The Forest Queen
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Published: August 7, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Guest Review by Rachel Krieger
Summary: When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.
Review: Anyone familiar with the tale of Robin Hood likes the idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Betsy Cornwell’s twist on this idea changes it just enough to give the story some flavor and novelty. The characters were compelling and the relationships were truly touching, but everything felt a little too convenient to me. There were several times when characters all but died and ended up making it out without a scrape. In a world where all of the favorable characters are on the lamb, there was a fair amount of luck and inaction that saved nearly every one of them. As a gender bent twist on a fairytale and a lively retelling of an old story, this novel had merit, but there wasn’t quite enough to it to call it a masterpiece.
However, as far as representation goes, Betsy Cornwell hit it on the head. The Forest Queen, as the title lets on, has a female leading things. The role of Robin Hood was usurped by a woman and amplified by the fact that the woman is stealing from her own family to give to the poor. The other females in the novel show strength in the face of things like rape and a shocking lack of agency. There are even LGBTQ characters that add to the sense that women in this world are the epitome of overcoming their circumstances.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation:This novel is a great outlet in which to discuss rape culture. Although it is not the most prominent part of the story, it plays a part and is represented in an ideal way in relation to discussion. Because this subject is extremely difficult to discuss in general, let alone in a classroom, talking about it within the realm of this fantastical society may make it a bit easier. It would be interesting to reflect upon the similarities between the culture in the novel and our own culture in this society. It is so incredibly important to discuss difficult subjects in the classroom, but when it is in reference to a novel like The Forest Queen, it can be looked at in a more academic way.
Did Sylvie have a right to encourage the village people to rebel against her brother?
What do the ties to the story of Robin Hood do for this novel?
How do women take power in this story and how does that differ from classic fantasy?
Read This If You Loved: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Isle of Blood and Stone
Author: Makiia Lucier
Published: April 10, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Guest Review by Rachel Krieger
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.
The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.
Review: I absolutely adore this book. Makiia Lucier did an excellent job of incorporating strong characters, resistance to discrimination, mystery, romance, and interesting elements of the fantastic all in one novel. The plot had me completely riveted and I spent a lot of time while not reading thinking about the big reveal I knew was coming. Lucier had strong female characters who consistently proved to be as independent and capable as their male counterparts. The quest narrative was something new and fascinating that will certainly have all readers sticking around until the end. And best yet, this was the first book I have ever read about map-making. The incredible world building required no info dump, nor unrealistic exposition, because Lucier’s characters are often seen either drawing or studying maps. The issues discussed, the characters created, and the world formed came together to make a wonderfully mysterious and incredibly fun novel to read.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This book is a great way for students to look at discrimination. Although the races represented in this novel are of a fantastical nature, they are still ripe for discussion. You can ask your students to think about the real-life connections to the way that Mercedes is treated, being of mixed race. There are many books that address this type of racism directly, making it one of the main aspects of the story. Lucier addresses the issue a few times but does not make it a major plot point. It would be really interesting to discuss this as a plot element but not a form of social commentary.
It could also be interesting to look at and start a discussion on the treatment of illness in our society. There is an island in this novel where lepers are quarantined, often against their will. Although we have nothing exactly like this in society, there are certainly loose parallels in the ways that we treat people with diseases and disorders. It would be really beneficial to start a conversation with students about this form of social imprisonment that is rarely discussed.
What parts of this novel reaffirm gender stereotypes, and which break away?
Can you think of any ways that Mercedes’s treatment in the novel is reflected in the real world?
What does this novel say about the way that illness is treated in society?
We Flagged: “It was not the first time someone had spat at Mercedes, or even the fifth, but it had been some years since Elias had witnessed the insult.”
Read This If You Loved: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Scythe Scythe by Neal Shusterman
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel
Guest Review by Rachel Krieger
Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.
In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.
But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.
Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.
If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.
Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.
This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.
Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?
We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”
Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Girls Like Us Author: Gail Giles
Published May 27th, 2014 by Candlewick Press
Goodreads Summary: With gentle humor and unflinching realism, Gail Giles tells the gritty, ultimately hopeful story of two special ed teenagers entering the adult world.
We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And most of what we understand is that people what ain’t Speddies think we too stupid to get out our own way. And that makes me mad.
Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first “real world” apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.
Hard-hitting and compassionate, Girls Like Us is a story about growing up in a world that can be cruel, and finding the strength — and the support — to carry on.
My Review: While reading this book, I had no question that it deserved the Schneider Teen Award. The Schneider Family Book Award honors a “book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences,” and Girls Like Us take us into Quincy and Biddy’s worlds as they learn to transition from a special-ed classroom in high school to real life in such a true matter, it definitely meets the criteria for the award. In many ways, the book is like any book about girls who just graduated from high school: learning to live with a roommate you don’t understand, learning to be responsible, etc. However, the challenges that these young ladies face because of their disabilities puts the book on a whole different level. Although the book is primarily about Quincy and Biddy’s life, it does illuminate some serious issues towards the treatment of differently abled individuals. (P.S. I love the ending very much!)
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The characters in this book are so complex! Even the secondary characters are fleshed out and have a presence. Girls Like Us is a wonderful example of character building and voice and how that can make (or break) a novel. It is especially fascinating to compare the voice and tone of the two girls’ sections. Extremely well crafted.
Discussion Questions: How do Quincy and Biddy complement each other?; How does Miss Lizzy help Quincy and Biddy overcome the challenges they face leaving school?; How did you (and Miss Lizzy) underestimate Quincy and Biddy? Why did you/she do so?; If you were going to record your feelings like Biddy and Quincy do, what would your recording say?; Did you predict why Biddy didn’t like males correctly? Did you predict the ending?
We Flagged: “My name is Biddy. Some call me other names. Granny calls me Retard. Quincy call me White Trash sometimes and Fool most of the time. Most kids call me Speddie. That’s short for Special Education.
I can’t write or read. A little bit, but not good enough to matter. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. If I could write I could make a long list. List might reach lal the way through Texas to someplace like Chicago. I don’t know where Chicago is. That’s another thing for the list.
But there’s some things I do know. And once I know a thing, I hold it tight and don’t let it stray off. Granny shouldn’t call me Retard. I know that. It ain’t nice. It hurts my feelings. I know it’s a wrong thing to hurt somebody’s feelings. I know that I ain’t White Trash. Trash is something you throw away. You don’t throw nobody away. That’s wrong. Even if my mama done it to me.” (p. 1)
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!
**This book is technically historical fiction, but I felt it was pretty darn close to nonfiction**
Never Fall Down Author: Patricia McCormick
Published May 8th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Goodreads Summary: This National Book Award nominee from two-time finalist Patricia McCormick is the unforgettable story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge.
Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. It includes an author’s note and acknowledgments from Arn Chorn-Pond himself.
When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever.
Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children dying before his eyes. One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers.
This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.
My Review: When I started Never Fall Down, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I began it because Ricki recommended it to me, but I didn’t read the back or have any prior knowledge about the book. So, when I began, I had no idea how tough this book was going to be.
I also have to preface with my ignorance of the Cambodian Genocide. I blame my lack of world history education because this is a time of history that should be taught. It, along with the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide, was based in racism and the attempt to purify a country. Reading Arn’s story throws you right in the middle of the genocide, and Patricia McCormick doesn’t hold anything back. Every time you think nothing can get worse for Arn and the Cambodians, something does, but you also have such hope for Arn’s survival as you seen him overcome every obstacle he faces. Even though death actually stares him in the face throughout the book, this young boy somehow continues. He continues through starvation, excessive work, lack of sleep, and murder surrounding him. Arn stated in interviews with McCormick that music saved his life, but I think it was more about his willingness to do whatever was needed to survive and especially anything to help those he cared for to survive.
Patricia McCormick tells our story in a broken English dialect that was influenced by “Arn’s own beautiful, improvised English” that McCormick heard in her head after interviewing him and traveling with him to Cambodia over a couple of years. The extent that Ms. McCormick went to ensure that Arn’s story was a true representation of his trials and heroism is honorable.
Teachers’ Tools For Navigation: This would be a perfect cross-curricular text! It could be read in a world history class in full or in parts. Although it is McCormick’s writing, it is definitely Arn’s story, and Arn’s story is one that needs to be shared. This book could also be used in lit circles where each group has a different book about a piece of history or an individual who/that is not usually learned about (maybe with Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Sold,Caminar by Skila Brown, The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, The Queen of Water by Laura Resau, orNow is the Time for Running by Michael Williams).
One of my amazing 8th grade students read this book recently, and she was as enthralled with it as I was. Immediately after finishing, she got online and started learning more about Arn and Cambodia. She came across an amazing video with both Patricia McCormick and Arn in it. It is 27 minutes long, but it is so worth watching:
Discussion Questions: What do you think ultimately helped Arn survive?; How did Sombo save Arn’s life at the orphan camp? When the war with the Vietnamese started? At the killing fields?; Do you think music is what saved Arn?; How were the Khmer Rouge able to make their prisoners do whatever they wanted them to?; Why did the Khmer Rouge kill all the educated Cambodians?; Why was Sombo so unsure about the Coca Cola?
We Flagged: “All the time now we hear girl screaming, girl running, girl crying. At night but also sometime in the daytime. All the tie, the Khmer Rouge they chase the girl, cut the hair. Sometime with scissor, sometime with knife. Chop short, to the chin, like boy. The girl, they cry and sometime they run. They run, it’s no good. The Khmer Rouge may shoot them, maybe take them to the bushes, do whatever they want. A lot of the girl afterward, they pull on their hair, pull like maybe they can stretch it, make it long, make it beautiful again.
My number two big sister, Maly, her hair like silk. Most proud thing about her, her hair. Shiny black, like blue, like a crow has. Every night she brush her hair, every morning. Sometime even she brush her hair not thinking, just dreaming maybe about the boy she love. One morning I wake up before everyone and see her making rice. Her neck, it’s bare now, her skin there is pale, never saw the sun, her long hair gone. Last night while I was asleep, the soldier, they cut her beauty. So now when she give me a bowl of rice soup, her eyes stay on the ground.” (p. 29-30)
Read This If You Loved: Titles listed above in Teachers’ Tools for Navigation
Author: Paul Maurer
Published February 6th, 2013 by New Libri Press
Goodreads Summary: Landmines. Quicksand. Class warfare. Now if Jimmy Parker could only find high school that simple. It only gets more complicated when a mysterious female classmate with a special gift enters his life. Jimmy finds out quickly that a simple touch of her hand allows her unwanted clairvoyance into his most sacred thoughts. Soon after the revelation adolescent sparks fly in directions that culminate in Jimmy’s admittance into the sinister Gritch Club. There he is confronted with social and sexual dilemmas that shake his very core. It is only when his classmate’s mental frailties bubbles to the surface he realizes seemingly harmless actions have powerful consequences that end one life and transform another.
My Review: This book’s ending was so shocking. I sat with my mouth hanging open, just shocked. It was so sudden and really caught me off guard. The emotion I felt starts with the characters. Jimmy is a nobody in his high school until Renee enters his life. Renee is special. She doesn’t care about what others think, she stands up to the bullies, and she actually befriends Jimmy. Renee is who propels our plot. She gets Jimmy to get out of his comfort zone, she is mysterious so I was always trying to figure her out, and she was smart and beautiful.
Teacher Tools’ For Navigation: There is almost a sub-genre of books that Touched fits in, though I don’t know if it has a name yet. They all have smart or outcast main characters, and another character enters their life who helps them realize their identity. Teens who like those book will enjoy Touched as well.
Discussion Questions: How does Renee change Jimmy’s life?; What events caused the surprising ending to happen? Did you see it happen? Was their foreshadowing that could have given away the ending?
We Flagged: “Most of high school was about as thrilling as getting a Slushee brain-freeze. But in my first class after lunch a thin vein of gold appeared within the red bricks of the building. English Composition was taught by Clarice Weatherspoon, a wrinkly lady that just about everybody called Mrs. Spoon. She was about eighty years old and one of those teachers who probably probably taught during the depression and was never going to die. I could see her in a coma maybe, but not dead. I never cared much for writing but Mrs. Spoon was supposed to be different. Fun was too strong a word for her class, but at least it wasn’t supposed to bore the living crap out of you. She only weighted a hundred pounds caring a backpack full of Big Macs, but when she spoke she came on as tough as a leather boot. Probably tougher.” (Location 335, Kindle ebook)
Read This If You Loved: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott
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