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Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2016

Riley feels feminine some days, masculine others, but never feels safe outwardly expressing this shifting identity so dresses in gender-neutral clothing. As a result, Riley experiences dysphoria almost daily. On the first day at a new high school, Riley is called “it” before even getting in the door. But Riley gradually becomes friends with Bec and Solo. At the suggestion of a therapist, whom Riley has been seeing since a suicide attempt the year before, Riley has also started writing. Blogging under the pseudonym Alix, Riley is a source of online support for other teens. Riley’s parents know nothing about the blog or Riley’s shifting gender identity. It’s Bec who takes Riley to a transgender support group, one Bec attends because her sister, Gabi, who committed suicide, was transgender. It’s there Riley learns the term “gender fluid,”  and feels relief  even without being ready to say “this is who I am.” A horrifying sexual assault eventually fuels Riley’s determination to speak out. Riley’s voice is compelling and Riley, Bec, and Solo are vivid characters with believable strengths and quirks and uncertainties in a novel that also succeeds because the emotional arc feels authentic, and ultimately cathartic. © 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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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Philomel, 2016

The sinking of the Nazi passenger ship Wilhelm Gustloff, killing an estimated 9,000 evacuees escaping the advancing Russian army in the last days of WWII, inspired this riveting, haunting novel. Joanna and Emilia are refugees; Florian is on the run for reasons he won’t reveal. All three teens are desperate to reach the Polish port where German ships are waiting. Each is struggling with a secret and all are damaged by what they’ve experienced, unable to easily trust, but they form a makeshift family with other travelers. Teenage Alfred is a Nazi sailor at the port. Reviled by peers for his self-importance, he also exhibits sociopathic behavior that is, in its way, a personification of facism. The fates of the other three intertwine with Alfred after their harrowing journey to the port culminates in discovery of thousands more refugees than the waiting ships can possibly carry. Short chapters moving back and forth among the four points of view makes for a swiftly paced story in which the characters are revealed in how they interact and through internal reflection that also illuminates their backstories. Oppression under Stalin, Nazi greed, the brutality of war, and the intriguing mystery of the legendary Amber Room are all part of a tense, tragic novel in which the fate of the ship will not be changed by fiction, even as some fictional characters do survive. An author’s note gives more information about the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy and other factual elements of the narrative. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Bravery and patriotism can be defined in different ways, in different contexts. How do the characters differ in their representations of bravery and patriotism in Salt to the Sea?
  2. Had you previously heard of the historical events depicted in this book? Why do you think you may have or have not heard about these events?
  3. When told that the soldiers “with a strong chance of survival will be embarked” upon the Wilhelm Gustloff, and Alfred says: “Quite wise. Leave the browned cabbage in the basket. It makes no sense to save a head with only a few good leaves.” How does this reflect the Nazi view of humanity? How is this view flawed? Would he pass as a healthy cabbage?

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Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2016

This riveting account chronicles Norwegian underground fighters’ efforts to sabotage the German production of heavy water in Norway, being used by the Nazis in an effort to develop an atomic bomb during World War II. Most of the men had escaped the country after the Nazi invasion. Working with the British in England, they planned the mission and then parachuted back into Norway in the middle of winter, joining others who had remained from the beginning of the German occupation. The effort ended up far more complicated than hoped when the initial assault did not completely destroy the plant where heavy water was produced. When the Germans finally decided to shut the plant down and move the existing heavy water, the partisans had to destroy the supply in transit, a mission that carried the emotional weight of risking civilian lives. A number of the partisans, whose commitment and endurance were remarkable, are introduced throughout a narrative informed by numerous interviews with their family members, as well as memoirs, diaries, and other primary source materials. Black-and-white photographs are included throughout, and ample notes are provided at volume’s end. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Bravery and patriotism can be defined in different ways, in different contexts. How do the characters differ in their representations of bravery and patriotism in Sabotage?
  2. Had you previously heard of the historical events depicted in this book? Why do you think you may have or have not heard about these events?
  3. How does Bascomb use characteristics from different genres to tell this story?

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Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016

Nora López is finishing high school uncertain about the future. Encouraged to apply to the New York City Community College trades program, she can’t imagine being able to go when her mom, Mima, struggles to pay the rent. When recent murders of young, dark-haired women in the city turn out to  be the actions of a serial killer, who begins writing letters to the press signed “Son of Sam,” the growing tension and fear is tangible. It pulses through Nora’s Queens neighborhood and the city like the disco rhythms and intense heat so prevalent that spring of 1977. And it explodes into looting following the citywide blackout. But the more pressing danger for Nora is at home, where her younger brother, Hector, is increasingly violent and out of control. Cuban- born Mima says Hector is just a boy in need of a good girl to help him settle down. Mima’s sexism and blinders infuriate Nora, but Nora is also too ashamed to tell her best friend, her boyfriend, her caring boss at the market, teachers, or anyone else what’s happening. Son of Sam is caught, almost anticlimactically, even as the threat in Nora’s personal life escalates. An exceptional novel captures the textures and turbulence of time and place and the complexities of Nora’s relationships vividly. Even before Son of Sam is arrested, it’s becoming clear that community rather than family is Nora’s greatest source of safety, while her own resilience is her greatest strength, especially once she breaks her silence. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think Nora keeps the issues she was experiencing at home secret?
  2. “The real dangers are often closer to home then we’d like to admit.” What do you think this quote from the blurb on the back cover of the book means or conveys?
  3. How does setting both at home and in the world impact Nora’s life?

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March: The Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf, 2013-2016

March: Book Three

The third and final volume of U.S. Congressman John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir opens with the Birmingham church bombing in September,1963,   in which four Black girls were murdered. At the time, Lewis was a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the tragedy, and additional violence that followed, fueled SNCC’s increased voting rights efforts. Details of those efforts, and the work of activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, are the focus here as Lewis describes individuals whose skill and passion, and grief and anger, found purpose in activism to change our nation. The narrative’s climax is the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Lewis states, “That day was the end of a very long road. It was the end of the movement as I knew it.” Lewis’s memories are again framed by the January, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama. As in the two prior volumes, the conversational narrative is direct and powerful, and paired with black-and- white panel art and occasional full-page illustrations.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

March: Book Two

The second volume of this graphic novel memoir trilogy follows U.S. Congressman John Lewis’s activism and leadership in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. Beaten, jailed, but steadfast and further politicized and energized during the Freedom Rides, he emerged into a leadership role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinator Committee (SNCC) as protests heated up in Birmingham early in 1963. It was in his SNCC role that he was involved in planning the March on Washington that year and to speak at the event, only to be asked to make last-minute changes to lines in his speech questioned as too divisive and critical. The direct, powerful conversational narrative is paired with dramatic black-and-white panel art and occasional full-page illustrations, and includes Lewis’s account of other key figures and their role in the sweeping social change taking place. Like March: Book One , President Obama’s 2008 inauguration provides a framing device in a volume that ends, tragically and poignantly, with the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham that killed four girls in September, 1963. The original draft of Lewis’s March on Washington speech is included in the end matter.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

March: Book One

As he gets ready to join the distinguished guests at the January, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States, Senator John Lewis recounts memories from his childhood and the early days of the Civil Rights Movement to a young family who stops by his office. Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers, was hungry to learn as a child. He snuck away to his all-Black school on days when his help was needed in the fields. He started preaching as a boy and was attending divinity school in Nashville when he began training in nonviolent civil disobedience and participating in lunch counter sit-ins. The sense of unity in the face of racism and discrimination inspired and encouraged him, as did his fellow activists, many of them students like himself, and a preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A powerful black-and-white graphic novel brings this first part of Lewis’s journey into vivid relief. Among the most powerful scenes is a series of panels in which the young activists must painfully hurl racist slurs and spit on one another as they prepare themselves to respond nonviolently to the hatred they will face.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do protests today compare to those depicted in March? What are some similarities? What are some differences?
  2. Why was it so important for people fighting for Civil Rights to keep their protests nonviolent?
  3. What has been accomplished by the Civil Rights movement? What still needs to be accomplished today?
  4. What are the reasons that the authors chose the graphic novel format to tell John Lewis’s story?

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MAY

May 8th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Middle School | 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.  (Ages 9-12) — from the publisher 

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. In the notes, it says: “This book was written to celebrate the artistry, inventiveness, mechanical aptitude, resilience, and humor that are all part of lowrider culture.” Give examples of how the author and illustrator accomplish this.
  2. What would be your playlist for this book?
  3. How is collaboration important in this story?

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. What are the threads that weave the three stories together?
  2. Why is it important to tell these women’s stories today?
  3. How do art and science complement each other in this book and in our world?

    Find more resources here

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. If given the chance, would you eat the fruit from the Lie Tree? Why or why not?
  2. Faith’s brother uses guns and his toy stage to act out his fears and to talk about tough stuff. What helps you through tough stuff and problems? How do you cope?
  3. Faith has complicated relationships with both her mother and father. Which parent do you think she is most like? Why?

    Find more resources here

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Would you take a DNA test like Chloe? Why or why not?
  2. Chloe and Ms. Lee have a strong connection. Have you ever had that type of relationship with a teacher of mentor? How did it benefit you?
  3. What does it mean to be an alien in this book?

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Most chapters start with “World Record for…” What would you like to set a world record in?
  2. In what ways is Ghost running in this book?
  3. At the newbie dinner, the coach asks each team member to share a secret. Ghost shares that his father tried to shoot him. How does sharing secrets help people build trust?

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Does this book change the way you feel about eating chocolate? How?
  2. How are Amadou and Khadija’s childhood experiences different from one another?
  3. How does Amadou’s sense of responsibility affect his decisions?

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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

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How did the use of multiple narrators either enhance or detract from the story?
  2. If you could be one of these characters, who would it be and why?
  3. Although book burnings aren’t as common now, in what ways do people still try to control information?

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