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“Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Creating Humor out of Sadness”

One of the things I’m asked most often about my debut middle grade novel, SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS, is the role of humor – specifically how there’s so much in what could be a very sad book. Both the humor and the heaviness stem from truth, because SUPER JAKE is inspired by life with my three sons, the youngest of whom (Jake) had special needs.

Jake’s many limitations were heartbreaking, as was his death at only 28 months. And yet, my family – especially Jake’s big brothers – managed to find, and create, a lot of laughter and joy despite the difficulties. For that reason I tried to balance the inherent sadness surrounding his fragile health with a sense of playfulness and humor throughout the book. Here are five ways to use humor in a sad story, with examples from SUPER JAKE.

  • Establish a fun, or funny, tone from the get-go.

In early drafts, the story opened with the 11-year-old hero, Ethan, being awakened in the middle of the night because of a Jake-related medical emergency. This scene is still in the book; it just comes 155 pages later. Although it was a sure-fire dramatic start, as the main story shifted from Jake to Ethan, it was clear that the book needed to start with Ethan doing his favorite thing: magic. And what could be funnier, and more endearing, than entertaining a dozen 3-year-old girls dressed like Disney princesses? Throw in goofy younger brother, 7-year-old Freddy, and an unexpected appearance by SpongeBob, and you’ve got a fun tone to kick things off. Later in the chapter Jake shows up, too, and a bit of sadness creeps in but – hopefully – the reader already knows this story will have plenty of lighthearted moments.

  • Include a character who provides comic relief.

This, without question, is Freddy, the lovable middle brother. I could always count on him to come to the rescue when things got too sad. Sometimes it was a simple visual gag, like bubble gum exploding all over his face. Other times it was unexpected dialogue, or his interrupting a somber moment any number of ways. And sometimes, it was just his sweet, innocent take on things: he was a great vehicle to lighten tension.

  • Incorporate a sense of play, and playfulness, to mitigate sad circumstances.

There is nothing remotely fun, or funny, about having to “stretch” Jake’s arms and legs because he was unable to do it on his own. And yet in the book, as in real life, his big brothers got in on the act and even managed to turn physical therapy into a good time: Ethan takes a benign teddy bear and creates… Ninja Bear! Another example is how Jake’s unusual hearing creates a funny scene when Ethan plays his trumpet without waking Jake to stir, but Mom’s quiet (and angry) whisper immediately wakes him up.

  • Do something surprising.

This technique is very helpful and can be used frequently and in many ways. Have someone you wouldn’t expect do something unexpected: Ms. Carlin, Ethan’s beloved English teacher, has a crush on Ethan’s hero, Magnus the Magnificent. (Spoiler alert: teachers are human! You heard it here first.) Have an unexpected dialogue exchange, like on p. 23:

Freddy:            I’m doing a huge battle of dinosaurs versus Star Wars. I thought the Star Wars people would win because they’ve got lightsabers. But the dinosaurs were  hungry, so they ate them.

Ethan:              The lightsabers?

Freddy:            The people.

Or create an unexpected, and much-needed, break in tension. This occurs organically in lots of Ethan’s magic tricks. It seems like something has gone wrong, then he pulls it off. Another example of breaking tension with humor is when Ethan tries to convince his frenemy, Ned, that cake will make him feel better. Just as Ethan is about to give up, Ned asks, “What flavor is it?”

  • Switch from tears to laughter.

One of my favorite writers, Paula Danziger, said that her favorite thing to do was switch from tears to laughter, or laughter to tears, “on a dime.” I have tried to do the same. Even if it’s something small, the contrast makes the new, unexpected emotion pack a bigger punch.

Laughter to tears is pretty easy when you’ve got a character like Jake. Here’s bit with Ethan and his buddies at lunch, as they try to figure out how he can pay for a magic competition:

Brian:              Hey! Maybe you could sell one of your brothers.

Ethan:              Nah. I’d have to pay somebody to take Freddy.

Daniel:            How about Jake? Lots of people want babies.

Brian:              Only perfect ones.

Tears to laughter usually happens courtesy of Freddy. In the dialogue below, the truth is the possibility of Jake ever tackling homework is a sad reminder that his limitations are far-reaching and probably permanent. And yet…

Freddy:            Hey, Ethan, you think someday I’ll help Jake with his math homework?

Ethan:              I don’t know. How much is eight plus two?

Freddy:            Twelve?

Creating laughter from tears, or happiness from sadness, isn’t only doable: it’s critical, especially in children’s books. I hope these approaches will show readers that they can find – and make – joy out of even the saddest situations.

More information on the book can be found at: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/naomi-milliner/super-jake-and-the-king-of-chaos/9780762466160/.

Super Jake & the King of Chaos
Author: Naomi Milliner
Published May 7th, 2019 by Running Press Kids

About the Book: A debut contemporary novel about 11-year-old aspiring magician Ethan, who discovers that heroes come in all sizes, and real magic can be found in the most unexpected places.

When life revolves around stressed-out parents and ER visits for his special needs little brother Jake, eleven-year-old Ethan escapes to a world of top hats, trick decks, and magic wands. When he hears of a junior magic competition where the top prize is to meet and perform with his hero, Magnus the Magnificent, Ethan is determined to do whatever he needs to get there–and to win.

His dedication and hard work pay off, and he makes it to the top five finalists: his dream really could come true! Then Jake falls dangerously ill and Ethan’s hopes and plans are in jeopardy. As he searches for any sort of magic that might save Jake, Ethan learns what is truly important . . . and what real magic is.

About the Author: Naomi Milliner has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s in Screenwriting from USC Film School. As a long-time member of SCBWI, she created the Authors Book Club (ABC) for published authors and illustrators to share their journey with other members. She has also served on the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee since 2009. She lives in Maryland, with her husband and sons.

Thank you so much for this guest post about how authors mix sadness and humor!

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Another school year is in the books! Time to celebrate and reflect!
And I know this is a long post, but I hope you’ll take the time to check out my students’ points of view and their reading choices 🙂

End of Year Survey

At the end of each year, I give my students a survey to help me grown and learn as a teacher but also for them to reflect on the year. Here are some answers from the survey:

This is about the same as last year. I did change my status check to only weekly instead of daily to see how it went (some kids were saying asking every day made it seem more of a chore), but I really think by not asking daily, I didn’t keep up with my students’ progress and conference correctly. Back to daily-ish next year!

This is a big deal for me because it is the first year that 100% of the answers were yes or yes, a small one! Yay!!

Does my classroom library benefit students? How did it benefit you this year?

  • Yes. The library has a huge variety of genres of great books that even people who aren’t avid readers can enjoy. The library helped me reach my personal goal of reading 10 books this school year.
  • YASSSSSSSSSSSS. I used to love fiction and I still do but I have also expanded my likes because of all of the genres in your mini library.
  • Of course! I was able to expand my reading options knowing that I can get a book quick and easy.
  • Of course, you can find any books in Mrs Moye’s library and there are so many kinds of books that everybody would enjoy, its like a second resource for anybody who could not find the book they wanted in the Media Center can find it in Mrs Moye’s library, or even find something better.
  • It does because it gives them a way to develop their reading love and your system makes it easier. You also have many great books and you give many great recommendations based on our interests.
  • You classroom definitely benefits students. It benefited me this year by giving me a wide variety of books to choose from.
  • It does benefit students. It provides a wide arrangement of books that can satisfy the interests of students as well as providing new books and find new reading interests.
  • Yes. It started my love of reading.

What would you say to someone that says that a classroom library is a waste of money?
I started asking this question after a friend of mine, on a post of hers, had a comment that said a classroom library was a waste of money.

  • You are incorrect, goodbye. *turns and walks away*
  • I would respect their opinion but I would say “I think it is not a waste of money because just 20 minutes of reading a day makes you very smart.”
  • I would say that they have obviously not had a good one and they don’t know what there talking about.
  • I would say the person who said that is wrong because yes it is a lot of money but in my opinion the benefits outweigh the cost.
  • “Man, you are sure wrong”
  • It’s not! It’s a major benefit for students and lets them be able to explore more reading options. Also, if the library or other book source doesn’t have a specific book, that classroom library might save the day.
  • It really isn’t. A classroom library makes it much easier to check out and return books. Especially when they belong to a teacher who you see almost everyday, while the school library is sometimes closed and can’t always be reached.
  • I would say that a classroom library isn’t a waste of money because it shows how much that teacher loves to read and how much they care about our education as readers.
  • I would start a whole argument about books (as usual…).
  • that they need to take this class
  • That they are wrong because with books you can block the real world and explore different worlds and enjoy it.
  • I would say that a classroom library is actually useful because it helps students find books they want to read easily and allows a lot of options, and may motivate some students to read more.
  • I disagree because throughout the year while there was a library that is easy to have access to, I have been able to read more book than ever before (19 books)
  • I would bring up lots of evidence to show the benefits of reading and why it is more needed
  • I would tell them that they don’t really understand classroom libraries. Classroom libraries are there to provide books. Books help to broaden people’s vocabulary and imagination.

Do you like how the classroom library was organized? Explain.
I ask this question because I used to organize by genre but did not find success with it, so I switched it back to A-Z but with genre stickers. This question helps me ensure that the way it is organized meets the needs of my readers. 100% of student said they do like how it is organized–yay! Here are some examples:

  • I love how the classroom library is organized and it makes books really easy to find.
  • I think it’s nice but they really should give you a bigger room to fill with books.
  • I did like how the classroom library was organized. It was pretty easy to find books based on the last name of the author. It was also nice to have the stickers showing what genre it was and whether or not it was YA.

What would you say to a teacher who says independent reading is a waste of class time?

  • Maybe it’s just you who doesn’t like reading.
  • I would say that they need to understand that it’s a proven fact that the time spent reading is in direct correlation to higher test scores.
  • I would say to the teacher that they are wrong because independent reading have kids learn and have fun at the same time.
  • I would tell them they are wrong because there has been many studies done to prove that reading is fundamental.
  • This also is not a waste of time. It’s proven that kids who read around 20 minutes a day get in the 90% percentile on tests. Reading only benefits kids.
  • It’s actually the opposite. Independent reading, or just reading in general, can help with brain growth and increase skills that you may not even know you possess. Not reading doesn’t really effect you, but it can definitely benefit you a lot more than just reading 2 or 3 books in class with a teacher.
  • That they are really wrong, that reading is such a good thing for your body and mind, by reading you can explore and create a world of fiction, fantasy and more, and it’s better for you cause people don’t disturb you while you are reading, which is one of the worse things that happens in life. (for me)
  • “Shut your face.” (say it in my head because I don’t want to be rude)
  • Have you tried it?
  • Independent reading helps students to form ideas and inferences on their own. They can also learn more vocabulary if they have to figure it out themselves rather than being told.

What do you think the benefit of taking advanced reading is?
I want to make sure that my class is benefiting my students!

  • It’s a life altering class. So some of the benefits are well, everything.
  • You get to have fun with reading instead of reading something boring you don’t care about.
  • The benefit of taking advanced reading is that you get to know things that other kids who are not in advanced reading don’t know.
  • You read more, you get to learn about real life controversies and every side of it, and your language arts skills will improve.
  • I think the benefit of taking advanced reading is knowledge. By using the tools, resources, and skills Mrs. Moye has taught us, we are able to use this and put it into the work we do. We will forever be able to use affixes when reading, to compare/contrast a play and a text, and so much more.
  • Kids who don’t usually read can be exposed to a wormhole of books in your class and it can really become something different for them. So I think the biggest benefit of being in an advanced reading class is just, being given the chance to read.
  • I think the benefits of taking advanced reading is so you can be around books (duh ;P) and you get to have an extra class that’s related to language art (so when the teacher calls on you, you’ll be like “WOW ME!”). Also, your vocabulary will get better (which is REALLY helpful.)
  • You get to read more!
  • The benefit of taking advanced reading is that it really helps with reading and writing skills.
  • Advanced reading gives you the tools to think for yourself while reading and doing other activities.

What have you learned about yourself through the assignments in this class?

  • That I’m able to do things that I didn’t know I could do.
  • I think is that I should trust myself more with what I do and not second guess myself.
  • I use more advanced vocabulary than most my age.
  • I learned that I can do more things that I have thought if I really try.
  • I have learned that sometimes you just have to try stuff, even if it isn’t your favorite, because you’ll never know what might happen. I did some things that weren’t exactly my favorite, and I ended up loving them.
  • I learned that I should start reading more and to try harder.
  • That I sometimes need to push myself harder but that’s alright.
  • That I am a hard working and I should never give up and doubt myself.
  • That I can achieve greater things with reading and reading can make you happier and smarter.

What was your favorite assignment or activity we did in class? Why?

