Who Am I Without Him?: Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives by Sharon Flake

Summary: Gr. 6-12. Hilarious and anguished, these 10 short stories about growing up black today speak with rare truth about family, friends, school, and especially about finding a boyfriend. Erika is a "ghetto girl" who likes white boys; she can't help it, and the other black kids in school can't stand her, because they know. Class is a big issue for Erin, who steals clothes so he can take a suburban girl to the homecoming dance. The church girls are forbidden to date, and they get hurt when they go hunting for boys. But their well-meaning parents don't have it right, and the girls won't stop looking. As with Janet MacDonald's fiction, the talk here is wild, angry, and outrageous, but there's no overt sex or obscenity. Yes, there are messages, but the narrative is never preachy or uplifting; it's honest about the pain. When one girl's boyfriend hits her, she apologizes "just like my momma does when daddy slaps her." The best advice comes from a dad who abandoned his family, who now tells his teenage daughter how to avoid getting stuck with someone like him ("you is so much more than a pretty face and a tight pair of jeans, some boy's girlfriend or some man's wife"). Not everyone makes it. The stories work because Flake never denies the truths of poverty, prejudice, and failure. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. Purchase

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio by Judith Ortiz Cofer

Summary: Gr. 7-12. "Dating is not a concept adults in our barrio really get." The contemporary teenage voices are candid, funny, weary, and irreverent in these stories about immigrant kids caught between their Puerto Rican families and the pull and push of the American dream. The young people hang out on the street in front of the tenement El Building in Paterson, New Jersey, where the radios are always turned full blast to the Spanish station and the thin walls can't hold the dramas of the real-life telenovelas. As in her autobiographical adult collection Silent Dancing (1990), Cofer depicts a diverse neighborhood that's warm, vital, and nurturing, and that can be hell if you don't fit in. Some of the best stories are about those who try to leave. Each piece stands alone with its own inner structure, but the stories also gain from each other, and characters reappear in major and minor roles. The teen narrators sometimes sound too articulate, their metaphors overexplained, but no neat resolutions are offered, and the metaphor can get it just right (the people next door "could be either fighting or dancing"). Between the generations, there is tenderness and anger, sometimes shame. In one story, a teenage girl despises the newcomer just arrived from the island, but to her widowed mother, the hick (jibaro) represents all she's homesick for. Raul Colon's glowing cover captures what's best about this collection: the sense of the individual in the pulsing, crowded street. Hazel Rochman

Themes: Culture, Hybrid Identities, Generational Differences, Individuality, Community

First Sentence:

When I was sent to spend the summer at my grandparents' house in Puerto Rico, I knew it was going to be strange, I just didn't know how strange.

Classroom Implications: Many classrooms have and use W.D.Myer's 145th Street Stories or G. Soto's Baseball in April collection of stories. Ortiz adds to this base of literature and gives a voice to the Puerto Rican communities that she reflects in her writing.


Call Me Maria by Judith Ortiz Cofer

Summary: Ages 9-12 Maria is a girl caught between two worlds: Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives in a basement apartment in the barrio. While her mother remains on the island, Maria lives with her father, the super of their building. As she struggles to lose her island accent, Maria does her best to find her place within the unfamiliar culture of the barrio. Finally, with the Spanglish of the barrio people ringing in her ears, she finds the poet within herself. In lush prose and spare, evocative poetry, Cofer weaves a powerful novel, bursting with life and hope.

Themes: Identity, Family, Community, Clashing Cultures

Classroom Implications: Poetic novels are a wonderful addition to classroom libraries. They build off of the alluring nature of poetry and reframe it in the context of a novel. Judith Ortiz Cofer is a must-have author in the classroom and speaks to the Puerto-Rican/American experience.

Judith Ortiz Cofer has an interesting outlook on language and identity. This excerpt may be an enriching addition to use with students while reading her works:

"People ask me: If I am a Puerto Rican writer, why don't I write in Spanish?" noted poet, essayist, and author Judith Ortiz Cofer in the online publication, The Global Education Project. "Isn't writing in English a sellout? I respond that English is my literary language. The language of the country my parents brought me to. Spanish is my familial language, that lies between the lines of my English language. Because I am a daughter of the Puerto Rican diaspora, English gives life to my writing." (http://www.answers.com)


Me llamo Celia/My Name is Celia: La vida de Celia Cruz/The Life of Celia Cruz by Monica Brown

Summary: Grade 2-4 - An exuberant picture-book biography of the Cuban-born salsa singer. From its rhythmic opening, the first-person narrative dances readers through Cruz's youth in Havana, a childhood bounded by scents of nature and home, the sweet taste of sugar, and the sound of music. A singer from an early age, Cruz sang so continually that one of her teachers finally urged her to share her voice with the world. Thus encouraged, she entered competitions, undeterred when her racial heritage prevented her from competing - undeterred, even, when the advent of Castro's communist regime forced her to leave Cuba as a refugee. Positive even in exile, Cruz made New York City her own and took Miami by storm. The salsa-influenced prose presented in English and in Spanish is followed by a straightforward vita of the singer, noting her death in July 2003. Lopez's distinguished, luminous acrylic paintings are alive with motion, lush with brilliantly layered colors, and informed with verve and symbolism. This is a brilliant introduction to a significant woman and her music. The only enhancement required is the music itself. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Parallel Texts: When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan matches the content of this picture book biography. Both stories tell of singers that battled society forces, whether they be racism or regimes, in order to share their gift of music with the world. These stories are especially important in the classroom due to the diminished time celebrating and exploring the music arts.

Other texts that celebrate the music arts include...
John Coltrane's Giant Steps

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra (Caldecott Honor Book)
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop


Love To Mama: A Tribute To Mothers by Pat Mora

Summary: Gr 3 Up-In a beautiful tribute to mothers, grandmothers, and care-giving women, 13 poets write with joy, humor, and love about the maternal bond. Representing a wide spectrum of Latino voices, the poets range from award-winning authors (Francisco X. Alarc-n, Mora) to a 15-year-old newcomer (Cristina Mu-iz Mutchler). Without exception, the poems are, in their differing forms and voices, of superb literary quality, making effective use of rhythm and meter. While cultural heritage provides a fundamental context, the universality of emotions expressed makes this a book with broad applicability and appeal. Barrag n's bright, bold illustrations are a fitting complement to the selections. Rendered in pencil, cut paper, and gouache, and computer enhanced, they express the varying moods of the poems-from vitality and joie de vivre to sadness and pathos-with precision, force, and grace. Wonderful for reading aloud or for enjoying quietly alone, this is that rare book that will resonate across age ranges and cultures to appeal to the common human experience. A tour de force.-Ann Welton, Terminal Park Elementary School, Auburn, WA

Excerpt from the text:
Wearing a sky-blue skirt embroidered by an old woman named Consuelo
from a story she told Mami a long time ago on her island,
a cuento in gold, brown, and silver threads,
a shower of sunlight falling like drops of gold
on a little golden girl
who turns into a silver dove and flies around and around
a blue sky,
my mami is walking with me in the park.

Classroom Implications: This collection of poems pays tribute to
a variety of Latino cultures and authors (Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Venezuelan). Each poem is accompanied by a beautiful illustration. This collection celebrates many different faces of motherhood, while illustrating the originality of different cultures. This is especially important because motherhood is seen different thoughout different cultures. This collection writes these experiences into the world of our classrooms.


Arrorro Mi Nino: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games by Lulu Delacre

Summary: PreS- Kindergarten. The bright, beautiful oil-wash illustrations for these 15 lullabies, nursery rhymes, and finger-play games reflect the diversity of the Latino experience. The settings vary-- from city streets to picking fields; from cozy bedroom to library, school, art gallery, and grocery store--and the caregivers who soothe the children in the pictures include mother, father, sibling, and grandparent. The bilingual text appears first in Spanish, with the English translation beneath or by its side, and most selections are accompanied by instructions for a finger-play. Musical notation and comments about the melodies are at the back. A native of Puerto Rico, editor Delacre lives in Maryland, and she draws the songs from 14 different countries to show and tell about children who grow up "learning and loving two cultures and two languages." Some of the verses don't rhyme in translation, but in the best of them, the rhythm and poetry travel with music and fun. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Classroom Implications: This is a bilingual text and an important addition to the Pre-K or Kindergarten classroom. Students engage in song and play from a variety of countries.


Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

Summary: Grade 4-8-The dramatic story of Chavez's 340-mile march to protest the working conditions of migrant farmworkers in California is the centerpiece of this well-told biography. Readers meet Chavez at his grandparents' home in Arizona where he lived happily amid a large extended family. His childhood was cut short when, due to financial difficulties, the family was forced to move to California to seek employment. After years of laboring in the fields, Chavez became increasingly disturbed by the inhuman living conditions imposed by the growers. The historic 1965 strike against grape growers and the subsequent march for "La Causa" are vividly recounted, and Chavez's victory-the agreement by the growers granting the workers better conditions and higher pay-is palpable. While sufficient background information is provided to support the story and encourage further research, focusing on one event makes the story appealing to younger readers. The text is largely limited to one side of a spread; beautifully rendered earth-toned illustrations flow out from behind the words and onto the facing page. A fine addition to any collection.Sue Morgan, Tom Kitayama Elementary School, Union City, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Activism, Peace, Social Activism, Hope, Prejudice, Perseverance

Classroom Implications: A must to match with Cesar: Si, Se Puede!/ Yes, We Can! by Carmen Bernier-Grand. This picture book is an excellent piece of nonfiction/biography that will reach and inspire students. Cesar's life is an accessible venue by which to teach fairness, activism, peace and perseverance.

Teacher's Guide to Book


César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Summary: Grade 2-6–The life and times of César Chávez are vividly re-created in this collection of poems. Where most biographies stick to the facts of what a person did, this one also touches on the man's character and values. Children will learn about Chávez, but, more importantly, they will learn the important lessons he taught, and they will be able to apply them to their own lives. The lyrical language describes events and paints evocative pictures to which children will relate. Diaz's stylized, computer-drawn, folk-art illustrations capture the subject's private and public life, from the images of picking fruit to peaceful demonstrations. A glossary and translation of the Spanish words used, a concise well-written biographical essay, and famous Chávez quotes are appended. An excellent choice for most libraries.–Scott La Counte, Anaheim Public Library, CA Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Themes: Activism, Peace, Social Activism, Hope, Prejudice,

Classroom Implications: This books makes a perfect compliment iwth Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull. Whereas Krull's book is a biographical picture book, Bernier-Grand's book offers a more poetic, minimalistic tribute to Chavez's life's work.

