The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life

Kwame Alexander has written a motivational book that combines a stunning visual design with inspirational quotes and motivation stories of successful people.

Motivational book, nonfiction
Interest Level: grades 4 and up; Reading Level: 6.7
5 out of 5 stars


The hook that will draw many children to this book will be the sports theme. The colors used throughout are orange, black, and white — the same colors that were used in Alexander’s Newbery winning book, The Crossover. The end papers are raised and provide the textural feel of a basketball. There are many black and white photos of people playing sports. The book is even divided into four quarters, like a basketball game.

Each quarter of the book features a different inspirational theme: grit, motivation, focus, and teamwork and resilience. Halftime is a brief piece about passion, the warm-up goes over the rules, and overtime covers tenacity.

However, for all of the sports feel, this book is meaningful to a much larger audience than just the sports fan. The book features quotes from famous individuals, along with further words of wisdom provided by Alexander. While many are sport related, the meaning for most can also be used to talk about academics or life in general.

Rule #35
There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence.
–Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Brief biographical sketches feature Wilma Rudolph, LeBron James, Pele, Venus and Serena Williams, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All sports are covered in the book, male and females are equally represented, and athletes and non-athletes are included.
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The book is visually appealing and each two-page spread looks like an inspirational poster. This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Reluctant readers will like the visuals and limited text. Sports fans and athletes will be drawn to the theme and athletic quotes and stories. Teachers or parents can give this to students who may need some inspiration to get through tough times in school.

For maker space areas in libraries or schools, there are many quotes that focus on overcoming failure. Since part of the purpose of maker spaces is to encourage children to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, we need to let them know that failure is part of the learning process.

Rule #22
If you’re afraid to fail, then yo’re probably going to fail.
–Kobe Bryant, five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers</blockquote
Kwame Alexander has written another book that will appeal to a diverse group of people.


The playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life
by Kwame Alexander; photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-57097-9

Rain

The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning!

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K-grade 1; Reading Level: 1.6
4 out of 5 stars


This story features a young child who yearns to go outside and play in the rain. Unfortunately, like many adults, his grandfather doesn’t see rain in the same magical way as the child, and he is told he must wait until it stops. While the child waits, the reader gets glimpses of the boy’s vivid imagination. Finally, the rain stops and the boy and grandfather go to mail a letter. Being outside unleashes the boy’s full imagination, delighting readers with a trip on a floating city complete with “acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen.”

I really loved that the main characters of the story were a child and a grandparent. I think the relationship between older and younger generations is an important one that should be nurtured. While the grandfather did not immediately play with his grandchild in the rain, once there, they seem to embark on a wonderfully fun experience together. The two characters reflect at the end that “the very best things are always worth waiting for.” This is a very good lesson for young children to reflect upon. If a teacher was using Notice & Note with young readers, this could be pointed out as a Word of the Wiser.

This book also celebrates children’s imaginations and the joy they find in life. The boy likes going out in the rain because, “You can catch raindrops, splash in puddles, and look at everything upside down.” When the boy is stuck inside the house, we see him gazing out the window where he is imagining things from his room coming to life in the rain. The culmination of his fantastical imagination comes to life when he is allowed to venture outside into the watery world.
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The greatest strength of Rain lies in the pictures created by Sam Usher. Starting with one of the most incredible covers I have ever seen, Usher skillfully depicts rain drops and the watery world they create in a way that truly brings the scenes to life. Raindrops on a window look so real you almost want to wipe them off. The wavy reflections in the water are so well done that they evoke memories of times the reader has experienced these watery, upside down worlds.
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The cover of Rain is a 3D masterpiece that sets the tone for the story. Readers cannot help but run their hands over the raised raindrops and smile at the hazy, watery reflect of a young child enjoying the world.

The sense of wonder at the story’s ending would be a fun one to share with young children. Children and adults might come away from this story with a renewed sense of how magical rain can be.


