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Pride
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Published: September 18, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Pride and Prejudice gets remixed in this smart, funny, gorgeous retelling of the classic, starring all characters of color, from Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award finalist and author of American Street.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

Teaching Pride

I love retellings of classics, and I would argue that this retelling is far superior to the original. Ibi presented at the NCTE convention, and she is absolutely brilliant. She talked about how she values the inclusion of the pantheon in literature and how she does so in her own texts. She also shared how different poems within Pride are retellings of classic poems. I love her work and will read anything she writes.

Love stories are tricky. They can get sappy quickly. This book is so much more than a love story. It interrogates themes related to economics, race, education, and gender.

Gentrification

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love” (p. 1).

Teaching Idea: As a class, explore the impacts of gentrification and displacement. Using this knowledge develop your own form of political art (https://youtu.be/JMVd5k2a2IM) to make a statement.

Culture

If Madrina’s basement is where the tamboras, los espíritus, and old ancestral memories live, the roof is where the wind chimes, dreams, and possibilities float with the stars, where Janae and I share our secrets and plan to travel all over the world, Haiti and the Dominican Republic being our first stop” (p. 23).

Teaching Idea: Pick a place in your life, and Use Zoboi’s writing as a mentor text to share that place with others (e.g. “If [place] is where_________, [another place] is where__________, where________.”

Equity

“Sometimes love is not enough to keep a community together. There needs to be something more tangible, like fair housing, opportunities, and access to resources” (p. 33).

Teaching Idea: As a class, discuss whether love is enough and whether tangible aspects must exist in order to keep a community together. Generate a concept or brain map that depicts tangible aspects that can impact communities.

Male/Female Gender Roles

I don’t need no knights in shining armor

Ain’t no horses in the hood

I killed chivalry myself with a pocketknife…” (p. 243).

Teaching idea: The teachers finds materials/advertisements that are gender-specific, and students rewrite the materials to remove gender from the text. Students evaluate how the meaning or the impact has changed.

Education

“There is more to learn

about my old, old self, and black and brown girls like me

from hoods all over this country want to

take over the world,

but there’s something missing

in our history books the public schools give us” (p. 147).

Teaching idea: Consider the school curricula. Whose voices are honored? Whose are missing? Rewrite a course to be more inclusive.

Home

“I have always thought of Bushwick as home, but in that moment, I realize that home is where the people I love are, wherever that is” (p. 270).

Teaching idea: Where is home? Create a visual depiction of your own home, and below it, write, “Home is…” How do our interpretations of home differ? What do they have in common?

Read This If You Loved: American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

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Death and Douglas
Author: J.W. Ocker
Published October 31st, 2017 by Sky Pony Press

Summary: Douglas has grown up around the business of death.

Generations of his family have run the Mortimer Family Funeral Home. The mortician and gravediggers are all his buddies. And the display room of caskets is an awesome place for hide and seek. It’s business as usual in Douglas’s small New England town.

Until one day an incredibly out of the ordinary murder victim is brought to the funeral home. And more startling: others follow. On the cusp of Halloween, a serial killer has arrived. And unsatisfied with the small-town investigation, Douglas enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery.

With sumptuous descriptions of a bucolic town and its quirky people, fascinating yet middle grade–appropriate insider information about the funeral process, and a crackling mystery with a heart-pounding conclusion—Death and Douglas has something for readers young and old.

About the Author: J. W. Ocker is the Edgar Award–winning author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe. His work has appeared in Rue Morgue magazine, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, and other places people stick writing. He’s from Maryland but has lived in New Hampshire since 2008. This is his first book for children.

Praise: 

“Ocker populates his eerie New England town with a memorable cast, and gives us a compelling hero in Douglas Mortimer. Kids and coffee-drinkers beware!” —Patrick Moody, author of The Gravedigger’s Son

“With the perfect balance of macabre and mystery, the ideal combination of horror and humor, the Ghastlies are bringing plenty of goosebumps and giggles for everyone!” —Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

Review: To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started this book because it is way creepier than I thought it was going to be, but a serial killer on the loose in a town definitely will add that creep factor to any book.

Douglas is definitely well-rounded and mature when it comes to death, it has been around him his entire life, but all death he’s encountered has been natural or an accident until now. This is an interesting point of view for a character as I’ve never read a middle grade book with a character like Douglas. All of a sudden, a young boy who never feared death realizes that there is evil in some deaths and that scares him more than it may scare most because it is a new realization. This definitely adds to the suspense because Douglas is not only questioning everything around him but also on the look out for a serial killer, so all bumps in the night are a reason to jump.

I will also say that the conclusion was not what I saw coming!

Side note: Douglas and his friends did some DANGEROUS things, and I know that we have to suspend our belief when reading, but the whole time as an adult I wanted to yell at them for being so ridiculously careless in their safety by searching for a serial killer! Kids: Do not do that at home!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students are always asking me for mystery books or horror books, and they are so hard to come by in middle school; however, this one will be perfect for them! Death and Douglas belongs in libraries of any kind!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why are Douglas’s friends jealous of how his parents treat him?
  • How did Douglas become so well rounded when it comes to death?
  • What is a mortician vs a medical examiner?
    • The different terms for mortician are discussed: What are the different connotations of the different terms (mortician, undertaker, funeral director)?
  • How did Douglas and his friends put themselves in danger? What should they have done instead?
  • Who do you think is the serial killer? Were you right?
  • How are Lowell and Douglas different? Why does their friendship work so well?

