Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review)

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Each Kindness
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Published October 2nd, 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: Each kindness makes the world a little better

Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Maya is different–she wears hand-me-downs and plays with old-fashioned toys. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. Eventually, Maya plays alone, and then stops coming to school altogether. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.

This unforgettable book is written and illustrated by the award-winning team that created The Other Side and the Caldecott Honor winner Coming On Home Soon. With its powerful message and striking art, it will resonate with readers long after they’ve put it down.

Review: When I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson for the first time, it made me not only want to share it with everyone I knew, but also make me want to do something nice for others. This pushed me to think more carefully about how everything affects those around me. What I really love about this book is how it can be used in the classroom.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Today, I wanted to share with you what I did with my classes when it came to sharing Each Kindness with them. First, I will say that it affected them as much as it affected me. After reading, we had a great conversation about how the book connected to their lives and what it meant to them. This conversation moved to how Chloe’s actions affected Maya including inferences of Maya’s feelings that were not shared in the book. The insight that my students had were very deep and I believe it made them look at some of the choices they make in their daily lives. We also discussed how Chloe could have changed things. How could she have made Maya feel welcome?  We made multi-flow maps showing the causes/effects of decisions.

Following this discussion, I had the students make an oath to do a kind act that day- something they normally wouldn’t do and recorded them on as a poster to share. Then the next day we shared the kindness we did. Only through discussions and books like this, that students will think more about their choices and how it affects those around them. Since this book read aloud and discussion, my students have brought up Each Kindness often and have made connections to their lives as well as other books. Each Kindness is a book that can make the world a better place, but only if it is shared.

Discussion Questions: What could Chloe have done differently to make Maya seem welcome?; How did Chloe’s (and her friend’s) behavior affect Maya?; What could you do differently to make someone feel kindness?

We Flagged: “This is what kindness does, Ms.Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”

Read This If You Loved: Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Recommended For: 

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This is a great book to read during the first couple of weeks of school. 

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Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

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Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great
Author and Illustrator: Bob Shea
Published June 25th, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion

Goodreads Summary: Hi, I’m Goat.
Things were just fine around here until UNICORN showed up.
So what if he can fly?
Or make it rain cupcakes?
And turn stuff into gold?
Big deal.
I can do some cool stuff too, like…
Hey! What are you doing? Why are you opening the book?
He’s just going to tell you how great he is. Blah, blah, blah.
Go ahead. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Dopey Unicorn.

Review: Nothing can promote this book better than the book trailer – it is a must watch!

And the book trailer truly captures the essence of Unicorn. It is fun and colorful! However, the best part of the book is that after the fun story it does have a message that is so important and is a great read aloud for classrooms.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is a great one to read at the beginning of the school year. It promotes friendship and not judging others. It will be a great discussion starter about making new friends and starting the new year with a clean slate as well as self-esteem, being a good loser, and jealousy.

Discussion Questions: Is there someone you met that you judged at first and they turned out to be completely different?; Have you ever thought you were going to win something only to have someone beat you? How did this make you feel?

We Flagged: “Things are a lot different around here since that Unicorn moved in. I thought I was pretty cool when I rode my bike to school. Until that show-off went flying by!

Or the time I made marshmallow squares that almost came out right. He made it rain cupcakes!” (p. 4-8)

Check out Amazon’s Look Inside of Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great to see the illustrations.

Read This If You Loved: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci, Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown, Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

Recommended For: 

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Remember: Don’t judge a book by its flashy, colorful, magical cover.

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Blog Tour and Author Guest Post!: The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand

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Today, I am so happy to be part of The Year of Shadows blog tour! First, let me tell you a bit about the book: 

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The Year of Shadows
Author: Claire Legrand
Published August 27th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.

Her mother left, her neglectful father — the maestro of a failing orchestra — has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.

Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help — if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.

Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living . . . and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.

I am so excited to read this! One of the things that intrigues me the most is the setting of a concert hall; reminds me of Phantom of the Opera

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Today we are so lucky to have author Claire Legrand as a guest blogger. Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a writer, Ms. Legrand can often be found typing with purpose at her keyboard, losing herself in the stacks at her local library, or embarking upon spontaneous adventures to lands unknown. Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, a New York Public Library Best Book for Children in 2012. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, releases August 27, 2013, with her third novel, Winterspell, to follow in fall 2014. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade fiction due out in July 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Claire lives in New Jersey with a dragon and two cats. Visit her at claire-legrand.com and at enterthecabinet.com.

Here at Unleashing Readers, one of our goals is helping educators find books that will help them teach their students about different literary elements. We are so excited for Claire Legrand to discuss the literary elements of setting, characterization, and language, and how she utilized those elements to bring the world of The Year of Shadows to life! I think you all will find this post interesting and so useful.

SETTING

The sense of place in The Year of Shadows was one of the first story elements I established. Olivia’s world is an isolated one—she lives at Emerson Hall, she goes to school, she works after school at the tea shop across the street called The Happy Place. We don’t see a lot of Olivia’s city beyond those three locations, and the time spent at Olivia’s school and The Happy Place are relatively minimal. The Year of Shadows is really all about Emerson Hall. It’s not only where Olivia spends the majority of her time; it’s also her new home. I therefore knew I would have to make the Hall as vibrant a character as Olivia herself, full of moods and memories. The Hall needed to feel like a whole new world, one that Olivia explores in the new lens of “home” just as the readers are exploring it for the first time. The state of the Hall, and how Olivia perceives it, represents Olivia’s state of mind.

At the beginning of the story, Emerson Hall is decrepit, shabby, old. Its paint has faded, its carpet is torn, and the once-grand stone angels on the building’s façade have been vandalized. Like Olivia and her broken family, Emerson Hall has seen better days. Olivia directs her hatred of what her life has become at the Hall itself; to her, Emerson Hall and its orchestra lie at the root of her troubles. She doesn’t realize until much later that her refusal to reach out to friends for help and her destructive tendency to isolate herself are more problematic than living in Emerson Hall. Like Olivia and her family, Emerson Hall literally starts to fall apart as the story progresses. Both Olivia and her home undergo crises that could make or break them. It is Olivia’s realization that she and the Hall need each other if they are going to survive that marks a turning point in the story, and allows her to find a peace that, at the beginning of The Year of Shadows, she can’t imagine finding ever again.

CHARACTERIZATION

Imagine for a moment that you are twelve years old. You have enjoyed a comfortable, happy life with your father, mother, and grandmother. Art is in your blood; you are never without your trusty sketchpad, and you studied symphonies with your conductor father from the time you could crawl.

Then, things start to go wrong. Your mother and father start to fight; you lie awake at night listening to them. Your father spends more and more time working and less and less time with you and your mother. The orchestra isn’t doing well; lots of businesses aren’t doing well, and who wants to spend money they don’t have on coming to hear an increasingly crummy orchestra perform? Your stomach is in constant knots.

One day, a day that should have been like any other day, you wake up to find that your mother is gone. She left in the middle of the night without a clue as to her destination. It’s just you and your father now—your father who seems to care more than ever about work, much more than he cares about you. He lets bills and letters from your school pile up. (You’re not doing well in school these days.) He sells your house and moves you into the backstage storage rooms of a music hall that should probably be condemned.

You hate him. You hate everything. Sometimes, you even hate yourself.

This is Olivia. This is the girl whose story I sat down to tell when I wrote The Year of Shadows. She was a difficult character to bring to life; as you can see, her story isn’t a happy one. I needed to both communicate her (righteous, justified) anger and grief while still keeping her sympathetic. To achieve this, I balanced her darker moments—berating her father, insulting people who try to help her—with lighter ones. I felt it was even more important with Olivia than it was for some of my other, more immediately sympathetic characters, to give the reader peeks of the true her, beneath all the hurt that consumes her.

