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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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Tsu and the Outliers
Author: E. Eero Johnson
Published May 8th, 2018 by odod books

Summary: Tsu and the Outliers is a graphic novel about a non- verbal boy whose rural existence appears unbearable until rumors of a monstrous giant upend his mundane life. Tsu finds himself at the center of the mystery, as his strange metaphysical connection with the creature is revealed.

As the dragnet closes in, Tsu is forced to choose between a dangerous path leading beyond the periphery of human perception or a life without his only friend.

About the Author: E. Eero Johnson (Erik T. Johnson) is a Minneapolis-based illustrator, graphic designer, and comic book artist. His illustrations have appeared in GQThe New YorkerNewsweekWired, and The New York Times, and on several book covers. His comic book projects, The Outliers and Kozmo-Knot, have gained a growing interest from the indie comic world. He lives with his wife, Tammy, sons, Emmett and Eilif, and a crazy Boston terrier.

ReviewTsu and the Outliers is an interesting look at a new type of superhero: a young non-verbal boy who is able to communicate with a creature that his world is afraid of. There are some interesting discussion points when it comes to bullying since Tsu is judged by his classmates because of his disability. This is a big theme during the beginning of the book as we get to know Tsu. The creature also ends up being a Sasquatch and they are being chased by a chupacabra-like creature which introduces North American folklore. Overall, the story is pretty crazy (in a good way), and the end of the book sets up for a definite sequel which I NEED because Tsu makes a crazy decision at the end of the book with no explanation.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the scene where Tsu is bullied by Jespers to start a dialogue about bullying. Discuss why the scene makes them angry and uncomfortable and what could have been done by others to help Tsu. Have students create anti-bullying advertisements to share in your school.

When mythology and folklore are discussed, the focus is primarily on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian. Use Tsu and the Outliers to discuss North American folklore including the Sasquatch and chupacabra. Have them research the tales about these creatures and create their own myth with them in it. Also, as a class, discuss the difference between the characters is Tsu and traditional folklore.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What foreshadowing was there to show that Tsu was more than what everyone assumed?
  • Tsu’s lack of verbal communication in the end of the book ended up not being a disability. What do you think caused it?
  • Why do you think Tsu made the choice he did at the end of the book?
  • Why do you think Tsu’s mother made the claim she did at the end of the book covering up for Tsu?
  • Why does the Chimpanzee-professor want Tsu?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Superpowers, Folklore, Superhero comics

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**Thank you to odod books for providing a copy for review!**

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There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published: September 26, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

My Review: This book was gripping from the first page. I found myself getting sucked into it, trying to figure out the mystery of who the killer was, but also of what Makani’s past entailed. The author, Stephanie Perkins, did an amazing job of planting foreshadowing and clues that hinted toward the answers to the multiple mysteries that kept my brain working the entire time that I was reading.

I also loved the emphasis on friendship groups, feeling like an outsider, and bullying/hazing as many adolescents face these topics every day. The way that these topics were portrayed in Makani’s friend group, and the way that the friends help Makani to deal with her hazing trials were something that I appreciated. However, there were two things that I wish were approached differently in this book. 1. Even though this is a small point, one of the characters was a stereotypical, loud Christian character who tried to force his beliefs on everyone else, including a mention of how he managed to get rid of any mention of evolution in his school textbooks. He was characterized as a Lutheran. While this probably wouldn’t mean much to other people, I am a Lutheran, and all of the Lutherans I know believe and support evolution, and don’t at all act like this negative christian stereotype character does. But, this book makes it look like all Lutherans act this way. I wish that there had been no mention of the character’s denomination.  2. I wish that more emphasis had been placed on dealing with the deaths that occurred in the books, as well as the motivations of the killer, as those were both just glanced over. This is problematic as it leaves a huge hole in understanding of the novel, and makes it harder to talk about some of the prominent events in the story. Overall though, it was a very entertaining novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to have in a classroom library for kids to enjoy. Given the graphic, violent nature of some of the scenes, I wouldn’t recommend teaching to an entire class. However, it will appeal to students who enjoy the horror genre. This book also has great potential in literature circles. Perkins does a great job of foreshadowing and giving hints not only as to what is going to happen, but to stories that have already happened that the readers don’t know about yet. As I was reading, I loved being able to piece together the clues that were given to try to guess what had happened and also what was going to happen. A literature circle could have a lot of fun trying to piece those clues together as a group. This book also touches on other important topics such as bullying/hazing and family struggles which could be discussed in a literature circle, as well as the elements of forgiving oneself/dealing with guilt (which Makani experiences as a result of the hazing incident). The one thing that I found this book lacking was any form of dealing/acknowledging grief and death, as well as an acknowledgement of mental health issues (which the killer would have to have). These failings in the book could also be discussed in relation as to how to acknowledge those topics in a healthy way.

Discussion Questions: Where do you see foreshadowing in the early parts of the books?; How does Perkins create suspense in her novel?; What is Makani’s relationship with her parents like?; What was Makani’s experience with hazing like? Have you experienced something similar?; How does blame and justice appear in this book? Is it always fair?

We Flagged: “Sharing her story now, however, had opened a valve of tremendous internal pressure. Her secret- this self-inflicted burden- had finally been released.” (page 207 of Advanced Reading Copy)

Read This If You Loved: The Merciless by Danielle Vega; Dead by Morning by Kayla Krantz; The Forest Dweller by Deborah McClatchey; Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson

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  RickiSig

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

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E. K. Johnston
Published: October 3, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

My Review: The futuristic setting of this novel that wasn’t a dystopia was very intriguing to me. Most of the futuristic novels that I’ve read have featured dystopian societies, so it was refreshing to have something that worked. I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives from the different characters, and became personally invested in their lives and experiences. I’d find myself hurting for Helena as she struggled to reconcile her identity, and rooting for August to do the right thing. In some way, all of the characters have to struggle to come of age and develop their identity based on who they want to be. 

However, I wish that this novel had placed a little more effort on the ending. While the rest of the novel had dealt with realistic challenges that an adolescent might face, the ending seemed rather contrived, and less realistic like the rest of the novel. The solution proposed at the end of the novel is not a solution that an adolescent in current society could replicate and learn from, which was disappointing.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book poses great questions about racism (or rather the eradication of racism), as well as questions of morality. It also would be great for discussions about the influence that society can have on your life verses the influence that you decide for your life. I think that this book would be a great addition to a classroom library for kids to enjoy, or a book to be used in a reading circle. It’s engaging and could lead to interesting discussions, especially about the futuristic government and setting of the novel, and the aforementioned topics of racism, morality, and societal influence vs self. However, I do think that other novels cover these topics in a better way, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for large classroom discussions.  

Discussion Questions: Is this novel a utopia? Dystopia? Does it fit either criteria?; How is race approached in this novel? Is there racism in the society?; What is the role of colonialism in this novel?; What is the role of the Computer? Do you think this is a good advancement?; What does the computer lack?; What morality questions does this novel pose?

We Flagged: “The Computer is sufficient if you want to know your future without taking into account your soul. I don’t mean in the eternal sense, but in the worldly. The Computer can tell you if your genes are prone to carcinoma or if you might be six feet tall, but it cannot tell you if you will enjoy dancing or if you will prefer cake to pie. I would argue that the latter is more important in terms of a long and healthy relationship” (p. 254).

Read This If You Loved: Matched by Allie Condie; Delirium by Lauren Oliver; The Luxe by Anna Godbersen; The Selection by Kiera Cass

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  RickiSig

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

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Vanished!: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Florian Bates—the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists—must uncover the truth behind a series of middle school pranks that may or may not involve the daughter of the President of the United States in this hilarious second novel in the T.O.A.S.T. Mystery series.

Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time— well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!

After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…

Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story.

However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!

Can Florian and Margaret save the day? Or are they about to get toasted?

Here is my review for FRAMED the first of the T.O.A.S.T. Mysteries 🙂 

Review: Like Framed!, Vanished! is a crazy adventure of a mystery with twists and turns that make the reader struggle to solve the mystery before Florian does! Once again Ponti’s mystery is easy to follow yet complicated enough to make it so that the reader doesn’t figure everything out before the end (which I think is the best kind of mysteries!).

What I love about this mystery, is that it teaches us more about the characters while also putting them in a whole new setting and mystery. I really enjoyed how different the two mysteries were and how Florian and Margaret’s character development really grew. Anyone who loves Framed! is going to be so happy with the sequel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like Framed!, I think it would be so much fun to play some mystery games with TOAST. And just liked Framed! dealt with art, this mystery includes classical music which can be explored along with it being introduced in the story.

Discussion Questions: Who did you think the prankster was?; Did the solution to the mystery surprise you?; What foreshadowing clues were there to show who the villain was?; What part of Florian and Margaret’s time in school is most realistic to the real experience?; How does Margaret help Florian face his bullies?

Flagged Passages: (When the headmaster doubts that Florian and Margaret can help, they put TOAST on display.)

“‘You have nothing to worry about, Dr. Putney,’ I assured him. ‘W’re discreet. We’ll approach it the same way you approached your church mission. Just like when you went to Brazil and adapted to their customs, we’re guests and will respect the customs and traditions unique to Chatham while we do our work.’

Marcus shot me a wink.

‘Y-y-yes,’ he stammered, trying to make sesne of what I’d just said. ‘But how did you know that?’

‘How did I know what?’ I asked. That you went on a mission? Or that it was to Brazil?’

‘Both,’ he replied.

‘TOAST,’ I said.

‘Toast?’

‘The Theory of All Small Things.’ answered Margaret. ‘The idea is that little details often give away much bigger pieces of information than you think. When you add them up, you have an indisputable truth. That’s how we’re going to find who’s responsible for the pranks. Florian and I are going to use TOAST.’

He looked back and forth at us like we were speaking a foreign language. ‘What little details could possibly tell you that I took a mission to Brazil?’

‘On the wall beside your desk are your college diplomas,’ I explained. ‘They’re from Bringham Young University. Over ninety-eight percent of the students at BYU are Mormon. And roughly a third of all Mormon men go on a mission.’

‘Okay, but that means two-thirds don’t,’ he said as a challenge. ‘What makes you think I did?’

‘You’re featured in the welcome video not only as a headmaster but also as a graduate of Chatham Day,’ I replied. ‘But there’s a six-year gap from your high school graduation until the date you received your bachelor’s. That’s four years of college with two years left over for your mission.’

‘As to Brazil,’ Margaret said, picking up without missing a beat, ‘that was easy. There’s a picture of you on the far bookcase when you were about twenty years old. You’re standing in front of the giant Christ the Redeemer statue, which is in Rio. There’s also a picture of your family on your desk. It looks like a vacation shot and it in you’re wearing a yellow-and-green jersey. Anyone who plays soccer knows it’s the jersey of the Brazilian national team. I’m guessing you became a fan while you lived there and you’ve continued ever since.’

He sat for a moment flabbergasted, unsure what to say.” (p. 32-34)

Read This If You Love: Mysteries like FRAMED! by James PontiWig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?

Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

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Thank you, Emily!

RickiSig

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The Dark
Author: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published April 2, 2013 by Little, Brown

Guest Post by: Nichole Pitruzzello

Summary: Laszlo is afraid of the dark. But is the dark afraid of Laszlo? They live in the same house, with the same creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs. But the dark mostly stays in the basement…until one night, when it doesn’t. Laszlo walks through his house, as the dark converses with him, on a journey to overcome his fear.

Review: In his unique writing style, Lemony Snicket takes an eerie childhood fear and personifies the dark in a soothing way. John Klassen’s illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the story of Laszlo, using black space and warm colors to enhance the mood. I’m very impressed by the way they take a concept that many children fear, and transform it into a friendly, calming presence. I cannot wait to add this book to my library!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers can use this book as a mentor text for a variety of mini lessons. Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, uses vivid language to talk about Laszlo’s house, and creates suspense through a blend of dialogue and narration. In addition, it’s an excellent book to teach a lesson about overcoming one’s fears. There’s so much that this book can add to a classroom!

Discussion Questions: What are some places that you are scared of, and why are they scary? Was the dark really scary? How did the dark help Laszlo? Why shouldn’t we be afraid of the dark? What should we do when we are afraid of something?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, 13 Words by Lemony Snicket

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