Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao


Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Published: October 10, 2017 by Philomel

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Kaari’s Review: The entire time, I wasn’t entirely sure if the  protagonist was the hero or the villain. And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I appreciated this book because it made me think. I’d be cheering for Xifeng and wanting her to win, and then she’d do an awful thing to help her win, and I’d be repulsed by her. This book highlights the struggle of ambition, and how difficult it is for a woman to achieve the dreams she has. And, while I am off put by Xifeng’s methods and don’t necessarily think they were the right decisions, her actions and the way she achieves power could spark great discussions.

The setting and the plot of this book was thrilling, and I Ioved the way that fantasy was woven into a world so seamlessly. The creatures and ideas introduced were thought provoking and had amazing descriptions that made me feel like I was living in the enchanted world with the characters. I do wish that there had been some more resolution regarding some of the magical beings and the warnings they gave, but I think that Dao intends for this to be the first in a series, and I’m sure that more resolution will come in later novels.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would definitely include this book in a classroom library for kids to check out if they want to read it. However, while this book is interesting, and explores an interesting take on female empowerment, I don’t think I would teach this book in a classroom setting, or use it in literature circles. I am a huge advocate for female empowerment, and discussing the paths for women to claim their power. However, I think that because Xifeng’s methods were so morally questionable, and readers aren’t sure if Xifeng is a hero or a villain, that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is not the best novel to discuss for this topic. There are many other books that discuss female empowerment in a much more productive light. So, I’d include it in a classroom library, but not necessarily teach it in any way.

Discussion Questions: Do you think Xifeng’s methods were justifiable?; What does the social hierarchy look like in this novel?; Is Xifeng a hero or a villain in this story?; What is the effect of portraying a strong female protagonist in this way?; How is the fantasy world characterized?

We Flagged: “‘I’m a good man, Xifeng. I let you have your own way and speak your mind…’

‘You think I don’t know that? That I’m so blind and stupid?’

‘Yes, I do!’ he shouted, his face bright red. ‘I offer you the world…’

‘Yes, the world as you see it!’

‘I saved you from that evil woman!’

‘Only to trap me yourself.’ She watched him turn away and run a trembling hand over his head. ‘I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else’” (Advanced Reader Copy p. 125).

Read This If You Loved: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu; Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Recommended For:



**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston


That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E. K. Johnston
Published: October 3, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

My Review: The futuristic setting of this novel that wasn’t a dystopia was very intriguing to me. Most of the futuristic novels that I’ve read have featured dystopian societies, so it was refreshing to have something that worked. I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives from the different characters, and became personally invested in their lives and experiences. I’d find myself hurting for Helena as she struggled to reconcile her identity, and rooting for August to do the right thing. In some way, all of the characters have to struggle to come of age and develop their identity based on who they want to be. 

However, I wish that this novel had placed a little more effort on the ending. While the rest of the novel had dealt with realistic challenges that an adolescent might face, the ending seemed rather contrived, and less realistic like the rest of the novel. The solution proposed at the end of the novel is not a solution that an adolescent in current society could replicate and learn from, which was disappointing.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book poses great questions about racism (or rather the eradication of racism), as well as questions of morality. It also would be great for discussions about the influence that society can have on your life verses the influence that you decide for your life. I think that this book would be a great addition to a classroom library for kids to enjoy, or a book to be used in a reading circle. It’s engaging and could lead to interesting discussions, especially about the futuristic government and setting of the novel, and the aforementioned topics of racism, morality, and societal influence vs self. However, I do think that other novels cover these topics in a better way, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for large classroom discussions.  

Discussion Questions: Is this novel a utopia? Dystopia? Does it fit either criteria?; How is race approached in this novel? Is there racism in the society?; What is the role of colonialism in this novel?; What is the role of the Computer? Do you think this is a good advancement?; What does the computer lack?; What morality questions does this novel pose?

We Flagged: “The Computer is sufficient if you want to know your future without taking into account your soul. I don’t mean in the eternal sense, but in the worldly. The Computer can tell you if your genes are prone to carcinoma or if you might be six feet tall, but it cannot tell you if you will enjoy dancing or if you will prefer cake to pie. I would argue that the latter is more important in terms of a long and healthy relationship” (p. 254).

