ALAN Picks (November 2023)

ALAN Picks: ALAN Picks Celebrates Its First Teen Reviewer

This month’s ALAN Picks features our first student written book review! Check out what Las Vegas high school student Ayla Williams thought of A Sitting in Saint James by Rita Williams-Garcia. If you know students who are interested in writing book reviews of recently published young adult and middle grade books, let them know they can write for ALAN Picks too! 

We are also featuring a review of Beneath the Wide Silk Sky by Emily Inouye Huey, and if you are interested in learning more about how to teach this historical fiction novel, check out the reviewer’s ALAN sponsored session at the NCTE convention this month. (See the review for details.) In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we are featuring reviews of books by Indigenous authors that include A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger and Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. If you are looking for a middle grade novel, check out the review of the novel-in-verse set during WWII, Enemies in the Orchard by Dana VanderLugt.

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.

Student Book Review

A Sitting In Saint James by Rita Williams-Garcia

Book Details
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Publish Date: May 25, 2021
Page Count: 480
ISBN: 978-0062367297
Genre: Historical Fiction
Find on Bookshop

A Sitting In Saint James, from Coretta Scott King award-winner, Rita Williams-Garcia, reads like a moving picture, as it vibrantly portrays pre-antebellum Louisiana and the lives of the residents of the plantation, Le Petit Cottage. A delectable mixing pot of French and American culture, its disputes and regional biases, are vividly described, while the separate accounts and narratives intertwine to form a complex depiction of the times.

The use of “Sitting” in the title introduces the main conflict: stagnancy, where the protagonist, Madame Sylvie, holds onto the old ways: sitting for a painting when there are photographs, rejecting her Black granddaughter and refusing to integrate her into the plantation. This stubbornness is manifested throughout the story, despite how detrimental it can be. It begins to ruin her relationships with other characters, like her son and her once beloved cook. Madame Sylvie’s personal slave, Thisbe is told to be quiet, and reprimanded if she is not, but remains observant of everything around her. Madame’s dependency and relationship with Thisbe become more complex as the years pass and traditional roles begin to shift, while Madame’s ideals do not.  

Throughout the story the author advises Thisbe and the reader to have patience. This “patience” is  where the hope from both the reader and Thisbe originates from, because although Thisbe doesn’t know how or when her life will get better, she is told to press on; that it will. All in all, A Sitting in Saint James provides a meaningful account of how intra-connected our stories are, despite vast differences and backgrounds. It encourages young adults to have hope in something bigger than them, whether it is divinity or destiny- to help them discover solutions rather than problems. Educators in the future can use this book with the intention to give hope that things, no matter how abominable, will not be the same forever.

Review written by Ayla Williams, student at a Las Vegas high school.

Capturing Hope in the Shadows of Discrimination

Beneath the Wide Silk Sky by Emily Inouye Huey

Book Details
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publish Date: October 18, 2022
Page Count: 336
ISBN: 1338789945
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: This compelling coming-of-age novel centers around Japanese-American protagonist, Sam Sakamoto, as she grapples with the complex interplay of familial obligations, grief, and a clandestine passion for photography. Against the backdrop of the devastating December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Sam’s world is upended, unveiling the stark reality of discrimination, racism, and violence endured by Japanese-Americans. Through her lens, the profound impact of societal prejudice is revealed, guiding Sam on a transformative path where she discovers the power of protest as a means to honor her identity, culture, and patriotism.


Beneath the Wide Silk Sky is a poignant novel that captures the shadows in America’s landscape in a way that adds depth and introduces readers to bearing witness as a means of civic action. Emily Inouye Huey tells the compelling historical narrative in a way that serves as an homage to her own family’s history and that of many Japanese-Americans in the wake of World War II. She intricately honors and recognizes the adolescent experience of self-discovery alongside the raw reality of racism using evocative and aesthetically captivating descriptions. It is obvious that this is a story told from generations of healing and heartbreak, an experience relatable to adolescents. Ultimately, this novel makes a great critique of the abuse experienced by Japanese Americans by relying on truth rather than sensationalism rooted in shock value and would serve students by unveiling the unfair treatment that often goes unrecognized in discussions regarding World War II.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:
Through Sam and her experiences, the novel explores themes such as:

  • Historical backdrop
  • Self-discovery
  • Adolescent development
  • Apathy and indifference
  • Bi-cultural identity
  • Familial relationships
  • Protest as a form of patriotism
  • Discrimination and prejudice

Essential Questions:

  • How do our families and cultural backgrounds impact how we see ourselves? 
  • What challenges exist when our identities are in conflict with one another?
  • How does the text serve as inspiration to engage in acts of witnessing and remembrance to foster social justice advocacy?
  • What are the consequences of indifference?
  • In what ways does protest serve as an expression of patriotism?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Completing an identity wheel of both Sam and themselves
  • Literature circles with complementary texts to discuss the meaning of belonging,  patriotism, and indifference

Complementary Texts:

  • Poem: “Legacy” by Ruth Awad (2021)
  • Text Excerpt: “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness” by Simon Wiesenthal (expanded edition, 2020)
  • Speech: “The Perils of Indifference” by Elie Wiesel (1999)

Formative and Summative Assessment Suggestions:

Formative: Students complete a photography project to present their understanding of social advocacy by capturing a photo that acts as a voice. Students would be asked to research and analyze real-life examples of social injustice and/or indifference throughout history, especially focusing on instances of prejudice, human rights violations, and atrocities. They could also explore how indifference continues to impact society today, including issues related to diversity, inclusion, and human rights. This photography project aims to deepen their empathy, critical thinking, and cultural awareness by examining historical and contemporary instances of social advocacy from a broader global perspective.

Summative: After completing the reading, students would, in their chosen format (video, poem, collage or essay), explore the concept of protest as an act of patriotism and its potential to bring about meaningful change in society. They would be encouraged to use historical and contemporary examples to support their arguments and showcase their creative expression.

a) Video: Students create a short video (3 to 5 minutes) that combines visuals, narration, and/or dialogue to convey their perspective on protest, patriotism, and change. The video should include original artwork, animation, or footage to enhance their message.

b) Poem: Students write a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of protest as an expression of patriotism. They should use poetic devices such as imagery, metaphor, and symbolism to convey their ideas effectively.

c) Collage: Students create a visually compelling collage that embodies the theme of protest as an act of patriotism and its potential for bringing about significant societal change. They will use a combination of images, texts, and symbols to express their perspective creatively.c) Essay: Students compose a well-structured essay (800 to 1000 words) that presents a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between protest, patriotism, and social change.