A glossary and translation of the Spanish words used, a concise well-written biographical essay, and famous Chávez quotes are appended. (amazon.com)


Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora

Summary: PreS-Gr. 3. The creators of Tomas and the Library Lady (1997) offer another glowing picture book set in the American Southwest, but this time, the story is a magical tall tale. In a cozy village, Dona Flor grows from an unusual child, who can speak the language of plants and animals, into a giant, whose heart is as large as her enormous hands and feet. After ferocious animal cries terrorize the villagers, Flor sets out to find their source. The culprit--a tiny, mischievous puma, who ingeniously amplifies his kittenish growl into a beastly roar--is an amusing surprise, and Flor soothes the cat in its own language, returning peace to her village. Mora strengthens her economical, poetic text with vivid, fanciful touches: the villagers use Flor's colossal homemade tortillas as roofs, for example. Colon's signature scratchboard art extends the whimsy and gentle humor in lovely scenes of the serene heroine sweet-talking the animals or plucking a star from the sky. A winning read-aloud, particularly for children who can recognize the intermittent Spanish phrases. Gillian Engberg Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Themes: Peace, Fear, Leadership, Compassion

Classroom Implications: An American Southwest myth is an excellent addition to a study on myths and folktales in a classroom. This picture book includes Spanish phrases, which always benefit native and emerging Spanish speakers. The author uses descriptive, poetic language that is sure to bring students into the story.


The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Summary: Gr. 6-9. From an early age, Sofia has watched the comadres in her close-knit barrio community, in a small Texas town, and she dreams of becoming "someone who makes people into a family," as the comadres do. The secret, her young self observes, seems to lie in telling stories and "being brave enough to eat a whole tequila worm." In this warm, entertaining debut novel, Canales follows Sofia from early childhood through her teen years, when she receives a scholarship to attend an exclusive boarding school. Each chapter centers on the vivid particulars of Mexican American traditions--celebrating the Day of the Dead, preparing for a cousin's quinceanera. The explanations of cultural traditions never feel too purposeful; they are always rooted in immediate, authentic family emotions, and in Canales' exuberant storytelling, which, like a good anecdote shared between friends, finds both humor and absurdity in sharply observed, painful situations--from weathering slurs and other blatant harassment to learning what it means to leave her community for a privileged, predominately white school. Readers of all backgrounds will easily connect with Sofia as she grows up, becomes a comadre, and helps rebuild the powerful, affectionate community that raised her. Gillian Engberg Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Themes: Leadership, Family, Traditions, Identity, Community, Privilege, Prejudice

Classroom Implications: This book speaks to the development of a child's identity within her Mexican-American heritage. Many traditions are interwoven through the text that help celebrate and educate around Mexican-American traditions. The book is entertaining, but also delicately tackles white privilege and prejudice. This notion of white privilege is also covered in Woodson's If You Come Softly and would make an interesting parallel text for this piece.


Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

Summary: (Ages 12+) What would life be like for a teen living under a dictatorship? Afraid to go to school or to talk freely? Knowing that, at the least suspicion, the secret police could invade your house, even search and destroy your private treasures? Or worse, that your father or uncles or brothers could be suddenly taken away to be jailed or tortured or killed? Such experiences have been all too common in the many Latin American dictatorships of the last 50 years. Author Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and her family escaped from the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic when she was 10, but in Before We Were Free she imagines, through the stories of her cousins and friends, how it was for those who stayed behind.

Twelve-year-old Anita de la Torre is too involved with her own life to be more than dimly aware of the growing menace all around her, until her last cousins and uncles and aunts have fled to America and a fleet of black Volkswagens comes up the drive, bringing the secret police to the family compound to search their houses. Gradually, through overheard conversations and the explanations of her older sister, Lucinda, she comes to understand that her father and uncles are involved in a plot to kill El Jefe, the dictator, and that they are all in deadly peril. Anita's story is universal in its implications--she even keeps an Anne Frank-like diary when she and her mother must hide in a friend's house--and a tribute to those brave souls who feel, like Anita's father, that "life without freedom is no life at all." --Patty Campbell

Themes: Oppression, Activism, Family, Membership, Identity, Resistance

Classroom Implications: This book takes a different spin on identity and immigration by telling the story of those left behind. This novel is to be appreciated for its honest look at Latin American dictatorships and the impact they have on families, advocacy and identity. This book can move through different themed book clubs: realistic fiction, social issues, and even possibly historical fiction. Lower level readers can help access this text by listening to the audio version.


Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez

Summary: Grade 6-9–In spite of her family's openness, Milly Kaufman has never wanted to talk about her adoption. However, during ninth grade, Pablo Bolívar, a refugee from an unnamed Central American country, joins her class and immediately identifies her as someone who might have come from his family's hometown. Then, her grandmother attempts to make a will that differentiates between her and her siblings. While her mother and father's angry reaction makes the woman back down, their increasingly close relationship with Pablo's family makes it impossible for Milly to stop thinking about the parents who gave her up and the war-torn nation she came from. When that country's dictator is deposed in a democratic election, the Bolívars go home to visit and invite Milly along. There she discovers a world quite different from her Vermont home, an extended family, a boyfriend in Pablo, and several possible sets of birth parents. She realizes, too, how much she loves her own family, and they join her for a grand reunion. The strength of this book lies in its description of adoption issues–Milly's feelings of abandonment and difference and her sister's fear that Milly's increased identification as Latina will destroy their close relationship. However, the plot is contrived to help Milly find her identity, and the characters never really come alive. The home country has been stripped of any identifying characteristics that might make the setting interesting. Still, readers interested in this subject will be pleased with the satisfying resolution.–Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Themes: Adoption, Family, Identity, Heritage, Abandonment, Belonging, Hybrid Identities

Classroom Implications: Becoming Naomi Leon iimmediately comes to mind when the character in this book struggles with a piece of her identity that lingers in her native country. Alvarez carefully explores relationships in this book--relationships between characters, countries and identities.


