Teaching Guide and Review!: Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams


Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.

Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.

Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.

About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.


“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine

Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.

Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me: 

Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**

YALSA Morris Finalists’ Blog Hop: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero



Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Published October 14th, 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press

Goodreads Summary: For all the gorditas, flaquitas, and in-between girls trying to make their space in the world. Don’t worry, you got this.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Author Bio: Isabel Quintero is a library technician in the Inland Empire. She is also the events coordinator for Orange Monkey and helps edit the poetry journal Tin Cannon. Gabi is her debut novel.

Kellee’s Review: What I found in this book was a book of truth. While I normally find a book that has so many topics in it to be cumbersome (just some of the topics hit were: pregnancy, abortion, meth, family, religion, ethnicity, school, homosexuality, sex, death, poetry, college, rape, and gender expectations), I felt that Gabi was just truthful. Her story was just a story full of real life which just happens to be messy. I enjoyed the unique format, the diversity (not just race/ethnicity, but lbgt, body size, class, ELL, etc.), and the amazing cast of characters. Gabi’s voice rang true throughout, and even got stronger as she became more independent within the story. Well done.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Parts of Gabi’s story could easily be pulled out to be a mentor text for many different literary elements; however, I feel like one of the best ways it could be used is to have students emulate Gabi’s writing. For example, Gabi writes letters to her father sharing how she really feels. Students could write to someone sharing something with them that they are keeping from them. You could also use Gabi’s magazine and poetry the same way. Gabi’s writing is very raw, and I think that students will definitely connect with it.

Discussion Questions: Gabi makes a choice towards the end of the book that makes Cindy be upset with Gabi. Do you agree with what Gabi did?; Gabi’s mother is very protective of her. Why do you think she is so hard on Gabi?; Gabi deals with body issues throughout the book. How do you think our society affects how she pictures herself?; Sebastian and Cindy’s parents are both disappointed in their kids for different reasons and deal differently with their disappointment. Do you agree with how they treat their children?

We Flagged: “My brother is fifteen. He knows many things. He knows how to make a pipe out of an apple, and he knows how to make beautiful murals on public property. He likes wresting and biking and skateboarding but doesn’t like school because school doesn’t understand kids like us. My brother–the brat, the crybaby, the quite one, the brown one, Mami’s favorite: where will he go? I ask myself the question over and over. Y no se. I don’t know where he will go, but I hope wherever it is it’s better than here.” (p. 94)

Read This If You Loved: Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott, What Can(t) Wait by Ashley Hope Perez, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia MacCall, Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

Recommended For:

 litcirclesbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall

Make sure to stop by Cinco Puntos Press blog to see the other stops on the tour!


**A special thank you to Jessica Powers at Cinco Puntos Press for organizing this blog hop!**

The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman



The Milk of Birds
Author: Sylvia Whitman
Published April 16th, 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: This timely, heartrending novel tells the moving story of a friendship between two girls: one an American teen, one a victim of the crisis in Darfur.

Know that there are many words behind the few on this paper…

Fifteen-year-old Nawra lives in Darfur, Sudan, in a camp for refugees displaced by the Janjaweed’s trail of murder and destruction. Nawra cannot read or write, but when a nonprofit organization called Save the Girls pairs her with an American donor, Nawra dictates her thank-you letters. Putting her experiences into words begins to free her from her devastating past—and to brighten the path to her future.

K. C. is an American teenager from Richmond, Virginia, who hates reading and writing—or anything that smacks of school. But as Nawra pours grief and joy into her letters, she inspires K. C. to see beyond her own struggles. And as K. C. opens her heart in her responses to Nawra, she becomes both a dedicated friend and a passionate activist for Darfur.

In this poetic tale of unlikely sisterhood, debut author Sylvia Whitman captures the friendship between two girls who teach each other compassion and share a remarkable bond that bridges two continents.

My Review: This is a special book. First, because of the characters who tell the story. K.C. is a young girl with learning disabilities which have caused her to hate reading, writing, and school. Nawra is a refugee in Darfur who continues to have an optimistic view of the world even after she has been surrounded by horrors that I can’t even imagine. Both of these girls are not represented very often in books, and they are both so important to know.  Through this book, the reader gets to see the intensity of the situation in Sudan and refugees’ power in overcoming however they can. They also get to see the brilliance of students with learning disabilities. There are so many students in our school just like K.C., and too many of their peers would judge them by their struggles instead of by their heart and soul.

Second, this book is special because of the way the author is able to intertwine these two stories in a flawless way, and a way that keeps the reader engaged in both stories simultaneously. Third, the lyrical writing of Whitman makes this story not only interesting and important, but also beautiful to read. Last, the power of this book lies in the book, and how the book will change those who read it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book has some incredibly lyrical aspects which would be perfect for mentor texts for imagery and other descriptive language. I also love the idea of written pen pals, and I would love to see this book being used to start pen pals in a classroom. Finally, K.C.’s friendship with Nawra helps her become an advocate for refugees in Darfur. This would be a great way to talk about ways to make a difference in the world. I would pair it with A Long Walk to Water which shows the same thing. Powerful.

Discussion Questions: What does K.C. teach us about students with learning disabilities?; What does Nawra teach us about Sudanese refugees?; What is your favorite Nawra saying? Why?; How does life here compare to life in the Sudan?; What is a way you could help the refugees in Sudan?; What is another cause in the world that you could help?

We Flagged: “My mother is sitting on the mat where I left her. She shows no surprise that Adeeba and I return so soon with nothing but more words from the khawaja. She does not protest when I lift her.

I carry my mother as I used to carry wounded animals from pasture, arms on one side, legs on the other, her body draped behind my neck and across my shoulders. She is not much heavier than a goat.” (Nawra, p. 3)

“When she explains things, they make sense, for a while. Who cares about the area of a trapezoid, though? That question stumped my teacher for a minute, and then he launched into this spiel about geometry in everyday life, and if I were someone with a trapezoidal yard, I might need to figure out how much fertilizer to spread. As if. Hook up your hose to a bottle of Miracle-Gro, point, and shoot.” (K.C., p. 12)

Read This If You Love: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

Recommended For: 

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Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles



Living with Jackie Chan
Author: Jo Knowles
Expected Publication: September 10th, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: After fathering a baby, a teenager moves in with his karate-loving uncle and tries to come to terms with his guilt — and find a way to forgive.

This isn’t how Josh expected to spend senior year. He thought he’d be hanging out with his best friends, Dave and Caleb, driving around, partying, just like always. But here he is, miles from home — new school, new life, living with his Jackie-Chan-obsessed uncle, Larry, and trying to forget. But Josh can’t forget. So many things bring back memories of last year and the night that changed everything. Every day the pain, the shame, and the just not knowing are never far from his thoughts. Why is he such a loser? How could he have done what he did? He finds some moments of peace when he practices karate with Stella, the girl upstairs and his one real friend. As they move together through the katas, Josh feels connected in a way he has never felt before. He wonders if they could be more than friends, but Stella’s jealous boyfriend will make sure that doesn’t happen. And maybe it doesn’t matter. If Stella knew the truth, would she still think he was a True Karate Man? Readers first met Josh in Jumping Off Swings which told the story of four high school students and how one pregnancy changed all of their lives. In this companion book, they follow Josh as he tries to come to terms with what happened, and find a way to forgive.

Ricki’s Review: Jumping off Swings is a favorite in my classroom, so I was very excited to read this companion text. I always wondered what happened to Josh, and this novel shows the other side of the story. In many ways, Jo Knowles makes this story unpredictable for readers. When Josh meets Stella, the reader anticipates this novel will progress similarly to other novels with a budding romance. But instead, the two characters develop a deep, meaningful friendship that feels much more important than a love connection. Stella’s mother neglects her, and she submits to her boyfriend’s emotional abuse. In a way, she needs healing just as badly as Josh does. Larry, at first, seems to be a minor character with his goofy grin and karate moves, but as the story progresses, his depth of character is apparent. He isn’t a secondary character who plays second fiddle. Instead, he drives Josh’s healing process. There is so much to think about and discuss in regards to this text. It is beautifully written, and the characters will stick with me.

Kellee’s Review: I can’t say enough great things about this novel as it helped me out of my latest reading slump! I also think it is interesting because I read Jackie Chan before reading Jumping Off Swings, and I think that may have changed my perspective. It is interesting to think about how the different order of reading can change how you view a book. I went in with no expectations because I didn’t even know what had happened to Josh, so I think that the reveal of that secret was bigger for me than if I’d read it in the other order. Because I was naive about the past, I went in with no past feelings for Josh and really just hoping for the best for him. I found myself struggling with him and crying with him because his hurt was so deep. Though Stella and Larry enter his life, I didn’t think he’d let them in, but instead, they become a huge part in him healing. I really loved Living with Jackie Chan (as well as Jumping off Swings which I read immediately after finishing Jackie Chan). Jo Knowles always impresses me with her ability to tell tough stories in ways that makes it so that the reader can connect.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This is a great text to teach internal conflict. Josh has extremely low self-esteem and blames himself for his decisions. He goes through various stages of grief and tries a variety of coping mechanisms, many of which are unsuccessful. Teachers might have students research the stages of grief and various coping mechanisms that can be used with internal conflicts and relate them back to specific scenes from the text.

Discussion Questions: How does karate play an important role in Josh’s character development?; What stages of grief does Josh go through?; Do you think Josh is morally good? Do you think he should be judged for his mistakes?; Does Britt seem truly remorseful for the way he treats Stella? How does karate play a role in Stella’s character development?; By the end of the novel, is Josh a True Karate Man? Why or why not?

We Flagged: “A true karate man lifts those who have fallen, no matter how low. I can imagine him thinking this as he looks at me. That he’s going to e a true karate man and get me out of this mess. But he doesn’t know everything that happened. He doesn’t know what I did. He doesn’t know how low I’ve gone.”

Please note: The above quote is from the Advanced Reader E-Galley and did not provide page numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles, First Part Last by Angela Johnson, Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Recommended For:

 litcirclesbuttonsmall  classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


**Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing us with the Advanced Reader Copies!**