Reviewed by: Amber L. Moore, doctoral student in Literacy and English Language Arts Education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Learn More at the NCTE Convention: Check out this reviewer’s session! It is a part of the ALAN-sponsored NCTE roundtable session on Friday, November 17, 2:00-3:15 pm: Connecting Around Young Adult Lit (YAL): Current Conversations About YAL in the Classroom

Description: The roundtable discussion is centered on Emily Inouye Huey’s compelling YA historical fiction novel, “Beneath the Wide Silk Sky.” During this roundtable, we’ll explore the potency of young adult literature in bearing witness to history. Our presentation will include questions like, “What does it mean to bear witness?” and “How do we contextualize historical fiction so that it serves as civic engagement?” We’ll also delve into the responsibilities of teachers and students when confronting historical trauma, such as Japanese-American wrongful incarceration. 

Educators will leave with access to a resource folder, equipping them with valuable materials including historical artifacts that teachers can use for gallery walks or presentations to aid in incorporating these concepts into their classrooms, enriching their students’ understanding of history, civic engagement, and the power of literature.

A Middle Grade Verse Novel That Explores Tragedy and Friendship

Enemies in the Orchard by Dana VanderLugt

Book Details
Publisher: ‎Zonderkidz
Publish Date: September 12, 2023
Page Count: 288
ISBN: 0310155770
Genre: Historical Fiction based on true events
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Based on true events and set in the apple orchard in Western Michigan where the author grew up, this novel explores tragedy, friendship, and how places shape us. Written in verse, the reader gains the perspective of Claire, a 14-year-old girl caught between her desire to become a nurse and helping her family at home while her older brother is overseas fighting in World War II. This perspective contrasts that of Karl, a German Prisoner of War brought to pick apples in the orchard, who must confront the difference between what he was told and what he now sees. Despite being enemies, Claire and Karl forge an unlikely bond and teach readers about the power of human connection in tumultuous times.


This beautifully written, fast-paced novel explores the tensions that exist within our world, especially in times of crisis. Can someone be both an enemy and a friend? Can a young girl value both her education and helping her family? Can the things we thought were true be different from what we see? This story unfolds smoothly and progresses quickly as the reader watches the friendship between Claire and Karl unfold. Written with middle-grade readers in mind, it is the perfect avenue for exploring deeper themes of loss, human connection, and hope. Despite the tragic themes and events within the novel, the author ultimately leaves the reader with the promise of hope. Life can bear fruit even in the hardest of times.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:

  • Grief and Loss 
  • Devastation of war 
  • Who is an enemy
  • Growth  
  • Unlikely friendship

Possible Essential Questions:

  • How does hope bloom in tragic times? 
  • How do people form human connections? 
  • What makes someone an enemy and how should they be treated?

Teaching Engagement Strategies/Activities:

  • Disciplinary literacy- the line between fact and fiction, historical and factual 
  • Family lines and history 
  • Misinformation 
  • The Danger of a Single Story 
  • Write a book review

Formative and Summative Assessments:

  • Formative: 
    • Write an “I am From” poem modeled after the ones written about Claire and Karl 
    • Write a story from multiple perspectives 
    • Journal entries in response to the themes and events within the novel 
    • Use primary sources from World War II to gain a holistic perspective of the time period. 
  • Summative: 
    • Have students interview family members and create a project relating to their family history
    • Write a book review or letter to the author using details from the text 

Complementary Texts

  • Use Holes by Louis Sachar to explore multi-generations of family and unlikely friendship.  
  • Pair this book with They Called Us Enemy by George Takei to explore multiple perspectives on World War II. 
  • Compare and contrast this novel with other World War II sources

Reviewed by: Brooke Carbaugh teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts at Kane Area School District in Kane, Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from Hope College in Western Michigan where the novel takes place.

Through Traditional Lipian Storytelling, an Exploration of Love and Respect for our Planet

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Book Details
Publisher: Levine Querido
Publish Date: Nov. 9, 2021
Page Count: 352
ISBN: 9781432896768
Genre: Fantasy
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: In a brilliant union of contemporary young adult literature and traditional Lipan storytelling, Darcie Little Badger weaves a narrative of magic hidden all around us, appreciation and respect for Earth, and friendships worth fighting for. With a diverse cast of characters, Little Badger explores the strength of love for the planet we call home and those residing on it. When Nina, a human from out world, crosses paths with Oli, a cottonmouth snake person brought to Earth on a quest to save his friend, she must decide if she is willing to open her eyes to new possibilities – and how much she is willing to risk to protect those she cares about.


A Snake Falls to Earth is told in a voice reminiscent of Aesop’s fables or other folklore, so fantasy lovers will feel right at home reading Darcie Little Badger’s story. Perfect for middle grade or young high schoolers, this narrative serves as an excellent vehicle for an introduction to Indigenous storytelling. Readers can expect an engaging and exciting story full of heart, but unafraid to confront difficult issues such as humanity’s responsibility in regards to the environment. Little Badger handles mature issues in such a way that they are comprehensible to younger audiences, all while keeping up an adventurous narrative sure to keep readers’ interests.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Teaching Strategies: An overview of Lipan tradition, culture, and storytelling could help readers enter into A Snake Falls to Earth with some pre-established literacy.

Class Discussion: The teacher could list and define certain themes present in the text, and ask students to share places in the text the themes are explored. Some examples of themes present in A Snake Falls to Earth are:

  • Family
  • The environment
  • Sacrifice
  • Ties to land
  • Friendship

Formative Assessment: Students will keep a “quote journal,” where they will choose one quote from each chapter to copy down. In a few sentences, they will explain the context of their quote, as well as why they chose it.

Summative Assessment: Students will be separated into several groups, with each group focusing on a specific theme present in the text. Each group will prepare a presentation, art piece, podcast, or other creative project to share what they learned about the topic by reading A Snake Falls to Earth.

Reviewed by: Hannah Hampton, English Literature student at Purdue University

A YA Thriller About A Native Teen Trying to Rid Her Community of Corruption

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Bouley

Book Details
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publish Date: March 16, 2021
Page Count: 496
ISBN: 978-1250766564
Genre: YA fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: After two sudden deaths in her community, Daunis Firekeeper, a determined 18-year-old, becomes the confidential informant for two FBI agents. As Daunis seeks to uncover the truth about the events in her community, she comes up against betrayals and roadblocks. At the same time, Daunis seeks to uncover the truth about herself. She struggles to reconcile the two cultures that make up her identity (her mother is French, while her father was Anishinaabe). The book contains a lot of dark and graphic content. The book contains murder, suicide, sexual assault, drug abuse, racism, the death of a loved one, and kidnapping.


Firekeeper’s Daughter is an entertaining and suspenseful read. The writing is beautiful and poetic. Bouley stunningly describes Anishinaabe culture and traditions. Daunis is a brave, intelligent, and strong female protagonist. The first 100 pages of the book are slow paced, but once you get past this, it is hard to put down. You’ll want to figure out the mystery. The characters are dynamic and have multifaceted personalities. If you’re looking for a book with great friendships (and romance), this is the book for you!

