Discussion Guide for The Lilies by Quinn Diacon-Furtado

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The Lilies
Author: Quinn Diacon-Furtado
Published: April 30th, 2024 by HarperTeen

Summary: One of Us Is Lying meets A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in this don’t-dare-to-look-away dark academia thriller that explores how secrets can rot an institution–and the people who uphold it–from the inside out.

Everyone wants to be a Lily.

At Archwell Academy, it’s the ticket to a successful future. But like every secret society, there is something much darker beneath the surface … sometimes girls disappear.

When four Archwell students find themselves trapped in a time loop, they must relive their worst memories, untangling the Lilies’ moldering roots and unraveling the secrets at the core of their school … before they destroy their futures forever.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the discussion guide I created for Cake Creative:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

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Educators’ Guide for Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts

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Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Published: November 7, 2023 by Abrams

Summary: Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year is a moving story starring the Questioneers’ teacher that’s all about kindness, learning to face your fears, and the profound difference that one brilliant educator can make in a child’s life, from author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts, the #1 New York Times bestselling creators of Aaron Slater, Illustrator and Ada Twist, Scientist !

Lila Greer is full of worries. Even the smallest things—from cabbages to cardboard—fill her with dread and what-if s. So when her family makes a big change—moving to a new town—the worry and what-if s only grow. What if things go wrong? What if no one likes her?

At first, Lila feels right to be worried. In her new home, everything is strange. The new kids, the new smells. Lila feels alone and invisible. But there’s one person who sees Lila’s teacher, Ms. Kern. Through some creativity, blackboard erasers, and—most of all—kindness, Ms. Kern finds a way to make Lila feel welcome and open to new experiences. A lesson that will resonate with Lila long after second grade.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Abrams for Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year on Abrams’s page.

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Educators’ Guide for The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi

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The Partition Project
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Published: February 27th, 2024 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: When her grandmother comes off the airplane in Houston from Pakistan, Mahnoor knows that having Dadi move in is going to disrupt everything about her life. She doesn’t have time to be Dadi’s unofficial babysitter—her journalism teacher has announced that their big assignment will be to film a documentary, which feels more like storytelling than what Maha would call “journalism”.

As Dadi starts to settle into life in Houston and Maha scrambles for a subject for her documentary, the two of them start talking. About Dadi’s childhood in northern India—and about the Partition that forced her to leave her home and relocate to the newly created Pakistan. As details of Dadi’s life are revealed, Dadi’s personal story feels a lot more like the breaking news that Maha loves so much. And before she knows it, she has the subject of her documentary.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for the author:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about The Partition Project on Saadia Faruqi’s website.

Flagged Passage: View an excerpt HERE.

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Drawing Deena by Hena Khan

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Drawing Deena
Author: Hena Khan
Publishing February 6th, 2024 by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes a tenderhearted middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American artist determined to manage her anxiety and forge her own creative path.

Deena’s never given a name to the familiar knot in her stomach that appears when her parents argue about money, when it’s time to go to school, or when she struggles to find the right words. She manages to make it through each day with the help of her friends and the art she loves to make.

While her parents’ money troubles cause more and more stress, Deena wonders if she can use her artistic talents to ease their burden. She creates a logo and social media account to promote her mom’s home-based business selling clothes from Pakistan to the local community. With her cousin and friends modeling the outfits and lending their social media know-how, business picks up.

But the success and attention make Deena’s cousin and best friend, Parisa, start to act funny. Suddenly Deena’s latest creative outlet becomes another thing that makes her feel nauseated and unsure of herself. After Deena reaches a breaking point, both she and her mother learn the importance of asking for help and that, with the right support, Deena can create something truly beautiful.

Praise: *Khan skillfully weaves in cultural references and Urdu phrases alongside thoughtful questions about the arts, mental health, social media, parent-child relationships, and the pressures adolescent girls face about their appearances. A nuanced and quietly powerful story. – Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

About the Author: Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at HenaKhan.com or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

Review: Art + middle school + identity + family struggles + friends + growth of so many characters = a book that I couldn’t put down. 

As a mental health advocate and someone who believes we should all share our struggles public much more than we do, Drawing Deena is a book that went straight to my heart.

