Friday, July 31, 2020

review - Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron 7.31.2020

Every year the 4th graders at my school discover the book The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish.  All it takes is for one reader to discover it and then it passes quickly from hand to hand.  Suddenly, every 4th grader that comes into my classroom library is asking for the book and we end up with a long hold list.  We're always prepared with multiple copies of that book and our school library has some too.  There's something about the bond of friendship being broken, not by a fight, but the unimaginable, that captures young readers attention.  We try and make childhood a happy time for our kids and students, even when we, as adults, are dealing with things and trying to figure it all out.  By diving into a book that allows kids to feel such deep feelings, it captures readers attention and they want to feel more.  
Of course, many young readers want an escape from reality, and need something else to consume their waking time.  Something they can put new trust in and maybe escape into that new reality for awhile.  Maybe it's a book, or a new storyline.
Well, I have a new book for these readers.

Dan Unmasked
written by Chris Negron
published by Harper

Dan is a comic and baseball-loving kind of guy, and he's managed to put both of those things together.  He plays on a baseball team with his best friend, Nate, who he is so close with, he feels like they have a friendship telepathy going.  Which works real well when Nate is pitching and Dan is playing shortstop, they both know what each other is thinking and give each other a secret sign of touching their nose.  And Dan has everyone excited about the Captain Nexus comic series.  In fact, when a new episode is published, they all get the comic book and get together for a group read.  There are strict rules to follow, but there is a definite camaraderie when everyone is reading the same thing!
But then, the unthinkable happens.
At an indoor practice when doing a drill that requires a lot of concentration, Dan talks to Nate about what will happen next in the comic and Nate is struck in the back of his head with a fast moving ball.  Nate goes unconscious and does not wake up.  Next thing he knows, Dan is visiting Nate in the hospital where he is in a coma, and doesn't know when... if... he'll wake up.
Dan has to go back to his regular life and his baseball team is about ready to start a very important tournament.  How is he supposed to concentrate when his best friend is not on the mound, and he knows it's his fault?
What happens in the rest of the book is a touching side of humanity and surprises.
Dan learns he can trust other people.  His teammates come together and support each other even when they are taken far out of their comfort zone.  Dan has always felt like he was in competition for Nate's attention with Nate's younger brother, Ollie, but now Dan works side by side with Ollie to help bring back Nate.  And Dan's father, who has grown more absent because of a busy work schedule, becomes more available for his son.  
Dan also learns that sometimes the best lessons can come from the pages of a book, or in this case, a comic book.  Dan is confident that the key to waking up his best friend lie in the pages of a book.  Dan, Ollie, and a new friend, create a new storyline using the characters from the Captain Nexus comic, and add Nate into the story.  Dan and his friends think by reading the story to Nate it will help him find a way to wake up from his coma.  But when writing proves to be harder than thought, will the Captain Nexus writer be able to help them in time?

I loved how everything came together.  Between baseball, writing the comic, the relationships between Dan and the friends and his life, and Dan and the adults in his life, and the love of the comic itself, it's amazing how fluid the storyline became.  Kids who are looking for a heartfelt story (like The Ethan I Was Before) will love this one.  I think the way author Chris Negron was able to also include the sports and comic line made it an even stronger story.  This is a must add for 4th grade and up libraries.

More about author Chris Negron:
Chris Negron grew up outside Buffalo, NY, where he spent a huge chunk of his childhood collecting comic books and loving sports. But it was the hours of playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends’ basements that first gave him the dream of one day writing his own stories. That dream kept him company through college at Yale University and years of programming computers for big companies. Dan Unmasked is his debut novel, and he now lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Mary. Visit him at
Find Chris on Instagram or on Twitter

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

Would you like to win a copy of Dan Unmasked for your library?  Thanks to HarperCollins, you have the opportunity to win a copy!  Enter by August 6th for your change (US addresses only).

Thursday, July 30, 2020

#road2reading Challenge - Chapter Book Summer series - Cats and Dogs - 7.30.2020

Image result for summer reading

This summer I'll be sharing chapter books that are perfect for a range of readers.  
Stop by every Thursday and find a round up of books you'll want to use with your readers!

