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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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If I Were a Park Ranger
Author: Catherine Stier
Illustrator: Patrick Corrigan
Published April 1st, 2019 by Albert Whitman Company

Summary: If you were a national park ranger, you’d spend every day in one of the most treasured places in America. You’d have an amazing job protecting animals, the environment, and our country’s natural and historical heritage, from the wilds of Denali to the Statue of Liberty!

About the Creators:

As a child, Catherine Stier wanted to be an author or park ranger. She visited her first national park as a baby and has been a fan ever since. She is the author of If I Were President and several other award-winning picture books, and has worked as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist, writing instructor, and children’s literature researcher. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and volunteers with programs that connect families and children with nature and the outdoors. To learn more, and to download free activity sheets and curriculum guides, visit her website: catherinestier.com.

Patrick Corrigan was born in the north of England and grew up drawing and designing. After University, he was an art director in a design studio for nearly ten years. He now lives in London with his wife and cat, illustrating children’s books. See more of his work at www.patrickcorrigan.co.uk.

Review: What a great informational text about National Parks and the park rangers that take care of them! The text did a wonderful job introducing not only the National Parks and all the different ones throughout the country but also all of the amazing things that park rangers do to take care of these national treasures. I was most impressed by how it was all inclusive of all the different types of jobs that keep the parks going as well as all the different types of parks that can be visited. The text, filled with information, along with the colorful illustrations bring it all to life for the reader and keeps them engaged in a way that other non-narrative informational texts struggle with sometimes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

2019’s National Park Week is April 20-28th, and If I Were a Park Ranger is a perfect read aloud for the week! It would be perfect for when a class is learning about Theodore Roosevelt or any other founder of National Parks also.

The author’s website also includes activity pages for the book: http://www.catherinestier.com/curriculum-guides/!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What National Park would you want to visit?
  • What does it take to be a park ranger?
  • What type of person do you think would succeed the most as a park ranger?
  • How does science fit into a park ranger’s job? Technology? Engineering? Math? Art?
  • What is the author’s purpose for creating the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: National Parks, Nature, Conservation

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Giveaway!

Ten lucky winners will receive a copy of If I Were A Park Ranger by Catherine Stier. One Grand Prize winner will receive a signed copy of the book PLUS a Park Ranger Stuffed Doll, a “National Park Geek” Iron-on Patch, National Park Animal Cookies, Camping Stickers, Woodland Animal Mini Notebook, and Book Cover Postcards! Winners will be selected at random and notified via email. One entry per person, please. US addresses only. Entries are due by 5/3/19. Follow this link to enter!

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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You Choose in Space
Author: Pippa Goodhart
Illustrator: Nick Sharratt
Published March, 2019 by Kane Miller Books

Summary: Zoom off into space for an adventure where you choose what happens next. Which alien would you most like to be friends with? And what fantastically freaky food will you decide to munch for lunch?

The possibilities are infinite in this mesmerizing creative toolkit which will inspire children to make their own stories time and again — it’s out of this world!

Ricki’s Review: The You Choose series books are easily among my favorite books to read to my kids. We take them on family vacations and visits with relatives and friends because we love to hear what our friends and family would choose. This is one of the best books to bring in car trips because kids can select a different ending every time! When this book came in the mail, my kids shrieked with joy. Since then, we’ve read it dozens of times. I love seeing how my kids’ tastes are different. There is also a lot of great classroom potential in these books (see below).

Kellee’s Review: I’m so glad that Ricki told me to review this You Choose book with her! She received the first one, but I was booked at the time, but she said that I could not let this chance pass, and I am so glad! It is a choose your own adventure book for the picture book age. It really does build up the story-telling capacity because it gives a foundation and lets the reader build up from there. It is such a fun book that is different every time, so a reader is never done!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You Choose in Space, Just Imagine, and You Choose make for fantastic texts for creative writing units and courses. As teachers, we know that students often struggle to get started, and paging through these books allows for wonderful story starters. I use these books to discuss teaching composition with preservice teachers, and I also use them for a unit about using picture books in the classroom. My students love these books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you choose? Why?
  • What did you NOT choose? Why?
  • Which page was your favorite? Why was the spread most interesting to you?
  • Did you notice any trends or patterns with your choices?

Ricki’s family reading one of the You Choose books on vacation: 

Flagged Spread:

Read This If You Loved: Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart; Choose Your Own Journey by Susie Brooks and Tracy Cottingham; Story Path: Choose a Path, Tell a Story by Madalena Matoso; Where’s Will? by Tilly; I Want to Be… books by Ruby Brown

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**Thank you to Lynn Kelley at Kane Miller Books for sending us this book!**

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On the Come Up
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 5, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

My Review: After reading this book, I promptly went into my course syllabus for next semester and swapped out another book to include this one. There are so many things that I love about this book. In particular, I really liked how this book tackled the issues of violence against and the assumptions stereotypically made of black females. There are only a few other recent books that tackle these issues, and they are critically important. I get incredibly frustrated by assumptions like “aggressive black female.” Angie Thomas deftly addresses these assumptions and provides a variety of angles for readers. Bri, the narrator, is incredibly strong, and I admire her greatly. I will never have a daughter, but if I did, I would be so proud if my daughter turned out to be like her. This book just feels different from any book that I’ve read. It offers something different that is going to make for great classroom conversations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am going to be using this book in a Social Movements and Collective Action course. I will be using it with other texts to talk about the history and currency of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I am very excited that this book exists in the world, and I know that my students will love it.

Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?

Flagged Passage: “There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”

Read This If You Loved: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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You Are Never Alone
Author: Elin Kelsey
Illustrator: Soyeon Kim
Published April 15th, 2019 by Owl Kids

Summary: You Are Never Alone is a picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature.

Drawing examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, it explores how we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it’s gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.

Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this informational picture book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas.

About the Creators:

Elin Kelsey, PhD, is an award-winning author and a leading spokesperson for hope and the environment. In 2014, she co-created #OceanOptimism, a Twitter campaign to crowd-source and share ocean conservation successes which has reached 90 million users to date. She frequently works on projects with the Monterey Bay AquariumStanford University and the University of Victoria and is passionate about engaging kids in hopeful, science-based, environmental solutions.

Soyeon Kim is a Toronto-based, Korean-born artist who specializes in fine sketching and painting techniques to create three-dimensional dioramas. She is a graduate of the Visual Arts and Education programs at York University.

Praise for Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim:

“Both important and breathtakingly beautiful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Never Alone

“The depth of the images and the surprising facts work together to create a lovely connection between the readers and the natural world.” –The Boston Globe on Wild Ideas

“Demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on You Are Stardust

“This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn. Profound and entirely wonderful.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred, on Wild Ideas

Review: What a beautiful representation of how humans and nature intertwine with each other. Often, when we speak of our impact on our planet and the planet’s impact on us, we focus on very huge ideas that may seem so far away for kids, but You Are Never Alone shows the small things that have a large impact.

The mix of beautiful art and research-based science make for a picture book that covers such a wide range of opportunities for classroom discussions and educational activities including themes, poetic verse, science, and diorama art.

Educators’ Guide:  

Flagged Passages: 

Behind the Scenes: 

Soyeon talks about the process of creating the diorama artwork in the book.

Elin explains the scientific research behind three of the poetic lines in the book.

Read This If You Love: The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield; Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot; Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre; Over and Under Snow (and its companions) by Kate Messner

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