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:

NCTE & ALAN Member Discount for the ALAN Workshop

NCTE & ALAN Member Discount for the ALAN Workshop

Registration for the ALAN workshop is now live through NCTE’s convention website! Clicking on this link will take you to NCTE’s registration page. If you are an NCTE member, you can login and register for the ALAN workshop. Being an NCTE member gives you a discount to the ALAN workshop ($250 early registration rate). If you are not a member of NCTE, you will need to create an NCTE account choosing the non-member option in order to access the registration form. 

If you are a member of ALAN, but not NCTE, you can also register with a discount code for the $250 early registration rate. Current ALAN members will receive an email with instructions for registering as an ALAN only member. If you are a current ALAN member and have not received an email with a discount code or if you have questions, please contact our Executive Director Mark Letcher (

ALAN Picks (June & July 2023)

ALAN Picks: A Variety of Contemporary & Fantasy YA Lit

This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of young adult books both fantasy and contemporary that expose topics of LGBTQ+, religion, power, family and identity. The books include The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian set at an elite boarding school; dystopian horror novel, Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White; Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes about a girl looking to control her own narrative; a fantasy romance with dragons Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez; a daughter battling perfectionism and family expectations Twice as Perfect by Louisa Onomé; and another teaching perspective on the novel Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi. (Educators looking for more resources on Bitter can check out the March 2023 edition of ALAN Picks.)

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.

Teens Find Family Through Writing Group

The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian

Book Details
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Publish Date: February 15, 2022
Page Count: 330
ISBN: 9780063039322 
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Set in 1999 at an elite east coast boarding school full of secrets and privilege, the story is told from the perspectives of five very different teenagers from diverse backgrounds who come together after being accepted into “the circle,” an exclusive writing group at the school. Despite their differences they become an unlikely group of friends and a found family as they learn to support one another through difficult situations including bullying, coming out, past trauma, and assault. 


The Chandler Legacies does an amazing job of telling a story of a found family. It presents a variety of diverse narratives that are interesting and informative to read about. While I do have my personal critiques of the novel, I do believe the overarching theme of the book is well presented. It navigates several heavy topics in a thoughtful manner and does a great job telling the story from the perspectives of the five main characters. There is character growth and lessons learned throughout the story that I think readers can take a lot away from when reading this book.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis

  • Found family 
  • Friendship
  • Oppression
  • Privilege
  • Race/racism 
  • Sexuality 
  • Coming of age

Teaching Engagement Strategies:

  • Informative readings and discussion of anti-LGBTQ+ laws and cultures in Iran, USA, and other countries
  • Read about the #OwnVoices movement and discuss how the author’s experience as a gay Iranian-American impacts the writing of a character from the same background.
Formative/Summative Assessments
  • Do one of the assignments with the class that “the circle” does in the book
  • Personal responses on how one of the challenges the character faces made them think about something they hadn’t before and/or changed their perspective 
  • Have small group discussions about what they think happened in the gap between where the story ends and the epilogue and share with the class

Reviewed by: Anna Klasell, Purdue University Student, West Lafayette, IN

A Trans Teen Tries To Survive The Apocalypse

Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White

Book Details
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Publish Date: June 7, 2022
Page Count: 416
ISBN: 1682633241
Genre: YA/ LGBT/ Dystopian/ Apocalyptic/ Horror
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Benji is a sixteen year old trans boy who was raised amongst the fundamentalist religious cult that started the apocalypse by unleashing the flood virus that eradicated most of humanity, turning them into mutated victims. Benji attempts to flee the fundamentalists, after they turn him into a secret bio weapon to destroy the remaining survivors. He joins the ragtag group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center as they attempt to fight the fundamentalists, stay safe from the virus, and endure with their dwindling resources. They accept him with open arms as long as Benji can manage to hide the growing monster inside of him and keep the group safe at all costs.


