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.
- 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
When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne
Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.
- Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
- What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
- There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?
We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).
Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender
The Girl With More Than One Heart
Author: Laura Geringer Bass
Published April 17th, 2018 by Abrams Books
Summary: There are times we all feel we need more than one heart to get through. When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.
Find Her! it says. Be Your Own!
How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock” she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.
About the Author: Laura Geringer Bass is the author of over 20 highly acclaimed books for children, tweens, and teens. Her new novel for middle graders about friendship, love, and loss — The Girl with More Than One Heart — is the lyrical story of a courageous girl who imagines she needs an extra heart to navigate her grief after the death of her dad. It will be published by Abrams this Spring. Laura serves on the National Advisory Board of First Book, a non-profit organization that has delivered over 170 million books to children in need and as a mentor for Girls Write Now and Prison Writes, teaching teens at risk.
Review: This book looks at the struggle of grief when life keeps moving on around you. And like another book I love, Courage for Beginners, it shows the struggle a child has if a parent is suffering and they have to step up in a way that is not what their peers have to. Briana doesn’t know how to deal with the grief and with her mother incapacitated with grief also, Briana finds that she needs a second heart to help guide her through this huge bump in her life. Briana’s story also shows the struggle yet love of being a sibling to a child with special needs.
Written beautifully in a way that will pull at your heartstrings, Bass’s story shows how one girl uses art, love, and courage to make her way through a loss that is unimaginable for most of us.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Girl With More Than One Heart needs to be in classroom, school, and public libraries. There are so many readers that need this book. There are other readers that will want this book. There are definite readers for this book.
Another way in the classroom that it could be used is a mentor text for writing about memories. Briana’s second heart shares memories with her, one of the ways we get to know her dad, and the memories are so full of imagery. There are many sections that could be read for a mentor text when asking students to write a personal narrative.
- How did Briana use art to help her through her grief?
- How did Briana’s life change after the loss of her dad?
- Aaron is described in the summary as her demanding little brother, but Briana loves him. What are some examples in the story that show this love?
- How does Grandpa Ben help guide Briana?
- Briana’s second heart is only figurative. What does it represent?
Flagged Passage: “The day my father’s heart stopped, I discovered an extra heart deep in my belly, below my right rib. It talked to me. I wasn’t crazy. Before that day, I had just one heart that never said a word.” (p. 1)
Read This If You Love: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington, Rules by Cynthia Lord, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold
**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**
I Am Gandhi
Author: Brad Meltzer
Illustrator: 25 Acclaimed Artists
Published May 8th, 2018 by Dial Books
Summary: Twenty-five exceptional comic book creators join forces to share the heroic story of Gandhi in this inspiring graphic novel biography.
As a young man in India, Gandhi saw firsthand how people were treated unfairly. Refusing to accept injustice, he came up with a brilliant way to fight back through quiet, peaceful protest. He used his methods in South Africa and India, where he led a nonviolent revolution that freed his country from British rule. Through his calm, steady heroism, Gandhi changed the lives of millions and inspired civil rights movements all over the world, proving that the smallest of us can be the most powerful.
Galvanized by Gandhi’s example of gentle, peaceful activism, New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer asked his friends in the comic book world to help him make a difference by creating this philanthropic graphic novel. Twenty-four illustrators–including many of the most acclaimed artists in comics today–enthusiastically joined the project, agreeing to donate their work so that their royalties can go to Seeds of Peace, a non-profit organization that inspires and cultivates new generations of global leaders. This extraordinary biography is a glorious team effort that truly exemplifies Gandhi’s selflessness and love for humanity.
The illustrators included are: Art Adams, John Cassaday, Jim Cheung, Amanda Connor, Carlos D’Anda, Michael Gaydos, Gene Ha, Stephanie Hans, Bryan Hitch, Phil Jimenez, Siddharth Kotian, David LaFuente, David Mack, Alex Maleev, Francis Manapul, David Marquez, Steve McNiven, Rags Morales, Saumin Patel, Nate Powell, Stephane Roux, Marco Rudy, Kamome Shirahama, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Abhishek Singh.
Kellee’s Review: I’ll be honest–when I first read on the cover that 25 different artists illustrated this graphic biography, I was worried that the stagnation of illustration styles would hinder the narrative of Gandhi’s life, but I was so wrong. Instead, by allowing each illustrator to give us their interpretation of Gandhi, his spirit instead flowed through the pages as it was obvious that his story had touched each and every artist, and the author, taking part in this graphic biography.
While reading, it was clear to me that Meltzer wanted Gandhi’s message of equality, peace, and kindness to scream at the reader, and this was confirmed when I read the Washington Post article about Meltzer’s inspiration. I believe Meltzer did a beautiful job not only telling Gandhi’s story but also showing that peace is possible in a time of tumultuous relationships but that the only way to truly achieve it is through similar activism as Gandhi.
