Category Archives: coming-of-age

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

140127095838-25-young-adult-book-awards-horizontal-gallery1With four starred reviews and a Pura Belpré Award on the cover, I knew this would be a good book. What I didn’t realize is that I would stay up until 1:30 in the morning reading the last chapters, needing to know how everything turns out for Piddy Sanchez. This is a gritty, realistic, coming-of-age story that ultimately offers hope in the power of making our own choices in life.

Publisher’s description:  One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* has reached a cross-roads and has important choices or decisions to make

* struggles with poverty, or needs to be introduced to someone who does

* is being raised by a single parent

* is exploring what it means to be part of a particular culture or to straddle more than one culture (Piddy is bullied by Yaqui in part because Yaqui doesn’t think she is “Latina enough.”)

* responds to a teen voice that is honest and  unapologetic

Use this to discuss:

* Choices –Piddy has a slew of choices in front of her, and not one of them is easy. We see the choices that her friend Joey makes, and some of the choices that Yaqui makes. What choices does Piddy have in life? What are the ramifications of each? This would make for a good discussion, especially when paired with Steve Watkins’ young adult novel Juvie.

juvie-198x300

* Community–Although Piddy is being raised by her mother and has never met her father, she doesn’t lack for a support network. Lila, her mother’s friend, and the other ladies at the beauty salon where Lila works (and where Piddy works on the weekends) form a tightly-knit community that looks out for each other. Use Piddy’s story as a springboard to discuss various support systems that teens have in their lives.

* Point of View–Although we never get into Yaqui’s head, we get a glimpse of what her life must be like through Raul, a policeman who patrols Yaqui’s crime-ridden neighborhood, and Joey, Piddy’s friend and neighbor who lives with daily violence in his own home. Although Yaqui is the girl we want to hate, Meg Medina won’t let us, even though she keeps Yaqui’s point of view at arm’s length. How would Yaqui describe seeing Piddy for the first time? What bothers her so much about Piddy Sanchez?

* Bullying–One of the biggest choices Piddy must make is how to handle Yaqui’s bullying. Should she try to avoid Yaqui? Confront her? Tell an adult? This would make an excellent discussion starter about how to handle bullying and its lingering consequences.

Visit author Meg Medina’s website here, and read some sample chapters and see the string of honors this book has received here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: March 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-65859-5 (hardcover); 978-0-7636-7164-8 (paperback)

Number of Pages: 272

For ages 14 and up

Juvie by Steve Watkins

 

I received this e-galley from the publisher via Netgalley and read it on my ancient Kindle, so I didn’t pay much attention to the cover, including–I’m embarrassed to say–the author’s name. The story is written from a female teen’s point of view, and it’s done so well that I was shocked when I sat down to write this review and discovered that the author is male. I was also surprised to realize that, had I seen the cover before reading the story, I would have thought that was a book about a teen boy. My own misguided preconceptions, of course–girls go to jail, too.

Publisher’s description:  Sadie Windas has always been the responsible one — she’s the star player on her AAU basketball team, she gets good grades, she dates a cute soccer player, and she tries to help out at home. Not like her older sister, Carla, who leaves her three-year-old daughter, Lulu, with Aunt Sadie while she parties and gets high. But when both sisters are caught up in a drug deal — wrong place, wrong time — it falls to Sadie to confess to a crime she didn’t commit to keep Carla out of jail and Lulu out of foster care. Sadie is supposed to get off with a slap on the wrist, but somehow, impossibly, gets sentenced to six months in juvie. As life as Sadie knew it disappears beyond the stark bars of her cell, her anger — at her ex-boyfriend, at Carla, and at herself — fills the empty space left behind. Can Sadie forgive Carla for getting her mixed up in this mess? Can Carla straighten herself out to make a better life for Lulu, and for all of them? Can Sadie survive her time in juvie with her spirit intact?

Heart-wrenching and real, Juvie tells the story of two sisters grappling with accountability, sacrifice — and who will be there to help you after you take the fall.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* is struggling with making good choices in life

* knows someone who has been incarcerated or has first-hand experience with the juvenile detention system

* plays basketball–Sadie is on the college scholarship path when she has to leave high school to serve her six-month sentence.

* has a family member who suffers from agoraphobia–Sadie’s father never makes an appearance in the story because he hasn’t come out of his house in years. Although we don’t get to know him as well as we know the agoraphobic father in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect,  we can still feel Sadie’s father’s love for her when he does reach out to her via the US mail.

Use this to discuss:

* Character Motivation–Sadie decides to take the fall for her older sister, Carla, who has been in trouble with the law in the past. Should she have made that sacrifice? What if Sadie’s decision can’t save her sister or her young niece, Lulu? Would she have made the same sacrifice if she had known that she’d spend six months in jail?

