Saints of the Household by Ari Tison

Share

Saints of the Household
Author: Ari Tison
Published: March 28, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: Saints of the Household is a haunting contemporary YA about an act of violence in a small-town–beautifully told by a debut Indigenous Costa Rican-American writer–that will take your breath away.

Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.

But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school’s star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers’ dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They’ll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.

Told in alternating points of view using vignettes and poems, debut author Ari Tison crafts an emotional, slow-burning drama about brotherhood, abuse, recovery, and doing the right thing.

Review: This gorgeous novel alternates two brothers’ perspectives, one in prose (similar to short vignettes) and one in verse. I was captivated by this book and felt really connected to the two characters. The story begins immediately following a violent altercation between the brothers and their cousin’s girlfriend. The boys (Jay and Max) also experience domestic abuse at home. Jay and Max are less than a year apart in age and very close, yet they negotiate the altercations in very different ways. I highly recommend this book and am really glad that I read it and got to know Jay’s and Max’s stories.

Tools for Navigation: This book inspires creative writing. Teachers might ask students to try writing alternating perspectives of two people who are negotiating a conflict in different ways. They might also try writing one voice in prose and one in verse.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did you find yourself feeling more empathetic toward one of the brothers? If yes, why might this be? If no, do you think audiences might be more empathetic to a brother, and why or why not?
  • How does the domestic abuse impact each of the brothers?
  • How did the different forms enhance your reading of the text?

Flagged Passage: “‘Sadness is not uncommon for our people,’ he tells me. ‘We have been hurt by many. People have been murdered. Our lands taken. But, in turn, when you are so hurt, you cannot let them win again by allowing them to take your mind. We’ve got everything against us, dawö’chke, but we’re still here, aren’t we? Each one of us made it. And we will still make it through all we’re facing'” (p. 186).

Read This If You Love: Angeline Boulley, Amber McBride, Ibi Zoboi

Recommended For: 

 classroomlibrarybuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall

RickiSig

Kyle’s Little Sister by BonHyung Jeong

Share

Kyle’s Little Sister
Author & Illustrator: BonHyung Jeong
Published June 22nd, 2021 by JY

Summary: My name is Grace, not “Kyle’s little sister!”

Having a good-looking, friendly, outgoing older brother sucks—especially when you’re the total opposite, someone who likes staying home and playing video games. Your parents like him better (even if they deny it!), and everyone calls you “Kyle’s little sister” while looking disappointed that you’re not more like him. I was really hoping I’d get to go to a different middle school, but no such luck. At least I have my friends…until he finds a way to ruin that, too…! Argh! What do I have to do to get out of his shadow?!

About the Author: BonHyung Jeong (Bon) studied Cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and Kyle’s Little Sister is her debut graphic novel, made possible with the help of numerous people. She hopes to make connections with others through relatable stories. Currently living in Korea, she’s always busy playing console games – exactly like someone in the book!

Review: As an oldest child, I never knew what it was like to be compared to a sibling in the same way Kyle and Grace are compared, but I definitely empathize with Grace’s feelings of being compared to a more successful sibling! Although many reviews said Grace seemed like a brat, I didn’t see it like that. I saw it as someone who just truly wants her own identity and to be valued for what she is not what she isn’t (Kyle). This is tough in middle school in general much less when you feel overshadowed by someone else. It definitely made me think about how I react when I teach a sibling of a past student!

I found the crushes and friendship drama all very realistic to middle school, especially 6th grade as kids figure out who they are as adolescents. I also enjoyed that the book did not show middle school as this daunting thing you should fear–Grace was excited to start middle school! Too often just the starting of middle school is blamed for drama, but this book focused more on friends who may be a bit different figuring out how to remain friends despite the differences.

This is a graphic novel that will find love with fans of Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmakova, and Terri Libenson, so it is definitely worth adding to your collection. However, I do want to share that there was one real part that I hope kids reflect on instead of do what Grace does: When she stops being friends with Amy, her new “friend” starts ohysiclly and mentally bullying her, and Grace does nothing. I think Jeong did a good job showing why she did nothing, but I also hope that watching this bullying will make readers want to stand up to a bully the next time they see one!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What should Grace have done when Cam started picking on Amy?
  • Why is Grace so resentful of her brother? Are there incidences in the book that make you empathize for her resentment? How does Grace feel like Kyle’s shadow at home? At school?
  • Why does Amy yell what she does when she fights with Grace?
  • Why is what Amy was doing to Jay inappropriate?
  • How is Cam’s relationship with Grace another type of bullying?
  • Why does Kyle stand up for Grace even though he says she’s annoying?
  • How is Grace’s mental health affected as she questions her identity?
  • How did the author use illustration and color to portray mood?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Middle school friend and family drama graphic novels

