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Riding Chance

May 21st, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | October | Middle School - (0 Comments)

Riding Chance by Christine Kendall. Scholastic Press, 2016

Since his mom died, it’s been hard for Troy, 13, to stay on an even keel in his tough Philadelphia neighborhood. When he and his best friend, Foster, get caught for petty larceny they are offered the chance to participate in a juvenile offender program working at a city stable, cleaning out horse stalls and, if they’re interested, learning to ride. Unlike Foster, Troy discovers he has an affinity for horses. Step by step he learns how to trust them and how to earn their trust in return, and before long caring for and riding his favorite horse, Chance, is always on his mind. He’s also interested in one of the other riders, a kind, outspoken girl who seems to like him, too. The two men in charge of the program see Troy’s potential and get him involved in the all-Black polo team they also run. The competition is typically upper-class white kids, but the bigger challenge for Troy is that the best player on his own team clearly has it in for him. And just when he needs a friend most, he and Foster are struggling to reconnect after a fallout. Author Christine Kendall has crafted a compelling and relatable story populated with well-developed, realistic characters in a debut that will keep readers turning the page. (Ages 11–15)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano. Scholastic, 2012

Fourteen-year-old Evelyn Serrano gets caught between her meek, mild-mannered mother and her fiery, activist grandmother when a group calling itself the Young Lords begins advocating for social change in Spanish Harlem in 1969. The neighborhood is neglected by the city—even garbage pickup is irregular—and many residents struggle to make ends meet. Evelyn’s abuela arrives from Puerto Rico just as the Young Lords are gearing up for action. Abuela has been a political activist most of her adult life, and Evelyn is at first a bit embarrassed and then inspired by her grandmother’s brassiness and her courage. She sees little to admire in her own mother, who spends her days and nights working in her stepfather’s store, cooking, cleaning, and nursing her dream of someday owning a house in the Bronx. Vivid descriptions of the time and place, wonderful character development, and realistic family tensions ground this vibrant story about a fictional family caught up in actual events: The Young Lords were real, and they really did occupy a church in the neighborhood, demanding space to provide social services for neighborhood residents. Evelyn and her grandmother become part of that occupation. To Evelyn’s surprise, so, too does her mother—at first to make sure Evelyn is safe, but eventually she becomes—in her own quite way—part of the push for change. Evelyn discovers that her mother’s strength is not relentless activism but emotional constancy—one of the few things she discovers Abuela is incapable of providing. (MS) ©2012 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon. Aladdin / Simon & Schuster, 2012

Fourteen-year-old Maxie spends a lot of time at the Black Panther office. She’s eager to become a full-fledged Panther like her older brother, Raheem. The Panthers have purpose and passion and she wants to be part of making a difference. Instead, she’s given menial tasks, from stuffing and sealing envelopes to babysitting. At home, Maxie’s family life is unraveling—her mother, marginally reliable at the best of times, has lost her job and is bringing home men to try to plug the economic hole in their lives. Raheem is trying to help make ends meet, but can’t do enough for the family to avoid an eviction notice. Meanwhile, an attack on the Panther office by police intensifies Maxie’s desire to become a real Panther and carry a gun—she was the only one not able to fire back in the chaos. Then it becomes clear someone is in the office is passing information to the police, and Maxie decides she’ll prove her worth by figuring out who it is. Kekla Magoon’s sequel to The Rock and the River (Aladdin, 2009) stands on its own, illuminating the discrimination and poverty that motivate Maxie, and the divide between the African American community in 1968 Chicago and white society, even whites such as war protestors who stand against the status quo. Magoon’s writing keeps getting better as she skillfully offers insight into this time and place through characters who represent a variety of perspectives and experiences.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Watch Wisconsin student-made book trailers for Fire in the Streets!

