Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan


Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?

Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Recommended For:

Thank you, Emily!


The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu


the secret side of empty

The Secret Side of Empty
Author: Maria E. Andreu
Published: March 11, 2014 by Running Press

Summary: As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.

My Review: In the last year, I have met many people who have told me that they were or are undocumented immigrants. Immigration reform is a hot topic in politics right now, and I can’t help but wonder if people are thinking about others in terms of their humanity. I’ve become increasingly heavy-hearted as I have listened to speeches about immigration, and I longed to learn more about the topic. After searching news articles, research studies, statistics, and government websites, I felt that I needed more story, and so I picked up this book from the library. It received excellent reviews, and I understand why. The author draws upon her personal experiences as a formerly undocumented immigrant, and the narrator, M. T., feels very real. I learned about some of the struggles undocumented immigrants experience, and I am grateful for all that I learned from this book. M. T. deals with other complex issues beyond her immigrant status—relationship issues, domestic abuse, and contemplations of suicide. There is so much to discuss regarding the text. I loved the book and am so glad I found it. I highly recommend it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a fantastic book to discuss undocumented immigrants with students. It would be wonderful to help students consider aspects of immigration reform and explore other perspectives. The author is featured in this article about Donald Trump.

Discussion Questions: How might the author’s perspective have influenced her work?; What do you learn about immigration? How does this influence, change, or solidify your beliefs?; How does M. T.’s relationship with Nate evolve? Do you agree with everything he did?; Did M. T. make the right decision to leave home? Why or why not?

Flagged Passage: I will always be a stranger everywhere. With my parents, I am too American. With Americans, I am a spectator with my nose pressed against their windowpanes, watching their weird rituals and rites of passage, never quite understanding them completely. A little chunk of me will always be a stranger everywhere, different chunks of stranger in different situations. (p. 98).

Read This Book If You Loved: Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Illegal by Bettina Restrepo


Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall


Kids of Appetite by David Arnold


kids of appetite

Kids of Appetite
Author: David Arnold
Published: September 20, 2016 by Viking

GoodReads Summary: The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.

Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.

This is a story about:

1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.

Review: I fell into this book. From the moment I started reading, I had difficulty putting it down. David Arnold has true talent at engaging readers in a thought-provoking story in which the characters have great depth. The allusions to The Outsiders will not be lost on readers. This group of kids captured my heart just like the kids within the classic. Comparing the two stories is interesting, but this book explores very different issues, and I appreciated that the author didn’t seem to intentionally align the texts too much.

The point-of-view alternates between two characters, Vic and Mad. Vic has Moebius Syndrome, which causes partial facial paralysis. He is grieving the loss of his father and struggling to come to terms with his mother’s new relationship (and the mean-spirited step-brothers that come along with this). Mad is a tortured soul—dedicated to her grandmother but struggling with the losses of her parents and a very difficult situation (no spoilers here). The other members of the crew, who don’t have their own narrative sections but whose voices are very powerful, have individual struggles that weigh on them. This group of kids finds solace in each other, and the dynamic between them is unforgettable.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to include this book in a group of literature circle books that all reflect disability. I think it would be particularly interesting to explore the intersections between friendship and disability. Students might examine and conceptualize their definitions of normal. The ALAN Review‘s Fall 2016 issue is about (Re)Defining Normal, and many of the articles would be very useful for this very topic.

Discussion Questions: What struggles do each of the characters face? How does each cope with these struggles in different ways?; How does Vic’s disability impact his interactions with others? How do others (strangers and other characters) respond to him?; What power does friendship have? How do each of these characters from different backgrounds come together, and why?; What is the role of Baz’s book? Why is it important to the story?

We Flagged: “‘We are all part of the same story, each of us different chapters. We may not have the power to choose setting or plot, but we can choose what kind of character we want to be'” (p. 104).

*This excerpt was taken from an advanced reader copy. The quote may change after the book is published.*

Read This If You Loved: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Recommended For:

litcirclesbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Published: June 5, 2007 by Mariner Books

Summary: In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

Review: I don’t tend to read many adult books each year, but I kept seeing this book referenced. I noticed it was a 2007 publication, and when books are still being discussed frequently almost ten years later, you know they have to be good! I finally requested it from my library, and boy did I love it. I usually try to review only new books, but this book was too good not to share. I felt deeply connected with Alison and her life—despite the fact that it is nothing like mine. I was really drawn to the psychological themes she embedded and the phenomenal writing. She is incredibly smart, and this shines in her writing. The drawings are equally captivating. I am not surprised that young adults tend to read this book. It’s quite edgy and many sections made me blush, but I know this doesn’t stop teens. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am not a stranger to controversy, but I’d probably use this book for close reading because the images might be a bit uncomfortable for some (but not most!) of my students. There is a lot of nudity, and there are sexually explicit drawings. That said, I most certainly would have it in my classroom (nothing stops me, controversy-wise, if a book is really good and a great learning tool). A close reading of many of the beginning chapters would lead to fantastic conversations about family dynamics and psychology. There is so much to teach from this book: Tone, Author’s Perspective, Vocabulary, etc. 

Discussion Questions: How does Alison navigate her childhood?; What is her response to her father’s death? Why might this be?; What role does the Fun Home play in her life? How does this graphic novel differ from others that you’ve read?; How is the author’s writing style similar to short vignettes? What scenes stand out to you? Why might this be?

Flagged Passage: 

Fun Home ImageSource of Image

Read This If You Love: How the World Was: A California Childhood by Emmanuel Guibert; The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert; Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert; The Stranger by Albert Camus; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Recommended For:

closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Author Guest Post!: Cast Off by Eve Yohalem


Cast Off

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen
Author: Eve Yohalem
Published: March 10, 2015 by Calkins Creek

GoodReads Summary: It’s 1663 and there is an extra passenger on board a Dutch merchant ship setting sail for the East Indies. Twelve-year-old Petra has stowed away to escape her abusive father. But she quickly realizes that surviving for months at sea will be impossible without help. So when Bram, the half-Dutch / Half-Javanese son of the ship’s carpenter, finds her hiding spot, Petra convinces him to help her stay hidden . . .and help disguise her as a boy.

If Petra is discovered and exposed as a girl, she could be tossed overboard, or worse . . . returned to her father. And if Bram is exposed for helping her, he could lose the only home—and family—he has. As tensions rise on the ship, with pirates attacking, deadly illness, and even mutiny, Petra and Bram face impossible decisions that test their friendship and threaten their dreams of freedom.

Told in alternating voices and filled with secrets and intrigue, this richly researched novel is historical fiction at its best.

Review: Take me away! This book whisked me off on a marvelous adventure filled with grave dangers, stow aways, tall ships, and mutiny. I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my childhood favorites, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Petra escapes from a horribly abusive relationship with her father, and her bravery is an excellent model for young readers. She is discovered by Bram, the illegitimate son of the ship’s carpenter, and they form a very special friendship. This book delivers richly realized themes—particularly those of loyalty, heroism, sexism, and racism—that are very relevant to readers across time. I imagine a wide variety of audiences would appreciate this text because it touches on so many fascinating topics. It is clear that the author did her homework, and the result is magnificently entertaining.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is an excellent example of a text that could be analyzed with a critical theorist lens. (See Appleman’s book about teaching critical theory to students of all levels.) I imagine rich classroom discussions would evolve from the application of gender theory or race theory, for instance, to this text. This is a compliment to the author and the depth of this book.

Discussion Questions: In what ways do gender and race play a role in this text?; How does the author weave history into the story?; What does Petra and Bram’s friendship teach us about humans in general?; How do the main characters display qualities of bravery?

Read This If You Loved: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi; Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld; Secrets of the Realm by Bev Stout; Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Recommended For:




One lucky winner will receive a copy of CAST OFF: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen (U.S. addresses; allow 4-6 weeks for delivery; offer ends 7/10/15).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post from Eve Yohalem, Author of Cast Off!

