ALAN Picks (April 2022)

ALAN Picks: Some Science and Some Fiction

Get ready for some science and some fiction, but not necessarily together… This month we have a young adult book review of Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer that includes an author Q&A that can be used with the student engagement activity. We also have something special for the younger end of middle grades, a review of Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators by Sneed B. Collard III.

If you are looking for new books for your classroom and engaging ways to use them with students, then check out the new ALAN Picks! Book reviews by educators for educators!
–  Richetta Tooley, ALAN Picks Editor

Submit a Review: Would you like to submit a review? Check out ALAN Picks for submission guidelines and email ALAN Picks Editor, Richetta Tooley at with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Next deadline: April 15

A Fantasy that Addresses Class and Survival

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Book Details
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Publish Date: September 21, 2021 
Page Count: 443 
ISBN: 9781547604661
Genre: Fantasy/ Suspense/ Romance/ YA Lit

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Synopsis: Kandala is a kingdom separated by class and status that is under siege by deadly fevers, and too often it is only the elite who are getting the medicines they need in order to survive.  Tessa and her best friend Wes work to steal the Moonflower petals that cure the fever and distribute them to those who cannot afford the life-saving medicine. But when an act of betrayal turns Tessa’s world upside down, she has to learn who she can trust and at what cost.


This fast-paced, suspenseful ride through Kandala is led by the narrative voices of Tessa, an apprentice apothecary, and Corrick, The King’s Justice and Prince of Kandala. These two perspectives interchange, allowing readers access to life both within the castle walls and outside them. Tessa and Corrick are authentically written as distinct and immensely likable characters that readers cannot help but fall in love with. Each chapter creates richer characterization than the last and allows the reader to truly experience the story. With a tightly-woven narrative that makes use of every scene, there isn’t a single character who is placed in this book without a purpose. This book is equal parts romance, fantasy, and thriller with sentences that are so beautiful they deserve a re-read. 

High school students will enjoy the action and suspense in this book as well as the deep family bonds that drive so much of the narrative, just as teachers will appreciate the opportunity to do sentence-level close-reads that emphasize various literary devices such as simile, metaphor, and zeugma. Readers will find themselves lured into Kandala time and time again, and as a book that is the start of a trilogy, it is a good thing for fans that there will be more books in the future. Readers will not want to leave Kandala, Tessa, or Corrick at the end of this novel.  

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

This story touches on themes that are universal and deeply rooted in the human psyche in a way that is approachable and relatable for both teenagers and adults alike. 

Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • The loyalty of family
  • The importance of trust
  • The power of forgiveness
  • Distinguishing right vs wrong 
  • The influential nature of class and social status
  • Courage in times of distress
  • Salvation in companionship 
  • The line between heroism and rebellion
  • Power and corruption

Essential Questions

  • What are we willing to do to protect those we love most?
  • How can power and status influence our decisions?
  • What role does the power of community play during times of distress?

Student Engagement Activities: Favorite Sentences

One way to keep students engaged while they are reading is to have them create a slideshow of  their favorite lines in each chapter while they are reading. Students may choose a line because it is particularly well written, contains an example of figurative language, demonstrates rich characterization, or is just funny or appealing to the student in some way. Students should keep each sentence on a separate slide so they have a running record of sentences they love. 

Then, after reading the whole book, students should:

  • share their sentences with a partner in class and discuss why they chose each one.
  • choose three sentences that are their top-favorites from the slide decks, write an explanation as to why they chose those particular sentences as their favorites, and then present those to the class. 

Once students finish reading and analyzing their own favorite sentences, share with them this short interview with Brigid Kemmerer to see which sentence is HER favorite and to see what she hopes students learn about themselves and the world once they read her book.

An Interview with Brigid Kemmerer 

1. What is your favorite line in the book and why? 

“I think that very few people deserve what they get, Tessa. For good or for bad.” 

I had to think about this question for a while, because I often have favorite moments in a book, but not necessarily favorite lines. This one jumped out at me, however, because it’s the root of why I wrote the book.

I love existential questions about humanity, because once you start to pick things apart, more questions develop! It’s one of my favorite parts of writing: examining what makes us human. Look at this line in particular. What do we deserve? Are we owed an outcome in life? Do our actions matter? If not, why not? If they do, why? Most people love to see an underdog rise to the top–but once they’re there, do they become a target? Does our station in life predispose us to certain outcomes? Where does privilege fit in? The questions just keep coming!

2. When kids finish reading your book, what message do you hope they gained, either about the world or themselves?

I hope students realize that we’re all fighting secret battles that we never allow others to see. We all wear metaphorical masks – masks that hide our identity, not medical masks – when we need to. People often ask me about the “villains” in my books, and I never feel like there are villains. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Even villains feel like what they’re doing is right. As Tessa and Corrick discuss, the problem is that we all have different ideas of what’s right.

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students might want to choose Defy the Night as a choice novel for independent reading or read it in a group for literature circles. With either route, tracking character development through both direct and indirect characterization would be a great way to ensure that students are understanding the complexities of the book as they read. This book has MANY examples of characters acting in ways that are counter to what they believe, which makes reading this book an excellent opportunity to practice analyzing characterization. 

Students can set up a journal with the PAIRS acronym going down the left-hand side of each page, and for pivotal scenes, they can explore the elements of the acronym in a journal entry. For this activity, students will write their thoughts explaining why the elements are significant on the right-hand side of the page. A sample template is included below:

PPhysical Description of the character at this moment in the story and what that tells us about that characterJournal narrative explaining why the character’s physical description in this scene reveals more about the character’s inner essence.
AActions that the character is taking and how those influence who that character is at the coreJournal narrative explaining how this character’s actions reflect what they believe (or not) and what those actions reveal about the character and how he or she is perceived by the world around them. 
IInner thoughts can be explored and are particularly rich when they are in contrast with the actions a character is takingJournal narrative explaining how this character’s thoughts reflect what they believe and do (or how they don’t), and why that is important.
RReactions can reveal a lot about a character and are worthy of being notedJournal narrative explaining how this character’s reactions to others in the novel reveal (or perhaps conceal) their nature.
SSpeech is important to note, especially if it is in contrast to what is being said or what is being doneJournal narrative explaining what this character says, especially in times of high tension, and what that reveals about him or her as a character.

Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida.

A Nonfiction Book About Maintaining Balance in Nature

Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators by Sneed B. Collard III

Book Details
Publisher: Millbrook Press, An imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc
Publication Date: March 1, 2022
Page Count: 56 
ISBN: 97817284115697 (library binding), ISBN 9781728445397 (ebook)
Genre: Nonfiction/Predatory animals/Parasitology
Audience: Grades 4-6

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Sneed B. Collard III explores the lives of predators, both microscopic and insect-sized, in his latest book, Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators. In nine chapters, the author introduces the subject and offers a glimpse of eight families of these creatures. Each chapter has a ‘catchy’ title, most of which are alliterative, e.g. “Swarming Spiders” and “Carnivorous Combs;” each chapter is contained within four to six pages. Finally, each page offers a layout which is not text dominant; rather, attractive photos, sidebars, and font/color variety are presented.


Collard infuses Little Killers with a finely tuned sense of balance despite the title, subtitle, and cover photography. Collard believes that the balance of nature is threatened if any of these species are hindered or unnaturally abetted in their usual course by society’s use (or abuse) of the resources of Nature. Moreover, a return of that balance depends partly on young readers’ awareness because they are life-long adventurers, life-long travelers of planet Earth, future voters, current junior scientists, and future adult scientists. Collard displays respect for his audience. He is objective in his argument and appeal, rather than alarmist or sentimental.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

  • Science and Nature
  • earth’s planetary changes
  • the study of parasites
  • the necessity of parasites
  • our collective and personal effect on our planet 
  • microscopic life

Essential Questions:

1. What is in the ground, right below our feet, as we walk outside?
2. What parasites or “puny predators” might be on the bottoms of your shoes right now?
3. Why are parasites important to the stability of the earth?
4. What is parasitology?
5. What is your favorite/least favorite creepy, crawling critter?

Assessment Possibilities:

Collard’s words, in text, sidebars, and captions, continuously invite the readers to explore in backyard, in schoolyard, or in neighborhood. Thus, formative assessment begins in each young reader’s mind in imagining the subjects of the book ‘underfoot’ everywhere. Summative assessment is evident in Collard’s additions of pronunciation hints, brief definitions, statistical data, and parenthetical information.

Reviewed by: Rick (Richard A) Williams, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH