ALAN Picks: Fact and Fiction w/ Exclusive Author Interview!
This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of both nonfiction and fiction young adult books. Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon is a history exploring the legacy of the social justice group. Debut novel Legendborn by Tracy Deonn adds a new twist to the Arthurian Legends with Black protagonist Bree Matthews. Brigid Kemmerer brings back an old character to establish a new series in Forging Silver into Stars. Check out the exclusive interview with Kemmerer included in the review!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Next deadline: June 15
Social Justice Education: Including the Story of The Black Panther’s Promise
Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon
Publication Date: Nov. 8, 2021
Page Count: 400
Synopsis: Likening the lifespan of revolutionary efforts to that of a fire, Kekla Magoon details the response offered by the Black Panther Party to the racial injustices faced by Black Americans. Beginning with the spark then acknowledging the kindling, the book describes the formal uprising of the party and the contextual relevance of history. The book continues with an expansive history of the social, legal, and political impacts that the Panthers had by detailing specific events that took place before the party’s dissolution in 1982. The book concludes with the Black Panther Party’s legacy and the connections to modern day movements towards racial justice.
Magoon discusses the reality of Black American life given the historical context of racial injustices and responses to such. This book is a comprehensive and easily digestible history of the Black Panther Party’s origins, values, and influences upon current day. The book also includes student-friendly accompanying materials like a timeline of progress and backlash; a listed description of key people; a glossary of terms and abbreviations; and additional reading. Incorporating Magoon’s book into the classroom can allow for students to observe different cultural representations through factual historical events and social activism while also becoming more familiar with reading nonfiction texts that are effectively adapted for an adolescent audience.
Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use
- Student-student interaction
- Peer support
- Time efficiency
- Guided discussion
A jigsaw reading activity may be a helpful way to assist students in reading, digesting, and critically thinking about a nonfiction text such as this one. I recommend that teachers begin teaching this book by first introducing it and reading the first chapter altogether. Then, students can be placed into five groups where each group will be assigned four chapters which they are required to read and report about to the whole class. Students can be given teacher-created questions and points of emphasis to guide their reading before creating their own summary and analysis of the chapters for which they are responsible.
Formative: Have students submit answers to a set of reading questions which correspond with their assigned chapters. Questions can ask for information regarding factual event details as well as personal connections to the text.
Summative: In their reading groups, students will create a presentation in which they will summarize the content of their assigned reading and make a critical connection between the reading and 1-3 key terms of racial literacy such as anti-Blackness, equality, implicit bias, microaggression, systemic racism, etc. Additional terms can be found here.
- Critical thinking skills
- Higher order thinking
- Social, legal, and political awareness
- Historical literacy
Reviewed by: Chaslyn Waldrop, Student Teacher studying at University of Tennessee Knoxville
An Arthurian retelling that is a fusion of modern, mystery and fantasy
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publish Date: September 15, 2020/ February 2022 (paperback)
Page Count: 544 pages
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Synopsis: Bree Matthews is a 16-year-old teen whose life turns upside down and inside out after her mother dies in an accident. She wants nothing to do with her old life, family, or childhood home; she escapes at UNC-Chapel Hill. On the first night, Bree witnesses something unexplainable, something impossible: the magical attack of a flying demon who is defeated by a mysterious man who attempts to wipe her memory of the whole ordeal. But Bree Matthews does not forget. She spirals into a world of magic where all the stories are true. She goes to UNC-Chapel Hill to escape her past, but she only falls deeper into it as she uncovers the truth about her mother’s life and death.
This novel is a gripping mystery that will leave all readers on their toes. Legendborn takes themes of romance, mystery, grief, and self-discovery to a new level. Tracy Deonn does an excellent job of representing people of color and the LGBTQIA+, which is a strong point of the novel. The action-packed scenes make the book fly by. There are short, fast paced sentences that reflect the spellbinding scenes that are skillfully crafted. Deonn also refreshingly retells Arthurian legends. She leans into racial issues faced by Black people daily. The novel also explores other vulnerable themes like grief and self-discovery in a comprehensive and relatable way. The book is reminiscent of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series but in a more inclusive and socially aware execution.
Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use
This story is loaded with themes that are explored with finesse that makes even the most difficult themes a breeze to discuss. Some themes that Deonn explores throughout the novel include:
- The Social Hierarchy
- Female Empowerment
- Familial Identity
- Power & Corruption
- The Power of Grief
- How might we go about self-discovery?
- How does the past impact the future?
- Who benefits in the social hierarchy?
Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:
- An overview of Arthurian legends, with pre-reading questions for students to consider.
- Discussion and research into Black history and microaggressions. This might include what microaggressions look like with examples.
- A close reading of paired texts (poems, short texts, nonfiction) that relate to Black culture, self-discovery, and/or identity.
Formative: Students keep a reading journal and reflect on each passage that they read. Students’ journals will be guided by teacher-led discussion questions that engage student reading. Journals should include important quotes or memorable moments that students can use to fuel their discussion and in-class assignments. These journals should closely follow a character so they can analyze their actions as they develop throughout the novel.
Summative: Students can create an “inside scoop” newspaper or Twitter trending page on the uncovered secrets at the college. The newspaper could be divided into groups; each group oversees a different section. Each section covers a major plot point in the novel. They interview characters by using textual evidence to support how they might respond. They can use reading journals that they kept throughout their reading to supplement their group sections.
Reviewed by: Marissa Inman, senior at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Secondary Education graduate candidate, Knoxville, Tennessee.
Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Page Count: 560 pages
Genre: Fantasy/ Suspense/ Romance/ LGBTQ+/ YA Lit
Synopsis: Forging Silver into Stars spotlights Tycho, a character from Brigid Kemmerer’s beloved Cursebreaker series, and launches him into his own series where he is a lead character acting as a private messenger between the two kingdoms of Emberfall and Shyll Shallow. It is important to note that this book is an entry point for a whole new series that readers can immerse themselves in with or without having read the Cursebreaker series. In this new series, readers follow Tycho as he learns to navigate trust, magic, friendship, and love. We are also introduced to a whole new cast of characters including Callyn, a young woman who owns a bakery and finds herself locked in a treasonous plot against the royal family, and her friend Jax who runs his father’s forge despite his father’s abuse.
This tightly woven, multi-layered narrative leaves readers anxiously turning pages, creating a captivating read that is as much a relatable experience as it is a romp with escapism. Readers will fall in love with Brigid’s new lead characters while remembering all the best parts of Tycho from the Cursebreaker series. Readers will be reminded time and again why they enjoyed his character so much to begin with.
While beloved Cursebreaker characters like Grey, Rhen, and Harper fill these pages and help shape the narrative, they do not get their own chapters and voices as they did in the previous series. The alternative chapter viewpoints all belong to Tycho, Callyn, and Jax, as if this new series is being dedicated to the younger generation of brave voices.
In typical Brigid fashion, the sentence-level analysis that can be done on this book is beyond comparison. Brigid has a way of crafting sentences and building tensions that deserve re-reading and close study. The important life topics that she is able to address in this book, including burgeoning love, consent, equality, and reference to sexual abuse and miscarriage are all handled in a tactful way that leaves readers feeling seen within the pages of the story. This book truly is a mirror where readers can see themselves and a window where readers can look out into the world beyond themselves and develop empathy.
While this isn’t a book that should be read out loud to a class of students in its entirety (there are some passionate scenes that would be awkward to read aloud), this book is catered to a high school audience and is recommended by the publisher for ages 14+, which makes it the perfect book to allow students to read for independent study or small group study if student-selected. The tensions created between characters and within themselves make this story a rich, endearing read as characters learn so much about themselves and each other. Readers will find themselves wishing they were in Briarlock with these characters and eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use
Thematic Connections & Analysis
The themes discussed in this book include those that readers, both young and old, will relate to. While this is not an exhaustive list of thematic topics addressed in this text, it offers teachers a starting point for analysis and discussion.
Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:
- Learning how to trust others
- Trusting your instincts
- The power of friendship
- The price of desperation
- Class struggle and power dynamics
- Leaving room for consent and choice
- The powerful draw of love
- Tragedy and loss
- How do we know who we can trust?
- How far will we go to protect ourselves and those we love?
- How can we overcome the trauma of our pasts and build new futures?
Student Engagement Activities:
First Chapter Friday: This book would lend itself nicely to having the first chapter read aloud for First Chapter Friday. The goal of First Chapter Friday is to read the first chapter of a new book to students and then, if students are captivated, they pick up the book on their own to continue reading. Students will be captivated. The first chapter of this book is full of action and heart, which makes it the perfect candidate for this classroom or library experience.
Tracking Tensions: While this book would not be ideal for reading out loud in its entirety because of the more passionate romantic scenes, it would be ideal for students to read as an independent choice novel, which means we can still tie academic content to the reading experience. If students are reading this as a choice novel for class, a great exercise is to have students track the tension both between characters and inside characters.
A way to do this is with a simple chart, like the one below, that students update as they read. Students should keep track of what the tensions are, what we learn about the characters from these tensions, and when they resolve (if ever), and what that reveals. An example from chapter one has been completed.
|Which character are we focusing on?||Who does this character have tension with? (Themselves or others)||What is the tension? Provide examples.||What do we learn about the character(s) from the tension?||Do the tensions resolve and what does that reveal?|
|Callyn||The massive “peaceful” crowd gathered for the protest/riot in chapter one.||Callyn doesn’t want to be at this large protest, but she went because her father told them to and also to protect her younger sister.||We learn that Callyn is more interested in protecting her sister than she is in the protest against the king and his magic.||This tension does not resolve in the first chapter, indicating she will carry this tension with her into future chapters.|
An Interview with Brigid Kemmerer
1. When you are writing, how do you balance the tension between some characters and the easy camaraderie those same characters have with others?
When I’m writing, I always strive to make my characters as well-rounded as possible, and this often means giving them goals and motivations that are sometimes in conflict. Sometimes the best character development comes when someone’s internal need (for example, Tycho’s desire to spend more time with Jax) is in complete opposition to their external goal (Tycho’s duty to serve the king and discover who is plotting against him). When you add other characters to the mix, they are each going to have their own goals and motivations in play, which are also going to point in varying directions, so when characters interact, I’m always thinking about their own personal desires as I write their dialogue. For aspiring authors, I remind writers to make sure that side characters don’t just serve to forward the plot for the main protagonist. Readers should be able to imagine the side character on a journey of their own, even if we don’t see their entire story in the book. Once you imagine everyone having their own story, it becomes easy to bounce characters off each other, just like in real life. Everyone we meet throughout the day is balancing different emotions, just like we are, right?
2. Which character-pairing did you have the most fun writing in this book?
Oh my goodness, what a hard question! All of them! I love characters. I loved exploring Tycho’s gradual maturity as he began to realize that Grey – who’d always been a bit of an older brother figure – wasn’t perfect. I loved that Callyn was so independent, yet so desperate to find someone who would respect and appreciate her – to the point where she might have made a mistake in trusting the wrong man. I loved writing about Tycho and Jax and the way they navigated their own past traumas. I just loved all of them!
Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida.