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Author Archives: etownsend

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami. Illustrated by Julianna Swaney. Groundwood, 2016

Nine-year-old Yasmin visits Book Uncle’s Lending Library, located on a street corner near her apartment, every day. He calls her his Number One Patron. She usually borrows longer books, so the day Book Uncle suggests a picture book, she’s disappointed but politely accepts it. After she reads the story, about doves trapped in a hunter’s net working together to free themselves, she finds she can’t stop thinking about it. “How strange that such a skinny book can leave so many questions in my mind.” When Book Uncle is told by the city that he must shut down his library because he has no permit and can’t afford one, Yasmin is devastated. Then she’s determined. Together with her friends she draws attention to Book Uncle’s plight during the mayoral campaign, challenging the candidates to support Book Uncle and literacy, and finding out in the process that the current mayor was behind the lending library’s closure (he wanted to clean up the streets before his daughter’s marriage at a nearby fancy hotel). Engaging, child-centered, and often funny, this easy chapter book set in a large Indian city is also a primer in community activism for young children. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What are some of the ways that Yasmin’s community is the same as yours? What are some of the ways that it is different?
  2. What lessons does Yasmin learn about politics, activism, and standing up for someone who is being unfairly treated?
  3. Yasmin has a goal of reading one book each day. What are your goals for reading this year? Where does Yasmin get her books to read? Where do you get your books to read?

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Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016

Juana is a little girl living in Bogotá, Colombia. Lucas is her beloved dog. In a spritely conversational tone, Juana chats about the things she loves (her city, her dog, her abuelo, her best friend, Juli) and the things she doesn’t (her school uniform). Each one of these is accompanied by a diagram-style illustration that points out key factors (Abuelo’s love for chocolate, for example, and her uniform’s itchy skirt). Overall, Juana is a bubbly, happy girl. Then she starts having to learn “the English” in school. And she hates it. She asks everyone she trusts to give her a good reason to study English, sure they won’t come up with any. They all do, but only one of them convinces Juana it’s worth the effort: an upcoming family trip to Spaceland in Florida, where she can meet her hero, Astroman. The charming narrative, somewhat autobiographical, integrates Spanish words into the English text and is accompanied by amusing color illustrations on every page. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What are some of the ways that Juana’s community is the same as yours? What are some of the ways that it is different?
  2. How do the illustrations and text features (like the wrapped text, the bold words, and the labels on the character pages) add to the story?
  3. What are some of the challenges Juana faces and how does she overcome these challenges? What challenges have you faced?

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MAY (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | May - (0 Comments)

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte, 2016

Over the course of a single day on which they have a chance meeting, alternating chapters move between Natasha, who has been in the United States with her Jamaican immigrant family since she was 8, and Daniel, the son of Korean immigrant parents who feels intense pressure to become a doctor. It’s a monumental day for both of them even before their first encounter. Tasha is desperately trying to seek once last stay of her family’s deportation and Daniel is on his way to an interview with a Yale alum for an application he doesn’t care about. The perspectives and histories of other characters, from family members to people they encounter over the course of the day, like Irene, the security guard at the office building where INS is located, and Jeremy, the immigration attorney Natasha meets with, are also part of the story. Natasha, who loves science, and Daniel, who wants to be a poet, are both intelligent, and their exchanges are entertaining but also surprisingly deep in a novel that delves into political and historical aspects of race and culture as well as the dynamics of family and the delight of falling in love.  Like the two main characters, this unusual love story is poetic and witty, blithe and thought-provoking.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How is the novel timely on the topic of immigrants in the United States? Is the situation with undocumented immigrants complicated or straightforward?
  2. Natasha’s family considers themselves Americans, even though they are undocumented immigrants. Daniel’s family considers themselves Korean, even though they’ve been American citizens for many years with Daniel and his brother both born in the US. Is each family right or wrong?
  3. How do each of the characters in this book confront grief and experience love?

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MAY (1)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | May - (0 Comments)

Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister Annabeth. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before the car accident that changed everything. Enter: Geoff, Quinn’s best friend who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—okay, a hot guy—and falls, hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually have a happily-ever-after ending—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story. from the publisher  

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do you think the story would be different if Quinn had read the text message from Annabeth earlier in the book?
  2. Should Jeff have kept his romantic relationship secret from Quinn?
  3. How do each of the characters is the book confront grief and experience love?

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APRIL (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | April - (0 Comments)

Scythe (Arc of the Scythe, Book 1) by Neal Shusterman.  Simon & Schuster, 2016

In a future on earth when humans have become immortal, fatal disease and injury and even aging neutralized by the ability to regenerate, the population is kept in check by Scythes, individuals trained to kill, or “glean,” those whom they select. When teens Citra and Rowan are chosen as unwilling apprentice Scythes (saying no is not an option), they find themselves caught in the political machinations within the Scythedom. Scythes, says their mentor, Scythe Faraday, should abhor the taking of a life, but another faction gaining power relishes killing, and has been doing so with increasing violence. Citra and Rowan, already going through rigorous physical and mental training, know that they are competing for a single position, but the stakes grow higher when a rule change Faraday is helpless to challenge dictates that the first task of the winner will be to glean the loser. Timeless questions of whether the good of the many outweighs the good of the one, and ethical dilemmas exacerbated by power struggles and greed, invite contemplation, while martial arts combat training will entice thrill-seekers in this riveting work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. When faced with life or death situations, how is the humanity of the characters in the book challenged? How does that affect them later in life?
  2. Discuss how death is portrayed in Scythe. What do you think of this portrayal?
  3. What experiences lead to the growth of the characters in Scythe?

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APRIL (1)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | April - (0 Comments)

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown. Candlewick Press, 2016

A novel in verse in the voice of 19-year-old Mary Ann Graves tells of her family’s journey west by wagon in 1846. They eventually join another group that includes the Donner family. The travelers reach the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range late and the snows come early, stranding them in the mountains. With food scarce, Mary Ann, her father, and her older sister are part of a smaller group that attempts the pass, hoping to send back help for the others. They end up lost in a storm. Mary Ann’s father, a driving force of optimism early on in the journey, a voice of pragmatism later, is one of the first to die. There is an absolute lack of sensationalism in this moving account of the Donner Party, and the grim decision to eat those who died. Mary Ann’s voice stitches a story of small, compelling details, creating a vivid sense of people, time, and place. And she describes the desperation from hunger and malnutrition that turn an unbearable, unthinkable choice into one that becomes numbly inevitable for anyone hoping to survive. An author’s note tells more about the Donner Party’s journey, and Mary Ann’s life after she and other survivors were rescued.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. When faced with life or death situations, how is the humanity of the characters in the book challenged? How does that affect them later in life?
  2. Discuss how death is portrayed in To Stay Alive. What do you think of this portrayal?
  3. What experiences lead to the growth of the characters in To Stay Alive?

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MARCH

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | March - (0 Comments)

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry. Viking, 2016

In 13th-century western Europe, the Inquisition is control through terror, as those whose beliefs or behaviors offend Church authorities face persecution as heretics. Dolssa is a young woman who says Christ is her true love. Even the threat of death cannot make her deny that he speaks to her. But it is her mother who is burned by Inquisitors as Dolssa watches. When her bonds are cut and a voice tells her to run, Dolssa flees. Spirited Botille and her two equally confident, gifted sisters run an inn in the village of Bajas. When Botille discovers a dying young woman by a river, instinct or intuition or perhaps something else tells her to lie when a passing friar asks about a missing girl. Botille smuggles the young woman—Dolssa—back to her village, where the sisters secretly nurse her back to health. Dolssa remains hidden until a crisis forces her to call on her divine gift for healing. Word about her miracles spreads and the determined friar tracks Dolssa down. A taut narrative arc in this work of historical fiction is richly embellished with vivid period details and a cast of vibrant, singular, complex, contradictory characters. The story is tragic, funny, satisfying, and scathingly critical. It also leaves space for genuine faith and miracles and mystery and devotion, however one chooses to define it (earthbound romance included). A detailed author’s note about the historical period concludes this intricate and astonishing work.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Do you think Dolssa’s “beloved” is real or imaginary? If he is real, why doesn’t he save Dolssa and her mother? How do you explain the miracles that seemed to occur in her presence?
  2. Dolssa is being pursued because she is seen as a criminal by the church. The people of Provensa see her as good. What risks are the people of Provensa taking by siding with Dolssa instead of the church?
  3. Do you believe Botille at the end of the story? In an interview, Julie Berry herself tells readers not to trust her.

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FEBRUARY (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | February - (0 Comments)

Watched by Marina Budhos. Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, 2016

When Naeem is caught shoplifting, it further jeopardizes his already tenuous hope of graduating high school. Then he’s offered a deal by police: spy on other Muslims in New York City and he won’t be charged. In fact, they’ll pay him for information. It could even become a real job. Naeem is both enticed and repulsed by the offer. He wants to help his family, and the cops make him feel like he’s special, but he hates the idea of spying, and he hates that he doesn’t think he has a choice. When Naeem encounters Ibrahim, a boy he hasn’t seen in awhile, he realizes Ibrahim fits the officers’ “lone wolf ” profile: he’s angry, isolated, and has been reading radical Islamic web sites. Naeem reluctantly reports him then becomes more and more uncomfortable as another operative steps in and further fuels Ibrahim’s anger. Isn’t this entrapment? Naeem feels trapped, too, in this taut, timely novel that addresses complex realities, from Islamophobia and police coercion to radicals who prey on Muslim youth feeling disillusioned, disconnected, and hopeless. Details of Naeem’s daily life, his worries about school, and his relationships with family members, friends, and others within and beyond the diverse Muslim community ground this riveting work in even greater poignancy and realism, while the author’s note provides background information on the truths behind this work of fiction. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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FEBRUARY (1)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | 2017-2018 High School | February - (0 Comments)

Radical by E.M. Kokie. Candlewick Press, 2016

Bex, 15, is distrustful of the government and knows that Lucy, in town for the summer to visit her grandparents, wouldn’t understand why Bex goes to Clearview. So she says nothing about the shooting club/survival training center near her rural Michigan home as they fall for each other. For Bex, who isn’t out, dating Lucy is unexpected, uncertain, sweet, and thrilling, until a police stop illuminates the huge gap in how the two young women see the world. Bex is also growing uneasy about her older brother Mark’s involvement with a group of young men at Clearview who defy the rules, intent on causing trouble. Mark’s behavior toward Bex becomes threatening and violent before government agents arrest the young men for plotting to use explosives. Bex is arrested, too, and doesn’t believe she can trust anyone in the system, including her well- meaning, court-appointed lawyer. Some of her fears about the system are not unfounded, and her mother is pressuring her to take the fall for Mark because she’s a minor facing lesser consequences. Bex, her brother, and her parents are all singular individuals in a struggling family dynamic. The leadership and most members of Clearview are also wholly believable in this unusually nuanced novel showing degrees of extremism. A thoughtful, at times passionate coming out story is woven into this insightful look at how Bex’s thinking has been shaped, and is shifting by story’s end.   © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What assumptions did you make about the cover of this book? (Even before reading it!)
  2. Do you think Bex’s views are radical? Did your opinion change throughout the book?
  3. Why do you think Lucy made the decisions she did? What do you think motivated Lucy’s decisions?

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JANUARY (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | January | 2017-2018 High School - (0 Comments)

Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich. Cinco Puntos Press, 2016

In his small town outside of Mexico City, 13-year-old Boli spends his time helping at his parents’ bakery, playing marbles with his friends (the devil’s fire is a coveted marble he owns), and waiting for the next lucha libre match to visit his town. But his easy, predictable life changes after the severed head of the town’s teacher is found in the square. That is soon followed by the discovery of another dead body. These two events make it impossible for the adults to continue shielding their children from the narcos who are taking over the town. When Boli’s parents leave to find help from a greater authority, they don’t return, which leads Boli to team up with a washed-out lucha libre figher, El Chicano, to find answers. Diederich wisely chose to tell this gut-wrenching story of crime, violence, and corruption from Boli’s innocent point of view. Tight, descriptive writing paints a picture of the town, its people, and their culture, and of a reluctant hero in El Chicano. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

 

 

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JANUARY (1)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | High School | January | 2017-2018 High School - (0 Comments)

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis. Amulet / Abrams, 2016

It’s 2035 and a comet is headed toward Earth. Preparations for the inevitable destruction have fallen along class lines—those who can afford it, or who have critical skills, are set to escape on self-sustaining generation ships. Those who can’t are staying in underground shelters with little hope of long-term survival. Biracial (Black/white) Denise, her drug-addicted mother, and her trans sister don’t come close to qualifying for safe passage on a generation ship, but Denise is determined to get the three of them on board, even it means lying or sneaking on. Denise has autism—sometimes that hinders her, sometimes it helps, but always it is just part of who she is and how she views the world. Set in a futuristic Amsterdam, this compelling novel is tense, visceral, and extremely well crafted. It also offers a thoughtful exploration of ethical dilemmas: What would you be willing to do to survive? Whom would you save? And, in the face of pending doom, who deserves to live and who is expendable? ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does Denise’s autism aid or hinder her during this end of the world catastrophe?
  2. What are the ethical implications of choosing people to live or die? How would you choose who survives?
  3. In the end, why do you think Denise makes the choice she does? What would you have chosen?

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DECEMBER (2)

May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | December | High School | 2017-2018 High School - (0 Comments)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016

Miel and Sam have been friends since the day Miel, drenched and scared, appeared in a field where a water tower had just been drained in Sam’s town. Miel is haunted by snippets of memory that include a curandero father long gone, and a mother and older brother who drowned. In the wind she sometimes hears her mother’s cries. But Miel has Aracely, the young woman who raised her, curer of lovesick, broken hearts, and Sam, who hangs the moon for her. Miel is one of the few who knows Sam is really Samira. He and his mother moved to town when Sam was small so he could live as a boy. The practice, from his mother’s Pakistani heritage, is called bacha posh and typically ends in adolescence. But Miel understands that it expresses who Sam is, now and forever. The Bonner Girls, las gringas bonitas, are four sisters who once could make any boy fall in love with them, but not anymore. Ivy Bonner believes the roses that grow from Miel’s wrist, the roses Miel see as her curse, can restore the sisters’ power. When Ivy learns Sam’s secret, Miel knows she’ll do what Ivy wants to protect the boy she loves. Latin American magical realism is foundational to this lush, sensual, astounding work graced by characters that are exquisitely, exceptionally human. Thick with secrets, this is a story of love and family and the power of speaking one’s truth. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Discuss the theme of secrets. How do secrets bind and tear different characters apart?
  2. How does the author address the subject of gender identification? Why do you think the author chose to approach gender in this way?
  3. How does this book show the difference between sexual identity and gender identity?
  4. Did you prefer the magical realism of When the Moon Was Ours or the realistic portrayal in Symptoms of Being Human?

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