  • I really liked the book trailers; it let me express my feelings about the books that I love.
  • My favorite assignment that we did was the Pygmalion myth play and musical analysis one pager. This was my favorite because it was a great story and the one pager allowed me to be creative while also pushing me to dig deeper and pull out the important things.
  • My favorite activity was probably the weird but true facts. I learned a lot of weird facts and it was overall a really fun project that incorporated research.
  • I really enjoyed when we did the thought logs in class. It pushed me to read an entire book of which I wasn’t entirely that interested in. And once we finished the books and the logs, it became one of my favorites. As well as the fact that I was in a group with two other students who I had never really spoken to before then.
  • The book club because it was fun sharing yours and others people opinion of the same book that we were reading.
  • My favorite assignment or activity was the Civil Rights Timeline. It was fun to work with all the classes to create one big timeline we can all view. It was also fun to research our topics and learn about all the other topics.
  • Probably when we made the affixes to hang in the hallway to share with everyone.
  • The one where we had to guess who did that speech in a high school and it ended up being Obama.

Favorite Books My Students Read This Year

My students read A LOT again this year! My 47 Advanced Reading students read 1,657 books! That is an average of 35 books per student! I am so proud of them!


Here are the titles they listed as their favorites on our end of year survey:

Top Checked Out Books from my Classroom Library

Yearly, starting with 2012-2013 (and excluding 2013-2014), I have shared the most popular books in my classroom library:
2012-2013
2014-2015
2015-2016
2016-2017
2017-2018

From 2011-2013, I taught an intensive reading class with students who had not been successful on the state reading test. Now, since 2014, I switched to teaching advanced reading, an elective that students choose to be in (and I still get to work with my striving readers through being reading coach–a win/win!). Students from all intervention reading classes and my lunch book club as well as my classes use my classroom library.


1. Smile series by Raina Telgemeier
2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
3. The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
4. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
5. Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi


T-6. Track series by Jason Reynolds
T-6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
T-8. Embassy Row series by Ally Carter
T-8. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
10. Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey

T-11. Divergent series by Veronica Roth
T-11. House Arrest series by K.A. Holt
T-11. Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman
14. Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt


T-15. Legend series by Marie Lu
T-15. Renegades series by Marissa Meyer
T-15. The Young Elites series by Marie Lu
T-15. War Cross duology by Marie Lu

T-19. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
T-19. Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen
T-19. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Note 1: If a book is in a series, I placed the series at the spot of the highest ranked book from the series. This allows me to highlight more checked out books instead of listing all the different books from a series.

Note 2: I use Booksource’s Classroom Library to track my book checkouts, and my book checkout history does not reset yearly. Instead it counts for any student in the system. Since I have students that check out from me for up to 3 years, sometimes a book they checked out in 6th grade will still be counted when they are in 8th grade. I figure all of this will even out as 8th graders are removed each year since there is no way to change this setting.

Note 3: These series/books account for the top 40 checked out books of my classroom library!

Happy summer to all of my fellow teachers, and here’s to another awesome school year in the books!

P.S. Please continue to stop by on Tuesdays during summer as I share my STUDENT VOICES series of blog posts written by my students. 

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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Thunderhead
Author: Neal Shusterman
Published: January 9, 2018 by Simon & Schuster

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Review: Thunderhead packs a punch as a conceptually compelling and action-packed follow up to award-winning Scythe. While at times it moves slowly and teeters on the precarious edge of “middle book syndrome.” Its expansion of the world of the Scythdome helps the book feel more well-rounded. Despite the action, Thunderhead shines most in its explorations of democracy and the implications of AI technology.

Citra’s questioning of identity, though immediately rooted in her struggle between her civilian past and scythedom, provides a good example of identity searching for teen readers. For Citra and Rowan, the stakes are high– despite the novel’s focus on the guiding AI of the Thunderhead, the fate of the world rests not on the shoulders of the political technology or the Scythe’s government, but on the teenage protagonist’s shoulders. Though Thunderhead didn’t invent the trope of teens saving the world, in 2018 it feels all the more prevalent.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As a sequel, Thunderhead will primarily be useful in addition to classroom libraries. However, in discussing the Arc of a Scythe series as a whole, Thunderhead raises interesting questions of power dynamics in politics, democracy, and the role of AI technology. If Scythe is already a text you’ve considered using in literature circles, a discussion about the themes raised in the sequel could provide an interesting supplement to the unit.

Discussion Questions:  Is the Thunderhead justified? Is the Scythedom?  In what ways is the world of the Scythes in MidMerica and beyond a dystopia or utopia?