Rain
by Sam Usher
Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-9296-4

Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners

I found this to be a great resource for furthering knowledge about Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Professional development; Universal Design for Learning
5 out of 5 stars


UDL is a research based pedagogical theory that advocates approaching curriculum design by meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom. The different strengths, weaknesses, needs, and abilities of all students are addressed up front in the development of learning opportunities. It is similar to differentiation, but it provides choice and options to all learners.

I utilized Universal Design for Learning in Action: 100 Ways to Teach All Learners in a graduate level class to support a research paper. I found this to be a good resource to teach the theory of UDL as well as to provide solid examples of how choice can be incorporated into lessons.


Universal design for learning in action: 100 ways to teach all learners
by Whitney H. Rapp
Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2014
ISBN 978-1-59857-514-9

The Youngest Marcher: the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a young civil rights activist

Audrey Faye Hendricks is one of the lesser-known figures of the civil rights movement. At the age of nine, she played a significant role in wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws.

Picture book, biography, Civil Rights movement
Interest level: grades 1-5; Reading level: 4.7
4 out of 5 stars


This is a strong addition to Civil Rights books that have been published for children in recent years. Children often only hear of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I feel it is important to expand the narrative to include some of the other human stories of the movement.

What makes Audrey Faye Hendricks unique and such a great story for children, is that she was nine years old when she first stood up to injustice and made a difference. Not only is this story important because it expands the scope of the Civil Rights movement for young readers, but because it gives them a hero that is their age. That’s an important message for children — seeking to end injustice is not restricted by age.

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The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton are perfect. While they have a comic-like feel, they are still powerful. This scene of Hendricks in a jail cell is an evocative depiction of how it must have felt for Hendricks as the youngest marcher arrested. It was tough for her to remain strong in those conditions.

The back of the book includes an Author’s Note that tells more about Hendricks, including information about her adult life, a Civil Rights time line, a recipe for Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, and a list of bibliographic sources.

This book is well-researched and presented in a sensitive manner for young readers. It helps children understand that there were many people involved in gaining civil rights for people of color, not just Rosa Parks and Dr. King.


The youngest marcher: the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a young civil rights activist
by Cynthia Levinson; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4814-0070-1

When We Were Alone

David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett have come together to create a brilliant and important picture book that introduces to children an important part of First Nation history, which must be understood to put U.S. history in context.

Picture book, First Nation history, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 3; reading level: 3.6
5 out of 5 stars


Much of the history of First Nation people in North America is never presented in the history books that children encounter in schools. In the late 1800s First Nation boarding schools were established in the United States. The idea behind the boarding schools was to eradicate First Nation culture. Forcefully removed from homes and separated from their family members, First Nation students were forced to give up their culture and were made to dress the same, cut their hair, speak only English, and convert to Christianity.

In When We Were Alone Robertson has managed to deftly present the bleak and horrifying story of First Nation children without overwhelming young readers. He has presented the realities of the situation in a general way and paired it with hope and perseverance.

The story focuses on a young child having a conversation with her grandmother. The girl asks “why” questions and the grandmother’s answer focuses on how her time in the boarding school shaped her life as an adult.

“Nokom, why do you wear so many colours?’ I asked.
Nokom said, “Well, Nosisim…”

The grandmother responds that when she was a child and went away to school, all the children were forced to dress the same because “they wanted us to look like everybody else.”
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Flett’s monochromatic illustration of the children all dressed the same is a powerful image that illustrates how something as seemingly simple as having the authority to tell people what clothes they can wear can begin to erase an entire culture.

Robertson then follows up the bleak idea of the children’s identity being erased by boarding school rules with a message of inner strength and hope. The grandmother has a story about how each season, when the children found themselves alone together, they would remember their culture and heritage and secretly work to maintain their identity.

But sometimes in the fall, when we were alone, and the leaves had turned to their warm autumn hues, we would roll around on the ground. We would pile the leaves over the clothes they had given us, and we would be colourful again.

And this made us happy.

Both Robertson and Flett are Cree descendants, so the voice of the story is authentic. My only wish is that the book contained some type of author’s note or bibliography so that parents, teachers, or children would have further information about this topic. Some readers could believe this is a made up story, not realizing that it wasn’t until the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 that First Nation parents had the right to determine if their child was placed in a boarding school.

