Summer Reading Recommendations and Curriculum Ideas

Summer Reading Recommendations and Curriculum Ideas

Check out ALAN Picks for Summer Reading Recommendations and Curriculum Ideas!

Looking to infuse your curriculum with some fresh new diverse YA Lit energy? Need some good book recommendations to review for your courses next year? Check out the ALAN Picks column for ideas on how to use Young Adult and Middle Grade literature with students. In the first half of 2023, ALAN Picks has featured books that touch on topics such as: 

Also, stay tuned for the June ALAN Picks column coming in mid-June!

2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the 2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction finalists. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for a cash prize to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
(Razorbill / Penguin Random House)

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor
(Astra Young Readers / Astra Books for Young Readers)

Medusa by Jessie Burton
(Bloomsbury YA / Bloomsbury)

We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley
(Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins)

The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2023 ALAN Workshop on Tuesday, November 21st in Columbus, OH, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered nearly 350 young adult titles throughout the process. The committee was comprised of eight members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Elizabeth Parker, Committee Chair
University of Michigan-Flint, Flint, MI

Jodi Blair, Past Committee Chair
Alcoa High School, Alcoa, TN

Alison Daniels
English Teacher/10th Grade English Team Leader
Long Reach High School, Columbia, MD

Jung Kim
Professor of Literacy
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

L.E. Oldham
English Language Arts Content Specialist
Deming Public Schools, Deming, NM

Karen Scott
Thompson Middle School, Alabaster, AL

Hunter Strickland
Director of Secondary Education/Assistant Professor of Literacy Education
Anderson University, Anderson, SC

Carisa Valle
Access Services & Resource Sharing Specialist
William & Mary Law School Library, Williamsburg, VA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents:

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee: Self-Nomination Form

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee: Self-Nomination Form

ALAN members, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award committee is looking for members. If you’re interested in being considered for the 2023-24 AEWA committee, please complete this form by June 10th, 2023.

All committee applicants are asked to review the Walden Policies & Procedures document to become more familiar with the role and responsibilities of a committee member. Please note that preferred consideration will be given to qualified applicants, who have not previously served on the Walden committee. If selected for the 2023-24 Walden committee, you will be required to attend a virtual orientation session(s).

More information about the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award can be found here.

Sign Up for The ALAN Review (TAR) Webinar

Sign Up for The ALAN Review (TAR) Webinar

Interested or planning on submitting a manuscript to The ALAN Review (TAR)? Come join and write with other TAR authors! The ALAN Mentorship Committee will be hosting a virtual TAR Writing Workshop on May 17th at 8pm EST (7pm CST, 6pm MST, 5pm PST). This will be a working session where you will be able to work on your manuscript, engage in peer review, and discuss ideas with others. Sign up here!

ALAN Picks (May 2023)

ALAN Picks: Two Retellings and a Basketball

This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of a mix of young adult and middle grade books that explore the topics of the power of voice, family & friendship and identity. The young adult books include: fantasy retelling Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim and contemporary sports-centered novel Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan. The middle grade book is: the modern retelling The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir. Check out these reviews for ideas on how to engage students with these books and topics in the classroom. 

ALAN Picks Update: ALAN Picks is now accepting reviews of books published as far back as spring 2020. This gives ALAN members who are interested in reviewing books more great titles to choose from, as well as accommodate some great books released during the beginning of the pandemic that deserve highlighting. If you have some books in mind that you would like to review, please reach out to me!

If you read an ALAN Picks review and end up using the book with your students, let us know! We want to hear all of your great stories and engaging ways you are using young adult and middle grades literature in your classrooms. Remember, ALAN Picks are book reviews by educators for educators! Click on the archives to see previous editions.

–  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. Rolling deadline.

A Retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Wild Swans” Combined With East Asian Folklore

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Book Details
Publisher: Ember
Publish Date: July 26, 2022
Page Count: 480 pages
ISBN: 9780593300947
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: When Princess Shiori’anma is on her way to her betrothal ceremony, she meets a dragon who changes the course of her destiny forever. Shiori soon discovers not only her own magical powers— something that is strictly forbidden in her father’s land of Kiata— but also discovers the dark magic that runs through her stepmother’s veins. Upon her discovery, her stepmother curses Shiori and her brothers. Her brothers are fated to change into cranes by day, but retain their human form at night. Shiori, on the other hand, is forced to conceal her appearance and never speak a word, for a single word could cost her the life of one of her brothers. Alone in a foreign land with magic she has yet to understand, Shiori teams up with her betrothed to take down her stepmother. Along the way, she discovers a far deeper plot that involves not just her own fate, but the fate of Kiata as a whole.


Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim starts out slow, with much of the first quarter of the novel establishing the lore of Kiata and allowing Shiori to discover the power she harnesses. After her discovery of her stepmother’s secret, the novel really starts to pick up. Lim takes the audience with Shiori throughout Kiata, and the visual descriptions the author provides makes the audience feel as if they are with Shiori the entire time. While the characters of Shiori’s brothers were not as well developed, the development of Shiori and her betrothed, Takkan were quite interesting, as the two are quite different but somehow seem perfectly matched. While the examination into Asian culture is richly blended with fantasy elements that create such an interesting world that keeps the audience entranced, the specificity of which culture in Asia is never explicitly described. The complexity of the main villain of the story is thought-provoking and is an interesting look at the dynamic ways that women are treated within this society. A possible criticism could be the cliffhanger/lack of ending within the last chapter. While the novel leaves the audience with a cliffhanger, this book could have easily been a stand-alone novel.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis
Themes of the importance of family and sacrifice are highlighted throughout the novel, but some other themes Lim explores are:

  • Women’s Roles in Society
  • The Power of a Voice
  • Self Discovery and Acceptance
  • The Act of Growing Up
  • Dealing with Trauma and Loss
  • The Influence of Family
  • Celebration of All Creatures

Essential Questions

  • How can the act of growing up affect a person mentally and emotionally?
  • How can family provide support? How can they be an impediment?
  • How can one find their voice when society takes it away from them?
  • How can modern science fiction/fantasy portray more diversity?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Background of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans and the connection between the themes of that text and Six Crimson Cranes.
  • Discuss the genre of fantasy and the formula the Six Crimson Cranes does/does not follow. 
  • Discuss the importance of representation in fantasy and how some groups are underrepresented. 

This lesson from examines the ways in which cultural representation is explored in the text and how that representation can be reflected onto modern society.

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students can make connections between different locations Shiori visits that follow the development of her character. Students can provide an analysis of the growth Shiori experiences over the course of the novel. Further reflection and analysis can occur by incorporating the writing of journal reflections at the beginning of class that can then lead into a discussion, or mini-group projects that the students do together to find excerpts from the text that show examples of growth.

Summative: A summative assessment for students after reading this text could be a presentation on how this text compares or differs from another fantasy novel. Possible points of discussion that should be included are the roles of race, gender, family dynamics, character development (as was discussed during the reading of the text), and overall plot shape that are similar/different from Six Crimson Cranes. This project would require students to take excerpts from one other YA fantasy novel to compare to Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes.

Review by: Caitlin Leonard, senior at Colorado State University, English Creative Writing undergraduate, Fort Collins, Colorado.

A Modern Retelling of the Classic Story

The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir Illustrated by Amber Padilla

Book Details
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Publish Date: September 2021
Page Count: 247
ISBN: 978-0-316-45970-9
Genre: Graphic Novel, Fiction, Retelling
Find on Bookshop


Young Mary Lennox had never had a close relationship with anything in her life, but that all changes when her parents die in a tragic accident and she is whisked away from her Silicon Valley home and all is technological luxuries to live with her mysterious uncle in his modern day low-tech New York City home. A very different setting than the original story, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett , that takes place in 1900’s England. 

At first it seems that she is still without a close relationship to anyone in the world, but all that soon changes when she discovers a key that leads her to the secret rooftop garden of her uncle’s late husband. Now, with the help of her new friend Dickon and her reclusive cousin Collin, Mary takes on the incredible task of bringing the garden back to life, while also bringing her family and herself back to life in ways she could never imagine. 


A very fun retelling of the classic story The Secret Garden on 81st Street stays true to the original story while also adding more representation, such as anxiety, same sex and inter-racial couples, and featuring a young Black girl as the main character. This is a great story to teach to children who may be off-put by the age of the original story and for students who may need to see more of themselves represented in literature. The modern day city setting will also make it easier for modern children to connect to the story as they will be able to see things that they recognize within the pages. The beautiful artwork and well done story helps to keep the story fun and light while also informing kids of different real world issues.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:
Educators may wish to use this text as an alternative to teaching the classic as it stays true to the original story, but with a modern twist added. The story can offer students an age appropriate insight to grief, anxiety, and hardwork. Some of the thematic topics included within the text include: 

  • Coming of age
  • Life and death
  • Family
  • Change vs Tradition
  • Friendship 
  • The power of words
  • The power of actions

Essential Questions: 

  • How can we help our friends when they are having a hard time?
  • How can our actions affect the moods of others? 
  • Does everyone experience everything in the same way?

Teaching strategies and activities to use

  • An overview of the original story and a side-by-side comparison
  • Discussion on the power of emotions and how it relates to the novel
    • Ex. How we see characters like Mary, Colin, and Uncle Archie deal with their complicated emotions in the text and what it teaches us about our own emotions in the real world. 
  • Reflect on the hard work and the payoff
    • Ex. Look at the many phases of Mary, Dickon, and Colin rebuilding the secret garden. All the research that went into recreating the garden, all the times Mary was so discouraged she almost gave up, and the period of time when all they could do was be patient. Then look at the payoff that came from all the hard work, a beautiful rooftop garden, Colin feeling reconnected with his dad, Uncle Archie feeling reconnected to his late husband, and Mary finally making a connection with her Uncle Archie and making the first true friends of her life. 
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Once the lesson/reading of the book for the day has wrapped up the teacher will pass out mini whiteboards and markers to the students and have them draw or write what they understand about the reading on the whiteboard. This is a low stakes non-graded activity that will allow kids some time to creatively show what they understand. While students are doing this the teacher should walk amongst the room and chat individually with students about what they do and do not understand about the story. 

Summative: Once the class has finished the novel the teacher will introduce a group project assignment. Students will gather in groups of 2-3 and create their own short graphic novel strip focusing on hard work, as seen in the novel, or focusing on helping someone with hard emotions, as also seen in the novel. 

Review by: Brooke Miller

A Young Pakistani overcoming trials and tribulations for his dreams of the NBA.

Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan

Book Details
Publisher: Penguin Teen Canada
Publish Date: March 15, 2022
Page Count: 312
ISBN: 9780735270879
Genre: Young Adult fiction, Sports fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: The story revolves around Fawad Chaudhry, a fifteen-year-old Pakistani American. He lives in Regent Park, a low income community. He dreams to be the first Pakistani player in the NBA and luckily he has a great set of friends that root him on. However, he is under constant stress from his mother wanting an arranged marriage with his cousin, his neighborhood bully, Omar, and the vicious, violent cycle that resides in Regent Park. Fawad overcomes each obstacle with his chin up as her pursues his dream of professional basketball.


This story of Fawad and his struggles to become not only a better basketball player, but to be a better person for his family and friends, is nothing short of charming and inspiring. Themes of forgiveness, revenge, and loyalty resound throughout the book. Fawad is young and uncensored in his thoughts and he is always striving to protect his friends and family. Unlike other stories about immigrant families, Fawad doesn’t deal with racism at all in this novel. In fact, his community is compared to the United Nations with how much culture and language is spread throughout, whether that be Vietnamese, Chinese, or Bangladeshi. Regent Park is not only multinational, but holds the ties of Fawad’s friends through their beliefs, holding prayer and lessons together. The story is focused around Fawad’s heart, how much he persists despite being answered with violence. His understanding that revenge is how violence perpetuates, keeps him anchored to his passion and his family. Though, he will defend his friends to the bitter end if provoked. The story is sprinkled with romance as Fawad falls in love with a girl from the richer side of town. As a Korean American, who watched basketball growing up, I have an understanding of Fawad’s dream. In basketball and even just mainstream sports, Asian Americans can only really look up to Jeremy Lin. There’s just an abysmal amount of representation there, and it makes Fawad’s dream and surely millions of other kids’ dreams feel unachievable. It’s especially difficult for Fawad because of such an abrasive situation in his neighborhood. Nonetheless, Fawad ambition never fails him despite the tragedy that falls on his shoulders, whether it be his family or his friends. Despite not personally knowing a lot of the vernacular or young slang in the book, I believe readers of all ages can find Fawad’s resolution gratifying and encouraging.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

  • Identity
  • Family/relationships
  • Grief
  • Forgiveness
  • Poverty
  • Violence

Essential Questions

  • How do you overcome labels given to you by society and/or family? 
  • How do the themes of violence, vengeance and dreaming engage with each other?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use

  • An overview of different practices of Muslims such as prayer, fasting, and calligraphy
  • Pair with texts that address racism, Islamophobia, especially in wealthy communities
  • Discussion and research the impact of single parent families in low income communities/how that affects children growing up.
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students should keep a reading journal to document the events that take place in the story. Each chapter should have a paragraph, describing what took place and how that could affect our main character’s attitude and perception or even how the student feels if those events took place in their shoes. The journals should be discussed with the class after every few chapters to obtain a larger perspective.

Summative: Students should be split into groups and tackle one of Fawad’s relationships in the story, whether that be his mother, his sister, his girlfriend, his friends, or his coach. Each group will analyze their relationship and how it evolves from the beginning to end. The groups should also take note of how each character changed or didn’t change. Students should use textual evidence from the book and cite their journals from the formative assessment for certain events that took place in the story.

Review by: David Lee, junior at Colorado State University, majoring in Graphic Design and a minor in English, Fort Collins, Colorado.

ALAN Picks (April 2023)

ALAN Picks: Mysteries Around Every Corner

This month’s ALAN Picks highlights the mystery genre with five books representing both middle grade and young adult. They include: a middle grade historical mystery, Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick; three contemporary young adults mysteries The Black Girls Left Standing by Juliana Goodman, Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren, and We Weren’t Looking to Be Found by Stephanie Kuehn; and one fantasy young adult mystery Gallant by V.E. Schwab. These books address topics such as police brutality, mental health, disability, grief, and friendship. Check out these reviews for ideas on how to engage students with these books and topics in the classroom. You might even find an opportunity to pair two or more titles from this list for a comparison study!

ALAN Picks Update: ALAN Picks is now accepting reviews of books published as far back as spring 2020. This gives ALAN members who are interested in reviewing books more great titles to choose from, as well as accommodate some great books released during the beginning of the pandemic that deserve highlighting. If you have some books in mind that you would like to review, please reach out to me!

If you read an ALAN Picks review and end up using the book with your students, let us know! We want to hear all of your great stories and engaging ways you are using young adult and middle grades literature in your classrooms. Remember, ALAN Picks are book reviews by educators for educators! Click on the archives to see previous editions.

–  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. Rolling deadline.

Navigating Grief and Violence

The Black Girls Left Standing by Juliana Goodman

Book Details
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: June 28, 2022
Page Count: 336 pages
ISBN: 9781250792815
Genre: Young Adult/Mystery/Contemporary
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Beau Willet, sixteen-year-old art student in the Chicago Projects, is looking for her older sister’s missing boyfriend Jordan. After Katia, Beau’s sister, gets shot and killed by a police officer with the wrong idea, Jordan is the only person who knows what really happened the night Katia died. As Beau tries to navigate her grief and heartbreak over losing her beloved sister, she starts to discover how to grow up without that role model she once had by starting a relationship with a boy named Champion. With new discoveries of Jordan’s life, Beau wonders if Katia knew about all the terrible things Jordan was involved in and starts to doubt if she even knew her sister anymore. The more danger Beau gets in, the more her relationship with Champion, her family, and her friends struggle.


This book really understands the grief and overwhelming anger that someone in Beau’s position can face. In light of the Black Lives Matter Movement, this book is an inspiration to recognizing the fears and traumas that Black lives face coming from not only just police officers, but society as well. Readers will enjoy the author’s use of flashbacks to provide the reader some context into the relationship that Beau had with Katia and how her absence is affecting her. This book will be a page-turner with the mysteries, relationships, and drama that occurs throughout the story. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

The themes in this novel are suitable for both young readers as well as adult readers. This book also deals with heavy topics, so instructors should make their students aware of trigger warnings before reading.

