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Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial
Author: Linda Booth Sweeney
Illustrator: Shawn Fields
Published September 3rd, 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary: This is the story of how a farmboy became America’s foremost sculptor. After failing at academics, Dan was working the family farm when he idly carved a turnip into a frog and discovered what he was meant to do. Sweeney’s swift prose and Fields’s evocative illustrations capture the single-minded determination with which Dan taught himself to sculpt and launched his career with the famous Minuteman Statue in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.

This is also the story of the Lincoln Memorial, French’s culminating masterpiece. Thanks to this lovingly created tribute to the towering leader of Dan’s youth, Abraham Lincoln lives on as the man of marble, his craggy face and careworn gaze reminding millions of seekers what America can be. Dan’s statue is no lifeless figure, but a powerful, vital touchstone of a nation’s ideals. Now Dan French has his tribute too, in this exquisite biography that brings history to life for young readers.

Praise: 

“The environment that nurtured Daniel Chester French is given loving treatment by Sweeney and Fields. . .  As Sweeney traces French’s way in the world, French goes on to create numerous statues of Civil War heroes, including the epic sculpture of Abraham Lincoln enshrined in his memorial. A timeline and author’s note fill in various gaps in the text, and Fields’ drawings are both powerful and graceful, just as French would have wanted, depicting a largely white cast but including some figures of color, including one of the two modern children who observe the story. . . Both bracing and winning, a fine tribute to the sculptor and his world. (Picture book biography. 8-12) ” – Kirkus Reviews

*Junior Library Guild Gold Standard

Note from the Creators:

When Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, fifteen-year-old Dan French had no way to know that one day his tribute to the great president would transform a Washington, DC marsh into a national gathering place. He only knew that he liked making things with his hands.

As a boy, Dan plowed the straightest lines on his family’s farm, but as a teen, he failed (quite spectacularly) out of MIT.  And yet, almost 50 years after Lincoln’s assassination, Daniel Chester French drew on his memories of Lincoln and his artistic talent to create a lovingly sculpted touchstone for a nation’s ideals, reminding millions of seekers what America strives for and still can be.

This is the story of how one young boy became very, very good at what he loves, and for that talent to inspire people across a country and around the world.

We hope this book both delights and unites!

About the Author: Linda Booth Sweeney is an accomplished writer and an educator specializing in the exploration of living systems. www.lindaboothsweeney.com

About the Illustrator: Shawn Fields studied art at the School of Visual Arts, the Arts Student’s League, and the New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited at ArtBasel Miami, Forbes Gallery NYC, Arcadia NYC, and is collected worldwide.

Review: If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial, you know that a very talented artist sculpted the statue you find within. Monument Maker tells us how a young farm boy takes something he is good at and makes it not only his job but his passion. And I think that is what I loved the most–it showed that there is so much more to life than what others want you to be good at and what society expects you to do well at. We all have talents and passions, look at what Daniel Chester French did with his!

Sweeney and Fields did a fantastic job telling his story while also tying in the theme mentioned above, celebrating history, and setting goals for the future. Overall, a truly deep and well done middle grade picture book!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: With ties to art and history as well as social-emotional learning, Monument Maker can find its home in may different classrooms.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did Dan’s family do to help support him in his endeavors?
  • What are the different steps in creating a large monument like the Lincoln Memorial?
  • How did Daniel Chester French become one of the best in his field?
  • What is something you love that you want to do when you grow up? How can you become an expert?
  • Why was it important for Daniel to learn how to draw even though he wanted to be a sculptor?
  • What does Daniel Chester French failing out of some classes yet becoming a master sculpture tell you?
  • How does the author tie together Lincoln, French’s sculpture, other history, and the future?

Flagged Passages: 

“History shapes our lives. And what we do with our lives can shape history. That’s how it was with Daniel Chester French.”

“Soon afterward, Dan’s father returned from Boston carrying a cardboard box. In it was ten pounds of cold, wet clay for a family sculpting night.

One by one the family gave up, but not Dan. He kept at it until the shape of a dog’s head appeared in his hands. From then on, Dan worked on the farm during the day and sculpted birds and animals at night.”

Read This If You Love: Art, Abraham Lincoln, Architecture, Sculpture

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Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 

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Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Growing to Greatness)
Author: Vicki Conrad
Illustrator: David Hohn
Published August 13th, 2019

Summary: Just Like Beverly follows the life of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a successful writer who wrote stories, including the wildly popular Ramona and Henry Huggins series, for kids just like her.

As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.

Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.

Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary’s sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.

Praise: 

“Hohn captures her lively spirit through illustrations, reminiscent of those by Alan Tiegreen for Cleary’s own books, that will keep young readers entertained. A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“Conrad writes with clarity and features significant details that bring Cleary’s experiences and personality to life for kids today. Hohn makes good use of color, light, and pattern in his imaginative illustrations, which interpret the text sensitively. The artwork looks fresh and appealing while suggesting the period, the emotional resonance, and the upbeat spirit of Cleary’s books.”–Booklist, starred

“A celebration of Cleary, literacy, and the pursuit of ambitious dreams, this charming picture book will enhance any biography collection.”–School Library Journal

“Debut author Conrad’s storytelling is straightforward, ably conveying—in tandem with Hohn’s homespun, vintage-style illustrations—the various eras of Cleary’s life and her passion for writing and for nurturing readers.”–Publishers Weekly

About the Author: VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. When she is not writing or teaching, she is traveling the world, growing a garden, or searching for stories. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company. Just Like Beverly is her first book.

About the Illustrator: DAVID HOHN is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. His days are spent in the studio imagining what it would be like to be someone else, doing something else–and then he paints it.

Review: It was so wonderful reading about Beverly Cleary’s childhood! It truly showed how supportive teachers and parents plus some access to books truly can result in brilliance! It just took some guidance, praise, and confidence to make her bloom as a writer.

From a parent and teacher point of view, I loved that Beverly saw a issue in the children lit world and used a talent to work to try to solve that issue–what a great role model!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are three ways I picture this book being an asset in the classroom.

First, it is a wonderful addition to any picture book biography text set/mentor text set.

Second, it is a beautiful book to read aloud! And truly would lead to wonderful discussions.

Third, I could see it being used in conjunction with Cleary’s novels. How does her childhood story connect to the novels that she wrote?

Discussion Questions: 

  • When looking for stories about kids like you and your friends, what type of characters are you looking for?
    • [Writing prompt] Write a fictionalized story that you can relate to.
  • What character traits did Beverly have to be as successful a writer as she was?
  • What does Beverly’s pride in winning a contest that she was the only entry say about you?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose for writing this title?
  • How does Beverly’s story fit the theme of “Growing to Greatness”?
  • How is children literature different now than it was during Beverly’s childhood?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Beverly Cleary!; Picture book biographies about writers such as Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet; A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert; A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant; Papa is a Poet by Natalie S. Bober

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Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 

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Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Author: Brian Floca
Published April 7, 2009 by Atheneum

Summary: Simply told, grandly shown, here is the flight of Apollo 11. Here for a new generation of readers and explorers are the steady astronauts, clicking themselves into gloves and helmets, strapping themselves into sideways seats. Here are their great machines in all their detail and monumentality, the ROAR of rockets, and the silence of the Moon. Here is a story of adventure and discovery—a story of leaving and returning during the summer of 1969, and a story of home, seen whole, from far away.

Praise:

“Like the astronauts’ own photographs, [Floca’s] expansive, heart-stopping images convey the unfathomable beauty of both the bright, dusty moon and the blue jewel of Earth.” –New York Times Book Review, July 1, 2019

Ricki’s Review: I thought I knew a lot about the Apollo 11. This book made me realize that I had so much to learn. My sons and I cuddled in one of their beds and read this one together. I whisper-read it because it felt too beautiful to read in a voice that was any louder. My kids followed this model and whisper-asked questions in awe. This book is a masterpiece. There are so many books out there about the Apollo 11, and although I haven’t read them all, I feel confident when I say that this is the best on out there. The illustrations are captivating, the story includes just the right amount of science, and the words dance on the pages.

Kellee’s Review: I love reading about space and have read dozens and dozens of picture books with my son about the topic. This book stands out from the rest. Brian Floca masterfully creates a story that is both engaging and scientifically accurate. This book offers so many possibilities for the classroom for teachers. The words are written in a poetic format which makes the pages easy to read and an excellent balance with the stunning illustrations. If you read just one book about the Apollo 11 this summer, let it be this one. It will knock you off of your feet.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Our minds were buzzing with possibilities after reading this text. Teachers might use this book at the center of a unit on space, or they might use it to catapult students into research studies about any topic of science. We can see this book in classrooms from pre-k through high school. It could be used as a creative writing mentor text or as a text at the start of a high school science unit. It beautifully balances scientific information with narrative, so we think it would be incredibly appealing to teachers of all content areas and grade levels.

 Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn about the Apollo 11?
  • How is the information in this book similar or different from what you already knew about the Apollo 11?
  • Why do you think the author chose the poetic format for the words?
  • How do the illustrations add to your understanding of the text?

Flagged Spread: 

Read This If You Love: Moon by Stacy McAnultyThe Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk, Once Upon a Star by James Carter, Space Encyclopedia by David AguilarYou Choose In Space by Pippa GoodhartA Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin, Star Stuff by Stephanie Roth Sisson

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**Thank you to Audrey at Simon & Schuster for providing copies of the book for review!!**

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From an Idea to… is a new nonfiction biography series that takes young readers into the world of entrepreneurship through the stories of how our favorite companies came to be. Each book begins with the founder as a child and brings kids through the journey of starting a company from an IDEA to one of the biggest brands in the world. From an Idea to… reveals fun facts about the brands we love, introduces new business terms in easy-to-understand definitions, and includes humor on every page with graphic novel-like black & white illustrations from C. S. Jennings.

Author: Lowey Bundy Sichol
Illustrator: C.S. Jennings
From an Idea to Disney and From an Idea to Nike Published February 12, 2019
From an Idea to Lego and From an Idea to Google Published July 9, 2019

From an Idea to Disney: How Branding Made Disney a Household Name Summary: From an Idea to Disney is a behind-the-movie-screen look into the history, business, and brand of the world’s largest entertainment empire. With humorous black & white illustrations throughout, learn about the company behind the world’s favorite mouse, Mickey!

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” —Walt Disney

Today, the Walt Disney Company is the biggest entertainment company in the world with theme parks, TV shows, movie studios, merchandise, the most recognizable cartoon character in the world, Mickey Mouse. But a long time ago, brothers Walt and Roy Disney started out with just an idea. Find out more about Disney’s history, the business, and the brand in this illustrated nonfiction book!

Find out what Walt first intended to name his famous mouse. (Hint: It wasn’t Mickey!)Discover behind-the-scenes magic of how Walt Disney World is run.Explore the ways the Disney expanded its brand from a little mouse into media, merchandise, and more!

From an Idea to Nike: How Marketing Made Nike a Global Success Summary: From an Idea to Nike is a fully-illustrated look into how Nike stepped up its sneaker game to become the most popular athletic brand in the world. Humorous black & white illustrations throughout.

Ever wonder how Nike became the athletics empire it is today? From an Idea to Nike digs into the marketing campaigns and strategy that turned this running-shoe company into the outfitter for many athletes as well as the iconic American brand. With infographics and engaging visuals throughout, this behind-the-scenes look into the historical and business side of Nike will be an invaluable resource for kids interested in what makes this business run.

Find out where the name Nike came from and how the famous swoosh became the signature logo.Learn about the company’s first marketing campaign with a star athlete. (Hint: It wasn’t Michael Jordan!) Explore the ways Nike expanded marketing from running to basketball, soccer, golf, and beyond!

From an Idea to Lego: The Building Bricks Behind the World’s Largest Toy Company Summary: For fans of the successful Who Was series, From an Idea to Lego is a behind-the-bricks look into the world’s famous toy company, with humorous black & white illustrations throughout.

Today, LEGO is one of the biggest toy companies in the world, but a long time ago, a Danish carpenter, Ole Kirk Christiansen, started with just an idea. Find out more about LEGO’s origins, those famous bricks, and their other inventive toys and movie ventures in this illustrated nonfiction book!

Find out the origin the name “LEGO.” (Hint: it combines two Danish words) See how LEGO grew from a carpentry shop to a multi-platform toy company.Discover how LEGO bricks are made and how they came up with their design.

From an Idea to Google: How Innovation at Google Changed the World Summary: From an Idea to Google is a behind-the-computer-screen look into the history, business, and brand of the world’s largest search engine. With humorous black & white illustrations throughout, learn about the company that even earned its own catchphrase: Google it!

Today, Google is the number one internet search engine and the most visited website in the world. But a long time ago, two college friends, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, started out with just an idea. Find out more about Google’s history, the business, and the brand in this illustrated nonfiction book!

Find out where the name “Google” came from. (Hint: It involves a LOT of zeros!)

Discover how Google became the fastest and most popular internet search engine of all time.

Explore how Google transformed from a tiny startup (in someone’s garage!) into one of the most powerful companies in the world.

About the Author: Lowey Bundy Sichol is the author and creator of From an Idea to…, the world’s first business biographies for kids. She is also the founder and principal of Case Marketing, a specialized writing firm that composes MBA case studies for business schools. Her MBA case studies have been published by Pearson and are read by business school students all over the world.

With over 20 years combined experience in marketing, brand management, and writing, Lowey is the force behind the From an Idea to…, a movement that introduces business and entrepreneurship to children. Lowey received her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and her BA from Hamilton College where she played varsity softball and women’s rugby. When she’s not writing, you can find her throwing a ball, shooting hoops, or along the shores of Lake Michigan with her husband, three children, and two big goofy dogs who like to climb trees. Look for her online at loweysichol.com.

Praise:

“Inspirational Fare.”  – Kirkus Reviews

“This enjoyable informational text is a great purchase for schools.” – School Library Journal

“Inspiring, honest and interesting. From an Idea to… books are the kind of books that create young entrepreneurs and inventors. It clearly illustrates the road to success, the good and the bad. Kids will be inspired to believe that anything is truly possible. They will also learn that things will not just be handed to them. Rather things they really want will take work, will be earned and that in the end all that hard work and perseverance will pay off! I love this series SO much!” – Mrs. Mommy Book Nerd Book Reviews

“There was much to love about this book! While there are books that are in the “Who was/ What was” series, this series is a wonderful concept in bringing biographies and business thinking together. … With simple language, a manner of story telling approach almost, the author introduces concepts of grass-root marketing , patents, market research and innovation.” – StackingBooks.com

“Young readers, especially those who have an entrepreneur spirit, will enjoy reading.” – Kristi’s Book Nook

“This is a fun, informative series that introduces young readers to the world of business, entrepreneurship, and marketing through easily understood and nicely presented concepts and the exciting histories of some of the biggest companies in the world.” – Word Spelunking Blog

”If you have nonfiction readers that have an interest in how business or brands work, stick a toe into the water and put a few of these into your collection.” – Mom Read It blog

“A fast and informative read, From an Idea to Nike would be a great fit for middle-graders who are interested in Nike, biographies, business, and pop culture. Even kids marginally interested in any of these topics will likely find the book to be accessible and engaging.” – Glass of Wine, Glass of Milk blog

“Nonfiction can be so fascinating. I really enjoyed this one (From an Idea to LEGO) and would recommend it to just about anyone and everyone…. This book goes beyond that simple story of how it came to be. It also includes plenty of informational text that focuses on business and economics.” – Becky’s Book Blog

“I learned a lot about businesses and marketing from these books but it was in a FUN way! I love books where you can learn in a fun way.” – Studio B on YouTube

“With From an Idea to… Lowey Bundy Sichol has brought all her years of experience writing case studies and text material for the world’s biggest selling MBA marketing textbook, Marketing Management, to bring to life business for an entirely different audience – kids!  Lowey knows what makes companies tick and how they became successful and she shares those lessons in a fun and engaging way to little budding entrepreneurs and our next generation of business leaders.  Lowey makes learning about the potentially complex world business informative easy and enjoyable for kids.” – Kevin Lane Keller, E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College

“Lowey’s research is impressive and her clear, engaging style perfectly explains to young readers the stories of these companies. She describes the creative process as well as the business principles involved in the creation of America’s most successful companies. Her “Fun Facts” and the abundant illustrations will further engage readers. From an Idea to… will be a welcome, enjoyable addition to books on business for young people, and will also serve to inspire the nation’s budding entrepreneurs and future business leaders.” – Cynthia Richey, 2013 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This series will be perfect to add to nonfiction collections for teachers of middle grade readers! Fans of the “big head” biographies will really love this new series that focuses on businesses and their successes in the same informative and entertaining way. These books will definitely influence our future entrepreneurs and has a great focus on STEAM and business ed. A must purchase for classroom, school, and public libraries!

One way that I see this book being used in the classroom is lit circles/book clubs because students could be grouped to read one of the books in the series then create a presentation to share what they learned about the company.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do all four companies have in common when it comes to becoming successful?
  • What do all four founders have in common when it comes to founding a successful company?
  • How did ____ change the industry they are part of?

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**Thank you to Media Masters Publicity for providing copies for review!**

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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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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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RickiSig