This is an incredibly powerful and important book that sensitively introduces a difficult, and little known part of U.S. history to young children.

Parent/teacher guide: There is a free parent/teacher guide available at http://www.portageandmainpress.com/product/parentteacher-guide-for-when-we-were-alone/. The guide includes some talking points, prepping ideas, and follow-up discussions.


When We Were Alone
by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett
Highwater Press, 2016
ISBN 978

Juana & Lucas

This is a shorter chapter book that is perfect for independent readers who are transitioning into longer reads than picture books. Juana is a young girl who lives in Bogota, Colombia and loves drawing, Astroman, brussel sprouts, reading books, and especially her dog Lucas.

Beginning chapter book
Interest Level: 1-3; Reading Level: 3.6
Pura Belpre author award winner, 2017
5 out of 5 stars


On the first day of school, Juana’s isn’t having a great day, but things go positively downhill for her when her teacher announces, “Today you are going to begin learning the English.” Juana struggles to learn all the strange words and figure out the weird sounds made by English letters. Juana dislikes learning this new language and can’t figure out why she even has to.

Juana & Lucas is a winner of the Pura Belpre award which is given to a work of children’s literature that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. Set in Bogota, Colombia, readers are given a glimpse of life in another country. What makes this story so exceptional is that young readers see a character who is not that different from themselves–struggles to learn in school, riding a school bus, playing soccer at recess…these are all experiences that children in Indiana go through as well.

Juana’s struggles to learn a second language will be familiar to anyone who has learned a foreign language. It doesn’t come easily and Juana sees no use for a second language. When Juana is told that she needs to get her grades up in order to go to Spaceland in the USA and see her favorite hero, Astroman, she suddenly has a reason to learn English. For many children (and adults) motivation to learn increases when learning is given a real-world context and meaning. Juana suddenly lives and breathes learning English and begins to excel.
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Juana is a spunky main character who young readers will easily relate to and enjoy. Juana Medina’s illustrations are fun and engaging and the text contains many features that capture the eye and add visual interest to the page. Spanish words are interspersed throughout the text, but are easily translated through the context of the sentence.

Juana & Lucas introduces a main character who is from a different culture but doesn’t focus on the differences, and instead shows the commonalities among people. Juana is an energetic young lady who will appeal to a wide variety of children.


Juana & Lucas
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7208-9

Let’s Talk About Race

This book is a great way to begin talking to children about the subject of race and prejudice. It encourages everyone to look beyond the outside of a person to discover who they really are.

Picture book, non-fiction, empathy
Interest Level: K-5; Reading Level: 3.0
5 out of 5 stars


Julius Lester does a great job presenting the idea of race and how sometimes people form opinions about others before getting to know them. The narrator begins with:

I am a story.
So are you. So is everyone.
My story begins the same way yours does:
“I was born on ——.”

After sharing favorite color and hobbies and other tidbits, the narrator mentions that he is black. He mentions that sometimes people think they are better than someone because of how much money their parents make or the size of their house…or the color of their skin…but those stories aren’t true. The true story is what you can feel if you press your cheekbone or arm. You feel bones underneath. If everyone took off their skin, underneath we are all the same.
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“Do I look at you and think I know your story when I don’t even know your name? Or do I look at you and wonder…” This is a powerful and very important question for everyone to ponder, but especially children. If we ever want to make the world a place where everyone is valued, young people must ask themselves these questions and develop empathy for those who are different.

Julius Lester has written a very powerful book that is meant to get children thinking about the topic of race and prejudice. His words are powerful but do not condemn the reader for not thinking about this issue. He merely invites the reader to explore and consider. I believe that every school and public library should have a copy of this book. The interactive nature of the text would make for a very good read-aloud experience.


Let’s Talk About Race
by Julius Lester; illustrated by Karen Barbour
HarperCollins Publishers, 2005
ISBN 0-06-028598-2