Author Guest Post: “Using Fiction to Understand and Enrich Non-Fiction” by Kimberly Behre Kenna, Author of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

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“Using Fiction to Understand and Enrich Non-Fiction”

When I was a young student, I found history boring. Back then, it required lots of memorization and comprehension of readings that felt flat to me, dry as the age-old dust they were steeped in. Years later, a gifted teacher flipped the switch—she introduced the personal stories behind historical figures and events and BAM! I was hooked. Learning about Hatshepsut’s struggles as one of the few female Egyptian pharaohs, or Wangari Maathai’s crusade to teach African women to plant trees and claim their independence and power, excited me and provoked lots of questions. I imagined what it’d be like to be those women and face those challenges. This led me to research more and to care more, which then led to greater retention of concepts and the desire and ability to share them with others.

            As a fifth-grade teacher, I sought ways for my students to step into the shoes of others so they too could attempt to feel some of the pain, passion, and motivation of historic figures. In my classroom, we did this through writing projects, dramatic interpretations, and culminating performances. For instance, during our exploration of ecology, we read picture book biographies of environmentalists, including those who were not scientists. How did Pete Seeger’s singing and songwriting impact the Hudson River? Simon Rodia built the Watts Towers in Los Angeles from recyclables. How did he do this when he didn’t speak English? We cast a broad net so students could see that the preservation and rehabilitation of the natural world could be approached in many ways, and, most importantly, it could include them.

As we examined local problems affecting Long Island Sound, we wondered how environmentalists from the past might attempt to solve them. Each student chose one environmentalist and wrote a monologue which they presented to the rest of the class in costume, using props to introduce themselves. Students also took part in a popular activity called History Speaks, a mock talk show that got kids to think more deeply about what motivated these environmentalists. As host, I facilitated a conversation between the “guests,” students impersonating ecologists, and the audience of other students who asked them questions. Why did MaVynee Betsch give up her career in opera to save American Beach in Florida from development, even when she got so sick she couldn’t eat? How did Chico Mendes stay brave in the face of his attackers as he worked to protect the rainforests in Brazil? Kids learned how to craft deep interview questions. Those representing the ecologists had to think on their feet, often answering them by extrapolating from facts that they already knew. Sometimes their answers or their body language caused the audience (or host!) to debate whether they spoke the truth, another useful discussion when it comes to teaching how to research. This seemingly simple, playful activity encouraged critical thinking and active listening.

The resurrected ecologists also participated in a roundtable discussion to brainstorm a list of creative ways that they, as a team, could alleviate one of Long Island Sound’s problems. They experimented with combining strategies used in the past with newer present day ideas. Could George Washington Carver’s ideas about soil conservation possibly apply to saving Connecticut’s shoreline? How would he and Jacques Cousteau interact as team members? Finally, using notes gathered from all these activities, students wrote stories about resurrected dead ecologists who helped confused modern day activists solve problems around Long Island Sound and shared them with younger students. Other times, groups wrote a story as a script, built props, and then performed it for an audience. With their deep research into the history of environmentalism, students armed themselves with enough knowledge to become passionate environmental activists themselves.

Using the imagination to extrapolate on what we know as fact is a fun and enlightening practice that promotes rich discussion, enhances the development of empathy, and allows kids to practice ways of assessing “the truth.” The strategies that I used in my classroom and the memories of my explorations with students were the seeds for my middle-grade novel, Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade, whose protagonist conjures up ghosts of environmentalists to help her save her beloved salt marsh sanctuary. I hope readers gain respect for the legacies we’ve been gifted by those who are no longer with us and are inspired to consider how their own legacy can be a gift to future generations.

Published February 2, 2023 by Fitzroy Books

About the Book: When Artemis Sparke has had it with humans, she heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants and mollusks who don’t make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it. But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the salt marsh is dying. Artemis discovers that the historic hotel where she lives with her mom may be part of the problem, but speaking up would mean confronting the cranky hotel owner who happens to be her mom’s boyfriend and boss. Artemis conjures up help from deceased ecologists, and as she works to untangle their clues, she finds family secrets that could be the key to saving the salt marsh. An empowering read about the importance of finding your voice, “Artemis Sparke” will strike a chord with kid activists everywhere. 

About the Author: After years as an adolescent and family counselor, and then as a fifth grade teacher of ecology and language arts, Kimberly Behre Kenna returned to school for her MA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her middle-grade novel, “Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade” was a finalist and received Honorable Mention in the 2019 Tassy Walden New Voices in Children’s Literature Competition, and will be published by Fitzroy Books in 2023. Another book in her Brave Girl Collection, “Jett Jamison and the Secret Storm” is forthcoming from Black Rose Publishing. A third in the collection, as yet unpublished, won second place in The Institute of Children’s Literature 2022 MG Mystery First Pages Contest. Her poems and short stories have been published in American Writers Review, Mused, Plumtree Tavern, and Rubbertop Review. Her full-length play, “Ana’s Hummingbird,” was given a staged reading at The Dramatists Guild in NYC. She’s a member of SCBWI and PEN America, and now devotes herself to writing full time. Connect with her at www.kimberlybehrekenna.com

Thank you, Kimberly, for this great post showing that connection between fiction & non-fiction!

Kellee’s 2022 Reading Round Up: Statistics, Favorite Reads, #mustreadin2022 End-of-Year Check In, #mustreadin2023 List, and Random 2023 Reading Challenges

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Here is my 2022 Reading Round Up!


And just for fun: here is Trent’s 2022 Year in Books!
(It was my first year we tracked his independent reading on Goodreads; it was so much fun to get this data at the end of the year!)


Here are my favorite books read in 2022! Although not all of them are 2022 published books, 43 of them are (and 1 is even 2023). If you want to learn about these books visit my FAVORITE READS IN 2022 Goodreads shelf


I introduced my #mustreadin2022 list last January (<– visit that link to see the list in its entirety), and I will say that I was quite successful! I read 36 out of 42 books on my list!


I love the Must Read challenge! I took part in 2015-2019 & 2021-2022, so I am happy to join again! It helps me remember to read certain books!

Thank you to Carrie at There’s A Book for That for starting this challenge and to Leigh Ann of A Day in the Life and Cheriee of Library Matters for reviving it in 2022.

For those of you new to the challenge, it has you take a look at the books you wanted to read, but for whatever reason, you have not gotten to them. You then make your own personal list of books you want to commit to (trying to) read.

There is no set number of books and books can be published from any year, in any genre or format, and in any category. These books will not be the only ones you read this year but will be the ones included in your personal challenge.

This year, I may have gone a bit wild with my lists. I just couldn’t choose! (If you follow here, you know that is a trend of mine…) This means, I ended up with 64 titles on my #mustreadin2023 list which I’ve separated into middle grade and young adult. (And to be honest, I am tempted to make an adult and graphic novel/manga list because I love having these lists as reminders!)

Middle Grade

  1. 12 to 22 by Jen Calonita
  2. The Accidental Apprentice (Wildlore #1) by Amanda Foody
  3. Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
  4. Answers in the Pages by David Levithan
  5. Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer by James S. Murray & Carsen Smith
  6. Astrid the Unstoppable by Majia Parr
  7. Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron
  8. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
  9. The Mystery of Clockwork Sparrow (Sinclair’s Mysteries #1) by Katherine Woodfine
    *Oops! I thought it was just named The Clockwork Sparrow but it isn’t, so it is out of order alphabetically…
  10. Consider the Octopus by Nora Raleigh Baskin & Gae Polisner
  11. Cuba in my Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas
  12. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (Emmy #1) by Lynne Jonell
  13. Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Brooks by Caela Carter
  14. The First Rule of Climate Club by Carrie Firestone
  15. H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education (HIVE #1) by Mark Walden
  16. Troublemaker by John Cho
    *Oops! I thought it was named John Cho Troublemaker but it isn’t, so it is out of order alphabetically
  17. Love Like Sky #1 by Leslie C. Youngblood
  18. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
  19. The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart
  20. My Own Lightning by Lauren Wolk
  21. New From Here by Kelly Yang
  22. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Wingfeather Saga #1) by Andrew Peterson
  23. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Penderwicks #1) by Jeanne Birdsall
  24. A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
  25. The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
  26. Race to the End of the World (Mapmaker Chronicles #1) by A.L. Tait
  27. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
  28. A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  29. Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
  30. The Tornado by Jake Burt
  31. Tuesdays at the Castle (Castle Glower #1) by Jessica Day George
  32. Tumble by Celia Pérez
  33. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (The Vanderbeekers #1) by Karina Yan Glaser
  34. Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

Young Adult

  1. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  2. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
  3. Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
    *This is a reread. I want to read the sequels, so I am starting at the beginning.
  4. The Extraordinaries (Extraordinaries #1) by T.J. Klune
    *This is a reread. I want to read the sequels, so I am starting at the beginning.
  5. Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by Candace Fleming, M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park, and Lisa Ann Sandell
  6. The First to Die at the End (Death Cast #0) by Adam Silvera
  7. Five Survive by Holly Jackson
  8. Flight 171 by Amy Christine Parker
  9. Furia by Yamila Saied Méndez
  10. Gamechanger by Neal Shusterman
  11. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  12. Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed
  13. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
  14. The Ivies by Alexa Donne
  15. Legendborn (Legendborn #1) by Tracy Deonn
  16. The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
  17. Me: Moth by Amber McBride
  18. Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime by Candance Fleming
  19. The Murder Game by Carrie Doyle
  20. The Naturals (The Naturals #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  21. Nothing More to Tell by Karen McManus
  22. Queer Ducks (And Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer
  23. The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
  24. The Selection (Selection #1) by Keira Cass
  25. Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1) by Tahereh Mafi
  26. Simone Breaks All the Rules (Simone Breaks All the Rules #1) by Debbie Rigaud
  27. So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix (Remixed Classics #2) by Bethany C. Morrow
  28. Steelheart (The Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson
  29. Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson
  30. Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson
  31. We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
  32. We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds
  33. We Were Kings by Court Stevens
  34. What the Fact?: Debunking Disinformation to Detangle the Truth by Seema Yasmin

I jumped on the 12 Challenge that was going around social media. My friends recommended so many that I did two lists though I’ll be honest: this is an overwhelming list for me! I had not read over 10 adult books since my literature degree until this year, and all but 2 of these are adult books, so we’ll see how it goes. Luckily there is no pressure!

  1. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  2. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  3. Bewilderment by Richard Powers
  4. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
  5. Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimand
  6. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. Jean Mandel
  7. Lovelight Farms by B.K. Borison
  8. Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close
  9. Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
  10. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
  11. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  12. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  13. Rise of Kyoshi by F.G. Yee
  14. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
  15. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  16. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  17. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  18. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  19. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
  20. The Wall by John Lanchester
  21. The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay
  22. Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson
  23. Push by Sapphire
  24. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

Barnes and Noble also put out two 2023 Challenges! I will lackadaisical take part in these too–so fun! (You can click on any of the B&N images to see them larger.)

Happy reading in 2023, friends!!!
To see all the books I’m reading, visit my READ Goodreads shelf and feel free to follow 📖💙

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Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight by Erin Yun

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Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight
Author: Erin Yun
Published September 13th, 2022 by Fabled Films Press

Summary: Korean American Pippa Park picks up right where she left off . . . trying to balance basketball, school, friends, working at the struggling family laundromat, and fitting in. Eliot, her math tutor—and the cutest boy at school—is finally paying attention to her. And Marvel—her childhood friend—is making her required volunteering much more interesting. But things with the Royals, her new friends and teammates who rule the school, still feel a bit rocky. Especially because Caroline, a head Royal, would like nothing more than to see Pippa fail.

So when Pippa is faced with hosting the annual Christmas Eve party that could make or break her social life, how can she say no? Will Pippa make enough money to cover the costs while juggling crushes and everything else? With courage and determination, Pippa sets out to host the party, find the perfect dress, pick the right boy, and stay true to her real self.

Praise: “Pippa explores the highs and lows of friendships and first crushes in this well-crafted sequel to Pippa Park Raises Her Game. ..VERDICT This warm-hearted, feel-good series continues to realistically explore one Korean American girl’s middle school experience in a relatable way.” —School Library Journal

About the Author: Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas and used to play basketball as a middle grader. She received her BA in English from New York University and is currently pursuing her Masters in Creative Writing at Cambridge. She developed the Pippa Park Author Program, an interactive writing workshop, which she has conducted in person and virtually at schools, libraries, and bookstores.

Review: The second Pippa Park book does everything that the first book did well: a plot and characters that any middle schooler will connect with! When the book opens, Pippa has finally found her friends, even though he doesn’t feel totally accepted, and everything is going swell, but that doesn’t ever stay in the world of middle school drama–in comes a party to plan on a non-existent budget and two crushes that Pippa can’t choose between. Add into that a dash of strict guardian, an unexpected change in holiday plans, and an unwanted guest, and you have a story that keeps the reader guessing, rooting for Pippa (and sometimes screaming at Pippa), and waiting to see how it all works out. I love a true middle school book, and Pippa Park fits right in that range! It is a must get for libraries and classrooms!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: The publisher has provided an educator’s guide for the book:

Flagged Passages: Read an excerpt of Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight here!

Read This If You Love: Middle school books filled with friendship and crush drama

Recommended For: 

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

Author Guest Post: “Dual Narratives” by Tricia Springstubb, Author of Looking For True

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“Dual Narratives”

You are not the center of the universe.

Of all the hard lessons we learn growing up, this may be the hardest. Discovering that the world won’t always give us what we want, when we want it, is hard. Understanding that other people see things differently from us and, what’s more, they may be right, is really hard.

As with so many things (maybe everything?), books can help. By their very nature, stories ask us to see through other eyes. Reading, we live inside other heads, share the joys, sorrows and fears of other hearts. Whenever I visit schools, I ask kids for book recommendations. I’ll never forget the look on a fourth grader’s face as she raptly described a book where two characters experienced the exact same thing but described it in two totally different ways. Hers was the look of revelation!

Before Looking for True, I’d never succeeded in writing a boy main character. Somehow I could never find the right voice–I’m not sure why. Maybe I was waiting for Jude, a guy who’s actually pretty stingy with his words but nonetheless started whispering in my ear. Quiet as he is, I needed to introduce Jude to Gladys, who is a blabbermouth. Then along came True, an abused dog. While Jude labels her ugly and Gladys calls her adorable, each of them feels the pullind a connect with True

Writing from two points of view, I could show how Gladys knows Jude is in love with True long before Jude does. I could show how Jude, who’s got lots of trouble at home, thinks Gladys has a perfect family, even as Gladys, who’s adopted, worries about losing her parents’ love. Meanwhile, the god-like reader gets to see not only how often they misunderstand each other but also how, by caring for True, they slowly discover all they share. For me, someone who usually writes a close third point of view, this was as close to omniscience as I’ll ever get. I loved writing this book.

A dual narrative can be great fun for students to try. They can do this in a quick writing prompt, describing something (a blizzard, a rock concert) from two points of view (a school kid, a tired parent).  In stories, a dual narrative gives them the freedom to write shorter scenes and try out different voices. While some students will choose to create a clear antagonist and protagonist, others will find themselves puzzling over how the characters are different, where they connect, and what it all might mean.

Some wonderful mentor texts, stories told from two (or sometimes more) point of view:

  • So Done by Paula Chase is a powerful YA about two girls whose long friendship is fraying after a summer apart. Chase explores ambition, secrets, and loyalty.
  • Pax by Sarah Pennypacker is a remarkable MG novel about a boy and the fox he has raised from a kit, told from both the child’s and the animal’s points of view.
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly gives voice to three siblings, each tracing a separate orbit in a troubled family. This historical MG is about science, resilience and the enduring bonds brothers and sisters share.
  •  Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared) by Thyra Heder is a whimsical picture book where, halfway through, the perspective switches from the child to Alfie. Only the reader gets to know the full story! 

You are not the center of the universe. A hard lesson! But writing and reading stories with multiple narrators teaches us this: You are one shining light in a wide, wonderful galaxy of fellow stars.

Published November 1st, 2022 by Margaret Ferguson Books

About the Book: Though they live in the same small, Rust Belt town, there’s no way Jude and Gladys—a quiet, sullen boy big for his age and a tiny, know-it-all girl– could ever be friends.

Until…along comes a dog with a crooked tail and true-blue eyes. Gladys has never liked dogs, and Jude’s afraid of them, but this one, who’s being sadly mistreated, tugs at both their hearts. They hatch a plan to hide True in an abandoned house on the edge of town till they can figure out a better solution. As their ties to the dog–and to one another–deepen, the idea of giving her up becomes impossible. Keeping such a big secret becomes increasingly difficult.  Then True’s owner offers a big return for her return–money Jude’s family desperately needs. The friendship, and True’s fate, hangs in the balance.

Told in alternating voices, this fresh, moving, suspenseful novel explores the joys and challenges of opening our hearts to others, whether they have two legs or four.

“A heartfelt contemporary novel about unexpected friendship that kicks off with a Because of Winn-Dixie–tinged bond. . . . Springstubb gracefully conveys their need for both connection and independence, portraying sweet, protective relationships that each has with young children. Alternating third-person perspectives render unique characterizations.”—Publishers Weekly

“A bighearted novel. . . .”—Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, Moonpenny Island and Every Single Second. She’s also written four books in the Cody chapter book series, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, as well as the picture book Phoebe and Digger, illustrated by Jeff Newman. Her newest picture book, Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures, illustrated by Elaheh Taherian, is an ALA Notable Book. Kirkus called her 2021 middle grade The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, a “perfect thing in the universe of juvenile literature.” Her next novel, Looking for True, publishes November 1, 2022. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s library associate. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters and four perfect grandbabies, she lives with her husband, garden and cats in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com

Thank you, Tricia, for this reflection and recommendations!

The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

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The Pants Project
Author: Cat Clarke
Published March 1, 2017 by Sourcebooks Young Readers

Summary: A touching, humorous story of strong-willed eleven-year-old Liv, who is determined to challenge his school’s terrible dress code and change his life. Inspire empathy and compassion (and a few laughs!) in young readers with this stunning middle-grade novel.

Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.

“My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl. I’m transgender. Which is a bit like being a Transformer. Only not quite as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.”

Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.

Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.

“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”

I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me.
The issue was the first word. Girls.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Liv to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy—it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Review: This book is a book about identity, but not completely about Liv’s gender identity. It is also about identity within a school, within a friend group, and within the greater system we are all in. With all of these identity journeys happening at once in the book, there is a lot of figurative bumps and bruises along the way in the form of losing friends, homophobic bullies, people stuck in their ways, and sexism; however, there is also some wonderful positives: a better friend who loves Live for who he is, no matter what; a family that is supportive and an example of what all families should be; teachers who are seen as allies within a system that not many are seen; and finding friends that feel like family.

On top of the identity journey, there is also the story of The Pants Project which showed Liv and other students fight a sexist part of their school’s system and doing it the right way.

All in all, it was a pleasure to read about Liv’s time starting middle school and all of the change he is able to make.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book tackles a healthy and practical way that students can make a difference. This book would be a great conversation about how to make a change that you want to see in a way that isn’t confrontational in a dangerous way.