Deena has so much going on. She is truly just trying to hold it together, but it is all too much. However, if you look on the surface, she looks like any other pre-teen and she has learned to mask all of her emotions. But that is what makes the book so insightful. This is how most of our students who are suffering from mental illness deal on a day to day basis–the best they can and often they make it so outside people wouldn’t notice. But throughout the book, she learns to find her voice: her advocacy voice, her friendship voice, her stern voice, her artist voice… She learns that her voice matters.

There is a part of the press release I had to share that pulls it all together: “According to the CDC, anxiety affects approximately one in 11 children aged 3-17. A panel of experts recently recommended that all children 8 and older be screened for anxiety. Thus, Khan hopes to help address America’s mental health crisis among children through her work. Deena is a lovable and relatable character, a young artist who struggles with anxiety, who wants her parents to stop fighting and having money woes, and dreams of being a painter like her idol Vincent van Gogh. She learns to stand up against bullies of all ages and that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Tools for Navigation: In addition to the advocacy of mental health, I love the art aspects of the book! I think it is a perfect way to move a discussion of art history to contemporary and diverse artists and finding your own style of art. This was a very powerful aspect of the book!

I also love how Deena helps her mother with her business, and I think that what she does for the store could become an activity as well: create a logo, create a website, plan finances, etc.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the first sign that Deena is struggling with her mental health?
  • Why is meeting Salma such a pinnacle event in Deena’s life?
  • Why does the Van Gogh experience affect Deena the way it does?
  • Do you think Deena should have gotten mad at Parisa when she did?
  • How is Deena’s school helping her with her anxiety?
  • Why is Deena’s father so hesitant for her to get help? What does this show us about shift in the view of mental health between generations?
  • Why is Deena’s mom so hesitant about Deena’s changes for her business? In the end, do you think that Deena helped her out?
  • Why is everyone so interested in getting on social media so quickly? Do you believe this is good for teen’s mental health?

Flagged Passages/Spreads: I open the door and Parisa bounds inside. My cousin is always in a hurry, whether she’s running for the bus, walking to a store at the mall, or racing down the halls at school. I struggle to keep up with her wherever we go together. It doesn’t help that she’s at least two inches taller than me and has super long legs.

“Be careful, this is still hot,” Saima Khala says, handing me a pot with two worn oven mitts. “Put it on the stove.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“Chicken pulao. Your mother said she didn’t have time to cook, and I was already making this.”

“Yum.” My aunt’s pulao is the best, but I’d never admit that to Mama.

I take the pot, heavy with rice, and carry it to the kitchen, and Parisa sets a bag filled with containers on the counter. Some are full, and others are empty and will probably go back full. This is how it works between our families, there’s a constant exchange of food.

“Leave the daal out and put the rest in the fridge. Where’s your mother?” Khala asks as she opens a drawer and takes out a big spoon.

“I think she’s upstairs. Rubina Auntie just left,” I say.

Khala smiles and pats my cheek. She looks like a younger and more stylish version of my mom although she’s a couple of years older than her. That’s something else I’d never tell Mama.

“How are you?” she asks, her eyes piercing in a way that makes me feel like she cares, and that she remembers what it’s like to be my age.

“Good,” I say, smiling back. “But I haven’t started my homework or studying for my test. We went to the dentist after school.”

“What kind of test?”

“Science.”

“Go study. Parisa can help you. She remembers what she studied last year, right?”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Parisa says. “I remember every single thing I’ve ever learned in school.” She grins at me.

“Okay, smarty-pants, well don’t distract her then!” Khala smacks Parisa playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll take care of this and help your mom.”

“Come on,” I say to Parisa.

Parisa beats me up the stairs and heads to my room. It’s the smallest one in the house, but I have a bigger closet than Musa. My cousin plops down on my bed and sticks out her hand. Her nails are purple with a gold streak running through them.

“What do you think?”

“Did you do them yourself?” I ask, taking her hand and looking at it closely.

“Of course.”

“It totally looks professional.” I’m seriously impressed with Parisa’s nail art skills. She’s been doing her nails since I was ten and she was eleven, and she’s gotten better and better over time. It looks like she got them done at a salon, which she basically did.

Parisa’s mom started offering eyebrow threading to ladies in the community from home a few years ago. She gradually added waxing, facials, and other skin care services. Now, my Khala’s got a legit home-based salon and is always busy. Parisa knows a lot about it and helps her mom out with booking appointments and other stuff. My cousin is the reason I’ve been taking more of an interest in Mama’s boutique lately. Maybe I can help her business take off the same way.

“You should let me do yours,” Parisa says, glancing at my nails, jagged in places from where I chew on them. I try not to, but it’s a bad habit when I’m nervous.

“I’m good.” I clench my fists and hide my nails.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ve got a bunch of new colors,” Parisa says.

“It’ll get messed up when I do my art projects.” I shake my head. I don’t add that I’m more interested in painting a canvas than either my nails or my face.

“Fine.” Parisa fake pouts. “But you have to let me do your hair then. Honestly, Deena, you would look so pretty if you curled your hair and put some anti-frizz in it.”

I try not to react, even as her words grate on my nerves. My cousin’s always pointing out how much better I’d look if I only did something to change myself.

“My hair’s fine,” I mumble, noticing how Parisa’s hair is shiny and smooth with loose curls on the ends. I picture my own head, filled with tighter curls, topped with a layer of frizz. But it takes too long to fight my hair into submission. And the few times I ever had it blow-dried straight, I hated the way it made me look like a different person. I’m not interested in doing that again, so Parisa can make me her project. No, thanks.

“You’re in seventh grade now, Deena. You should pay a little more attention to the way you look. I didn’t care when I was younger either, but now I realize my mom’s right. It’s good to take pride in your appearance.”

Is it though? I want to say. How much pride?

But instead, I swallow my irritation and try to think of a way to change the subject.

“Want to help me choose which photo of you to use for my art assignment?” I ask.

“Sure, Deenie Beenie.” Parisa is instantly interested, and she uses the nickname she’s had for me since we were little. I pull up the photos of Parisa on my phone and swipe through them. There’s one of her seated on my bed, another in a big chair, her gazing directly into the camera, and my favorite, her reading a book.

“That one,” Parisa says, pointing. It’s the one of her looking directly into the camera. She’s got a teasing smile, like she’s hiding a secret.

“Not the one with the book?”

“I look like a dork in that one. Plus, I like the way my hair is falling over my eyes here.”

Parisa made this decision easy. I pull out my pencils and my drawing pad. I’ve already made a big grid with rulers on the page like my teacher Mr. Carey instructed. He said that for portraiture it helps to make sure that you get proportions right. I prefer to freehand, but he’s going to be checking our progress, so I have to do it this way.

I start to sketch out a basic outline of the photo while Parisa watches.

“Can you make my eyes a little bigger?” she asks. “And my nose a little smaller? Right there.”

She points at the photo.

“I’m getting graded on how much it looks like the photo,”

I laugh.

“Yeah, but can’t you, like, put a filter on it?” Parisa grins.

Every time Parisa takes a picture of us, she messes around with it for a while using a glam app. It makes your skin glow and does other things. By the time she’s done with it, we almost look like different people, and then she posts it on her socials.

I’m not allowed to have any accounts until I’m in high school but I wonder if her followers would recognize me if they ever met me in real life.

“Well, just make me look good,” Parisa says after I stare at her and don’t respond.

“You always look good,” I finally say. And I mean it. Parisa is a pretty girl, and she knows it. At least I think she does. Because she also acts like she needs other people to remind her.

I’m going to make sure her portrait is beautiful. But I’m not changing the way she looks.

Read This If You Love: Iveliz Explains it All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers by Caela Carter, Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

Educators’ Guide for Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

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Promise Boys
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: January 31st, 2023 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Promise Boys is a blockbuster, dark academia mystery about three teens of color who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names. This page-turning thriller is perfect for fans of Karen McManus, Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Holly Jackson .

The prestigious Urban Promise Prep school might look pristine on the outside, but deadly secrets lurk within. When the principal ends up murdered on school premises and the cops come sniffing around, a trio of students―J.B., Ramón, and Trey―emerge as the prime suspects. They had the means, they had the motive . . . and they may have had the murder weapon. But with all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. Or is the true culprit hiding among them?

Find out who killed Principal Moore in Nick Brooks’s murder mystery, Promise Boys ― The Hate U Give meets One of Us Is Lying.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative Kitchen:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

Recommended For: 

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Mascot by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell

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Mascot
Authors: Charles Waters and Traci Sorell
Published September 5th, 2023 by Charlesbridge

Summary: What if a school’s mascot is seen as racist, but not by everyone? In this compelling middle-grade novel in verse, two best-selling BIPOC authors tackle this hot-button issue.

In Rye, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, people work hard, kids go to school, and football is big on Friday nights. An eighth-grade English teacher creates an assignment for her class to debate whether Rye’s mascot should stay or change. Now six middle-schoolers—all with different backgrounds and beliefs—get involved in the contentious issue that already has the suburb turned upside down with everyone choosing sides and arguments getting ugly.

Praise: 

⭐ Publishers Weekly, starred review

Told via seven alternating narratives, this ripped-from-the-headlines collaboration in verse by Waters (African Town) and Cherokee Nation member Sorrel (One Land, Many Nations) follows a fictional town’s division over a racist sports mascot. Callie Crossland, who is Cherokee and Black, has just transferred to a middle school in Rye, Va. She immediately expresses disgust at her school’s mascot, a “copper-toned, muscled, loincloth-clad, tomahawk-wielding” caricature of an Indigenous person. Callie’s English teacher Ms. Williams soon assigns a group writing project regarding the “Pros and Cons of Indigenous Peoples as Mascots,” and Callie is annoyed at being paired with Black classmate Franklin, who believes the mascot “brings so much joy.” Waters and Sorrel paint a complex portrait of the differing reactions toward the controversy by layering the racially diverse tweens’ perspectives and showcasing the effects the event has on their individual relationships and the community beyond their school. The creators eschew judgment to present a well-rounded discussion about classism and racism, as well as effective allyship, with compassion and understanding. A glossary and resources conclude. Ages 10–up.

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Waters and Sorell (Cherokee Nation) join forces to write about the power of being true to oneself.

In a middle school in Rye, a fictional town near Washington, D.C., a racist mural and offensive pep rally chants shock new student Callie Crossland, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and African American. Callie shares a heartfelt poem with her seventh grade honors English class, reminding everyone that the “stupid tomahawk-chop chant” and the “cheap chicken-feather headdress” are nothing less than symbols of “white supremacy.” Afterward, Ms. Williams, her teacher, assigns a persuasive writing and oration project entitled “Pros and Cons of Indigenous Peoples as Mascots.” The small, broadly diverse group of students is assigned to work in pairs; Callie is matched with Franklin, who is Black and a proud fan of the Rye Braves football team. Franklin insists, “I wish we could Lysol racism away. / It’s a bad odor,” but he feels conflicted: “I still don’t think our mascot is racist though. It brings so much joy. / …what’s the big deal?” This clever novel unfolds in poems told in multiple voices showing the wide range of students’, families’, and community responses to the controversy; for some, initial feelings of opposition, hesitation, or indifference change and friendships are tested. The compelling, highly relevant subject matter and accessible text invite readers to understand different perspectives and witness individual growth.

A brilliant story not to be missed; deeply engaging from the first page. (glossary, additional information and resources) (Verse fiction. 10-14)

About the Authors: Charles Waters is a children’s poet, actor, educator, and coauthor of African Town; Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z; and the award-winning Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. He lives near Atlanta.

Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies, including the Sibert Honor books We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga and We Are Still Here!. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.

The Authors Discuss the Book: 

Review: The tagline of this book is “Discrimination is discrimination, even when people claim it is ‘tradition,'” and this tagline tells you exactly about the theme of the book. Told from four students’ points of view, it looks at a school where there is a lot of school spirit around their sports team, called the Braves, and a new student starts who is indigenous and is horrified at the appropriation of her culture. The book is written in verse which gives such well written insight into each of the students’ point of view as these kids aim to make a difference. I read this book in one sitting–it is such a great read where you want to know what is going to happen, so you cannot put the book down.

This topic is also so very timely! I saw Traci Sorell at AASL, and she shared that about 2,000 K-12 schools still have Native American-themed mascots. I know of a couple in my area, and I hope that someone shares this book with them to get the conversation going as the book does a beautiful job of looking at the effects of the ignorant choices that were made in the past (and that too many continue to ignore, despite the racism).

Discussion Questions: 

*This discussion guide is provided by the publisher.

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Novels in Verse, Books with multiple points of view, Books that look at timely injustices

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**Thanks to Charlesbridge for providing a copy of the book for review!**

Author Guest Post: “Big Problems and Small Fascinations” by Olivia A. Cole, Author of Where the Lockwood Grows

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Big Problems and Small Fascinations

School requires a lot from young people. Focus, sitting still, hands to yourself, social skills. (This doesn’t end with elementary school. Middle school? For sure. High school? Yep!) This is all hard enough – particularly if you won the neurodivergent lottery – and then you have to throw the whole “actual learning” thing on top too: the math and the science and the history. Oh, and homework! Don’t forget homework. (I’m admittedly sad that the “no homework” movement seems to have lost steam in the last year.)

Where is the space for special interests?

This isn’t a write-up about kids being swamped by “activities” starting in kindergarten. It’s not about how college prep seems to start earlier and earlier in a country where college isn’t free. It’s not even about overwork and burnout.

It’s about small fascinations.

In Where the Lockwood Grows, Erie Neaux isn’t tied up with swimming practice. Rather, she and the other young people in the town of Prine are struggling under the yoke of child labor, although of course no one is calling it that. It’s called survival. (Which at least is more noble than the current justifications.) Erie (and the other children who have no choice but to do the dangerous work in the trees that keeps their town running) wakes up before dawn to finish their work, after which they go to school for a few hours, where most of them are too tired or stressed to pay much attention to what they’re expected to learn.

Erie spends most of the time either daydreaming or flipping through an old encyclopedia of entomology, studying the many strange bugs and their attributes contained in the pages. She applies her knowledge as best as she can in the tiny, insulated town of Prine, admiring the dustnose beetles and other local insects.

But when she and her sister discover the truth about what keeps the people of Prine in the dark, their adventure takes them to the city of Petrichor, where Erie’s world finally opens up. Along the way, she’s taken to the Bug Yard, a place where other bug-lovers have developed their fascinations with insects and turned them toward solutions to climate and waste problems. (Awesomely enough, these imaginings aren’t science fiction!) In the end, Erie’s fascination with bugs that she nurtured in her sparse spare time plays a big part of saving the day.

Capitalism has a way of wringing every drop out of a day. Adults feel it when we don’t even have time for a hobby. (Or worse, when we try to turn hobbies into streams of income.) Children feel it when between school and homework there’s none of their day left empty for daydreaming.

In Where the Lockwood Grows, the lockwood blocks the stars that Erie’s mother says her children need to dream. What about us? What do we need to dream? Our Earth has big problems that need big solutions, born from creativity and innovation, from small fascinations that grow into resolutions. How will they be born if we don’t have time to dream?

Published August 15th, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Erie has never lived life fully in the sunlight. After destructive wildfires wreaked havoc on the world around her, the government came up with a plan—engineer a plant that cannot burn. Thus, the fire-resistant lockwood was born. The lockwood protects Erie and her hometown of Prine, but it grows incredibly fast and must be cut back every morning. Only the town’s youngest and smallest citizens can fit between the branches and tame the plant. Citizens just like Erie.

But one evening, Erie uncovers a shocking secret that leads her to question the rules of Prine. Alongside her older sister, Hurona, she’ll journey from the only home she’s known and realize that the world is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined.

About the Author: Olivia A. Cole is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. Her essays, which often focus on race and womanhood, have been published in Bitch Media, Real Simple, The LA Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Gay Mag, and more. She teaches creative writing at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, where she guides her students through poetry and fiction, but also considerations of the world and who they are within it. She is the author of several books for children and adults. Learn more about Olivia and her work at oliviaacole.com and follow her on Twitter @RantingOwl.

Thank you, Olivia, for this food for thought and reminder that it is okay to allow kids to focus on their loves and passions!