How Tia Lola Came to Stay by Julia Alvarez

Summary: (Ages 9 to 12) Amazon.com Review With her brilliantly hued flower-print dresses, her maracas and tambor, and the migrating beauty mark over her lipsticked mouth, Tia Lola stands out in Vermont like a tropical bird in a snowstorm. Her nephew, 10-year-old Miguel, just wants to fit in to his new home. He and his mother and sister have just moved here from New York following his parents' divorce. With his black hair and brown skin, it's hard enough already without the flamboyant antics of his friendly, nutty aunt, visiting from the Dominican Republic. But even while she is dancing her merengues in front of his new friends and painting the white farmhouse purple, Tia Lola is also weaving a magical spell of love and support that Miguel and his wounded family sorely need. Miguel's growing appreciation for his crazy aunt's ways, and the entire town's admiration and respect for an outsider who, without even speaking the same language, wins the hearts of all, is a funny, uplifting story. Julia Alvarez is the author of many award-winning novels, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, and the picture book The Secret Footprints. She writes with a warmth and humor that crosses all boundaries. --Emilie Coulter

Themes: Family, Identity, Membership

Important Links:
Author's Bio
Complete List of Author's Works
Book in Spanish

Classroom Implications: Julia Alvarez's books typically work best with upper-level readers in 8th grade classrooms. However, this book fits very nicely with younger readers, ages9-12. This book could bridge readers into Alvarez'a more difficult books.


Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

Summary: Ages 9-12 Amazon.com Review This much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father's financial ruin.

The plot follows that of the renowned legend: Beauty selflessly agrees to inhabit the Beast's castle to spare her father's life. Beauty's gradual acceptance of the Beast and the couple's deepening trust and affection are amplified in novel form. Robin McKinley's writing has the flavor of another century, and Beauty heightens the authenticity as a reliable and competent narrator.

This was McKinley's first book, written almost 20 years ago. Since that time she has been awarded the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and has delighted her fans with another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable, Rose Daughter. Still, McKinley's first novel has a special place in the hearts of her devoted readers, many of whom attest to relishing Beauty time and again.

Possible other texts:
Classroom Implications: McKinley's first book, Beauty, provides an excellent starting point for students to dive into a fantasy study. McKinley also chooses strong female narrators and points of view for her characters, an added plus in fantasy.


A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

Summary: (Ages 9 and older) Fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace Murry, whom readers first met in A Wrinkle in Time, has a little task he must accomplish. In 24 hours, a mad dictator will destroy the universe by declaring nuclear war--unless Charles Wallace can go back in time to change one of the many Might-Have-Beens in history. In an intricately layered and suspenseful journey through time, this extraordinary young man psychically enters four different people from other eras. As he perceives through their eyes "what might have been," he begins to comprehend the cosmic significance and consequences of every living creature's actions. As he witnesses first-hand the transformation of civilization from peaceful to warring times, his very existence is threatened, but the alternative is far worse. The Murry family, also appearing in A Wind in the Door and Many Waters, acts as a carrier of Madeleine L'Engle's unique message about human responsibility for the world. Themes of good versus evil, time and space travel, and the invincibility of the human spirit predominate. Even while she entertains, L'Engle kindles the intellect, inspiring young people to ask questions of the world, and learn by challenging. --Emilie Coulter

First Sentence:
The big kitchen of the Murrys' house was bright and warm, curtains drawn against the dark outside, against the rain driving past the house from the northeast.

Classroom Implications: Students can really study the themes of good vs. evil with the L'Engle books. These books are essentials for students to read in their reading lives, and a book club would be an excellent way to incorporate these texts into the lives of students.


Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Summary: (Ages 12 and older) Cole Matthews is angry. Angry, defiant, smug--in short, a bully. His anger has taken him too far this time, though. After beating up a ninth-grade classmate to the point of brain damage, Cole is facing a prison sentence. But then a Tlingit Indian parole officer named Garvey enters his life, offering an alternative called Circle Justice, based on Native American traditions, in which victim, offender, and community all work together to find a healing solution. Privately, Cole sneers at the concept, but he's no fool--if it gets him out of prison, he'll do anything. Ultimately, Cole ends up banished for one year to a remote Alaskan island, where his arrogance sets him directly in the path of a mysterious, legendary white bear. Mauled almost to death, Cole awaits his fate and begins the transition from anger to humility.

Ben Mikaelsen's depiction of a juvenile delinquent's metamorphosis into a caring, thinking individual is exciting and fascinating, if at times heavy-handed. Cole's nastiness and the vivid depictions of the lengths he must go to survive after the (equally vivid) attack by the bear are excruciating at times, but the concept of finding a way to heal a whole community when one individual wrongs another is compelling. --Emilie Coulter

Themes: Survival, Tradition, Anger and Redemption, Healing

Classroom Implications: This may be more fitting in the social issues book category, but the symbolic image of the bear compelled me to place it under Fantasy. It makes a good match with Hatchet and Bang!, both being survival stories but in different contexts. It is also a great CONTEMPORARY Native American book to have in the classroom.