The book will also find readers in school, classroom, and public libraries and book clubs!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is what Liv did to change his school’s policies go well? Not well?
  • How is Jacob a better friend than Maisie?
  • How were Liv’s parents supportive yet also tough on Liv?
  • Why do you think Jade acts and says the things she does? What do you think her consequences should be?
  • Do you agree how the news article was written? How would you have written the article?
  • Why did Mr. Lynch act the way he did during the protest? How do you think he wanted to act?
  • How would you feel if your dress code was as strict as Liv’s?
  • How was Liv’s first impression of Jacob wrong?
  • Did Jacob’s secret surprise you? What clues did you see? Why do you think he hid it?

Flagged Passages: “‘Hi, I’m Liv. What’s your name?’

The boy looked up at me, blinking slowly. He narrowed his eyes, acting as if I’d asked a really tough question. ‘Jacob. What kind of name is Liv anyways?’

I disliked him immediately. He was obviously one of those boys. The popular ones. His dark brown hair was messy, but not properly messy. It was the kind of messy that requires a lot of time spent in front of the mirror and loads of hair gunk. He was slouched in his seat, perfectly at ease, like there was no where he’d rather be. Whenever I sat that way at Gram’s house, she always told me to ‘sit up properly-like a lady.’ You can probably guess how much I enjoyed that.

The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope about Jacob was his eyes. They didn’t seem to be the eyes of a terrible person. There was kindness lurking there under the smirk.

I sat down next to him and shoved his leg so it was under his half of the table. Why do real boys always take up so much space? I mentally kicked myself. I don’t know when I’d started thinking of them as ‘real’ boys. I knew it was wrong; I wasn’t Pinnochio. I was as much a real boy as Jacob–even if no one else could see it yet.

‘It’s my kind of name.'” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Melissa by Alex Gino, Linked by Gordon Korman, Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Recommended For: 

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

Drawing Outside the Lines: A Julia Morgan Novel by Susan J. Austin

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Drawing Outside the Lines: A Julia Morgan Novel
Author: Susan J. Austin
Published October 18th, 2022 by SparkPress

Summary: Meet the brilliant, fearless, and ambitious Julia Morgan. In 1883, eleven-year-old Julia visits the amazing new Brooklyn Bridge—an experience that ignites within her a small but persistent flame. Someday, she decides, she too will build an astounding structure.

Growing up in horse-and-buggy Oakland, Julia enjoys daring fence walks, climbing the tallest trees, and constantly testing her mother’s patience with her lack of interest in domestic duties and social events. At a time when “brainy” girls are the object of ridicule, Julia excels in school and consistently outsmarts her ornery brothers—but she has an even greater battle ahead. When she enrolls at university to study engineering, the male students taunt her, and the professors belittle her. Through it all, however, Julia holds on to her dream of becoming an architect. She faces each challenge head-on, firmly standing up to those who believe a woman’s place is in the home. Fortunately, the world has yet to meet anyone like the indomitable Miss Morgan.

Drawing Outside the Lines is an imagined childhood of pioneering architect Julia Morgan, who left behind her an extraordinary legacy of creativity, beauty, and engineering marvels.

Author: Susan Austin

Praise:

  • “Austin imagines Julia Morgan’s life with authority.  She makes an important historical figure accessible to us.  Drawing Outside the Lines makes us see and feel what Morgan was up against, which makes her spectacular work all the more impressive.” —Gennifer Choldenko, Newbery Honor-winning author of the Alcatraz series
  • “Austin imagines Julia Morgan’s life with authority.  She makes an important historical figure accessible to us.  Drawing Outside the Lines makes us see and feel what Morgan was up against, which makes her spectacular work all the more impressive.” —Joan Schoettler, author of Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life 
  • “Diligent research and a rich imagination make Susan Austin’s new book on the young Julia Morgan a pleasure to read for all ages. Morgan is an amazing role model for young women everywhere. Austin offers plenty of examples of Morgan’s determination and talent and embroiders on these to create a convincing narrative. This book is a charming introduction to a great woman architect.” Sarah Gill, author of Julia Morgan’s Berkeley City Club

About the Author: As an educator, Susan J. Austin knows the minds of young readers. Her first novel, The Bamboo Garden, is set in Berkeley, California, 1923, and describes an unlikely friendship between two girls that is tested by a fierce fire that threatens to destroy their town. Currently, she is writing about 12-year-old Goldie, a whiz kid in the kitchen who hopes that her culinary magic can help her family’s delicatessen out of a pickle in 1928 Hollywood. Her characters are always brave, strong-willed, risk-takers. Writing historical fiction offers her a way to educate and excite her readers about the past. She and her husband live in Northern California, surrounded by family, their splendid, but fussy rose bushes, and a lifetime collection of books. Learn more at www.susanjaustin.com

Review: I loved stepping back to the turn of the 20th century with Julia and experience her marvel as engineering and architectural feats were occurring all over America. I also learned so much along with Julia in the book–it was intriguing to learn about architecture, architectural materials, engineering, and more!

Although I know that much of the book is fiction, that Julia is based on a real woman made the story easier to connect with because you knew she succeeded; you knew that all of the hate and bullying and sexism didn’t keep her down. And I wanted to keep following her journey to see all of the amazing things she did to prove people wrong.

Overall, a well-researched and also engaging historical fiction novel about a topic and time period not often shared with our middle grade readers. I look forward to sharing it with students and am happy to share it here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This novel lends itself to be a companion when teaching historical architecture, engineering, or mechanical drawing. It also includes great anecdotes that could add to a lesson about the turn of the century’s amazing feats such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Eifel Tower, and Ferris Wheel.

Additionally, must of Julia’s story is shrouded in sexism which would go well with a discussion on women’s rights during American history.

The book could also be a mentor text for students to write their own historical fiction story based on an individual. The author’s note could be used to show how the author took what she learned through research and then made the story her own while still honoring the historical time and figure.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author use what she knew about Julia Morgan to create this story?
  • Which of Julia’s mentors do you think influenced her the most?
  • Why did Julia’s mom have more trouble with letting Julia focus on academics than her father did?
  • Even though Mary and Julia were very different, how did they complement each other and help each other succeed?
  • Is there anything in the book that you really wanted to be true but the author’s not shared it was fiction?
  • How was Julia treated versus her male counterparts in her university?
  • What barriers did Julia face and overcome? Why did the barriers exist and how did she overcome them?
  • How did Julia’s family both shape and inhibit her?

Flagged Passages:

Part II: The Choice

Oakland High School in the 1880s

Chapter 11: Too Brainy

“The tower with windows on all four sides, offers a fine view of the city. After considering several sites, I decide on an unusual structure I frequently pass by.

The next day, as I climb the tower’s narrow staircase, voices and thumping noises dash my hope of being alone. The room is packed with fellow drawing students. As soon as I step inside, the place turns eerily quiet.

I’m not surprised. The boys have never approved of me. Pencils go missing from my desk, my work is crumpled or tossed to the floor, and every day my stool mysteriously moves to the back of the room. It hardly ever happens to the few girls in the class. Just me. Although I hate the situation, it would be worse if I spoke up. Over the years, I’ve grown used to being teased by both boys and girls, mainly about my good grades. But high school is different. The boys in mechanical drawing have made it clear: I am not welcome.

I make my way to the best window for viewing my subject—the Pardee water tower. It’s a two-story wood construction, wider at the bottom, and topped with a windmill. Two boys standing by the window appear absorbed in their drawings. When I head toward a second, less favorable window, the boys standing there act as if I’m invisible. The air in this crowded, silent room is stale and unpleasant, much like the smell of dirty laundry in my brothers’ bedroom.

Heading to a third window, I steel myself for trouble, resolving to be sugar sweet. I will shame them. With a cheery smile, I say, “Excuse me. Is there room for one more here?”

The boy with freckles finally looks up from his sketchpad. “Have to wait ’til we’re done. And that could take a while.” I glance at his notebook. Blank.