* Ethics–When Sadie tries to shield a fellow inmate from harm during a prison riot, she is reprimanded for getting involved and told that her only job in juvie is to follow directions. Yet she later risks her own life to save another. Sadie’s choices in these scenes would make good fodder for discussion. And speaking of choices…

* Choices–At first, I was indignant at the unfairness of Sadie going to jail for something she didn’t do. But Sadie eventually comes to the conclusion that although she didn’t knowingly break the law, a series of smaller bad decisions led her to the wrong place at the wrong time. Did she deserve to go to jail? Definitely not. But the ultimate consequences of her choices that led her to the scene of the crime could have so easily been avoided.

*Types of Conflict–There are several types in this story–character vs. character, and character vs. self, but the most interesting to explore might be character vs. society and the role of prisons in our society. The disparity between the crimes that some of the characters commit on the outside and their behavior on the inside would also make for good discussion.

Visit author Steve Watkins’ website here.

Click here for reviews (including starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly) and here to read the first chapter.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: October 8, 2013

ISBN-10: 0763655090

ISBN-13: 978-0763655099

Number of Pages: 320

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

After IrisThere is so much that I love about this book that I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll start with the publisher‘s description:  

An unforgettable middle-grade debut that will steal your heart…

Blue Gadsby’s twin sister, Iris, died three years ago and her family has never been the same. Her histrionic older sister, Flora, changes her hair color daily; her younger siblings, Jasmine and Twig, are completely obsessed with their pet rats; and both of her parents spend weeks away from home–and each other. Enter Zoran the Bosnian male au pair and Joss the troublemaking boy next door, and life for the Gadsby family takes a turn for the even more chaotic. Blue poignantly captures her family’s trials and tribulations from fragmented to fully dysfunctional to ultimately reunited, in a sequence of film transcripts and diary entries that will make you cry, laugh, and give thanks for the gift of families.

With the charm of The Penderwicks and the poignancy of When You Reach Me, Natasha Farrant’s After Iris is a story that will stay with readers long after the last page.

My impression: Considering that this story is, in part, about Blue dealing with the death of her twin sister, Iris, this is not a maudlin tale. I laughed out loud more than once and was charmed countless times by Blue’s honest observations about her crazy (albeit lovable) family and life in general. The story is set in England, yet still feels accessible to American readers.

As a school librarian, I take advantage of the summer months to catch up on reading; I usually go straight from the last page of one book to first page of the next in the same day. But after I reached the last page of After Iris, I didn’t want to jump into the next book quite yet; I wanted time to linger in Blue’s world and reflect on her story before moving on to another.

After Iris is one of my favorite reads of 2013.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* has a twin or a close sibling

* enjoys books with a diary or journal format

* is interested in the art of film or making videos

* has been separated from a parent due to the parent’s job, a divorce, etc.

Use this to teach:

Format–Told in diary entries and Blue’s home-movie film transcripts, the story unfolds in an unconventional way. The story’s format will spark good discussion about why the author may have chose to tell Blue’s story in this way. Of particular note is the metaphoric  last scene when the camera is turned on Blue  for the very first time.

* Coping Strategies--Blue not only has to deal with missing her twin sister, Iris, but also with her first broken heart in love and fear of her parents’ divorce. The various ways in which Blue’s family members each deal with Iris’ death also merit discussion and analysis.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click  here for reviews.

Author’s website here.

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: July 2013

ISBN-10: 0803739826

ISBN-13: 978-0803739826

Number of Pages: 272

Interest Level: Ages 10 and up

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself

Jacket.aspxHappy Book Birthday to Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself, edited by writer, educator, and editor-extraordinaire Luke Reynolds!

Last summer, Luke asked me if I would like to contribute an essay to a project that he was putting together to benefit the Children’s Defense Fund–a collection of essays for teens. He wanted me to choose one of society’s unwritten rules and tell not only how I broke that rule, but why teens should, too.

Mind you, as a mother, teacher, and librarian, there are oodles of rules that I follow every day. But some rules beg to be challenged, and I jumped at the chance to contribute to this anthology. And then I found out who the rest of the contributors were–award-winners like Katherine Erskine, A.S. King, Thanhha Lai, Gary SchmidtFrancisco X. Stork, and Sara Zarr.

Gulp.

And many, many other favorite authors of mine–34 in all, to be exact. But I decided to break the Be Intimidated By Greatness rule, and decided instead to be inspired.

School Library Journal  calls the essays “inspiring and thought-provoking,” saying, “As readers head back to the classrooms this fall, these essays can serve as discussion starters and give readers a jumping-off point for thinking about the bigger picture and life after high school.”

Here’s the Publisher‘s description: In Break These Rules, 35 favorite middle grade and young adult authors—including Kathryn Erskine, A. S. King, Matthew Quick, Sara Zarr, Gary Schmidt, and many others—speak directly to their readers and advise them to break the boundaries of conformity. In moving, inspiring, and often funny essays, they take on many of the powerfully inhibiting and unspoken “rules” of adolescence, such as Boys shouldn’t be gentle, kind, and caring; Thou shalt wear Abercrombie & Fitch to fit in; You must be a jock or a nerd—you can’t be both; and Girls should “act like girls.” It is often through reading fiction that kids start to question such restrictions, so who better to speak to them directly than their favorite novelists? The book is focused on encouraging students to break rules in their own lives—a prospect many teens and tweens will find thrilling and fresh.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* Is nervous or unsure about fitting in–maybe a student new to the school or someone who feels left out.

*  Enjoys the work of any of the authors in the anthology.

* Reluctant readers who may be intimidated by reading an entire novel–they can dip into this book and read only the essays with topics that interest them.

Use this to teach:

* Personal narrative–This is the form of writing often used in standardized testing, and this book offers 35 examples of the form for analysis.

* Voice/tone–Some of the essays are funny, some heart-wrenching, others are somewhere in between. It might be an interesting exercise to have students choose an essay and compare it to the tone and voice used by the author in his or her work.

* Anti-Bullying— Aside from the classroom or school library, this would make a good addition to any school guidance counselor’s bookshelf. It would also pair nicely with the It Gets Better campaign.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Publication Date: September 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1-61374-784-1

Number of Pages: 208

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to A Mom's Spare Time  for hosting today! Click here for more non-fiction titles for kids.

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to A Mom’s Spare Time for hosting today! Click here for more non-fiction titles for kids.

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Many of my elementary school students are interested in dystopian stories (having seen The Hunger Games movie). But beyond Lois Lowry’s The Giver Trilogy, there’s not much dystopian out there for a middle grade audience. Kids who aren’t intimidated by the science behind Eye of the Storm will find an adventurous mystery with plenty of twists to keep them turning the pages.

Summary from the publisher’s website:

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms have become a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her meteorological engineer father, Jaden Meggs is surprised at the strides her father’s company StormSafe, has made with custom shelters that keep her family safe in even the worst of storms. At her exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers. Together, they discover that her father’s company is steering storms away from the expensive neighborhoods and toward the organic farming communities that are in competition with his bio-engineered food company, NatureMade. Jaden must confront her father, but when she does, she uncovers a terrifying family secret and must call on both her scientific knowledge and her faith to save the people she loves most from one of her father’s monster storms.

Hand this book to the kid:

* who loves science and solving problems

* whose parents have divorced and one or both have remarried

* whose interest in dystopian novels has been piqued by the Hunger Games crowd, yet isn’t quite ready for YA content

* who has friends from the other side of the track

Use this to teach:

Ethics–Jaden’s moral dilemma is a tough one; if her suspicions are correct, then she’ll have to out her own father and face who he really is. Excellent fodder for discussion.

* Weather--The topic of weather is a staple in upper elementary science curricula across the country, and kids are fascinated by storms. Pair this with the non-fiction Epic Disasters series.

*Inquiry-based learning–The premise of the book’s Eye on Tomorrow summer science camp is to have kids to identify a need and then ask questions, research, and test possible solutions. The process is 100% kid-centered (albeit sinister), and your own students can model the same process.

* Climate Change--Could the super-storms in the book become a reality?  Eye of the Storm is the perfect springboard into the “what-ifs” and cause/effect relationships of climate change.

Curriculum Guide here with a link to more resources on Pinterest.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Walker Childrens

Publication Date: 2012

ISBN:  978-0802723130

Number of Pages: 304

Reading Level: 4.8

Interest Level:  Ages 10 and up

Katerina’s Wish by Jeannie Mobley

Up next in my series on middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience in the US is a middle grade historical fiction debut from author Jeannie Mobley. I read the advanced reader’s copy this summer and adored Katerina (“Trina” to her friends and family). The book has just been released in stores,  and has already received two starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Today I’m thrilled to have author Jeannie Mobley here to talk about ways that Katerina’s Wish can be used in classrooms and libraries to connect with students and the curriculum.

From the author’s website: Katerina’s Wish tells the story of a Bohemian family who comes to America in 1900, hoping to work a year in the coal mines of southern Colorado and then buy a farm. After a year, they discover they have no more money than they came with, and much less hope. Then young Trina sees a strange fish and remembers the folk story of a carp that grants wishes. When her sisters make wishes that come true, Trina makes the biggest wish she can, for a farm in America. But is a wish enough to fill a dream so big?

Biblio Links:  Welcome, Jeannie, and congratulations on the release of Katerina’s Wish!

A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of Katerina’s Wish. Who is this child?

Jeannie MobleyIt’s funny, but I never really thought of my book as one that a kid
would “need.” I don’t think of my book as one that will help a child cope with their current problems or understand their own confusing life circumstances. But I do think there are many kids who will enjoy my book, and who will find in it food for thought about what really makes
dreams come true.

I would wish my book into the hands of kids who love historical fiction and daydream about living in the past.  In weaving fairy-tale elements into my book, I created a tone that I hope appeals to kids who are still holding onto the idealism of their childhood, even as they approach the pressures of contemporary teenage life, and I want them to feel comfortable and safe in holding on to that optimism of youth. I hope also that my book will encourage kids to feel empowered–to know that by holding on to their dreams and working toward them, they can make their own lives better. I think that’s true of all kids, whether they have
advantages in life or not. But I think my book will appeal most to the quiet kids who have big dreams, but maybe fly beneath the radar of the peer pressure-driven measures of success that so often fill kids’ lives in their formative years. Then again, maybe I think that because that is the kind of kid I was, and I would have liked this book. 🙂

Biblio Links: The Middle Grade me would have loved this book, too! 

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Jeannie MobleyI think you might see many things. Historical fiction has the potential to teach many different lessons in the classroom. For one thing, we, as
a society, keep coming back to many of the same issues repeatedly in our history–things like immigration, racism, labor movements, stereotypes of other ethnicity or nationalities. Sometimes, it is easier to talk about these issues by viewing them in a different, less politically or socially charged context. KATERINA’S WISH is set in 1901, but deals with many of these issues that contemporary people deal with, and I hope could start some of these conversations that have relevance both in understanding our history and understanding the situations we face today. I think the book could also be used as a tie in to history lessons, math (there is a lot of discussion of prices for goods throughout the story), and in creating an interest for students in their own family histories. After all, we here in America, are largely a nation of immigrants.

Whatever the lesson, I would hope you would see students excited to learn about the past and inspired to talk about the social issues that are so ingrained in the American experience.

Biblio Links: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Jeannie MobelyMy website (www.jeanniemobley.com) would be a great place to start. I’ve got an FAQ there that tells a little about the book and why I wrote it, but I always welcome other questions from teachers and readers through the email contact there. I also have some ideas to inspire writing, and a detailed teachers’ guide to KATERINA’S WISH that includes discussion questions and activities across the curriculum. But of course, the best way to learn more about my book, is to read it for yourself!

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Jeannie!

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, A Division of Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: August 28, 2012

ISBN:  978-1442433434

Number of Pages: 256

Interest Level:  Ages 8 and up

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for hosting today’s What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

This is the next book up in my series on middle grade books that reflect the immigrant experience in the US.

When Fadi’s family flees from the Taliban in Afghanistan, his 6-year-old sister, Mariam, is accidentally left behind. As Fadi and his family try to adjust to life in San Francisco, Mariam is never far from their thoughts. At school, Fadi enters a photography contest, hoping to win the grand prize—a National Geographic photography trip to India. If he wins, Fadi plans to slip over the border into Afghanistan to find his sister. But after the events of 9/11, Fadi’s Pashtun family is fearful in their new home, and fearful that they’ll never be able to get Mariam out of Afghanistan.

Many of my students’ parents who were doctors or engineers in their home countries have to take jobs in the US where they aren’t able to utilize their training and talents. The only job that Fadi’s educated father can get in the US is a taxi driver, and his older sister works at McDonalds as the family struggles day-to-day. I know that many of my students will connect with Fadi and his family’s struggles.

Hand this book to the kid:

* who recently emigrated to the US

* who had to leave family behind in the home country

* whose parents struggle with a career change in the US

* who is going through culture shock

* who is learning English

* who is interested in photography

* who has experienced bullying

* who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

Empathy–While Fadi and his community endure acts of hate after the events of 9/11, this story introduces readers to the innocent victims of racial profiling.

* Photography--Middle School Art teachers, this is your book! Fadi’s saving grace at school is the photography club, and there are several details about what makes a good photo–composition, lighting, subject, etc.

*World Events–The story provides a straightforward explanation of the rise and fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fear and hope that Afghanis experienced with the US invasion of their country.

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: 2010

ISBN:  978-1-4424-0194-5

Number of Pages: 272

Reading Level: 5.4

Interest Level:  ages 8 and up

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts for hosting today’s What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!