Read This If You Loved: Matched by Allie Condie; Delirium by Lauren Oliver; The Luxe by Anna Godbersen; The Selection by Kiera Cass

Recommended For:



**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

Text Sets for Teachers: Good vs. Evil: Exploring Morality Through the Holocaust


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Good vs. Evil: Exploring Morality Through the Holocaust
Text Set for Night by Elie Wiesel
created by Kellie-Anne Crane

It is of the utmost importance that teachers prepare their students for their futures, whether that includes continuing their education or entering the work force. No matter what path students choose to take, there are certain concepts that all people need to recognize and consider as human beings, like the concept of morality. Everyone is confronted with moral decisions on a daily basis—whether it is a monumental decision, or even something as small as deciding to give the last cookie to your sister or to keep it for yourself. The events of the Holocaust and World War II are incredibly essential to study, not only because these events are our shared history but because of the unbelievable turmoil faced by millions. Teachers must help students to understand the gravity of this time period and work to teach it to students in a way that is both approachable and comprehensive.

By exploring the concept of morality through the Holocaust, students will be educated on what is perhaps the greatest tragedy of mankind and be forced to contemplate the morality of multiple scenarios throughout the holocaust. As upstanding citizens, we would like to think that we do not need to worry about anything like the Holocaust—but the fact remains that it happened less than a century ago. Teachers must help students examine the decisions and events that occurred during this vile period on a personal and real level so that they can gain a deeper understanding of the moral struggle faced during the era. Our youth must be educated on our past, both good and bad, to ensure that a similar situation such as this never arises.

Anchor Texts (although other texts may be used!):
Night by Elie Wiesel

Novel Excerpts
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
anne frank
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
book thief
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
number the stars

Graphic Novel
Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

Picture Books
Terrible Things by Eve Bunting
terrible things
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

Pledge of Allegiance”

“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Misérables
“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap

Winston Churchill’s First Speech as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940
President Roosevelt’s Speech to Congress on December 8, 1941
Adolf Hitler’s Speech Declaring War Against the United States on December 11, 1941
Pope John Paul II’s Speech at Israel’s Holocaust Museum March 23, 2000

“The Creed of a Holocaust Survivor” by Alexander Kimel
“The Action in the Ghetto of Rohatyn, March 1942” by Alexander Kimel

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Online Resources
Timeline from 1918-2000
Viktor Frankl: Why Believe in Others TED Talk
“‪Oprah and Elie Weisel at Auschwitz” (1:20- 6:05)
“Man that saved hundreds of children from the Holocaust surprised by them decades later”

“Ghettos Under Nazis” by Susan D. Glazer
“Baking Saved this Man during the Holocaust, and Is Still His Livelihood” by John M. Glionna
“3 Famous Moral Dilemmas That Will Really Make You Think” by Lenna Son
“German Woman, 91, is Charged with 260,000 Counts of Accessory to murder as Prosecutors Accuse Her of Being a Nazi SS Radio Operator Who Served in Auschwitz”

Guiding Questions

  • Are there tenets of morality that are universal?
  • Can a person’s sense of morality be altered by their situation or surroundings?
  • Did the conditions of the holocaust change people’s morals? How so?
  • Are there good and bad people?
  • What can we learn from the tragedy of the Holocaust?

Writing Prompts

  • Consider one of the famous moral dilemmas we have discussed. What do you believe is the right answer in this context? Why
  • What makes someone a good person? A bad person? Are there clear binaries between the two?
  • Choose a text (novel, story, video, song, etc.) from class that has helped to give you a better understanding of the holocaust. What did you learn from this text? Why is it important?
  • Choose a quote or passage from Night. What does this scene say about morality?
  • Is there any moral(s) that you find to be universal, as in followed and accepted by everyone? What is it and why is it so widely accepted? If not, explain why you think there is no universal set of morals.

A special thanks to Kellie-Anne for this inspiring text set! We think this text set would be useful for many anchor texts! What do you think?