Eve Yohalem photo

In 2009 I got this great idea for a seafaring adventure about two kids who sail from Amsterdam to the East Indies in the seventeenth century. There was just one problem: I knew next to nothing about the seventeenth century. Or the Netherlands. Or the East Indies. Or sailing.

No matter. I like a challenge. I researched for a full year before I started writing, and after I started writing, I kept researching. I’m still researching. (I like researching.)

Today my Cast Off file has more than four hundred different source notes. I read lots of books: scholarly academic stuff, journalistic stuff, fiction, memoirs, journals, every first person account I could find. I spoke to people who knew much more than me—VOC scholars, maritime scholars, curators, my husband (he sails), surgeons, and dentists. I hung out in oddball museums. I traveled to Indonesia, where I slept in the jungle and held baby orangutans, and to the Netherlands, where I retraced every step of my characters that I could and explored the dark nooks of two different full-scale East Indiamen replicas.

I have no research training. It would have helped if I’d majored in history in college, but I didn’t. Mostly, I followed my nose. I knew that my story would begin in Amsterdam and take place mostly at sea on an East Indiaman bound for Batavia. I knew two of my characters: a Dutch girl and an East Indian boy, both twelve years old. That’s a lot to get started with.

What’s surgery like by candlelight below deck on a rocking ship before the invention of anesthesia? How do you fire a 4,000 pound canon without getting crushed by the recoil? These were the kinds of questions I tried to answer.

I tried to convey what it felt like to cram three hundred men onto a 150-foot long vessel for six months (damp, dark, and airless below, smelled bad, no privacy). The layout of the ship is based on actual ships of the period, as are the various jobs, daily schedule, terrible food.

For my characters’ medical knowledge, I have to thank John Woodall’s The Surgeon’s Mate, a seventeenth century medical guide no ship’s surgeon would have been without.

And in case anyone’s wondering, I got most of my slang from the always entertaining A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew: In Its Several Tribes of Gypsies, Beggars, Thieves, Cheats, &c., with an Addition of Some Proverbs, Phrases, Figurative Speeches, &c. by B. E. Gent, c 1698. In my opinion, some of these terms should be brought back into everyday use. Please help make “Kiss my blind cheeks!” go viral!

Follow Cast Off on the blog tour:
Mon, June 1
Book Monsters
Tues, June 2
The Hiding Spot
Wed, June 3
Books Unbound
Thurs, June 4
Unleashing Readers
Fri, June 5
Read Now, Sleep Later
Mon, June 8
Mother Daughter Book Club
Tues, June 9
Cracking the Cover
Wed, June 10
The Compulsive Reader
Thurs, June 11
The Children’s Book Review
Fri, June 12
I Read Banned Books

*Thank you to Barbara at BlueSlip Media for sending this book for review!*

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven


all the bright places

All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Published: January 6, 2015 by Knopf

Goodreads Summary: The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this compelling, exhilarating, and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Ricki’s Review: A publishing representative who I deem to be a friend pressed this book into my hand. “Read it,” she insisted. She told me I would want to curl up into a ball in my bed and fall into this book. I fell hard. The writing is incredible. I hate to compare books with others because it creates a sense of expectation that often goes unfulfilled for future readers, but I couldn’t help but consider comparisons with my all-time favorite YA texts. The quirky nature of the characters reminded me of Pudge, Alaska, Charlie, Eleanor, and Park. The direction of the plot reminded me of other titles (which will remain unnamed to prevent spoilers). But I cannot compare this book to others because while it allowed to me reminisce about my favorite titles, it was quite different. The deep, honest, hard-hitting depiction of mental illness was enough to take my breath away. I felt rage that made me want to punch my mattress; I felt sadness that made me feel a hopeless sense of emptiness; but above all, I felt the power of love, loyalty, and friendship that made my heart both ache and swell. This is an unforgettable book. I suspect it will be the book that everyone will be talking about this year and for years to come.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Mental illness and bullying are pervasive in our schools. We can’t teach enough books about these themes because they are incredibly relevant for young people. As a former teacher, I was jealous of the teacher who created the assignment for Violet and Finch, and I wanted to do it with my former students. It would be so neat to duplicate this project while students read the book. Additionally, I think students would benefit from creating their own version of the post-it collages that Violet and Finch make. As an alternative, I would consider having students research the warning signs of suicide and finding these instances in the text. There are so many themes for the students to consider, the teaching categories at the top and tags at the bottom of this post show a variety of different directions a teacher might take with the instruction of this text.