Olivia is an artist. There are beautiful worlds inside her, worlds she brings to life in her sketchpad even when—especially when—nothing else makes sense.

Olivia is kindhearted, devoted to her frail grandmother. She is determined to transform the backstage rooms of Emerson Hall into something like a home—decorating the bare gray walls with pictures from her sketchbook, spending the limited money she earns from working after school to buy her grandmother scarves and a nice warm rug for the cold floor.

Olivia is brave. She will face down ghosts—even the distinctly unfriendly ones—if it means defending her father, as much as she thinks she hates him. (But finding the courage to trust again? That she doesn’t find so easily.)

Creating Olivia was all about finding the right balance between her good moments and her bad ones, and ensuring that even her worst moments came from a place readers could understand.

The other characters in The Year of Shadows help Olivia in different ways. They are like rungs on the ladder Olivia must climb to pull herself out of her depression. Henry is trusting and loyal, traits Olivia can no longer see in herself or in her family. Joan is not afraid of being herself, or of letting others see her, while Olivia is constantly trying to hide. Mr. and Mrs. Barsky are the loving couple Olivia used to see in her parents. Trumpet player Richard Ashley is the love of music Olivia once had, and has now lost.

Even the ghosts play their part. I like to think of the four main ghosts in The Year of Shadows as fulfilling a function similar to that of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, each of which teach Ebenezer Scrooge something about himself. Olivia’s ghosts do the same, each “lesson” increasing in importance. Violinist Frederick helps Olivia rediscover her love of music. Best friends Tillie and Jax remind Olivia of the power and value of friendship. And poor Mr. Worthington, with his horrible secret, shows Olivia that even her family, as dysfunctional as it is, is worth saving.

 LANGUAGE

Establishing just the right blend of language to tell Olivia’s story was a tricky process for me. I wanted the language of The Year of Shadows to feel contemporary yet classic, homey yet eerie. The reader needed to feel at home in Emerson Hall, but still feel as unsettled as Olivia does. There are horror elements in this book, but it is not a horror novel; it is ultimately a story about family and friendship. The language needed to both accurately describe intense issues—financial trouble, death and the afterlife, parental abandonment and neglect, bullying, depression—while still being accessible to young readers. Through the narration, I needed Olivia to identify and explore complex emotions; at the same time, I needed her to describe them in such a way that felt authentic for an emotionally confused twelve-year-old.

I think it’s impossible to discuss a story’s language without addressing voice, and establishing Olivia’s voice was essential in developing the right language for The Year of Shadows. I was fortunate to quickly “hear” Olivia’s voice—informal but poetic, intelligent but not book-smart, sarcastic yet brimming with emotion too overwhelming to share. Her voice is conversational, peppered with fragments.

Ultimately, I wanted the language of The Year of Shadows to evoke just that—shadows. Dark, shifting shapes on the wall created by fleeting sweeps of light. Shadows, while they might seem frightening at first, are ultimately hopeful things, because you can’t have a shadow without light. For Olivia, it takes a while to find her light—but she does in the end, even if it wasn’t quite what she was expecting.

Below are a few brief (spoiler-free!) selections from The Year of Shadows that are representative of the book’s overall language:

“The picture I had of them in my head was pretty fuzzy, so I kept drawing them over and over, trying to capture the memory of them on the page. It wasn’t working very well; it’s harder than you might think to draw just the right amount of transparency, of driftiness.”

“The Maestro didn’t cry. The Maestro was made of stone and numbers and anger, and mostly he was made of music—cold, unfeeling, metal-tubed music.”

“Mr. Worthington stared. His eyes and mouth were the largest, hanging open like gateways to some secret, dark place. His head didn’t hang quite right, like someone had screwed it on wrong, and he was skinny as a bundle of twigs.”

“The shades overhead scampered away, but one lingered above me, its face cocked to the side like a bird. It opened its mouth and groaned, this low, rumbling sound that made my ears hurt.”

“In a week and a half, we’d know the Hall’s fate. No, not its fate. Its destiny. I liked that word better. It sounded softer, like something Mom would say. It sounded like stars.”

“Henry didn’t say anything more after that. I think he was afraid to talk to me, afraid that I would crack. He might have been right. All I knew was the tip of my charcoal on my sketchpad, like I was sewing myself back together.”

I can see this post being used in reading or writing workshop; what a great resource for teachers! Also, doesn’t it make you want to read the book even more?!

I want to thank Claire Legrand for stopping by, and I hope you found the post as useful as I did!

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Walden Award Winner!: A Review

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Today we are happy to share our review of the winner of the

2013 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award!

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The Fault in our Stars
Author: John Green
Published January 10th, 2012 by Dutton Books

Summary: Hazel has been preparing to die since she was thirteen and was diagnosed with Stage IV Thyroid Cancer. Now, she is sixteen, a modern medical miracle and living with the side effects of the medication and of the cancer. Hazel finds herself between the levels of normalcy and dying. When she meets Augustus Waters, she begins to feel normal for the first time in a long time. Through this amazing friendship, both Hazel and Augustus learn how to truly live.

Ricki’s Review: Every once in a while, a book comes around that changes you. Admittedly, I am a huge fan of John Green and am always biased toward his books. While others may not agree with me, I would argue that this is definitely his best work. I have twenty books on my “favorite books” shelf, and this addition was a no-brainer. (I won’t tell you which one I removed to put this one on the shelf.) The characters are intelligent and witty, and I was continually laughing out loud. This book sends readers on a roller-coaster of emotions. It is the first book in a long time that made me truly feel a sense of catharsis. And Augustus recognizes my emotions as both worthy and real: “‘That’s the thing about pain,’ Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. ‘It demands to be felt'” (p. 63). The language and word choice make dozens of pages flag-worthy, and teachers will love doing close readings with this text. It is liquid gold for classroom teachers.

This is not a predictable cancer story because it is incredibly honest. Hazel recognizes the “perks” she gets as a cancer patient, and she has no trouble admitting that she doesn’t really have friends. When she goes shopping with her one female friend, she secretly wants to be anti-social and pull out a book to read. But when she meets Augustus, everything changes. If you haven’t read this book yet, be grateful–I am envious of you because I want to read this book again for the first time

Kellee’s Review: I’ll be honest—I had a really hard time writing a review of this book. I just don’t know if I am going to be able to do it justice. It is one of those books that as you read, there are so many good things and so much you love, and you know that it is something so special. Even now, as I sit here, I don’t know what to say. I know that I wish that it was more appropriate for middle schoolers so I could share it with more students, I know that it is a book that everyone should read, and I know that it is a book that I am glad to be sharing.

The Fault in our Stars is not only an emotional and funny book, it is beautifully written. As I read, I knew I wanted to mark quotes for a review, but it was hard to find a page to not mark.

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John Green has a way with words. If you have read anything by him, you know what I am talking about. I think what makes this book even more powerful is that it is a combination of John Green’s voice and a deep, amazing story. Put the two together, and you get a masterpiece.

Discussion Questions: Hazel has a book that is her favorite and means so much to her; what book do you love that you could not live without? Choose your favorite line or quote from the book and discuss why  you connected with it so much.; Who is someone who made an impression on you but who you have lost touch with?

We Flagged: “Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read that book” (p. 33).

“It wasn’t even that the book was so good or anything; it was just that the author, Peter Van Houten, seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways. An Imperial Affliction was my book, in the way my body was my body and my thoughts were my thoughts” (p. 36).

“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations” (p. 311).

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Recommended For: 

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Have you read The Fault in our Stars? Did it affect you the way that it did us? 

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Walden Award 2014 Finalists: Reviews

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Today, we are excited to review the three Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists, and tomorrow, we can’t wait to review the winner! Please join us in the celebration of these three extraordinary texts which are very deserving of this recognition. We’ll see you tomorrow for our review of the winner!

