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

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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.

Praise: 

“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.

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

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

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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

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RickiSig

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
Author: Lita Judge
Published: January 30th, 2018 by Roaring Book Press

Summary: A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Whew. I felt so many emotions as I read this book. I kept thinking, “My goodness, my students are going to love this book.” I was fortunate to receive two copies of this book in the mail, and those two copies have passed from student’s hand to student’s hand. The book doesn’t even make its way back up to my desk before another student snags it. This book defies genre sorting. It’s nonfiction, it’s horror, it’s romance, it’s an illustrated book in verse. I’ve already added it to my book list to teach next semester in my Adolescents’ Literature course.

Students will read this book and want immediately to read Frankenstein. The book reads fairly quickly because it contains verse and illustrations, but readers will struggle not to pause for several minutes to enjoy the beautiful illustrations on the pages.

I’m most excited about the classroom potential for this book. It offers so much to talk about regarding characterization, mood, and poetry. But it also offers a beautiful bridge to read with Frankenstein. I thought I knew a lot about Mary Shelley’s life, but this book told me so much more about it. Reading her story on these pages made me feel as if I was experiencing her life alongside her. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend it highly.

Discussion Questions: What factors may have influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? In what ways does the author use metaphor and symbolism to help us understand her experiences?; What might be the author’s purpose? Is she successful, in your opinion?; What textual features helped you understand Mary’s story? How might this book read differently if the author had used another form?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Horror; Gothic Literature

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RickiSig

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

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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:

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  RickiSig

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

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

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There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published: September 26, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

My Review: This book was gripping from the first page. I found myself getting sucked into it, trying to figure out the mystery of who the killer was, but also of what Makani’s past entailed. The author, Stephanie Perkins, did an amazing job of planting foreshadowing and clues that hinted toward the answers to the multiple mysteries that kept my brain working the entire time that I was reading.

I also loved the emphasis on friendship groups, feeling like an outsider, and bullying/hazing as many adolescents face these topics every day. The way that these topics were portrayed in Makani’s friend group, and the way that the friends help Makani to deal with her hazing trials were something that I appreciated. However, there were two things that I wish were approached differently in this book. 1. Even though this is a small point, one of the characters was a stereotypical, loud Christian character who tried to force his beliefs on everyone else, including a mention of how he managed to get rid of any mention of evolution in his school textbooks. He was characterized as a Lutheran. While this probably wouldn’t mean much to other people, I am a Lutheran, and all of the Lutherans I know believe and support evolution, and don’t at all act like this negative christian stereotype character does. But, this book makes it look like all Lutherans act this way. I wish that there had been no mention of the character’s denomination.  2. I wish that more emphasis had been placed on dealing with the deaths that occurred in the books, as well as the motivations of the killer, as those were both just glanced over. This is problematic as it leaves a huge hole in understanding of the novel, and makes it harder to talk about some of the prominent events in the story. Overall though, it was a very entertaining novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to have in a classroom library for kids to enjoy. Given the graphic, violent nature of some of the scenes, I wouldn’t recommend teaching to an entire class. However, it will appeal to students who enjoy the horror genre. This book also has great potential in literature circles. Perkins does a great job of foreshadowing and giving hints not only as to what is going to happen, but to stories that have already happened that the readers don’t know about yet. As I was reading, I loved being able to piece together the clues that were given to try to guess what had happened and also what was going to happen. A literature circle could have a lot of fun trying to piece those clues together as a group. This book also touches on other important topics such as bullying/hazing and family struggles which could be discussed in a literature circle, as well as the elements of forgiving oneself/dealing with guilt (which Makani experiences as a result of the hazing incident). The one thing that I found this book lacking was any form of dealing/acknowledging grief and death, as well as an acknowledgement of mental health issues (which the killer would have to have). These failings in the book could also be discussed in relation as to how to acknowledge those topics in a healthy way.

Discussion Questions: Where do you see foreshadowing in the early parts of the books?; How does Perkins create suspense in her novel?; What is Makani’s relationship with her parents like?; What was Makani’s experience with hazing like? Have you experienced something similar?; How does blame and justice appear in this book? Is it always fair?

We Flagged: “Sharing her story now, however, had opened a valve of tremendous internal pressure. Her secret- this self-inflicted burden- had finally been released.” (page 207 of Advanced Reading Copy)

Read This If You Loved: The Merciless by Danielle Vega; Dead by Morning by Kayla Krantz; The Forest Dweller by Deborah McClatchey; Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson

Recommended For:

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  RickiSig

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

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Author: Matt Phelan
Published: September 21, 2016 by Candlewick

A Guest Review by Emily Baseler

GoodReads Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Review: Matt Phelan reinvented the “happily ever after” with this retelling. I identify as a Disney Classic enthusiast but I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. The illustrations are gorgeous with distinct intentionality. More mature themes such as death, assassination, murder were evaluated within a historical context to create an incredible murder mystery story at the level of a middle grade reader.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent text to hand a more reluctant reader. There is limited text the reader is asked to interpret the illustrations and structure. In literature groups, students could potentially discuss the use of metaphor, oenomania, author/illustrator’s choice, and compare/ contrast the original fairytale with the retelling. This is also a text I would recommend to a student who has shown an interest in the graphic novel genre to read independently.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the author choose to use red in selected illustrations? How did this choice influence you as a reader?; Why do you think the author choose to break apart the chapters this way?; Even though there were few words, how did you interpret the mood, tone, and voice of characters?; Did you find yourself needing to interpret the illustrations to understand the plot? What was that experience like for you as a reader?; How is this retelling of the classic fairy tale of “Snow White” different than the original? What did you notice is similar?

Flagged Passage: “My name is Snow White, but my mother didn’t call be that to be funny. She would say that the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful” (Ch. 10)

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

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Thank you, Emily!

RickiSig

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

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the memory of things

The Memory of Things
Author: Gae Polisner
Published: September 6, 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

Review: I read this book several weeks ago, and I still can’t thinking about it. As a few other bloggers have said, this is a book about 9/11—but it isn’t a book about 9/11. It is more a book about friendship, about growing up, and about being human. There are so many topics in this book that are worthy of discussion, and I think teachers will really appreciate its beauty. The writing is quiet yet powerful, and the book has a sort of shattering impact on readers. I loved the connections that Kyle makes in this book, and I particularly enjoyed the ways each of the individuals he interacts with tells the reader more about him. He grows from everyone in this book, and I’d love to discuss this growth with students.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to research the many themes of this book to provide background information. They might look at disability/caregivers, PTSD, suicide, and 9/11—just to name a few. They could also look at the different stages of trauma to learn more about how each of the characters reacts differently to the tragic events that occurred on 9/11.

Discussion Questions: Is Kyle helping the girl, or is she helping him?; What do we learn from Kyle’s uncle? What does he teach us about disability and humanity?; In what ways does Kyle show strength, and in what ways does he show weakness? How does he grow from each experience of the text?

We Flagged: “So now I get it. Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something. Permanently. And in the process, they’ve changed everything. And everyone.”

This is a quote from an advanced reader’s copy. Some quotes may change before publication.

Read This If You Loved: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson; Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt, If I Lie by Corrine Jackson, Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

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RickiSig