Hell Followed with Us is the debut novel of Andrew Joseph White and though a work with this much craft and talent is a truly marvelous feat, the signs of it being his first book are present within the text. Certain scenes seem to cut against each other rather than flowing into one another and although tropes are a staple in every writer’s work they seem more pronounced in the text at times. However, despite it being a debut, this work is immensely ambitious with both plot and characters and it pulls through. Apocalyptic religious cults that are trying to destroy the world through the usage of a trans teenager is one of the most creative plots to ever come out of young adult literature. The writing is also well stylized and there are amazing descriptions of action, gore, and this creative world. The world building in this book is so phenomenal as the reader is given sprinkled bits of knowledge and history throughout the plot which makes it feel much more real and immersive. In addition to the immense gore and imagery as well as the intense homophobia and transphobia that Benji and other characters face throughout the novel, these aspects could have been too much for the novel; however it is clear that these characters are treated with love and respect through the writing and that the carnage comes from a place of deep anger about society’s treatment of people like the characters. Ultimately, this novel makes a great critique of abuse of power and unfair treatment in this fictional world as much as the real world and clearly comes from a place of great passion and heart from the author.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Themes Connections:

  • Sexuality 
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Power and corruption
  • Survival 
  • Faith
  • Body dysmorphia 
  • Loyalty

Essential Questions:

  • How does organized society perpetuate abuses of power? 
  • When should an individual put themself before a community or vice versa? 
  • How does one form an identity that remains true and authentic for themselves in the world?

Formative and Summative Assessments:


  • Have students create what they think the mutations look like and/or what they think they’d look like as a mutation. 
  • Personal response journals in relation to the themes of the novel.


  • Have each student research and do a report on a specific cult and their effect on its members and society.
    • Some possible examples: the Church of Scientology and its effects on the entertainment industry & QAnon and its effects on United States politics.

Reviewed by: Audrey Pink, student at Purdue University

Queerness, Faith, and reckoning the two for love

Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

Book Details
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: May 17th, 2022
Page Count: 385
ISBN: 978-0-06306023-4
Genre: Fiction
Find on IndieBound

Synopsis: The novel follows Yamilet, a sixteen year old first generation Mexican girl as she and her brother, Cesar, transfer from a low income school to a fancy, expensive Catholic school across town from them after Cesar is granted an academic scholarship. While Yamilet does not receive a scholarship and must pay the tuition herself, she does it to protect Cesar and herself after she is outed as a lesbian by her former friend at their previous school. At Slayton Catholic, Yamilet is determined to keep to herself and stay closeted as a fresh slate, but everything is challenged when she meets an out and proud girl named Bo. Her relationships with family, friends, and God are all at question while Yamilet determines how to best protect and love herself while doing the same for the people around her.


Lesbiana’s Guide is a novel that pairs difficult topics with relatable experiences and loving relationships that make the challenging parts of coming out more manageable. Sonora Reyes does an excellent job at telling a story of family, faith, and queer love in a way that ties them together in joy rather than sadness. The representation and discussion of deportation of a parent, adoption, queerness, microaggressions, and fraught family ties are extremely important and very well done in this novel.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

Through Yamilet and the people around her, the novel explores themes such as:

  • LGBTQ+
  • Self acceptance
  • Religion
  • Immigration
  • Suicide
  • Queer Relationships
  • Adoption
  • Familial Identity

Essential Questions

  • How does our faith change how we see ourselves and others?
  • Is self-acceptance easy?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Completing an identity wheel of both Yamilet and themselves
  • Discussing LGBTQ+ representation in the classroom

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Students would write journal entries from the perspective of a different character besides Yamilet for the chapter they had finished reading as they progressed through the semester. These journals would help them understand perspective and how Yamilet may be viewed by the people closest to her or those who may be struggling with their own identities. 

Summative: After completing the reading, students would create before and afters of Yamilet’s facebook page. The before would be representative of how she was before coming out on her own and how she wanted herself to be viewed versus after she came out. Ten posts would be required for each page and would need to have textual evidence for each post. This project would help students understand how self-acceptance can change how you present yourself to the outside world as well as show an understanding of the novel and how Yamilet and other characters change.

Reviewed by: Lily Scaggs, English Education Student at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

Fantasy, Dragons and Romance

Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez

Book Details
Publisher: Macmillan
Publish Date: May 31, 2022
Page Count: 368
ISBN: 9781250803351
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Eighteen-year-old dancer Zarela Zalvidar is the daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia and will one day inherit the same arena that her father fights in. However, when he is horribly injured in a disaster, Zarela is forced to take his place as the next Dragonador. She has to keep the Dragon Guild from stealing the arena, her ancestral home, from her and receives no help from the handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat. Zarela will have to do everything in her power to protect her birthright, even when there’s something out to get her family.


Inspired by medieval Spain, this novel is thrilling, action-packed, and will keep readers young and old entertained throughout. Together We Burn is a wonderful and refreshing representation of Spanish culture in a new light and through a new lens. Thematic topics include love, loss, honor, and family duty. These topics make this novel relatable and exciting for high school students (recommended ages 13-18).

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

  • Family
  • Love
  • Loss
  • Tragedy
  • Romance
  • Dragons
  • Justice
  • Sacrifice
  • Chasing dreams
  • Family duty

Possible Essential Questions:

  • How far would one go to protect their family?
  • Should one give up their own dream to uplift someone else’s?
  • When is it necessary to challenge authority? Who decides?

Teaching Strategies/Activities:

  • One major way to incorporate this book into the classroom is to draw connections between real life in medieval Spain and the world within the novel. Students can compare and contrast the two worlds using primary sources or other sources and the novel itself. Compare/contrasting activities could also draw connections between dragon fighting in the book and bullfighting in past and present Spain.

Formative/Summative Assessments:

  • Summative:
    • Essay
      • Students can write an essay discussing sacrifice, dreams, and destiny. Students could discuss what it might take for them to give up their own dream for someone else’s or what sacrifices they are willing to make for their family, friends, etc.
    • Social Media Profile
      • Students can choose a character and make a social media profile for them, showcasing important moments from the novel, themes, and characterization.
  • Formative:
    • One-pager
      • Students can make a one pager that identifies themes, important concepts, quotes, and give a review of the book.
    • Compare/contrast activity
      • Students can compare and contrast different cultural elements from the book like dragon fighting vs. bullfighting, government structure, etc.

Reviewed by: Hadleigh Pierce, West Lafayette, Indiana

A Young Girl That Feels the Pressure to be the Perfect Daughter

Twice as Perfect by Louisa Onomé

Book Details
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: July 26, 2022
Page Count: 416
ISBN: 9781250823502
Genre: Young Adult/Fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Adanna Nkwachi is a seventeen year old girl that has her life all planned out. She is good at school and her Nigerian parents have high expectations for her. She plans on going to law school after college. Her older brother had a fight a few years prior and he left. He was set to be an engineer, but now he is a poet. Adanna reconnects with her older brother and starts questioning if she really wants to be a lawyer or if she is just trying to make her parents happy.  While Adanna questions her life she helps plan her cousin’s wedding to a Nigerian rapper. Adanna never really understood why her brother left, but her answers will soon be answered.


This book is a cute story about identity and finding out who you are. It does an excellent job of telling a story about what life is like for kids with parents who immigrated to the US. Seeing Nigerian culture through Adanna’s cousin’s wedding was cool to see. It is nice to read a story and learn about other traditions. There is a little bit of a love interest, but it doesn’t take away from the plot.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

This book has several themes and topics within it:

  • Family
  • Self identity
  • Authenticity
  • Parental pressure
  • Happiness

Essential Questions:

  • Should parents have such high expectations for their kids that the kids sacrifice their happiness?
  • Why do parents have such high expectations for their kids?
  • How much influence should parents have on their kids’ careers?