Switchers by Kate Thompson

Summary: Tess has a secret that keeps her apart from others: she can change into an animal at will. Disturbed when scruffy Kevin keeps following her after school, Tess wonders what he wants from her, and why an arctic front is sweeping over the globe, causing a blizzard in Dublin in September. Then she learns that Kevin shares her gift, and they set out across Ireland, disguised as rats, and guided by fellow rats to "little old lady" Lizzie. The eccentric woman sends them on a quest north to stop the krools, ravenous monsters responsible for the Earth's ice ages. The pair races against time (Kevin is about to turn 15, when all Switchers have to choose their final form) and U.N. warplanes seeking alien invaders, to halt the global icing. In occasionally poetic language (which may need some explaining to younger readers), Thompson interweaves elements from mythology and science fiction with insights into animal nature to create a coming-of-age fantasy that, like Peter Pan, ends with an open window and, for many readers, a lump in the throat. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Themes: Identity, Adventure

Classroom Implications: This text does have a nice blend of mythology and science fiction that combines to create a fantasy novel best used with lower level readers in a middle school classroom. Students can explore the genre of fantasy by examining the symbols and themes of the novel.


The New Policeman (Costa Children's Book Award ) by Kate Thompson

Summary: Grades 7-10 Heart-pounding Irish music is the common ground between material and magical worlds in this ambitious fantasy, which begins in western Ireland. When J. J. Liddy is 15, his mother jokingly asks for a birthday present of more time. From an eccentric neighbor, J. J. learns to his astonishment that his mother's request may not be impossible to fill. Bravely venturing into an alternate fairy world, J. J. takes on a thrilling, epic quest in which he confronts dark family rumors and tries to repair a cosmic time leak between his world and "the land of eternal youth." Thompson packs her mesmerizing, chaotic novel with Irish culture (including phrases defined in a glossary), interconnected mysteries, and sly questions about the stresses of contemporary life and the age-old frictions between religion and folklore. Readers will quickly overlook any creaky plot connections and fall eagerly into the rich, comic language and the captivating characters and scenes, particularly those that feature musicians (including talented J. J.), who play the "wild, anarchic music" that bridges worlds. Musical scores for Irish tunes (some written by Thompson) close each chapter in this soulful, wildly imagined tale that has already won several British awards, including the Guardian Children's Book Prize and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Suggest it to fans of O. R. Melling's The Hunter's Moon (2005) and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books. Gillian Engberg Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

'Brilliant timing,' she said. 'Tea's just made.'

But J.J. walked straight past the pot, which steamed on the range in the kitchen, and the plates of fresh scones on the table. Upstairs in his room, his schoolbag lay open on his bed, leaking overdue homework. He glanced at the clock. If he got up half an hour early the next morning he could get a bit of it done.

He spilled the bag and its contents onto the floor, and as he set the alarm he wondered, as he wondered every day, where on earth all the time went.

Classroom Implications: This 2007 release is a great pick for a fantasy book club in 7th or 8th grades. The language is beautiful and students can unpack the genre, studying theme, symbolism and descriptive language.


Invisible Allies: Microbes That Shape Our Lives (Bccb Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award by Jeanette Farrell

Summary: Gr. 6-9. The author of Invisible Enemies (1998), Farrell now offers a fascinating, broad-ranging and imminently readable book on the beneficial roles of microbes. After stating some amazing facts about microbes and advising readers against "running, somewhat futilely, for a bar of soap," the introduction provides a vivid picture of Antony van Leeuwenhoek's discovery of microorganisms in 1676. The chapters that follow consider beneficial microbes in the production of bread, cheese, and chocolate as well as their vital role in the gut, where they break down certain foods, kill harmful microbes, and enable certain genes in the intestines to maximize digestion. Finally, Farrell explains the process by which microbes dispose of human waste in sewage treatment plants, noting that they are also used to clean up oil spills and toxins in the environments. Illustrations include photos as well as interesting archival material. Without talking down to her audience or hyping the grosser aspects of the subject, Farrell presents what is known about beneficial microbes and acknowledges the ongoing study of these amazing life-forms. Carolyn Phelan Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Teaching Points: Prediction (Skill)-->Students can examine the roles that microbes play in our world. Student begin with a microbe (cause) and trace the effect it has on the world (effect). By studying this cause and effect relationship, students can use the relationship to make predictions. For instance, students can examine what would happen to the world in the absence of certain microbes.

Classroom Implications:
This text would match well with Invisible Enemies and New York Times Deadly Invaders, especially if the students are in nonfiction book clubs. These nonfiction pieces make great additions to information contained in novels.


What Are You?: Voices of Mixed-Race Young People by Pearl Fuyo Gaskins (Editor)

Summary: Grade 8 Up-In this sensitive, thoughtful collection of interviews, essays, and poetry, over 40 young adults ranging in age from 14 to 26 relate their experiences growing up in the United States. Their racial identities represent a wide blend of cultures: European, African, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Arabic, Caribbean, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander. Arranged thematically with occasional author notes offering clarification and transition, the primarily upbeat testimonies address issues of discrimination, dating, family dynamics, and self-esteem. The contributors have had to respond to prejudice both inside and outside their own ethnic groups in addition to universal problems, such as financial worries, divorce, parent and sibling conflicts, and academic pressures. Although American society challenged them to "check one box," declaring the race they belong to, they have resisted categorization, seeking instead to understand and express the rich blend that is their personal heritage. They have drawn strength and optimism from a support network provided by family members, organizations, and/or advocacy groups. A helpful resource section includes annotated lists of affinity and advocacy groups and Web sites, as well as relevant fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and movies and videos. While underscoring the complexity of the mixed-race experience, these unadorned voices offer a genuine, poignant, enlightening and empowering message to all readers.Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Identity, Hybrid Identities, Classification

Classroom Implications: Students will be drawn to this book of nonfiction writing because of the authentic expressions of identity that are included in this complication. This nonfiction collection adds another layer of identity exploration middle school students should be engage in during their young adult years.


New York Times Deadly Invaders: Virus Outbreaks Around the World, from Marburn Fever to Avian Flu by Denise Grady

Summary: Grade 7 Up–This readable and riveting text introduces students to the new age of viral epidemics. Grady begins with an account of her trip to Angola in 2005 to cover an outbreak of Marburg fever as a reporter for the New York Times. Her writing is informative and compelling. She persuasively relays the challenges of fighting a viral epidemic in a city that lacks such basic services as running water. The medical professionals also had to cope with language barriers and cultural differences. Grady clearly conveys the difficulties of confining and halting the spread of diseases in an age in which air travel makes it possible for an infected individual to spread a disease worldwide in a matter of hours. A map shows how one person infected with the SARS virus infected 400 individuals from around the globe while staying at a hotel in China. Boxed areas highlight information and individuals. For instance, one profiles Maria Bonino, an Italian pediatrician who died of Marburg during the outbreak. The layout is appealing and includes good-quality, full-color, relevant photographs on almost every spread. After relaying her experiences reporting on the Marburg outbreak, Grady profiles other deadly diseases, including Avian Flu, HIV and AIDS, SARS, and West Nile. A fast-paced, timely, and important book.–Maren Ostergard, King County Library System, Issaquah, WA Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Teaching Points: Determining Importance (Skill)-->Create a T-chart with one side writing the fact and the accompanying side writing how that fact helps them understand the subject better and/or why the fact is important to the whole picture (Strategy).

Classroom Implications: Students could work on the skills: determining importance and predicting while reading and using this text. This text also would
match well with Invisible Enemies and Invisible Allies.


Bang! by Sharon G. Flake

Summary: Grade 7 Up–Even though random shootings have become increasingly common in his neighborhood, Mann is horrified when his little brother is gunned down while playing on his own front porch. Two years later, the 13-year-old and his parents are still struggling with their grief. His father believes that if he had been less loving and protective, Jason might have been tougher and capable of avoiding the shot. Mann and his friend Kee-lee keep track of the shooting deaths around them, certain that their own time may come and make them nothing more than numbers on their list. Influenced by ancient African coming-of-age rituals in which young boys are sent into the wilderness to attempt to survive, Mann's father takes him and Kee-lee camping and abandons them far from home. For two urban teens with little food or money, this is a dangerous, frightening experience that leads to crime and violence. After the boys make their treacherous way back home, Mann's father turns him out to live on the streets, determined he will not lose another son because he is too soft. This disturbing, thought-provoking novel will leave readers with plenty of food for thought and should fuel lively discussions.–Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Survival, Ethnic History, Coming of Age—male, Urban Struggles

Classroom Implications: Makes a good choice for a male book club or provides an additional male perspective on coming of age in an urban setting. This is available on audio to support lower level readers. Flake writes to capture the attention of her young adult audience. She is successful with writing literature that students have an easy time making connections with the text and the characters. Bang!
could also be in interesting match with Hatchet or Spirit Bear, both outdoor survival stories with male narrators.


Heaven by Angela Johnson

Summary: Grade 6-9-What makes a person who she is? Is it her name, the people she lives with, or is blood the only link to identity? Marley, 14, suddenly plunges head first into these complex questions when she discovers that the people she's been living with her entire life aren't her real parents. Butchy is not her real brother, and her mysterious Uncle Jack, who has been writing her short but beautiful letters for as long as she can remember, turns out to be her real, very absent father. In spare, often poetic prose reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan's work, Johnson relates Marley's insightful quest into what makes a family. Her extreme anger with her supposed parents, who turn out to be her aunt and uncle, for not telling her the truth, for not being the perfect family that she'd always thought them to be, wars with her knowledge that not even her friend Shoogy Maple's model family is as perfect and beautiful as it seems. The various examples of "family" Marley encounters make her question what's real, what's true, what makes sense, and if any of that really matters as much as the love she continues to feel for her parents in spite of their seeming betrayal. Johnson exhibits admirable stylistic control over Marley's struggle to understand a concept that is often impossible to understand or even to define. Linda Bindner, formerly at Athens Clarke County Library, GA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc

Identity, Family, Betrayal

Classroom Implications: Immediately, Becoming Naomi Leon comes to mind (see next post) in terms of family and identity. Whereas Leon takes a Latina perspective, Heaven takes an American American perspective. This book works well in a on-level or higher-level book club.


Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan

Summary: Grade 4-7–Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw lives with younger brother Owen and her fiercely practical Gram in a trailer park in California in this novel by Pam Munoz (Scholastic, 2004). An unpopular fifth grader, she spends lots of time in the library with the other outcasts and the kind librarian. Naomi's talent is carving objects out of soap. After being gone for seven years, her mother shows up one day with a scary boyfriend, Clive. Gram lets the children know that their mother, Terri Lynn, has always been wild and irresponsible. They're worried that she will assert her parental rights and take the children away. Naomi is insecure and particularly susceptible to her mother's attention. Owen is essentially ignored by Terri Lynn because he has some physical deformities, but Clive thinks he could use Owen's deformities to make money gambling. Gram, the neighbors, and the children go to Oaxaca to find the children's father and get him to sign papers making Gram their guardian. Their dad is thrilled to see them, and Naomi learns that her talent for soap carving is inherited from her father. This deeply moving story is expressively and sympathetically narrated by Annie Kozuch. Characterization is excellent and listeners will be happy that Naomi finds confidence, love, and security.–B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor, NY

Identity, Family, Overcoming Adversity, Belonging

Classroom Implications: This novel carries a strong Latina voice of a female protagonist throughout the novel. Students are able to relate to the character's journey to discover her family history and her identity. This book makes a good choice for lower level readers ins 6th and 7th grade, as well as provides help to sp. ed. students in a full inclusion setting.


The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Summary: Ages 11+. Rarely do we see teen pregnancy from the father's perspective. Narrator Khalipa Oldjohn gives realistic insight into the consequences of unexpected parenthood on one teenaged father. Alternating between "then," when Nia told him on his sixteenth birthday that he was going to be a father, and "now," as he struggles to raise his daughter alone, we witness Bobby coming to grips with responsibility as he struggles to do the right thing. The back-and-forth between past and present requires close attention to the narration to understand why Bobby gave up the adoption option in favor of fatherhood. N.E.M. 2005 YALSA Selection © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

Responsibility, Parenting, Choices

Classroom Implications: This novel includes a crucial voice for the male YA audience. It positions the male in a position that is normally not documented and explored in YA literature. There is also an audio version available that may be helpful for lower level readers, sp.ed. and e.l.l. students.


The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Summary: M. T. Anderson's books for young people reflect a remarkably broad mastery of genres, even as they defy neat classification. Any labeling requires lots of hyphens: space-travel satire (Feed, 2002), retro-comic fantasy-adventure (Whales on Stilts, 2005). This genre-labeling game seems particularly pointless with Anderson's latest novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation (2006), an episodic, highly ambitious story, deeply rooted in eighteenth-century literary traditions, which examines, among many other things, pre-Revolutionary slavery in New England.

The plot focuses on Octavian, a young black boy who recounts his youth in a Boston household of scientists and philosophers (The Novanglian College of Lucidity). The Collegians believe so thoroughly in the Age of Reason's principles that they address one another as numbers. Octavian soon learns that he and his mother are objects of one of the Collegians' experiments to learn whether Africans are "a separate and distinct species." Octavian receives an education "equal to any of the princes in Europe," until financial strains shatter Octavian's sheltered life of intellectual pursuits and the illusion that he is a free member of a utopian society. As political unrest in the colonies grows, Octavian experiences the increasing horrors of what it means to be a slave.

The story's scope is immense, in both its technical challenges and underlying intellectual and moral questions--perhaps too immense to be contained in a traditional narrative (and, indeed, Anderson has already promised a second volume to continue the story). As in Meg Rosoff's Printz Award Book How I Live Now (2004), in which a large black circle replaces text to represent the indescribable, Anderson's novel substitutes visuals for words. Several pages show furious black quill-pen cross-hatchings, through which only a few words are visible, perhaps indicating that even with his scholarly vocabulary, Octavian can't find words to describe the vast evil that he has witnessed. Likewise, Anderson employs multiple viewpoints and formats--letters, newspaper clippings, scientific papers--pick up the story that Octavian is periodically unable to tell.

Once acclimated to the novel's style, readers will marvel at Anderson's ability to maintain this high-wire act of elegant, archaic language and shifting voices, and they will appreciate the satiric scenes that gleefully lampoon the Collegians' more buffoonish experiments. Anderson's impressive historical research fixes the imagined College firmly within the facts of our country's own troubled history. The fluctuations between satire and somber realism, gothic fantasy and factual history will jar and disturb readers, creating a mood that echoes Octavian's unsettled time as well as our own.

Anderson's book is both chaotic and highly accomplished, and, like Aidan Chambers' recent This Is All (2006), it demands rereading. Teens need not understand all the historical and literary allusions to connect with Octavian's torment or to debate the novel's questions, present in our country's founding documents, which move into today's urgent arguments about intellectual life; individual action; the influence of power and money, racism and privilege; and what patriotism, freedom, and citizenship mean. Gillian Engberg Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Social Action, Power, Racism, Patriotism, Freedom, Privilege

Classroom Implications:
This is a good pick for a high level, 8th grade historical fiction book club. This novel can be read through a critical lens, with students working to determining power, privilege and positioning of characters within the novel and the setting.


Witness by Karen Hesse

Summary--Ages 9-12 . It is 1924, and a small Vermont town finds itself under siege--by the Ku Klux Klan. Using free verse, Newbery Medal-winning author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust) allows 11 unique and memorable voices to relate the story of the Klan's steady infiltration into the conscience of a small, Prohibition-era community. The Klan's "all-American" philosophy is at first embraced by several of the town's influential men, including Constable Parcelle Johnson and retailer Harvey Pettibone. But Harvey's sensible wife, Viola, and independent restaurant owner Iris Weaver suspect from the beginning that the Klan's arrival heralds trouble. As the only African Americans in town, 12-year old Leonora Sutter and her father try to escape Klan scrutiny, while 6-year-old, city-born Esther Hirsch remains blissfully unaware of the Klan's prejudice against Jews as she enjoys the Vermont countryside. And Sara Chickering, the lady farmer who has opened her home to Esther and her father, is torn between her own hidden biases and her growing love for Esther. All, however, are galvanized towards action when a shadowy figure shoots at Esther and her father right through Sara's front door. Who would commit such an evil act? And is it too late to remove the poison that has insidiously leaked into their once tight-knit community? Part mystery, part social commentary, Hesse's historically accurate chronicle is a riveting catalyst for discussion that thoughtfully explores race and identity from every possible point of view. The free verse format and distinct characterizations also make Witness a perfect choice for library or classroom reader's theater productions. --Jennifer Hubert

Community, Justice, Fear, Prejudice

Classroom Implications: This book teaches
tough concepts and is written with the young or struggling reader in mind. It is an excellent historical fiction book for the struggling reader or younger reader. It also makes a nice transition between historical fiction and poetry/prose. Witness makes room to teach concepts such as, narrative voice, perspective, point of view, verse, and descriptive language.


Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Summary: Ages 11 and up. Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli (Maniac McGee, Stargirl) paints a vivid picture of the streets of the Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, as seen through the eyes of a curious, kind, heartbreakingly naïve orphan with many names. His name is Stopthief when people shout "Stop! Thief!" as he flees with stolen bread. Or it's Jew, "filthy son of Abraham," depending on who's talking to him. Or, maybe he's a Gypsy, because his eyes are black, his skin is dark, and he wears a mysterious yellow stone around his neck. His new friend and protector Uri forces him to take the name Misha Pilsudski and to memorize a made-up story about his Gypsy background so that no one will mistake him for a Jew and kill him. Misha, a very young boy, is slow to understand what's happening around him. When he sees people running, he thinks it's a race. Nazis (Jackboots, as the children call them) marching through the streets appear to him as a delightful parade of magnificent boots. He wants to be a Jackboot! (Uri smacks him for saying this.) He compares bombs to sauerkraut kettles, machine guns to praying mantises, and tanks to "colossal gray long-snouted beetles." The story of Misha and his band of orphans trying to survive on their own would have a deliciously Dickensian quality, if it weren't for the devastation around them--people hurrying to dig trenches to stop Nazi tanks, shops exploding in flames, the wailing of sirens, buzzing airplanes, bombs, and human torture. Spinelli has written a powerfully moving story of survival--readers will love Misha the dreamer and his wonderfully poetic observations of the world around him, his instinct to befriend a Jewish girl and her family, his impulse to steal food for a local orphanage and his friends in the ghetto, and his ability to delight in small things even surrounded by the horror of the Holocaust. A remarkable achievement. --Karin Snelson

Themes: Survival, Perseverance

Classroom Implications: Milkweed takes a different slant on covering the holocaust. It fits a story of survival within the context of the Holocaust, but doesn't take place in a Jewish concentration camp. This novel would pair nicely with other Holocaust texts in a book club, such as Diary of Anne Frank, The Cage, Parallel Journeys. This text also accommodates special education students or lower-level readers in the middle school general education classroom.


An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

Summary: Grade 6-10-If surviving the first 20 years of a new nationhood weren't challenge enough, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, centering in Philadelphia, was a crisis of monumental proportions. Murphy chronicles this frightening time with solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories, beginning with the fever's emergence on August 3, when a young French sailor died in Richard Denny's boardinghouse on North Water Street. As church bells rang more and more often, it became horrifyingly clear that the de facto capital was being ravaged by an unknown killer. Largely unsung heroes emerged, most notably the Free African Society, whose members were mistakenly assumed to be immune and volunteered en masse to perform nursing and custodial care for the dying. Black-and-white reproductions of period art, coupled with chapter headings that face full-page copies of newspaper articles of the time, help bring this dreadful episode to life. An afterword explains the yellow fever phenomenon, its causes, and contemporary outbreaks, and source notes are extensive and interesting. Pair this work with Laurie Halse Anderson's wonderful novel Fever 1793 (S & S, 2000) and you'll have students hooked on history. Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Classroom Implications: An excellent nonfiction book to support the work being done in a historical fiction book club. Bringing the nonfiction content and the fictional plot of a novel can be challenging. One way to help students do this is support the nonfiction element of their novel with accessible nonfiction texts. This IS the nonfiction text to use with a historical fiction book, like Fever 1793.


Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary: Ages 12 and up. On the heels of her acclaimed contemporary teen novel Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson surprises her fans with a riveting and well-researched historical fiction. Fever 1793 is based on an actual epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia that wiped out 5,000 people--or 10 percent of the city's population--in three months. At the close of the 18th century, Philadelphia was the bustling capital of the United States, with Washington and Jefferson in residence. During the hot mosquito-infested summer of 1793, the dreaded yellow fever spread like wildfire, killing people overnight. Like specters from the Middle Ages, gravediggers drew carts through the streets crying "Bring out your dead!" The rich fled to the country, abandoning the city to looters, forsaken corpses, and frightened survivors.
In the foreground of this story is 16-year-old Mattie Cook, whose mother and grandfather own a popular coffee house on High Street. Mattie's comfortable and interesting life is shattered by the epidemic, as her mother is felled and the girl and her grandfather must flee for their lives. Later, after much hardship and terror, they return to the deserted town to find their former cook, a freed slave, working with the African Free Society, an actual group who undertook to visit and assist the sick and saved many lives. As first frost arrives and the epidemic ends, Mattie's sufferings have changed her from a willful child to a strong, capable young woman able to manage her family's business on her own. --Patty Campbell

Social Change, Transformation

Classroom Implications: If students read Speak in social issues book clubs, then they will be excited to read Fever 1793 in historical fiction book clubs. This book pairs nicely with
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy. This novel carries strong characterization into a historical setting. This blend attracts readers to use their skills of characterization and bridge it into a genre that is typically difficult to spark immediate engagement.