Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Published December 4, 2018 by Running Press
Summary:From award-winning author Stacy McAnulty comes a sweet story about love and what it’s really all about.
What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn’t always what you expect!
With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, thisis the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it’s important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives.
My Review: This is a very heart-warming book. I received it on Valentine’s Day, and my kids and I have read it dozens of times. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend or family member because it offers many angles for the power of love. This book offers a lot of teaching potential as students explore abstract concepts and the idea of the metaphor. One thing, in particular, that I like about this book is that it resists the commercialization of love. As readers might see in the spread below, “love needs special presents” but those presents are homemade or expressed with kindness. This is a very touching book, and I think readers will find joy in it.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students take an abstract concept (hope, grief, etc.) and create their own books to parallel this one. It would require a lot of brain power and would help students explore the idea of metaphors in their writing. I might even offer poetry that does this (e.g. “Hope is a thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson).
- What is love? Who do you love?
- How do you express your love?
- Write your own page to add to this book. How does it fit in with the other pages?
Read This If You Love: Love. And who doesn’t?
The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen
Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC
- National Book Award
- Pura Belpré Award
- Michael L. Printz Award
- Golden Kite Award Honor Book
★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)
★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)
“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost
“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.
With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change, Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words.
Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one.
As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
- How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
- How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
- Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?
Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
- How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
- What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?
Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
- Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.
- I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
- My brother was born a soft whistle:
quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
But I was born all the hurricane he needed
to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
- Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
- While I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo:
Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/
Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams
(Every Day #3)
Author: David Levithan
Published October 2nd, 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Scroll through the following handout for an explanation of complexity and examples/discussion questions from Someday by David Levithan:
When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne
Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.
- Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
- What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
- There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?
We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).
Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published September 25th, 2018 by Scholastic Press
Summary: Before humans, and before human history, there were the apes.
Snub is a young gorilla, living in the heart what will eventually be known as Africa. She is jealous of her mother’s new baby . . . and restless in her need to explore. When a natural disaster shakes up her family, Snub finds herself as the guardian of her young sibling . . . and lost in a reshaped world.
Snub may feel orphaned, but she is not alone. There are other creatures stalking through the woods — a new form of predator, walking on two legs. One of their kind is also orphaned, and is taken in by Snub. But the intersection of the human world and the gorilla world will bring both new connections and new battles.
In his boldest work yet, two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer shows us a riveting, heartbreaking early encounter between ape and man — told from the ape’s point of view. It is a journey unlike any other in recent literature.
About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.
Praise: “Scientific accuracy paired with lyrical, subjective language describing the young gorilla’s impressions of her surroundings and bodily needs make this book an imaginative, eloquent evocation of a little-known era in prehistory from an animal’s viewpoint. A plausibly authentic account skillfully avoiding risk of excessive anthropomorphism.” – Kirkus Reviews
Review: What a fascinating book! Orphaned is so different than Schrefer’s other novels but in a way that is new and so well done. Where Endangered, Rescued, and Threatened were about humans interacting with apes in a contemporary setting, Orphaned is about apes interacting with early humans in a pre-historic setting. There is no book like this! And it is done beautifully.
When we visited virtually with Eliot Schrefer he shared with us that the story was originally told in prose but his editor, David Levithan, pointed out to him that apes, though intelligent, would not think the way that Eliot writes prose. That their thoughts would be focused on immediate needs and would lack in descriptive and fluffy language. He then completely rewrote the story in verse and WOW! Snub’s voice is perfect.
While I originally thought that the point of view and setting would make the story a challenge, but it was the contrary–it made it just that more interesting!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What a great mentor text for point of view and setting! Have students write a story with an animals main character in an interesting setting. Then have them change from prose to verse to hone in on the point of view of the animal and make sure they are including the setting as a main aspect of the story.
- How does the inclusion of the ape “language” help with the realism of the story?
- Why do you think the author included the illustrations of what apes were currently in the story at the top of the page?
- How did the change from prose to verse storytelling impact the way the story was perceived?
- How do you think the early humans perceived the gorillas when they interacted with them?
- How does the point of view shape this story?
- How did the eruption change the life of the gorillas and early humans?