Teaching Activities and Activities to Use:

  • Discussion about expectations from parents and families
  • Discussion about dream jobs and a happy future
  • An overview of immigration and questions students may have

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: After every chapter write a reflection in notebooks. Ask questions, write down important info you learned and quotes you liked. Then meet with a book group and discuss your questions and share your favorite scenes.

Summative: Take a character test, the test will have questions about characters and certain scenes. This test will show who actually read and who didn’t. This will also make sure that students are paying attention while they read. It will also encourage students to read because they know they will have a test.

Reviewed by: Lily Ortega

Reflecting on Emotional Responses to Trauma

Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi

Book Details
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint or Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Publish Date: February 15, 2022
Page Count: 207
ISBN: 9780593309032
Genre: YA Literature
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: From Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet comes the prologue story of the town of Lucille, set in a dystopian society. Bitter follows the tale of a young, artistic, and fiery teenage girl living in a community of disarray and protest. Fighting against the hatred and evil in the community, Bitter and her friends discover the key to stopping the bloodshed and violence, a creature known as an “angel”, created through Bitter’s gift of art with the sole purpose of creating harmony in Lucille. Together with the students in her boarding school and protesters known as Assata, Bitter fights against the monsters in her town as she slowly reconstructs her ideas of passion, hope, and community. It is in their determination and sacrifice that the young adults of Lucille find what it means to change their reality for a better future.      


Akwaeke Emezi’s multifaceted novel allows readers the opportunity to empathize with the main character, Bitter, in her internal battle grappling with identifying her role in the movement. A powerful novel that portrays the necessity of diverse responsibilities within revolutions, while also prompting readers to evaluate the incorporation of strong support networks and self-care into major endeavors. Both urgent and timely, Emezi infuses her novel with compelling themes pertaining to radical inclusion, proving to be pertinent in shaping our next generation of citizens.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

Thematic Topics Explored in the Novel:

  • Right vs. Wrong 
  • Power of Friendship 
  • How Fear Incites Change 
  • Hope vs. Action
  • Corruption in Communities

Essential Questions:

  • How can we evaluate our morals as we develop as individuals?
  • When we feel helpless, what emotions do we turn to? How can we better explain the reasoning behind these emotions?
  • How can we solve the “monsters” in our own world? What types of people do we typically consider “monsters”? 
  • Would you categorize Bitter as a stagnant or dynamic character? Why?

Teaching Activities and Activities:

As students make their way through the novel, they should use a color to describe the mood of each chapter. Some may feel lonely, angry, or hopeful. Have students keep track of each corresponding color and at the end, they can create a picture using only the colors they chose from each chapter. This can be of Bitter herself, a Monster, or a scene in Lucille they have imagined. This sparks creativity while also recognizing emotional responses to the storyline.

Formative and Summative Assessments:


Teachers can create a chart depicting each character and their inner thoughts, emotional response, and outward action for the events of the novel. This would give students the opportunity to depict the difference in how we respond to trauma and obstacles as individuals as well as how we can properly pinpoint emotions evoked by these events.

CharacterEventInner ThoughtEmotional ResponseOutward Action


After students complete the chart, teachers can hand out questions to further engage:

  • How does this chart show the overall tone of the novel?
  • How can we use each characters’ feelings to describe the ways in which a particular environment or social climate can alter ways of thinking and feeling? 
  • Based on a current issue, discuss your particular role within that issue and your feelings regarding it. How do your inner thoughts translate to your emotions and outward actions?  

Reviewed by: Maggie Doran and Elise Lubs, Students, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Summer Reading Recommendations and Curriculum Ideas

Summer Reading Recommendations and Curriculum Ideas

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

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

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

2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

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

The 2023 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

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

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

Medusa by Jessie Burton
(Bloomsbury YA / Bloomsbury)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jung Kim
Professor of Literacy
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

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

Karen Scott
Thompson Middle School, Alabaster, AL

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

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

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