Kellee Signatureand RickiSig`1111`

Text Sets for Teachers: Finding the Line: What is “Good?


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Finding the Line: What is “Good?
Text Set for The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
created by Alexandria Bottelsen

What makes someone a good person? When are you beyond redemption?

For many young adults, the world seems black and white. In many forms of literature and pop culture, there is a dichotomy between good and bad, heroes and villains. That being said, things such as morality and the “right” thing to do are rarely clear-cut. Not only do these determinations depend on cultural and societal norms, they are also based on individual values. Through The Kite Runner, students will have the opportunity to explore what it truly means to be good, and when—and ultimately if—people are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini deals with these issues of morality in a modern, engaging way and thus serves as the anchor text for this unit. That being said, the novel does take place in Afghanistan, where the culture and values are far different than those of high school students in the United States. While it is important for students to see that these issues are universal, I wanted to choose other texts—such as Harry Potter and Scandal—that they could easily relate to and grabble with. Similarly, many of the Internet texts are very modern. I want our discussion in class to transfer to other classes as well as their daily life, so including local police blotters, news articles about Snowden, and discussing the morality of current wars will expose them to wide range of contexts in which this argument exists.

Anchor Text (although other texts may be used!):
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
kite runner

Book Excerpts
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
in cold blood

Episode of Scandal (e.g. Season 4, Episode 19) and Abby and Harrison Talk About Morality
Clips from Harry Potter: Snape vs. Dumbledore
Les Miserables (2012): Clip where the bishop forgives Valjan
Criminal Minds Episodes (various)

The Scales of Good and Evil
Thought Experiment I
Thought Experiment II or Thought Experiment III
Who would you forgive?: List of Historically Famous “Bad Guys” (Instead of giving students the website rankings, ask the famous “bad guys” and debate/discuss this process. Can we rank evilness?)

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Short Stories
“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“Lather and Nothing Else” by Hernando Tellez
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“Does Reading Good Literature Make You Moral?”: Boston Review
“Is War Ever Morally Justified?”: The Week
Newspaper Scavenger Hunt for Good and Evil: Police Blotter
Bill Cosby vs. Michael Jackson: How Are They Remembered?
Edward Snowden

“The Prince” Machiavelli

Guiding Questions

  • How does the culture we live in help/hurt our definition of morality? How does the line between good and evil differ between cultures?
  • Does someone’s position in society (e.g. a role model, celebrity, or public servant) change where the line of morality is for them?
  • Is anyone entirely “good” or “bad,” or can people move freely between categories?
  • How does someone’s fall from morality affect our memory of them as a person?
  • Is there a point at which we can no longer forgive someone? Who defines that point?
  • Are good and bad situational, or are they concrete across all contexts?
  • Do the “ends justify the means”? In other words, is it ok to act “badly” if the result is “good”?

Writing Prompts

  • Think of a time when someone betrayed you. What did they do and why was that so bad for you? Would someone have taken equal offense to it? Were you able to forgive them? Why or why not?
  • What is one thing you think is beyond forgiveness? Why did you choose this? Can you think of any situations where you may forgive a person for that action?
  • List your top three values as an individual. Where do these values come from? How do they affect your view of “good” and “bad”?
  • Trace Amir’s morality throughout the novel, then decide, is Amir ultimately a moral person? Do you forgive him? Write a short paragraph for each side of the argument, then highlight which one you personally agree with the most.

A special thanks to Alex for this critical, thoughtful text set! We hope this will prove useful for many anchor texts! What do you think?

RickiSigandKellee Signature

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig



The Invisible Boy
Author: Trudy Ludwig
Illustrator: Patrice Barton
Published October 8th, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf

Goodreads Summary: Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.

When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource. 

Includes backmatter with discussion questions and resources for further reading. 

Review: Wow. This book affected me, so I know it would affect students. Although this is a book aimed at helping students think about how they affect others, there was one scene, early on, that shows Brian being ignored by everyone including his teacher which made me even sadder. It is so important for everyone, adults included, to think about how they treat or ignore others.

The other thing that I thought was brilliant was the way the illustrations were done. Brian comes to life actually right in front of our eyes. Such a smart way to visually show the moral of the story.

If you have not read this book yet, get it from your library or just go ahead and purchase it. You will not regret it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book needs to be added to any kindness or empathy units out there right now. When I go back into the classroom, I will include it when I read Each Kindness, Because Amelia Smiled, and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (check out my post on how I use Each Kindness in my middle school classroomInvisible Boy will fit perfectly.)

The author also includes recommended reading for adults and kids as well as wonderful Questions for Discussion in the back of the book.

Discussion Questions: (Found in the backmatter of the book) How many kids did it take in this story to help Brian begin to feel less invisible?; What specifically did Justin do to make Brian feel less invisible?; Are there kids in your class, grade, or school who you see being treated as if they are invisible? If yes, what could you do to make them feel more valued and appreciated?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Recommended For: 

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Ling & Ting Share A Birthday by Grace Lin



Ling & Ting Share A Birthday
Author and Illustrator: Grace Lin
Published September 10th, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: Ling & Ting are twins. They share a birthday. They bake cakes, and they make birthday wishes. They tell stories and wrap gifts. They also share a birthday secret!

Have fun with Ling and Ting! They stick together and look alike. But they are not exactly the same.

Review and Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: I am not an expert on early chapter books, but I am trying to read more than I did in the past. What I have noticed is that most early readers have short compelling stories or chapters with interesting characters and often teach a lesson or would make the reader thing. Ling & Ting is no different and is an excellent addition to the early readers I’ve read. Ling & Ting are twins, but are very different people. It is a great opportunity to discuss identity and personality. Also, each chapter of Ling & Ting’s story put them in different situations and are all opportunities to discuss these situations. Finally, Grace Lin gives teachers/students/readers many opportunities to discuss character traits and compare/contrast the two twins.

Discussion Questions: How are Ling & Ting different? The same?; When Ling & Ting didn’t know what to buy for the other twin, what did they do? Do you agree with what they did?

We Flagged: “Ling reads the cookbook very carefully. She mixes butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Ting does not read the cookbook carefully. She mixes butter, sugar, and eggs. Ling and Ting put their cake in the oven. They watch them bake. Ling’s cake bakes golden. Ting’s cake does not.” (p. 17-19)

Read This If You Loved: Penny series by Kevin Henkes, Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett

Recommended For: 



Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes



Penny and her Marble
Author and Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Published February 19th, 2013 by GreenwillowBooks

Goodreads Summary: In the third easy-to-read book about Penny the mouse, written by Caldecott Medalist and bestselling author Kevin Henkes, Penny finds a beautiful marble on her neighbor’s lawn and must decide whether or not to keep it. With age-appropriate vocabulary, compelling characters, and a memorable storyline, this is just right for newly independent readers.

Kevin Henkes is known for his mouse characters, including Lilly, Owen, Chrysanthemum, Wemberly, and now Penny! In Penny and her Marble, the third book in the Penny series, Penny finds a marble on Mrs. Goodwin’s yard and takes it home. But does the marble really belong to Penny? Kevin Henkes is a master at creating beautifully illustrated books that resonate with young children. The Penny books are new classics for beginning readers and will appeal to fans of Frog and Toad, Little Bear, and Henry and Mudge.

Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am a huge fan of Kevin Henkes. I really enjoy everything he writes—he is so talented! His work ranges from picture books to early readers to chapter books to middle grade novels and all that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed, and Penny and Her Marble was no different. Like the Goodreads summary says, Penny’s story is perfect for our early readers. Her story is one that children will connect with; however, Henkes never talks down to his readers. What struck me was the beautiful language that he used throughout–to describe Penny’s feelings, the marble, the day, etc.

Discussion Questions: If you were Penny, would you have kept the marble?; Is there anything you’ve taken without asking? What did you do?; Like Kevin Henkes does, look at different marbles and use similes to describe them.

We Flagged: “The marble was so blue it looked like a piece of the sky. Penny went to the window and held up the marble. She was right. The marble was like a piece of the sky.” (p. 16-17)

Read This If You Loved: Other Kevin Henkes books, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik, Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Recommended For: 

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