Flagged: “You may laugh when I tell you this, but I resent my own perfection. Humans learn from their mistakes. I cannot. I make no mistakes. When it comes to making decisions, I deal only in various shades of correct.” (Chapter 4).

Read This If You Loved: Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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“Igniting Your Students’ Passions by Using the FIRE Method”

Recently I was asked by my middle school alma mater to give a talk to sixth graders as part of their curriculum on pursuing passions. The teacher specifically asked that I be as honest as possible, since a lot of the students were not being very realistic and assumed that life was going to be handed to them.

To explain it in as fun and clear a way as possible, I used the “fire” method: comparing a burning passion to a burning fire. Passions and fires can both be dangerous if you’re not careful, and both require the same three elements to stay burning: a spark, oxygen, and fuel.

#1. Spark: The thing that sparked the student’s interest

Just like how a fire can’t exist without an initial spark, a passion can’t exist without one either.

For me, my passion is writing, and the biggest spark came when I was 13 years old and waiting for the fifth Harry Potter book to come out. Instead of waiting another two years, I decided to just write my own fanfiction version. That was the first time I realized that I could write a book, since up until then I’d always thought writers had to have a special office with some sort of writer magic in it. But as it turned out, all anyone needs is an idea and something to write it on.

Sparks can come in all sorts of varieties. If the student’s passion is basketball, maybe it was the first time they played with their friends. If their passion is baking, maybe it was the first time they tasted a slice of cake. If their passion is video games, maybe it was beating their first game by themselves.

Having students think about their spark can help remind them why their passion is their passion in the first place, and prepare them for the next two steps.

#2. Oxygen: The perseverance that prevents the student’s fire from going out.

It’s important for students to be aware that while pursuing their passion, obstacles are going to get in their way. It’s during those times that they have to take a deep breath full of oxygen and tell themselves it’s going to be okay.

For me, that happened when I wrote my first original book. I sent it out to publishers and got nothing but rejections or silence. So I wrote another, and the same thing happened. Again and again for a total of five books and nothing to show for it except tumbleweeds in my inbox.

My fiery passion for writing was dying, and I needed oxygen. Just like you can pump air into a dying fire with a bellows, I had to do the same: take deep breaths, get that oxygen, and persevere. I wrote another book, and the sixth time was the charm. That was when my first book was finally picked up by a publisher.

There are many different types of oxygen. If the student’s passion is being an athlete, maybe no team wants to have them play for them. If their passion is being a doctor, maybe they discover that they can’t stand the sight of blood. If their passion is being as actor, maybe they can’t find any acting jobs.

Thinking about what kind of obstacles can get in the way of their passion is a good way for students to prepare for them down the road. It can hurt to be very passionate about something and have it not work out right away, but as long as they remember to breathe in that oxygen, learn from their mistakes, and keep going, their flame won’t go out.

#3. Fuel: The job that pays the bills.

Just like a fire needs some kind of fuel to keep burning (wood, charcoal, etc.), passions need fuel too. Students should know that a lot of creative passions don’t pay well, and if they don’t have money for a roof over their head, then it’ll be hard to write, create music, make art, or whatever they want to do.

But the good news is that their “fuel job” can be related to their passion. For me, I work as a writer/editor at the news-entertainment website SoraNews24. Not only do I get to put my writing experience into practice, but I also get to pay the bills and have food in the fridge too. Meanwhile, after work, I still get to pursue my passion of writing books.

There are a ton of different “fuel jobs” out there. If the student’s passion is sports, maybe they could be a personal trainer, or a coach for a school team. If their passion is music, maybe they could be a music teacher/tutor, or edit music for movies/videos. If their passion is gaming, maybe they could playtest games, or help market them.

Being realistic with students can help broaden their view of what they can do with their passion. It also can help show them that they’re not a failure if they don’t achieve their dream job, they’re just fueling their passion in a different way.

Students can come up with their own list of the three elements, and then see for themselves how they link together: the spark that made them interested in the first place and reminds them why they love it, the oxygen to help them overcome obstacles, and the fuel to feed their passion. It’s a lot of fun to have them share their sparks, oxygen, and fuel with each other, and give suggestions as well.

Just like a real fire, as long as they have all three elements, their passion will burn bright for a long time.

