Review: Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el

Just Beyond the Very Very Far NorthJust Beyond the Very, Very Far North
by Dan Bar-el

ISBN-13: 9781534433441
Publication date: October 6, 2020 by Atheneum BYR
Purchased by my school

Past the place where icebergs shiver, you will find the Very, Very Far North, where Duane and his friends are sure to make you feel right at home. You might like to share a delicious Snow Delight with warmhearted Duane. While you’re slurping away, if C.C. suddenly asks you where you’ve come from, it’s not because she’s nosy; she is simply gathering scientific data. If Handsome, the musk ox, pays a visit, a quick hair combing is highly recommended. Should you notice a quiet caribou grazing nearby, well, that’s just Boo’s way of saying hello.

And if a less-than-friendly visitor arrives to sneak, shove, and shake things up, Duane and the others might discover that life isn’t always as peaceful as mid-late-afternoon nap. Fortunately, they know that change is as much a part of life as picnics and Tuesdays and cozy stories shared among friends.

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Once again this year I read The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el to my grade two students, and once again they loved it! So as soon as this sequel was released my school purchased it for me, and it did not disappoint! Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is a fantastic follow up to Duane’s life in the very, very far north and my students were just as invested in this second visit with familiar friends as they had been with book one.

Duane and all his friends are back again for more adventures, and I loved that the chapters remained like mini stories. The shorter ones we finished in one sitting, the longer ones we broke up over two days (or even three sometimes!). As a teacher, I appreciate the obvious stopping points so that I’m not needing to decide in the middle of a chapter where I can leave off and not have the students upset, or forget what happened the previous day when we pick the book back up again.

My students loved the extra attention that Major Puff and Boo both received. Major Puff has to make some big decisions when it comes time for his migration (which is NOT a vacation), and Boo has a secret that is found out through not-so honest means. Handsome also gets a bit of a fun story near the end that my students were both saddened by, and happy for.Duane of course is front and center again, enjoying adventures, icicles and time with his friends. But this time, there is a new character – one who inserts himself into the friends decisions in a manner that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group. My students were so upset every time he appeared on page! (but in a good, this character is doing his job and we don’t like him because we’re not supposed to, kind of way) We had so many good conversations around this character: what makes a good friend, why he may be behaving the way he is, how Duane and the others can interact with him in a good way, is what this character is doing kind/nice/appropriate/etc. They loved arguing about him, predicting what he’ll do next and if the friends will realize what’s going on.

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North is a wonderful book, and I cannot wait to read both stories to next year’s class!

Review: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

A Boy Called Bat A Boy Called Bat
by Elana K. Arnold

ISBN-13: 9780062445827
Published: March 14, 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Purchased by me from the Scholastic Book Order
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises — some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

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A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold is a sweet story about a boy and his skunk. Yup, his skunk. Bat’s mother is a vet, and brings home a baby skunk to look after. Bat is enthralled and sets out to convince his mom that they should keep the skunk instead of send it to a wild-animal shelter.

I loved this little family. Bat is a great narrator; as a person on the autism spectrum he has a unique way of interacting with the world and people around him (especially with his sister, and classmates) that shines through in his narration. Bat uses all of his incredible research ability and love of animals to learn about skunks, reach out to an expert, and convince his mom that a baby skunk can have a future as his pet.

My students and I had thoughtful conversations about wild versus domestic animals, skunks, research, and Bat himself. This was a perfect book to read as a lead in to our animal research projects – the duo who chose skunks was particularly invested in their project! A Boy Called Bat is a fun and interesting read aloud, and has two sequels that continue Bat’s story: Bat and the Waiting Game and Bat and the End of Everything.

Review: The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el

The Very Very Far North The Very, Very Far North
by Dan Bar-el

ISBN-13:9781534433410
Publication date: Sept 3, 2019 by Atheneum BYR
Purchased by me
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

An inquisitive polar bear named Duane befriends an array of animals as he discovers where he belongs in this charming classic-in-the making that’s reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh.

In the Very, Very Far North, past the Cold, Cold Ocean and just below the hill that looks like a baby whale, you’ll find Duane and his friends.

Duane is a sweet and curious young bear who makes friends with everyone he meets—whether they’re bossy, like Major Puff the puffin, or a bit vain, like Handsome the musk ox, or very, very shy, like Boo the caribou. For these arctic friends, every day is a new adventure!

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My students loved The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el. I picked this one up at Indigo Books one day when I was searching for a read aloud that wasn’t too short, or part of a large series. The cover immediately drew my attention, and then the synopsis hooked me in. When I read it, I knew my students would be hooked – and they were!

Duane is just a precious main character. He has a bit of innocence about him as he explores his home and makes new friends. He’s gentle, and friendly, and is a fantastic narrator for the story. Each chapter is like its own mini story, a new adventure in Duane’s life that all adds up to a year in the very, very far north. The new friends are all introduced one at a time, often in quite interesting situations. My students enjoyed Twitch and Boo the best (outside of Duane himself of course) and loved guessing what would happen in the next chapter based on chapter titles.

