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:

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee: Self-Nomination Form

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee: Self-Nomination Form

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

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

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

Sign Up for The ALAN Review (TAR) Webinar

Sign Up for The ALAN Review (TAR) Webinar

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

ALAN Picks (May 2023)

ALAN Picks: Two Retellings and a Basketball

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

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

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

–  Richetta Tooley, ALAN Picks Editor

Submit a Review: Would you like to submit a review? Check out ALAN Picks for submission guidelines and email ALAN Picks Editor, Richetta Tooley at with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Rolling deadline.

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

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

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

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


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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

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

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

Essential Questions

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

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

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

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

Formative/Summative Assessments

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

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

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

A Modern Retelling of the Classic Story

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

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


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

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


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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

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

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

Essential Questions: 

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

Teaching strategies and activities to use

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

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

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

Review by: Brooke Miller

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

Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan

Book Details
Publisher: Penguin Teen Canada
Publish Date: March 15, 2022
Page Count: 312
ISBN: 9780735270879
Genre: Young Adult fiction, Sports fiction
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Synopsis: The story revolves around Fawad Chaudhry, a fifteen-year-old Pakistani American. He lives in Regent Park, a low income community. He dreams to be the first Pakistani player in the NBA and luckily he has a great set of friends that root him on. However, he is under constant stress from his mother wanting an arranged marriage with his cousin, his neighborhood bully, Omar, and the vicious, violent cycle that resides in Regent Park. Fawad overcomes each obstacle with his chin up as her pursues his dream of professional basketball.


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

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections

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

Essential Questions

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

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use

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

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

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

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