ALAN Picks (August 2022)

ALAN Picks: Call for Reviewers

Attention College Educators & Instructors

You can support ALAN Picks by sharing this Call for Reviewers with your current and future Education students. As a new semester approaches, please consider sharing this column and submission instructions with your students and encourage them to submit to ALAN Picks. It’s a great way for future educators to gain exposure to Young Adult and Middle Grade books as well as work on ideas of how they could use those books in the classroom. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at richetta.tooley@gmail.com

Become a Reviewer

Have you thought about becoming a book reviewer for ALAN Picks? Now is the time to take that step! Have you read a really great book this summer? If it is a newly released or soon-to-be released middle grade or young adult novel or nonfiction book that you think would work in the classroom, contact ALAN Picks to submit your review! 

We are always looking for book reviews to feature in the monthly ALAN Picks column. If there is a title you are interested in reviewing, just send an email to richetta.tooley@gmail.com. You can submit reviews as often as you like. You can even partner with another educator and write a review together! It’s up to you!

Need ideas on what books to read and review? Here are a few: 

How to Submit A Review

It’s pretty straightforward. 

  1. Check out the format for past reviews written in 2022.  ALAN Picks Submission Guidelines 
  2. Let Richetta know what title you are interested in reviewing. 
  3. Write your review.
  4. Email it to ALAN Picks Editor, Richetta Tooley at richetta.tooley@gmail.com. Rolling deadline: Submit by the 15th of the month for inclusion in the next month’s issue.

ALAN Picks (July 2022)

ALAN Picks: Midyear Highlights and Call for Reviewers

2022 Book Review Highlights

This month ALAN Picks is highlighting the books reviewed so far in 2022 by ALAN members. As you take time to rejuvenate yourself this summer, check out these unique reviews written by your fellow educators that include lesson and assessment ideas. They might be a nice fit in your own classroom with your students. Click on the link embedded in the month to read the reviews. 

Become a Reviewer

Have you thought about becoming a reviewer for ALAN Picks? Now is the time to take that step! If your summer reading TBR (To Be Read) list has a newly released or soon-to-be released middle grades or young adult novel or nonfiction book on it that you think would work in the classroom, contact ALAN Picks to submit your review! 

We are always looking for book reviews to feature in the monthly ALAN Picks column. If there is a title you are interested in reviewing, just send an email to richetta.tooley@gmail.com. You can submit reviews once a year or once a month. You can even partner with another educator and write a review together! It’s up to you!

Need ideas on what books to read and review? Here are a few: 

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

–  Richetta Tooley, ALAN Picks Editor

Submit a Review: Would you like to submit a review? Check out ALAN Picks for submission guidelines and email ALAN Picks Editor, Richetta Tooley at richetta.tooley@gmail.com with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Rolling deadline: Submit by the 15th of the month for inclusion in the next month’s issue.


June 2022

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon. 
Reviewed by: Chaslyn Waldrop, Student Teacher studying at University of Tennessee Knoxville

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Reviewed by: Marissa Inman, senior at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Secondary Education graduate candidate, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer
Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida.


May 2022

Don’t Call Me a Hurricane by Ellen Hagan
Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida.


April 2022

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida. 

Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators by Sneed B. Collard III
Reviewed by: Rick (Richard A) Williams, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH


March 2022

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


February 2022

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Reviewed by: Heather Garcia, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Secondary ELA and Media, Charlotte County, Florida.

 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 
Reviewed by: Daniel (Danny) Samelson, Student Teacher studying at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

 

ALAN Picks (June 2022) w/ Exclusive Author Interview!

ALAN Picks: Fact and Fiction w/ Exclusive Author Interview!

This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of both nonfiction and fiction young adult books. Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon is a history exploring the legacy of the social justice group. Debut novel Legendborn by Tracy Deonn adds a new twist to the Arthurian Legends with Black protagonist Bree Matthews. Brigid Kemmerer brings back an old character to establish a new series in Forging Silver into Stars. Check out the exclusive interview with Kemmerer included in the review!