Fire in the Streets (Whitehorse Middle School, Madison/Middle School/2013-14)

Fire in the Streets (Simpson Street Free Press, Madison/Middle School/2013-14)

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch. Houghton Mifflin, 2012

Geologist Steve Squyres knew that it wasn’t possible to go to Mars himself, so he did the next best thing: He helped create two robotic geologists that could make the journey and report back. Doing so took funding from NASA and an entire team of scientists. “It was so complicated,” he noted, “that not a single one of us fully understood what was going on.” After a six–month journey, the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (named by a nine-year-old girl), landed on different parts of the red planet and began their explorations, with scientists back on earth directing their moves and troubleshooting when things went wrong. Color photographs transmitted from Mars stand side by side with photographs of the scientists back home, who are watching, worrying, wondering, and celebrating throughout the rovers’ amazing explorations. The story itself is inherently dramatic, and the science is skillfully woven into the account. Readers will feel the same sense of discovery that Squyres and his team felt as the two Mars rovers opened up a whole new world to them.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Viking, 2011

Sunny, born in the United States to Nigerian parents, returned to Nigeria with her family when she was nine. Now twelve, she’s taunted by her peers because she’s an albino. Her West African physical features, at odds with her blond hair, hazel eyes, and skin “the color of ‘sour milk’,” make her the target of bullies. Then Sunny discovers it’s not just her physical appearance that’s unusual: She is one of the Leopard people, a “free agent” witch who possesses latent magical skills and the power to work juju. Unlike her classmate Orlu, and Chichi, a neighborhood girl, who both come from magical families, she knows nothing about the world of magic. Orlu and Chichi become Sunny’s initial guides, introducing her to their teachers and the community of Leopard people. No one at home knows Sunny is moving back and forth between worlds, let alone that she, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, a Leopard boy visiting from Chicago, have become an Oha coven, fated to confront the Black Hat serial killer terrorizing communities in the area. At the heart of Sunny’s journey into this distinctive realm of magic that coexists with the everyday world are the friendships she forges with other young Leopard people in Nnedi Okorafor’s fresh fantasy novel. The Nigerian setting and culture and well-developed characters have us hoping book two won’t be long in coming.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Watch Wisconsin student-made book trailers for Akata Witch!

Akata Witch (Whitehorse Middle School, Madison/Middle School/2012-13)

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Finding Wonders

May 9th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Middle School | April - (0 Comments)

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. Atheneum, 2016

Three girls coming of age in three separate centuries, all facing limits on expectations and opportunities because of being female, and all making significant contributions to science. Their stories unfold in three verse narratives. “The Artist’s Daughter” introduces Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), who grew up loving nature, butterflies in particular. She was the first to observe, understand, and document the life cycle of moths and butterflies. Mary Anning (1799–1847) was “The Carpenter’s Daughter.” She found and helped unearth what turned out the be the first ichthyosaur fossil. “The Mapmaker’s Daughter,” Maria Mitchell (1818–1889), grew up in a Quaker family on Nantucket. She could repair a sextant as well as her father, and when the king of Denmark announced a prize for the first person to discover a new comet, Mary eventually won, after six years of closely, doggedly observing the skies. Personalities of the three come alive in fictionalized profiles full of small, meaningful details as they move from childhood to adulthood. An author’s note and suggestions for further reading are included. (Ages 10–13)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Low Riders in Space

May 9th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Middle School | May - (0 Comments)

Lowriders in Space (Lowriders, Book 1) by Cathy Camper. Illustrated by Raul the Third. Chronicle Books, 2014

Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure. from the publisher  Ages 9-12, 112 pages, ISBN: 978-1452128696 

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Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2016

Chloe Cho’s immigrant parents never talk about Korea so she’s explored her heritage on her own. A class assignment leads to crisis when her parents’ reticence makes it impossible for Chloe to share a family story as required. Finally, her parents reveal that they aren’t really Korean; they’re aliens from another planet. They intentionally chose an all-white U.S. town where its assumed they don’t know things because they are immigrants. In turn, the residents of the town are so ignorant about Koreans that no one has ever assumed Chloe’s parents are anything but what they claimed to be. Chloe’s best friend Shelley, who has learned about Korean culture with Chloe, is the only person who has always understood Chloe’s eye-rolling annoyance and occasional anger at the many uninformed things people say to her. Classmates assume, for example, that Chloe is obsessed with good grades and plays the violin because she is Asian, not because she is Chloe. Learning that she isn’t who, or even what, she always thought makes Chloe question everything, including Shelley’s interest in her culture, until she discovers both how little has changed and how much the things that matter—true friendship and family love—have remained steadfast. Mike Jung’s use of otherworldly “aliens” as a metaphor for how white people think about people of other races makes for a smart, funny, layered novel that is both blithe and deeply insightful. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. Clarion, 2016

As young adults in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Hans Scholl joined the Hitler Youth, his sister Sophie the League of German Girls. They quickly became disillusioned. The White Rose Movement grew out of gatherings of Hans and a few friends in Munich in the early 1940s. As soon as Sophie knew Hans was behind the first White Rose flyer in 1942, encouraging Germans to resist fascism “before it’s too late,” she demanded to be part of the work. The Movement’s weapons were words: flyers written and printed in secret, distributed with great planning and care. Their commitment was unwavering, right through their capture, interrogation and brief trial. “I would do it all over again,” 21-year-old Sophie told her Gestapo interrogator. “I’m not wrong … You have the wrong world view.” Along with a third White Rose member who’d been captured (they did not reveal the names of others) Hans, 24, and Sophie were executed by guillotine in early 1943. A detailed account full of intrigue and danger and heroism and heartbreak presents the Scholls’ courageous activism in the context of the terrible wrongs being committed by the Nazi regime, and the greater good that the White Rose Movement sought to inspire. Ample black-and-white photos, including candid snapshots of the Scholls, and other visual material are part of a work that ends with source notes and a bibliography.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Godwitz.  Illustrated by Hatem Aly. Dutton, 2016

Three children on the run become determined to save Jewish texts from the flames of the Inquisition in this riveting, richly detailed story set in thirteenth-century France. Jeanne is a peasant who has visions and has fled her village pursued by Church representatives. William, son of a nobleman and a north African Muslim woman, is a monk in training. Extraordinarily strong, he’s been tasked with carrying a satchel of books to the monastery of St. Denis as punishment for disobedience. Jacob is Jewish and has unusual gifts as a healer, but he is helpless when Christian boys on a rampage burn his village. Their separate journeys converge at an Inn where the boys help Jeanne escape the men who captured her. The trio continues to Paris, where Jacob hopes to find his parents alive. Instead, they learn of King Louis’ plan to burn 20,000 Jewish texts. Realizing William was given the books he is carrying to save them from the flames, it becomes a race against Church and King to get them safely to St. Denis. Each guest at the Inn where the children first met tell pieces of this story, a la Canterbury Tales, while the novel’s mysterious narrator, one of the eager listeners, brings the breathless account to a close. At times sobering as it reveals anti-Semitism and oppression during the Inquisition, this is ultimately a story of light and faith and hope and miracles, and friendship holds them all. Black-and-white illuminations illustrate the trio’s adventures with wit and tenderness. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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The Lie Tree

May 9th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Middle School | March - (0 Comments)

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Amulet / Abrams, 2016

When 14-year-old Faith’s scientist father is accused of trying to pass off a fake fossil as authentic, public censure prompts the family to move from their Kent home to the site of an archaeological dig on a sparsely populated island. But scandal follows the family to the island, where Faith covertly investigates the mystery behind her father’s secretive behavior. She discovers the Mendacity Tree, an obscure plant he’s hiding that is nourished by lies rather than sunlight. If well fed, it bears a fruit that reveals the truth when eaten. When her father dies suddenly, Faith is convinced he was murdered. She sets out to prove it, using the Mendacity Tree to aid her mission. Truth and lies shift uneasily as Faith sinks deeper and deeper into a quagmire of greed and treachery— including her own. The shifting world of natural science a decade after the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species plays an important role is this novel that compares and contrasts the behavior of complex characters and the intricacies of their relationships. At the center of it all is Faith, an intelligent girl who resents the limitations of the gender roles of her time, and yet judges her mother with the same stereotypical bias that she abhors. (Age 12 and older)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Ghost (Track, Book 1) by Jason Reynolds. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2016

Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, stands out at his middle school for his too-big, ratty clothes, crappy knock-off sneakers, and a temper that gets him in trouble. But to the coach of an elite city track team, Ghost stands out for his speed. Ghost has had a lot to run from in his life, including a father, now in prison, who once went after Ghost and his mom with a gun. It’s a memory Ghost can’t run from. Even though Ghost thinks of basketball as his game—never mind he doesn’t actually play—Coach persuades Ghost to become one of four new runners on the team. Coach’s rules and his rigorous training regimen are challenging, but Ghost is determined to show how good he is, and sure he’d run even faster if he had fancy track shoes like some of the other kids. In a spur- of-the-moment act, Ghost shoplifts a pair. He calls them his Silver Bullets and they do seem to improve his running, but they also mess with his head. Fast- moving, funny, and realistic, this first in a four-book series features a winning protagonist and distinctive secondary characters, from the no-nonsense, give- me-patience, cab-driving Coach, who mentors the kids on and off the track, to Ghost’s fellow new team members, Lu, Patty, and Sunny, who also have stories to tell. (Ages 9–12)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan. Putnam, 2016

Like many children in Mali, 15-year-old Amadou and his little brother, Seydou, left their village in Mali in search of seasonal work to help support their family. But the boys were tricked and, two years later, they are still working on a cacao plantation in Ivory Coast for no pay, little food, and plenty of beatings whenever they fail to meet their daily quotas. And then Khadija arrives at their camp—an educated girl with the eyes of a wildcat. It turns out Khadija was kidnapped to silence her journalist mother. Together Amadou and Khadija begin to plot their escape, an act that becomes all the more critical after Seydou is gravely wounded and needs medical care. This tension-filled, well-plotted story reveals the horrors of child slavery that fuels much of the modern-day chocolate industry. The fast pace will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they follow Amadou, Khadija, and Seydou on their dangerous escape through unfamiliar, often threatening territory to safety at last. An author’s note provides more background information on the exploitation of children in the cacao industry. (Ages 10–14)  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center 299 pages, ISBN: 978-0-399-17307-3

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Wolf Hollow

May 8th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | October | Middle School - (0 Comments)

Wolf Howl by Lauren Wolk. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history. (Age 10 and up) From the publisher

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It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Clarion, 2016

Zomorod and her parents are in the United States for her dad’s job as an engineer working at a California oil company. Zomorod, who has chosen the Brady Bunch-inspired name “Cindy” at school, narrates an often funny and always insightful account of her life as an Iranian immigrant in the late 1970s (an era that is vividly and often delightfully realized here). Her father is openhearted and upbeat but her mother finds it difficult acclimating to their life in America. Struggling with English, she rarely leaves the house. Zomorod, like her dad, is happy. Despite often being mistaken as Latina by strangers (no one has heard of Iran), she also has good friends. Then the Shah of Iran is overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeni comes into power. The hostage crisis horrifies Zomorod’s family. So, too, do the oppressive religious restrictions under Khomeni’s rule. Meanwhile, everyone in America suddenly wants to know or has something to say about Iran. Zomorod’s mother finds purpose in helping other Iranians in their community feel less alone, but her dad loses his job and when he can’t find another he begins to lose hope as the family faces returning to their radically changed homeland. Dumas’s “semi-autobiographical” novel doesn’t shy away from the racism Zomorod and her family experiences. Yet her story is buoyed by this honesty, as well as the warmth of family, and the essential kindness of friendship. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (Ages 9-13)

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