Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution by Kacen Callender

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Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution
Author: Kacen Callender
Published: September 27, 2022 by Amulet

Summary: From National Book Award–winner Kacen Callender, a contemporary YA that follows Lark’s journey to speak the truth and discover how their own self-love can be a revolution

Lark Winters wants to be a writer, and for now that means posting on their social media accounts––anything to build their platform. When former best friend Kasim accidentally posts a thread on Lark’s Twitter declaring his love for a secret, unrequited crush, Lark’s tweets are suddenly the talk of the school—and beyond. To protect Kasim, Lark decides to take the fall, pretending they accidentally posted the thread in reference to another classmate. It seems like a great idea: Lark gets closer to their crush, Kasim keeps his privacy, and Lark’s social media stats explode. But living a lie takes a toll—as does the judgment of thousands of Internet strangers. Lark tries their best to be perfect at all costs, but nothing seems good enough for the anonymous hordes––or for Kasim, who is growing closer to Lark, just like it used to be between them . . .

In the end, Lark must embrace their right to their messy emotions and learn how to be in love.

Review: This is a beautiful book that has so much heart. It feels as if Kacen Callender put their whole soul into it. The characterization, in particular, stood out to me. Even minor characters feel very developed. The characters remind us of the imperfections that we all have, and the value of remembering that we won’t get everything right. I was particular impressed by the ways in which love is depicted throughout the text. It is vast and expansive and knows no rules or boundaries. The LGBTQ representation and attention to intersectionality was among the best I’ve read (and I read a lot of YAL). Callender also depicts the raw brutality that can come with social media. There were moments in this text where I felt sick to my stomach.

The word “revolution” is in the title, and there are many moments where readers are given space to explore conceptions and understanding of activism. I particularly liked that the revolution isn’t explicit, which made me think deeply long after I turned the last page of the text.

I loved this book, and I can’t wait to discuss it with others. I certainly have many pages flagged to read again and again!

As one side note, I couldn’t decide if this book was realistic fiction or if the splash of magical realism made it magical realism. I am not much of a genre sorter, but I thought I’d throw that out there in case you are. 😉

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The rep in this book! The rep! I wish I’d been exposed to more books with representation like this when I was in school. If I was teaching this book, I would introduce some of Crenshaw’s intersectionality articles to allow students to dive into these concepts together.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Lark learn in this book?
  • How does Kasim develop as a character?
  • What do we, the readers, learn from Sable?
  • What did you learn (or think about) related to social media?
  • How are the characters in this book imperfectly human?

Flagged Passage: “That feeling when you read the last line of a book that you love? I can’t think of a lonelier feeling in the world.”

Read This If You Loved:  Books by Kacen Callender,

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman, Melissa by Alex Gino, and Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these realistic fiction books.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend
Author: Dawn Quigley
Illustrator: Tara Audibert
Published May 11th, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons, a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. It always seems like her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher have a lot to learn—about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly.

Even though Jo Jo loves her #1 best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she’s worried that she needs to figure out how to make more friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book can be used in the classroom as a tool to show the students that it’s important not to assume what another student is thinking. It is always best to vocalize concerns

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe what a reservation is according to the book?
  • Why did Kokum (grandma) move in with Jo Jo and her mom?
  • In what ways are cats and balloons different?
  • Why did Jo Jo Makoons cut the toes out of her socks? What did she do with them?
  • What happens when Jo Jo takes Mimi to school?
  • What did the new girl, Susan do when she saw Mimi in the classroom?  How did JoJo feel about Susan’s reaction?
  • What are some ways you may relate to Jo Jo?
  • Has anybody ever felt like they might lose their best friend? Why?
  • How do Jo Jo’s classmates help her see that they are friends at the end of the story.
  • What does it mean to be a good friend to you?
  • What are some positive traits we could learn from Jo Jo?
  • In the Book Jo Jo cut out the toes in her socks. Why did she do this?
  • Why do you feel that Jo Jo felt left out at school?
  • Why was it so important for Jo Jo to bring MiMi to school with her?
  • What ways could JoJo have approached her classmates at lunch before getting upset about eating alone?
  • Why do you feel it’s important for Jo Jo and her family to learn and know the language of her Ojibwe tribe?
  • What could JoJo have done better for her original rhyme to make it better?
  • Like Jo Jo if you had to bring your best friend to class with you, who would it be and why?
  • How did you feel about the nickname Jo Jo made for Chuck?
  • Why do you think Jo Jo thought the Gym teacher’s name was Jim?