Ricki’s Review: I read this graphic novel twice to myself and twice with my son. Further, I’ve read portions of it to my students. I can’t stop sharing it! I was blown away by the amalgamation of the 25 graphic novelists—it made for an absolutely stunning text. I appreciate the historical perspective that extends throughout the graphic novel, and I loved that the illustrations really make Ghandi’s story come alive. This is a book that I will share often and widely. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly—even if you already know a lot about Ghandi’s life.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Have students connect Gandhi’s philosophies to those who influenced him and those he influenced. For example, in one of my literature classes, one person picked an author who was influenced by another (for example, Woody Guthrie was influenced by Walt Whitman) then the next student built on that (for example, Bob Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie OR Ralph Waldo Emerson influenced Walt Whitman) until a complete chain of influences were made. Then each student wrote an analysis paper showing how they were influenced then presented their findings (in order of influences) to the class. This same idea could be done here: Henry David Thoreau influenced Gandhi who influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. who influenced Barack Obama who influenced Cory Booker, etc. This idea could also be used just to look at the idea of peaceful protests that have changed the course of history: Gandhi, MLK, Black Lives Matter, Never Again, etc.
- What is the theme of Meltzer’s story of Gandhi?
- How did Gandhi change the course of history for Indians in South Africa and India?
- How did the 25 different artists illustrating the graphic novel affect the reading of the biography?
- How did Thoreau influence Gandhi? Can you infer how Gandhi influence Martin Luther King, Jr.?
- What was the importance of Gandhi’s march to the sea to hold salt?
- Why do you believe Meltzer chose the specific quotes he included in the back matter of the book?
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Published: March 13, 2018 by Dial
Summary: From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.
Every kid in Lola’s school was from […]
Author: Junot Díaz
Illustrator: Leo Espinosa
Published: March 13, 2018 by Dial
Summary: From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.
Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.
So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.
Review: This book is absolutely enchanting. I can confidently say that it will always be one of my favorite picture books of all time. When Lola asks family and friends about the island that she came from, they have wonderful memories that they share with her. The illustrations and words dance off of the page—Díaz and Espinosa, the author-illustrator team, combine to create a work that will stun readers with its beauty and complexity. I took the pages from the F&G and hung them on my office walls, and they inspire me daily.
As I read this book, I continually paused to reflect on the words (“Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you” and “Memory is magic.”). There is so much to teach from this book, and I am really looking forward to sharing it with students. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you get in your car and drive immediately to the bookstore.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: There are so many possibilities for this section for teacher. They might analyze text and word choice, focusing on figurative language. Or they could examine the emotions that Lola experiences as she tries to learn about the place that she comes from. Or they might have students research their own countries of origin and create an image that represents the magic of the country. Or they might consider a monster that exists in their country and draw it metaphorically or symbolically. This is a book that is meant to be shared and shared.
Discussion Questions: How does Lola feel when she can’t remember the country she came from? How does she learn more about it?; What do Lola’s friends and family tell her about the country she came from? What are the good and bad memories that they share? What might the bad memory represent?
Read This If You Loved: Works by Junot Díaz; Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Peña; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Author and Illustrator: Alison Oliver
Expected Publication April 17th, 2018 by Clarion Books
Summary: Like many children, Moon leads a busy life. School, homework, music lessons, sports, and the next day it begins again. She wonders if things could be different. Then, one night, she meets a wolf.
The wolf takes Moon deep into the dark, fantastical forest and there she learns to howl, how to hide, how to be still, and how to be wild. And in that, she learns what it’s like to be free.
Review: Just as Where the Wild Things Are made children think about controlling our inner wild things (anger), Moon has us look at the new pressures of childhood and the need to let kids unleash their inner wild thing (playfulness). I talk often about the pressure that kids with other parents and teachers about the pressure that kids have on them now. Computer programs and homework starting in kindergarten, multiple standardized testing starting in 3rd grade, high school classes starting in middle school, AP classes required for almost everyone, etc. etc. etc. It makes me so sad to see that a lot of the joys of childhood are being pushed away to make kids grow up earlier (but then we complain about kids growing up quicker…). Moon, the main character, represents so many of our kids, and her adventure shows how important it is to let our kids just be themselves to be happy and to remove some of the pressure. I loved this message, and I thought it was told in a beautiful and figurative way that will lead to wonderful discussions and lots of rereading.
And I couldn’t review this book properly without commenting on the beautiful illustrations. I particularly loved the palette changes to highlight time and place and the bits of humor in the illustrations. Just a wonderful combination of artwork and story.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Moon‘s theme and symbolism are what jump out to me first, and I see them being what is discussed the most when it comes to this book, and I could see it be extended from early elementary all the way to middle school just pushing the conversation to different levels the older students get.
- What do the wolves symbolize in Moon’s story?
- How is your life similar to Moon’s at the beginning of the book?
- How does Moon’s life change from beginning to end?
- What lesson was the message the author was trying to spread from Moon?
- Do you see any differences between Moon from the first couple of pages and the last couple of pages?
Read This If You Love: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Yellow Kayak by Nina Laden, Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth
Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.
He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.
Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.
Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.
This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.
- How is identity explored in this novel?
- How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
- What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
- How is death/dying portrayed?
- How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?
We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224
Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**
Recently Popular Posts
- This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.
- Top Books for Struggling/Reluctant Middle School Readers
- Novels with Science Content
- Top Ten Tuesday: Our Favorite Pairings of YA Books…
- The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers
- Journey by Aaron Becker
- Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques
- Review and Teaching Guide!: El Deafo by Cece Bell
Subscribe to Our Posts