The Very, Very Far North is a great read aloud for conversations around friendship and acceptance, science and art, and in a more curriculum related note, predictions, inferences, character building (traits in particular. Each character has such a wonderful and unique personality) and vocabulary (Handsome has quite a well-rounded vocabulary and he provided great opportunity to introduce new words to my students). Though aimed at middle grades, I read this with my grade one/two class. This one has earned it’s place on my yearly read aloud list!

Review: George by Alex Gino

George George
by Alex Gino

ISBN-13: 9-780545-812542
Publication: August 2015 from Scholastic Press
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

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Librarians are wonderful people. My school librarian knows my love of YA and MG lit, and a few weeks ago put this book into my hands. She had just bought it for the school and hadn’t even put it into the system yet. She just said “read it.” So I did – finally. And oh my gosh. Beautiful. George is a fantastic book, and a great character.

I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first time reading a book with a main character who is transgender so I don’t have a lot to compare to, but I think the author did a fantastic job. If I hadn’t read the back of the book, I would have immediately assumed George was a girl in both gender and sex. Alex Gino uses “her” and “she” pronouns throughout the entire book, right form the beginning – the only thing that clued me in to the fact that George was born with a male body (besides the blurb) was the language used by friends, classmates and family in reference to George. It’s easy to see right from the first chapter who George is. She is someone who knows implicitely who she is, but being only ten, is struggling to be herself outside of her own throughts and feelings. I could and would never begin to understand the struggle of trying to explain that you are not who everyone thinks you are. Especially for a ten year old! To want everyone else to accept who she is on the inside and not what they see on the outside? George has a strong heart to not give into the fear of what others will think or say. That fear is there, of course, but she has to be true to herself first and foremost.

5 heartI loved that George had loud, outgoing support in the form of her best friend Kelly, and quiet comfortable support in her brother and principal. Mom struggles a little more, but George is her baby – it’s going to take some time. But you see the glimmer of acceptance begin. It’s inspiring to experience George’s confidence grow as she gets to let parts of true self shine through the school play and a visit to the zoo. Part of the grade six sexual health curriculum in my school board revolves around sexual identity and I think after I return this to my librarian, I’ll go strongly hint that the grade six teacher seek out this book as a read aloud.

Review: If You Find This by Matthew Baker

If You Find This If You Find This
by Matthew Baker

ISBN-13: 9-780316-240086
Publication: March 2015 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: netgalley
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they’ll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas’s senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town – but where?

With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers’ tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?

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If You Find This by Matthew Baker is an intriguing book about a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in and his just-out-of-prison grandfather. Throw in two very unlikely friends, family heirlooms and a dreaded ‘For Sale’ sign (and some old smuggler tunnels) and you have the making of a different sort of adventure book.

Nicholas is the best part of If You Find This. His voice is fantastic. Nicholas is a junior high school student, and a genius. As such, he doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the school crowd. Terrified he’s going to lose his house (most likely, with the For Sale sign present) and the last connection to his brother, Nicholas gets some hope in the form of his grandfather – who’s just been released from prison and is more than a little senile. Wanting to find any means necessary to keep his family from moving, Nicholas latches on to his grandfather’s story about buried family heirlooms. And so starts a story filled with senior home breakouts, a haunted house, and the help of the school thief and school bully.

Right at the beginning of the book, I felt for Nicholas. If he leaves his house, he leaves that connection to his brother. If he believes his grandfather, everything could be fixed. If he doesn’t, he might be throwing away the chance to save his house. Does he believe or doesn’t he? I definitely think his choice is awesome, if nto a little unbelievable at times. Like stealign a boat to sail out to an island of tunnels where high schoolers hang out? Alright. Keeping two missing grandfathers in a haunted house and NO ONE manages to find them? Sure. A boy that gets away with stealing all manner of things, mostly high-top sneakers and reselling them (at school!) and nothing’s done about it? Ok. It’s a book, I’ll suspend disbelief for a good story. And Nicholas is worth the story. He’s brave and kind and a little reckless.

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As a music lover, I also enjoyed the musical knowledge put into If You Find This. Unlike Nicholas, I didn’t play violin, but it was nice to see band class represented in a middle grade story. However, the musical terms did at times distract me from the story. As Nicholas narrates, he included musical notations like forte, piano, etc. to denote how people are speaking, things are sounding, etc. I eventually started skipping over them and reading the sentences as if these words weren’t there – mostly because, at least in the e-ARC version, they were not formated very well. Unfortunately, I have no copies in a local book store that I could go check to see how it’s formated in the finished published version – I guess I’ll just have to order it to read to my class this year! This book is definitely one that I could see reading out loud to my students. They’d love the mysteryof the missing heirlooms.

e-ARC provided through Netgalley from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!