About the Author: Scott Wilson works as a translator and editor for the Japanese news-entertainment website SoraNews24. He runs ScottWritesStuff, a creative writing livestream on Twitch, and in his free time can be found playing video games and Magic: The Gathering with friends. Metl: The ANGEL Weapon is his first novel. He lives in the Japanese countryside with his wife.

METL: The Angel Weapon
Author: Scott Wilson
Published March 5th, 2019 by Month9Books

About the Book: When technology is outlawed, the future looks a lot like the past.

Thirteen-year-old Caden Aire spends his days working in the fields and his nights sleeping in a horse stable, all under the watch of Metl—Earth’s mysterious and artificial second moon, a looming relic of humanity’s lost era.

But Caden’s simple life changes when one night, a fiery red X suddenly appears on Metl’s surface, and the same red Xs start glowing on his palms.

Now Caden must find the only person who knows what’s happening to him, but he doesn’t have much time. Metl has started on an impact course with Earth, and to stop it, Caden will have to face both the unsettling truth about his world … and about himself.

Thank you, Scott, for the advice on how to keep our students’ writing passion burning bright!

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Louisiana’s Way Home
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: October 2nd, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Louisiana’s Way Home: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Louisianaon Candlewick Press’s Louisiana’s Way Home page.

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Nice Try, Jane Sinner
Author: Lianne Oelke
Published: January 9, 2018 by Clarion

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

Review: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart—but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis—one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: I’ll admit, I’m always a sucker for a strong, sarcastic, and somewhat troubled YA protagonist, and Jane Sinner did not disappoint. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is psychological and philosophical, a little crass and silly, sometimes downright strange, and always full of tremendous heart — but then, isn’t that college? It was refreshing to read an older YA: Jane is right on that cusp of “not really a teenager anymore, but definitely not a full a full-fledged adult.” As she navigates her senior year in high school, taking classes at the local community college, I felt that, even beyond its obvious and intentional quirks, Jane’s story is startlingly unique in how it captures the whirlwind of  emotions felt during that transitional time. It also offered a healthy balance of relationships, featuring Jane’s loving yet tense parents, adoring but annoying little sister, and a cast of friends too diverse to affix any one guiding set of adjectives to.

Written in diary-format, the book is told exactly as Jane wants it to be, which adds an interesting dimension of questionability to her narration. Dialogue is captured in script format, which prompts readers to question at times what’s reality and what’s for show, on House of Orange and beyond. What Jane does and doesn’t tell the narrator about her past, her genuine feelings, and her motivation leads to some interesting twists.  In particular, Jane’s “Doctor/Self” internal dialogues were really compelling. Like the eponymous Jane Sinner herself, however, the book at times deflects the greater thematic issues at hand through its sarcasm and humor. Jane’s story revolves around a personal crisis–one that I wish the book would have delved in deeper to by the end. I did enjoy Jane’s exploration of religion and the expectations young people are sometimes held to, which is a topic I’ve yet to see be fully explored in YA.

For all its quirks and flaws, Jane Sinner has a heart of gold. It conjures up all the emotions of a teen on the brink of “adulthood,” while still maintaining a sarcastic yet thoughtful spark throughout. It’s refreshing to remember that being a young adult doesn’t end at high school, and life doesn’t have to either.

Discussion Questions:  Even in the context of the book, Jane is quite the controversial character to those around her — did you “like” Jane? How might this shape your perception of the book as a reader? Does “likability” matter in protagonists? Think about if Jane was gender-swapped: would this change how we view some of her more questionable decisions or characteristics?

Flagged: “I need to psychoanalyze myself for Intro Psych. I’m not sure how that’s possible; the prof was rather vague on the specifics in class today. I was also caught up in a doodle of my hand. I outlined my hand on my notes because the notes were ugly and otherwise useless. I layered the inside with different-colored gel pens until the outline was fairly thick. In the middle of the hand I drew toasters and toast. The whole thing came together really well. One of my better efforts. But I’m not sure how to psychoanalyze myself. I suppose I’ll have to be both the doctor and patient. Maybe the two of me can come up with some profoundly insightful insight.

A middle-aged man with thinning brown hair and a cozy sweater vest motions for Jane to lie down on the sofa. He takes a seat on the overstuffed leather armchair and crosses his legs like a girl.

THE DOCTOR

Hello, Ms. Sinner.

JS

                          Hi.” (Page 46-47).

Read This If You Loved: Anything by John Green (Turtles All the Way Down in particular),  Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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