  • Dealing with grief
  • Friendship
  • Coming of age
  • Identity
  • Altered relationships
  • Empowerment
  • Revenge
  • Police brutality

Essential Questions

  • How do we deal with grief?
  • How do we discover our own identities?
  • How might we deal with strained parental/friend relationships?

Suggested Teaching Strategies/Activities to Use:

  • An overview and/or class discussion of police brutality and its effects, specifically on people of color.
  • Write a letter to any character in the book. Students must be understanding of the character’s situation and are free to express emotions, frustrations, compliments, and advice to the characters through these letters.
  • Make a playlist of at least 10 songs that match scenes in the book. Students will also provide an explanation for each song of why it matches the story.
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students will have a journal dedicated to their reading throughout the book. They will provide a comprehensive understanding for each chapter with a summary of what occurred, the themes, and how they may feel about the story so far. Students are free to write about whatever they may choose in these writings, as long as it’s limited to their most previously read chapter and demonstrates understanding of the plot.

Summative: Students can design a creative poster that conveys things they’ve learned about the book or through the book (examples to include are: racial literacy connections, drawings, reviews, and quotes). The goal for this poster is to prove understanding of the story while allowing them to have time to express their creativity. The guidelines are limited in order for the student to freely express their ideas through creation of this poster.

Reviewed by: Chloe Honn, Junior at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Disability, Magic & Fantastical Worlds

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Book Details
Publisher: Titan Books
Publish Date: March 8, 2022
Page Count: 352
ISBN: 1785658697, 9781785658693
Genre: Fantasy/ Young Adult
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Olivia Prior has grown up mute in an orphanage reading the remnants of her late mother’s inky, ambiguous journal while purposefully not acknowledging the ghouls in the shadows. One day, she receives a letter from her uncle calling her to live with the Prior family in Gallant, an estate her mother’s journal unambiguously warns to stay away from. When Olivia arrives at Gallant, she discovers the place mostly empty and her uncle, who supposedly sent the letter, long dead. She remains at the estate under the conditions that she not go out at night and that she not go on the other side of the garden wall, from which a dark and magical world beckons. 


Gallant is a creepily magical story with a wonderfully frustrated yet powerful protagonist. Readers can find themselves relating to or sympathizing with Olivia’s struggle to communicate in a society that refuses to learn her language or has the aggravating tendency to take away her opportunity to convey her thoughts. Schwab’s writing in Gallant is gripping and ominous and does well to convey a unique system of magic and parallel universes. The plot progression is interesting yet not overly complicated in favor of middle grade or young adult audiences.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Themes Connections:

  • Disability in fantasy 
  • Familial duty
  • Family and found-family relationships
  • Belonging

Possible Essential Questions:

  • How does the feeling of belonging affect identity? 
  • What does it mean to communicate? What are the obstacles to communication Olivia faces, and what effect do these hindrances have on a person and on society? 

Possible Teaching Strategies and Activities:

Regarding the technical abilities of the novel, Schwab does well to create a gothic and ominous magic system. Students can learn about tone and figurative language by being tasked to pick out specific sentences that describe the gothic objects like ghouls or the world on the other side of the wall and analyze which diction or rhetorical devices lend to the overall tone of the novel and why. For example, students can pick this passage: “I slept in your ashes last night. It was like you laid your shadow down before you left. It smelled like hearth smoke and winter air.” Then, students can write about how grim imagery like sleeping in ashes interacts with the whimsical smells of “hearth smoke and winter.” 

To cultivate the cultural awareness of disability in fantasy, students can be involved in critical disability discussion relating to Olivia’s mutism. Students can engage in a socratic-like discussion of how Olivia interacts with the abled society around her and compare the text to the society of the real world to form any possible critiques of the novel and of real society. 

Formative and Summative Assessment Suggestions:

Formative: While reading, students can be tasked with creating comprehensive and thoughtful annotations of the text. In the annotations, the students are asked to take note of characterization, rhetorical devices like evocative diction or figurative language, thematic devices, and thematic questions. The students will create a short summary and response directly on the text at the end of each chapter. 

Summative: Students can be tasked with writing a short essay, 500-750 words, about a chosen theme in the novel and how the text’s rhetorical devices convey or support this theme. This essay should be thesis-based, and students should be able to workshop their thesis statement in class with peers and with the teacher.

Reviewed by: Ayden Rails, Purdue University 

A Multi-Perspective Haunted Mystery

Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

Book Details
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publish Date: February 01, 2022
Page Count: 256
ISBN: 9780593483480
Genre: Teen and Young Adult fiction/Teen and Young Adult mystery and Suspense
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Horror Hotel is a young adult mystery and suspense novel that follows a group of teens that makes paranormal/ghost hunting videos.  The Ghost Gang, made up by Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki, set out on an expedition into the unknown of the dead at Hearst Hotel, one of the most notorious haunted hotels and ghost sighting places in Los Angeles, with hopes that what they see, and record will be able to launch their YouTube channel past one million subscribers. Chrissy, a psychic with insight into the dead, is thrown into chaos as she and her friends explore the haunted hotel. The team comes together in a ghost murder mystery to get to the bottom of their troubling findings within the building, while coming together and finding out things about themselves. 


The story is told in staggered perspectives which incorporates each of the Ghost Gang members, offering deep perspectives into how each one thinks and acts. With tensions rising within the group as paranormal activity increases, the plot grips the reader and forces them to turn to the next page and find out what happens. Themes surrounding friendship, discovering oneself, and fate emerge throughout the text, giving middle to high school readers a book that they can not only connect with, but can learn about diverse peoples, specifically people who are learning about their sexuality and bisexuality. The audience stays wrapped in the story, biting their nails with each page flip.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

  • Friendship
  • Discovering oneself
  • Fate
  • Coming of age
  • Love
  • Online identity

Questions about how these themes are covered within the text and what this means for each character within the story. Taking apart the reader’s own lens for viewing and then attempting to understand what each character says and does helps to illuminate these themes.

Student Engagement:

  • Outlining an activity for students to learn about potentially haunted areas of the United States or around the area in which the students live. 
  • Discussions about gender and sexuality, and how that can be different for people who maybe haven’t fully come to terms that they are gay or bisexual.
  • Doing a close reading of similar texts (“1408” by Stephen King and “Mrs. Clendon’s Place” by Joseph Payne Brennan) and comparing and contrasting themes and ideas that present themselves in each.

Formative and Summative Assessments:

  • Create a podcast or YouTube video of the student’s choice of haunted location.
  • Write a personal response about a time where the student came face to face with a realization about themselves.
  • Short or long research about how the internet has changed social interactions, both positively and negatively, and then using critical thinking skills elaborate on what that potentially means for society.
  • Create a visual that the Ghost Gang would use in some fashion (whether to promote, post, or update viewers).

Reviewed by: Ross Brummet, student at Purdue University studying English Education

A Time Traveling Middle Grade Mystery

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

Book Details
Publisher: Fitzroy Books
Publish Date: February 8, 2022
Page Count: 118 Pages
ISBN: 9781646032037
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: After being ignored by his crush, Mitzy Singer, Abe Pearlman passes a sign in a window: “Fortunes and Futures, $8—OPEN.” With nothing to lose but no belief in such practices, he follows. Abe receives his fortune, and his world goes black; he wakes up in 1888 London with a new identity: Asher. He meets his neighbor, Maya, and soon realizes that Maya is actually Mitzy. In their new lives, Asher and Maya are Jewish and get caught in riots and hatred, as Londoners believe the Ripper must be a Jew. Trapped in another time and place together, the two become close as they try to complete the challenges given to them by the fortune teller, meanwhile dodging the hate spewing toward them, the Ripper’s murders, and no idea if they will ever get back to their normal lives in Fort Pippin.