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall

Signature

**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity and JY of Yen Press for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post and Giveaway!: “Something Old, Something New: Five Classics Reimagined as Middle-Grade Books” by Erin Yun, Author of Pippa Park Raises Her Game

Share

“Something Old, Something New: Five Classics Reimagined as Middle-Grade Books”

There’s something utterly compelling about reimaginings. It’s like meeting up with an old friend many years down the road—the familiar elements of the original are comforting even as the fresh twists and changes bring delight. When I was a kid, I used to go through phases where I was obsessed with certain books for months at a time, so finding reimagined stories were a perfect way for me to explore a single novel with endless iterations. Plus, retellings help introduce young readers to books they’ll likely encounter in high school. So, whether you’re looking for a new way to relive a favorite novel, trying to spark a kid’s interest in a book for later down the road, or simply seeking an amazing story, look no further than these five reimagined middle-grade books based on classic literature.

Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca

Mimi comes from a big Indian American family and is used to feeling overshadowed by her talented older siblings. So, when a newly opened bakery hosts a baking competition, Mimi enters, determined to prove herself. Soon, her dad is consuming everything in sight, boys are obsessing over her older sister, and wild boars are popping up in the forests of Massachusetts. Full of both literal and figurative charm, this retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is simply delicious . . . and had my mouth watering the entire time.

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

There is no shortage of Sherlock Holmes adaptions that exist—and for a good reason. There’s something so intriguing about the aloof detective with almost unbelievable powers of observation. In Eulberg’s take, Shelby Holmes might be able to solve any case in Harlem, but learning how to make a friend is one challenge that eludes the tiny sleuth. Told from the perspective of her new neighbor, John Watson, this book features a case of dognapping and is a cute, fun addition to the world of Sherlock Holmes-inspired works.  

Grump by Liesl Shurtliff

Whether or not you’re a fan of Snow White, you’re bound to enjoy the story of Borlen, a grumpy dwarf who dreams of living above ground. Readers will find themselves sympathetic toward Borlen even when he makes mistakes—such as entangling himself with the deceptively sweet Queen Elfrieda Veronika Ingrid Lenore (if only Borlen had noticed the acronym . . .). Plus, those who aren’t Snow White’s biggest fans will be delighted to find this Snow White is full of personality—a little bit bratty, but plenty charming, with the ability to make even a nickname like “Grump” sound endearing.

More to the Story by Hena Khan

Seventh grader Jameela Mirza aspires to be an award-winning journalist, so when she’s made features editor of her school newspaper, she’s delighted—despite clashing with the editor-in-chief, who continually strikes down her ideas. Even as Jameela struggles to make an article her Baba will be proud of, she must deal with his absence overseas and with her younger sister’s sudden illness. Inspired by Little Women and featuring a Pakistani American Muslim family living in modern-day Georgia, this heartfelt book shines due to Jameela’s realistic relationships (whether they be with her friends or family).

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Drawing parallels to The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor’s Tale begins in the year 1242 in a packed French inn, where, with the help of various patrons, we hear the story of three miraculous children: Jeanne, a peasant who receives visions; William, a monk with unnatural strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers. Gidwitz’s writing is filled with flecks of humor, and readers will delight in zany adventures (like curing a farting dragon) even as more serious stakes keep them flipping pages. Plus, the aesthetic of the book is just as rewarding as the prose—with beautifully stylized chapter openers, unique border art, and black-and-white images scattered throughout.

Published February 4th, 2020 by Fabled Films Press

About the Book:Readers will cheer on Korean American Pippa Park in this compelling middle grade reimagining of Great Expectations. Navigating friendships and cyberbullying at a new school, Pippa reinvents herself and discovers who she really is.

Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”

At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.

As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.

Bonus Content: Discussion Questions, Author Q&A, and Korean Language Glossary and Pronunciation Guide

“Pippa is a magnetic heroine, funny and good-hearted.”―Booklist

About the Author:Debut author Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas. She received her BFA in English from New York University and served as president of its policy debate team. This experience came in handy for her job as the debate consultant for the Tony-nominated Best Play on Broadway—What the Constitution Means to Me. Erin is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has written reviews and articles for BookBrowse. She currently lives in New York City, and yes—she used to play basketball as a middle grader!