Kids love books that have animals as the main characters.  Here is a roundup of some new dogs and cats as the main character books.

Dear Beast by Dori Hillestad Butler
Dear Beast
written by Dori Hillestad Butler
illustrated by Kevan Atteberry
From the author that gave us the King and Kayla series, we have a new set of animal books coming our way.
Dear Beast is written almost entirely in letters, mostly between a cat and a dog.  Simon, the cat, lives with Andy and his mom.  Baxter, the dog, has been newly adopted by Andy and his dad.  Since Simon was there first, he's having a real hard time sharing Andy, even though he doesn't even live in the same house as Baxter since Andy's parents are divorced.  Simon does what he can to cut Baxter down, even tries to get other animals involved.  However, the other animals can see all of the good things about Baxter and what he is doing for Andy, so they are not as willing to help Simon out.
What I liked about this book is Simon does eventually apologize and help find Baxter when he's gone missing.  It seems like lately I've read too many books where the character has seen the error of their ways but does not change behavior and/or apologize.
This book is the first in the series with the second book coming to us next winter.

Snazzy Cat Capers by Deanna Kent
Snazzy Cat Capers series
written by Deanna Kent
illustrated by Neil Hooson
This series is more clever than I originally gave it credit to be.  We meet Ophelia.  She's part of the Furry Feline Burglary Institute (FFBI).  They are famous for cat burglaring - stealing items, enjoying them for a little bit, and then returning them.  The organization often puts contents together to keep their kitties on their feet and Ophelia and her cousin, Pierre, are top competitors.  As if that's not enough, there is also the CCIA - Central Canine Intelligence Agency - who are after the clever kitties and want to stop their capers.
In the first book, Ophelia is off on her quest to obtain the Himalayan diamond before Pierre, when the organization sends her a new partner who is an inventor.  The problem?  Ophelia likes to work alone.  Will she be able to accept help in order to accomplish her mission?
This series is clever and fun.  I enjoyed Ophelia, who can be a snippy kitty, and her sidekick, Oscar, grows on you.  The mystery and adventure was quick and fun and will keep readers' attention.  The series does not shy away from some advanced vocabulary.  Some of these words are going to go right over the heads of very sharp readers, some will pick them up.  Just something to know about the series before passing it along to your readers.
There are two books published and the third will be heading our way this September.

The Fashion Kitty Collection by Charise Mericle Harper
The Fashion Kitty Collection
by Charise Mericle Harper
Another kitty story that was funnier than I thought it would be.  
It's a hybrid format, written in prose but lots of illustrations on every page.  This collection gives us two stories - Fashion Kitty and Fashion Kitty versus the Fashion Queen.
We meet Kiki and her family, all regular cats except they own a pet mouse... since they are vegetarian cats... and Kiki and her sister have quite the fashion sense.  All is normal until Kiki's birthday.  When she goes to make a wish, the shelf above her falls and all of the magazines fall on Kiki's head, knocking her out.  When she wakes up, she's not Kiki anymore, but.... Fashion Kitty!  She has super hearing that lets her know when someone is about to make a fashion faux pas.  She always helps the person and sometimes helps others learn a lesson too.
Cute stories and lots of illustrations will keep kids reading this series.  Hand it to your readers who love Owl Diaries.

Happy Cat and Dog reading!

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.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act - 7.24.2020

Sunday will be the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  It protects those with disabilities from discrimination by state, local, and national governments.  Like all laws, it didn't come easy and many people had to fight for it to become a reality.

Earlier this summer I covered two books that celebrate some landmark events for people with disabilities.  You can find the post here.

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
written by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Be sure to find this picture book to learn more about 
how the Americans With Disabilities Act came to be.

A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports
A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games
written by Lori Alexander
illustrated by Allan Drummond

This middle grade nonfiction book explains 
the beginnings of the Paralympic Games.

As the parent of a child with a physical disability, it is so important for readers to see themselves within the pages of stories.  It has meant a lot to her to see kids who have challenges they are working through.  What is interesting is how she sees able-readers react to these stories.  A word that she, and others in the disabled community despise, is the word inspiring.  Often after reading books that have a disabled character, a reader may say that character is so inspiring.  To the disabled community, this is an ableist view.  No one calls an abled person inspiring for doing what they always do in a day.  So why is it when a disabled person does this, with or without a challenge, it becomes inspiring.  I find myself thinking about that more - is the inspiration of the character because they are doing something amazing or because they are doing something the able body reader does as well?  Something to think about as you read these stories!

Today I have a roundup of books that feature characters with a disability.  When we talk about representation matters, please remember that includes having a wide range of books that feature a disabled character.  In today's roundup, I have fiction picture books and middle grade.  Another great place to find a list of books is the Schneider Family Book Award page.  This Award is given to a book that features an excellent portrayal of the disability experience.

Picture Books - Disability in KidLit titles

Can I Play Too?
Can I Play Too?
written by Samantha Cotterill

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
Just Ask
written by Sonia Sotomayor
illustrated by Rafael López

Unstoppable Me
Unstoppable Me
written by Susan Verde
illustrated by Andrew Joyner

A Friend for Henry
A Friend for Henry
written by Jenn Bailey
illustrated by Mika Song

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me
written by Sally J. Pla
illustrated by Ken Min

Middle Grade - Disability in KidLit titles

Lila and Hadley
Lila and Hadley
by Kody Keplinger

by Rob Harrell

The Truth According to Blue
The Truth According to Blue
by Eve Yohalem

Tornado Brain
Tornado Brain 
by Cat Patrick

Bouncing Back
Bouncing Back
by Scott Ostler

What Stars Are Made of
What Stars Are Made Of
by Sarah Allen

Charlie & Frog (A Castle-on-the-Hudson Mystery)
Charlie and Frog
by Karen Kane

Planet Earth Is Blue
Planet Earth is Blue
by Nicole Panteleakos

Roll with It
Roll With It
by Jamie Sumner

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
by Shari Green

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
by Dusti Bowling

How to Disappear Completely
How to Disappear Completely
by Ali Standish

by Alyson Gerber

The Spinner of Dreams
Spinner of Dreams
by K.A. Reynolds

Song for a Whale
Song of a Whale 
by Lynne Kelly

The War That Saved My Life (The War That Saved My Life, #1)
The War That Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

After Zero
After Zero
by Christina Collins

The Brave
The Brave
by James Bird

Would you like to read All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel or a A Sporting Chance by Lori Alexander?  The authors are hosting a giveaway.  Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 23, 2020

#road2reading Challenge - Chapter Book Summer series - mysteries - 7.23.2020

Image result for summer reading

This summer I'll be sharing chapter books that are perfect for a range of readers.  
Stop by every Thursday and find a round up of books you'll want to use with your readers!

Today on the Chapter Book Summer series, we're going to turn our attention to some mysteries.  There aren't many out there, but kids love solving puzzles and figuring things out, so you'll want to have some of these books on hand!

Didi Dodo, Future Spy by Tom Angleberger
Didi Dodo Future Spy: Recipe for Disaster
written by Tom Angleberger
illustrated by Jared Chapman
You may be familiar with Didi Dodo from the Inspector Flytrap series.  I love that Didi is getting her own mystery series.  There is one big difference - unlike in Inspector Flytrap where there are several mini-mysteries to solve, with each mystery have a few chapters to tell the story - this series has one mystery to solve that goes through the entire book.  The book is divided into parts and inside the parts are chapters, but the mystery goes through all of the parts before it is solved.  I would suggest readers start with the Inspector Flytrap series and then move to Didi Dodo.
In this first book, Didi helps Koko Dodo, a master baker, figure out who stole his Super Secret Fudge Sauce.  Didi, who is still learning how to be a spy (hence the "future spy" part), convinces Koko to solve the mystery together.  Just like Inspector Flytrap, there are goofy events and things that will make young readers chuckle, all while trying to solve a mystery.  Illustrations on every page will help give some support to readers who are excited to read a chapter book.

