Monday, August 24, 2020

Reeni's Turn by Carol Coven Grannick

Reeni's Turn by Carol Coven Grannick

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and Fitzroy Books for sharing an ARC of this title! The book releases on September 13, 2020.

Reeni has been practicing ballet for years, but when her teacher picks Reeni to do a solo, everything changes. Reeni's sixth grade classmates are obsessed with looks, and when Reeni looks at herself, she feels too big to be a ballerina. Her friends convince her to diet, which leaves Reeni feeling emptier inside than she could have imagined. Her mother is against dieting, so hiding her eating habits has Reeni living a double life. Jules, Reeni's older sister, is a high school senior, but to Reeni, it feels like Jules is already gone. She feels alone and adrift and doesn't know who to turn to or how to act, torn between becoming who she wants to be or staying true to herself.

This novel in verse is concisely told to share what preteen girls (and often younger and older females, as well) go through as their bodies change and they try to accept who they are compared to who society wants them to be. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando

 Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Tara Altebrando for sharing an ARC of this book! It released 6/23/2020, and I know I've been in quarantine for too long when I see that date and think "Oh good, I'll be able to review it before it's released!" ... It's mid-August, people. I need to look at a calendar.

This book is a page-turner! Four students who hardly know each other are summoned to an empty classroom after school, and no one knows why. Until they see a strange device on the teacher's desk. It's almost like an Alexa, except... it's not. When the students try to leave the room, the device says that they must take it with them. Then more rules are revealed, often after one of the teens does something wrong. The consequences seem steep, and they're scared into doing what the device asks. Meanwhile, the device is also trying to figure out its purpose, and it needs help from the four teens it has under its control.

The suspense in this book had me flying through the first 200 pages, but as soon as an explanation about the device started to come to light, it lost me. I know I'm an adult reading a YA book, but even for teen readers, I don't think the surface-level resolution will be enough. There was potential to really explore this resolution and push it to the limit, while also wrapping things up nicely, but it fell flat and still feels unresolved to me.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Back to School: Favorites


These are just a few of my favorite Back to School books. There's something about the humor in these books that makes starting a new school year a little bit smoother for everyone involved, students and teachers alike!

First off, who doesn't love the Pigeon?! He's a well-known character sure to put students at ease because of his familiarity. He's so silly in The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems, resisting school because he's so scared, before realizing school is exactly what he needs! I don't know about you, but my favorite part is being as silly as possible when I read the "Whazza whazza WHAA?!" part.

Some students might already be familiar with Peanut Butter and Jelly from their other books, so I like to show those characters going back to school, too. In Peanut Butter's First Day of School by Terry Border, Peanut Butter is worried about what the first day of school will be like, and everyone gives different answers on how to prepare for the day. Peanut Butter just stays true to himself even though he was scared, and it all works out in the long run.

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is, if you ask me, the perfect back to school book for younger children. It's hilarious, but also is a good way to teach the rules and how to be kind to friends. There are a lot of jokes in the illustrations, too, which makes it a great book to read at the start of the year so these younger students will know how important it is to look at a book's pictures in addition to listening to the story.

I already consider School's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson a classic, because it's been in my life for four long years now, since my own kid's first day of school! I love reading this book every August because it's a fun way to show kids that they're not the only ones nervous about starting a new school year!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Back to School: For My Son


My son is starting first grade this year, so in addition to reading him all these books I'm sharing with you, I wanted to find some just for him, and some he could possibly read by himself.

On the First Day of First Grade by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Sarah Jennings, is a fun book set to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas. It goes over things students do during the first twelve days of first grade. Since we'll be doing remote learning from home for at least the first semester, I loved reading this book to my son to help explain how things will be different. Even if he was going to school in person, he wouldn't be doing the exact same things the first graders in this book were doing, so it was a jumping off point for a conversation about how the school year will be different than we expected, but also how school is different for everyone, everywhere - and I think that helped soften the blow of why his first grade year will be somewhat strange.

Dragons from Mars Go to School by Deborah Aronson, illustrated by Colin Jack, was the perfect book because my kid is hooked on dragons right now! It was just silly enough to be a fun read, while still teaching some lessons about being kind of new students and friends alike. The rhymes made it really run to read aloud, and it's been on repeat for several bedtime routines now!

School of Fish by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Moran, is, of course, the book I want my son to read aloud. It's a level one Ready to Read book, so it's just right for his age. It's a great book to instill confidence in younger students - both with their reading progress AND going back to school! There are mantras in the book like "I'm slick. I'm cool. I'm ready for school." that are fun and empowering for your student to say. There is also a great way about calming and centering yourself and counting to ten.

The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna is one we have to read every year. We discovered Pout-Pout Fish when my son was about six months old, and we've loved every book since! His school book is especially fun because it has a signature Pout-Pout rhyme that kids will start saying along with you after they hear it a couple times! It's a great book about understanding where you are now and how you will learn and grow in time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Back to School: For Younger Readers

Younger kids can be scared about starting school, too! They might be going to daycare or preschool for the first time, and it can be scary and unfamiliar, especially if they're used to being home or with family. Here are some great books I've found for younger readers, specifically toddler to pre-kindergarten, but of course I think that these books are fun (and can be adapted) for kids of any age! 

It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Claire Messer, is about Busy Bus being nervous as he prepares for his first day of school. This book gives great opportunities for physical engagement and movement, which is so important for younger readers! When Busy Bus tries out his new stop sign, wipers, and horn, I use some of the motions from Wheels on the Bus. It helps those younger kids (potentially unfamiliar with school, and almost always not fans of sitting still!) really engage with and stay interested in the story.

Choo-Choo School by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Mike Yamada, is a fun rhyming book about seven train cars going to school. The illustrations are bright and engaging, and what the trains learn are great jumping off points to relate back to the young students' new classroom rules and lessons. For example, the trains learn the classroom rules, how to be kind, how to count, and more. 

So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka is a great book to use to talk about what's happening in the story and what emotions the characters are feeling. There are very few words - mostly just "so big" used in different ways to portray how Bear feels, or how the school looks to him. This is a book that can get readers involved in telling the story by asking them what they see on each page, how that makes Bear feel, how they feel, and more.

Bear's Big Day by Salina Yoon is a a sweet book about how young kids don't need to feel like they have to be "big" when they start school. Bear misses his stuffed bunny, Floppy, but thinks he's too big to take a stuffed animal to school. He feels alone and doesn't engage in any of the classroom activities because he misses Floppy too much. Bear talks to his teacher and together they work out the perfect solution! This is a nice jumping off point to ask students about stuffed animals or comfort objects they have at home (or at school, if they are allowed to bring them for nap). Salina Yoon's books are always adorably illustrated, too, though I'm slightly biased because she is one of the first authors my son would request when he was just learning to speak!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Back to School: Round Two

I'm back with more back to school books to share with a variety of ages! Starting tomorrow, my back to school book posts will have more specific scopes, but for now, I hope you enjoy the random round-up!

Tool School by Joan Holub, pictures by James Dean (creator of Pete the Cat!), is a fun rhyming book about an assortment of tools going to school (on the TOOL BUS, hah!). They learn the rules before they're free to start their own project, but quickly learn that their strengths aren't that great all on their own - they have to work together! It's a fun book to read aloud, but also teaches a lesson about collaboration and respecting differences in those around you. 

First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John, illustrated by Liz Climo, is a cute book about different animals nervous about the first day of school for various reasons. Once the animals find out that their teacher is also nervous, everyone starts to feel better and comes together to work as a team. By the end of the day, they realize their worries weren't really anything to worry about! This would be a fun book to talk about with students as you read it - have them identify the animal, share what they know about the animal, and try to relate that to what the animal might be nervous about - THEN read the page and see if you were right!

Chicken in School by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Shahar Kober, follows Zoey, an adventurous chicken, as she creates a school for her friend Sam the pig. Zoey invites all the farm animals to come to school, and what they learn, and how, is so much fun to see! Children will love getting a peek into this silly school that is so different from their own. The way Zoey presents books as for "building imagination" and crayons as for "creating adventures" will spawn a lot of extension activities for students too, depending on if you're in the library, classroom, or MakerSpace/STEM lab.

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Will Terry, is a story about Bonaparte, a skeleton so worried about starting school that he keeps losing his bones! His monster friends try to find solutions that will keep Bonaparte together, but nothing seems to work! This book is a great jumping off point for finding solutions that might help keep a skeleton together, especially after talking over what is tried in the book and shown in the illustrations.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Back to School: Round One

Going back to school will look different for everyone this year. Some schools pushed back the start date, some are doing hybrid schedules, some are fully remote. But the best thing about back to school books is that they're all different, none of them looked exactly like your school day even in the best of times, so there's no need to skimp on these great books this August (or September, or via Zoom, or whatever)!

I think reading back to school books will still help put students at ease because they're a good way to let kids know they're not weird to be nervous, anxious, or scared to start school. This year these books can be a great way to compare and contrast what different school days look like, talk about how your school days will look, and try to normalize that type of anxiety, also.

Hello School! by Priscilla Burris is a book told in short sentences and dialogue, making it a great book to start the year with. It gives you jumping off points to go over your own school and classroom rules. In fact, you could read the book as-is, and then go over your specific rules in the same way - by giving the rules and letting students speak up and share thoughts or examples, as they do in the story.

Butterflies on the First Day of School by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Dream Chen, is a beautiful book about Rosie, a girl so excited to start school that she practices how she will act before the day comes. The morning of her first day of school, Rosie feels sick, and doesn't want to go to school anymore. Her mother assures Rosie that it's just butterflies in her belly, so Rosie gets on the school bus. Soon a girl sits next to her and starts talking, and when Rosie introduces herself, she's surprised to see butterflies escape from her mouth! This happens throughout the day, and when Rosie sees it happen to another girl, she knows just how to reassure her new friend. This is a fun way to talk about being nervous for the first day of school, but could also branch into a brief lesson about figurative language, depending on the age of your students.

The Class by Boni Ashburn and Kimberly Gee follows twenty children on their first morning of school. It shows how different everyone is, from how they get dressed to what they eat for breakfast. They all come together in their classroom, and this is a great jumping off point to let students talk about their first morning of school. Learning how different everyone's lives are at home can help these students practice empathy and understanding, as well as get to know their new classmates.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song, is like a version of The Class for older students. The six voices are students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and their stories are told in poems about The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School. The characters are diverse and have different living situations, so this is another great book for students to read to hit home the point that everyone is different, and you should be kind and understanding to them. I like making copies of the poems and asking students to read them aloud. This can work in different ways - having students read one character's poems aloud in chronological order, or having students read the points of view of all different students according to each time frame. (I used it in different ways last year and had great results!)