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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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“Transgender and Non-Binary People Have Always Been Here”

There’s been a lot of news in the last few years about transgender and non-binary people. Yet many folks don’t know for sure what the words “transgender” or “non-binary” mean.

Adding to the confusion are headlines and articles that declare that the fight for transgender and non-binary people’s rights are “the newest frontier in civil rights!” While this may be well-meaning, it is incorrect. The fight for transgender and non-binary rights is not new. Far from it! Transgender and non-binary people are not a fad, a trend, or a new phenomenon. They have always been here, from the beginning of human history. Which means that they have made incredible contributions to the world, in the form of protests, art, important writings, and more. What a cool—and important—fact for young people to learn!

In Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms, my goal was to create a resource that would allow young people to do three things: to learn what gender identity is (and thereby learn how to refer to people with differing gender identities), to unlearn the idea that the fight for trans and non-binary rights is a new thing, and to meet the incredible transgender, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming people who have shaped American history.

As a young person, I loved learning about history. But some teaching methods are more effective than others. In my opinion, the best way to teach history is by introducing readers to the people who made history happen.

Every American should know about LGBTQ rights activists like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who marched for equality even when some in the LGBTQ tried to exclude them. Every American should also know about the incredible transgender people making history right now, like superstar actress Laverne Cox, the first openly transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award and the first to appear on the cover of Time Magazine. And what about politician Christine Hallquist, the first openly transgender major party nominee for governor in the United States, who also happened to write the forward for this book? I believe that the stories of these incredible people will stick with readers long after they’ve set this book down.

I hope that cisgender readers (readers whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth) can learn how to relate and appreciate those whose gender identity differs from their own. I hope that transgender and non-binary readers can learn that they are not alone, nor have they ever been. And I hope educators who bring this book into their classrooms can use it to help them navigate this sensitive but incredibly important topic.

Below are two activities from the book which are intended to help readers explore the issue of gender identity in an easy-to-understand way.

Explore Cultural Expectations

Cultural expectations change over time, including expectations of men and women. For example, high-heeled shoes, which are now associated with women’s fashion, were originally created for men. In this activity, you’ll explore some cultural expectations and explore how they might have changed, from past to present.

  • Find three items or behaviors that your culture associates with women. Do some research online or at the library or a museum to discover their origins. Can you find the first instance of the items or behaviors? Why do we associate them with women?
  • Then do the same for three items or behaviors expected of men. Consider the following questions:
  1. How did the items or behaviors come to be?
  2. How have they changed, over time?
  3. Was there a defining moment in history that caused the expectations to change?

Write about your findings and include sources. Present what you have learned to other people and discuss your findings with one another.

Time to Move!

Now that you know about the beginnings of the LGBTQ rights movement, research the events that sparked one of America’s other civil rights movements in the 1960s, such as the African American civil rights movement or the women’s liberation movement.

  • What’s similar between the beginnings of these two movements? What’s different?
  • Civil rights movements are an important part of the history of the United States. Can you imagine what life would be like for women if the women’s rights movement had never occurred? What about the lives of African Americans—how would they be different if the country had never heard the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. or seen the power of the March on Washington?
  • Research the early beginnings of a few civil rights movements. Consider these questions:
  1. What did these movements have in common?
  2. What was different about them?
  3. Did every movement have certain leaders who stood out? What were they like?
  4. Are there movements just beginning today that have similarities to these movements?
  • Draw a Venn Diagram to show what these early movements had in common and how they differed. What conclusions can you draw from your research?

More classroom resources can be found at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gender-ID-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms
Author: Maria Cook
Illustrator: Alexis Cornell
Published April 9th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What does it mean to think of gender as being a range instead of simply male or female?

Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms invites readers to consider the cultural significance of gender identity in the United States and beyond. Middle and high schoolers learn about the history of LGBT rights, with a particular focus on transgender rights and the rights of gender-variant people, while engaging in research activities to help put what they have learned into context. These activities encourage teens to form their own, well-informed opinions about public figures, historical events, and current news regarding gender identity.

Busting the myth that the gender identity movement is a new phenomenon, this book teaches teens about some of the first openly transgender public figures in history, such as Lili Elbe, the first recorded person to ever medically transition in the 1930s, and Christine Jorgensen, who medically transitioned and rose to fame in the 1950s. The stories of activists and other important public figures are highlighted throughout the book and offer plenty of opportunity to connect with the history of the gender identity movement on a human level. From the Stonewall riots to the institution of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, teens will gain a rich understanding of how gender identity fits into culture, past and present.

About the Author: Maria Cook is an award-winning freelance writer who holds a BS in secondary English education and an MFA in writing, both from Butler University. Her nonfiction can be found in such publications as Marie ClaireNarratively, and Green Matters. Maria lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Thank you so much for this guest post about this topic that is such an important topic and this book is so needed for so many!

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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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“Helping Kids Understand the Immigration Debate”

The United States is a nation of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, everyone living here has immigrant ancestors hanging from their family tree. Many of you live or work or attend school with immigrants. Some of you see an immigrant when you look in the mirror.

For more than a century, the Statute of Liberty has stood in New York Harbor and held her torch aloft, beckoning the world’s “tired…poor…huddled masses” to enter America’s Golden Door. However, even though the United States celebrates its immigrant past in story and song, we still struggle with each successive wave of immigration. History shows us that when foreigners come by the millions to America’s shores, even when the United States needs their labor, there is inevitably a backlash from citizens who want to close the Golden Door.

Today, we are witnessing that struggle play out on the news and in our neighborhoods.

Images bombard us—caravans, checkpoints, and children in cages.

Our lexicon expands—catch and release, national emergency, amnesty, and illegals.

Leaders stake claim to the truth as they debate whether to build a wall to keep immigrants out or to build a path that helps immigrants stay. Meanwhile, citizens want to know whose “truth” is the truth?


In an age when we can select media outlets from a menu that matches our political leanings, we often hear only information that corroborates our world view. We learn about immigration through a one-sided filter, our views become hardened, and the nation remains divided.

Today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s decision makers. They will shape future immigration policy. They will have to determine if America’s Golden Door remains open or is closed.

I wrote Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century to help youth explore immigration through unbiased, factual sources. The book examines the nation’s long history of immigration and the role the law has played as gatekeeper. Statistics and anecdotes tell the story of who immigrates, why they come, and how these newcomers are treated. The book explores the political, economic, and social impacts of current and future immigration. My goal was to equip teens with the knowledge they need to reach their own conclusions about what future U.S. immigration policy should be so they can use evidence and logic when participating in our national conversation about this important issue.

Here are three activities I developed to help young people explore different aspects of United States immigration.

Activity: Graph the Numbers

Sometimes graphs are helpful when thinking about complicated information. Design a series of graphs to communicate the history of U.S. immigration. Locate data at the Digital Scholarship Lab’s interactive website.

What changes in immigration do you want to show? Consider the following factors.

  • The rise and fall in the total number of immigrants from 1850 to 2010.
  • The most common countries of origin of immigrants in 1850, 1950, and 2010.
  • The percentage of the U.S. population that was foreign-born at different times in history.

What types of graphs most effectively illustrate these changes—a pie chart, bar graph, or line graph? Create a series of graphs and have a classmate try to read them. Are they successful?

To investigate more, choose one 50-year period between 1820 and 2010 and research the major world events that occurred then. What is the connection between these events and the trends in immigration at that time? How could you display these findings on a graph?

Activity: Graffiti as Protest

Throughout history, politicians have constructed walls to protect or divide, and people have created art on these walls to rebel and resist. In this activity, you will design art of a segment of the U.S. Mexican border wall that reflects your opinion of the state of immigration in the twenty-first century.

  • Research different views of President Trump’s proposed border wall. Read the opinions of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, economic analysts, environmental experts, immigration officials, and immigrant advocates.
  • Decide what you think about the border wall. Is it needed? How much will it cost? How effective will it be? What does an extended border wall say about the United States? What are the psychological impacts of living behind a wall?
  • Write a thesis statement to communicate your main opinion of the border wall. A thesis statement is usually a single sentence that summarizes your specific position on a subject.
  • Brainstorm different ways you can artistically represent your thesis. How will you execute your ideas?
  • Draw, paint, or sketch your ideas on a large piece of butcher paper. Display on a fence or wall so people can view your artistic expression.

To investigate more, research examples of border wall graffiti on walls around the world. What common themes or images are reflected by artists in different countries?

Activity: What’s on Your Plate?

Few Americans grow their own vegetables, milk their own cows, or butcher their own meat. We go to the grocery store, where almost any food is available any season of the year. Have you ever considered the lives of the people whose labor brings that food to your plate?

A 2014 report by the American Farm Bureau Federation found the agricultural industry needs between 1.5 and 2 million workers. Because not enough legal immigrants or American citizens will do backbreaking farm labor, 50 to 70 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants.

Explore the relationship between immigrant labor and the foods you eat. How much do you rely on farm workers?

  • Keep a food diary for one week. What fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, milk, and meat do you regularly consume?
  • Select one of these foods and research the role undocumented immigrants play in getting that item from the farm or field to the grocery store. What do immigrants say about their work experiences in places such as chicken processing plants or California fruit orchards? What makes the work difficult? What do they get paid for their work and how do their wages impact the price you pay at the grocery store?
  • In a creative way, communicate the journey this food took. Consider a short story, comic strip, or storyboard. Share the story with you peers and discuss how Americans benefit from the labor of undocumented immigrants.

To investigate more, change your story so all the workers who produced your food were paid minimum wage. What impact would this have on you as a consumer?

More classroom resources can be found at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Immigration-Nation-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century
Author: Judy Dodge Cummings
Illustrator: Richard Chapman
Published April 9th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What does it mean to be an immigrant today? Has the immigrant experience changed since the last century?

Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century invites middle and high schoolers to explore the history of immigration in the United States, along with immigration law and statistics through the perspectives of immigrants, citizens, policy makers, and border agents.

For more than a century, an immigrant from France has stood vigil in the New York Harbor. At 350 feet tall, with a majestic spiked crown upon her head, a tablet of laws clutched in one hand and a torch held aloft in the other, the lady is hard to miss. She cries out to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor…I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Millions of immigrants have answered the Statue of Liberty’s call, passing over, under, or through the Golden Door to become Americans.

However, on the eve of its 250th birthday, the United States is in the middle of an identity crisis. Should this land of immigrants open the door open to outsiders, people hungry for opportunity and desperate for freedom? Or should the country shut the golden door, barring entry to all but a select few? And what does it mean to be an American? How citizens answer these questions in the early twenty-first century will determine the future of America’s identity.

About the Author: Judy Dodge Cummings is a writer and former high school social studies teacher. She has written many books for children and teens, including Migration: Investigate the Global Journey of Humankind for Nomad Press. Lots of Judy’s books are related to history because that is her favorite topic to research, read, and write. Judy lives and writes in south central Wisconsin.

Website: judydodgecummings.com/books

Facebook: facebook.com/JDodgecummings

Thank you so much for this guest post!

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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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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Louisiana’s Way Home
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: October 2nd, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Louisiana’s Way Home: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Louisianaon Candlewick Press’s Louisiana’s Way Home page.

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