The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers by Pseudonymous Bosch
The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers
written by Pseudonymous Bosch
illustrated by Shane Pangburn
A mystery and a magic book!  And it looks to be a series.  
Olive is small for his age and has two close friends, twins Bea and Teenie, and he is the only kid in his class to not be invited to super popular, Maddox's birthday party.  Oliver has recently found magic and is looking into being a magician.  After Bea and Teenie get him invited to Maddox's party (as the entertainment - the magician) Oliver visits the local magic shop to get some ideas for tricks.  He ends up walking away with a very old hat, that unbeknownst to him, has a talking rabbit inside.
At the party, Oliver still doesn't have any great magic tricks to show, but no worries, he soon has a mystery to solve.  One of Maddox's birthday gifts is stolen and it's up to Oliver and the twins to solve the mystery.  It's solved pretty quickly without too many clues for the reader and tied up quickly.  With illustrations on every page, while the story is a bit longer (just under 200 pgs), the pictures help the story move along quickly.

Mysteries are always so popular, I'm hoping one of these series will capture the attention of your readers!

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.

Monday, July 20, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7.20.2020

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.

I'm at that point in the summer when I think about all there is left to do and the limited amount of days to get it all done.  Plus we've had weekend celebrations for the 4th of July and my daughter's 15th birthday!  And by celebrations, I mean not going anywhere but slowing down and enjoying family time instead of getting things done.  Which took up blogging time, but that's ok, family time is important too!
And then this past week the anxiety of what next year is going to look like set in.  Because we still don't really know.  It's a lot to think about and the unknown is hard for many of us.
I will continue blogging between now and September, but may take days off here and there just to maintain mental health.  It's going to be an interesting rest of the year.

Last Week's Adventures

Some picture book biographies, including one about problem solving that is a must have!

Graphic novels for newly independent readers, whoo hoo!

Chapter books for readers that take them outside!

A science ladder of chapter books.

Picture Books
Most of the picture books featured today were put on hold before quarantine started.  Curbside pickup has just started and it was so nice to have some new library books to read!  Here are the ones that stood out to me!

Your Name Is a Song
You Name is a Song
written by Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow
illustrated by Luisa Uribe
If you are on social media, you've probably already heard some buzz about this book and I'm telling you it's all accurate!  Such a beautiful story about the way a mother and daughter take on a piece of identity.  The young girl, whose name we don't know at the beginning, is telling her mother about an event that happened at school that is weighing heavy on her heart.  Her classmates and teacher had trouble pronouncing her name and didn't say nice things about it.  It was especially hard seeing the teacher be so rude and not willing to take the time and learn the girl's name.  However, on a walk home, her mother celebrates her name and others by putting them to song and singing them joyously.  When the girl goes to school the next day, she shows her classmates and teacher how to sing her name, and once the others felt the joy of singing a name, they asked her to sing the other names too.
This is a beautiful book about identity and while this book can be shared at any time, it will be especially important at the beginning of the year to talk about identity.  
I particularly loved seeing how this important conversation took place on a walk.  During this pandemic, my daughter and I have gone on many walks.  For the first two months, they were daily!  We had many conversations on those walks - some important, some just to talk, and some funny.  It's one of the few things I'll cherish about this time!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy
written by Tony Medina
illustrated by 13 artists
A book filled with poetry celebrating the lives of Black boys that is illustrated by 13 different Black authors.  Yes, it needs to be on your shelves.  All kids need to hear this book.

Don't Feed the Coos!
Don't Feed the Coos!
written by Jonathan Stutzman
illustrated by Heather Fox
This is going to be a hit with young readers... it has pigeon poop.  Guaranteed giggles.

Brown Baby Lullaby
Brown Baby Lullaby
written by Tameka Fryer Brown
illustrated by AG Ford
A beautiful book celebrating the love two parents have for their beautiful child.  Put this one on your baby gifts list.

Under the Lilacs
Under the Lilacs
E.B. Goodale
When you were a child, did you ever write a note saying you were running away?  And maybe you did leave the house, even if you stayed in your own yard.  That's what our young main character does, but she gets crafty by finding materials to build her own house.  And even finds room in her heart to welcome her family.