Flagged Passages: “Maybe Lowell’s crazy plan was worth going along with, for a little while at least. Despite the terrors of teh night, both old and new, Douglas found himself comfortably lost in his own thoughts.

Until the dogwoods spoke to him.

Somewhere behind the ordered row of trunks, a short hiss of words seemed to connect the space behind him and them. They sounded hollow, inhuman, almost breaths.

He ran.

Ran like he’d never run in gym class, like no game of tag he’d ever played in the cemetery. Cold terror is the best fuel for the body.

Douglas didn’t dare look back. Didn’t even dare try to use the cane, which suddenly seemed silly in his hands. His breath came out ragged, and his feed slapped the ground even harder as he raced across the street to the front lawn of the funeral home. As he ran, he thought he could hear echoes of those sounds behind him. So close behind.

He ran even faster.

The night silhouette of the funeral home loomed above him–a scary place for some, a safe harbor for him.” (Chapter 11)

Read This If You Love: Murder mysteries or any mysteries!

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**Thank you to Sky Horse for providing a copy for review!**

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Author: Traci Sorell
Illustrator: Frané Lessac
Published September 4, 2018 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.

Appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah

Review: This beautiful book makes for a wonderful read-aloud. I loved the repetition and the different things to be grateful for. The images are captivating, and I found myself slowing down as I read and turned each page. The seasons shift through the text, which offers great opportunities for discussion. Indigenous people are often perceived to be people of the past, but this book demonstrates that they are living, breathing people. The culture is very much alive. I’ll be gifting this book to several friends with young children.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Students might list the different things that they are grateful for and draw accompanying pictures. It offers great opportunities for discussing how Native people still exists and are not relics of the past, reserved for discussions on Thanksgiving day.

Discussion Questions: How do the seasons change across the pages? How does this shift the story?; Describe the people you see on the pages. What can you learn from them?; Find three words that you don’t know. Learn what they mean and share their definitions with a peer.

We Flagged: “…while we collect buckbrush and honeysuckle to weave baskets.”

Read This If You Loved: The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you, Donna, from Charlesbridge Publishing for sending a copy for review!**

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The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown

Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
  • Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
  • Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
  • Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?

We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”

Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.

Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.

Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.

About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.

Praise: 

“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine

Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.

Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me: 

Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.

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**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**

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Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse
Author: Marcy Campbell
Illustrator: Corinna Luyken
Published August 14th, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: A classic in the making, this heartwarming story about empathy and imagination is one that families will treasure for years to come.

Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse–the best and most beautiful horse anywhere.

But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse?

The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn’t get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.

Written with tenderness and poignancy and gorgeously illustrated, this book will show readers that kindness is always rewarding, understanding is sweeter than judgment, and friendship is the best gift one can give.

About the Creators:

 

Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book. You can visit her at www.marcycampbell.com.

Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form. Her debut picture book, The Book of Mistakes, received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment WeeklyThe Wall Street Journal, Nerdy Book Club, and more.

Kellee’s Review: 43.1 million Americans (as of 2016) live below the poverty line. Adrian Simcox represents one of those kids while Chloe represents too many peers. But what made this book for me was Chloe’s transformation. It wasn’t Adrian who needed to change! Adrian is a wonderful kid that too many people judge based on his circumstances when really it is all about who he is, and I am so thankful for Chloe finding the truth out in the end. This book will make kids rethink how they judge others and really does emote empathy and kindness. And I couldn’t review this book without giving a shout out to the beautiful illustrations. They are ART.

Ricki’s Review: I loved this book so much that I bought a copy for my son’s preschool teacher. I love that it can be read from a multitude of angles, and it provides so much fodder for classroom conversations. The illustrations are magical, the story is magical—everything about this book is magical. My son’s preschool teacher told me that the kids asked her to read it four times in a row. Although I am not sure if they spent time discussing poverty, I do know that those children (at the very least) received implicit messages about the truth of poverty and the power of imagination. I suspect this book will receive some major awards. It is one of my favorites of the year.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Read this book aloud and talk about it with kids. Period. The illustrations can also definitely be visually analyzed. First, if you didn’t notice, there is a horse hiding in many of the illustrations. Second, so much of the story is told in the illustrations–don’t forget to analyze them!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did Chloe judge Adrian without knowing him?
  • Why do you think Chloe cares so much about Adrian’s horse?
  • How did Chloe’s mom help her realize that she is not being compassionate?
  • How did the illustrator tell more of a story in the artwork?
  • Why do you believe the author wrote Adrian’s story?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët

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Don’t miss other stops on the blog tour: 

August 6 – Lost in Storyland
August 7 – The Readathon
August 8 – Happily Ever Elephants
August 9 – Read. Learn. Repeat
August 10 – Kid Lit Frenzy
August 13 – Here Wee Read
August 14 – DoodleMom
August 15 – Eastern Sunset Reads
August 16 – Critter Lit
August 17 – Unleashing Readers

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**Thank you to Friya at Penguin Young Readers for setting up the blog tour!**

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