I want to race back down those stairs, but I stay. Still smiling, I say, “Frankly, I think your estimate is incorrect. I shall not take up much room.”

If they are like my brothers, they will back down like timid deer. Can they hear the frantic flutter in my chest? After the briefest pause, they shuffle aside, red-faced, leaving me a tiny space.

The water tower is visible against a flame-red sunset. Within minutes I have a decent rendering. A quick glance at the boys’ sketchbooks confirms my hunch. Still blank.

The floorboards creak as I leave the church-quiet room. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I hear that familiar refrain. “She’s too brainy for a girl.”

The laughter that follows stings worse than the words. I shut the door behind me, angry. What’s wrong with a girl being smarter than a boy? And so what if I draw well? It’s easy for me, like breathing.”

Read This If You Love: Historical fiction with strong women who overcome the odds of the limitations set by their time period, Architecture

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Spark Point Studio for providing a copy for review!**

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee

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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Author: Barbara Dee
Published September 27th, 2022 by Aladdin

Summary: Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.

But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.

She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.

About the Author: Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

Review: I’ve never read a book about eco-anxiety before, but I could definitely empathize with Haven Jacobs and her true anxiety over the state of our planet. I loved that the book gave tangible things that could be done in a community and also looks at global issues. Additionally, like all of Barbara Dee’s books, she does a great job balancing teaching (about science and climate change) and storytelling.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher-provided reading group guide also includes extension activities:

1. Choose one of the following and write an essay:

– How does Haven’s name reflect the major theme of the book?

– Revisit the chapter titled “The Scratch,” and the scene in which the author describes Haven’s room and talks about how her room shows readers who she is and what’s important to her. Then write a description of your own room, and ask a partner if they can identify what is most important to you.

– Using the quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”), write an essay about what that means, giving specific examples from the book.

2. Haven’s heroine is a fictional Inuit teen climate activist named Kirima Ansong. Choose a real-life teen activist and write a report about them, the issue they support, and the actions they’ve taken.

3. The headline of the RiverFest story is “SEVENTH GRADER GRIPPED BY ECO-ANXIETY,” which nicely sums up the major theme of this book. How prevalent is eco-anxiety among the kids at your school? Create a survey and share it to discover the answer. Write a report sharing your findings.

4. Choose one of the following topics from the book to research and write a report about, using the facts shared in the book as a jumping-off point to learn more.

Discussion Questions:
(Chosen questions from the publisher-provided reading group guide; there are 16 questions on the guide)

1. Talk about how the two events that Haven relates in the book’s opening chapter illustrate two of the book’s major themes. What does the bouncy house incident show readers about Haven’s personality? Do you agree with Grandpa Aaron that “‘Haven’s a true problem solver’”? (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you consider yourself to be a problem solver?

2. Why does Haven decide to become a vegetarian? Do you understand and sympathize with her reaction when she goes fishing with Carter and her dad? Are you a vegetarian, or do you have friends who are? What are some other reasons that people make this choice? Talk about how vegetarianism connects with the issue of climate change.

3. Do you understand why Haven is so upset about climate change? How do you feel about her statement that “’no one cares about anything except what’s going on in their own lives’”? (Chapter: Dinner) Why do some of her friends think climate change is too depressing to talk about? Haven tells Lauren, the reporter, that all kids are worried about the issue. How do you and your friends feel?

4. Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? What are some of the signs of eco-anxiety that Haven is experiencing? How might eco-anxiety feel different from other things kids are anxious about, like taking tests or giving oral reports? What are some actions Haven takes, or could take, to relieve this anxiety?

5. Ms. Packer says to Haven: “‘There’s a positive way to be upset, and another way that just makes you feel hopeless and depressed.’” (Chapter: The Blanks) Do you understand both options? Do you identify with one more than the other? What do you think when Haven says she feels that going to school is pointless, that there are more important things going on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning or reading about climate change, science, and/or mental health

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