A Space for Me
A Space for Me
by Cathryn Falwell
So many young readers will relate to this story - I know I did!  A young boy has to share his room with his little brother, who is a little messier, a little louder, and hasn't learned how to manage his own space yet!  Tape goes down on the floor, but even that doesn't solve his problem.  He just wants a space for himself.

by Henry Cole
Whether you read this book at springtime, or during a bird unit, or just because, it's a book that will captivate young readers' attention and maybe have them learn something too!  Beautifully illustrated with minute detail using pens and acrylic paints, Cole brings to life the life cycle of a bird with fascinating detail!

Middle Grade

The Aurora County All-Stars
The Aurora County All-Stars
by Deborah Wiles
Out of the four books, this one is my favorite.  I loved the tenacity of House and how he balances being a good son, brother, and friend, even when things are tricky.

A Long Line of Cakes
a long line of cakes
by Deborah Wiles
This book takes just about all of the characters from Aurora County (minus Comfort, and I miss her!) and brings them together to meet the Cake family.  (the story literally takes place immediately following the events in The Aurora County All-Stars)  This family are itinerant bakers and are never around for very long, which is hard for Emma, who feels like she is always having to make a new friend.  This time she vows not to find a best friend because they are so hard to leave, but that's before she meets Ruby Lavender.  
This book feels so much like A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.  An itinerant family, someone who doesn't want to leave, and a mystery to be solved.  You don't have to have read the other 3 books in the series, but it's certainly fun catching up with old friends!

A Wish in the Dark
A Wish in the Dark
by Christina Soontornvat
This is one of the best written middle grade novels I've read.  If this doesn't get a medal next January? February? (not even sure when the awards are in 2021!) I will be mad!
I've heard all positive praise for this book but it's one of those that you need to experience for yourself.
Loosely based on Les Miserables, and as a big fan of the musical, I loved seeing the similar threads.  This is a book you will want to read with students, because the conversations will be so amazing.  You'll talk about darkness and light.  Right and wrong.  Freedom and rules.  You'll talk about who decides your destiny and the power of words.
It's an amazing book.

Lupe Wong Won't Dance
Lupe Wong Won't Dance
by Donna Barba Higuera
A book that is a must-have for middle school libraries.  Kids will love meeting Lupe, who feels strongly about her Chinacan/Mexinese background.  She's on her way to being a full-blown activist as she's already championed causes like having more racial background options on those check boxes.  Her next crusade, getting rid of square dancing!  She does her research but it proves to be a tough fight going against tradition.  But she feels so passionately about it, can she get what she wants without hurting anyone's feelings?  Of course not, it's middle school!

The Brave
The Brave
by James Bird
Wow, what a beautiful story.  Collin always counts every letter in all of the words someone says directly to him in a conversation.  You can be sure that it doesn't win him many friends.  After one fight at one school too many, his father ships him off to his mother.  Collin has never met his mother who does not live in California like him, but in Minnesota on an Ojibwe reservation.  Although all of his defenses are up when he arrives, they all slowly disappear as he feels the love of his mother and those around him.  The biggest change in Collin's life is meeting his next-door-neighbor, Orenda.  She is different just like Collin feels he is different.  However instead of an affinity for counting words, Orenda truly believes she is turning into a butterfly.  The friendship and eventually love that Collin and Orenda feel for each other is beautiful and heartbreaking.
This book should be in all middle school libraries because I have a feeling it's one kids will want to talk about.

Young Adult

Clap When You Land
Clap When You Land
by Elizabeth Acevedo
I will read everything she publishes.  The command she has of the written word is awe-inspiring.  
This book gutted me.  It's hard to read about death and this one hit my heart.  
Another novel in verse for Acevedo and the way the book's narrator goes back and forth, it seemed to fit so perfectly in verse.
Don't miss this one.

Currently Reading

I have a few going in my pile!

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Hope you found some new books here.
Hope you are safe and well.
Hope to see you all next week.
And if you're feeling anxious about this upcoming year, know you are not alone!