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use


  • Culture and family
  • Identity
  • Trust
  • Grief and Acceptance 

Essential Questions:

  • What is the true meaning of family?
  • How do you fit into society when viewed as “an outsider”?
  • How are the plot and characters affected by culture and family traditions?
  • How do you balance your needs and wants with those you care about?

Teaching Strategies:

  1. Body Biography Activity: In groups of 3-4, students will create body biographies for important characters from Firekeeper’s Daughter. They will be given a worksheet with the outline of a person. Students will fill in the outline with information about the character.
  2. Discussion about identity and culture: As a class, students will discuss the conflicts Daunis experiences while existing between two cultures (Anishinaabe and French/white).

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Students will write a 1-2 page journal entry from the perspective of a character other than Daunis in Firekepper’s Daughter. Students can choose to write about a character’s feelings, thoughts, and/or future plans. The purpose of this assessment is to have students be creative and practice making inferences about characters.

Summative: Students will write a 5-paragraph essay responding to the following prompt: How are the plot and characters affected by culture and family traditions? The essay should be formatted in MLA format.

Reviewed by: Gillian Archer, English Education Student, Purdue University, and Madison Mariga, English Literature Student, Purdue University.

ALAN Picks (October 2023)

ALAN Picks: Self-Exploration, Intersectionality & Dealing With Change

This month’s ALAN Picks features a review of several young adult books by Latinx/Latine authors in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as a young adult horror novel for those who are looking for a spooky season recommendation for students. The books include the exploration of sibling relationships with a social media influencer backdrop, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliand; an exploration of intersectionality with LGBQT+ teens in This is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves; the story of one boy’s immigration journey from Cuba in The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez and a horror novel about zombie girls created by a global warming catastrophe in This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham.

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.

Discovering self-acceptance and embracing who you are

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliand

Book Details
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: August 10, 2021
Page Count: 448
ISBN: 9781534448674
Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Romance, Magical Realism
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Synopsis:  In first-person narration, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is the story of Moon Fuentez’s journey to self-love and uncovering truths while being on the road as a “merch girl” with influencers across the country; including her sister. Always considering herself the ugly sister destined to be in the background of her sister’s stardom, she questions her fate as the unnoticeable and unloved Moon she had always deemed herself to be. Through an enemies-to-lovers romance that is sparked by close proximity, Moon finds herself on a path toward self-acceptance and most importantly, learning to love oneself for all that you are worth.


Gilliand uses Moon’s strong voice to showcase relatability in the struggles of fatphobia, religion, family trauma, sexuality, and learning to love yourself. Through the magical realism of nature and descriptions of Moon’s life, it creates a poetic coming-of-age tale that allows the reader to fully immerse into her first-person narrative on her journey to self-acceptance. While this is a very character-driven novel, through the plot we are able to see how Moon learns to love herself in how relatable a narrative this is, in which young adults struggle with body image and accepting their insecurities as that is what makes them who they are – human. In this emotional and relatable novel, Moon Fuentez finds the little miracles in life as she accepts herself for who she is, loving herself unconditionally.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections: 
Many of the topics discussed in this novel are crucial to understand and be aware of as students live in an age of social media. Teachers could teach these thematic topics in groups and or together as a class to analyze how these issues affect the characters in the novel. 

  • Body shaming/Fatphobia 
  • Online bullying 
  • Religion 
  • Sexuality 
  • Trauma/Parental Abuse 
  • Love 
  • Self-Acceptance 
  • Race/Ethnicity 
  • Sibling relationships 

Essential Questions

  • How important is trust in sibling relationships? 
  • What are ways to overcome the stereotypes associated with different body types? 
  • In what ways can body shaming affect someone? 
  • What are ways to promote self-love/acceptance with friends and peers?
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Once students finish the book, as a class, they should compile a list of ways in which Moon learns to love and accept herself for who she is through the various characters she interacts with. After finalizing the list as a class, students should get into groups of four and create infographics of possible ways that self-love, acceptance, and body positivity can be promoted around their school and online. 

Summative: Once students finalize their infographics that promote these components, they should have a gallery walk to vote for the best infographic that goes with what the book advocates for. They can refer back to the themes from the book that highlight how well this will positively affect young adults’ mental health and emotional stability while being active on social media.

Other Creative Components

Other possible directions for discussion could be that students create visual one-pagers, with a set rubric from the teacher, in which they find ways they can relate and or identify with any and all characters in the book through the themes discussed.

Reviewed by: Natalie Rodriguez, English Creative Writing major at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Exploring Intersectionality in Fiction

This is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves

Book Details
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: August 23. 2022
Page Count: 400
ISBN: 9781534485655
Genre: LGBT Romance, Contemporary, Fiction
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Synopsis: Enrique Luna wants to get over his crush Saleem, so he pursues other prospects. In doing so, Enrique tries to find clarity in his sexuality while being closeted from his parents, navigating his relationship with his best friend Fabiola, and dealing with the news that Saleem is leaving Los Angeles for the summer because his parents want him to meet a woman. In his pursuit to get over this, he meets a cast of prospects including a stoner named Tyler, a class president, Ziggy, and the enticingly scary Manny. Do these prospects bring Enrique to a conclusion about Saleem? And will living his truth lead to consequences?


Enrique’s answer to his hardcore crush on his friend Saleem is to get with as many prospects as possible. In doing so, we get to learn about the experience of this Mexican, Bisexual young man who comes to terms with the fact that he is worth more than his body image and self-esteem issues would have him believe. Aceves breaks down stereotypes of bisexuality by analyzing the reasons why someone like Enrique would sleep with other men due to his absolute abundance of love for one person who he wants to live with forever, and he learns this throughout the book. This book is an excellent example of queer identity and will help students understand intersectionality. This book does contain mature content and many sexual themes, but these scenes serve as an exploration of body and self, therefore, this book would be suited best for eighth grade and above.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:
This book is a fantastic example of LGBTQ+ representation. It would be beneficial in a classroom for both students who identify with the community, and those who do not. The plot points are relatable to people of any identity while still driving home themes of sexual repression, discrimination, and confusion about one’s identity. 

  • Exploring sex as an LGBTQIA+ individual
  • Coping with lost love
  • Inability to come out to parents
  • Social anxiety
  • Judgment of Risks 
  • Breaking stereotypes of bisexual people
  • Coming of age
  • Race
Teaching Strategies and Assessments

Formative Assessments

  • Students are tasked to write about their own social and personal intersections up to their level of comfortability. I encourage teachers to go further beyond race and sexuality, as there are many other facets of identity that this book covers like social status and wealth using an identity wheel and linking it to the characters and the book as a whole. 
  • Students can create a self-directed response to a portion of the book, like writing to a main character or describing a scene that may have been in the book if they wrote it. 

Summative Assessments

  • Students can be tested for their ability to dissect themes from this book including but not limited to risk judgment, LGBTQIA+ struggles, and learning from past mistakes. 
  • Students might create a portfolio of their understanding of this book during the reading.