 

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published February 21st, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen who doesn’t have friends until he meets Dante. Through Dante, he learns about friendship, life, and loyalty. These two boys develop an unbreakable bond that helps them discover themselves.

Kellee’s Review: So beautifully written. This is one of those books that you want to tell everyone to read because it is so literary and lyrical. While reading, I felt I had to keep stopping to take notes because I had so much I wanted to share with you all; Aristotle & Dante reminded me of John Green’s characters in that way. His characters are so intelligent, the voice so pure and mesmerizing, and the story so enthralling- all aspects of a literary young adult novel. I am not surprised at all of the awards that Aristotle & Dante took home from the ALA Awards as it deserved each and every one of them (Stonewall Book Award, Printz Honor, Pura Belpre Author Award). I know this seems mighty gushy, but I really fell in love with this novel.

There were so many passages throughout that could be used for exemplar pieces of writing (specifically while reading I picked up on the literary devices, characterization, and voice) and can be used to practice reading strategies.  The book might not automatically be popular because I could see students thinking it was pretty slow because it is more character-driven than plot-driven. It is about Aristotle & Dante growing up and finding themselves (once again, reminds me a bit of a John Green Novel). Though I can see students who give it a chance being as touched by the book as I am.

Ricki’s Review: This beautiful, quiet book is well-deserving of all of the awards it has received. The characters are very special and will stick with readers long after the last page. Adolescents will identify with the boys’ feelings of loneliness and longing, and will be carried away by the magic of their friendship. Saenz’s lyrical language is strong and powerful, delivering undeniable messages to the readers. Readers will grow with Aristotle and Dante and learn what it means to be accepted, to be loyal, and to be a good person.

When I read this book for the first time, I wondered if it would appeal to all types of readers as the beautiful language takes precedent over an action-filled plot. We chose it for our school’s book club before it won the awards, so I was unsure about the students’ reaction. They absolutely adored the characters, and it was one of the most well-received books we’ve done in book club. This text would make for a great choice for literature circles, book clubs, and close analysis, as the language is remarkable.

Discussion Questions: Aristotle and Dante love to make up stories about the people on the bus (see p. 21); go and sit outside where you can people watch and spontaneously write short stories about a handful of them.; What does it mean to be alone? Can another person cure loneliness, or is it something that must be healed from within?; What makes a good friend? What makes a good person?; How do your family dynamics influence who you are as a person?

We Flagged:  “I felt alone, but not in a bad way. I really liked being alone. Maybe I liked it too much. Maybe my father was like that too. I thought of Dante and wondered about him.  And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?” (p. 56)

Read This If You Loved: Personal Effects by EM Kokie, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Shine by Lauren Myracle, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Recommended For: 

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endangered

Endangered
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published October 1st, 2013 by Scholastic Press

Summary: Sophie is a normal teenager who travels between her divorced parents who live in completely different cultural situations–her father has an office job in America and her mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Though she was born in the Congo, the last few years have been spent in America with her father and return trips to her mother’s sanctuary. The book begins with Sophie waiting in a check point, where she spots a baby bonobo who is not being treated well and, against everyone’s wishes, she buys him.

Kellee’s Review: With Sophie’s purchase, Otto enters into her life and ours. He becomes the co-star of the book and begins to change Sophie’s feelings about being at the sanctuary. But then, right before she is about to leave, chaos at the hand of revolutionaries envelopes Congo and Sophie finds herself in a completely type of situation.

Now if you follow me here or on Twitter, you know that I am a sucker for ape books and I have been lucky that many people who care a lot about apes write some amazing ape books – this is a book to add to that list. It left me with even more of a passion for saving these animals who are our closest relative. I. Love. This. Book. It quickly moved into my favorites list even while I was only half way through with it. It is such a journey that you take with this young lady and the growth you see in her (and Otto) is incredible. On top of that, Eliot Schrefer is an author who not only can tell a good story, but he can help you become part of the story and visualize and feel everything that is happening. And I am not alone in this love. Endangered was a finalist for The National Book Award and Walden Award, Eliot Schrefer was a hit at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE, and it is being gushed about on Twitter.

On top of all of this, I read it with my 8th graders this year and they adored it! Check out my End of (School) Year Reflection to see my reflections on teaching the novel as well as Skyping with Eliot.

Ricki’s Review: This is a beautifully crafted novel, one which will stick with me. I learned a lot about the horrors that exist within the war-torn country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place which I had limited knowledge about—but it also gave me a look into the life of bonobos. Each year, I give very few books a 5-star rating on GoodReads, but this one is well deserving. I wish I could give it more than five stars, to be frank. Eliot Schrefer does a brilliant job describing the powerful bond between humans and animals. There are so many elements of this text that teachers can use in the classroom that it feels like a gold mine. I’ve recommended it to adults and teens again and again—and with the confidence that I know they will appreciate the intricate beautiful of this novel. Endangered will always rank as one of the best books I have ever read. When my student returned this book, she handed it to me and paused. I waited in anticipation of her response, as she reads over a hundred books a year and is very critical. She chose her words slowly and carefully. “I don’t like animals, so I didn’t want to read this. You kept talking about it, so I finally decided to just go for it. This isn’t a book about animals, and really, it isn’t a book about war. It is a book that is about being human.”

Discussion Questions: Sophie makes many decisions throughout the book that many people, specifically her parents, would not have agreed with. Would you have made the same decisions as her? Were there any you would have done differently? Do you think her decisions were worth it? Use textual evidence to back your answers.; What does this book teach us about being human?; In what ways do the bonobos reflect humanity?; How does the war-torn setting add to this story?

We Flagged: “The man released the bonobo. The little ape sat down tiredly in the dirt and lowered his arms, wincing as his sore muscles relaxed. I kneeled and reached out to him. The bonobo glanced at his master before working up the energy to stand and toddle over to me. He leaned against my shin for a moment, then extended his arms to be picked up. I lift him easily and hugged himself to me, his fragile arms as light as a necklace. I could make out his individual ribs under my figures, could feel his heart flutter against my throat. He pressed his lips against my check , I guess to get as close as possible to my skin, and only then did I hear his faint cries; he’d been making them for so long that his voice was gone.” (p. 3-4)

Read This If You Loved: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall, Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya, Non-fiction books about bonobos or the Democratic Republic of Congo

Recommended For: 

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passengers

Ask the Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Published October 23rd, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: Astrid is very cerebral–she can get lost in philosophical theories and questions about the world. Her favorite pastime is laying on the bench in her backyard so she can send her love to the passengers on the airplanes that fly overhead. At her catering job, Astrid meets Dee, and she falls in love. She isn’t sure if this makes her a lesbian, as she has never loved another girl, and society wants to fit her in a box that she isn’t quite sure describes her.

Kellee’s Review: I am fascinated with the setting of this book. It seems like a perfect place to live, but really everyone is living a lie. It reminds me a bit of “Stepford Wives.” What a sad existence. Maybe I am (the opposite of) sheltered because my parents and my friends always supported me to be who I am. However, because of King’s perfect depiction of Astrid’s experiences, it transplants me right into Astrid’s shoes.

Besides the setting, the characters are what makes this book a star. Astrid is a character that every reader will connect with in one way or another: she doesn’t exactly fit in though she doesn’t stick out, she has a secret she feels like she can’t tell anyone, and as a teenager she doesn’t exactly get along with her family. While Astrid is strong, so are the secondary characters. You know that if you want to jump into a book and just go off on a character that the author has done their job (UGH! The mom will drive you crazy too!).  This book would not move without its secondary characters; although Astrid is our protagonist, it is the secondary characters that drive much of the story. It is amazing how all of the characters are so fleshed out.