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The Length of a String
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Published May 1st, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birthparents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.

Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve–the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna’s diary and Imani’s birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use this book to discuss and learn about History-World War II/Holocaust, the Jewish faith, and adoption.

This book is educational because it discusses the Holocaust from the point of view of someone who experienced it. It also has an engaging story line that makes readers want to read more to find out what will happen. This book would be very useful when teaching about the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How do you think Imani felt when she started to read about Anna’s life in her diary?
  • Think of a time you felt out of place and write about how that made you feel.
  • Why do you think Imani’s mom cries so much?
  • Have you ever felt a special connection with someone in you family?
  • If you were Imani, would you continue to look for your birth parents?
  • Suppose you wrote a diary about something that you want people/family in the future to know. What would it be about and why?
  • What are some special celebrations that you do with your family?
  • If you were Imani’s friend, what advice would you give her as she goes through this journey?
  • What is something you have that is special that you think you will give to someone in the future?
  • Why do you think people living around Imani insensitive questions?

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Melissa
Author: Alex Gino
Published August 25th, 2018 by Scholastic

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This story is a good teachable book where certain themes can be brought up and talked about within the classroom setting. Where students can ask questions that may push boundaries but can be answered in a professional setting. This novel would be useful in the classroom to teach and promote gender diversity. This book would also be great as a classroom library so that students who may be facing these issues will have something relatable to read.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Identify some ways Melissa being trans affected their life.
  • Think about a moment when someone in the book was bullied. What could have been done differently?
  • Why do you think Melissa was so scared to tell her parents about who she is?
  • What does it mean to be an Ally?
  • Describe two ways someone else helped Melissa.
  • Describe Melissa’s disposition throughout the book. How did it change?
  • Do you think that it was a good idea to talk to a therapist about the issues between Melissa and her mom?
  • Write about a time you felt scared to tell someone the truth.
  • If you were in Melissa’s class what would you do to make her feel welcome?
  • Sketch a scene from the book. Why did you pick that scene?
  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    1. Classmates
    2. George’s mom and big brother
    3. School teacher/principal
    4. George’s best friend Kelly
    5. Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think they chose to do that?
  • How does Melissa feel in the first few chapters of the book?
  • How does Melissa feel at the end of the book?
  • Why did Ms.Udell not let Melissa play Charlotte?
  • Have you ever felt lost or scared to tell the truth? If so, how did that make you feel?
  • If Melissa was in your class, what are some ways you could make her feel welcomed?
  • Name a few things that Melissa had to struggle with, because she wanted to be trans.

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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 Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez 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: This book would be useful in a classroom for teachers to expose a lot of topics to students such as bullying, family relations, and relatable school interactions like wanting to play sports or friendships and grades. As well as students that are nervous about their 6th grade year or also starting sixth grade read about someone going through the same things as them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do you think caused Lolo to pick up the wrong twins?
  • Why do you think Merci and Edna are not friends?
  • Why do you think Edna is worried about appearances and mercy is not?
  • After their first interaction, do you think Merci will end up enjoying Michael as a sunshine buddy?
  • If you were a new kid would you want a sunshine buddy? Would you want to be a sunshine buddy? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Merci handled her situations maturely? Why or why not ?
  • Why did Merci’s parents hide Lolo’s conditions from her ?
  • How would you describe Merci’s relationship with her grandfather?
  • Do you think Merci’s culture made her feel different from her peers at school ? Why or Why not ?
  • How would you handle being falsely accused of something you didn’t do like Merci when edna destroyed the mask ?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Astronuts by Jon Sciezska, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani, One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale, and Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these graphic novels.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published September 10th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animal astronauts that were sent on a mission to find a sustainable planet for humans to live on once we’ve ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet in the nose rocket! They must perform experiments to gather all the information needed to know if the planet would be able to sustain humans, Or do Plant Planet’s inhabitants have a different plan in store. This book uses real life science with a fun twist.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great for teaching all about planet Earth, how to recycle, and how to protect the planet. Also, this book does a great job on putting a fun, zany twist on its characters that make this educational, engaging, and entertaining. These are all great things that students can look forward to when reading this book and are introduced to it, in the classroom.

