Category Archives: poverty

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

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Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

I was instantly drawn in by 13-year-old Theo (Theodora). She loses her beloved grandfather, Jack, in the very first chapter, leaving her alone with her dysfunctional, almost-always absent mother and not enough money to eat much more than Theo can grow in her backyard city garden. Yet Theo never feels sorry for herself, and neither does the reader. I admired her pluck and self-sufficiency, and gladly went along for the ride as Theo and her new (first ever?) friend, Bodhi, launch themselves into an adventure/mystery that kept me turning pages right up until the satisfying end. I’ll definitely be recommending this to my students in the fall.

Many thanks to the publisher who provided this e-galley via Netgalley.

Publisher’s description:  A mystery for readers who loved Chasing Vermeer and From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler…

 Only two people know about the masterpiece hidden in the Tenpenny home—and one of them is dead.

 The other is Theodora Tenpenny. Theo is responsible for tending the family’s two-hundred-year-old town house, caring for a flock of unwieldy chickens, and supporting her fragile mother, all on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. So, when Theo discovers a painting in the house that looks like a priceless masterpiece, she should be happy about it. But Theo’s late grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if the painting is as valuable as she thinks it is, then her grandfather wasn’t who she thought he was.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all over Manhattan and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* enjoys a good mystery

* is interested in art history and/or the Renaissance

* has a bit of background/interest in World War II

* has seen the movie The Monuments Men (PG13). Click link to view the trailer for those who haven’t seen the movie–this will provide important background info for one section of the book).

* has a family member who suffers from mental illness. Theo’s mother is almost always in her bedroom working on a math equation for her thesis, but Theo is definitely the caretaker in the house.

Use this to discuss:

* The Role of Art in Culture –The story behind the missing painting is an interesting one. The topic should spark some interesting discussions on the purpose of art, to whom it really belongs, and it’s value–both monetary and intrinsic.

* The Renaissance–It’s interesting to learn snippets of what some of this period’s famous artists were like as people.

* Research–One of my favorite characters is the super cool librarian 😉 , a young guy who helps Theo with her research, both in print and online. It’s the perfect example of going from a general topic to specifics, reliability of sources, cross-checking sources, etc.

* Museum Field Trip Prep–The next time I walk into an art museum, I’ll definitely take a closer look at the exhibits, thanks to this book. Under the Egg would serve as a nice primer before you and your students head out on a museum field trip. Most major museums have virtual tours, like the Met, one of the NYC museums featured in the book.

Visit author Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s website here, excellent links to resources about World War II, Art, and more here, and a discussion guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Dial/Penguin

Publication Date: March 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0803740013

Number of Pages: 256

For ages 9-12, but I think slightly older readers will also enjoy the layered art history aspects of the book.

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.

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!

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Click here for summary and reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who loves to draw

* Has moved/is moving to a new school

* Is dealing/has dealt with a tough home life (abusive caretakers and poverty)

* Has a relative or family friend who is a war veteran

* Who needs a little hope

Use this to teach:

* Voice–The narrator, 14-year-old Doug Swieteck (a minor character in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book The Wednesday Wars), talks directly to the reader at times, inviting us into his tough world laced with hope.

* Types of Conflict--This story has it all–character vs. character (Doug against his father and brother), nature (inadequately-dressed Doug schlepping through snow to deliver groceries), society (poverty, Doug’s older brother stationed in Vietnam)  and self (Doug’s older brother finding the courage to reenter society as a disabled war veteran).

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Clarion

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9780547152608

Number of Pages: 368

Reading Level: 4.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 10-14)