Teaching Strategies
This is Why They Hate Us intertwines sexuality with multiple other intersections of a student’s life, giving this book an excellent opportunity to shine in a curriculum centered around topics of race and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Joshua Ricci, English Education student at Colorado State University.

A Must Read Cuban-American Story

The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Book Details
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 6th, 2022
Page Count: 320
ISBN: 9780593372791 
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction 
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: A journey told through Hector, a boy who is only in 6th grade who is experiencing the emotional ride of growing up in Cuba in the 1980’s and learning about the tough decisions he has to make at such a young age. As he pursues this adventure he risks everything when fleeing Cuba during the Mariel boatlift. 


A heart wrenching story that sucks you in from the beginning and breaks down perspectives that you never would have thought of. Personally I feel the term a book you can’t stop reading is overused although this is a book that was so hard to put down. Learning about Hector’s journey, connection to family and friends, and his dreams made me feel disrespectful whenever I tried to put the book down. Putting the book down felt like ending a phone call with a friend mid-story because you get such a strong connection to Hector and all the other people in his life. We see the conflicts in the story build up and no spoilers, but it really makes you grateful for your life and even if you can relate to some of the conflicts in the book you still just wonder how much pain Hector has to go through when navigating through his life. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:
The book includes themes that lead to a deeper understanding of immigrants through a person’s narrative and the challenges of the process. Another theme would be the importance of family and community and how important the people are in your life can be when it comes to seeking the best for you. 

  • Diversity 
  • Different time periods
  • Foreign policies
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Immigration
  • Reality and dreams
  • Optimism 

Essential Questions:

  • How do you think moving affects who you are?
  • How close do you feel to your community?
  • How has your knowledge of the immigration process changed since reading the book?

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Teaching students on a way to interact with the book could be writing something they are grateful for and relating it to Hector’s journey. This book could also be great for a beginner level Spanish class as some of the dialogue is in Spanish giving students the context of the book for them to find out what is said in Spanish. 

Summative: Students could make a boat out of paper and decorate it as they please to use as a book marker.

Reviewed by: Seth Banquer, student of Colorado State, Fort Collins, CO.

Girls, Zombies and Global Warming

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

Book Details
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: April 25, 2023
Page Count: 287
ISBN: 978-1-7282-3644-5
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia/Horror/YA Lit
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Global warming causes a worldwide exposure resulting in a pandemic, known as the Hollowing. A small percentage of the human race become ghouls and start to crave human flesh. Synthetic flesh is soon created to help the Hollows remain in society, and this somewhat eases the mind of the masses. This Delicious Death follows a group of four hollowed girls—Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine—who embark on a trip to a music festival right before high school graduation. Their trip begins to shatter when one of them strays too far from governmental expectations, and they soon realize they are being targeted. Can they avoid going feral at the festival, or will anyone survive?


This Delicious Death is an extraordinary introduction to xenophobia and corruption of government with a dash of horror. It offers a new perspective on how one deals with a life-altering event that makes the whole world see you differently, including your parents. More than a vaccine is required when global warming causes the permafrost to melt, unleashing a global pandemic. It requires resilience to the extreme. News reports and social media reinforce many perceptions of you. It doesn’t help that even the government forces a person to log in what they are doing and who they see at all times. Kayla Cottingham does a masterful job of navigating these subjects with the struggles of trying to live an old life that can never be lived again.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:
The themes in this novel are relatable for teen and adult readers, making this text enjoyable,and  thought-provoking. Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • Corruption of government
  • Survival of mass outbreaks
  • World disaster/pandemic
  • Cannibalism
  • Drug-Alcohol Use
  • Global warming
  • Discrimination
  • LGBT 

Essential Questions:

  • How do authorities react to a global pandemic?
  • What are the consequences of governmental reactions to a global pandemic on a population?
  • What is your view of the “fairness” of consequences to governmental decisions?
  • How do the traits/conditions we have no control over shape our lives?
  • Stereotyping is judging someone based on preconceived perceptions. How do those perceptions affect our lives? Futures?

Student Engagement Activities:

Choose one of the recent pandemics (Influenza epidemic of 1918 or Covid-19). Before reading the book, students should research the following topics and complete the first column below. As the class is reading the book, compare/contrast the book to real life.

Topic Pandemic Chosen: This Delicious Death ???
Genesis of Disease
Initial government response
Result of government response
Spread of disease
Governmental communication
with the public regarding the infection
Government final response to control the
Ultimate end of the pandemic
Day-to-day living-post pandemic
Post-pandemic cultural changes
Anything you’d like to add as a
result of your research

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: The table above acts as a primary formative assessment. In the fourth column of the above table, students should create their own pandemic and develop all the elements researched and discussed in the book. 

Summative: Students create their own short story set in the post-pandemic they created in the table above.

Reviewed by: Matthew Callaghan, English Creative Writing Major at Colorado State University, Fort Collins Colorado. 

2023 Hipple Award Winner

2023 Hipple Award Winner

We are excited to announce that Daria Bliss is our Ted Hipple Service Award winner! This award is given each year to an individual who has contributed to the ALAN organization.

Daria has been attending ALAN since 2004 and has served in a multitude of capacities including ALAN President, Walden Award Chair, TAR Reviewer, and current ALAN treasurer. She is a fierce advocate for ALAN.

Join us at the ALAN breakfast on Saturday, November 18 to hear Daria’s remarks. Head to to register for the ALAN Workshop. See you in Columbus! 

2023 Bill Konigsberg Award Recipient

2023 Bill Konigsberg Award Recipient

ALAN’s 2023 recipient of the Bill Konigsberg Award for Acts and Activism for Equity and Inclusion through Young Adult Literature is Nicole Lintemuth!!

Nicole is a fierce advocate for putting books in the hands that need them. She describes her book store as a place where everyone can see themselves on the shelves and challenges her customers to engage with diverse books through book clubs and events. An active Tik Tokker, she also encourages followers to stand up to book banners at school board meetings and county commission meetings. In a small, conservative town, she helped organize her community’s first Pride event, which continues to grow. We feel she embodies the spirit of the Konigsberg Award as selflessly and bravely acts to amplify the voices of others.

The Konigsberg Award, established in 2018, is presented annually to an individual who has acted in selfless advocacy of marginalized youth through the creation, teaching, funding or other form of promotion of young adult literature. This award was initiated to recognize individuals standing up for groups of young people who are victimized by hate speech or actions. For wielding the power of young adult literature with thought and intention to make the world a better place, the winner will be recognized at the ALAN Breakfast.

2023 ALAN Breakfast Speaker

2023 ALAN Breakfast Speaker

Amber McBride is the ALAN breakfast keynote speaker! The ALAN breakfast will be held on Saturday, November 18.  Register for breakfast tickets through the NCTE registration portal.

Amber McBride estimates she reads about 100 books a year. Her work has been published in literary magazines including Ploughshares and Provincetown Arts. Her debut young adult novel, Me (Moth) was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, among many other accolades. She is also the author of the acclaimed young adult novel, We Are All So Good at Smiling, and her debut middle grade novel, Gone Wolf. She is a professor of creative writing at University of Virginia, and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

ALAN Picks (September 2023)

ALAN Picks: Adventure, Romance & Mystery To Start the Year

This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of middle grade and young adult books that feature romance, adventure and mythology. The books include Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe, a young adult romance set in Memphis; The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejia by Alexandra Alessandri, a middle grade adventure story that explores Colombian folklore; Promise Boys by Nick Brooks, a young adult murder mystery set in a D.C. boys charter school and The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thoma, a Mexican mythology-inspired fantasy. 

Also be sure to check out our exclusive author interview between Finding Jupiter author Kelis Rowe and ALAN Picks reviewer Abby Gross.

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 Summer Romance That Explores Grief, Healing and Self-Discovery

Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe

Book Details
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publish Date: May 31, 2022
Page Count: 320
ISBN: 9780593429259
Genre: Romance
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: It’s summertime in Memphis when Ray and Orion meet at the skating rink. Neither can deny the sparks that fly between them, but Ray’s not ready to fall in love. Strong, independent, and guarded, she’s content to entertain a summer fling before heading back to boarding school in the fall. But sweet and sensitive Orion can feel himself falling fast for Ray, even when he should be focused on swimming and his scholarship to Howard University. Their time together is limited, but the two soon fall into orbit, bonding over their grief and the imprint it has left on their families. Ray’s dad was killed in a car crash the night she was born, and another tragic accident left Orion without his little sister years ago. Just when Orion and Ray have let their guards down and jumped into the safety net of their love, a long-buried secret surfaces. It stands to shake the entire foundation of their lives–and their blossoming young love.


A starry debut from author Kelis Rowe, Finding Jupiter is a captivating coming-of-age romance with a hint of mystery and an unexpected twist. The story transcends its genre, exploring grief, family, tragedy, healing, and self-discovery. Written from the alternating perspectives of Ray and Orion, Finding Jupiter challenges gender roles and stereotypes while offering much-needed representation in the world of YA romance: Orion has sensory processing disorder, a condition that makes it feel like his brain has no filter to sort through overwhelming stimuli. Rowe authentically weaves Orion’s SPD into the story in a way that shows what he faces and how he copes with it.

Finding Jupiter features a romance that is refreshingly healthy and genuine, despite the grief and complications Ray and Orion face. Their perspectives are equally engaging and developed, making the reader root for their love story from the start. The teens are mature, vulnerable, and resilient as they wade their way through tangled family histories, falling in love with each other while finding themselves along the way.

There’s so much to relish in this debut:  It’s a love letter to Memphis, a tender exploration of grief, and an unapologetic celebration of Black love. Like Ray, young readers will find themselves in the words of this charming, character-driven romance.  Teens just might be inspired to write their own story, too, thanks to the creative found poetry taken straight from the pages of The Great Gatsby, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Black Boy. While the book is spectacular as a standalone novel, these poetic allusions invite connections, comparison, and creation, making Finding Jupiter a perfect paired text for these classics. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use


  • Family/relationships
  • Grief
  • Social Class
  • Tragedy
  • Gender Roles
  • Time & Fate
  • Coming-of-age

Essential Question

  • How does our past impact our future?
  • How do our relationships with our family impact our identity?
  • How does creative expression help us find our voice?
  • How does grief shape who we are?

Possible Teaching Strategies:

  • Book Trailer Tuesday: Highlight Finding Jupiter for “Book Trailer Tuesday” by pressing play on the official book trailer from GetUnderlined on YouTube. Like First Chapter Friday, Book Trailer Tuesday is another way to expose students to new titles and help readers add to their to-read lists. Teachers can show the trailer anytime, but it would work especially well during a novel study of The Great Gatsby or Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  • Modeling & Mentor Texts: Teachers can read aloud part of the opening chapter and/or other excerpts to model the creative process of drafting found poetry. Teachers can also use excerpts of the lyrical, poignant prose as mentor sentences, encouraging students to find their own examples in choice reading, literature circle, or whole-class texts.
  • Literature Circles: After a whole class study of The Great Gatsby or Their Eyes Were Watching God, students can read Finding Jupiter and other thematically relevant novels in small groups, examining the parallels between the stories. 
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Thanks to the found poetry that peppers the pages of Finding Jupiter, poetry makes for a natural assessment option. Introduce students to found poetry, blackout poetry, cut-up poetry, cento poetry, book spine poetry, and other creative formats. Provide plenty of mentor texts, including excerpts from Finding Jupiter and other creations from favorite books. Students can create poetry that focuses on an essential question, theme, symbol, etc.

Summative: As a summative assessment, students can create a portfolio of their poetry, explaining their poetic choices and connecting them to craft moves they have noticed in Finding Jupiter and other texts.

Reviewed by: Abby Gross, middle school ELA teacher & author of Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning, Dayton, Ohio

Author Interview with Kelis Rowe

1. I love the found poetry and illustrations scattered throughout Finding Jupiter. What compelled you to use this kind of poetry to tell this story?

I wanted to include poetry and art in my novel, because creating art and poetry are two things that sustained me during my teen years. I wanted to share and example of a teen person creating art as catharsis. I also wanted to give them a stand-out kind of experience while reading this sweet, romantic story. Before I knew what the story would be about, I wrote a poem from a teen girl’s point of view. The poem ended up being about a girl healing relationship trauma. I didn’t want to write that story, but I did love the poem, and used it as the performance piece that readers get to see in the scene of Ray and Orion’s first date. I continued to brainstorm about the type of experience I wanted to create and how I wanted readers to engage with the story, and found poetry just made so much sense. Instantly, The Great Gatsby came to mind as a book that my main character would find poetry in, and Their Eyes Were Watching God was the immediate second choice.

Both were books that had the most impact on my life as a teen reader and it was a real joy to engage with both books in a new way as I crafted the story. My school visits with Finding Jupiter are almost always Found Poetry workshops and are a big hit with teens and librarians. 

2. What inspired the allusions to The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God? Can you share some of the strongest parallels so readers know what to expect?

I wish I could say that I was able to see the matrix and weave these three stories together. Alas, I was shocked by how much symbolism and how many these classic novels have in common with Finding Jupiter. When I wrote Finding Jupiter, I hadn’t considered any similarities in the stories other than that they were stories about love. I have a favorite example from each book that I always love to share with readers. Regarding Ray and Janie— it was only after the book was finished that I realized how much the poetry Ray found spoke to what she was going through and what Janie in Our Eyes Were Watching God was going through on the page Ray happened to be using to find the poetry. Ray’s found poem precedes Chapter 13 and is from the page of Their Eyes Were Watching God where Janie hasn’t seen Tea Cake in a while and is attempting to talk herself out of needing him and missing him as much as she does, which is exactly what Ray is doing in Chapter 13 since she hasn’t heard from Orion in two days. This was a total coincidence and is part of the magic that I felt while writing this novel. My favorite unintentional similarity between Gatsby and Orion is that they’re both well-off and throw pivotal parties to impress a girl who, as far as they know, may or may not return their feelings of affection. The more I considered how many ways each of the classic novels intersect with Finding Jupiter, I began writing them down and actually made a graphic for educators available on my website. 

3. Orion has sensory processing disorder, or SPD. Why was it important to you to include this representation in the book?

As a young adult author, it’s important to me that my novels are entertaining windows into the lives of Black American teens. As a Black American, I know how important it is that my book also be a crystal-clear mirror for the young people who would see themselves in my characters. As a mom and former homeschooler to a boy with SPD, I felt compelled to give my son, kids like him, and everyone who knows a person like Orion, a depiction of a young person living with SPD, the school-aged struggles he and his parents experienced because of it, and the ways that he navigates it while having a full, typical teen life. My dream was for this representation to allow me to gain a platform to have a larger conversation about sensory disorders and the challenges they present when they are present in children, but especially Black boys who do not have Autism. I know that Black boys are underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed when it comes to sensory disorders, and as a result they move through school systems receiving the wrong interventions, or none at all, for poor behavioral issues present in classroom situations. I’m thrilled to be on a panel discussing this topic at NCTE 2023 following my appearance in the ALAN Workshop at NCTE 2022! Writing Finding Jupiter has been a huge gift to my life. 

4. Stars, planets, and constellations recur throughout the novel. What led you to choose these motifs and symbols for Finding Jupiter

Growing up in a family with an emotionally unavailable father and resulting tension inside the household, stargazing was a staple of my childhood. I’d watch the sky as long as I could and I would wonder and dream, imagine and wish and believe. I don’t stargaze as much as an adult, but my mind is almost always turned to some aspect of the stars. So much so that I don’t know who I would be without them. Like Ray, I don’t think any of us would exist without them. There’s something so mysterious and magical about the sky, especially the night sky, that we all respond to across literary genres. As a romance writer, I’d be remiss to not write a kiss under a moonlit sky. Every book that I write for teenagers with have celestial names and imagery– maybe not as much as there is in Finding Jupiter, the book that I believe came from my soul, but they will be there. 

5. Finding Jupiter is such a creative, unique story, with its lyrical prose, allusions, and poetry. What is your writing process like? Do you “find” your words like Ray? Stumble, overthink, and revise like Orion? A mix of both?

I’m definitely a dreamy writer like Ray. When I started writing Finding Jupiter, I created found poetry first. When I start writing a scene, I visualize it, sometimes for days, as if it were a movie scene. I write all the dialogue first, then build the scene around it. The heart of Finding Jupiter is the poetry. The heart of any story is what is shared between the characters. Getting to the good parts first, helps me to really fall in love with the story, which makes the craft of writing more enjoyable for me. 

6. In addition to the ones you allude to in Finding Jupiter, what are some of your favorite books and/or authors? 

I have so many favorites for so many different reasons, and it would be so hard to talk about any of them without giving full reviews. For me, the perfect book doesn’t exist. If it did, it would be written with the gravity of Octavia Butler, the heart of Liara Tamani, the lyrical prose and poetry of Jeff Zentner, the creative flair of Nicola Yoon and the third-person genius and subtle magic of Neil Gaiman. 

7. I see your background is in marketing. Did you always dream of writing a book one day? What was your journey to becoming an author like? 

I wanted to be a flight attendant until my senior year of high school when I learned that at 6’1”, I exceeded the height requirement. I was devastated. So I went to college and continued being a great student, and learned that I was great at writing, but never thought about writing a book. Writing helped me in my office jobs in market research and also made my stint as a blogger fun. The novelist dream came alive when I read a YA coming of age novel, Calling My Name by Liara Tamani. It was literary and poetic and smart and deep and my soul came alive with the possibility of writing such a novel for young people. I’d read other YA novels, but didn’t realize books for teens could be literary and artsy. At the time I started writing Finding Jupiter, I didn’t see YA romances featuring two Black lovers—all the breakout, mainstream stories didn’t reflect that. I wanted to write what I knew, which was young Black love, so I decided I would self-publish my book on Amazon. But two things happened: George Floyd was murdered, which made the entertainment and publishing industry take a look at how they contribute to what informs consumers about Black American humanity and a Twitter Pitch contest opened up and I had great success in it. I found my literary agent after pitching my story on Twitter and a seven-way Big 5 auction followed and Crown won. It’s been a dream of a first book and debut experience. 

8. I hear you’re working on another book! Can you give us any teasers or inside info?

My second young adult novel is another Black Memphis summer romance involving viral humiliation at junior prom, a summer of self-reinvention, hearts for young homeless populations and trying to not fall in love with a fake summer fling and I cannot wait to share it with the world in Spring 2025.

Addressing Violence and the Environment Through Fantasy

The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejia by Alexandra Alessandri

Book Details
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: Feb. 21, 2023
Page Count: 213
ISBN: 978-1-6659-1705-6
Genre: Fantasy
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old aspiring artist, Valentina Mejia, has grown up listening to her father’s stories of Colombian folklore: tales of magic and monsters that once roamed the Colombian lands many years ago. Her father believes that such creatures still exist and wishes to find them with Valentina and her kid brother Julian, much to Valentina’s dismay. One day during an expedition in the mountains, a terrible earthquake strikes, hurting Valentina’s father, and trapping both her and Julian in a dark cave. With no other options, the duo travels deeper underground and discovers that the mythical beings of Colombia are in fact real. With no other way to return home and aid their father, Valentina and Julian must travel across a forgotten land of magic to seek an audience with the only person who can help: Madremonte, Mother Mountain, protector of the Earth.


Alessandri uses Colombian mythos in this middle-grade fantasy novel to challenge and critique the causes of violence and environmental destruction in South America. By situating the magical causes and effects of these themes alongside the real-world issues, Alessandri opens the door for middle-grade readers to be able to compare and contrast the fantastical elements with their own reality, becoming aware of how they might fit into a world where violence and the environment are increasingly important parts of their lived-in experiences.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:

  • Guerrilla Warfare
  • Paramilitaries
  • Drug Lords
  • Government
  • Terrorism
  • Deforestation and Climate Change’s Effects on Wildlife
  • Plastic Pollution’s Effect on Ocean Wildlife

Essential Questions:

  • Why should the United States be more accepting of immigrants at our Southern border?
  • What effects can macro-level government policies have on micro-level people like Valentina’s father?
  • Why should we care about what happens to the Amazon rainforest?
  • Why should we care about plastic pollution?

Formative and Summative Assessment:

Formative: Students can create their own maps of Tierra de los Olvidados, Land of the Forgotten, in their writer’s notebooks. They can track Valentina’s and Julian’s progress as they read chapters each week, noting where the characters are at and what is happening in the novel when violence and the environment are mentioned.

Students can share their completed maps with each other, comparing what they each noted about violence and the environment as they read. As a class, they can compile everything they learned onto an anchor chart which can remain on the classroom wall as a reference to these themes in this unit and others.

Summative: Depending on the unit, students can make a new map of their own for a creative writing project, outlining their story and its themes before they write it. Alternatively, students can research some of the themes above and write a research paper.

Reviewed by: Alan J. Barrowcliff, English (Creative Writing), Colorado State University; Kellen Tomcak, English Education, Colorado State University

A Charter School Murder Mystery That Explores the Pitfalls of Discipline Culture

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

Book Details
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publish Date: Jan. 31, 2023
Page Count: 304
ISBN: 9781250866974
Genre:  Mystery
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Founded by Principal Kenneth Moore, Urban Promise Prep School commits to turning boys into men that are ready to succeed in college and in life through the use of strict discipline and accountability. What starts as an ordinary day in the miserable school, Principal Moore is later found shot and murdered in his office. Attention turns to students J.B., Trey, and Ramón targeting them as the main suspects as each of them had a motive and some evidence against them. All three deal with racism and judgment from their community while maintaining their innocence and trying to find the true killer.


A book you will truly refuse to put down, Promise Boys, tells a story about justice and combating racism while achieving the aspects to be a perfect mystery novel. A story told from multiple character perspectives slowly reveals more and more information leaving you to wonder what will be next. Each perspective is so vital to this piece because you learn more about each character’s background and identity while seeing that they are just children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Readers will examine police brutality, stereotypes, and social class while the mystery unravels.

Nick Brooks’s writing shows how powerful racial bias can cloud one’s judgment and how the criminal justice system fails people of color. Assumptions made by their community as well as the lack of interest from police when hearing about their innocence led J.B., Trey, and Ramón to take the investigation into their own hands. Three separate character stories and perspectives come together to solve the mystery of who murdered Principal Moore. Built up anticipation leads to an ending you will not see coming.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

  • Race and racism
    • The student population is mostly students of color, and Principal Moore’s strict rules and discipline were originally made to help them learn how to succeed in a society that will discriminate against them. Also, when being interrogated by the police, they rely on racial stereotypes and are harsh with their behavior.
  • Power and corruption
    • Urban Promise Prep was a great school when it was first started, but leadership in the school system becomes corrupt and people act inconsistent with their original stated moral values.
  • Family and relationships
    • By telling the story from multiple perspectives, you get to know the characters well. This includes their family and friends. All of the boys receive support from their family during this time, and as they work together to solve the mystery, friendship begins to form as well.
  • Criminal justice
    • All three boys maintain their innocence and want to find the true killer while their community turns their back on them and assumes their guilt. By solving the mystery, justice is received to convict the actual killer and clear their names.

Essential Questions:

  • How does gossip play a role in judgment? 
  • How does gaining power impact character?
  • How does race play a role in the criminal justice system?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Research into the history and demographics of the criminal justice system, especially focus on the racial differences.
  • Discussion of privilege for certain groups of people in investigations and convictions (differences between the three main suspects vs. others).
  • Watch the documentary, 13th, on Netflix to develop an understanding of racism in the criminal justice system.

Formative and Summative Assessments:

  • Formative: Students can keep a journal to log entries after each assigned reading section to keep track of their thoughts and understandings. Some examples could be who they think the murderer is and why, any racial issues (i.e. biases, stereotypes, etc.), and something they find buzzworthy as well as an explanation why.
  • Summative: Students can create a “wanted” poster for a suspect in the book (can be one of the main three suspects or anyone). They can create a drawing based on Brooks’s descriptions, write what they are wanted for, and list the evidence against them provided throughout the book. This assesses accuracy of what was written while allowing room for creativity.

Reviewed by: Reagan Johnson, Student studying at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Mexican Mythology inspired Fantasy Explores Identity, Self-Acceptance, and Society

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

Book Details
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publish Date: Sep. 6, 20224
Page Count: 401
ISBN: 9781250822130
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: At the dawn of each new decade, the power of the sun god Sol must be replenished so he can continue to keep the chaotic and destructive Obsidian gods sealed away. Ten semidioses, chosen by Sol, are selected to compete in the Sunbearer Trials. The winner becomes the sun god’s champion, the Sunbearer, and the loser is sacrificed to Sol to fuel the Sun Stones, protecting the land of Reino del Sol for the next ten years. When Jade semidiose and trans son of Quetzal Teo is unexpectedly chosen for the trials, he is thrust into an unfamiliar and dangerous world of fierce competition, glitz and glamor, and a one in ten chance of death.


The Sunbearer Trials is a brilliantly crafted mythology inspired fantasy that uses its well realized fantasy setting to explore themes of identity and societal divisions. As a Jade semidiose, Teo is constantly underestimated by his Gold competitors, who unlike him are revered as heroes and have trained their whole lives for the trials. But as the novel goes on, it becomes clear that the Golds may not be the perfect heroes they’re built up to be, and Teo starts to prove both to himself and to the other competitors that he can be a hero. Teo’s story of self-improvement of self-acceptance is one that any young adult would be able to learn valuable lessons from.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Essential Questions:

  • How is our identity shaped by the world around us?
  • How do the expectations and perceptions of others impact who someone is?
  • How can societal divisions cause harm? 
  • How can we work toward a more equitable society?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Discussion and analysis of the society and hierarchies of the novel and the relationship between Golds, Jades, and mortals
  • Discussion on how identity and societal divisions impact how someone interacts with others and the world

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: As students read the novel, they will discuss the societal structure of the novel and how it impacts the characters as well as how characters are stereotyped based on their identities and how those stereotypes are challenged and reinforced by the narrative.

Summative: After reading the novel, the class will revisit their discussions and write a final paper that analyzes how Teo has changed and challenged the expectations of a Jade and how the societal rules and divisions were challenged and questioned by the novel’s ending. Paper topics will be largely up to the students, with them being able to choose to write about different aspects of the novel’s world and how those aspects were challenged by its ending.

Reviewed by: Ben Schachterle, Journalism Student minoring in Creative Writing at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Know Before You Go: ALAN Workshop and Events

Know Before You Go: ALAN Workshop and Events

Dear ALAN Members,

I am so excited for you to attend the 2023 ALAN Workshop!  

The workshop is the highlight of ALAN each year. It is where you will meet with colleagues from across the country, receive copies of some of the best and newest YA and middle grade books, and get to hear from a host of authors. The theme for the 2023 workshop is “Audacious Dreams: Celebrating Imagination, Courage, and Freedom in YAL.”

Below is more information about the workshop and our events during NCTE.

Workshop Times and Registration

The ALAN Workshop is held in conjunction with NCTE’s annual convention and registration can be accessed through the NCTE registration portal. The workshop will take place in the convention center on Monday, November 21 (8am-5pm) and Tuesday, November 22nd (8am-1:30pm). 

Being an NCTE member gives you a discount to the ALAN workshop ($250 early registration rate). If you are a member of ALAN and not NCTE, you can also receive discount pricing for registration ($250 early registration rate). Please contact ALAN Executive Director, Mark Letcher ( for the ALAN member discount code. 

ALAN Workshop Buddies

The ALAN Mentorship Committee would like to offer attendees who are new to ALAN and/or an in-person workshop an opportunity to connect with members who have attended previous workshops. These pairings will provide newer attendees with a go-to person for questions they have prior to and during the workshop and an opportunity to build community and connections among ALAN members. If you are a newer attendee who would like to be connected with a more experienced conference attendee or you’ve been to ALAN a time or two (or more!) and would like to support a newcomer, fill out this Google Form by Mon. November 13th. 

ALAN Booth during NCTE

Be sure to check out the ALAN Booth at NCTE to learn more about us! There will be fun ALAN swag, author signings, chances to win books, and more!  

Schedule of Events

Friday, November 17, 2:00-3:15pm–Connecting Around Young Adult Lit (YAL): Current Conversations About YAL in the Classroom

This ALAN-Sponsored session at NCTE will feature roundtable conversations related to the teaching of young adult literature (YAL) in middle grades and secondary classrooms and current conversations in the field of YAL. Roundtable topics may include (but are not limited to) navigating censorship, pairing YAL titles with canonical texts, securing funding to purchase YAL novels, creating place-based units, and workshopping popular YAL texts.

Saturday, November 18, 7:00-9:15am–ALAN Breakfast featuring Tiffany D. Jackson

The ALAN Breakfast will be held the morning of Saturday, November 19th from 7:00-9:15am. This year’s breakfast speaker is the one and only Tiffany D. Jackson! The ALAN breakfast is an exciting event to attend, for we celebrate and recognize the amazing work our ALAN members and authors do to promote adolescent literature in the classroom. You will need to purchase a separate ticket for the ALAN Breakfast, which you can do through the NCTE registration system.

Saturday, November 18, 5:45-7:00pm–ALAN Master Class: Craft and Creativity

Join us Saturday evening for the ALAN Master Class. This session will feature authors Ruta Sepetys, David Bowles, and Guadalupe García McCall in discussion on craft, creativity, and finding an authentic voice, followed by interactive roundtables with authors and participants exploring ways to develop students’ craft.

Sunday, November 19, 5:00-6:30–ALAN Author Reception 

A highlight of the workshop each year is the ALAN Author Reception. Join us at the reception where you will meet authors, hear book talks from the authors themselves, receive signed bookplates, and chat with other ALAN members. The reception will be held on the evening of Sunday, November 20th, from 5:00-6:30. Everyone registered for the ALAN workshop is invited to attend.  

Monday and Tuesday, November 20-21–ALAN Workshop 

The ALAN Workshop will be held Monday, November 21, from 8:00am-5:00pm and Tuesday, November 22, from 8:00am-2:00pm. Wondering about the ALAN Workshop experience? Prepare to be surrounded by books, authors, and amazing ALAN members who love adolescent literature. 


When you arrive early Monday morning, you will check in and receive a big box of some of the newest and very best young adult and middle grade books. These books are generously provided by each of the publishers and are included for each person who registers for the workshop. There will be ALAN members there to assist you in getting your box to your seat if you would like. Some attendees prefer to pack their suitcases to fly their books home. However, as you will receive at least 20-25 books, this gets pretty heavy. For those who would prefer to ship their book boxes home, there will be a nearby shipping station available. Shipping usually costs around $50+ for the box of books, but can be higher depending on destination. (USPS cannot set up a shipping station but if you want to try and find a post office by the convention center to ship book rate, you are welcome to do that). For those who will be driving, the Convention Center has accessible parking within the building at the Goodale Garage.


Much of the two days is filled with opportunities to listen to incredible authors speak!  There will be author panels of three authors, conversations with two authors, and some inspiring keynotes. You’ll sit back, relax, and soak in all of the awesome-ness of being in the space with your colleagues and the authors you love.

Breakout Sessions

We will have one hour devoted to breakout sessions on Monday. Each of the sessions will be on the program, and you will get to choose which session you would like to attend. Each session will feature classroom teacher(s), librarian(s), and/or professor(s) who have prepared interactive presentations with innovative ideas you will be able to bring back to your schools and students. 


This year, in order to reduce the stress and time-constraints of trying to leave the area to find lunch and make it back in time to hear the next authors speak, we will be providing boxed lunches, the cost of which is included in your registration fee. There will be themed rooms and spaces available for you to sit, chat, and eat with your colleagues and, hopefully, some new ALAN friends.  

Traditionally Marginalized Community Luncheon

We are excited to again host an ALAN affinity space for those who identify as traditionally marginalized. This will be a social hour with an opportunity to build community and connect with new and familiar faces. Please look for more details to come!

I can’t wait to see you all in Columbus this November! 


Jewel Davis

2023 ALAN President

Press Release: ALAN Award 2023

Press Release: ALAN Award 2023

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) is pleased to announce A.S. King as the recipient of the 2023 ALAN Award. The award is given to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature. Join us at the ALAN Breakfast to celebrate A.S. King’s achievements.

A.S. King has been called “One of the best Y.A. writers working today” by the New York Times Book Review. King is the author of numerous highly-acclaimed novels including 2021’s Switch, called a “surrealist masterpiece” by Kirkus Reviews, the 2020 Michael L. Printz Award winner and LA Times Book Prize finalist Dig, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Ask the Passengers, and the 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, among other novels and short stories in various collections. She also writes highly acclaimed Middle Grade fiction as Amy Sarig King—titles include Me and Marvin Gardens, The Year We Fell From Space, and 2022’s Attack of the Black Rectangles—as well as poetry and short stories. In 2022, she received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature, helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.

She is a faculty member of the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and spends many months of the year traveling the world speaking to high school and university students, educators, and humans who care about young people. King is a fierce advocate for youth agency and mental health supports, and she is an inspiration for both teens and adults around the world.

King will provide remarks at the upcoming ALAN Breakfast to be held on November 18 during the NCTE Annual Convention. The 2023 ALAN Award Committee members are Chair Shalonda Foster, Robert Bittner, naitnaphit limlamai, and Lisa Morris-Wilkey.

Current Calls — Mark Your Calendars!

Current Calls — Mark Your Calendars!

We are advertising for New Editors of The ALAN Review. The deadline is October 1. If you know of people who may be interested, please forward the call. 

In addition, don’t forget to apply for the following grants: