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Running on the Roof of the World
Author: Jess Butterworth
Published May 1st, 2018 by Algonquin Young Readers

Summary: A story of adventure, survival, courage, and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India.

Tash lives in Tibet, where as a practicing Buddhist she must follow many rules to avoid the wrath of the occupying Chinese soldiers. Life remains peaceful as long as Tash, her family, and their community hide their religion and don’t mention its leader, the Dalai Lama.

The quiet is ruptured when a man publicly sets himself on fire to protest the occupation. In the crackdown that follows, soldiers break into Tash’s house and seize her parents. Tash barely escapes, and soon she and her best friend, Sam, along with two borrowed yaks, flee across the mountains, where they face blizzards, hunger, a treacherous landscape, and the constant threat of capture. It’s a long, dangerous trip to the Indian border and safety—and not all will make it there.

This action-packed novel tells a story of courage, hope, and the powerful will to survive, even in the most desperate circumstances.

About the Author [from her website]: As a child I wanted to be many things, including a vet and even David Attenborough, but throughout all of those ideas, I always wanted to write. So I studied creative writing as a BA(hons) at Bath Spa University, where I won the Writing for Young People Prize in 2011. I then completed a Master’s in Writing for Young People, also at Bath Spa University, and graduated in 2015.

My first two novels, RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD and WHEN THE MOUNTAINS ROARED are set in the Himalayas. My family on my Dad’s side has lived in India for seven generations and I spent much of my childhood in India too. My father was a trek leader and we lived on a remote foothill above Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan community in exile is settled. My mother’s family lived in London, where I was born. She was off on her own adventure, travelling in India, when she met my dad. Growing up, I would always write about the Himalayas when I was in the UK and missing the mountains or my dad and grandparents who still lived there.

Although RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD is fiction, it is inspired by a journey that tens of thousands of Tibetans have braved. I wanted to write a story that is relevant to today and grounded in events, places and communities I care about deeply.

Now I live between Louisiana in the US and Frome in the UK, and you’ll often find me back in the Himalayas too.

Review: We all have knowledge gaps. I try to learn as much as I can about the world and others unlike me, and this story took me to Tibet and showed me a struggle happening that I was unaware of. While reading and since reading, I have spent hours reading about the history and current affairs of Tibet.

But other than smacking me in the face with this truth and taking place in a setting and from a point of view that is not often shared in middle grade and young adult novels, it also is a page-turning survival adventure. Tash and Sam must face a trek that hundreds of thousands have done, but they are doing it alone with only help from a few yaks and maybe some unexpected allies.

I included the author’s biography in her own words above because I think it is important to see that although this book may not be an own voices per se, it is written by someone who lived in the area and cares deeply about the people who live near the Himalayas.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see this book and others from countries in other continents as part of a lit circle or in-class book club within middle school or high school classrooms to allow kids to see the world outside of their small area. Some other texts could be: Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins, Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Diamond Boys by Michael Williams, Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf, Long Walk to Walter by Linda Sue Park, The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, Sold by Patricia McCormick, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, La Linea by Ann Jaramillo, and I am sure there are more that I just don’t know. In addition to the novels, students could read news articles about the current events that connect with what they read in their fiction novels.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do Tash and Sam have to leave Tibet?
  • What are Tash’s parents doing that is so dangerous?
  • What is the geography like between Tibet and India?
  • What religion is Tash and Sam if they are going to see the Dalai Lama?
  • How do the yaks impact the success or failure of Tash and Sam’s journey?
  • What did the message in the letter end up meaning?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 17: Journey

Eve steps into a ditch and I slide forward, slamming into the hump above her shoulders.

‘Sorry, Eve,’ I mutter, shuffling back to find my balance.

Being a yak rider should run in my blood but my leg muscles ache from clinging on so tightly.

We approach the thick wire fence that surrounds the village. Two rocks stand to our right like giant guards.

Please let it be clear.

Sam dismounts. He moves slowly toward them, crushing the gravel under his boots.

‘There’s no one here!’ he shouts.

‘Is the fence still broken?’ I ask.

He nods and disappears between rocks with Bones.

I follow him. The rusty fence has bowed to the ground where the boulder fell and flattened it. The space between the rocks is just big enough to squeeze Eve through, though I have to tug at her harness to get her to move. As I step over the fence, my heart jumps.

We’re escaping.

Read This If You Love: Books about climing mountains like Peak and The Edge by Roland Smith, survival books like Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, or books that expand your reading borders like the books listed above

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**Thank you to Brooke at Algonquin for providing a copy for review!**

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Alone Together
Author: Sarah J. Donovan
Published: May 1, 2018 by Seela Books

Summary: Sadie Carter’s life is a mess, as wavy and tangled as her unruly hair. At 15, she is barely surviving the chaos of her large Catholic family. When one sister becomes pregnant and another is thrown out, her unemployed dad hides his depression, and her mom hides a secret. Sadie, the peacekeeper and rule-follower, has had enough. The empty refrigerator, years of hand-me-downs, and all the secrets have to stop. She longs for something more and plans her escape.

However, getting arrested was not her plan. Falling in love was not her plan. With the help of three mysterious strangers—a cop, a teacher, and a cute boy—maybe Sadie will find the strength to defy the rules and do the unexpected.

Told in verse, Sarah J. Donovan’s debut Alone Together has secrets, romance, struggle, sin, and redemption, all before Sadie blows out her 16 candles. It’s a courageously honest look at growing up in a big family.

Review: Sarah’s writing shows that she has a firm grasp on adolescence. The book is a beautiful book in verse. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I had closed the text. Sadie lives in a Catholic household, and she is struggling emotionally. She is the only one of the eleven people in her family to sit at the breakfast table, and one of the few siblings who hasn’t left the family altogether. She is the peacemaker and is sick of the empty fridge and bad choices that others seem to make for her. I think that Sadie has a life that many young people will relate to. She is left wondering about the ways in which people exist alone together. This is a great read, and I will be using it (in part and in whole) in my classes.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The title of this book is quite inspiring. Students might be asked to reflect on all of the ways that we are “alone together” in this world. Teachers can offer space and place for students to critically analyze whether we are alone together or whether we are something else. I’d love to hear students’ thoughts about this.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In this text, what is the role of family? In our world, what role does family play? How are we tied and not tied to our families?
  • How does Sadie’s family impact her life?
  • How does Sadie grow within the timeframe of the book? What does she learn?
  • Which verse resonated with you? How does it connect (or not connect) with your life?

Flagged Passage: 

“The only one of eleven

who sets the table every morning

with cereal bowls and spoons,

who matches mounds of socks

without complaint or disdain,

who obeys every stand, kneel, sing in mass

without sneaking out after communion” (6).

Read This If You Love: Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas; Stop Pretending by Sonia Sones; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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Nocturnals: The Slithery Shakedown
Author and Illustrator: Tracey Hecht
Published: April 10, 2018 by Fabled Films Press

Goodreads Summary: Discover the friendship and humor of the Nocturnals Brigade! In The Slithery Shakedown, three unlikely friends—Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark a loud-mouthed sugar glider and Dawn, a serious fox—stand up to a big bully snake. In the process, they find themselves some spec-tac-u-lar snakeskin capes!

Includes Bonus Animal Glossary!

About the Author: Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed, and produced for film. The American Booksellers Association chose her first book in The Nocturnal series, The Mysterious Abductions, as a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Last year, in partnership with the New York Public Library, she created a Noctural Read Aloud Writing Program for middle graders that has expanded worldwide. She splits her time between Oquossoc, Maine and New York City.  Check out our Q&A with her here!

Ricki’s Review: I don’t tend to gravitate to early readers because they can be awfully boring. This book breaks the mold. It’s fun and engaging, and my son loves reading it. I frequently catch him looking through the pages and staring at the pictures.  He didn’t know what nocturnal animals were before he read this book, and now, any time we see an animal, he asks if it is nocturnal. The conflict in this book is wonderfully portrayed, and it teaches about the power of friendship and bravery. I recommend this book for folks seeking engaging early readers that will capture children’s attention. It’s wonderfully done.

Kellee’s Review: What a fun book to read! It not only will be great for Trent when he is a beginning reader to practice his reading, it is overall a fun story that is a fantastic read aloud. It looks at the idea of bravery and fear as well as friendship while also introducing scientific ideas like nocturnal animals and carnivore animals. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:  The Summer Reading Kit is available on the publisher’s website. This book begs readers to research nocturnal animals, and it provides a lot of opportunity for classroom use.

Additionally, the author uses a ton of alliteration which makes it super fun to read out loud but also gives a chance to introduce this literary device.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which animal is most afraid? How does friendship influence this character’s bravery?
  • How does the snake react to the friends? What does this tell you?
  • What other nocturnal animals do you know?
  • What do you think the setting of the book is based on the animals?
  • How does the author use alliteration throughout the book?
  • What words did you not know in the story? Using context what do you think they mean?

Flagged Passages: 

“Chapter 3

‘Did sss-someone sss-say breakfassst?’ the snake said.

Bismark spun around.

Behind hijm was a long, blue, shimmery snake.

The snake slid from the grass.

The snake raised its head.

The snake flicked its flickery tongue.

‘Bismark, look out!’ Dawn cried.” (p. 24-25)

Read This If You Loved: Night Animals by Gianna MarinoBaby Animals at Night by Kingfisher Publications, National Geographic Early Readers

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**Thank you to Stacey and Nicole at Fabled Films for providing copies for review!**

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Illustrator: Kerascoët
Anticipated Publication: April 24, 2018 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team—tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

My Review: I was very fortunate to receive an F&G of this book at ALA Midwinter. Whew! I was told that this book was inspired by a true story of a large group of students who walked with a student who was being bullied. It’s really quite magical. This is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide assortment of readers at a wide range of ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book rakes in a few awards next year. The story is beautifully done. It inspired some great conversations with my four-year-old. We were able to point to each of the characters and talk about what they were doing in each situation. That said, if I had to place this book in one age group, I think it would make a great fit at the early elementary school level.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a phenomenal book to talk about the bystanders. It would pair beautifully with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. When I read this with my son, we spent a lot of time point out several of the students on the pages. We talked about what each of them were doing and in some cases, what they weren’t doing. This book is a must-read.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the illustrator team chose to make the book wordless? How does this make the book more or less powerful for you?; What emotions do you see in the characters? Why are they feeling the way that they feel?; Do bystanders have a responsibility?

Flagged Passage: 

Image from Amazon

Read This If You Loved: My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review); Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Astronaut Annie
Author: Suzanne Slade; Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Published March 6, 2018 by Tilbury House Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she’ll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom’s favorite sport in high school — basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.

ReviewThis book served as a gentle reminder to me, as a parent! As Annie prepares for career day, all of her family members think she’d be great at their jobs. Annie honors their suggestions by creating a costume that incorporates all of their ideas, and just in case readers doubt her ability to be a female astronaut, the back matter (which features four famous women in space) would prove them wrong. This is a great story about a girl who sets her heart firmly on her dreams and is determined to pursue her passion. I particularly appreciated the ending, in which all of her family members are supportive of her dreams. I got emotional as I read it! I adored this book and feel lucky to have it in my library.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was very inspired by the school’s Career Day setup! Each child dresses like the career they want to be. Our local school districts does a lot of neat things, and this is the kind of idea that they would adopt. Perhaps teachers could read this book and then set up a Career Day that allows kids to dress up to represent a career that interests them. What a great, inspiring school day this would be!

Discussion Questions: How does Annie react to her family members’ suggestions? How does she honor their suggestions at the end of the story?; Are her family member supportive of her dreams?; What do you want to be when you grow up? What famous people have held this career? How could you learn more about this career?

We Flagged: “And Annie jumped high off her chair, explored far-off places and soared through the air.”

Read This If You Loved: Books about space, books that feature strong females(!), books that feature family

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**Thank you to Nicole for providing a copy for review**

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the  protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.

The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?

We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’

‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’

‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’

‘Yes, the world as you see it!’

‘I saved you from that evil woman!’

‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).

Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**