Finally, like all King novels, the way it is written just adds that element that pushes this book to being an award winner. King’s ability to give her characters a voice is phenomenal. Each of her novels have such a unique personality and she is able to give them each a unique voice. She also adds humor and intelligence to each of her books.

Ricki’s Review: Astrid’s character felt very real to me. Despite the heartache and lack of love in her own life, she manages to send all of her love to people she doesn’t even know–strangers in the sky. I can’t help but peer up at airplanes now and send my love to the passengers. Astrid is not a typical high school student. She lives by her principles and stays true to herself amidst the pressures that teens face. She is an unbelievable role model for both adolescents and adults.

Astrid teaches us to give our love away when we aren’t feeling any ourselves. She connects herself with complete strangers when those who are closest to her are emotionally failing her. Teens will learn to reach out and grasp love in the most unconventional places. The warmth that emanates from this book makes it incredibly special.

Discussion Questions: How do the passengers’ stories add to the richness of this text?; How does the setting influence aspects of the book?; Does society expect us to fit into neat boxes with labels?; What complications exist in Astrid’s life? Which coping mechanisms does she use to relieve her pain? Which other coping mechanisms might she use?

We Flagged: “I mean to say: Everybody’s always looking for the person they’re better than.” (page 231)

Read This If You Loved: Please Ignore Vera Deitz by A.S. King, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

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Which of these finalists have you read? What did you think of them?
We’re so excited to review the winner tomorrow!

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The Truth About You & Me by Amanda Grace

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The Truth About You & Me
Author: Amanda Grace
Expected Publication: September 8th, 2013 by Flux

Summary: “I think that’s why my parents trusted me so much back then. It’s easy to trust a smart girl. Smart girls aren’t supposed to do stupid things.” Madelyn is a smart girl—so smart that she doesn’t take normal high school classes at age sixteen, and instead, she is enrolled in college courses with the Running Start program at a local community college. When she meets Bennett Cartwright, her biology professor, she falls head over heels for him. He is very professional, and it isn’t until she runs into him on a local hiking trail that they get to know each other better. Written as an apology letter to Bennett, this novel will keep readers glued to the pages. Because while we, the readers, know that Bennett and Madelyn have a ten-year age gap, Madelyn keeps Bennett in the dark.

Review: This is a very controversial, uncomfortable topic that is often perceived to be “hands off” by authors and publishers. Teachers and students should not have intimate relationships, and the idea that a person may justify a relationship of this kind is considered taboo by most. The way this story differs from the usual story about the topic is in the deceit that exists between Madelyn and Bennett. He has no idea that Madelyn is a minor.

From the very first few pages, I felt like I was tumbling downhill to an inevitable plunge. In her early letters, Madelyn is very clear that this story does not have a happy ending, yet I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how the story would play out. Many readers will be extremely frustrated with Madelyn because she is incredibly deceitful, and Bennett is very well-intentioned. The great part about this book was that, by the end, the reader can’t help but ponder the situation. My favorite books are those that make me think deeply about a subject I hadn’t considered, and this one is sure to promote critical, emotional discussion from students.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Madelyn’s voice is very strong throughout her letters to Bennett. I can’t help but wonder what Bennett would write back to her. It would be wonderful to hear his side of the story. Students would also enjoy rewriting the ending to the this book. There are a few key, decisive moments, particularly at the end, that could have gone much differently, which would completely alter the direction of the story. After reading this text, students might research more about statutory rape, and I envision this book leading to a great classroom debate. Also, students might examine Madelyn’s life to try to determine if this played a role in her deceit.

Discussion Questions: Can a relationship be successful if it is built on a lie?; Who is to blame in this story?; Can there be any justification for statutory rape?; Does Madelyn seem truly remorseful?; Are there flaws in Madelyn’s character (or life) that lead to her deceit?

We Flagged: “That’s how it was with us. One day we were two separate people and the next we collided, and neither of us stood a chance.”

“That’s the moment I decided, Bennett, that I wanted to be with you, and even though there was one very good reason we couldn’t be something, I could come up with one million reasons we could.”

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: The Infinite Moment of Us  by Lauren Myracle, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

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**Thank you to NetGalley and Flux books for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!**

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

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The Infinite Moment of Us
Author: Lauren Myracle
Expected Publication: August 20th, 2013 by Amulet Books (an imprint of ABRAMS books)

Summary: Wren Gray has always been perfect. As high school graduation approaches, she realizes that she doesn’t want to go to Emory, the college she was accepted into (early decision, of course), and she wants to do charity work in Guatemala through a program called Project Unity. Wren hasn’t told her parents this plan, and she knows they will be heart-broken. She has never dated a boy, but when Wren meets Charlie Parker, she wants to know more about him. Charlie is a hard-working student who spends most of his time helping his foster father in their family-owned cabinet shop. With a troubled past, Charlie is battling demons that constantly tell him he isn’t good enough. It isn’t until Wren waves back to him in the parking lot that he has the guts to pursue the girl of his dreams. This is a beautiful story of what happens when two souls collide—it explores love, a powerful force that is much deeper than just two physical bodies interacting with one another.

Review: Told from alternating perspectives, this novel seamlessly transitions between Wren’s and Charlie’s thoughts. As always, Myracle’s work embodies the culture of the environment she writes about. The language and details of the setting took me straight to Atlanta. As I am a Northerner and have never lived outside of Connecticut, I always love getting lost in Myracle’s settings. The characters are wonderfully complex. They have quirks and elements of their personalities that make them feel quite real. As an aside, I also found the names to be interesting. I don’t suspect it is intentional, but Wren Gray is best friends with Tessa. Tessa Gray is the main character in the Clockwork Angel Series. It made me think of many other characters in literature with the last name Gray. Overall, I loved this book. I am still madly in love with Myracle’s Shine, but I like how she can step inside the perceived boxes of many genres, as her focus here was a more romantic novel. The philosophical conversations between Wren and Charlie were my favorite part of The Infinite Moment of Us.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: A warning of sorts—Lauren Myracle begins the novel with a note to readers. She says, “This book has sex in it. It’s not about sex, not exclusively, and I’m more interested in the mingling of Charlie’s and Wren’s souls than in the ways their bodies come together.” The sexual detail is certainly graphic, so I recommend this for mature readers. I have a special signature form for certain books in my classroom, and I find that this often inspires more kids to sign them out. I completely agree with Lauren Myracle after reading this book. It is about the way these two souls come together, and the sex is not a focal point.

Teachers could have students closely analyze the passages of dialogue between Wren and Charlie, where they philosophically debate life (see the sections I flagged below for a start). Additionally, the setting adds richness to this novel, and it would be great for students to analyze how these details add to the story. Many of the characters in this book act and respond in different ways (Wren, Charlie, Starrla, Tessa), and I think students would enjoy investigating the ways Myracle develops each of her characters.

Discussion Questions: What happens when two souls collide?; Is there a such thing as true love?; How does family influence a person’s actions?; Should our significant other be placed in a higher position than our friends and family?; What is home to us? Is it just a place?

We Flagged: “Sometimes the things we hide—aren’t they the parts of us that matter most?” (Chapter 1).

“‘I guess I think the world is more connected than people realize,” […] ‘I think…sometimes…that scientists…some scientists…want to package things up into neat little boxes. Explain, explain, explain, until there aren’t any mysteries left'” (Chapter 7).

“‘I’m just not sure a person’s home is determined by where he or she lives. I think home is more than that'” (Chapter 10).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. Chapter numbers are included instead of page numbers because the e-reader did not provide page numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, Sarah Dessen’s books, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Recommended For:

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I would use a parent signature form for this one due to strong sexual content, but this is a definite must-have in the classroom library.

How much do we love Lauren Myracle? Have you read this one or pre-ordered it?

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**Thank you to NetGalley and ABRAMS books for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy for review!**