Up In Flames Author: Hailey Alcaraz Published: October 3, 2023 by Viking
Summary: Gorgeous, wealthy, and entitled, Ruby has just one single worry in her life—scheming to get the boy next door to finally realize they’re meant to be together. But when the California wildfires cause her privileged world to go up in flames, Ruby must struggle to find the grit and compassion to help her family and those less fortunate to rise from the ashes.
At eighteen, Ruby Ortega is an unapologetic flirt who balances her natural aptitude for economics with her skill in partying hard. But she couldn’t care less about those messy college boys—it’s her intense, brooding neighbor Ashton who she wants, and even followed to school. Even the fact that he has a girlfriend doesn’t deter her . . . whatever Ruby wants, she eventually gets.
Her ruthless determination is tested when wildfires devastate her California hometown, destroying her parents’ business and causing an unspeakable tragedy that shatters her to her core. Suddenly, Ruby is the head of the family and responsible for its survival, with no income or experience to rely on. Rebuilding seems hopeless, but with the help of unexpected allies—including a beguiling, dark-eyed boy who seems to understand her better than anyone—Ruby has to try. When she discovers that the fires also displaced many undocumented people in her town, it becomes even more imperative to help. And if she has to make hard choices along the way, can anyone blame her?
In her powerful debut novel, Mexican American author Hailey Alcaraz chronicles a riveting portrait of transformation, resilience, and love with an unlikely heroine who, when faced with unforeseen disaster, surprises everyone, especially herself.
Review: This book reminds us all that we are imperfect, and we won’t always make the right choices. Ruby’s story is set in a backdrop of the California wildfires. The book includes richly realized themes, and I particularly appreciated the ways in which Author Hailey Alcaraz interrogated the intersections of race and class. I was invested in Ruby’s story and rooting for her from the beginning to end. She is certainly flawed (as we all are), and she felt very real to me. I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it. (The audiobook is excellent!)
Tools for Navigation: Teachers might have students map some of the many themes of this book, considering how they are integrated within the text and the lessons they teach readers.
How would you describe Ruby? What qualities does she have that are positive? What qualities might she work on? What lessons does she learn?
How does the setting shape the story? How might the text be different if the setting was different?
How are Ashton, Remy, and Charlie different? How does Ruby’s relationship with each help us understand her more?
Flagged Spreads/Passages: She understood that some things required more than sheer willpower. Some things—the important things, the hard things, the things that defined you as a person—required patience and trust and listening, too (p. 370, Advanced Reader Copy, and the quote may change).
Read This If You Love: Realistic Fiction, Romance, Social Justice Stories
**Thank you to Aubrey at Penguin Young Readers for providing a copy for an honest review**
Gender Queer Author: Maia Kobabe Published: May 28, 2019 by Oni Press
Goodreads Summary: In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
Ricki’s Review: It has taken me a long time to acquire this book. I was on hold for ONE copy that the library had, and there were 126 people ahead of me. That’s the joy in public banning of books—they sell really well. I am always glad that the authors are making money off of the ridiculousness of book banning. Not surprisingly, the book is banned because it is a powerful story. Kobabe beautifully depicts eir memoir in a way that captivates readers. I am better for having read this book. It allowed me to feel as if I was living Kobabe’s story alongside em.
Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American Author: Laura Gao Published: March 8, 2022 by Balzer + Bray
Goodreads Summary: After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars–at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name.
In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.
Insightful, original, and hilarious, toggling seamlessly between past and present, China and America, Gao’s debut is a tour de force of graphic storytelling.
Ricki’s Review: I read this book last year and immediately knew I wanted to use it in my class. It fit into so many topics that we discuss in class, and it is a powerful memoir. Gao offers a nuanced look at discrimination, specifically against Wuhanese Americans related to COVID-19, and she also offers insight into issues that many immigrants face in the US. I love the book description that she is trying to figure out “why girls make her heart flutter.” Gao’s sexuality is a part of the book, but it isn’t the plot driver. This normalization is important in literature, and I think readers expect that when a character is LGBTQ, it will be the main focus of the text. Instead, Gao’s life—told with a great level of humor, even when topics are tough—is depicted through images and words in a way that will connect with readers.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be interesting to have students depict the themes of this book visually.
What are some of the themes of this text?
How does Gao integrate images and words to tell her story?
What aspects of this book connected with you?
What did you learn about discrimination related to Wuhanese Americans?
Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for The World’s Most Adventurous Kid Author: Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco Illustrator: Joy Ang Published: July 19, 2022 by Workman Publishing Company
Goodreads Summary: Journey to the World’s Most Mysterious Places
Created by the same team behind Atlas Obscura, the #1 New York Times bestseller that has over 600,000 copies in print in its first year, The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is a thrillingly imaginative expedition to 100 weird-but-true places on earth. And just as compelling is the way the book is structured—hopscotching from country to country not by location but by type of attraction. For example, visit the site of the Tunguska event in Siberia, where a meteor slammed into the earth in 1908—and then skip over to the Yucatan, ground zero for the ancient meteor crash that caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Then, while in Mexico, tour the fantastical Naica caves, home to crystals ten times larger than the average person—then, turn the page to Vietnam to a cave so vast you could fly a 747 through it. Illustrated in gorgeous and appropriately evocative full-color art, this book is a passport to a world of hidden possibilities.
Ricki’s Review: The images in this book are absolutely captivating. My children read a few pages each day (and seem to think their parents have an unlimited wallet for travel). This is the kind of book that really appeals to me as an adult who reads to my kids. I am absolutely fascinated by the places in this book, so it makes for a wonderful shared reading. I highly recommend this one.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to create an Atlas Obscura of their community. Each student can take a local place that is “obscura” and write a description. The book can be compiled and bound. Another idea is to have students select one of the places as the setting for a story. This book inspires story!
Which places do you want to visit most?
What did each of these places remind you of?
How did the illustrations enhance your reading?
**Thank you go Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**
Magnolia Flower Written by Zora Neale Hurston and Adapted by Ibram X. Kendi Illustrator: Loveis Wise Published: September 6, 2022 by Amistad Books for Young Readers
Goodreads Summary: From beloved African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston comes a moving adaptation by National Book Award winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and Antiracist Baby, Ibram X. Kendi. Magnolia Flower follows a young Afro Indigenous girl who longs for freedom and is gorgeously illustrated by Loveis Wise (The People Remember, Ablaze with Color).
Born to parents who fled slavery and the Trail of Tears, Magnolia Flower is a girl with a vibrant spirit. Not to be deterred by rigid ways of the world, she longs to connect with others, who too long for freedom. She finds this in a young man of letters who her father disapproves of. In her quest to be free, Magnolia must make a choice and set off on a journey that will prove just how brave one can be when leading with one’s heart.
The acclaimed writer of several American classics, Zora Neale Hurston wrote this stirring folktale brimming with poetic prose, culture, and history. It was first published as a short story in The Spokesman in 1925 and later in her collection Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (2020).
Tenderly retold by #1 New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi, Magnolia Flower is a story of a transformative and radical devotion between generations of Indigenous and Black people in America. With breathtaking illustrations by Loveis Wise, this picture book reminds us that there is no force strong enough to stop love.
Ricki’s Review: Magnolia Flower is a short story by Zora Neale Hurston, and it has been adapted into this picture book. The illustrations and words will appeal to kids, but as an adult, I felt like this was written for me, too. It has stunning figurative language, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. The author’s notes at the end helped me understand more about the book.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might have students select a longer work (e.g. a short story) and adapt the book into a picture book.
What does this story tell us about love?
What does this story tell you about history?
If you haven’t read the longer work, what do you think it might include, beyond this book?
**Thank you go Leilani at SparkPoint Studio for providing a copy for review!**
Killer Underwear Invasion: How to Spot Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories Author: Elise Gravel
Published September 20, 2022 by Chronicle
Summary: A hilarious and timely tool to help kids learn how to tell what news is true and what isn’t
Can peanuts give you super strength? Were unicorns discovered on the moon? Did Martians really invade New Jersey? For anyone who has ever encountered outrageous stories like these and wondered whether they were true, this funny, yet informative book breaks down what fake news is, why people spread it, and how to tell what is true and what isn’t. With quirky illustrations and a humorous tone, Elise Gravel brings her kid-accessible wit to the increasingly important subject of media literacy and equips younger readers with the skills needed to interact with global news.
Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My kids love this book, and I love the way it allows kids to think about critical literacy! I used excerpts of this in my college class to demonstrate how accessible conversations about critical literacy can be. I also found myself sharing pages of the text with my brother (who said he would be ordering it for his daughter). This book is wholly impressive and critical for classrooms. Teachers could do close readings of the text and pair this text with conversations about disinformation, evaluating sources, etc.
Read This If You Love: Humor, Books about Critical Literacy, Retaliation against Fake News!!
Trex Author: Christyne Morrell
Published August 30th, 2022 by Delacorte
Summary: This middle grade mystery follows the adventures of a boy with an experimental brain implant, and a reclusive girl training to be a spy, as they’re pitted against school bullies, their own parents, and an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Perfect for fans of Stranger Things.
Trex’s experimental brain implant saved his life–but it also made his life a lot harder. Now he shocks everything he touches. When his overprotective mother finally agrees to send him to a real school for sixth grade, Trex is determined to fit in.
He wasn’t counting on Mellie the Mouse. She lives in the creepiest house in Hopewell Hill, where she spends her time scowling, lurking, ignoring bullies, and training to be a spy. Mellie is convinced she saw lightning shoot from Trex’s fingertips, and she is Very Suspicious.
And she should be . . . but not of Trex. Someone mysterious is lurking in the shadows . . . someone who knows a dangerous secret.
About the Author: Christyne’s earliest completed work, written at age 7, told the story of Kermit the Frog meeting Miss Piggy’s parents for the first time. Kermit the Hog was a cautionary tale about pretending to be something you’re not. She still thinks it has potential.
Today, Christyne writes middle-grade novels across a number of genres. Whether they take place in quirky seaside towns or fantastical, faraway kingdoms, her stories all have one thing in common: clever kids accomplishing extraordinary things, like conquering a curse, overthrowing a king, or taking down an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Christyne believes that middle-grade books should challenge, intrigue, and inspire young readers – but above all, never underestimate them.
Christyne’s debut middle-grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, came out in August 2021 from Delacorte Press. Her next novel, TREX, releases in August 2022. She is also the author of the poetry book, The Fool Catcher (2021), and the picture book, Abra, Cadabra & Bob (2019), and her poems and stories have appeared in Highlights, Spider, and The School Magazine.
When Christyne isn’t writing for kids, she’s busy raising one. She’s an attorney by day, who enjoys reading, baking, and watching House Hunters marathons. She lives with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle in Decatur, Georgia.
Review:I LOVED Morrell’s first middle grade novel, Kingdom of Secrets, so when she reached out for me to read her newest, I jumped at the chance! What is so interesting is how one author can come up with two completely different types of stories–two sides of the speculative coin, if you will. But man, does she knock this one out of the park, too. It is a mind bender of a story that, through red herrings, multiple points of view, and limited narrators, keeps you on your toes all the way until the end! There is so much to delve into with this book, and it is super engaging on top of it all. Another stellar middle grade novel!
Static Electricity: Trex’s brain implant gives him a persistent static electric charge, which has a significant impact on his daily life. Teachers and students can explore the causes of static electricity and consider the steps someone with Trex’s condition would have to take to avoid hurting themselves and others. There are tons of activities available online that demonstrate static electricity at work. Here are some of the best: 16 Fun Electricity Experiments and Activities For Kids.
Dry Lightning: Dry Lightning is any lightning that occurs without rain nearby. It’s especially dangerous for Trex, but it poses a real risk to everyone. Dry Lightning is more likely than typical lightning to cause forest fires, especially in the western portion of the United States, where it occurs most frequently. (What is a Dry Thunderstorm? | Live Science)
Spy Museum: Did you know there’s an entire museum dedicated to spycraft? Future sleuths will have a blast at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Upon arrival, visitors receive a cover identity, an RFID-enabled badge, and a secret mission to complete. And for those who can’t make it to D.C., the Spy Museum offers a number of resources on their website, including podcasts, puzzles, and more. (Spy Resources | International Spy Museum)
Famous Female Spies: Mellie follows in the footsteps of a long line of female spies. From the Civil War to World War II, women have been covertly risking their lives on top secret missions in service to their country. Learn about some of history’s most famous and successful spies: 6 of History’s Most Notable Female Spies | HistoryHit.
Easter Egg Hunt: To kickstart your career as a future spy, I’ve included a major Easter egg (a hidden reference) within the text of Trex. If you’ve read my first book, Kingdom of Secrets, and have a keen eye, perhaps you spot the reference!
The Power of Introverts: Full of insightful research and powerful examples, Susan Cain’s Quiet makes the case that introverts as a group are undervalued in our society and that we should accept – even embrace – our introverted natures. The “Quiet Manifesto” on Susan’s website states, “The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.” And I wrote Trex for precisely that reason. There’s a version of Quiet for kids and a podcast for parents on Susan Cain’s website. (Home – Susan Cain)
Anxiety: One of the characters in Trex deals with anxiety – a sense of distress or fear when faced with uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or stressful situations. All of us experience some level of anxiety (on the first day of school, for example), but when it becomes debilitating or disruptive, it may require attention. Treatment for anxiety can range from simple tactics like breathing exercises to therapy and medication. If you’re experiencing anxiety, talk to a trusted adult or doctor, and check resources like Anxiety.org,Child Mind Institute, and CDC: Anxiety and depression in children.
Alphabetter: In the book, the characters play a game called “Alphabetter,” in which they take turns naming things that make them happy in alphabetical order. This is a simple and fun way for anyone to calm their stress and boost their mood!
Read This If You Love: Mysteries, Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman, Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Masterminds by Gordon Korman
**Thank you to the author for providing an e-galley for review!**