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

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


Social Justice Education: Including the Story of The Black Panther’s Promise

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Book Details
Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date: Nov. 8, 2021
Page Count: 400
ISBN: 9781536214185
Genre: Nonfiction


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Synopsis: Likening the lifespan of revolutionary efforts to that of a fire, Kekla Magoon details the response offered by the Black Panther Party to the racial injustices faced by Black Americans. Beginning with the spark then acknowledging the kindling, the book describes the formal uprising of the party and the contextual relevance of history. The book continues with an expansive history of the social, legal, and political impacts that the Panthers had by detailing specific events that took place before the party’s dissolution in 1982. The book concludes with the Black Panther Party’s legacy and the connections to modern day movements towards racial justice. 

Review

Magoon discusses the reality of Black American life given the historical context of racial injustices and responses to such. This book is a comprehensive and easily digestible history of the Black Panther Party’s origins, values, and influences upon current day. The book also includes student-friendly accompanying materials like a timeline of progress and backlash; a listed description of key people; a glossary of terms and abbreviations; and additional reading. Incorporating Magoon’s book into the classroom can allow for students to observe different cultural representations through factual historical events and social activism while also becoming more familiar with reading nonfiction texts that are effectively adapted for an adolescent audience.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Jigsaw Activity

  • Student-student interaction
  • Peer support
  • Time efficiency
  • Guided discussion

A jigsaw reading activity may be a helpful way to assist students in reading, digesting, and critically thinking about a nonfiction text such as this one. I recommend that teachers begin teaching this book by first introducing it and reading the first chapter altogether. Then, students can be placed into five groups where each group will be assigned four chapters which they are required to read and report about to the whole class. Students can be given teacher-created questions and points of emphasis to guide their reading before creating their own summary and analysis of the chapters for which they are responsible.

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative:  Have students submit answers to a set of reading questions which correspond with their assigned chapters. Questions can ask for information regarding factual event details as well as personal connections to the text.

Summative: In their reading groups, students will create a presentation in which they will summarize the content of their assigned reading and make a critical connection between the reading and 1-3 key terms of racial literacy such as anti-Blackness, equality, implicit bias, microaggression, systemic racism, etc. Additional terms can be found here

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Higher order thinking
  • Social, legal, and political awareness
  • Historical literacy

Reviewed by: Chaslyn Waldrop, Student Teacher studying at University of Tennessee Knoxville


An Arthurian retelling that is a fusion of modern, mystery and fantasy

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Book Details
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publish Date: September 15, 2020/ February 2022 (paperback)
Page Count: 544 pages
ISBN: 978153444613
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy


Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Bree Matthews is a 16-year-old teen whose life turns upside down and inside out after her mother dies in an accident. She wants nothing to do with her old life, family, or childhood home; she escapes at UNC-Chapel Hill. On the first night, Bree witnesses something unexplainable, something impossible: the magical attack of a flying demon who is defeated by a mysterious man who attempts to wipe her memory of the whole ordeal. But Bree Matthews does not forget. She spirals into a world of magic where all the stories are true. She goes to UNC-Chapel Hill to escape her past, but she only falls deeper into it as she uncovers the truth about her mother’s life and death. 

Review

This novel is a gripping mystery that will leave all readers on their toes. Legendborn takes themes of romance, mystery, grief, and self-discovery to a new level. Tracy Deonn does an excellent job of representing people of color and the LGBTQIA+, which is a strong point of the novel. The action-packed scenes make the book fly by. There are short, fast paced sentences that reflect the spellbinding scenes that are skillfully crafted. Deonn also refreshingly retells Arthurian legends. She leans into racial issues faced by Black people daily. The novel also explores other vulnerable themes like grief and self-discovery in a comprehensive and relatable way. The book is reminiscent of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series but in a more inclusive and socially aware execution. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

This story is loaded with themes that are explored with finesse that makes even the most difficult themes a breeze to discuss. Some themes that Deonn explores throughout the novel include: 

  • The Social Hierarchy 
  • Self-Discovery
  • Microaggressions
  • Female Empowerment
  • Familial Identity
  • Power & Corruption
  • The Power of Grief

Essential Questions

  • How might we go about self-discovery?
  • How does the past impact the future?
  • Who benefits in the social hierarchy?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • An overview of Arthurian legends, with pre-reading questions for students to consider. 
  • Discussion and research into Black history and microaggressions. This might include what microaggressions look like with examples.
  • A close reading of paired texts (poems, short texts, nonfiction) that relate to Black culture, self-discovery, and/or identity.

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students keep a reading journal and reflect on each passage that they read. Students’ journals will be guided by teacher-led discussion questions that engage student reading. Journals should include important quotes or memorable moments that students can use to fuel their discussion and in-class assignments. These journals should closely follow a character so they can analyze their actions as they develop throughout the novel.

Summative: Students can create an “inside scoop” newspaper or Twitter trending page on the uncovered secrets at the college. The newspaper could be divided into groups; each group oversees a different section. Each section covers a major plot point in the novel. They interview characters by using textual evidence to support how they might respond. They can use reading journals that they kept throughout their reading to supplement their group sections.

Reviewed by: Marissa Inman, senior at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Secondary Education graduate candidate, Knoxville, Tennessee.


Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer

Book Details
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Page Count: 560 pages
ISBN:  978-1-5476-0912-3
Genre: Fantasy/ Suspense/ Romance/ LGBTQ+/ YA Lit

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Synopsis: Forging Silver into Stars spotlights Tycho, a character from Brigid Kemmerer’s beloved Cursebreaker series, and launches him into his own series where he is a lead character acting as a private messenger between the two kingdoms of Emberfall and Shyll Shallow. It is important to note that this book is an entry point for a whole new series that readers can immerse themselves in with or without having read the Cursebreaker series. In this new series, readers follow Tycho as he learns to navigate trust, magic, friendship, and love. We are also introduced to a whole new cast of characters including Callyn, a young woman who owns a bakery and finds herself locked in a treasonous plot against the royal family, and her friend Jax who runs his father’s forge despite his father’s abuse. 

Review

This tightly woven, multi-layered narrative leaves readers anxiously turning pages, creating a captivating read that is as much a relatable experience as it is a romp with escapism. Readers will fall in love with Brigid’s new lead characters while remembering all the best parts of Tycho from the Cursebreaker series. Readers will be reminded time and again why they enjoyed his character so much to begin with. 

While beloved Cursebreaker characters like Grey, Rhen, and Harper fill these pages and help shape the narrative, they do not get their own chapters and voices as they did in the previous series. The alternative chapter viewpoints all belong to Tycho, Callyn, and Jax, as if this new series is being dedicated to the younger generation of brave voices.

In typical Brigid fashion, the sentence-level analysis that can be done on this book is beyond comparison. Brigid has a way of crafting sentences and building tensions that deserve re-reading and close study. The important life topics that she is able to address in this book, including burgeoning love, consent, equality, and reference to sexual abuse and miscarriage are all handled in a tactful way that leaves readers feeling seen within the pages of the story. This book truly is a mirror where readers can see themselves and a window where readers can look out into the world beyond themselves and develop empathy.  

While this isn’t a book that should be read out loud to a class of students in its entirety (there are some passionate scenes that would be awkward to read aloud), this book is catered to a high school audience and is recommended by the publisher for ages 14+, which makes it the perfect book to allow students to read for independent study or small group study if student-selected. The tensions created between characters and within themselves make this story a rich, endearing read as characters learn so much about themselves and each other. Readers will find themselves wishing they were in Briarlock with these characters and eagerly anticipating the next book in the series. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections & Analysis

The themes discussed in this book include those that readers, both young and old, will relate to. While this is not an exhaustive list of thematic topics addressed in this text, it offers teachers a starting point for analysis and discussion.

Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • Learning how to trust others
  • Trusting your instincts
  • The power of friendship
  • The price of desperation
  • Class struggle and power dynamics
  • Leaving room for consent and choice 
  • The powerful draw of love 
  • Tragedy and loss

Essential Questions

  • How do we know who we can trust?
  • How far will we go to protect ourselves and those we love?
  • How can we overcome the trauma of our pasts and build new futures?

Student Engagement Activities:

First Chapter Friday: This book would lend itself nicely to having the first chapter read aloud for First Chapter Friday. The goal of First Chapter Friday is to read the first chapter of a new book to students and then, if students are captivated, they pick up the book on their own to continue reading. Students will be captivated. The first chapter of this book is full of action and heart, which makes it the perfect candidate for this classroom or library experience. 

Tracking Tensions: While this book would not be ideal for reading out loud in its entirety because of the more passionate romantic scenes, it would be ideal for students to read as an independent choice novel, which means we can still tie academic content to the reading experience. If students are reading this as a choice novel for class, a great exercise is to have students track the tension both between characters and inside characters. 