Connect with Fabled Films Press and Pippa Park:

www.fabledfilms.com | www.pippapark.com

Twitter: @fabled_films | Author on Twitter: @ErinMYun

Facebook: @Fabled.Films.Press | Instagram: @fabled.films

Language Arts Educators Guide: https://pippapark.com/resources

Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you, Erin, for sharing these fun retellings and introducing us to Pippa!

Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley

Share

Feral Youth
Authors: Shaun David Hutchinson, Brandy Colbert, Suzanne Young, Tim Floreen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Stephanie Kuehn, E.C. Myers, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley
Published: September 5, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Guest Review by Natalia Sperry

Summary: At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come from all walks of life, and they were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Feral Youth features characters, each complex and damaged in their own ways, who are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

Review: This is a complex anthology of traditionally ignored teenaged voices that demand to be heard; I couldn’t put it down! Feral Youth is compelling from the front flap to the final page. The distinct voices of all 10 characters shone through in every part, from their individual stories to the transitional narration, creating an established sense of the full cast that is difficult to attain when juggling so many stories.

In this day and age, it feels more important than ever read book that remind us that all people, even those “troubled kids” traditionally written off by society, have a unique story to tell. Though I initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters (especially those with similar sounding names!) having such a diverse cast of characters share their stories was really rewarding. Those stories, both those intended to be “factual” and those grounded in fantasy, refuse to go quietly from my mind. In a story centered around teens whose voices have been all but silenced by society, I think that’s a victory.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: As the book was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, teachers could have students read the two (or passages from both) and compare and contrast. In particular, looking for thematic parallels could lend itself to discussions about the nature of storytelling and whose voices get told. In that regard, the book could also fit into a unit about “objective truth” in storytelling, perhaps in discussing other narratives or nonfiction.

Even in including the text as a free-reading option, I think it is essential to build empathy through reading diverse stories. Including this text could be not only a way to build empathy, but could provide a starting point for further future reading of a diversity voices as well.

Discussion Questions: What parallels do you find to the Canterbury Tales? Which stories surprised you? Were there any characters you related to that you wouldn’t have anticipated connecting with?  

Flagged: “’They think we’re probably nothing but a bunch of animals, but we showed them who we really are. We showed them that they can’t ignore us’” (287).

Read This If You Loved: The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, other YA anthologies

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall 

RickiSig

Teachers’ Guide for Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Share

Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez 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 and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall

Kellee Signature

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Share

The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Published: April 11, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review: This heart-warming, flirtatious, love-filled book will bring you a wave of nostalgia. From the sunny summer days to all of Molly’s firsts, Becky Albertalli’s story is sure to set your heart a-flutter. The main characters make up an interracial family with LGBTQ members and an amazing affinity for love and forgiveness. With every passing page, the characters grow a little more, figuring out how to live their own lives while still making time for each other. There can be no doubt for the reader that despite all the conflict, Molly and Cassie will survive their teenage years with their strong relationship intact. Albertalli’s firm grasp on young love makes this book sweet and fun, with twists and turns that will make you read until the last word. This is a must read for any young adults, parents of teens, teachers, or anyone who enjoys a quick, uplifting read.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: The Upside of Unrequited can start a lot of amazing conversations in the classroom. One really important aspect of the story is the main character, Molly’s weight. She has felt her whole life as though she deserves the harsh words people send her way simply because of her weight. It could be very interesting to start a conversation with students about bullying and the effect it can have on people in the long run. Another important aspect of the story that can be brought up in the classroom is identity. In the novel, Molly self-identifies as fat. She doesn’t necessarily want to become skinnier or have people stop looking at her as fat, but she wishes that her weight didn’t matter. She adopts it as part of her identity and wants acceptance for it. It would be really beneficial to discuss identity and the specific positives and negatives that can stem from it.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did the first-person point of view do for the story?
  • Did you find the adult characters in this novel realistic?
  • What was important about the familial relationships in this novel?
  • What is the poignancy of the title?

We Flagged: “I think this is me letting go. Bit by bit. I think these are our tiny steps away from each other. Making not-quite-identical footprints in not-quite-opposite directions. And it’s the end of the world and the beginning of the world and we’re seventeen. And it’s an awesome thing.”

Read This If You Loved: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall 

RickiSig

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Share

When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne

Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
  • What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
  • There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?

We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).

Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender

Recommended For: 

closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall

RickiSig