about both the bowerbird and Roth, their similarities and how they work.

Birth of the Cool by Kathleen Cornell Berman
Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound
written by Kathleen Cornell Berman
illustrated by Keith Henry Brown
If this book doesn't inspire you to go listen to Miles Davis play his trumpet, I'm not sure what will!  This book recounts the part of his life where he was struggling to find his own sound.  I liked that this book showed he had ups and downs and he had to learn from what didn't work.
Additional information in the backmatter from the author, illustrator and musician Wynton Marsalis.

When Jackie Saved Grand Central by Natasha Wing
When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon
written by Natasha Wing
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
I bet you know about Grand Central Station - where it is, the importance of the building.  But you might not know that it was almost going to be torn down and the land be used for another skyscraper.  And I bet you know who Jackie Kennedy was, but maybe not for this reason.  Jackie Kennedy felt strongly about historical institutions and preserving our past.  And she also knew how to fight for her beliefs.  A good book to share with readers about our history that might be an unknown story!

Happy nonfiction reading!

Monday, September 23, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 9.23.19

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures

Make sure you take a look at Sarah Albee's upcoming North America.  This is a book you will want for your libraries!

Go time traveling with these chapter books!

Picture Books

written by Lisa Mantchev
illustrated by David Litchfield
The illustrations in this book are stunning.  Shouldn't expect anything less from David Litchfield!  They may be my favorite of his yet!
However, the story fell really flat for me, and I love Mantchev's Strictly No Elephants.  The beginning was promising.  The first lines and some subsequent ones seemed like there was going to be this really important story about how things work out in the universe for the right reasons.  And maybe that's the way the story goes but I'm not sure because it ended up being really muddled for me.  
Have you read this one yet?  Any insight for me?

The New Neighbors
The New Neighbors
by Sarah McIntyre
Hmmm.  Here's another one I would like to discuss.  
A story about an apartment building who has just gotten new neighbors.  As the news travels from the top of the building down, all of the animal inhabitants come up with reasons why the new neighbors (rats) are going to be horrible neighbors.  Often the reason why they are going to be so bad is a quality that one of the animals already show.
On my first read I was thinking good story to talk about perspective since at the end the rats are perfectly clean and kind neighbors, not at all what everyone had been thinking.
But on my second read I started to get a little annoyed - what if the rats are dirty and smell bad and keep their apartment not clean?  It's their apartment!  And I got mad that the animals were all self-righteous about these neighbors when clearly they had their own less-than-desirable habits.  
I guess that's what a good book does - makes you discuss.  Maybe read this and discuss with your class!

This Book of Mine
This Book of Mine
written by Sarah Stewart
illustrated by David Small
How many pages can you find yourself in?  This love letter to books and reading is perfect to read at the start of the school year.  

What Riley Wore
What Riley Wore
written by Elana K. Arnold
illustrated by Linda Davick
Kids can be very intentional about what they wear.  And parents can be very intentional about what they pick out and buy for their child to wear.
This book is about Riley and what Riley chose to wear on any given day and due to circumstances.  What is cleverly not mentioned about Riley is if Riley is a boy or a girl.  Another child asks at the end of the story and based upon the answer Riley gives, it's not important because kids like to play and pretend and have fun.  
Yet another story that will lend itself to important discussions.

Ball & Balloon
Ball and Balloon
written by Rob Sanders
illustrated by Helen Yoon
A book to add to your SEL collection to talk about perspective and jealousy.  Ball is jealous of Balloon who gets to fly and soar when Ball is stuck to the ground due to gravity.  But it takes just one child to help Ball roll, bounce, and fly through the air.  At that point the roles reverse and Balloon is feeling jealous.  

How to Code a Rollercoaster (How to Code with Pearl & Pascal, #2)
How to Code a Rollercoaster
written by Josh Funk
illustrated by Sara Palacios
I had a conversation on the second day of school with a reader.  He quickly said Josh Funk was one of his favorite authors, and then added, "of course".  Because of course, isn't he everyone's?  
Of course, I know that reader is going to be so excited to have a new Josh Funk book to read and celebrate.
I love the coding books he's been writing because it's so popular with young readers.  Understanding coding challenges their thinking in a way we don't always encourage in our classrooms and I see such excitement from girls and boys.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border
written by Mitali Perkins
illustrated by Sara Palacios
Oh, this is an important story to share with readers today.  It takes place on the border between the US (in California) and Mexico.  The time of year is Christmas during Las Posadas.  A mother is bringing her two young children to the Border to see their Abuela who lives in Mexico.  On this night, one side of the double sided fence is opened up on the United States side and families can go right up to the gate and see their loved ones on the other side.  The Border Patrol watches and families can talk but cannot pass anything between the fence.  The young children in this story each have a homemade gift for their Abuela, but how can they get them to her?  It's a beautiful story and one that will open discussions with young readers.

by Mark Teague
A wordless picture book that shows in talk bubble pictures a conversation between a mother bird and her young one.  The little bird has fallen out of its nest.  Mother Bird wants Little Bird to fly but Little Bird has lots of other ways to get where it needs to go!  Clever and funny, this will be a hit with young readers.

Graphic Novel

Best Friends
Best Friends
written by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
I loved Real Friends when it published and was so excited to be on the IL Bluestem Award Committee that added it to our current list.  I was so happy to see it would have a follow up GN for readers.
This GN memoir continues Shannon's story into middle school.  Broken up into 4 chapters (almost mini stories) we learn how Shannon's relationships with her friends and others grow and change.  As I was reading the story, there were so many parts that felt familiar since I grew up in the 80s too.  But there are some themes that stay the same - middle school is such a confusing time, whether it was decades ago or now!  Kids will still relate to this confusing identity-developing time and love seeing it depicted in this book.
Because of the popularity of Real Friends, this book is going to appeal to many readers.  I think the perfect audience is middle school (different from middle grade) readers.  There are some mature scenes.  In one, Shannon and her friends are seen calling boys and asking them to rate the girls in their class, including rating their body.  Two of the four chapters are about boy-girl relationships.  Knowing this information will be helpful when recommending this book to readers.   

Middle Grade

Roll with It
Roll With It
by Jamie Sumner
Meet Ellie - she's just moved with her mom to OK from TN in order to help out her Mema with her Grandpa, who is showing signs of Alzheimer's.  Ellie is a champion baker who loves to make things for her friends and family.  Speaking of friends, she doesn't have many so when she makes friends with oddball Bert and beauty pageant contestant, Coralee, Ellie may just decide to stay in this new town.  
Oh yeah, and Ellie has CP and moves around in a wheelchair.
Sumner has written a well-thought story about living with a disability.  There were aspects that I see in my own child who has a physical disability.  In my intro above I tell you about Ellie being in a wheelchair last because while it most certainly is a part of her, it's not the defining part of her.
Great story to add to your classroom library!

The Van Gogh Deception
The Van Gogh Deception
by Deron Hicks
This book has been in my pile for a really long time and I am so glad I was able to make time for it.  Fast-pace, high adventure, suspense, and QR codes!  This art mystery is made more accessible by the QR codes found throughout the story that gives readers a glimpse into the artwork the book refers to throughout the mystery.  
Art is a young boy with amnesia.  We don't know much about him other than the contents of his backpack and the fact that people seem to really want to get their hands on him!  Art has been placed in a temporary foster home where he meets Camille, a member of the family.  Before he has time to get past her first name, Art and Camille are running for their lives from people who want information Art has... if he could only remember what that was.  
Taking place in the National Mall in Washington DC, I think kids will have a hard time putting this one down.  I know I did!

I Can Make This Promise
I Can Make This Promise
by Christine Day
Edie knows her mom was adopted and she is Native American.  But that's as much of the story as she knows... until Edie and her friends find a box in the attic with letters and photographs all signed by "Edith".  The assumption is Edie is related to this mystery person but she can't get any information from her parents.  The story eventually comes out and information about what the American government did to Native people is woven through the story. 
This story gave information that, once again, has been left out of our history books.  I'm grateful these #ownvoices stories are being told.
Publishes Oct. 1st.

Lalani of the Distant Sea
Lalani of the Distant Sea
by Erin Entrada Kelly
I can honestly say this is my favorite book by Erin!  In this story we meet Lalani who goes on a quest to save not only her village, but her mother who has fallen ill.  Kelly deftly weaves a story that has roots in Filipino folklore, but also an adventure story with a heroine everyone will cheer for.

Currently Reading

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia
This book has made me laugh out loud, but it's also made me pause and think about how clever it is.  Loving it.

Hope you have a great reading week!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

#road2reading Challenge - time traveling chapter books 9.19.19

All journeys have a starting place.
This is a weekly place to find books and tools
that you may use with readers 
at the start of their independent reading journey.
Join in the conversation at #road2reading.

One of my favorite genres has always been historical fiction.  Some of my favorite middle grade reads have been set in history.  However, sometimes a setting that takes place in the past can be tricky for readers to understand because they don't have enough background knowledge about it.  But, a good series can put that to rest!  Fans of The Magic Tree House series will tell you they have enjoyed traveling to many different places and times with Jack and Annie!  Here are some new series that are tackling time and place travel!

Filigree's Midnight Ride
At the Heels of History:  Filigree's Midnight Ride
written by Pam Berkman and Dorothy Hearst
illustrated by Claire Powell

Your students may have heard the name Paul Revere... they may have even heard of his infamous Ride... this book brings the facts to life in a way that is memorable and fun for young readers.

The book introduces us to Filigree, Paul Revere's dog.  However, before he was Filigree, he was Pudding who was owned by a British loyalist.  But now Filigree wants to show he's a Patriot dog and fight against the British soldiers.  The other dogs... and cat... don't believe in Filigree, but Frances, Paul Revere's daughter does!  When Mr. Revere leaves on an urgent assignment, it's Frances that encourages Filigree to stay with her father and help keep him safe.

The rest of the story follows Filigree as he accompanies Mr. Revere on his very important ride.  There are several parts of the story that are different from the infamous story most of us are familiar with.  I liked how the authors included information about this in the backmatter of the story.  Berkman and Hearst explain that the story most of us have heard about Paul Revere's Ride and "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" are based on written stories and not actual facts.  Revere's now infamous ride was made famous in a poem that dramatized the ride when in reality he would never shout "the British are coming" because the area he was riding through was full of British patrols!

This is a quick read (under 200 pgs) and the book is a small, trim size.  Since the story is told by animals, it will appeal to young readers, some who have not even heard of Paul Revere!  It's exciting that a whole new generation of readers will be able to access history through these chapter books.  This book will also be accessible to older readers who are in 5th grade who are starting to study the American Revolution time period.  This is a perfect book to use as a quick class read aloud or for students to read independently as a way to reinforce information they are learning.  

This is the first book in the series and I'm interested in seeing where the authors take readers in history.  To learn more about the series, be sure to visit the Heels of History website.  There is a lot for young readers to explore and learn and additional information for parents and educators on the site.

Here's more about the authors and illustrator:

Pam Berkman has written books for grownups and this is her first book for kids. She loves writing about events in history and thinking about how they connect to things that are happening today. She also works as an editor. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and twin sons. For more information, visit her website, or on Twitter: @PamelaBerkman

Dorothy Hearst is the author of the Wolf Chronicles trilogy; Filigree’s Midnight Ride is her first book for young readers. She loves writing about canine characters, birds, and other creatures who can give us the chance to see ourselves in new ways. She is an acquiring editor, a martial artist, a self-defense instructor-in-training, an avid hiker and reader, and a dog lover. She is not entirely domesticated, but is very food motivated. Learn more at her website, or on Twitter: @DorothyHearst

Claire Powell is an illustrator, writer, and designer who lives and works in London. She has spent several years as a design director in the world of channel rebranding working for clients such as Nickelodeon, BBC Three, CBBC, and BBC One. To learn more, visit her website.
Instagram: misspowellposts

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.

Check out these other time traveling adventures!

Time Dogs by Helen Moss
Time Dogs:  Balto and the Race Against Time
written by Helen Moss
illustrated by Misa Saburi
This series takes us back in time with some senior-age dogs... but when they time travel they go back to when they were puppies and they find themselves assisting other dogs that are well-known in history!  In the first story, Baxter and his four dog-friends time travel back to Alaska and meet up with the famous sled-dog, Balto.  Balto and his fellow dogs are in a race against time to bring some important serum to Nome in order to help sick children.  Will Baxter and friends be able to help?  And will they get back to the time machine in order to get back home?
Young readers will enjoy this chapter book adventure series, especially since it is told from the dogs' perspective.  A series that is similar to the popular Ranger in Time series, but a little bit shorter in size.
There is already a second book in the series that is published (Time Dogs:  Seaman and the Great Northern Adventure) and the third book will publish in March.

Magic on the Map #1 by Courtney Sheinmel
Magic on the Map: Let's Mooove!
written by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky
illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Ready to learn more about the United States?  Join twins Finn and Molly as they time travel all over the USA in a camper with a computer inside named PET (Planet Earth Transporter).  In this first adventure PET brings them to the state of Colorado.  Finn and Molly arrive at a cattle ranch and they quickly figure out they have some work to do before PET will bring them back home to Ohio.  When the prized cattle, Snowflake, disappears, Finn and Molly race to get her and bring her back to the ranchers.  
As readers go through the story, information about the state is told or illustrated.  For example, in this book, the state flag of Colorado is illustrated at the beginning of a chapter and information about the states that border Colorado come up in the story.  Further information about the state is listed in the backmatter.
The second book in the series, The Show Must Go On, brings Molly and Finn to the state of New York!  The third book will publish in January and take the twins to the great state of Texas!
I think readers are really going to enjoy this series and visiting the different states.  The books are about the length of the I Survived series and with the predictable events in each book, they will be great for younger readers.  I recommend libraries with 2nd-5th grade readers looking into this series!

Hope these time traveling stories find a way into your libraries and the hands of your readers!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - North America by Sarah Albee 9.18.19

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

My daughter is a high school freshman.  She's in a Western Thought class and is learning about ancient civilizations.  When you think about the history of the United States, it seems like most of my history lessons began when North American was being colonized by Europeans.  Of course, we're just starting to learn about the myths and falsehoods that surround this thinking.  One only needs to look at the new book North America: a Fold-Out Graphic History by author Sarah Albee and illustrator William Exley to see how wrong our history lessons were.

North America by Sarah Albee
North America: A Fold-Out Graphic History
written by Sarah Albee
illustrated by William Exley
published by What On Earth Books
Oct. 1st, 2019

This is a fascinating piece of work.... piece of artwork... that really should be in every classroom.  Told entirely through captions and graphic art, the book delves into a huge amount of history of our continent.  Organized in a fold-out format, it can read like a book where you turn the continuous pages, or can be open into one long layout - one on each side.  The top to bottom organization and color focus is very cool - historical references about Canada are in a green color, the United States in orange tones, and Mexico in purple.  Dates are noted at the bottom of the pages in a continuous timeline and are also included in each historical caption.  What I find absolutely amazing is almost the entire first layout is all the history of North America before the American Revolution.  In fact, only the very last page of the first layout has information about the history of the United States in regards to The Mayflower and the Pilgrims, which is where most students begin learning about the history of the United States.  

The information is shared through captions and illustrations.  I thought it was fascinating that Albee shares in the backmatter that there are less than 200 captions - but the information that is put into the captions are amazing.  They absolutely left me with wanting to know more information about that part of history, which is exactly what Albee wanted.  She left us with a variety of sources, that she explains are more intended for adult readers, but certainly a starting point to find more information!

After my first read I had many questions floating in my mind for Sarah.  She generously agreed to answer some.  I hope some of this information helps you as you read through this book and they are great to share with your readers!

Thank you, Sarah, for talking with us!

1.    How did you decide to use the fold out format for this book?

The format itself is a specialty of my (British) publisher, What On Earth Books. They’ve done some amazing titles in this accordion-style fold out, and I’d long admired their books. So I was delighted when they contacted me about writing North America.

Once I got started, I found the format to be both a thrill and a challenge. Of course, the timeline part required me to think in a linear way. But once I’d plotted out the approximate timespan represented on each “panel” (as we ended up calling them), I had to rather dramatically reframe my thinking as I zeroed in to write each one. Suddenly I had to think “vertically.” What was happening in this area at the same time that was happening in that area? Writing each panel felt more like weaving a spider web. And with sixteen panels, I had sixteen webs to weave. 

The project also required me to assess my own perspective taking. My default thought process was to “center” all the big events of American history that most of us Americans are taught in school. I had to fight that impulse constantly. The Amero-European part of North American history is just that—a part. And generally not a very nice part. Luckily my editor was in complete agreement. We devoted a sizable portion of the book to the pre-European-invasion era, to show kids the vast array of rich cultures and civilizations that spanned the continent. This is history many kids haven’t learned enough about, although happily I think that’s starting to change.

2.    How did you and the illustrator collaborate?

I bow down before William Exley. The visual acrobatics Will managed to pull off are pretty remarkable.

And this project was unusual because we did get to collaborate. As many bookish people know, fiction writers generally don't collaborate at all with their illustrators. For “ordinary” nonfiction books, we authors might be allowed to see sketches for historical or scientific accuracy, but that’s pretty minimal input. But for this book, collaboration between the author (me) and the artist (Will) was essential. As I worked on early drafts, I kept a running table of images that I came across in my research for Will to access later, for reference. And Will did tons of research himself. 

I saw his sketches at every stage, and Will was extremely open to my feedback and suggestions. And then he tweaked everything again after the Smithsonian curators weighed in. (See first line of this section about bowing down before Will.)

3.    I liked reading about the research process in the backmatter - can you tell us more about how you worked with Smithsonian to put this together?

The Smithsonian curators were fantastic. How I wish I had such a Varsity Fact-Checking Squad backing me up on every project! They queried and questioned and combed through every entry, finding lots of errors (shudder) and clarifying places I realized I was murky about. They reviewed the book multiple times. 

4.    Talk more about the organization for this book.  There are so many ways to read it - linear, going from top to bottom…

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how kids are going to read this book. That’s why I’m super-duper eager to hear reports from actual classroom teachers and librarians.

I wrote most of my past books with the idea that kids could either read cover to cover, or dip in at any point that looked interesting to them. This book can be read cover to cover, but of course the fun is the fold-out. I really can’t wait to see how kids interact with it.

Thank you, Sarah, for your time and this amazing book!

A book like this with its unique fold-out format may leave teachers and librarians wondering how it will be used with readers.  Here are a few ideas from some amazing educators:

Terry Goth, 4th grade teacher:
In 4th grade, the most obvious use would be as an example of a chronological text structure when we are teaching informational text structures. I can also see this being used during a discussion of research, and what parameters students should consider when deciding on information to include. It would be fun for students to ask questions of Sarah Albee about how she undertook this monumental process! I think some of the most important lessons actually come out of the author's notes when she discusses the perspective from which history is taught. I can see some rich discussions surrounding how and why this happens, and this would also work well with the single story lessons from Jess Lifshitz as well.

Jason Lewis, 5th grade teacher:
There are several ways I plan on using Sarah Albee's "North America" with my fifth graders. Not only can we follow along with the almost two hundred years of history that we will learn throughout the year, this timeline will show my students how young the United States is compared to the recorded history of North America. The back matter is full of great additional resources including an index that will help my students find events quickly and specific websites to continue our learning. 

Kristen Picone, 5th grade teacher:
Sarah Albee's and William Exley's North America: A Fold-Out Graphic History is a welcome addition to MG social studies and ELA classrooms.  The unique format provides much to explore and discover with students.  During our nonfiction unit of study in my 5th grade classroom, we spend a lot of time discussing text features, types of nonfiction, and text structures and how each is impacted by author's purpose (thanks to Melissa Stewart for all the resources for this work).  This book will be added to my "Discovery Day" lesson plan, where students peruse through various nonfiction texts to notice and wonder.  Students will undoubtedly notice the timeline format, the fold-out pages, the captions, and the backmatter.  Students will work in teams to analyze the backmatter and the various features of the text to determine why each was included and how it helps us as readers. This work will help readers as they continue to explore and read more complex nonfiction. This text can also be used as a mentor text for students as they write their own nonfiction, particularly when researching within the content areas.

Linda Mitchell, Middle School Teacher Librarian:
6th graders at Stonewall Middle School learn American History from early indigenous cultures to 1865. Today, we laid North America out on a table to build student interest in this topic during library time. Students looked at the pictures and the caption (text features) and wrote a sentence about what they wanted to learn more about this year.


This is a book you definitely want in your libraries.  The information is rich and invaluable and as you can see, there are many ways to use it!  After using it with students return to this post and share Sarah's answers - I bet they will be thinking about these things as they read through the book.  Be sure to find it at your local bookstore and libraries on Oct. 1st!