A way to do this is with a simple chart, like the one below, that students update as they read. Students should keep track of what the tensions are, what we learn about the characters from these tensions, and when they resolve (if ever), and what that reveals. An example from chapter one has been completed. 

Which character are we focusing on?Who does this character have tension with? (Themselves or others)What is the tension? Provide examples.What do we learn about the character(s) from the tension?Do the tensions resolve and what does that reveal?
CallynThe massive “peaceful” crowd gathered for the protest/riot in chapter one. Callyn doesn’t want to be at this large protest, but she went because her father told them to and also to protect her younger sister.We learn that Callyn is more interested in protecting her sister than she is in the protest against the king and his magic.This tension does not resolve in the first chapter, indicating she will carry this tension with her into future chapters.

An Interview with Brigid Kemmerer 

1. When you are writing, how do you balance the tension between some characters and the easy camaraderie those same characters have with others? 

When I’m writing, I always strive to make my characters as well-rounded as possible, and this often means giving them goals and motivations that are sometimes in conflict. Sometimes the best character development comes when someone’s internal need (for example, Tycho’s desire to spend more time with Jax) is in complete opposition to their external goal (Tycho’s duty to serve the king and discover who is plotting against him). When you add other characters to the mix, they are each going to have their own goals and motivations in play, which are also going to point in varying directions, so when characters interact, I’m always thinking about their own personal desires as I write their dialogue. For aspiring authors, I remind writers to make sure that side characters don’t just serve to forward the plot for the main protagonist. Readers should be able to imagine the side character on a journey of their own, even if we don’t see their entire story in the book. Once you imagine everyone having their own story, it becomes easy to bounce characters off each other, just like in real life. Everyone we meet throughout the day is balancing different emotions, just like we are, right?

2. Which character-pairing did you have the most fun writing in this book?

Oh my goodness, what a hard question! All of them! I love characters. I loved exploring Tycho’s gradual maturity as he began to realize that Grey – who’d always been a bit of an older brother figure – wasn’t perfect. I loved that Callyn was so independent, yet so desperate to find someone who would respect and appreciate her – to the point where she might have made a mistake in trusting the wrong man. I loved writing about Tycho and Jax and the way they navigated their own past traumas. I just loved all of them!

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

ALAN Picks (May 2022)

ALAN Picks: Poetry & Environmentalism

This month’s ALAN Picks features a review of a July 2022 arc (advanced release copy) of the novel in verse Don’t Call Me a Hurricane by Ellen Hagan. A story that features climate activism, romance and the importance of home.

If you are looking for new books for your classroom and engaging ways to use them with students, then check out the new ALAN Picks! Book reviews by educators for educators! 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 richetta.tooley@gmail.com with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Next deadline: May 15


A Verse Novel About Environmentalism & Love

Don’t Call Me a Hurricane by Ellen Hagan

Book Details
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Publish Date: July 19, 2022
Page Count: 400
ISBN: 978-1-5476-0916-1
Genre: Realistic Fiction/ Environmental Activism/ Romance/ YA Lit
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Synopsis: This story is set on the New Jersey shore which is recovering after a major hurricane ruined countless houses and lives. Eliza and her family are rebuilding, but still feeling the trauma of the hurricane even five years later. When other families couldn’t rebuild, land developers swooped in and bought up the vacant properties, tore down the hurricane-wrecked homes, and built mansions, reshaping the island from what it once was. Eliza and her friends work together to protect what is left of their home while also trying to enjoy their summer before senior year. Eliza, leading the environmental movement, never expects the flood of emotions that threaten to devour her when she meets Milo, who is new to town and represents so much of what she despises about the world outside her beloved island. 

Review

This novel written in verse is a love song for the peninsula of New Jersey and also an anthem for all young people who have wanted to make a change but have felt stifled in their efforts. It is a celebration of the power of community and activism despite hardship, and it is also a celebration of love, friendship, and forgiveness. Each poem within this novel brings us closer to Eliza and her family and reveals multi-layered characters who are relatable and realistic. All readers may not live on the New Jersey shoreline with Eliza, but they will be rooting for her and her friends throughout the story.   The poems are lyrical and rich with imagery and characterization. 

Young adult readers will enjoy the exploration and complexities of friendship and family that are built within the pages, just as educators will appreciate the opportunity to explore poetry in an approachable way that will open doors to so many research opportunities connected to climate change, environmental activism, and the depletion of natural resources. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

This novel in verse explores themes that are relatable to both students and educators, making this text not only enjoyable, but decidedly teachable. 

Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • The need for environmental activism
  • The loyalty of family
  • Beauty found in nature 
  • The value of trust
  • Recovery from trauma
  • The power of forgiveness
  • The value found in friendships 
  • The power of community
  • Power and corruption

Essential Questions

  • What are we willing to risk to protect who and what we love most?
  • How does our sense of self develop from where we live and where we grow up?
  • What happens when we feel powerless and incapable of making change? How do/should we respond?

Student Engagement Activities: Favorite Poems

Before reading, give each student 10 post-it notes with the following task: 

“As you read, place a post-it note marking your ten favorite poems. These might shift as you continue reading, but you cannot mark more than 10 favorites. After we finish reading, you will be asked to explain WHY you chose those particular poems as your favorites.”

This activity forces students to stay engaged in the reading of the novel beyond just focusing on characters and plot. It asks students to consider the craft of the writing and to make judgment calls. 

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Once students finish reading the book, they should have determined which of the 10 poems they marked as their favorites. 

Now, ask students to revisit each of those 10 poems and list five reasons they chose it on each post-it note. Ask them to be specific, so rather than writing, “I like this poem because it is pretty,” encourage students to write, “The imagery in this poem allows me to value the setting as much as Eliza does.” 

Then, once students have listed their 5 reasons on each of their post-it notes, have them decide which three poems are their TOP favorites out of the 10. Then ask students, for each of those three poems, to pull out specific lines that they feel capture the essence of that poem. 

Distribute a chart that looks like this and have students fill it in:

Copy the lines and the page number from the book:What is it about these lines that stand out to you the most?How do these lines relate to a character in the story? Be specific.How do these lines relate to the overall meaning of the novel, or a theme, within the story?






Once students complete the chart, they should share out with a partner or even with the class. This chart could then be used as the jumping-off point for an essay.

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

ALAN Picks (April 2022)

ALAN Picks: Some Science and Some Fiction

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

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

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


A Fantasy that Addresses Class and Survival

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

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


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

Review

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

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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

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

Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

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

Essential Questions

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

Student Engagement Activities: Favorite Sentences

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

Then, after reading the whole book, students should:

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

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

An Interview with Brigid Kemmerer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Formative/Summative Assessments

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

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

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

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


A Nonfiction Book About Maintaining Balance in Nature

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

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


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

Review

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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

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

Essential Questions:

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

Assessment Possibilities:

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

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

ALAN Picks (March 2022)

ALAN Picks: A Rescue Adventure for Middle Grades

Have you had a chance to check out the new review style of ALAN Picks! We kicked off in February with two amazing book reviews on the young adult novels, The Last Telegraph by Malinda Lo and I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys. This month we have a book review on the historical middle grades novel, Pony by R.J. Palacio. 

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

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


A Rescue Adventure That Involves the Supernatural in pre-Civil War America
Pony by R.J. Palacio

Book Details
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC 
Publish Date: September 28, 2022
Page Count: 289 
ISBN: 9780553508116
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Middle Grades/ Mystery/ Ghost Story


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Synopsis: Silas Bird is a 12-year-old boy living in the mid-1850s with his father, a bootmaker and photography enthusiast. When three men arrive on horseback in the middle of the night demanding to take Pa and Silas away to an unknown location, Pa insists Silas be left behind. When the pony the men had brought with them to carry Silas broke away and ran back to Silas, Silas took this as a sign that he needed to go help his father. He and his best friend Mittenwool, his ghostly companion since birth, set out on a dangerous and terrifying adventure together to rescue Pa from what Silas knows deep in his soul is imminent danger. 

Review

Told with a voice that is both sobering and empowering, this multi-layer narrative is equal parts mystery and adventure. It will engage readers from upper-elementary school to middle school. Silas’s adventure to rescue the only person in his life who he loves is a quest of desperation that pushes Silas beyond his own comfort zone, ultimately allowing him to learn about the world around him and grow up in a way that readers both understand and empathize with. With twists and revelations occurring frequently, young readers will remain engaged and curious throughout the entire book. This book, while it is heart-wrenching and told with incredible detail, also enables readers to immerse themselves into a world that seems too rich to be believable, and yet, is absolutely convincing in its execution.  

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

This story is rife with thematic explorations and, despite being for younger readers, addresses weighty themes with gentleness and compassion. Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • A mother’s love
  • Companionship/the value of friendship
  • What it means to trust (both ourselves and others)
  • How fate and destiny shape us
  • The noble gift of sacrifice 
  • The consequences of greed
  • Coming of age 
  • Revenge and forgiveness 

Essential Questions

  • How far would someone go for love?
  • How do our decisions affect our futures?
  • How do people react when facing loss? 

Student Engagement Activities: Author’s Craft and Historical Exploration

This book is written so incredibly well that it lends itself to sentence-level study. As a teacher reads this book with students, he or she should stop periodically to point out sentences that are:

  • particularly poignant
  • lend themselves to thematic analysis
  • Or employ figurative language

Once the teacher points out the sentence, students can work together to decide WHY the teacher chose this sentence to isolate and study. If they are given the three choices above, this will have them talking about sentences in ways they may not be accustomed to as they deeply analyze author’s craft. Once students decide why their teacher may have chosen this particular sentence, the teacher can then explain his or her rationale for choosing it and explain what they found as they analyzed the sentence. As an extension of this, in the last chapter, students might choose their own sentences for analysis, present them to the class, have the class decide why the student chose it, and then the student can present his or her own analysis. 

This book would also be a great text to launch a historical exploration of the time period in American history before the Civil War. It touches briefly on the topics such as Native American relocation, scientific discoveries during this time period, and the effects of The Civil War on our nation’s landscape, and all of these would create interesting background research for students. Students could choose a detail from the text to further explore, and then create a slideshow for their peers explaining:

  • what they learned about that topic in the time period
  • how that topic connects to the book
  • how that topic might still be affecting us today. 

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students should choose three themes to track throughout the entire novel. They could highlight evidence of the themes in three different colors as they read through the text. Then, when they reach the end of the novel, they can choose which theme was the most important of the three when looking at the outcome of the book.  

Summative: Students could choose one of the Essential Questions from the book and one of the themes explored in the book. Then, they could write an essay, or create a presentation, where they explain how the theme helps to answer the essential question and how that question extends beyond the book and into the real world. 

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

New ALAN Picks Launches

New ALAN Picks Launches

This month marks the launch of the new review style of ALAN Picks! We’re kicking off with two amazing books –  one that is about to hit the shelves and one that recently won the National Book award – by three amazing educators. Both books are also historical fiction this month. If you are looking for Young Adult/Middle Grade book suggestions and engaging ways to use those books with students, then check out these book reviews by educators for educators! – Richetta Tooley

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 richetta.tooley@gmail.com with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Next deadline: Feb. 15


A Teen Seeks Truth, Trust and Freedom in 1989 Romania

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

Book Details
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publish Date: Feb. 1, 2022
Page Count: 336 pages
ISBN: 97819848363038
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Young Adult/ Thriller/ Coming of Age


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Synopsis:
Set in communist Romania in 1989, 17-year-old Christian just wants friends, a girlfriend, and to be a free thinker like his grandfather. But informants lurk in the streets, in his school, and everywhere else, threatening not just his freedom, but potentially his life. When he can no longer trust his best friend Luca and begins informing on an American ambassador’s family, the lines of friendship and duty get blurred leaving Christian with few places to turn and few people to trust.  

Review

Told in compact, gripping chapters with stunning syntax and relatable characters, this historical young adult novel is one that will keep readers, both young and old, on the edge of their seats. With endless twists and mounting distrust in both the communist system and the characters in the story, readers engage in a journey with Christian as he learns the truth about his country, his community, and ultimately, himself. Thematic topics such as rebellion, friendship, loyalty, and hope interweave throughout the narrative, making it both compulsively readable and relatable for both high school and upper middle grade students. Readers will find themselves immersed within the pages of this story and consider how they might have responded in similar scenarios. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis
Educators will want to consider using this text not only as a pathway into thematic analysis but also as a way to help students understand complex figurative language and rich characterization. Some thematic topics portrayed in this novel include:

  • Abuse of Power
  • Rebellion
  • Friendship
  • Coming of Age
  • Loyalty
  • Sacrifice
  • Individuality
  • Oppression
  • Empowerment
  • The Power of Words/Thought
  • Hope

Student Engagement Strategy: Sentence Stunners
This book is rife with rhetorical and literary devices that will captivate students with their beauty and richness. Teachers could challenge students to find one example of a stunning sentence in each chapter (there are plenty to choose from). They could write the sentences on index cards and display them on a wall inside or outside the classroom as they read. This will both serve as a reminder of craft and keep students engaged during the reading process. They will also enjoy seeing which sentences their peers chose compared to their own. The teacher could pull random sentences from the wall as bell ringers and spend a few minutes analyzing the craft as a model for students, or have students volunteer to explain why the sentence “works”.

Formative/Summative Assessment Suggestions 
Formative: Teachers can check for student understanding by having students keep a dialectical journal as they read. In a dialectical journal, students find powerful/significant sentences in the text and copy them onto the left-hand side of a page. On the right-hand side, they explain why that sentence is particularly powerful or significant. By reading through these journal entries, the teacher will be able to determine if the student is fully grasping the most important components of the novel. 
Summative: Once students finish the novel, they can participate in a class discussion. It works best to have students begin by discussing the themes in the novel and how the themes progressed, but from that discussion, students will naturally blend into discussing other components of the text such as setting, characterization, plot structure, etc. 

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


Love, Identity and Self-Discovery in the McCarthy Era

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Book Details
Publisher: Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House
Publish Date: Jan. 19, 2021
ISBN: 9780525555254
Page Count: 408 pages 
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Coming of Age


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Synopsis
What began as a burning curiosity within Lily Hu after she found an advertisement for the Telegraph Club featuring a male impersonator gradually becomes a closely guarded secret as she discovers more about her own sexuality and the world outside of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The joy her identities bring are under constant fire because of the deeply ingrained paranoia and fear of McCarthy-Era America. So, Lily is forced to reconcile her responsibilities to her parents and community with her newfound love for Kathleen Miller and her friends at the Telegraph Club, or risk losing both. 

Review

Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a story bursting with love. Malinda Lo’s writing blends realistic conflict with moments of pure joy in an honest and hopeful way that depicts all the fear and bliss of self-discovery. Lily and Kath’s journeys feel like they could take place in any time period, but the historical setting adds further depth by illustrating the intersections of Lily’s queer identity with her Chinese American identity. The effects of marginalization and oppression are compounded with each intersecting identity. It was true for Lily during the Red Scare and Lavender Scare, and it’s true now. As a queer Asian American whose extended family experienced the same grating comments about “speaking such good English” or being asked “Where are you from?”, it was both comforting and depressing to feel represented so accurately. Ultimately though, I still felt safe knowing that the story was written by an author who clearly understood and researched those experiences and the time period. Readers will see Lily go through all the awkwardness and doubt inherent to growing up and learning who she is, and feel seen themselves. Her experiences may be her own, but readers who have felt alone, unsure, or loved will be able to see parts of their lives in Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Lily, Kath, and the reader understand life isn’t without its hardships and injustices, but learning who you are brings its own satisfaction and community.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

  • McCarthyism and the Red Scare/Lavender Scare
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Race and racism
  • Family and relationships

Essential Questions:

  • What does it mean to be proud of your identity?
  • What can be done in the face of loneliness? 
  • How do our identities form?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Historical context introductions with pre-reading or anticipation guide
  • Discussion and research into LGBTQ+ history, club history, and drag history—field trip to a local one or guest speaker
  • Close reading of excerpts from Rise of the Rocket Girls (2016), Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (2005), All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Through the Ages (2018), and other books referenced by Malinda Lo
  • Discussion about author’s intent and context behind racial themes based on practices and insights from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” and Matthew Kay’s Not Light, but Fire

Formative and Summative Assessments:

  • Create an advertisement similar to what Lily would have found for a club or performer
  • Personal response journals relating to the conflicts Lily faces
  • Short or extended research into the historical context of the story, including McCarthyism, the Lavender Scare, and the LGBTQ+ community
  • Epilogue expansion writing: Where do Lily and other characters end up after the end? 
  • Alternate Universe/History writing: What would this story look like in a different time period/place?

Reviewed by: Daniel (Danny) Samelson, Student Teacher studying at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.