- How are gorillas and early humans similar and different?
“Central Eastern Africa
600,000 Years Ago
Until this time, gorillas lived by the millions in a broad band of jungle across Africa. Then a series of volcanic eruptions, many times more foreful than any the modern world has experience, occurred in the Great Rift Valley. The shift in landscape allowed tribes of early humans to travel south into this area for the first time.
It would be the first meeting between ape and human.
Part One: Home
Snub looks between the two, thinking.
This tree keeps its nuts high in its branches–
a fallen one is a lucky treat.
She imagines rolling the inside nugget in her mouth,
biting its oily flesh.
Tongue between her teeth, brow scrunched,
she raps the rock on top of the nut.
It does not crack.
She licks the rock.
The rock tastes like rock.
She licks the nut.
The nut tastes like dirt.
Snub twists the woody halves.
They will not part.
Opening nuts is Mother’s job,
but Mother let Snub go off alone.
Fresh fury surges.
Snub hurts the nut, aiming
at a pair of magpies.
It goes wide and disappears into the foliage.
Snub looks to see if anyone has
been impressed by her rage.
But this only reminds her:
Her family is not here.”
Read This If You Love: The Ape Quartet books #1-3, Early humans, Gorillas
The Impossible Knife of Memory
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published January 7th, 2014
ALAN Walden Award Finalist 2015
National Book Award Longlist 2014
School Library Journal Best Young Adult Book of 2014
Summary: For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.
Complexity in Young Adult Literature
In Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Text, Complex Lives by Jennifer Buehler, Chapter 2 looks at Young Adult Literature and Text Complexity and gives 8 different elements to think about to help analyze the complexity of a text:
Examples of complexity in The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Other questions that could be asked while reading to find complexity in YAL
(Examples from Teacher Reading with YA Literature, Buehler 36-37)
- Language: Are the sentences artfully constructed? Are the words carefully chosen? Does the author incorporate figurative language or poetic expression? Can we hear voice in the writing?
- Structure: How is it built in terms of form and structure? How do other elements such as titles and subtitles, vignettes and interludes, shifts between past and present, or multiple points of view work together to service the whole?
- Other Stylistic Elements: Are there other distinct elements in the text?
- Character: What is there to explore in terms of the character’s thoughts and feelings; conflicts and contradictions; struggles, growth, and change?
- Setting: How does the author bring us into the world of the story? What details help us to see, hear, and imagine this place?
- Literary Devices: How does the author use literary or cultural allusions, intertextual references, dialogue, internal monologue, metaphor and symbolism, magical realism, or repetition to build meaning?
- Topics and themes: What questions does the book ask? What ideas does it explore? What is at stake for teen readers in this book?
- How the book is put together: How effective is the interplay between plot layers and thematic layers?
Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts for The Impossible Knife of Memory
Complexity can also be increased by the characteristics of the reader (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the questions posed). Here are some examples of discussion questions or writing prompts that could be used in classrooms or with independent readers who are reading The Impossible Knife of Memory.
- Hayley classifies all people into two categories: freaks & zombies. What does Hayley’s idea of the world show us about her outlook on life?
- How does Laurie Halse Anderson use the idea of THEN and NOW throughout the novel to build on the theme that memories are a very complex part of life?
- Drowning is a motif throughout the novel.
- How does Laurie Halse Anderson show the reader that Hayley’s father is suffering and found addiction without using those words?
- How did the inclusion of Hayley’s romantic relationship with Finn help move along the story and Hayley’s transformation? Do you feel that Hayley’s story arc would have been the same without Finn in the story?
- How was the setting an integral part of the story? How did Hayley returning to her deceased grandmother’s home propel the story?
- .Trish is one of the most complex characters in the book because there are many different Trishes shared with us throughout the story: Trish then, Trish now in reality, and Trish now in Hayley’s mind. How did Laurie Halse Anderson develop each of these different characters to show the reader a full picture of Trish?
To learn more about complexity in young adult literature, please read Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Text, Complex Lives by Jennifer Buehler!
Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.
Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.
Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.
About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.
“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW
“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine
Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.
Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me:
Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.
**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**
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