In terms of interdisciplinary elements, we have discussed that the best subject that the book AstroNuts can be connected to is science. This book can be seen from many different angles when connected to science, but can be more specifically geared towards the knowledge of climate change, protecting one’s planet, and cell information (ex: plant cells).

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think AstroWolf thought that he knew it all?
  • Out of all the characters in AstroNuts (AstroWolf, LaserShark, etc.), which character do you think you could relate to the most? Explain.
  • What could the AstroNuts have done differently in order to not anger the plants, when they first arrived on the planet?
  • Which of the AstroNuts do you feel accomplished their goal for the mission? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the story do you see in our society when it comes to protecting our planet?
  • How does this book inspire you when it talks about the environment and the ongoing topic of global warming?
  • Which AstroNut do you think contributed the most to their mission? Explain.
  • If you were an official for the NNASA how could you help prepare the AstroNuts for their next mission?
  • If you were to draw Plant Planet, how would it look different from Earth. What types of things would be shown in your illustration? Explain.

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El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published September 2nd, 2014 by Abrams Books

Summary: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: El Deafo teaches students about inclusivity which is something kids sometimes struggle with, and its books like this, that may just do the trick! This novel could also be a great choice as a book club book because it is a real-life story and could very well be a kids favorite. You can challenge your students, and have them create a piece of writing or art work that is inspired by this story, to show understanding. It’s great to have different books about kids with certain challenges, so other students can read and understand them better and see that they are not so different from other students, which is why it is encouraged that you to add this to your classroom library if it isn’t there already!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • In what ways can you relate to Cece?
  • Cece thought about herself as a superhero? What do you think makes a person a superhero?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • How did the illustration help you understand what is going on in the story?

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Jukebox
Author: Nidhi Chanani
Published June 22nd, 2021 by First Second

Summary: When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz discover a magical time traveling Jukebox and are transported throughout history. Traveling through time, Shahi and Naz race to find Gio and uncover the truth behind the Jukebox.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is educational because it goes over important social issues and it has an engaging story line that will catch the reader’s attention.

Literature logs would allow students to make connections and critically think while they read the novel. The students can then revisit their notes before coming together for class discussions. Free writes allow students to get their real impressions of the book out. They are asked to write freely about the novel for a given amount of time. The absence of a prompt gives the students the chance to explore the aspects of the novel that stood out to them the most.

This book’s interdisciplinary concepts contain history, music and sexuality. Each record that plays brings you back to an event in history without giving too much information, this may lead readers to want to learn more about what was happening at different points of musical history and history in general. Along with this, there was mention of sexuality and the acceptance of it in their family. This can show the reader that it is okay to have a sexuality that isn’t heterosexuality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship Shahi has with her parents and with Naz.
  • What clues does the illustrator use to let the reader know what time period they are in?
  • Why do you think Gio and Earl prefer to listen to music on records?
  • Are you familiar with any of the music artists talked about in the book? If so, who and how did you learn about them? If not, who do you think would listen to and why?
  • Do you think the store owner (Earl) was a bit selfish, if so, why do you think that?
  • How does music influence your life?
  • Do you think music and history go hand in hand to shape our communities today?
  • Which historic time travel trip stood out to you the most and why?
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most. Give your reasoning.
  • Did you think that Shahi and Naz were ever going to find their father/ uncle? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the Jukebox was so important to Gio and Earl?
  • Describe one time in history that was mentioned in the book that you would like to go back to.

Recommended For: 

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One Dead Spy
Author: Nathan Hale
Published August 1st, 2012 by Abrams Books

Summary: Nathan Hale is the first ever American spy during the Revolutionary War, who is to be hung by the British.  Before the approval of the hanging a giant history book picks him up to go through the past events through Nathans’ point of view which made him a spy during the Revolutionary War, and what the future of the war will be.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book can be used with history and also when learning the time period the book is a good reference as far as word choice and vocabulary. It gives a good reference as far as seeing into the reality of the time period. It has great comedic relief and can be used to be an ice breaker when dealing with difficult things such as history, especially with our ELLs because it incorporates pictures and texts will allow them to make connections when reading and following along with pictures as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book compare to the textbook as far as history? Does this text provide more of a reference or as pleasant reading?
  • Knowing now that the main character is in reference to a real time activity, how does this change the pace and voice of the book?
  • What connections can we make from the graphic novel to the text as we are reading the text?
  • What can we infer from the textbook to foreshadow to happen in the graphic novel?
  • Why couldn’t the British soldier hang Nathan at the beginning of the graphic novel?
  • What were Nathan Hale’s famous last words?
  • What other history figures are present in the book?
  • How did Henry Knox get the cannons to General Wasington?
  • What was the first American victory of the war? And who won it?
  • How does the setting and the time period give more background knowledge as a reader? Does it help you for see the ending of the book?

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Squish: Super Amoeba
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published May 10th, 2011 by Random House

Summary: A student named Squish (who loves Science) encounters school life with his friends Peggy and Pod. In the midst of his everyday shenanigans, Squish discovers the meaning of right and wrong when faced with unexpected occurrences at his school. Looking up to his favorite role model, “Super Amoeba”, Squish is determined to become his own superhero, save his friend Peggy from the school bully, and fight against the difficulties that come his way!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When it comes to interdisciplinary elements in this book, we have found that the closest subject that could be connected to Squish is science. Some ways in which you could connect the book to science is by conducting a couple of experiments where students can find amoebas, or other microorganisms,  under a microscope. Amoebas can be found in water puddles and lakes, and most of these places are nearby a school, which can be a great field day for students as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What event(s) in the book do you think shows poor/unfriendly behavior? Why?
  • What is a Planaria? Why did the authors make the principal of Squish’s school a Planaria?
  • If you were a friend of Squish, what advice would you give him when confronting the bully in the story? Would you not give him advice? Why or why not?
  • What types of connections could you make with Squish’s character, and his emotions at the end of the story? Explain.
  • Why do you think Mr. Rotifer didn’t ask more questions on why Squish helped Lynwood?
  • Is Pod a good friend in your opinion? Why or why not?
  • What animal would you want to eat the bully in the story? Explain.
  • Would you help the bully cheat to protect your friend?
  • What are some ways that Squish could have handled his bullying situation?Why or why not?

Recommended For: 

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Interview with Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Authors of And Tango Makes Three

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I am happy to start Pride Month with this interview as books with representations of all families need to be shared with all students as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Sims-Bishop, 1990). As an educator in Florida, we are being challenged as are the books we love and students need. Sharing diverse representation, of race, culture, sexual & gender identity, and more, will only lead to empathy and a safer more happy world.

And Tango Makes Three
Authors: Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: June 1st, 2005 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Introduction from Simon & Schuster: Florida’s new law, to take effect in July, prohibits classroom “discussion” and “instruction” about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in grades K-3, as well as any discussion or instruction about these topics that would be considered not age appropriate in the eyes of the State in grades 4-12. And Tango Makes Three, a multiple award-winning picture book, tells the simple and true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who pair-bonded, built a nest, and with the help of a kind zoo-keeper, together hatched an egg.

The book is written for children ages 4 to 8, but the new Florida law may prevent their teachers from sharing or discussing it with them. Teachers use And Tango Makes Three and books like it to help children with same-sex parents feel welcome in their school and to help their classmates understand the different family structure of their classmates. Lessons like these are invaluable to children of same-sex parents. Censorship of facts about gay families and lives, like that required by the new law, threatens the mental health of children with same-sex parents as well as that of LGBTQIA+ children themselves.

Since its initial publication, And Tango Makes Three has been challenged and banned countless times. The American Library Association has reported that it was the most frequently challenged book between 2006-2010, and the second most frequently challenged in 2009. It was also the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009, and the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.

Interview: 

Kellee: How did you first learn about Tango and her family? And why did you choose to tell their story? 

Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson: We first read about the penguins over breakfast one Saturday in a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith entitled “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name.”  Justin said, “Peter, you have to listen to this,” and there was just something about hearing the story read aloud that made us think of a children’s book.

As prospective parents ourselves, we knew that there was an unmet need among the children of gay parents for stories involving families like ours.  And we knew that while many parents who are not gay might wish to introduce their children to the subject of gay families, many felt unsure as to how to approach the topic, what language to use, how specific to get, and so on.  This story seemed to us a perfect way for them to open a discussion of about queer families with the confidence of knowing that they were doing it in an age-appropriate way.

K: What was your hope in sharing Tango’s story?

PP & JR: Like any author, we hoped the book would find an audience. We wanted kids to be moved by the story, and to expand their understanding and awareness of different kinds of families. We are most gratified when we hear the book has been a part of a child’s bedtime routine or a family’s life for years.

K: When you first heard about And Tango Makes Three being challenged, what were your first emotions? Reaction? 

PP & JR: We did anticipate that there would be some resistance to the book when we wrote it. But we could never have imagined then the extent of the challenges it would face or the strength of the support it would get around the world.

I think you never forget the first challenge. For us, that was in Missouri, when a library director who had received complaints moved our book from the fiction to the (less browsed) nonfiction section in order not to ‘blindside’ parents. The story got picked up by the AP (much thanks to a local news reporter who read library’s log looking for stories). We heard about it on a Saturday night, and were like, “Okay, this is happening…”  The story literally travelled around the world. Stephen Colbert held up the book on “The Colbert Report,” and proclaimed it the Number Two Threat to the American Way of Life (the number one threat was people who are not blond).

We have a coffee mug at home that we stumbled across in a toy store with our daughter a few years ago. On it are displayed a dozen or so banned book titles. There’s Animal Farm, 1984, and The Origin of Species. And our title is snuggled in there amongst the rest of them. We thought the juxtaposition of our book with these great works was kind of hilarioius. But we’d by lying if we said we weren’t also proud. In the years that we read TANGO aloud at the ALA’s Banned Books Week Readout in Chicago, we did so alongside folks like Steven Chbosky, Robie Harris, and Judy Blume. It’s an honor to be in such great company. But in truth, being banned is painful and infuriating. Any pleasure one can squeeze out of it is worth holding onto, if it softens the blow.

K: The “Don’t Say Gay” bill does not allow any sexual orientation or gender identity instruction in grades K-3. I would argue that And Tango Makes Three is not INSTRUCTION of either listed things; do you agree?

PP & JR: The law is purposely written to be vague, leaving terms like “instruction” and “sexual orientation” undefined. We recently lampooned that aspect of the law in the Washington Post, showing that banning discussion or instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity means there can be no talk about men and women marrying or indeed any book that depicts characters as having a gender.

We wouldn’t recommend going down the rabbit hole of arguing what does or doesn’t qualify as instruction. The law should be attacked for its discriminatory intent, it’s manipulation of parent fears to stoke the political careers of its authors, and the damage it will do to children and families in Florida.

K: If someone tried to state that And Tango Makes Three is not age appropriate for K-3, what would your counterargument be? 

PP & JR: The book actually grew out of Justin’s experience as co-author of a book about the very real challenges parents face when trying to address sexual topics with their children–Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know about Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask). It’s hard to imagine that anyone who actually read Tango could consider it as not age appropriate; however, we would place the burden on anyone who made such a claim to explain it. Parents who hold negative views about gay families may object to the book, because it presents one such family in a positive light. But that’s quite a different matter than describing it as inappropriate for all children based on their age. Explaining that sometimes two people of the same sex form a couple and make a family is appropriate at any age.

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Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota, Illustrated by J.R. Doyle

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Pixels of You
Author: Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota
Illustrator: J.R. Doyle
Published February 8, 2022

Summary: A human and human-presenting AI slowly become friends—and maybe more—in this moving YA graphic novel.

In a near future, augmentation and AI changed everything and nothing. Indira is a human girl who has been cybernetically augmented after a tragic accident, and Fawn is one of the first human-presenting AI. They have the same internship at a gallery, but neither thinks much of the other’s photography. But after a huge public blowout, their mentor gives them an ultimatum: work together on a project or leave her gallery forever. Grudgingly, the two begin to collaborate, and what comes out of it is astounding and revealing for both of them. Pixels of You is about the slow transformation of a rivalry to a friendship to something more as Indira and Fawn navigate each other, the world around them—and what it means to be an artist and a person.

Praise: 

“Ultimately a short but sweet story about two girls slowly falling in love. . .The art, however, is striking, with bold, stark colors; plays on light and dark; and disrupted frames depicting photos and extending emotional moments.”

Kirkus Reviews

“The robot/human relationship serves as a reflection on managing cultural alienation, and the girls’ chemistry is well developed, building to a surprising, sweet conclusion. Hirsh and Ota’s story is a combination of broad narrative strokes and intimate moments, and Doyle’s manga-inspired, deliciously purple and pink illustrations float with ease through a near-future New York.”

School Library Journal

About the Creators: Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota are the Ignus Award winning team behind Lucky Penny, which won a Cybil Award, was a JLG selection, and received a starred review from PW. They live in Brooklyn. J.R. Doyle is an up-and-coming artist, creator of Knights-Errant, a successful web comic and Kickstarter project. They live in Brooklyn.

Review: This short but impactful graphic novel hits on so much! It is an interesting look at where our world may be going when it comes to AI and humans living side by side. It can be taken on the surface for what it is: a human dealing with the rise of AI and her own inclusion of an eye transplant and a human-presenting AI who is dealing with not fitting in anywhere. But it can also be discussed within the context of identity in general. There is one point where Fawn is trying to prove herself to Indira when two robot-presenting AI tell her that she isn’t better than them. This can definitely tie into so many trying to find their place when they are in between worlds.

I will say, my one criticism is actually what also may be one of its strengths: its length. I felt like there was so much unanswered in the story, specifically in the world building, but maybe we’ll have more in the future!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to finding love from your sci-fi graphic novel fans, I’d love to see the premise for this world to be used as a creative writing prompt or even an exploratory essay about how the students would take the world or the commentary throughout that discusses bias could be used as a short research project or expository essay. Additionally, there are great aspects throughout that talk about photography, such as lighting, exposure, and setting.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is Indira haunted by AI in her dreams?
  • What did Indira originally think about Fawn?
  • How does Fawn not fit in anywhere? How does that make her feel?
  • In the future, do you think AI and humans will be seen as equals?
  • How does photography bring Fawn and Indira together?
  • What did Indira realize after meeting Fawn’s parents?
  • Why does Fawn call her parents her parents even though AI wouldn’t have parents?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Science fiction, graphic novels, Isaac Asimov’s robot short stories

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

A-Okay by Jarad Greene

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A-Okay
Author: Jarad Greene
Published November 2nd, 2021 by HarperAlley

Summary: A-Okay by Jarad Greene is a vulnerable and heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Praise:

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty. –Kirkus Reviews

Supported by expressive, well-drawn, and colorful illustrations, this compelling graphic novel will appeal to fans of middle-grade graphic memoirs. Booklist

Greene’s use of color, line, and composition in his comic-panel layouts enhances the humor and angst of this particular slice of adolescent life. -The Horn Book

Jay’s arc is distinct and refreshing, and the story’s emphasis on friendships and body image issues is likely to resonate with any reader who has wished to jump out of their skin. Publishers Weekly

A story about kids learning to feel good about themselves on their own terms is no small thing, and Jay is a low-key, lovely protagonist. Greene’s simple, bubbly color illustrations are friendly and accessible, matching the content perfectly. An earnest exploration of adolescence, recognizable and relevant to middle schoolers coming into their own. -School Library Journal

About the Author: Jarad Greene is a cartoonist originally from Lutz, Florida, who now lives in the curious village of White River Junction, Vermont. In addition to his own comics, Jarad works on staff at the Center for Cartoon Studies and has helped color many graphic novels for younger readers. He is also the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity. Find him online at www.jaradgreene.com.

Review: My students and I really love middle school memoir (or memoir-esque) graphic novels–I cannot keep them on the shelf, and A-Okay is going to fall right in with that group. What makes a book like this so popular is that it takes something that students need to connect with or that they need to understand and shines a spotlight on a likeable character working their way through the challenge. A-Okay fits this perfectly with Jay’s wonderful character arc as he makes his way through 8th grade figuring out his passions, true friends, and sexual identity; with the focus on Jay’s acne which many middle schoolers deal with but may never have seen in a book; and with the very realistic middle school friendship drama that happens as childhood friends begin to become their own person. This engaging storyline along with Greene’s colorful, detailed, and distinct illustrations will make this a graphic novel I know will never be on my school library’s shelf.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: HarperCollins created a Classroom Conversations page for A-Okay which includes a book talk and five topics with questions for group discussion:

It can also be accessed through the publisher’s A-Okay page. 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Middle school memoirs like Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, New Kid by Jerry Craft, and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studios and the publisher for providing a copy for review!**

Don’t Judge Me by Lisa Schroeder

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Don’t Judge Me
Author: Lisa Schroeder
Publication Date: November 10, 2020 by Scholastic

Summary: Inspired by a true story of girl empowerment, acclaimed author Lisa Schroeder’s new novel explores trust, self-worth, and speaking up — especially when you’re told to keep quiet.

Hazel doesn’t like to make waves. Middle school is hard enough without causing more trouble, right? She’s happy just eating lunch in the library with her BFF, writing secret haikus, and taking care of an adorable rescue tortoise.

But then Hazel discovers a list that rates the girls at her middle school based on their looks — started by her best friend’s older brother. She knows she has to do something, and she can’t do it alone. The wave she’ll be making might turn into a tsunami, but if Hazel can find the courage to speak up, she might just change everything.

About the Author: Once upon a time, Lisa Schroeder wanted to join Encyclopedia Brown on his fun adventures. Since that didn’t work out, she decided to be an author instead. Lisa’s written over twenty books for kids and teens including the popular verse novels for teens I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and CHASING BROOKLYN, and her most recent YA novels, THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU and ALL WE HAVE IS NOW. She’s also the author of the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS, SEE YOU ON A STARRY NIGHT and WISH ON ALL THE STARS. Her books have been translated into foreign languages and have been selected for state reading lists. Lisa is a native Oregonian and lives with her family outside of Portland.

Review: This book is so timely and important! My county just changed their dress code, and it was introduced by a board member in our local newspaper with the title “Good riddance to dress code that singles out girls,” and there are groups of girls fighting for less discrimination in school all over the nationDon’t Judge Me is based off an event in 2019 where a group of girls in Bethesda, Maryland fought back about the toxic culture in their school.

But don’t worry–the book is not didactic, though it definitely does teach a lesson; instead, you get a book with a topic that is so important, combined with a engaging story with not only main characters who I ended up loving but also well constructed and detailed secondary characters, including parents! Oh, and a tortoise! I loved watching Hazel find her voice, Tori find her confidence, Dion find his friends, and Pip find his home!

Another thing I really liked about Schroeder’s story is she showed that kids can make a difference. She used Hazel to show that it doesn’t take radical insubordination to make that difference. Instead it takes a purpose, a plan, support, and execution. Hazel was awesome!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think Hazel did the right thing the notebook?
  • Why do you think popularity was so important to Tori?
  • How is Mr. Buck an example of one of the problems presented in the novel?
  • Why do you think the author included Dion in the story?
  • What is a safe place for you like the library was for Hazel, Dion, and Tori?
  • What do you think the author hopes you take from this book?
  • Do you think that Hazel dealt with meeting with admin well?
  • What is toxic masculinity and how can we fight it in our schools and community?

Flagged Passages: [Hazel just entered the library during the first week of school during lunch]

As I started to unpack my lunch, I heard snifling.

I turned around and saw a boy curled up, arms hugging his knees, against the shelf of picture books that some of the Language Arts teachers like to use in their class. His face was buried in his arms so all I could see was his curly, black hair. I looked at Tori, hoping she’d run over to ask the boy what was wrong. I know I could have done it, but I’m not every good at that kind of thing…

‘What’s wrong?’ Tori asked. ‘Do you need help with something?’

He wiped his face across the sleeve of his shirt, then shook his head ducking back into his arms.

‘Come on,’ Tori said. We want to help. Can you talk to us? Please? We’re super nice, honest. Oh, and I’m Tori and this is Hazel. What’s your name?’

He raised his head and sniffled. ‘Dion. And don’t y’all go and tell people you saw me crying. It’ll justm ake things worse.’

‘We won’t,’ I said. ‘We’d never do that.’

‘My moms say boys should cry more often,’ Tori said matter-of-factly. ‘That the world needs more sensitive men. Or something like that.’

Dion sniffled again. ‘Tell that to the bullies of the world.’ (Chapter 11)

Read This If You Love: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee, Nat Enough series by Maria Scrivan, Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya, The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus, Here We Are edited by Kelly Jensen

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Lisa for providing a copy for review!**