Access the book’s website to share your bright place or read Germ MagazineThe educator guide also has CCSS tie-ins.

Discussion Questions: What is the end message of this book? What is the author’s purpose?; What foreshadowing does Niven provide?; How do Violet’s family members show their grief in different ways?; Do you agree with the ending? Would you change it? Why do you think Niven ended the book in the way she did?

We Flagged: “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

**Please note: The above quotation is from an advanced reader copy. The quotation may change in the final published form of the text.**

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Burn by Suzanne Phillips

Recommended For:

 closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson


boys of blur

Boys of Blur
Author: N. D. Wilson
Published: April 8, 2014 by Random House

Ricki’s Summary and Review: 12-year-old Charlie Reynolds’ family travels to town of Taper to attend the funeral of a beloved football coach. When Charlie’s stepfather is given the opportunity to coach the town’s football team, Charlie is not thrilled to learn that they will be living in this creepy town filled with ancient stories of runaway slaves, native tribes, and monsters that rise organically from the murky swamps. He tries to fit into this mysterious place, where boys chase rabbits through burning sugarcane and everything seems to revolve around football. As he comes to learn about this town of secrets, Charlie wonders if he has the courage to uncover the mysteries that surround him.

Set deep in the heart of the Florida Everglades, this text is sure to grip readers with its muck, swords, blood, and gore. Wilson integrates complex allusions to Beowulf, which will compel readers to uncover all of the parallels with the classic legend. The beautifully complex language of this fast-paced story inspires close readings while also teaching readers lessons about evilness, heroism, and family.

Kellee’s Review: What I found most intriguing about this book is that Wilson was able to allude to Beowulf in a middle grade book without completely scaring away the reader.  Although I have read in multiple reviews that this book will grab reluctant readers’ attention, I think that some of the allusions are hard to grasp without prior knowledge, so reluctant readers may need some assistance understanding thus making the book a great read aloud as it will grab attention and start deep discussion (see Tools for Navigation).  In addition to the allusions, there are opportunities to discuss hero’s quest, abuse, and loyalty.

You will also find some beautiful writing in this novel. Wilson has a way with words that made this novel lyrical yet easy to read. From the very first line: “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.” I was impressed with how literary the novel was.  

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: There are obvious parallels between this novel and  the legend of Beowulf, and pairing these two texts for discussion would prove very rewarding. Perhaps, teachers could use this Boys of Blur in conjunction with Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel of Beowulf. Then, the class could compare and contrast both the story lines and the differing formats authors might employ to convey a story and message.

Discussion Questions: How is Charlie characterized? Do you find him to be a strong character?; What role does Cotton play in the story?; What role does Charlie’s father play in the story? Can he be forgiven?; How does the author use language effectively?

We Flagged: “‘Yes,’ Mrs. Wisdom said, ‘you are. You’re made of tiny spinning bits as fast as light. But those bits aren’t all of you. They fly off. They get lost, and new ones come on and join the swirling Charlie-shaped dance that is your body. And dwelling in that dance, woven through every racing bit, heating it all with life and guiding it, there is a fire, a soul—you. It takes a dream to see something like that, something closer to the way things really are” (110).

Read This If You Loved:  Beowulf by Unknown, 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Holes by Louis Sachar, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen FoxleeRaining Sardines by Enrique Flores-Galbis

Recommended For:

 readaloudbuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall 

RickiSigand Signature