Shirley Reva Vernick’s ability to weave together a centuries old, unsolved murder case, clairvoyance, antisemitism, and a teenage friendship is something most readers have probably never seen. This book explores each of these topics in depth while still being easily digestible and understandable for young readers. It brings to light the issue of Jews being used as a scapegoat throughout history, with a focus on events that are generally not familiar. The novel is a quick read, easy to follow, and enjoyable all the way through. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis: With its various components comes a variety of themes throughout the book. Some of the most prominent include:

  • Peer support
  • Historical literacy
  • Being careful what you wish for
  • Class struggle
  • Anti Semitism
  • The power of friendship

Essential Questions:

  • How does having peer support affect your ability to overcome obstacles?
  • How does prejudice play a role in society during major events?
  • How does an unpredicted event affect your perspective on life?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Have students research the Jack the Ripper case and Victorian London
  • Track time travel throughout the novel 
  • Discuss antisemitism throughout history with connection to present day

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Students participate in class, partner, or group discussions to answer a set of questions pertaining to each chapter or section. Questions can involve critical thinking and deep diving, historical events, events in the novel, or personal connections.

Summative: Students can create a poster or presentation in which they explore themes, historical events, the book’s elements of fantasy, a timeline of events and/or exploration of antisemitism throughout history.

Reviewed by: Porsha J. Wolfrum | Purdue University

Dealing with Mental Illness and Building Unlikely Friendships

We Weren’t Looking to Be Found by Stephanie Kuehn

Book Details
Publisher: Disney Book Group
Publish Date: June 21, 2022 
Page Count: 320
ISBN: 9781368066747, 1368066747
Genre: Young adult fiction, Realistic Fiction, Mystery 
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Synopsis: We Weren’t Looking to Be Found follows two teen girls, Dani and Camila, through their disparate recoveries of substance abuse, self harm, and attempted suicide. Dani comes from the wealthiest, most well-known Black family in Texas and seems to have everything a girl could want, but she keeps using and engaging in other self-destructive behaviors for the sake of an escape, but also for the attention of her parents. Camila’s Colombian-American family doesn’t come from much, but she knows exactly what she wants from life and works hard to get it, but she keeps failing and goes straight to self-harm every time she does. When Dani and Camila end up rooming at the Peach Tree Hills facility in Georgia, they are convinced they won’t ever get along — and they’ll never get better. But then they find a mysterious music box filled with letters from a former resident and together they set out to solve the mystery.


Bringing empathy to people whose trials in life may not mirror your own is the lot many creators take seriously. In her latest release, author Stephanie Kuehn delivers on this objective in more ways than one. There are many great qualities including differing perspectives and the insight to new friendships. Throughout the book, the chapters switch between Dani and Camila giving readers an insight into both stories and how those intertwine. This is great for younger readers when they are trying to follow longer stories because it gives a descriptive and chronologically ordered story. The story is a heartwarming experience that details the struggles and triumphs of recovery. Though I have never been in the shoes that either character embodies, I found a lot of similarities in my reasoning as a teenager with how Dani and Camila are overwhelmed by the stress in their lives. Seeing them work through their struggles by considering the other’s needs reminded me of how much becoming engrossed in someone else’s story also helps me to work through issues I’m facing. Once I learned that Kuehn is a trained psychological professional, the motions and message behind this novel struck me as a work with several levels of intentionality put into it for readers of several different age categories.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

The themes in this book can be used for not only young readers, but also for adults as well. This text is enjoyable and easy to use in a classroom. Some themes found in the novel:

  • Mental Illness 
  • Recovery
  • Unlikely friendships 
  • Beauty found in the unknown
  • Coming of age

Essential Questions:

  • How can friendships help people during a recovery period?
  • How do the people we surround ourselves with affect our mental health?
  • How can race affect the way people view mental illness?

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Once students are halfway through the book, ask them to pick out one theme from the book and explain its role throughout the story. Make sure to add textual evidence that best justifies the reasoning in order to defend the choice. Have them submit a document with their response. 

Summative: Create a one pager about We Weren’t Looking to be Found. Must include the following:

On the front… 

  1.  Title of novel and author’s name 
  2.  A list of characters from the novel 
  3.  When and where the novel took place  
  4. One important quotation (A sentence or two from the novel)
    1. Write the quotation in quotation marks – Include the page number – Next to the quotation, explain why this is significant (i.e. “This quotation expresses…”) 
  5.  At least 3 drawings, symbols, and/or images that represent aspects of the story – Use color, be creative, be neat, and fill the page 

On the back… 

  1. A one paragraph summary of the selection that includes details about the plot, setting, characters, main ideas and conflicts, and the ending 
  2. Your name and class period

Reviewed by: Avery Schieber, Student, Normal, Illinois