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Feral Youth
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.

In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.

Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.

Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?  

Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).

Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies

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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik
Author: David Arnold
Published: May 22, 2018 by Viking

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

Review: The longer I sit with this book, the more I feel like I’m still it; every time I sit down to think about it, I find new things to consider. If that’s not the sign of a good book,I don’t know what else is. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hipnotik is a surreal exploration of identity, friendship, and family on the brink of the many changes protagonist Noah Oakman faces (both before and after his hypnotic episode) as he looks to the future beyond high school.

Above all else, I loved the nerdom in this book, both in its literary and historical detail as well as the variety of pop-culture references. In particular, much of the book (including its title) is drawn from musical icon David Bowie, so I’ll admit,  it’s hard to go wrong. The humor also brings some lightness to the moral questions and philosophical questions of self and reality, which helps keep the largely internal narrative afloat.

Through it all, this book captures an important to capture the emotional gamut of someone’s life, especially when it feels like everything is ch-ch-ch-changing around you. Whether you’re looking for fun or serious contemplation of reality, this book will let you escape for a while (and even for a while longer after you’re done!)

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Though grounded in humor and pop culture references, this book would make for a really interesting companion to classics like James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In asking students to compare the latter with Strange Fascinations, there are some really interesting parallels to be made both in the coming of age story and in the respective protagonists’ relationships with their sisters.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree, like Circuit, that genuine conversations are rare in the contemporary world? What do you think of Noah’s “strange fascinations?” Do you have any “fascinations” of your own, in this sense?

Flagged: “Some books are songs like that, the ones you go back to, make playlists of, put on repeat” (page 108).

Read This If You Loved: Mosquitoland by David Arnold, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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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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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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The Forest Queen
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Published: August 7, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.

Review: Anyone familiar with the tale of Robin Hood likes the idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Betsy Cornwell’s twist on this idea changes it just enough to give the story some flavor and novelty. The characters were compelling and the relationships were truly touching, but everything felt a little too convenient to me. There were several times when characters all but died and ended up making it out without a scrape. In a world where all of the favorable characters are on the lamb, there was a fair amount of luck and inaction that saved nearly every one of them. As a gender bent twist on a fairytale and a lively retelling of an old story, this novel had merit, but there wasn’t quite enough to it to call it a masterpiece.

However, as far as representation goes, Betsy Cornwell hit it on the head. The Forest Queen, as the title lets on, has a female leading things. The role of Robin Hood was usurped by a woman and amplified by the fact that the woman is stealing from her own family to give to the poor. The other females in the novel show strength in the face of things like rape and a shocking lack of agency. There are even LGBTQ characters that add to the sense that women in this world are the epitome of overcoming their circumstances.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation:This novel is a great outlet in which to discuss rape culture. Although it is not the most prominent part of the story, it plays a part and is represented in an ideal way in relation to discussion. Because this subject is extremely difficult to discuss in general, let alone in a classroom, talking about it within the realm of this fantastical society may make it a bit easier. It would be interesting to reflect upon the similarities between the culture in the novel and our own culture in this society. It is so incredibly important to discuss difficult subjects in the classroom, but when it is in reference to a novel like The Forest Queen, it can be looked at in a more academic way.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did Sylvie have a right to encourage the village people to rebel against her brother?
  • What do the ties to the story of Robin Hood do for this novel?
  • How do women take power in this story and how does that differ from classic fantasy?

Read This If You Loved: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

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The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World
Creators: Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Running Press

Summary: A whimsical and imaginative catalog of fantastical beasts and creatures of myth and legend from around the world-complete with a code that needs cracking to uncover the mystery of the monster atlas!

One day a collection of very old maps is found in a dusty library. They show where in the world monsters and creatures from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with the maps, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 15th century. But did Walters really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain . . . and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log? The codes throughout, once cracked, may indeed lead to something sinister that will happen should the atlas ever be published!

This is a gorgeously illustrated and comprehensive catalog of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures from around the globe, with an easy-to-read format and incredible detail on each spread. It is many things, all at once:

  • A reference guide: Grouped by continent, this illustrated atlas lists and defines magical creatures from folklore around the world. Readers will find creatures from stories they’ve heard–like leprachauns, manticores, zombies–and learn about lesser-known creatures like the squonk, the tatzelwurm, and the fengu.
  • A journal: Presented as a record created by a fifteenth-century voyager named Cornelius Walters, the book includes Cornelius’s personal anecdotes about encountering monsters during his journey.
  • A mystery: The book also includes notes from a librarian who supposedly found the atlas and is trying to figure out whether Cornelius was making up stories for the monsters…or whether monsters are real.
  • A code: A mysterious code appears on each page and is referred to by both Cornelius and the librarian, encouraging readers to crack it…before it’s too late.

For kids (and adults) who love mythology, the supernatural, mysteries, or code-breaking, this whimsical blend of folklore and fiction provides both a joy and a surprise on every page.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Lawrence is an author and journalist. She is the author of two middle grade history books: Grisly History: Death and Destruction and Grisly History: Trials and Treachery. She lives in London, England.

Stuart Hill is an illustrator and designer. He is especially interested in printed textures, hand-lettering, and map illustration. He lives in England.

Review: This book is really everything that the summary states. It is fascinating! And beautiful! There is some humor because of the voyager’s anecdotes and the librarian’s notes, too, which is always nice. And the addition of the code adds an interactive element to the text. Highly recommended for any teacher teaching mythology or any traditional stories with monsters/creatures.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be perfect for teaching and discussing the Literacy.RL.9 standard which discusses how modern texts uses traditional text. Using The Atlas of Monsters, students can get an introduction to allusion around a discussion of where they have heard of the monsters before. And this is just the beginning! It would be so much fun to make your own Atlas of Monsters!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Find the clues throughout each page, and crack the codes in the book.
  • How many different points of view are shared in the book? How does this affect the reading experience?
  • Pick one of the creatures and do further research and create a longer profile about them.
  • Before reading about one of the continents, do your own research and try to predict which mythical creatures will be mentioned.
  • What are some similarities/differences between what you knew about ____ and what is in the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Cryptozoology, Folklore, the supernatural, code breaking

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**Thank you Running Press Kids for providing a copy of the book to review!**

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Picture Us in the Light
Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert
Published: April 10, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember, and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.

When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Review: This book is filled to the brim with interesting plot points. While most novels would focus on one to two major things that are going on in a character’s life, this one has several. I found this to be both engaging and chaotic. Some of the time I felt that if Danny was a real person, he would simply explode during the course of events in the book. Danny was dealing with things well beyond what most people his age experience and manages to mostly keep it together despite. There are entire novels that deal with immigration, adoption, death of a loved one, suicide, sexual orientation, poverty, college preparedness, or love, but this one contains all of these ideas, among others. Though it felt like too much at times, this became one of the great aspects of the novel as well.

Throughout the story, Danny struggles with his morality at the same time as struggling with everything that life is dragging him through. Even though he is dealing with more than any human should have to, he still has time to feel the things that remind the reader that he is a person. So many of Danny’s feelings are perfectly reflective of what I and many others feel at points in life. The best part is that no matter who you are or what you have been through, you can connect with one of the topics addressed in this book. Gilbert’s inclusion of so many salient issues substantially increases the relatability.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many great things to talk about in the classroom in relation to this book. Although most reviews look at this novel as an exploration of sexuality, there are several other lenses with which to look through to spur great discussion. The issue that comes to mind first and foremost is immigration and the effect that it can have on a family and especially children in a family. Although Danny himself never went through the process of immigration, his parents did, and this has a huge effect on their family. Through the normal ups and downs of the life of a high schooler, Danny also discovers many things throughout the story that are connected to his family’s immigration and it only adds to his strife.

Many young students know little to nothing about the process of immigration—having never immigrated themselves—and Picture Us in the Light can do a lot to change that. It would be such a beneficial discussion to address the immigration experience that this family has and to even talk about the danger of a single story: that no family or persons story of immigration is exactly alike. It could also be interesting to teach this book alongside a classic tale of immigration such as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There is a lot of material that can be taken from this book and I can see it being a very helpful tool in the classroom for discussing pertinent issues.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is this novel hypercritical of students dealing with the suicide of a peer?
  • Does this novel reaffirm too many stereotypes?
  • How does this novel do well in talking about the exploration of sexuality?
  • How does it do poorly?
  • Do you believe Danny was as immoral a person as he thought he was?
  • What do the second person, in-between chapter bits do for the story?

We Flagged: “But in that instant, the one where you saw that flash of recognition strike him like lightning, you felt what you came here to see if you’d feel: the same strike at the same time, an atomic pull you can’t explain.”

Read This If You Loved: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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